Press Releases: Department Press Briefing – August 14, 2018

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3:04 p.m. EDT

MS NAUERT: Just one announcement to start today. Sometimes we have many, just one today. It’s summertime; you would think it would be slow, but it has been pretty busy here.

First, I’d like to highlight some good news for the State Department this past week. Yesterday President Trump nominated the following eight career members of the Senior Foreign Service to be ambassador: Michael Peter Pelletier was nominated as ambassador to the Republic of Madagascar and the Union of Comoros; William Moser of North Carolina to the Republic of Kazakhstan; Robert Scott for the Republic of Malawi; Craig Lewis Cloud to the Republic of Botswana; Michael Klecheski to Mongolia. In addition to them, we also have a few others. Judy Gail Garber to the Republic of Cyprus; Donald Armin Blome to the Tunisian Republic; and finally, Dennis Hankins to the Republic of Mali.

We are proud of our work in growing our team in three months since Secretary Pompeo took leadership of the building. We continue to make steady progress with full White House support. We hope that the members of the U.S. Senate will work quickly to get these nominees through the process along with additional nominees.

Some of you may have noticed a few weeks back the White House also nominated four career ambassadors to that post. That is the highest rank that a Foreign Service officer can achieve. Since 1955, just 59 career ambassadors have been nominated or have been named. David Hale, Philip Goldberg, Michele Sison, and Dan Smith are those current nominees that the White House has put forward. We look forward to the Senate now being back in session and hopefully moving our folks along quickly to get our team on the field.

And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Just on that, Heather —

MS NAUERT: Yes.

QUESTION: — do you expect that this week?

MS NAUERT: If any of our ambassadors would be voted upon this week?

QUESTION: Those – the – yeah, the career —

MS NAUERT: I’m not sure. That’s up to the Senate, so we’ll see what happens. And we’re looking forward to getting our folks through, and they’ll hopefully get through.

QUESTION: Okay. I want to ask you about a phone call the Secretary had yesterday with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. They seemed – the readout of the call mentioned several topics, but it didn’t say specifically whether the Secretary had raised with the Crown Prince the attack in Yemen, for which – that we talked about last week, which the death toll of children has now risen to, I believe, 50, nor did it mention the whole dispute between the Saudis and Canada. I’m wondering if you can elaborate a little bit on the readout and say whether either of those two items came up.

MS NAUERT: Yes, both of those issues did come up in the Secretary’s call with his counterpart. We put out a readout of that call, but as you will notice in the readout, it says that we also discuss other issues of mutual concern. We don’t always, as we’ve talked about here before, list every single thing, every single item, that has been discussed in the phone call, but I can confirm for you that those two issues were, in fact, raised.

QUESTION: Those two? All right. So I mean, because they were like relevant items, and thank you for confirming that they were, but it would have been super helpful had it been mentioned in the – it’s not like – we’re not talking like zombie apocalypse as a mutual item of —

MS NAUERT: I think we have a new job for you, Matt Lee. You can come in and you can do our readouts on our phone calls.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Can I ask you to be a little bit more explicit in what exactly they – I mean, did the Secretary say we’re concerned about this attack, this bombing in Yemen, and we’d like you really to find out what happened? I notice that General Mattis has said that there’s going to be a U.S. general going over to Saudi Arabia to – I don’t know what, but to have something to look – overlook or do this. And on the Canadian dispute, did he say anything to suggest that the United States agrees with the Canadian position that these rights activists should be released?

MS NAUERT: Let me take your second question first, and that is to the issue of the dispute – or whatever you want to call it – between Canada and Saudi Arabia. The Secretary believes that this is an issue for the Canadians and for the Saudi – and for the Saudis to resolve themselves. We said that last week. I think we’ve been clear about that. We believe that other countries have the ability to pick up the phone and have conversations with one another about issues that are important. The United States does not have to get involved or interfere in every issue that’s out there before countries.

