Department Press Briefing
August 9, 2017
2:35 p.m. EDT
MS NAUERT: Hi.
MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody. Welcome back. Hope you’re all having a good week. A lot of stuff going on today, certainly.
I want to talk – start talking about something that’s taking place in Togo this afternoon, and that is a trip that’s been taking place by the U.S. Trade Representative. Today, the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Togolese Prime Minister Komi Klassou welcomed the participants of the 2017 U.S.-Sub-Saharan African Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum in Togo. The annual forum brings together trade ministers from 38 African nations with U.S. counterparts and participants from the private sector, and also civil society. They intend to lay the foundation for mutual prosperity between nations of Africa and also the United States. We’re focused on building a more robust and reciprocal U.S.-Sub-Saharan Africa trade relationship. The United States is working with our African partners at the forum to deepen free, fair, and reciprocal trade. So we welcome them all there, and we are pleased to take part in that.
And that’s all I have.
QUESTION: Togo, huh?
MS NAUERT: In Togo, yes. Important to talk about trade. So with that, I will take your questions. I know we have a lot.
QUESTION: With that – (laughter.)
MS NAUERT: Would you like to start, Matt?
QUESTION: Yes. Please. (Laughter.) Understanding the importance of Togo and AGOA in general —
MS NAUERT: You turn around and you say that to the folks from Togo. They think it’s important. Our folks are there.
QUESTION: I’m saying it is important.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: I’m not taking away from the importance of Togo. I would like to ask about something else.
MS NAUERT: Yes, sir. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. I’ll let you guess what it is. North Korea. Can you explain to the American public and perhaps the rest of the world exactly who they should be listening to in the U.S. Government when it comes to North Korea and what the United States policy and posture is?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think the United States – and some of you may disagree with this, but the United States is on the same page. Whether it’s the White House, the State Department, the Department of Defense, we are speaking with one voice. And the world is, in fact, speaking with one voice, and we saw that as it came out of the UN Security Council with the resolution that passed less than a week ago. The United States, along with other nations, condemned North Korea for their destabilizing activities. They’ve continued to take part of that; two ICBM launches in less than a month’s period of time. The world remains very concerned about that.
QUESTION: Okay. But you don’t think that the President’s comments are at odds with those of the secretaries and other officials, or is this kind of a good cop, bad cop routine that we’re seeing here, trying to coax the maximum you can get out of the North Korean Government?
MS NAUERT: Well, I think we’ve talked about our pressure campaign, the United States pressure campaign that’s backed by many other nations. And we see that pressure campaign, which is a long-term campaign, but that campaign is working. It is ratcheting up the pressure on North Korea. The President spoke about this yesterday; Secretary Tillerson spoke about this by plane back to the United States earlier today. And the Secretary spoke about the President’s words – I think that is what you’re referring to – and he said this: Look, the President is sending a strong message to North Korea in the kind of language that North Korea understands. The Secretary has talked in the past about how the President is a very effective spokesman. People listen to him, and those were the President’s words, sending a message loud and clear to North Korea.
QUESTION: So does that mean – and this is my last one —
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: — does that mean that you have come to the determination that you – the only way to get through to Kim Jong-un is with the same kind of bombastic rhetoric that he uses?
MS NAUERT: There are lots of ways, we believe, to get through to Kim Jong-un and his regime, okay. And our issue is not with the people of the DPRK; it is with the regime itself. And that message has been strongly sent throughout this administration. When the President and Secretary Mattis and Secretary Tillerson agreed that the top security issue for the United States would, in fact, be – well, the safety and security of Americans first, of course, but would, in fact, be DPRK and the destabilizing activities, its illegal nuclear and ballistics weapons programs that continue to take place.
Okay? I assume you have more questions about this. Rich Edson. Hi, Rich.
QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. So in the President’s remarks and then in the Secretary’s comments about the President’s remarks, saying that it was the kind of language that North Korea would understand and almost in a way diplomatic speak, is that something – is that an approach that the State Department was involved in that the President took yesterday?
