Daily Press Briefing - November 3, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing:
Daily Press Briefing
2:02 p.m. EST
QUESTION: Welcome back.
MS TRUDEAU: How are you, Said? Nice to see you.
So I have a few things at the top. Today, Secretary Kerry wrapped up his trip to all five Central Asian countries with stops in Dushanbe, Tajikistan and Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. He was the first Secretary of State to visit Turkmenistan since Secretary Baker in 1992. In each of the capitals, he met with the respective presidents and foreign ministers. They discussed regional issues, including security, economic growth and cooperation, connectivity within the region and with the West, and of course, human rights.
This evening he’ll meet with UK Foreign Secretary Hammond in London and will return to Washington tomorrow.
One other item. This past week marked a milestone in the department’s innovative partnerships with state and local actors and its continued justice sector training in Africa. The department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, working with experts from Maryland, Connecticut, and South Dakota provided trainings in Ghana and at the African Union in Ethiopia this week. The Ghana workshop focused on sentencing guidelines, alternatives to incarceration, and prisoner rights for prosecutors and correctional officers. The other workshop, a first-of-its-kind bilateral effort between the department and the African Union, trained AU member-states on incorporating international treaties into national legislation. The department will continue drawing on domestic U.S. expertise to work with African Union and countries like Ghana to promote the rule of law and build fair, accountable national institutions.
QUESTION: Yes. Before we get to Keystone, I just wanted to ask quickly logistically: Have you – has – have you guys finished looking into the incident in Uzbekistan, and if so, what are your conclusions?
MS TRUDEAU: We have. We actually met on the ground. We expect to get some updates tomorrow when the traveling party is back, but we reviewed our procedures and we’re taking steps that we hope something like that will never happen again. So thanks for following up on that, Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you. Do you know – can – maybe tomorrow we can find out what those steps are?
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. I think, to be honest, it’ll probably increased coordination within our own party and making clear sort of the parameters of the meetings, but thanks.
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is – there were a lot of questions about this at the White House briefing today. Your colleague kicked a lot of, and I think you should thank him, for referring almost all of these --
MS TRUDEAU: I always thank the White House. It’s sort of a good career move. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: -- referring almost all of the questions to the State Department, which is probably apt since it is – it does lie with the State Department and not the White House at this moment. Does the request from the company obligate you to suspend the review? And if it doesn’t, will it have any impact on the review?
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So I’m going to start – I’m going to back up a step because we’ve seen some different reporting on this, so we do want to sort of clarify from the top.
TransCanada has not withdrawn their permit application. In a letter to Secretary Kerry, they requested a pause in the review process. We have received their letter to Secretary Kerry. We’re in the process of sending a response. Our review process is ongoing. So at this stage we’ve received the letter. We will issue a response, but we’re going to continue our review process.
QUESTION: So in other words, their request means nothing to you. You’re going to ignore it.
MS TRUDEAU: Well, of course, we’ve seen their request.
QUESTION: Well, I know --
MS TRUDEAU: We’re going to respond to it.
QUESTION: Well, I’m not --
MS TRUDEAU: But we’re going to continue our review.
QUESTION: All right. You’re going to respond to it, but you’re not going to accept their request. You’re going to reject the request to pause, to suspend the review?
MS TRUDEAU: At this stage, while we go back to TransCanada, we’re going to continue that. Beyond that, I’m not going to get ahead to any response to the company, but --
QUESTION: Well, I meant --
QUESTION: Why is the Administration going to continue with the review?
MS TRUDEAU: Because our process – Secretary Kerry has spoken to this. We’d like to finish this review process as swiftly as possible. We have a commitment to do that. We’re going to continue our review.
And I’m sorry, Matt, I cut you off.
QUESTION: Well, I just – I don’t – I don’t understand what you – have you not decided whether you’re going to agree to their request?
MS TRUDEAU: So we’ve received the letter.
QUESTION: I got that.
MS TRUDEAU: We will get back to them. We continue --
QUESTION: Well, when you get back to them, are you going to tell them, “Thanks for your letter but we don’t care what you want. We’re going to continue our review and render a decision”?
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to preview the response to that, but what I will say is that this is in accordance – and you’ll like this – with Executive Order 1337, which outlines our role. The Secretary has made clear that he wants to see this process through. We’re going to continue it while we respond to the letter. I’m not going to get ahead of what that response is.
QUESTION: All right. Well, can I – maybe – this – you’re going to say this is apples and oranges. But if I apply for a passport and then three days later decide that I no longer want the passport and I ask you, the State Department, to stop processing it, do you?
MS TRUDEAU: Apples and oranges. You set yourself up for that. I --
QUESTION: Do you?
MS TRUDEAU: On this, I can only speak to this.