As to the second issue, we addressed this last week. We have called for a Saudi-led coalition to investigate the civilian causalities that took place as a result of that airstrike. Secretary Mattis has spoken about this. The Secretary dispatched a three-star general to Saudi Arabia to discuss the incident with the Saudi Government and encourage them to look into the situation. As of a few days ago, the Saudis have said that they would, in fact, conduct an investigation, and so we will let them certainly conduct that investigation. We’re not going to get ahead of that, but I can confirm for you this was an issue that the Secretary did raise, but I’m not going to get into the private details of their diplomatic conversation.

QUESTION: May I have a follow-up?

MS NAUERT: Hi, Andrea. Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Hi. Two questions. First of all, since last week, the Canada-Saudi issue has escalated with Saudi taking retaliatory action against investments in Canada. So I’m wondering whether there is a further response from the U.S. to that, because it’s no longer being resolved between two friends; it’s not at all being resolved between two friends. And on Yemen, what would make us think that the Saudis could credibly lead an independent – lead a coalition-led investigation —

MS NAUERT: Well, they’ve done it in the past.

QUESTION: — rather than an independent investigation?

MS NAUERT: They have done those investigations in the past. We call upon them —

QUESTION: Credibly?

MS NAUERT: We call upon them to hold an investigation. Secretary Mattis sent out a three-star general. That three-star was there – my understanding – today, in which he was having conversations with the Government of Saudi Arabia and coalition partners. And so I’ll leave it to that investigation to take place, and part of this would be – have – would require having DOD weigh in.

QUESTION: You don’t think the UN should step in and —

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to make policy here from this podium. That is not my role to do so. I can tell you – I can state our current position, and our current position is for an investigation to take place. And that is all I have on that matter.

QUESTION: And one question to follow up on Matt, though, is: Was there an attempt to obfuscate the subjects in that readout? Because the readout notably did not mention the two very newsworthy and very controversial issues now involving the kingdom.

MS NAUERT: Look, there is – you’ve been around long enough to know that every single issue – and we’ve discussed this here before – that is discussed in a phone call between two world leaders does not make it into a readout. That is part of the reason that I am here today, to take your questions, and I can confirm that those issues did, in fact, come up. And I’ll leave it at that.

Does anything have – anyone have something on another matter?

QUESTION: Can I have Turkey?

QUESTION: On Canada? On Canada —

QUESTION: Well, were they talking about the weather?

MS NAUERT: They probably did, because they do exchange pleasantries when they talk.

Hi.

QUESTION: I just want to clarify something. You said that you wanted to leave it to Canada and Saudi Arabia to resolve their issues. Does that mean that the United States will not mediate or interfere or try to bring them together? They are allies, right? They both are allies.

MS NAUERT: They are partners. They are friends. I think we’ll leave it to those countries to resolve this themselves. Okay?

Hi, Laurie.

QUESTION: Hi.

QUESTION: On Turkey?

QUESTION: On – well, I —

MS NAUERT: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Look, I’ve got an Iraq question and a Turkey question.

MS NAUERT: Sure.

QUESTION: Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi has said that Iraq will continue trading with Iran, but it won’t use the dollar. What is your response to that?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, I mean, we’ve certainly seen that report. That’s something that was just brought to my attention a short while ago. Overall I can tell you we continue our efforts by the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to resolve the issues between the government and Baghdad. You know our concerns about Iran and about trading with Iran, and we will continue to hold countries accountable for any violation of sanctions.

QUESTION: But is his statement acceptable to you?

MS NAUERT: Laurie, you know – we’ve been here long enough together – that we don’t comment on every foreign leader’s comments that a foreign leader will make.

QUESTION: Okay. On Turkey, there’s a crisis. Are you having any discussions with Turkey on this – during this crisis, or are there not even talks?

MS NAUERT: Well, I think you saw yesterday where National Security Advisor John Bolton met with the Turkish ambassador to the United States. They had a meeting. The White House put out a readout of that conversation, and we continue to have a conversation that was similar to the previous conversations we’ve had recently, where we talk about areas of mutual interest. Not all of that makes it into the readout. But we also talked about the issue of Pastor Brunson.

QUESTION: And is there any news on that front?

MS NAUERT: I have no new news for you on the case of Pastor Brunson.