MS NAUERT: The State Department and the President, the Secretary and the President, have ongoing conversations. They spoke earlier today. This pressure campaign with North Korea is something that we are all in agreement on, folks in the U.S. Government are all in agreement on. So nothing has changed in that regard.
QUESTION: Sorry, can you just extrapolate? The President and the Secretary spoke today?
MS NAUERT: They did, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: This is when he was in Guam or on the plane or —
MS NAUERT: I’m not sure where exactly. In transit, though, as he is on his way back to the United States is my understanding. Exactly at what point or at what time, I’m just not sure.
QUESTION: Can you clarify – earlier today, in which time zone?
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. That’s a good question, Andrea. It happened – let me get back to you on the time of that.
QUESTION: Like, I mean, but it happened while he was en route back to —
MS NAUERT: I believe it was —
QUESTION: It wasn’t like last week or anything?
MS NAUERT: I believe it was on – no, no, no, no, no. It was —
QUESTION: We’re talking about —
MS NAUERT: It was within the last 24 hours.
QUESTION: And do you have any idea how long it was?
MS NAUERT: They spoke for about an hour.
QUESTION: Okay. So that means two calls in the last – since Monday?
MS NAUERT: I —
MS NAUERT: I’d have to check with you on the first call that you’re referring to. I’m not certain of that. I don’t want to call that.
QUESTION: White House announced a call of an hour with Secretary – with General Kelly and the President and the Secretary on Monday morning.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Monday morning East Coast time.
QUESTION: Okay. Right.
MS NAUERT: There you go.
QUESTION: But I mean, so – okay, so we have two calls now. All right.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Andrea, hi.
QUESTION: Hi. Could I follow up? The Secretary’s call was, though, well after the “fire and fury” language. Senator McCain and others – Republicans and Democrats – have complained that it was, quote, “bombastic” in Senator Feinstein’s view, “not helpful” said Senator McCain, that no other president – not Eisenhower, not Reagan – no other president that he knew of would have used such language. And the implication from all of the critics is that the President’s language implied the use of nuclear force. Is that the way the Secretary read it? And did the Secretary have any early warning from his earlier phone call that this was going to happen? Or did he only speak to the President in the aftermath of it?
MS NAUERT: He spoke to the President after the fact, after the President made his announcement. As people look at this, and some consider comments to have been alarming, I would have to go back to this: Let’s consider what is alarming. What is alarming: two ICBM tests in less than a month, two nuclear tests that took place last year. As a matter of fact, when there’s an earthquake in China, I get many emails and calls from all of you asking, “Was it another nuclear test?” That is how big of a deal this is, what is going on.
QUESTION: But —
MS NAUERT: Let me – let —
QUESTION: Let me just follow up.
MS NAUERT: Let me finish. Okay, please.
MS NAUERT: That it is a big deal what is going on; it is a concern to the world, not just the United States. Those are alarming actions. They are provocative actions on the part of North Korea.
QUESTION: My question is: Given those provocations from North Korea, which has been belligerent in the extreme – granted, stipulated – is it helpful or unhelpful for the President to use the kind of language that we have seen previously coming from Kim Jong-un, not from presidents of the United States?
MS NAUERT: Look.
QUESTION: Is he exacerbating the problem?
MS NAUERT: The President spoke to him, to Kim Jong-un, in a language that Secretary Tillerson has said – and said this morning – in the kind of language that Kim Jong-un will understand. We would like to see results. The pressure campaign – we see that working. The international community is in agreement with the United States and many of our partners and allies on putting additional pressure on North Korea. The Secretary happens to be coming back from the ASEAN conference, where they had tremendous success. It was a good week for diplomacy. I know you all want to obsess over statements and all of that, and try to – want to make a lot of noise out of that, but what is important to keep in mind is that this diplomatic pressure at ASEAN, at the meeting of the 10 Asian nations along with the United States, came to a joint agreement and a joint statement and put out a very strong condemnation of North Korea. We are all singing from the same hymn book.
QUESTION: A lot of us have reported on the success of that effort at the UN and in ensuing days. That doesn’t take away from that question: the lack of a national security interagency process – in this instance with a presidential statement – that has perhaps undercut the previous success.