QUESTION: So basically, you --
MS TRUDEAU: And what I’m going to say is we’ve received the letter, we’re looking at it, we’re going to get back to them.
MS TRUDEAU: But while that takes place, we’re not going to pause.
QUESTION: Okay. Can I ask my – so can you answer my passport question? Do I end up getting a passport even if I don’t want it anymore?
MS TRUDEAU: I don’t know, but I’m happy to take that question.
QUESTION: It just seems that if you apply for something and then decide that you want the review of it stopped, there shouldn’t be any reason why you would reject that request.
MS TRUDEAU: So I’ve been told our process is ongoing.
QUESTION: All right.
MS TRUDEAU: We will continue to do that. The Secretary’s made clear he’d like to see this done as swiftly as possible.
QUESTION: And that’s – then I’ll stop after this. But “as swiftly as possible.”
MS TRUDEAU: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: That – this process began seven years ago.
MS TRUDEAU: True.
QUESTION: Do you think that the review has been – proceeded as swiftly as possible?
MS TRUDEAU: Secretary Kerry has stated his interest in seeing the --
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry was in the Senate when this began.
MS TRUDEAU: Secretary Kerry has said he’d like to see this move as swiftly as possible.
QUESTION: A child born when this process began would be in second grade now. I don’t understand. You say he wants it done as swiftly as possible. They’re asking for it to stop. And I don’t – I just don’t get it. Are you obliged to continue the review even if they ask for a pause?
MS TRUDEAU: So we are committed to seeing this through as swiftly as possible. While we seek to respond to this letter our review process will not pause.
QUESTION: I get that. You’ve repeated that over and over again.
MS TRUDEAU: And --
QUESTION: But are you obliged to continue even if the request --
MS TRUDEAU: We are going to continue.
QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking that. Are you obliged to continue it? Is there no way under the regulations that you can stop, that you can suspend?
MS TRUDEAU: So on that I’m going to refer back to executive order. I’m not going to get in front of the decision making.
QUESTION: The executive order says that you have to follow through, continue --
MS TRUDEAU: I didn’t say that. I said that we are going to move forward on the review.
QUESTION: It seems like it’s not a very difficult question to answer.
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. I don’t know if we are obliged.
QUESTION: I mean, is it -- Is it absolutely required?
MS TRUDEAU: Arshad.
QUESTION: Could I follow up on that?
MS TRUDEAU: Of course you can, Said.
QUESTION: Good to see you there, Elizabeth.
MS TRUDEAU: Thanks.
QUESTION: I wanted to understand the legal aspect of this. Suppose that you continue the review.
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.
QUESTION: And you arrive at a conclusion that they are denied, actually, that they will not be allowed and so on. Is that a permanent thing or conceivably they could wait and then reapply?
MS TRUDEAU: Okay, so you’re asking my favorite sort of question, which is a hypothetical.
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to get in front of the decision-making process. When we have an announcement to make we’ll get that. I think I’ve addressed as much of the processes that we can at this stage.
QUESTION: Because some skeptics say the reason they asked that the review stop is because they’re waiting for maybe another administration to be elected and then they would have a better chance.
MS TRUDEAU: I wouldn’t address motives on that. It’s not something I could do.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS TRUDEAU: Arshad.
MS TRUDEAU: Of course.
QUESTION: There are reports of an additional crackdown on journalists and on civil society in Turkey since the elections. We are reporting that the authorities have detained dozens of people, including senior police officers and bureaucrats on Tuesday on suspicion of their having links to Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based Muslim cleric whom the Erdogan government has had trouble with. And a left-leaning news magazine was raided over a cover story suggesting that the election result could trigger conflict.
Do you have any response to what is the latest in a long series of steps that are widely seen abroad as an effort to crack down on freedom of the press and on civil society in Turkey?
MS TRUDEAU: So we spoke about this a little yesterday, and I’d say the United States is Turkey’s friend. We are a NATO ally. We urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold universal democratic values including due process, freedom of expression and assembly, access to media and information. We look for governments to ensure that all law enforcement activities follow those.
QUESTION: Have you – I mean, you’ve said things like this repeatedly over the last several months, I think – longer than that, actually.
MS TRUDEAU: We have.
QUESTION: Have you reached – and I know that the new government is still being formed, but have you reached out to the Turkish authorities or to the interim government to convey this message?
MS TRUDEAU: So we have said this publicly and we’ve said this privately.
QUESTION: Including in the last day?
MS TRUDEAU: I can’t speak to the conversations we’ve had in the last day, but I would say I spoke to this yesterday from this podium. We – as you’ve noted, we’ve spoken to this repeatedly. Thanks.
QUESTION: Nice to see you again. New topic on Yemen?