QUESTION: On that —

MS NAUERT: Hi, Michelle.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks. On that subject, White House officials are saying that there was no progress made, that it remains at a stalemate. So from the State Department perspective, what is the next step in trying to resolve this Brunson issue?

MS NAUERT: Well, I think progress is having Ambassador Brunson on a plane coming back to the United —

QUESTION: Pastor.

MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. Pastor Brunson coming back to the United States. We hope to have him brought back very soon. We have long said that that is long overdue. We look forward —

QUESTION: But what is the next step?

MS NAUERT: We look forward to that taking place. I can tell you that our charge in Turkey visited Pastor Brunson earlier today. He provided a brief readout of that, where he basically just discussed the fact that they met. I can just tell you our conversations continue, and I don’t see that changing at this point.

QUESTION: Okay. And on the Saudi issue —

MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm. I’ll come back to you. Somebody else had something on Turkey.

Yeah.

QUESTION: On Turkey. Are you going to nominate someone to be an ambassador? Might that be helpful to have an ambassador in post? I know this is not the Secretary’s —

MS NAUERT: Well, one – I’m glad you brought that up. One of the things that’s very important to this Secretary is putting his team on the field, and he spent considerable effort in putting people on the field, interviewing people, spending his personal time doing that, really digging into the details, and of course also encouraging the Senate to move through our people just as quickly as possible as they’re able to do so.

I don’t have any information on any new nominations; that would come out of the White House. But I would imagine that the Secretary has a candidate in mind for that.

Lesley —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: So, Heather, I have —

MS NAUERT: Let me get to Lesley. (Inaudible) Lesley yet.

QUESTION: Yeah. So —

MS NAUERT: She’s supposed to be number two, so my apologies.

QUESTION: I am. I noticed.

QUESTION: She’s number one (inaudible).

MS NAUERT: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: Oh, right. Yes, I forgot about that. Thank you very much.

So the – so there’s no negotiation going on about Father Brunson and – Pastor Brunson and the other Americans that are going. I mean, from what I gather, that – there’s – you’ve told them you release Pastor Brunson or we’re going to take further action.

MS NAUERT: I’m not going to forecast any kind of further actions or what our next steps will be, other than to say conversations continue. We’ve been very clear with Turkey about our expectations and our desire to have our people brought home. Pastor Brunson gets the bulk of the attention in the news and from a lot of folks, but it is just as important to us to have the NASA scientist, Serkan Golge, brought home, as well as our three locally employed staff who’ve been working at our mission in Turkey and then have been detained for quite some time as well.

QUESTION: So if I can look at the broader perspective, an issue – a bilateral issue between the United States and Turkey has now roiled emerging markets. We’ve had everything from Mexico to India – the currencies from all over the developing world have been affected by this. At what stage does one stop this so that the rest of the world doesn’t sink to the bottom of the economic pile?

MS NAUERT: I think what we’re seeing overall – and I’m not an economist, of course, but economists would certainly tell you that what is happening in Turkey goes far beyond the United States and the United States recent policies and impositions of various policies and mechanisms. The economic woes did not begin when we put in place those Global Magnitsky sanctions on two individuals on August the 1st of this year.

QUESTION: Heather, can I just ask you if —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Heather.

MS NAUERT: Yeah, go right ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Can we go back to Saudi Arabia for a moment?

QUESTION: Can we —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Yeah, we – we’ll just close out on Turkey before we finish the next thing. Go ahead.

QUESTION: After the meeting today, did – or does State have an update on the condition of Pastor Brunson and whether or not that’s playing into these discussions at all? Is health a part of these —

MS NAUERT: I don’t believe his health status has changed in any way. I know that our charge was certainly pleased to see Pastor Brunson.

Okay. Yeah.

QUESTION: Heather, I just wanted to know: Have you seen President Erdogan’s comments today about a boycott of American electronics? I mean, is this —

MS NAUERT: I have seen that. I can’t confirm that that is actually going to happen. We’ve seen those press reports, and I would just have to refer you back to the Government of Turkey for any additional clarification or information on that.

QUESTION: Right, but presuming they – presuming he’s not lying and he’s going to go ahead with this, I mean, do you have any concern for the impact of this, or is this kind of like the same thing as him saying that we’re not going to buy toasters anymore from the U.S.?