MS NAUERT: I don’t know that I would agree with you on that.
Okay, next question.
QUESTION: So by saying that – by walking away from saying all options on the table, which has been really the traditional kind of response in the past, is that a new kind of policy? It used to be that the United States would say we have the privilege or the right to use whatever options available to us, including, presumably, aggressive military action.
MS NAUERT: We’ve had a few statements that have come out today. Secretary Mattis addressed this very issue in a pretty strong statement that he issued earlier today. I’ll just read a little bit of it to you in case you have missed it. “The United States and our allies have demonstrated capabilities and unquestionable commitment to defend ourselves from an attack. Kim Jong-un should take heed of the UN Security Council’s unified voice, and statements from governments the world over who agree the DPRK poses a threat to the global security and stability. The DPRK must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and it goes on. I think the United States is all – talking with one voice.
QUESTION: Can I just take issue —
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: — with the – your choice of the word “obsess”? I mean, we’re not obsessing about this. This is the President of the United States threatening a nuclear-armed country, whether you want to accept it or not, a country that is armed with nuclear weapons, with fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen. I don’t think that it’s obsessing to want to know what the – to have a further clarification of exactly what that means and whether or not it means that you’re preparing to send fire and fury raining down on the North Korean regime.
MS NAUERT: And I’ll let the President’s statement stand for itself.
MS NAUERT: Okay?
QUESTION: But, I mean, it’s not obsessing to want to know more about what that means.
MS NAUERT: You know what? I see a packed room of journalists here, and normally there aren’t half as many as there are here today. So that shows a greater indication of your level of interest.
QUESTION: Oh, Heather, they’re all here for you, not the —
MS NAUERT: (Laughter.) They’re here for you, Matt Lee. Okay.
MS NAUERT: Hi. And sir, your name is?
QUESTION: Yeah, Steve Dorsey from CBS News.
MS NAUERT: Hi, Steve.
QUESTION: Hi. Just a quick change in topic.
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.
MS NAUERT: Yes. So we are certainly aware of what has happened there. Give me one second here. And that’s why we got a little bit of a late start getting some recent updates for you on this.
So some U.S. Government personnel who were working at our embassy in Havana, Cuba on official duties – so they were there working on behalf of the U.S. embassy there – they’ve reported some incidents which have caused a variety of physical symptoms. I’m not going to be able to give you a ton of information about this today, but I’ll tell you what we do have that we can provide so far.
We don’t have any definitive answers about the source or the cause of what we consider to be incidents. We can tell you that on May 23rd, the State Department took further action. We asked two officials who were accredited at the Embassy of Cuba in the United States to depart the United States. Those two individuals have departed the United States. We take this situation very seriously. One of the things we talk about here often is that the safety and security of American citizens at home and abroad is our top priority. We’re taking that situation seriously and it’s under investigation right now.
QUESTION: If the U.S. doesn’t have a definitive answer on the cause or source of the incidents, why did it ask those two Cuban embassy officials to depart the U.S.?
MS NAUERT: Look, our – some of our people have had the option of leaving Cuba as a result for medical reasons.
QUESTION: And how many?
MS NAUERT: I can’t tell you the exact number of that, but I can —
QUESTION: But was it in the tens, dozens?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize it. I do not believe it was that large, certainly not that large, but we had to bring some Americans home or some Americans chose to go home – come home as a result of that. And as a result of that, we’ve asked two Cubans to leave the United States and they have.
QUESTION: In other words, this is a reciprocity thing, right? You’re —
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to call it as such, but we asked two people to go home.
QUESTION: And how long has this been going on for?
MS NAUERT: So we first heard about these incidents back in late 2016.
QUESTION: And who is leading the investigation?
MS NAUERT: The U.S. Government is investigating this. I’m just – I’m not going to get into it prior to that.
QUESTION: What agency?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to – going to get into it. You know which law enforcement agencies we have that would be concerned about this. The State Department is involved, but you could check with others as well.
QUESTION: And just real quickly, was it just State Department employees or other employees from other government agencies?
MS NAUERT: So these were – my understanding is that it has only affected State Department employees. This has not affected any private U.S. citizens down there. We take this very seriously. Look —
QUESTION: What is “this?”
