Daily Press Briefing - November 30, 2015
Index for Today's Briefing:
Daily Press Briefing
2:00 p.m. EST
MS TRUDEAU: Hi, everyone. Happy Monday. I have a few things from the top today. Today PEPFAR joined forces with Facebook and the UN Assistant Secretary General Ray Chambers to launch TreatmentForAll, a massive social media campaign mobilizing action around this lifesaving agenda.
The TreatmentForAll campaign focuses on ensuring that all people can rapidly and equitably access treatment. The campaign will begin with a premier of the first documentary film officially launched on Facebook during a screening at Facebook offices in New York City. The film will honor the more than 21 million people around the world who need treatment for HIV.
The inspiration for TreatmentForAll came in response to the recent World Health Organization landmark HIV treatment guidelines which, for the first time, called for anyone infected with HIV to be treated immediately.
According to the joint UN program on HIV/AIDS, nearly 37 million people are currently HIV positive and of those only 15.8 million are currently on treatment. Treating all is key to ending the epidemic and can be done with a more efficient use of existing resources and critical policy changes in high HIV-burdened countries.
For more information, check out the PEPFAR website at PEPFAR.gov or follow the hashtag #TreatmentForAll on Facebook or Twitter.
Next, it’s the end of the month today. At approximately 4 p.m. the State Department will make publicly available online approximately 7,800 pages of emails from former Secretary Clinton’s email account. This is our largest production to date. Today’s production exceeds the court’s goal of producing 66 percent of the Clinton email collection by November 30th. Meeting this goal is a testament to our commitment to releasing to the public these emails as expeditiously as possible. Emails in this month’s production were largely sent or received in 2012 and 2013. This month’s production also includes emails from 2009, 2010, and 2011. I will note subsequent productions will also include additional emails from throughout these years.
As we did for previous releases, the Department reviewed these emails for public release upon Freedom of Information Act guidelines. We continue to work diligently in producing the remaining emails and intend to complete production of Secretary Clinton’s emails on or before the court’s deadline of January 29th, 2016.
I’d also note in today’s production, we’ll produce one of the two documents the ODNI referred back to the State Department in September as having no IC equities. We said we’d update when any of those documents were released. The document is dated November 27th, 2010. It’s entitled "Follow-up." The document went through our normal Freedom of Information Act review process along with the other documents being processed for our monthly releases of former Secretary Clinton’s emails. State did not upgrade any information in this document.
I’d like to say hello to our visitors in the back. We’re very honored to have members of the Transatlantic Diplomatic Fellowship with us today. TDF is an exchange which brings European diplomats from EU and NATO member-states to work with the Department of State for a year. Likewise, American diplomats are chosen to work in European foreign ministries for a year, which is a great gig, and I would highly recommend. Since the program was created in 1995, over 150 diplomats have participated. Nine fellows will be working at the Department this year. I believe we have six with us today.
Finally, just a travel note. The Secretary is following President Obama’s schedule at COP21 meetings in Paris today. He also attended the Solar Mission launch event co-hosted by President Hollande and Prime Minister Modi.
And with that, Mr. Pennington.
MS TRUDEAU: Of course.
QUESTION: Can you corroborate yet the Turkish information that the war plane – the Russian war plane that was shot down was shot down over Turkish airspace?
MS TRUDEAU: We can. The available information including evidence from Turkey and our own sources indicates the Russian aircraft violated Turkish airspace. We also know that the Turks warned the Russian pilots multiple times before the airspace violation to which the Turks received no response.
QUESTION: So were they justified in shooting down the plane?
MS TRUDEAU: I’m going to refer you to the Turks for details on that. But I will say that the available information indicates that the Russian aircraft did violate Turkish airspace. However, what I would note, we support Turkey’s right to defend its territory and airspace. But as the President has said, Secretary Kerry has said, it’s important that the Russians and the Turks talk to each other at this point and take all measures to de-escalate the situation.
President Obama spoke to President Erdogan to convey this message on November 24th. Secretary Kerry spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov on the 25th. I believe you’ve seen the readouts on that. So the important thing that we’re stressing now is de-escalation and dialogue.
Lesley. Hold on one sec.