MS NAUERT: I think we would wait to see if that is a policy. So we’re just going to wait and see on that one.

Andrea, and then we’ll move on to something else.

QUESTION: On Turkey. According to Chairman of the Economic – Council of Economic Advisers Kevin Hassett, the sanctions that we imposed on Turkey amount to about one thousandth of one percent of their economy. So it’s a tiny, tiny amount. So should Erdogan be – and Erdogan is blaming all this on America in big rallies and (inaudible). Should Erdogan look inward at his own economic woes? And do you have any concern for the safety of Americans, tourists and others? Is there a travel warning or anything else given his rhetoric?

MS NAUERT: I don’t believe our warning or travel advisories for people – for American citizens traveling in Turkey have changed in any way. We can check with Consular Affairs. That latest information would be on our website. So I would encourage folks, if they have questions —

QUESTION: You don’t know if anything is in the works?

MS NAUERT: I’m not aware of anything changing, anything in the works, but I would encourage folks – as we know, a lot of people are traveling in the summer time – to always take a look at our website at any country you’re interested in going to. And if I can put in a plug for my Consular Affairs colleagues, and that is: Please, if you’re traveling overseas, American citizens, sign up for our STEP program. In case of an emergency, if we should need to reach, as American citizens, we will know how to reach you so we can help you if we do in fact need to reach somebody.

QUESTION: Just one more on Turkey.

MS NAUERT: Yeah, yeah. Okay, hold on. You had one. Yeah.

QUESTION: Heather, just one clarification. After the meeting today, the charge released a statement saying that the U.S. calls for Pastor Brunson’s – his release without delay in a fair and transparent manner. You’ve previously called for his immediate release. Do you think that Turkey could immediately release him? Because they continue to say that this has to go through their justice system in a —

MS NAUERT: Yeah. We’ve been very clear with the government about our expectations in our meetings and in phone calls. This is nothing new. Our policy has not changed in any way. Okay.

QUESTION: One more. Can I follow up?

MS NAUERT: Hi, Said. Okay, let’s —

QUESTION: Can I follow up on an issue that I raised last week —

MS NAUERT: Sure, and that is? Sorry.

QUESTION: — which is the aid to the Palestinians.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: There was a report that came out on Friday after the briefing where it said that basically the United States cut off all aid to the Palestinians. Could you please just explain to us the situation, the status of U.S. aid to the Palestinians of all kinds?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, I can just tell you that much of this is under review and we have no decisions to announce, no new initiatives or anything to announce at this time.

QUESTION: So do you confirm that everything is frozen, most everything is frozen —

MS NAUERT: That —

QUESTION: — with the exception —

MS NAUERT: — funding, such as for UNRWA, was under a review. That remains under review at this time. Okay. I don’t have anything more on that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Saudi? Can we go back there? A couple of people had questions. When you call for an investigation, why does the United States think it’s enough for this ongoing problem for Saudi Arabia to do the investigation?

MS NAUERT: That is something that they have done in the past. We would encourage them to continue to do that. Michelle, I’m not going to have anything more for you on this issue. Does anybody —

QUESTION: Well, why do you think that’s – why do you think it’s enough was the question.

MS NAUERT: Because we take those matters seriously of civilian casualties. Our Saudi partners take those issues seriously as well. Anyone who operates from a military fashion, who is involved in actions and strikes, in strife around the world, in major countries like ours take all efforts to try to mitigate against civilian casualties. And I’ll just leave it at that.

Hi. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, so back on Saudi, the —

MS NAUERT: I think I just said I don’t have anything more for you on this issue.

QUESTION: This is not on Yemen.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: The Saudi-Canadian spat started with the arrest of Samar Badawi, who’s an activist, over her online social media posts, and her brother was arrested several years ago on the same thing. What’s the U.S. position on her arrest?

MS NAUERT: And this is something that we’ve – and good to see you back here – but this is something that we’ve addressed here from this podium before. We support the right to free speech, and that is something that we stand firmly for every time one of these issues comes up. We remain concerned about the detention of activists in Saudi Arabia and we urge the Government of Saudi Arabia and all governments to ensure that due process is done and that it’s handled in a transparent and fair manner. Okay?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: Okay, let’s move on to something else. Hi, Jessica.