MS NAUERT: This incident. This incident.
QUESTION: But what is the incident?
MS NAUERT: And that’s what – and that’s what we’re calling it. We don’t know exactly what —
QUESTION: This has been going on since 2016 and you don’t know what this incident is?
MS NAUERT: What this requires is providing medical examinations to these people. Initially, when they started reporting what I will just call symptoms, it took time to figure out what it was, and this is still ongoing. So we’re monitoring it. We provide medical care and concern to those who believe that they have been affected by it, and we take this extremely seriously.
QUESTION: So do you – just getting back to my question on reciprocity, and I know you don’t want to use the word, but is it – did you – did – were the two Cubans told or asked to leave because of a similar or proportional drawdown in the U.S. staff in Havana because of these symptoms?
MS NAUERT: I’m not going to characterize it that way at all. I can just – I can only tell you the two were asked to leave and they did.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you’re —
MS NAUERT: Because what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to draw an equivalency. You’re trying to say two guys were asked to go home and therefore X number of Americans were brought home, and I’m not – just not going to make that comparison.
QUESTION: But actually I’m – well, I’m not saying there’s a direct proportion, although maybe the Russians might disagree on that. But the reason that the two left is because you had to reduce your staff, or have the people who left Havana been replaced?
MS NAUERT: Some – I’m not sure if our people who have left Havana have been replaced. I know that we’ve given our employees there a chance to come home if they would like to, and they have jobs here.
MS NAUERT: Let me just mention one other thing about this. The Cuban Government has a responsibility and an obligation under the Geneva Convention to protect our diplomats, so that is part of the reason why this is such a major concern of ours, why we take this so seriously, and in addition to the protection and security of Americans. I hope I’ve answered your question.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Any – hold on. Anything else on Cuba?
QUESTION: Can you just give us a sense of are these medical problems ongoing or was this a short-term thing?
MS NAUERT: And you’ve heard me say this here before: When we talk about medical issues about Americans, we don’t get into it. So I can just tell you that it was – it is a cause of great concern for us, it’s caused a variety of physical symptoms in these American citizens who work for the U.S. Government. We take those incidents very seriously and there is an investigation currently underway.
QUESTION: I mean, can you say are they life-threatening? I mean, the physical symptom is – wasn’t death, was it?
MS NAUERT: No, it was not. It was not, not life —
QUESTION: And – but not life-threatening?
MS NAUERT: Not life-threatening, and I’ll leave it at that. Anything else on Cuba?
QUESTION: Can we go back to North Korea?
MS NAUERT: Anything else on Cuba?
QUESTION: On North Korea?
MS NAUERT: We’re done with Cuba, correct? Okay. Let’s go to North Korea. Hi.
QUESTION: Hi. North Korea reportedly released Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim after two and a half years in detention, and so do you have a response? And then on the American detainees that are still in North Korea, what are the status of negotiations to release them?
MS NAUERT: I’m glad you asked about that. I had mentioned just a short while ago regarding Cuba that the safety and security of Americans is our top issue and top concern. As you know, we now have a travel ban that takes effect, I believe, it’s September 1 for Americans who would wish to travel to North Korea. We continue to have a travel warning, and I just say this because it’s a good opportunity to remind people we have a travel warning regarding North Korea to anyone who should attempt to go there right now.
Putting all of that aside, we know that there are three Americans who are being held in North Korea. Our Ambassador Yun was over there back in June and that is when he was able to bring home Otto Warmbier, as you all well recall. At that time, he was able to meet with and put eyes on our Americans who are being held over there, who are being detained over there. I don’t have any updates for you on their status. We work through our protecting power, Sweden, to gain access to Americans who are being held over there, and I just know it’s an ongoing – obviously, an ongoing area of major, major concern to us. Okay.
QUESTION: Have there been any contacts since Ambassador Yun’s visit?
MS NAUERT: Not that I’m aware of. Okay.
QUESTION: Can we stay in Korea?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Anything – let’s stay with – hold on, let’s stay with DPRK before we move on. Hi, how are you?