MS TRUDEAU: Of course.
QUESTION: Did the Saudi Government update you on the investigation they said they will do about the bombing of a medical clinic in north Yemen last month?
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. October 26th. Thank you for this. We are deeply concerned by the reported October 26th bombing in northern Yemen that damaged a medical clinic operated by Doctors Without Borders, injuring several civilians and medical personnel. We note the decision by the Government of Saudi Arabia to conduct an investigation of this incident and release its reports – its results publicly. We look forward to an investigation that is transparent, timely, and thorough; provides an objective accounting of the facts; and addresses any factors that led it to prevent reoccurrence.
We continue to urge all sides in Yemen to take all feasible steps to avoid harm to civilians and to comply with obligations under international humanitarian law, including with regards to the protection of medical facilities and personnel. And I just want to underscore there’s an urgent need to reach a durable political solution to the crisis in Yemen through peaceful political dialogue. We are working closely with Yemeni leaders and our regional partners towards the immediate resumption of UN-facilitated peace talks between all parties.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On the topic of hospital bombings --
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- are you aware if the reviews into the Kunduz bombing are complete? Where do they stand, as far as you know?
MS TRUDEAU: No, it’s a good question. It’s something we’re tracking. As far as I know, Matt, those reviews are ongoing – the three separate reviews.
MS TRUDEAU: Why don’t I check and see? I’d refer you across to DOD --
MS TRUDEAU: -- but it’s important for us to get the status update.
QUESTION: Would you say the same thing about the DOD, all those three investigations, as you just did about a Saudi investigation, that it be transparent, timely, and thorough?
MS TRUDEAU: In fact, we have said that. In fact, Admiral Kirby from this podium has talked about the U.S. commitment and the military’s commitment to taking a look at our actions. So what I would say is no one does a harder scrub, a harder review, than the U.S. military.
MS TRUDEAU: So I don't have additional internal assessments on that. What we would do is refer you to the credible NGOs who’ve spoken about this on the ground.
QUESTION: Okay. So the United States itself doesn’t have any --
MS TRUDEAU: Nothing that we can share.
QUESTION: -- evidence that it can share that would back up its assertions --
MS TRUDEAU: No. But we would reference – so we would --
QUESTION: So you have – but does that – that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist?
MS TRUDEAU: What I would say is --
QUESTION: You’re saying that it exists, you just can’t share it? Is that --
MS TRUDEAU: Well, what I would say is that credible NGOs on the ground who have eyes on this have made public their reports. We’d refer you there.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you give just – since they are credible, which ones are they? Can you say?
MS TRUDEAU: So I think there’s a few. Why don’t I get you a list?
QUESTION: All right.
MS TRUDEAU: Okay.
MS TRUDEAU: Be happy to. Hey, Ros.
QUESTION: Hi. First, can you explain, in terms of reviewing the TransCanada letter, do the relevant federal agencies have to be consulted on whether they agree that a pause might be merited? And as a follow-up, what would be the legal input that you would be seeking in deciding whether to grant this request?
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Again, I can’t speak specifically to the pause. We’ve seen the letter from TransCanada. We will respond to it. While that happens, our review continues. We continue to conduct this review in accordance with Executive Order 1337, which outlines our role. Once we have analyzed all the information needed to complete the review, then the Secretary will make a final determination. If that changes, I’ll absolutely let you know.
QUESTION: Is there any obligation, in light of the fact that this is the applicant who is making the request, for the U.S. to discuss this with Canada, given that this is an international project that’s under review?
MS TRUDEAU: No. I’m not aware of that.
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to speak to sort of speculative reports on that. We’re very focused on advancing this on Secretary Kerry’s timeline.
QUESTION: Yeah. But to go back to Matt’s point, this project first started in 2008.
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.
QUESTION: There was an application; it had to be pulled. They reapplied two years ago. And there is concern among the project supporters that this Administration is, in essence, trying to run out the clock. Is that true or false?
MS TRUDEAU: I think the White House actually spoke to this yesterday, so I’d refer you there.
QUESTION: Elizabeth --
MS TRUDEAU: Hi.
QUESTION: -- is there any sense of how long it’s going to take to respond to the request?
MS TRUDEAU: I can’t get ahead of that. To be honest, I don't know.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. But if we do have an announcement to make, we’ll absolutely make it.
QUESTION: Wait. I’m sorry. Was your question about --
MS TRUDEAU: It was timeline.
QUESTION: Yeah. But --
QUESTION: For the response.
QUESTION: -- to respond to TransCanada.
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.
QUESTION: How long does it take to write the letter back to say, “Thanks. We got it.” Is it done?
MS TRUDEAU: To be honest, I don't have any insight on that. If I have something to share, I will.