QUESTION: Another question again. I just want to kind of – the Canadian issue: What was the purpose of the call? If it’s not to offer support for one side or the other or to offer negotiation, why raise it with the Saudis?

MS NAUERT: Well, I think that was in our readout, and we have broad relationships with many countries around the world in which we are engaged in a lot of various activities, some of which you’re very familiar with that you read in the headlines every day. Some things are not as interesting, and so we have – often have broad conversations with our partners. Okay?

QUESTION: Do you think the U.S. could take a role as a negotiator going forward?

MS NAUERT: I – look, I don’t think that there’s any – it’s not necessary for the United States to have to step in between two countries that have the ability to pick up the phone and handle these issues among themselves. Okay?

Okay. Hi. How are you?

QUESTION: Hi. Probably you have seen or heard that the – that Iran’s spiritual/revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has said that there won’t be any talking with the U.S., or in general he has forbidden talking with the United States. Given that the administration has expressed openness to discussions on all the subjects, would you consider this Iran’s response to that proposition?

MS NAUERT: Would we consider that to be Iran’s response? I mean, we certainly heard the response. The United States remains hopeful that the people of Saudi Arabia will continue to make their viewpoints very well known.

QUESTION: Iran.

QUESTION: Iran.

MS NAUERT: Excuse me, sorry. Thank you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the people of Saudi Arabia should not continue to —

MS NAUERT: Pardon me. Okay, going on autopilot there. Thank you for that correction very much. My apologies.

Look, we saw the – we heard the statement, we saw the statement, and it’s just something where we’re not going to respond to something that every government official from around the world has to say.

QUESTION: Well, this is —

MS NAUERT: I think we’ve been very clear in terms of our policy regarding Iran and our concerns and our continued concerns about Iran’s bad behavior around the world. We are not the only nation to have seen that, witnessed that, who have been hurt by it, many other countries as well. And we remain firm in our policy of standing up against Iran, against its malign activities.

QUESTION: Is there going to be a deadline for a response from Iran?

MS NAUERT: Look, I’m not putting out any kinds of deadlines or anything. I think we’ve been very clear about our policies.

QUESTION: Heather —

MS NAUERT: Miss, how are you?

QUESTION: Korea.

QUESTION: You do think that the people in Saudi Arabia should be able to speak up for themselves too, right?

MS NAUERT: Yes. We do support free speech.

QUESTION: Okay. Just to make —

MS NAUERT: My sincere apologies.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Korea?

MS NAUERT: Miss, go right ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Thank you, Heather. South Korea media reports that the United States and North Korea held working-level talks at the demilitarized zone last weekend. Can you confirm this? Who were there; what was the agenda? Was it about Secretary Pompeo’s next visit to Pyongyang?

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: And is the United States planning another meeting with North Korea this week at the demilitarized —

MS NAUERT: We have no meetings or no plans and no travel to announce at this point. Regarding your question about any previous meetings, I don’t have anything to share for you on that matter. But negotiations and conversations between our government and North Korea will become sort of a regular course of – part of our regular course of business, where these will be normal. We will have conversations; we will have meetings. We will have correspondence with the North Korean Government as we look to denuclearize North Korea.

QUESTION: Follow up to that? Follow up to that?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, last one then.

QUESTION: Yes. How does State Department feel about declaring the end to the Korean War at this time when North Korea’s not making any specific denuclearization actions?

MS NAUERT: Look, we support a peace regime, a peace mechanism by which countries can move forward toward peace. But what our focus is, our main focus, is on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and that’s something we’ve been very clear with many governments about. Okay.

QUESTION: Heather?

MS NAUERT: Kylie, hi.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, if these meetings are going to be made normal, then why can’t you tell us when they happen?

MS NAUERT: Well, sometimes we will and sometimes we won’t. I mean you know we don’t read out and announce every single diplomatic call, every conversation, every meeting that we have with other governments. Some we’ll read out and some we won’t.