QUESTION: Thank you. I just want to go back to the Mattis statement that you brought up. So in the last sentence, it says that the regime would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates. Does that mean first strike is off the table now?
MS NAUERT: That would – I think that would be a DOD question.
QUESTION: And then just one more.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: As far as a South Korean ambassador, still one has not even been nominated. There are certainly rumors, but you would think amongst all this diplomatic talk that an ambassador would help. So is there any updates as far as a nomination?
MS NAUERT: So a nomination would have to come out of the White House because it’s – the President has that right to be able to nominate someone. So I’d have to refer you to the White House on that. I can, however, tell you that we have a charge d’affaires who’s currently serving there. Mark Knapper is his name. He’s a senior Foreign Service officer. He has a ton of experience in Korea. He’s served at the embassy in Seoul since 2015. He has served other tours of duty in Korea as well at our embassy in Seoul. I’ve talked to people around the building about him. They love him. They say he is fantastic. I haven’t had the opportunity to meet him or speak with him yet, but he’s on the ground, and so I’m confident that it is in good, solid hands until the President nominates somebody for that position.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Forgive me for not knowing this, but is the ambassador to Japan who was confirmed and sworn in —
MS NAUERT: Bill Hagerty, Ambassador Hagerty.
QUESTION: Is he there? He’s in Tokyo now?
MS NAUERT: I believe he is. He was sworn in – confirmed, sworn in. I believe he’s there now. We can double-check and get that, but – and I’m not sure where he is at this moment today, but —
QUESTION: No, no, no, I mean is he is in —
MS NAUERT: My understanding is that he is on the job, but we’ll check and get that to you before the end of this briefing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Can I change topics, please?
MS NAUERT: Hi, are – wait, let’s finish up with DPRK. Anything else on that?
QUESTION: One more.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Hi. How are you?
QUESTION: There’s a term coined by the South Korean media, which is “Korea passing,” and —
MS NAUERT: Which is what?
QUESTION: “Korea passing” —
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: — which reflects concerns that the U.S. is bypassing South Korea in dealing with North Korea by mainly talking to China, Russia, Japan. So these are actually concerns that have persisted, and I just wanted to ask what the State Department’s response to those concerns would be, especially given that South Koreans would be the biggest victims if there were to be a conflict on the peninsula.
MS NAUERT: As you know, we have a very good and strong relationship with the Republic of Korea. Secretary Tillerson just met with Foreign Minister Kang a few days ago in a bilat on the margins of the ASEAN Regional Forum. Our nation and the Republic of Korea have a very strong relationship. That is something that has not changed. We are alliance partners; that has not changed. We have constant dialogue. I know Foreign Minister Kang was here maybe about a month or so ago sitting down with Secretary Tillerson and had a very good conversation. Those conversations are ongoing.
Okay, anything else on DPRK? Up here. Sir, hi.
QUESTION: Thank you. I believe you characterize it as a pressure campaign —
MS NAUERT: Pressure campaign, yes.
QUESTION: Pressure campaign, which means also that all options are on the table, and I’m assuming that also means diplomatic pressure as well.
MS NAUERT: Well, that’s why we’re here at the State Department.
QUESTION: Yes, exactly.
MS NAUERT: So we focus on that diplomatic pressure, yes.
QUESTION: I’d like to bring up two dimensions to that, and I wonder if you can elaborate. The first one is that the United Kingdom has never really signed the UN treaty banning nuclear weapons, and the United States has been a strong proponent of making sure that nuclear weapons are confined. Having said that, also, the pressure tactics or the pressure campaign, as you say – it makes the JCPO that much more important – the nuclear deal with Iran, that is. Now, does this mean —
MS NAUERT: Well, let me first clear up if there’s a misperception here about what the pressure campaign is, and to our folks who are here all the time, I’m sorry if we’ve been over this a few times again. But what that pressure campaign includes – and we saw some success at ASEAN over in Asia over the past few days – that pressure campaign consists of talking with nations around the world, asking them to do more to put pressure on North Korea. And one of the ways that those nations are putting pressure on North Korea is by kicking out their diplomats, in some instances; shrinking the size of business operations, sometimes kicking them out altogether. That will basically remove some of the funding that North Korea gets and that they funnel into their illegal weapons programs.