QUESTION: Is it going to have any substance in it? Or is it just going to say: Thank you very much for your letter. Love, John Kerry.
MS TRUDEAU: I have nothing to share on that. If we have an announcement to make --
QUESTION: I’m not asking for an announcement. I’m just asking what – do you expect if this letter is going to be anything more than a pro forma thank you?
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not sure on that, Matt.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Does the --
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
QUESTION: Does this this building take the company’s argument that there is a precedent for a pause in light of ongoing state-level reviews?
MS TRUDEAU: So I’m not going to get into their arguments and why they requested this. What I’ll just re-emphasize is our commitment that we’re going to push forward on this review. We’ve received the letter and we will respond to it.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MS TRUDEAU: Of course we can.
QUESTION: Palestinian-Israeli --
QUESTION: I have one more --
QUESTION: Back to Syria?
QUESTION: I have one more question on Keystone.
MS TRUDEAU: Okay, hold on one second. One more here and then we’ll go to you, and then we’ll go to you, Mike.
QUESTION: So then where in the review process is this, then? It’s been eight years. Is there any guidance for that? Because is it going to be another eight years, another two years?
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to get ahead of the process. As I said, Secretary Kerry has asked for this to move forward as quickly as possible. I don’t know how long that process will be. When we have an announcement, you guys will be probably the first to know.
QUESTION: It seems pretty – it seems like it would be pretty easy to get ahead of this process since it’s been taking so long.
MS TRUDEAU: I can’t speculate on that, Matt.
Who did I promise? Said.
QUESTION: You promised me. Okay, the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Today, or early today, the Knesset passed a law of mandatory sentence of rock-throwers, Palestinian rock-throwers, of three years, a minimum three years in prison. Of course, it excludes Israeli settlers who also practice throwing rocks and so on. I wonder if you have any comment on that. Do you find this to be a bit severe?
MS TRUDEAU: Okay, I haven’t seen those reports. So what I would say is, echoing what Secretary Kerry has said, is that we remain deeply concerned about this situation – not speaking specifically to this law, because that would be an issue to direct to the Israelis. But we continue to urge affirmative steps to restore calm and prevent actions that would escalate tension.
QUESTION: Okay. So but --
MS TRUDEAU: So I’m not speaking specifically to that because I’m not aware of those reports.
QUESTION: Okay. Once you review this new law, considering that most of these kids are 14 and 15-year-olds and so on, do you consider that to be a bit draconian if that is accurate?
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. I can’t speak to it, Said, because I haven’t seen it.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you – I have a couple more questions.
MS TRUDEAU: Of course.
QUESTION: Today also the Israelis closed a radio station in Hebron, the radio Al-Hurriya, under pretext of it enticing. Do you have any comment on that?
MS TRUDEAU: So we’ve seen the reports. We’re following that issue closely. I don’t have anything further on that. I’m going to refer you to the Government of Israel for that.
QUESTION: Okay. And lastly, let me try – did you see an op-ed or an article by former Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer that was published in The National Interest? He lays out seven points to get the process going. But he basically says that this occupation must be brought to an end and that you guys must be doing something about that. Do you agree with his premise that this occupation must end and it must end soon and the United States must do something?
MS TRUDEAU: So I’m not going to talk about the commentary of individuals. I’d redirect you back to what Secretary Kerry has said.
QUESTION: So since Secretary Kerry spoke last week, has he been in touch with either the Israelis or the Palestinian leaders in terms of incitements and to refrain from incitement? Did he speak with them --
MS TRUDEAU: So he did speak to Israeli prime minister this weekend. I don’t have a readout on that call, but he is staying in touch.
QUESTION: Okay, and – but did he speak with any Palestinians?
MS TRUDEAU: I don’t have any readouts on that.
QUESTION: Can I make sure I understand something?
MS TRUDEAU: Of course.
QUESTION: When Said asked you if you had any comment about the closure of the Israeli – I mean of the Palestinian radio station in Hebron, you said I refer you – we’re following it, I’ll refer you to the Government of Israel on that. You’re referring us to the Government of Israel for what the U.S. Government reaction is?
MS TRUDEAU: No, we’re referring you to details on that report, because all I’ve seen is media reports on this.
QUESTION: Okay. I don’t think he was asking you for --
MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry. Did I misunderstand the question?
QUESTION: I don’t think he was asking you for what happened, an account of what happened. I think he was asking for what the U.S. Government’s reaction to this is. Are you saying that you don’t have one, or were you saying that you would like --
MS TRUDEAU: No, I’m saying we have seen the reports. We’re – we – we’re following these issues closely. I’ve spoken from this podium, as many people have, about the issue of media freedom. On this specific incident, I’ve just seen the reports. I don’t know – have the details on how or why the radio station was closed. On that specifically I’d refer you to the Israelis.