QUESTION: Well, also on Turkey. You said that they did warn them. Was that – do you know if those – were you happy that those warnings were clear, that they had – they were actually in the space? And how many times had they --
MS TRUDEAU: So on details on that, I’m going to refer you to the Turks. As the United States and NATO have stated, we have serious concerns regarding Russian incursions into Turkish airspace. We support the sovereignty of Turkey, which is one of our NATO allies.
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.
QUESTION: A very prominent pro-Kurdish human rights lawyer was killed in Turkey. Do you have anything on that?
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, thank you for the question. We’re deeply saddened by the tragic death of Tahir Elci on Saturday. He was a champion for all Turkish citizens who wish to live in peace and dignity. We offer our condolences to his family and friends as well as to the loved ones of the policeman killed in that incident. We urge a quick and transparent investigation to bring the perpetrators of this terrible crime to justice.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS TRUDEAU: Thank you. Turkey.
QUESTION: Does the State Department consider shooting down the Russian jet as an unproportional and heavy-handed response?
MS TRUDEAU: So what I’m going to do is stay where exactly we said, which is we need to encourage dialogue now and we need to de-escalate the situation. As I mentioned, President Obama spoke to the Turks. We’ve spoken to the Russians. The de-escalation is what needs to happen now. I’m not going to characterize it beyond that.
QUESTION: What do you think about the Russian economic sanctions imposed on Turkey in response to this shooting down of the Russian jet?
MS TRUDEAU: I would again call for the de-escalation of the situation. The dialogue and the continued discussion between the two parties is what’s important now. But thanks.
QUESTION: Ma’am, last week --
QUESTION: Turkey too.
MS TRUDEAU: Are we going on – hold on one second.
QUESTION: Go Turkey.
QUESTION: Turkey, yeah. On the death of the Kurdish Turkish lawyer --
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- so do you think this is a moment for the United States to think or to talk to the Turkish Government to restart or resume the peace talks that Turkey, especially the Kurdish-populated areas, are turning into another Syria and there are a lot of clashes happen? So what is the role of the United States to decrease the violence in those regions and also helping Turkish Government to investigate also in the specific case of Tahir Elci?
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Well, we’ve spoken about this tragic death, so I’m going to leave those comments where we are. In terms of the role in terms of Turkey’s position with the Kurds, I’m going to refer you to the Turkish Government on that.
The United States has – remains in ongoing conversation with NATO, our ally, our partner, our friend, and will continue to remain in dialogue on that. But I’m not going to detail our diplomatic conversations.
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you let that Turkish Government – your ally, NATO partner – to get into a deeper as civil war with the – its Kurdish people?
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Well, I think I would be careful about characterizing it as that. But I would say that we continue to have conversations with Turkey on a range of issue. Let’s not – let’s not get ahead of the investigation on this tragic death. Let’s focus on letting the Turks do their job, take a look at what happened. Let’s not make this a broader political issue right now. Let’s let the investigation move forward. But rest assured we remain in dialogue with Turkey on a range of issues.
QUESTION: Right. Last one on this. Would you also urge the Turkish Government to stop violating Iraqi airspace when they are bombing the PKK, as you are also supporting --
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. I’m going to let the Turks speak to their own sort of operations as it goes there, so I’m not going to go there.
QUESTION: On that --
MS TRUDEAU: Turkey. Yeah, I see you.
QUESTION: Last week, an unnamed source in the Administration told Reuters that the U.S. believes that the Russian plane was shot down in the Syrian airspace. Can you confirm that?
MS TRUDEAU: No. I think what I’m going to say is what I just said, which is that our own information shows us to believe that the available information, including evidence from Turkey and our own sources, is that the Russian aircraft violated Turkish airspace. I’m not going to speak to unnamed --
QUESTION: But if it was shot down in Syrian airspace --
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to speak to unnamed sources. I’m going to leave that where we are there.
QUESTION: But how come does Reuters know what the U.S. assessment is and you don’t?
MS TRUDEAU: So you’re quoting an unnamed source that you’re asking me to verify.
QUESTION: But why does the Administration make such a statement through an unnamed source and you – you cannot openly confirm it?
MS TRUDEAU: I can’t speak to unnamed source, but I will leave what I just said on the record. So thanks. Go ahead.
QUESTION: So where was – when was this – where was this plane shot down?