So by starving them, if you will, of that money, that puts pressure on North Korea, and we’re having a lot of success with that. Australia, the Republic of Korea – miss, you were asking me earlier about the Republic of Korea and our relationship, our strong relationship with them – they took steps. Japan took steps. We’ve seen lots of countries take steps to institute either their own sanctions or to use our campaign as a jumping-off point. So that’s what I mean by “pressure campaign.” I just want to make sure you have a good understanding of that.
QUESTION: I appreciate it, yes, again. My question really concerning the JCPO, the entire nuclear deal with Iran.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: The administration has been clear about trying to renegotiate the nuclear deal. Is this still the perception or is this still the position of the United States, that it ought to be scrapped in view of the North Korean —
MS NAUERT: We have not – we have not said that. We have not said that. We believe that Iran is in default of the spirit of the agreement. The agreement calls for – to contribute to international peace and security. We believe that the deal has not contributed to that kind of international peace and security. In terms of the overall JCPOA, as I’m sure you’re aware, there are some gaps in that, and that is a concern of ours because it does not take into account the destabilizing activities of Iran. And when I talk about destabilizing activities, I mean all of the work that they are doing in that region of the world to cause additional unrest, killings, attacks, and things of this nature.
QUESTION: It’s a multilateral agreement; it’s not a bilateral.
MS NAUERT: Sir, I’m not going to get into debate you – something that – I know a lot of people have a lot of other questions. If you want to talk about that more another time, I’m certainly happy to.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Okay, okay.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Sorry, go ahead, go ahead. Iraq.
QUESTION: Yeah. On Iraq and Iran —
MS NAUERT: And by the way, may I say it’s great to see you back.
QUESTION: Oh, thank you very much.
MS NAUERT: I know you were out for a while and not feeling too well. You look well – well, you look well-rested.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Well, thank you. An Iraqi Shia militia claimed that the U.S. attacked it on the border – it was on the border with Iraq and Syria, and that it killed dozens of its fighters, as well as seven Iranian Revolutionary Guards, including a commander. And then ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack and the U.S. has denied it – the Pentagon at least.
Can you explain to us what happened there?
MS NAUERT: So we don’t know exactly what happened there, but I can tell you this: The reports that you reference are false. The United States had nothing to do with this. The United States coalition did not conduct any strikes in that area on the date and that time of the alleged attack. ISIS we know claimed responsibility for that attack, and we had nothing to do with it. The assertion that the coalition is conducting operations with ISIS is simply preposterous. And I hope that answers the question.
QUESTION: So part of this is an implication that you are saying is false, but the implication is somehow coordination between the U.S. and ISIS?
MS NAUERT: Is without a doubt false. ISIS is the enemy of the United States and the enemy of the world.
QUESTION: Sometimes the Iranians try and suggest that.
MS NAUERT: Excuse me?
QUESTION: Sometimes the Iranians try to suggest that.
MS NAUERT: Suggest what?
QUESTION: That the United States is collaborating with ISIS.
MS NAUERT: If you want to go ahead and believe the Iranian Government —
QUESTION: I don’t.
MS NAUERT: — you go right ahead, but the United States and ISIS have nothing to do with one another other than that they are a target of ours.
QUESTION: Heather, can we move to —
MS NAUERT: Miss, go right ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Before Secretary Tillerson’s trip to ASEAN, Assistant Secretary Susan Thornton said South China Sea is also a topic. I wonder since the framework of the code of conduct of South China Sea has adopted and also finalized, what’s your latest assessment of this framework?
MS NAUERT: Okay. Let me just give you a little bit of information on that. Today I’ve sort of been steeped in DPRK, so forgive me if I’m not answering your entire question here. I can certainly get back with you about that.