QUESTION: I’m not sure about this, but I think it’s also subsidized by the U.S. Government, and the Israeli station was an issue for (inaudible).
MS TRUDEAU: I just saw the reports – I – before I walked out here. So thank you.
Mike, I promised.
QUESTION: Elizabeth, what are your thoughts – the Human Rights also condemned this yesterday – these armed groups in Syria cage civilians and are attempting to use them as human shields against government airstrikes. What are your thoughts on this practice?
MS TRUDEAU: So we condemn such practices. We reiterate all parties to conflict must comply with international law.
QUESTION: One other – so Russia today, military officials, they conducted airstrikes in coordination with Syrian opposition groups. Do you welcome this coordination?
MS TRUDEAU: So we would welcome Russia’s cooperation with the coalition. I won’t – coordination on a technical level, we’d welcome them being part of the coalition. Right now we view that Russia and the coalition’s objectives may not be exactly aligned. This is part of the conversation on a technical level the Department of Defense is having with Russia.
QUESTION: And how does this square with – why would the Syrian opposition give coordinates to Russia if Russia was bombing them? How does this square with these claims?
MS TRUDEAU: Well, I – one, I would say I’m not going to speak directly to the claims on this. I simply can’t do that. I would back up and I would say our position in terms of Russia and their actions in Syria has been very clear.
QUESTION: On Syria.
MS TRUDEAU: Michel.
QUESTION: Your Russian foreign ministry counterpart said that Russia does not consider it a matter of principle that Syrian President Bashar Assad should stay in power. She added Assad stays or steps down is not critical for Russia, but it’s up to the Syrian people to decide his fate. Do you see any change in the Russian stance towards the future of the Syrian president?
MS TRUDEAU: So we’ve seen a couple different reports on that, and I’m not going to parse a Russian spokesperson’s statements. I’d refer you back to the Government of Russia for that. Russian actions so far in Syria have been to prop up the regime. Russian officials have said publicly, though, they agree that the only solution in Syria is a political transition. We’ve consistently urged Russia to focus its efforts on ISIL and to use its influence with the Assad regime to support a genuine political transition. And I’d just double-tap that and say our position on Assad has not changed.
QUESTION: The Russians will hold a meeting between the regime and the opposition. Are you aware of this meeting, and what do you think about it?
MS TRUDEAU: So we have seen those reports. As the Secretary said following the Vienna discussions, the diplomatic situation is more promising than it has been in some time. However, we believe there’s a time and a place for everything. There’ll be a time and place when the opposition groups will be represented. We just don’t think we’re there yet. The Secretary stated his position that the international community will be meeting, I think he said, in about two weeks. We don’t have a time on that, so – just in case before you guys ask me. We don’t believe we’re ready for the discussions until the international community can reach a greater consensus about the path forward.
That said, we stay in touch with Syrian opposition groups all the time.
QUESTION: Will they participate or do you encourage them to participate in Moscow’s meeting?
MS TRUDEAU: Okay, what I would say is that we think it’s premature.
QUESTION: No, no, no. This is not the – this is a meeting that the Russians are going to host.
MS TRUDEAU: We know. We think it’s --
QUESTION: Oh, you don’t – you think the Russians should not invite Syrians to Moscow?
MS TRUDEAU: We think that it is premature to have that meeting. We think that there is a place for the Syrian opposition and a time for the Syrian opposition to gather to have those conversations. We think it’s premature now.
QUESTION: Can I just ask why it’s any of your business?
MS TRUDEAU: This obviously is for different groups to do, but we believe that --
QUESTION: I think --
MS TRUDEAU: -- in Vienna, the international community – the stakeholders – got together, and they outlined a process. We’re still working out the dynamics of what happens after Vienna.
QUESTION: I understand that, but why do you oppose Russia inviting Syrian opposition figures to a meeting in Russia? Why --
MS TRUDEAU: We think it’s premature. We think that there’s a lot of work that is done – we thought there was a good start in Vienna. The stakeholders came around the table, including Russia. We believe that as we continue to work through the dynamics of what was agreed in Vienna – and I’d refer you to the communique – that there will come a time. We think it’s premature before the Vienna group meets again.
QUESTION: So --
QUESTION: You mean that --
QUESTION: -- at the next meeting of the Vienna group, whenever the – coming up within two weeks, it’s still premature for the Syrians to actually participate in --
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to forecast who’s at the Vienna meeting, the next Vienna meeting. That’s still in work. But --
QUESTION: I mean, so it’s okay for you guys – for you, the United States – to invite the Syrians.