MS TRUDEAU: You know what, why don’t we move on? Thank you.
QUESTION: Okay. On which you alluded, you said based on the Turkish information and your --
MS TRUDEAU: Our own sources.
QUESTION: -- own source. Can you elaborate a little bit on that? It’s so vague.
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to speak to sort of our intelligence sources, but I will say that this is based not only on the Turkish information but our own sources.
QUESTION: European Union and Turkey yesterday agreed on to speed up Turkey’s UE accession progress.
MS TRUDEAU: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have comment on that?
MS TRUDEAU: So this is a matter really for the EU and Turkey, but of course, we support Turkey’s aspirations. So this would be a question that we would ask you to talk to them specifically about.
QUESTION: Stay in Turkey?
MS TRUDEAU: I’d love to stay on Turkey.
QUESTION: Thank you. Last week, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet daily and another journalist arrested because publishing news in Turkey.
MS TRUDEAU: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You issued statement about 24 hours later. I’m wondering if you have anything further; specifically, do you know why these journalists got arrested?
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. I’m not going to speak to those actions. I think you did see the statement that we put out on November 27, which noted that we were troubled by the pretrial arrest yesterday of the senior editors of this respected Turkish newspaper.
The investigation – these criminal charges and the arrest – do raise serious concerns about the Turkish Government’s commitment, enshrined in the Turkish constitution, to fundamental principles. These events are only the latest in a series of judicial and law enforcement actions taken under questionable circumstances against Turkish media outlets critical of the government.
QUESTION: Have you – have reached out to Turkish authorities and tried to get more why journalists are getting arrested for publishing news in Turkey?
MS TRUDEAU: So I would say – and I think you know maybe better than anyone in the room how often we speak about media freedom in Turkey here. So while I’m not going to detail our diplomatic conversations, we do continue to talk to our friends and our allies in Turkey on a range of issues.
QUESTION: Final one: As you stated, you have been talking about concerns regarding Turkish press freedom for a long time. Are you – you said you are troubled, but how do you work with an ally who has been constantly breaching freedom of the press, which you see very fundamental element of any democracy?
MS TRUDEAU: Well, I think this is something that’s important to Turkish citizens first and foremost, and I think you have Turkish citizens speaking out about this. As I said, we continue to have dialogue, not only publicly through statements or from the podium, but we continue to have conversations with our allies and partners – not only Turkey, but around the world – on issues that are important to the United States.
QUESTION: Yeah, can I --
MS TRUDEAU: Hi.
QUESTION: Can I just go back to the plane, just for a second?
MS TRUDEAU: Of course.
QUESTION: Isn’t part of the de-conflicting arrangements between the United States and Russia and the using Syrian airspace – isn’t part of it is basically for Russia to submit the flight path, and therefore you would be aware of that flight path and whether it did penetrate Turkish airspace and how long it was there and so on? So that – and you would convey this to the Turks.
MS TRUDEAU: So what I would say is that the United States and the coalition were not informed by the Russian Federation of the Su-24 sortie that was downed on November 24th. We do not coordinate operations with the Russian Federation. There is no provision in the memorandum of understanding to share that information.
QUESTION: So with this, let’s say – I mean, this incident, wouldn’t it prompt you – and the Russians, in fact – to perhaps coordinate better and share that kind of information (inaudible)?
MS TRUDEAU: I think our view has been very clear on where we’d like to see Russia in terms of this broader scope, and it’s worth stepping up a step. If our objectives are the same and if Russia is committed to the counter-ISIL fight, then that’s a conversation we’re going to have. But if we’re looking specifically on the details on what happened with this, we’d refer you to the Russian Government, who could be best placed to speak to that.
QUESTION: Okay. And these groups that were targeted you consider to be part of the Syrian moderate opposition, which apparently – I mean, we haven’t really heard much about them in the past.
MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry, one more time. Did we switch topics?
QUESTION: The group that had been targeted by the Russian bomber – the Turkmen in particular, which we haven’t really heard a great deal about in the past – they are part of the Syrian moderate opposition or what you consider the Syrian moderate opposition?
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. On something like that, I’d refer you to them to speak to --
QUESTION: Based on what you know now, does Turkey --
MS TRUDEAU: Pam.
MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry. Actually, we took you, so I’m going to move around, okay? Pam.