QUESTION: And there are some reports from those who have been briefed on the negotiations that they haven’t gone that well, and that specifically Ambassador Sung Kim wasn’t treated very well when he’s gone there. Do you – what’s your reaction to that?

MS NAUERT: I think I would say that that’s news to me. Okay. All right.

QUESTION: Turkey?

QUESTION: At this point, does the State Department feel that it’s important to appoint a replacement for Joseph Yun’s position as —

MS NAUERT: We – as I’ve said, the Secretary has made it one of his top issues to get our team on the field, and we are working hard every day to bring new people. I look forward in the coming days and weeks ahead to making further personnel announcements, not specific to that necessarily but in general. I can tell you we look forward to additional personnel announcements.

Hi, Cindy.

QUESTION: Heather, on China, as you know, a VOA correspondent and another freelancer were detained yesterday in China for several hours and had their equipment scanned and everything. Do you – are you concerned that this is part of a broader crackdown on free speech and human rights in China?

MS NAUERT: Well, we’ve been watching that very carefully. And you and I, I think, had a one-on-one conversation a few weeks ago about the disappearance of a professor who was being interviewed on Voice of America, and he was taken away by security officials in China. And then the follow-on story was that a Voice of America reporter was detained along with a contractor, who I believe was also working for Voice of America, was also taken away. And that detention is a concern of ours. We understand that they were released, but nevertheless, that detention is a concern because they were speaking freely.

They were doing their jobs, and we continue to support people who are engaging in doing their jobs, telling the stories about what is going on, not just behind the scenes but reporting on daily life for those in China and elsewhere as well. We are concerned about what we consider to be China’s suppression of fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of association. And we call on China to allow all individuals to express their views without fear of retribution and for journalists to be able to do their jobs without interference.

QUESTION: Can I also —

MS NAUERT: Okay. And we’re going to have to wrap it up.

QUESTION: On China?

MS NAUERT: Yeah.

QUESTION: The president of Taiwan spoke yesterday. It’s the first time in 15 years. Government – the U.S. Government has previously discouraged them from coming here to speak. Was that done with State Department’s approval? Are you glad she came and made – said what she did on U.S. soil?

MS NAUERT: Yeah. I mean, first let me start off by saying our policy on Taiwan has not changed. The United States remains committed to our U.S. “one China” policy based on three joint communiques under the Taiwan Relations Act. The United States, in regard to this trip, facilitates from time to time representatives of the Taiwan authorities to transit the United States. Those are largely undertaken out of consideration for the safety and comfort of those travelers and that is in keeping with our “one China” policy. For any additional details about President Tsai’s visit, then I would have to refer you to Taiwan authorities.

QUESTION: However, in the past, Taiwanese have come here and have been discouraged from speaking, and there have been talks about it regularly in previous visits, and so this is a big change. Would – if she transited Washington would you be happy if she spoke here?

MS NAUERT: Well, that would be entirely a hypothetical question, so I just don’t have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: But this is a change in policy.

MS NAUERT: Yeah, I’m not aware of it being a change in policy, but from time to time they do transit through the United States and that is something that is in accordance with our “one China” policy.

QUESTION: Can I please ask a question about —

MS NAUERT: Okay, we’ve got to – we’ve got to wrap it up. Nick, go right ahead.

QUESTION: Turkey?

MS NAUERT: We’ve already covered Turkey. Nick, go ahead. Last question.

QUESTION: Quickly, North Korea. Ambassador Bolton said last week to a few of us, North Korea has not “taken effective steps” to denuclearize. I’m not saying for you to respond to that specific phrase, but does the Secretary share the ambassador’s frustration? And I know you can’t talk about specific meetings, but in general, are the meetings yielding any progress?

MS NAUERT: Yeah, well I think we have certainly seen progress so far. We’ve seen the remains of service members brought home. That is certainly a step in the right direction. We’ve had conversations with a country that we hadn’t had one-on-one conversations with for many years. We’re opening a dialogue. We’re in a very different position today than we were just over a year ago, much less six or eight months ago. So we think that that is progress. Is there quite some room to go? Yes, there is a ways to go on this, and Secretary Pompeo has been very clear about that. But we continue to have those conversations because Chairman Kim has committed to President Trump that they are willing to denuclearize, and so we will continue a full, good-faith effort to have those conversations to move forward to that policy objective.