MS TRUDEAU: Well, no, I didn’t say that they were coming to the next Vienna meeting. I said at this stage it’s still in work.
QUESTION: I know. You said it was --
MS TRUDEAU: But we do think it’s premature to have those conversations when the post-Vienna work is still going on.
QUESTION: But I just – why? Why do you think it’s premature, and why can’t – why shouldn’t the Russians have their conversation? Why – you guys are in talks with the Syrian opposition still.
MS TRUDEAU: Well, and we know that there’s a number --
QUESTION: Is it premature for those?
MS TRUDEAU: -- of the – not only the coalition but the international community who are in talks with various components of the Syrian --
QUESTION: And it’s all – so in other words, it’s premature for any Syrian to be involved in any discussion --
MS TRUDEAU: No.
QUESTION: -- about this – about the future of their country.
MS TRUDEAU: No, what I would say is that there was significant groundwork that was laid in Vienna. We believe that that continues to work, that there’s discussions ongoing, but we believe it would be premature right now for the Syrian opposition to meet until some more groundwork is done.
QUESTION: Do you think that --
QUESTION: Do you think that the Russians are being underhanded, trying to divide the Syrian opposition?
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to speak to sort of Russian motives on that. I’d refer you to them.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me just follow up on the Assad question --
QUESTION: On this --
QUESTION: -- if I may, Michel.
MS TRUDEAU: I’ll come to you, Michel.
QUESTION: The issue that he raised. Now, on the other hand, the Iranians are saying that actually they are sticking to Assad. And listening to statements made by the Deputy Foreign Minister Abdollahianin, he’s saying that we are behind Assad all the way. Do you see a split in the Russian-Iranian position?
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to speak to the positions of various members of the international community where it comes – I’ll talk to our position, which is we believe that the sequence of steps following up on Vienna still needs to be worked out, and we’re working that out now. We hope to meet again. We hope the stakeholders will gather around the table. I think it’s premature for members of the Syrian opposition to meet right now.
QUESTION: Do you think --
MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry. I’m going to Michel and then I’ll get to you guys.
QUESTION: Isn’t there no bigger stakeholder in this than the Syrian people?
MS TRUDEAU: Absolutely.
QUESTION: And – but it’s premature --
MS TRUDEAU: At this stage --
QUESTION: -- for them to have a seat at the table? I don’t – I just – I don’t get it.
MS TRUDEAU: Michel.
QUESTION: Do you think that this meeting in Moscow contradicts with Vienna process or works against it?
MS TRUDEAU: We think that there’s a time and a place when the opposition groups will be represented, but we’re not there yet. We all look forward to moving this process forward, getting the Syrians involved as soon as possible. It’s their country; it’s their future. We’re not ready for those discussions yet until the international community can reach a greater consensus on the way forward.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS TRUDEAU: Okay.
MS TRUDEAU: Of course I’ll go to Taiwan.
QUESTION: Yes, that the president of Taiwan, President Ma, and the Chinese president, President Xi, will have a meeting in Singapore this Saturday. Do you have any comment on it regarding the peace and stability in region?
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. We welcome the steps both sides of the Taiwan Strait have taken in recent years to reduce tensions and improve cross-strait relations. The United States has a deep and abiding interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. The benefits that stable and positive cross-strait ties have brought to both sides of the Taiwan Strait, the United States, and the region have been enormous. We encourage authorities in Beijing and Taipei to continue their constructive dialogue on the basis of dignity and respect.
QUESTION: Are you aware of it in advance?
MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Are you aware --
MS TRUDEAU: We’re aware of those reports. I’m not going to speak specifically of those reports, but I will say that we are – we welcome --
QUESTION: So, I mean, are you aware of it before the news release or you just --
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to discuss sort of our political dialogue on that.
QUESTION: So what are the expectations or concerns that United States might have out of the meeting?
MS TRUDEAU: We believe cross-strait issues should be resolved peacefully in a manner, pace, and scope acceptable to people on both sides of the strait. We have welcomed the steps both sides of the Taiwan Strait have taken in recent years. I’m not going to speculate in advance of this. We’ve seen the reports. We’d welcome all steps.
QUESTION: So is it good timing from U.S. perspect – is it good timing for --
MS TRUDEAU: Well, we welcome all steps, so it’s always good timing.
QUESTION: Is it going to have any impact on the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan?
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to speak on that. The U.S. has a very strong unofficial relationship with Taiwan in terms of military matters. I’m going to refer you to the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: Hi. Change of – David --
MS TRUDEAU: Wait, wait. China? Taiwan?
QUESTION: No, change of topic.
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. You know what? Taiwan?
QUESTION: No, China.