QUESTION: Going to a different topic, Afghanistan.
MS TRUDEAU: Please.
QUESTION: Turkey. One more.
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. I’ll come back to you if we have time. Thank you.
QUESTION: Do you have any additional information concerning the U.S. warning of an imminent attack in Kabul? And then secondly, what is the U.S. doing in particular to help citizens in that area remain alert, and if there – are there any additional security measures that are being put in place to help U.S. citizens?
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Thank you for this, and I’m glad you asked, because there’s been some, I think, misunderstanding on the nature of this. So we’ll start with the premise which we always start with, which is the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas is one of the department’s highest priorities. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued an emergency message on November 30th informing U.S. citizens in Kabul it had received credible reports of an imminent attack in Kabul City. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul received these reports of a specific and credible imminent threat, but it does not – not – pertain to the U.S. embassy, U.S. citizens, or U.S. interests. The message, however, strongly urges U.S. citizens to exercise caution if moving around the city.
QUESTION: So – is Pam --
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I’m not sure, Pam, because you were asking – I’m not going to talk about sort of the security precautions there. I’ll go through and – of course, all U.S. citizens, whether they’re based in Kabul or if they’re based in London or if they’re based in Buenos Aires, we encourage them to register with our STEP Program so they can continue to receive information. It’s really the best way to get this relevant, important information while people are overseas.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MS TRUDEAU: Of course.
QUESTION: So is this threat at all related to the Paris attacks, or is this something completely different?
MS TRUDEAU: So what we do is – while I’m not going to tie the two together – is we are continually assessing our information around the world at any time. So I don’t believe there’s a link.
QUESTION: Okay. And this is not against any U.S.-specific thing, so --
MS TRUDEAU: Exactly, and that’s really important. It was not specific information pertaining to U.S. citizens or U.S. interests. It was a general threat for Kabul.
QUESTION: But still, are you going to reduce the number of people at the embassy?
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to get ahead of any of those. It’s – this was an emergency message put out at posts this morning, so I think you guys have the understanding of our different levels on this. So this was pertaining to threats in Kabul, not pertaining specifically to U.S. interests.
And Ros, is this on Kabul?
QUESTION: Yeah, it’s still on Kabul.
MS TRUDEAU: Sure.
QUESTION: In light of the fact that the Taliban seems to have been getting stronger, particularly in the southern part of the country, what does the fact that this message had to be released this morning say about the U.S.’s assessment of the Taliban’s overall strength in the country?
MS TRUDEAU: I think I would back up more and I would actually talk about sort of the U.S. interests in the Afghan-led reconciliation process. I’m not going to link this or characterize this with any perceived growth of certain groups there, but what I would say is that this does focus on how important this long-term dialogue is – an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process that will bring people to the table so the security and the stability of Afghanistan is guaranteed for its citizens.
QUESTION: And the issuance of this emergency message, does it in any way mean a tightening of movements for U.S. embassy personnel --
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to speak to --
QUESTION: -- beyond what was put out back in May?
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to speak to any sort of specific security details on that, but the message is online. It’s kabul.usembassy.gov. You can read it there. As always for security messages overseas, they’re posted.
MS TRUDEAU: Great.
QUESTION: Do we – is there any indication at this point that this was a Kabul – or, sorry, a Taliban threat versus a threat from another organization?
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to speak specifically on that.
QUESTION: That was going to be my question. Haqqani Network --
MS TRUDEAU: Sure.
QUESTION: -- or ISIS-related? The three.
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, again, I’m not going to do a detail on that. But what I would say is it’s the importance of staying alert. It’s the importance for everyone of situational awareness. I think we spoke to this last week as well.
QUESTION: What exactly was the alert for, then, if it’s not for U.S. citizens, not for the embassy? You’re not going to say who it was from when there’s – to be alert for the Taliban --
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, it’s hard for us from a public podium to detail sort of threat reporting that details this. But what I would say is that it was sufficient enough that we did feel that an email and a message should go out to U.S. citizens in Kabul.
QUESTION: Can I change topics?
MS TRUDEAU: Okay, are we all done with Kabul?
MS TRUDEAU: Hold on one second. I’m going to move around the room. If I have time, I’ll get back to you. Okay.