QUESTION: Is there any progress —

MS NAUERT: Hold on.

QUESTION: And any progress in the last month?

MS NAUERT: We consider meetings, negotiations, conversations as we move forward, behind the scenes, with those negotiations to be moving in the right direction.

Last question.

QUESTION: And is there any progress on denuclearization, to wit, a declaration of what they have?

MS NAUERT: I don’t have —

QUESTION: Which would be the first step.

MS NAUERT: I don’t have any announcements to bring you today. I’m not saying that there hasn’t been progress. I’m telling you I don’t have any announcements for you today.

QUESTION: No, I’m just asking —

MS NAUERT: And when we do have something significant to announce, you probably won’t be hearing it from me.

QUESTION: No, I – no. (Laughter.) I hope we are. But I’m just saying —

QUESTION: (Off-mike)

QUESTION: — I just mean how – aside from the remains, which is significant and moving and we’ve been covering that, has there been any progress on the issue of denuclearization?

MS NAUERT: And those are conversations that we’re having behind the scenes. I’m not going to get ahead of those conversations and I’m not going to read out those conversations. I can tell you that conversations with the Government of North Korea are becoming a far more normal matter, and that is exactly why we won’t be reading out every detail, every time we meet with them, every phone conversation or email that we exchange with them. We continue to work in good faith to move forward on that, okay? And I’ve got to wrap it up.

QUESTION: Heather, do you have – I’ve got two really brief things that are far afield. One is, do you have anything to say on the six-year anniversary of the disappearance of Austin Tice in Syria? And secondly, I don’t remember if you guys said anything at the time, late last week, when the Cubans returned this fugitive to the United States.

MS NAUERT: I’m afraid, Matt, I don’t have anything for you on the Cuban return of this —

QUESTION: Okay.

MS NAUERT: — individual. I will check with our folks who handle Cuba and see if I have anything I can get for you on that. Regarding Austin Tice, some of you may know him – a citizen, U.S. citizen, and a journalist who was reporting from Syria and went missing six years ago to this day. I know his parents have been speaking publicly about how much they miss him, about the U.S. Government’s response to address his disappearance, his location, and attempts to bring him home. We believe him to be alive. We remain deeply concerned about his wellbeing and we’re actively working to bring Austin Tice home. Now, I imagine a lot of you will have questions about where we think he might be, who you think might be holding him, et cetera, et cetera. I appreciate your curiosity about that but that is not something that we will get into out of not only consideration for the family but his own safety and security. We hope that we will have a positive conclusion to his case at some point soon.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MS NAUERT: And while I raise this issue, I’d like to just mention, as some of you know, we have a special presidential envoy for hostage affairs. I think many of you have probably not met him. His name is Robert O’Brien and he will be working on this issue along with the cases of other American citizens who are missing or who have been held – are being held in other countries.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on —

QUESTION: Is he based in Washington?

MS NAUERT: Yes.

QUESTION: O’Brien, is he based in Washington?

MS NAUERT: He – I know he works out of Washington, yes. I don’t know where his actual home-home is.

QUESTION: Hi.

MS NAUERT: Hi.

QUESTION: Austin Tice’s parents today have called for the United States to – for the U.S. Government to hold direct talks with the Syrian Government to bring him back home.

MS NAUERT: Yes.

QUESTION: Are you willing to do that, perhaps have the new special envoy —

MS NAUERT: Sure. And I hadn’t heard about those comments that his parents had made, so that’s not – that’s not a question I asked. I can’t make policy here from this position and determine whether or not we should actually have those kinds of negotiations going forward. I would hesitate to say that I understand the parents’ pain and the emotion that they’re feeling, not knowing where their son has been for so many years. As a parent myself, I can certainly appreciate part of what that must feel like. I can assure you that we’re doing everything that we can to try to bring him home, and our conversations certainly with the family will continue.

Okay, I’ve got to go, guys. Janne, I’m sorry. I’ll see you again next time. Okay, thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:34 p.m.)