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Let me do China and then I’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: Let me go to you first.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) have a One China policy, so Taiwan actually would fall --
QUESTION: Actually, yeah, it’s the same. Could you please confirm that the United States plans to conduct Navy operation within 12 nautical miles of artificial islands in South China Sea about twice a quarter in the future?
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. The U.S. conducts freedom of navigation movements all over the world. I believe in 2004, we conducted 18. In terms of individual operations, I’m not going to speak to that from this podium.
QUESTION: But are you concerned any of these activities in South China Sea, which is in – within 12 nautical miles in China’s islands may inflaming the tension and also sparks --
MS TRUDEAU: The U.S. conducts Naval operations in accordance with international law. In terms of individual operational issues, I’m going to refer you to the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: And one --
MS TRUDEAU: Let’s go --
QUESTION: One more.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) President Xi’s more active role in international or regional foreign affair?
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So speaking broadly, the U.S. and China have a very strong dialogue. We agree on many of the big issues. Climate change, economic security, regional stability are all issues that we discuss with China. I won’t speak to President Xi’s role, but I will say that our ongoing dialogue, I believe, is constructive to both our nations.
QUESTION: One more?
QUESTION: Another on China? Can we just --
MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry, yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: It’s – China – it’s not exactly the same thing, but there’s a report that Chinese state-owned companies have begun running networks of radio stations that broadcast sort of Chinese-friendly news and opinion, but that do so, including in the United States, in a manner which obscures the fact that they are ultimately controlled by the Chinese state. Do you have anything on that?
MS TRUDEAU: So I’ve seen that report. Transparency is important to us, but also, I’d say the United States welcomes a diverse group of media views. Why don’t I take that? I’ll see if I can get anything more for you on it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I just --
MS TRUDEAU: David.
QUESTION: Hi, David Smith of The Guardian. Can I ask, is there anything you could tell us about the meeting between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Secretary Hammond tonight. One would guess Syria will probably be discussed. Do you – does the U.S. feel the UK is on the same page in all ways, or are there some important differences between them? And is there anything else, perhaps less expected, that they’re likely to discuss?
MS TRUDEAU: So I’m not going to preview their discussion. Foreign Secretary Hammond and Secretary Kerry speak frequently. The UK’s an indispensible ally and it’s a friend. So I would imagine that they would have many issues to discuss.
QUESTION: And on Syria, does the – is the U.S. happy with the UK’s contribution at the moment? Or is it --
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I’m not going to speak to another nation’s – we welcome all contributions from all 65 members of the coalition.
MS TRUDEAU: What I would say is we take reports of U.S. citizens detained in Iran seriously. Secretary Kerry has spoken about this very, very often. He raises this at every opportunity with the Iranians. And we believe that all U.S. citizens detained in Iran need to be returned home to their families.
QUESTION: And what do you think about this wave of arrests of American citizens in Iran? And you are preparing for lifting sanctions on Iran, and some lawmakers are talking about imposing sanctions on Iran because of these acts.
MS TRUDEAU: So I’m not going to speak specifically to congressional actions on this. What I would say is that the safety and security of U.S. citizens abroad is our highest priority. We raise these issues with the Iranians every chance we get.
QUESTION: And will these acts affect the U.S. policy towards lifting sanctions on --
MS TRUDEAU: So the JCPOA was very strictly focused on the nuclear dimension. The issue of detained Americans and the whereabouts of Robert Levinson are issues that we raise bilaterally with the Iranians and also through other channels.
QUESTION: So, I’m sorry. Are you in a position to confirm the report? You said nothing about – I mean, you didn’t answer Abby’s question.
MS TRUDEAU: So rephrase the question.
QUESTION: Are you aware that a Lebanese citizen who has U.S. legal permanent residency has been detained by Iranian authorities in Iran?
MS TRUDEAU: We are aware of reports that a U.S. lawful permanent resident has been arrested in Iran. U.S. lawful permanent residents are not U.S. passport holders, would travel on the passport of their nationality. Consular assistance would be provided by the country of that individual’s nationality.
QUESTION: So basically this guy has got to go to the Lebanese Government to get any assistance, even though he has a green card and apparently lives or has a residence in the United States?
MS TRUDEAU: So I can’t comment on any specific matter, but I would say that consular assistance is provided by the country of an individual’s nationality.
QUESTION: Is a permanent resident holder entitled to the same benefits or privacy under the U.S. Privacy Act as American citizens are?
MS TRUDEAU: So speaking broadly, legal, lawful permanent residents are also impacted by the Privacy Act.
QUESTION: So that – so is the reason that you can’t discuss this further that this individual would be covered by the Privacy Act and then you don’t yet – and you don’t have a waiver?
MS TRUDEAU: I would say that consular assistance for that individual would be provided by that individual’s country of nationality.