MS TRUDEAU: As I said, I’m going to move around. If I have time, I’ll get back to you.
So – I’m sorry, so we’re done with Kabul?
QUESTION: I have a couple of questions.
MS TRUDEAU: Sure.
QUESTION: No, I want to change topics.
MS TRUDEAU: Okay.
MS TRUDEAU: Sure.
QUESTION: Okay, couple of questions. Are you aware that a third radio station was also closed by the Israelis today – the third this month? And are these stations – I think they are – I mean, according to what I knew before, they are either partially or completely subsidized by USAID. Are you aware of that?
MS TRUDEAU: Okay, so we’ve seen the reports and we’re following this closely. At this stage, because I literally just saw this as I walked out, so I’m going to be very transparent on this – we don’t have information about the specific station or the particular reasons it was closed. But we are tracking the fact that a number of radio stations have been shut down over the last few weeks. Broadly speaking, we continue to highlight the importance of balancing the fight against violence and incitement with the need to respect civil liberties as much as possible. So if we have more information, we’ll definitely be forthcoming.
QUESTION: And just to follow up, last month the Israelis arrested 900 Palestinians, bringing the total to 2,300 Palestinians since the beginning of October, but 40 percent of whom are underage and so on. A you have any comment on that? Is that a bit excessive?
MS TRUDEAU: That’s something – not knowing the details of all these cases, it’s not really something I can comment on, Said.
QUESTION: All right, let me just follow on with one more issue.
MS TRUDEAU: Of course.
QUESTION: Yesterday there was a meeting – during the meeting, the weekly meeting of the Israeli Government, the Israeli Government announced that it was suspending contact with the EU over the labeling issue, that they don’t see a role for the EU in the peace process. One, do you have any plans to sort of demand labeling of products that are made in the settlements? And second, do you feel that the Israelis have gone a bit too far by disallowing the EU from any sort of involvement in the peace process?
MS TRUDEAU: So what – I’ll start with your second question first. We’ve seen the reports. We don’t know the practical implications of this decision, so I’m going to refer you to the Israelis and the EU for information on this.
Taking a look at the broader labeling issue, what was your question again?
QUESTION: My question is: Are you – do you have any plans to follow suit with what the European Union did by demanding that they be labeled “Not made in Israel”? I mean, considering that you issued on June 30th – last June – a statement saying that – while you oppose boycott, you differentiate between the settlements and Israel at large. So --
MS TRUDEAU: Well, we understand the objective of the guidelines is to provide consumers correct information about the origin of products as required by EU law. The EU has also made clear the measures are not a boycott, and you’ve stated our position on that, and the EU has also made clear they oppose boycotts against Israel.
QUESTION: I understand, but you are not going to say – follow suit, say you cannot receive products that say “Made in Israel” when in fact it is made in the West Bank, in the settlements? You --
MS TRUDEAU: Well, we understand that these are technical, fact-based guidelines – again, speaking about the EU guidelines delineating the origin of product. As we understand it, if a product is produced in Israel, it will be labeled “Made in Israel.” If it’s made in a settlement in the West Bank, it will be – it will not be labeled “Made in Israel,” but rather that it was made in a settlement. I’m not going to get ahead of any decision we do.
MS TRUDEAU: Iraq.
QUESTION: Yeah. In the past couple month, United States commended Prime Minister Abadi for his reform initiatives. And you had your diplomat – Tony Blinken was in Baghdad and also visited Erbil as well. How is the reforms going on in Baghdad? Because the critics say it is stuck, it’s just words, there’s no action, there’s no actual reforms. Was there – did he get any update what’s going on there in Baghdad? And also in Erbil, is there any update that he could – he talked to the Kurdish officials about the internal political turmoil?
MS TRUDEAU: At this stage I don’t have a readout on that. We’ve been very clear that we support the reform process as it continues. But beyond that, I don’t have anything.
QUESTION: Anything about the refugees? Anything – like he visited the region --
MS TRUDEAU: Again, I don’t have a readout on those.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS TRUDEAU: Hi.
MS TRUDEAU: Syria.