You bring up the issue of the South China Sea. That was another major issue that was talked about at the ASEAN forum. So the ASEAN foreign ministers’ joint communique, which came out at the end of the forum, contains language on the South China Sea, and that reflects ASEAN’s important role in strengthening the rules-based order that benefits all nations both large and small. We welcome the ministers’ reaffirmation of the importance of freedom of navigation. We share their concerns over developments that we consider to be unconducive to regional stability, such as land reclamation. ASEAN also stressed the importance of exercising self-restraint, including refraining from militarization of features in the South China Sea. The communique also emphasized the peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, such as the July 2016 decision of the tribunal, which is binding on China and the Philippines as provided in – and I want to just get the language right, so bear with me here – as is provided in the Law of the Sea Convention. ASEAN was under tremendous pressure, but still held on to its principles.
Okay? Anything beyond that, I can get you later.
MS NAUERT: We can certainly try.
QUESTION: Yeah. Human Rights Watch issued a report saying that the Israelis stripping Jerusalemites of their residency is tantamount to a war crime. I wonder if you’ve read the report and if you are aware of the – of all that governs such a forced evection, if it happened.
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So Said, nice to see you. You know I always call on you.
QUESTION: I know you do.
MS NAUERT: I know, yes. Seems that when I – when you haven’t been called on in the past, you’ve chosen to vent that in public.
QUESTION: Well, okay.
MS NAUERT: Our reporters typically don’t do that.
QUESTION: That’s okay.
MS NAUERT: And I want to point out that I’m calling you – on you again today.
QUESTION: I did not vent in public. (Laughter.) That’s all right, yeah.
MS NAUERT: Okay, thank you for asking that question. I’ve certainly seen those reports. We’ve seen those reports and are aware of them. On this, as any judicial case, I’m not going to weigh on that in particular from the podium. I just have to refer you to the Government of Israel for specifics about those cases.
QUESTION: But you do have a position, if this happens, if the – if stripping 15,000 Jerusalemites of their right to reside in their own hometown and forcing them out – that would be tantamount to forced displacement, correct?
MS NAUERT: I would just have to say we’re aware of that report. We’ll continue to monitor that, but I’m not going to weigh in on every case from here.
QUESTION: Okay. And one last follow-up: The king of Jordan, who is a great friend of the United States, an ally, was just in Ramallah meeting with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and they called on the Trump administration to state publicly that it is for a two-state solution. Do you have any comment on that?
MS NAUERT: I do not, no.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: You don’t have any comment on —
MS NAUERT: On what the king of Jordan called for, I don’t —
QUESTION: Right, but does that – but is the administration in favor of a two-state solution?
MS NAUERT: I’m just not going to weigh in – I’m just not going to weigh in on every world leader and what he or she has said about any particular situation. As a general matter, as I’m sure you know and we’ve talked about this here before, regarding a two-state solution, the President has talked about this very clearly. He’s made this a high priority and that Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt have done a lot of travel over the region to talk about these types of issues, and we have long said that what – at least in this administration, that whatever solution both parties can agree to, they both have to be willing to live with and adhere to.
QUESTION: Okay. That’s all the question was —
MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay.
QUESTION: — asking – looking for that kind of an answer. But the king of Jordan isn’t just like some guy.
MS NAUERT: Of course not, no.
QUESTION: He is – (laughter) —
MS NAUERT: He’s a very valuable – a very valuable partner and friend.
QUESTION: Well, when you say you’re not going to respond to every – every leader, I mean —
MS NAUERT: Well, no, I want to make that clear as a set of principles here. And you all know this, that there are lots of people around the world, some of our – some are friends, others we don’t have as great of relationships with, but I’m not going to comment on everything that everybody says, okay?
QUESTION: I have a question on India —
QUESTION: On Russia.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: On Russia, Secretary Rex —
MS NAUERT: I’m sorry, your name is?
QUESTION: My name’s Shirley Wei from China Central Television.
MS NAUERT: Okay, hi.
QUESTION: Secretary Rex Tillerson said he’s going to respond to Russia expelled U.S. diplomats by September 1st. Why United States set this time, date, deadline to respond? And does that mean United States waiting for Russia to change in attitudes, or will this action or respond will save U.S.-Russia relationship?