QUESTION: Right. No, no, I get that. But what I’m trying to figure out is – I mean, for one thing, you said that you’re aware of reports that such an individual has been detained in Iran. And I’m wondering if you can confirm that you believe the person to have been detained in Iran, not just that you’re aware of the reports.
MS TRUDEAU: I can only say we’re aware of reports, Arshad.
QUESTION: A legal permanent resident is a green card holder, right?
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. Your colleague at the White House was asked about some comments that the supreme leader made about the “death to America” chant, meaning, basically that it’s just a kind of harmless slogan and it doesn’t mean that they’re calling for the death of American people; it means they’re calling for the death of bad American policies and arrogance. The response at the White House to that question was that you’re going to judge Iran – as you’re doing with the nuclear deal, you’re going to judge Iran by its actions, not its words.
Well, its most recent actions appear to be arresting two – one American citizen and then a green card holder over the course of the past couple of weeks. And it seems to me that since Secretary Kerry began raising the cases of detained Americans, the number has increased rather than decreased. What do you make of those actions by the Iranian authorities?
MS TRUDEAU: So I would break this out. I would – I can’t speak to what Iran is thinking. That would not be my place, and it’d be impossible to do. What I can say is our commitment, and our commitment is to the safety and security of U.S. citizens abroad. We think these people need to be home with their families. We raise this every opportunity we can.
QUESTION: I get that. But the nuclear deal doesn’t – didn’t happen in a vacuum. And you, yourself, said that the – have said over and over again that you raise – that the only non-nuclear issue that was raised officially with the Iranians during the nuclear talks was the cases of the detained Americans or missing American. Since those – since that became a topic of conversation in quite frequent meetings between the Secretary of State and the Iranian foreign minister, as well as people lower down on the food chain, like Under Secretary Sherman, the number of Americans or people who have some kind of relationship to the United States detained or convicted has increased rather than decreased. Is that a cause for concern?
MS TRUDEAU: I – it’s always a concern when American citizens are detained overseas. And we will work hard. We raise this. We have a commitment. We want to get these people home with their families.
QUESTION: Yeah. But the problem is getting worse, not better, correct?
MS TRUDEAU: We are seeing that Americans are detained in Iran, yes.
QUESTION: Yes. But more frequently now than before the nuclear deal was finished, correct?
MS TRUDEAU: Yes.
QUESTION: Since you began bringing this up as an issue with the Iranians and saying you think – we think that these people should be released and brought home. They have taken zero steps to do that. And in fact, they’ve arrested more and then convicted one.
MS TRUDEAU: We continue to raise this. We will always raise this until they’re home with their families.
QUESTION: I know. But aren’t you – but are you not concerned at the fact that this issue is not going away, and in fact is getting worse? Aren’t you – you’re not concerned about that at all?
MS TRUDEAU: Of course we’re concerned.
MS TRUDEAU: We’re concerned with the status of these Americans detained in Iran. They need to be home.
QUESTION: Will there be any consequences?
MS TRUDEAU: Consequences? On this, this is something that we continue to have dialogue on. This is something we will continue to discuss.
QUESTION: But where are the consequences, then?
QUESTION: The Iranians are becoming more emboldened to go ahead and arrest American citizens as a result --
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to speak to Iranian --
QUESTION: -- as a result of the Iran deal?
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to speak to Iranian motives. It’s really not for me.
You guys, I can do one more. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: One more?
MS TRUDEAU: I’ll do two, Matt. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: The top of my question, which was about the supreme leader’s comments – do you have any specific reaction to that? Is this a relief?
MS TRUDEAU: No, we’re not going to react to every comment by an Iranian leader.
QUESTION: For the record, the Americans detained in Iran, I think, are not the only non-nuclear subject that came up in the context of the U.S.-Iranian nuclear talks. Bill Burns, I think in 2014, raised the issue of cooperating against the Islamic State in Iraq. And I think you guys confirmed that at the time.
MS TRUDEAU: Thanks, Arshad. And one last one.
MS TRUDEAU: Yes.
QUESTION: We know that United States has a longstanding interest of peaceful resolution of Taiwan issue.
MS TRUDEAU: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I’m wondering, do you think the meeting between Presidents Ma and Xi would play a positive role to resolve Taiwan question, the Taiwan issue peacefully? And secondly, does United States play a role to facilitate this meeting behind the scenes? Thank you.
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So first, for your last question, I’m not going to detail diplomatic conversations. I would say that this is a meeting that you would refer to the leaders of those nations are for Taiwan and China to discuss. I would say the benefits, however, of a stable and positive cross-strait ties that have brought to both sides of the Taiwan Strait, and the U.S. and the region, have been enormous.
Okay. Thanks, you guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:43 p.m.)