QUESTION: Yeah. There are several reports that Russian jets have targeted a marketplace in Syrian Idlib province, which resulted tens of civilian death. And also in different location, a bakery, which was operated by a Turkish NGO, was targeted by reportedly Russian jets. Again, that was serving ten thousands of people on daily basis. In a separate strike last week, I think on Thursday, in Turkish border – near Turkish border, again, reportedly Russian jets have targeted an aid convoy. I think they hit about 10 trailers, and again, killed nearly 10 people. I wonder what State Department thinks about these Russians are targeting the humanitarian organizations and civilians.
MS TRUDEAU: So we note these reports. We cannot confirm details on that. We’ve been clear that the majority of Russian airstrikes have been focused in areas without a significant ISIL presence and have targeted opposition groups instead of ISIL. We continue to urge Russia to focus its efforts against ISIL. And as we long said, we welcome Russia’s constructive contributions to coalition efforts.
QUESTION: Are you suggesting that the U.S. is not aware who is bombing where in the province, the Idlib Province, or --
MS TRUDEAU: What I would say is if you have questions on Russian airstrikes, you should speak to the Russian Government.
QUESTION: And one more question. The France foreign minister last week said that Assad could be used against ISIL.
MS TRUDEAU: The U.S. position on Assad hasn’t changed. Mr. Assad has lost legitimacy. He is a leader who has barrel-bombed his own people and continues to make large regions of Syria ungovernable, which has led to the rise of ISIL, which has led to the refugee problem. So our position on Assad has not changed.
QUESTION: Can we change subject?
QUESTION: Syria? May I ask one?
MS TRUDEAU: Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you. RT crew with two correspondents came under attack near the Syrian-Turkish border last week. They were fired at from U.S.-made TOW missiles. Is that the kind of action you would expect from moderate rebels, or do you think those were extremists?
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not aware of those reports.
QUESTION: But does the U.S. keep track of the weapons that it is sending to the moderate Syrian rebels in Syria?
MS TRUDEAU: So on questions specifically taking a look at that, I’m going to refer you to the DOD, the Department of Defense. But again, I’m not aware of those reports.
QUESTION: Just – I mean, the U.S. weapons were used to fire at journalists in Syria last week. They were used to fire at a helicopter.
MS TRUDEAU: I think I’ve answered, so I’d refer you to the Department of Defense, and I’m not aware of those reports.
QUESTION: Do you condemn or do you condone such use of the weapons?
MS TRUDEAU: I’m going to refer you to the Department of Defense. Thank you.
QUESTION: So can I change the subject to Saudi Arabia?
MS TRUDEAU: Of course.
QUESTION: Can we go to one more on Syria?
MS TRUDEAU: One more on Syria, and then we’ll go to Saudi.
QUESTION: When you tell journalists to speak to the Russian Government, are you confident that those journalists will get a straight answer from the Russian Government?
MS TRUDEAU: I would not characterize the Russian Government’s interaction with the press.
MS TRUDEAU: Please.
QUESTION: So there are reports out that the Saudis are to execute more than 50 convicted of terrorism. Amnesty International says that given the large number of executions that have happened in Saudi Arabia that they do take these reports seriously. Do you have anything to corroborate these reports and any reaction to it?
MS TRUDEAU: So I’ve seen the reports. I actually just saw them this morning. I can’t confirm them. I don’t have details on this. In terms of the nature of these cases, if these are human rights cases or if they’re criminal cases, again, I don’t have details, so on that I’m going to refer you to do the Saudi Government.
That said --
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I’ll say that. That said, we’ve been consistent in our concerns about human rights conditions in Saudi Arabia. There’s excellent resources, including our Human Rights Report online that we would refer you, that underlies these concerns.
QUESTION: When you say that you’ve been consistent, can you explain to us what that means? I mean, in the case of this artist or --
MS TRUDEAU: The poet?
QUESTION: The poet, Fayadh. What have you done in terms of maintaining consistency? You’ve called this out --
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Well, I’m not going to – I’m not going to detail the diplomatic conversations, but I will say we continue to call on the Government of Saudi Arabia to follow due process in all legal cases and ensure that judicial proceedings, including sentencing, are transparent, in accordance with international commitments and obligations.
QUESTION: Do you know that you raised his case in particular?
MS TRUDEAU: I can’t speak to that.
MS TRUDEAU: Sure.