MS NAUERT: We have talked about this a lot here as well, and that is the U.S. relationship with Russia is certainly at a low point. That is no surprise to anybody who sits in this room and comes here often. The Secretary had a meeting with his counterpart, with Foreign Minister Lavrov, overseas on this last trip. That low level of trust still exists. The Secretary, after the meeting with Mr. Lavrov – which took place in Manila, by the way – agreed that they should continue to find places of agreement where our two nations can work together. One of the places where we can work together is in southwest Syria in a ceasefire. That may not seem like a lot to some folks around here, but it’s an area in which we can work together, try to build trust, and try to find areas of mutual cooperation. In the areas where we do not see eye to eye, the United States will continue to advocate for its principles and its policies with Russia and, frankly, the rest of the world.
In terms of the expulsions of our U.S. diplomats and other citizens who are working over there at our embassy, we consider that to be a regrettable step. We’ve been very clear about that. Limiting our diplomatic presence there calls into question Russia’s seriousness about trying to create a better relationship with the United States. We would like to pursue better relations. You know that. We’ve had the channel with our Under Secretary Tom Shannon and his counterpart as well. We would like to have a better relationship with that country, but there’s a lot of suspicion on the part of – certainly of Americans.
Okay? All right.
QUESTION: So she asked about the September 1 deadline.
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: Isn’t that the deadline that the Russians gave you to reduce your staff? So that’s —
MS NAUERT: Look, that is a number that that nation threw out there, and the Secretary said we’ll have a response by that time.
QUESTION: Right, but that’s the reason that he said – he said you’d have a response by September 1st —
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — because that is when the Russians said you had to, right?
MS NAUERT: I’m aware of that, yes.
QUESTION: No, no, I just want to make sure that that is correct, and that —
MS NAUERT: Yeah, he had said that —
QUESTION: — he didn’t pick it arbitrarily as —
MS NAUERT: I don’t believe that that was picked arbitrarily, okay? Anything else on Russia?
QUESTION: On India?
MS NAUERT: Anything else on Russia?
MS NAUERT: Russia, Russia, Russia? Nothing. Okay, I guess we’re done then today.
MS NAUERT: All right.
MS NAUERT: Okay.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Oh.
MS NAUERT: Are you Goyal?
QUESTION: Yes, sir – yes, madam.
MS NAUERT: Oh, Goyal.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: You’re in trouble with me – (laughter) – okay? Misstating some things that we talked about here at the podium, but go right ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, madam. My question is before going to India, can I have – can I go back on the sanctions, please, quickly?
MS NAUERT: Sanctions on which?
MS NAUERT: On North Korea, yes.
QUESTION: Of course, Ambassador Nikki —
MS NAUERT: We’ve been doing too much skipping around from region to region today. Let’s try to – let’s try to —
QUESTION: Of course —
MS NAUERT: Okay, get all our DPRK questions out of the way, move on to other places instead of jumping all around, okay? And this is going to be the final question. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, madam. Thank you. Of course, Ambassador Nikki Haley did a great job by bringing all the 15 members of the UN Security Councils on sanctions, but how much can we trust China, because some experts are saying, including on the television even the security and from the Pentagon, that North Korea is baby of China and it’s – it will be difficult by China to impose or enforce all these sanctions against North Korea.
MS NAUERT: So here’s what I’ll say to that: China and Russia as well went along with the UN Security Council resolutions. China has said that it will adhere to implying – excuse me, to enforcing rather, those sanctions. And so we look forward to China keeping its commitment on that, and I’ll leave it at that. Thanks, everybody. Great to see you all.
QUESTION: Can you just talk about one thing —
MS NAUERT: Yeah.
QUESTION: When you said in – on North Korea you said everyone’s singing from the same hymn book —
MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Well, can you assure us that they’re all singing the same hymn because – (laughter) – some hymn books are pretty big and the hymns can have very different —
QUESTION: — interpretations and tones —
MS NAUERT: I appreciate – I appreciate your point.
QUESTION: Are they singing the same hymn?
MS NAUERT: The facts stay the same —
QUESTION: Or are they out of tune?
MS NAUERT: — that the United – the United States and the other countries are first and foremost concerned about North Korea and the threat that it poses right now.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:11 p.m.)