QUESTION: Last night when I asked John Kirby about the refugee program --
MS TRUDEAU: John Kirby is always right, so let’s – we’ll start from that premise. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yeah. So yeah, I asked him about the refugee program for the Syrians. So I learned, according to that program you have, you are about to welcome up to 10,000 Syrians --
MS TRUDEAU: Up to 10,000.
QUESTION: -- refugees. So until – it was November 20, I believe, he said we have 180 – 80 hundred – 80 thousand, I think. No, one – I’m sorry, 187 individuals arrived to United States under this program. But according to the program, you should have at least 400 individuals coming to United States every month. What makes that slowing down?
MS TRUDEAU: Are you doing the math for us here?
QUESTION: Yeah. No, I mean, what makes that slowing down? Do you – you don’t have manpower? Is it security? What is it?
MS TRUDEAU: No. So let’s – so let’s start with the commitment, we’ll go to the process, and then we’re going to end with the commitment again.
So the President has made very clear that we have a commitment to welcome up to 10,000 – at least 10,000 – I’m sorry, at least 10,000 Syrian refugees. You all know – I think we had the Principal Deputy – or Deputy Assistant Secretary Simon Henshaw came down. He spoke to you about the nature of our screening, spoke to you about the rigor of our process. The process is not short. This is a long process. It can be anywhere from 18 to 24 months. However, we stand behind the security of that. There’s a reason it takes that long, and that’s because it’s up to 24 steps in this process.
However, the commitment is the same. How we get there and where we get there, we have the commitment to make this happen. I’m not going to get into how many we should be doing by week or by month, but I would say is that people are working very hard to make this happen.
QUESTION: Elizabeth, do you --
QUESTION: Do you – are you convinced with the staffing for this program?
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to speak – I believe that PDAS Henshaw actually spoke about staffing on this, so I’d refer you to exactly what he said because I believe he answered that question.
QUESTION: All right, thank you.
QUESTION: On the number of refugees, since certain political candidates are making some really outlandish figures and so on, how do you inform them? Do they ask you for the real figures? Do you advise them of the real figures or just from this podium?
MS TRUDEAU: Oh, we count on you. So there’s a couple different things. The conversations that we have with elected officials – local, state, national – continue. These are our elected leaders. We continue to remain in dialogue. The media also plays a vitally important role in this not only to make sure that the true facts are out there, but explaining the process on this. I think the people in this room, I certainly know, we’re a nation of immigrants and this is what the United States stands for. And so the more that we can lessen the scaremongering and make sure that people really understand the nuance of what we do, the better I think we all are as Americans.
QUESTION: But how is --
QUESTION: I guess my question is on methodology. Sorry, Ros. On methodology on how you approach it for – because I mean, governors are stepping in, states are saying ours and so on. So there’s a great deal of confusion and people are – the public is completely unaware of the number of Syrians that are in the country or that are slated to come.
MS TRUDEAU: So there’s great resources online. And I know you guys hate it when I refer you to websites, but I would say the Wrapsnet which is something that our Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration does which is publicly available information: refugees by state, by country, by time period. And that dispels a lot of sort of that fog of misinformation.
But to get back to your original question, it’s all dialogue. It’s people asking questions and then making sure that people have facts. I think you guys saw last week we put out a myths and fact sheet on Syrian refugees. It’s just one of the things. Misinformation is hard, and as they say, rumor will spread around the world before truth gets its pants on.
QUESTION: And I know that this building doesn’t do politics, but when you have an erstwhile presidential candidate going to a refugee camp in Syria and putting out his own media on what he thinks the crisis is, and he has a lot of followers, how does the U.S. Government counter the message of someone who’s not an elected official, who wants to be an elected official, and who has a lot of people who think that what he says is actually true? Can there be a more vigorous response from the U.S. Government in correcting the record?
MS TRUDEAU: So I’d start with your first point, which you said it perfectly: This building doesn’t do politics. I’m not going to speak to what candidates or potential candidates or private citizens say. But I think you underscore a hugely important point, which is we have to keep sharing the facts. We have to keep talking about the process; we have to keep talking about the rigor of the screening, the fact that refugees are the most highly-screened travelers to the United States of any traveler. It’s tremendous. The process that these individuals go through to build a new life is staggering, but it’s a commitment that this government, this Administration, and this building have along with our partners in the interagency to keeping the homeland safe.
QUESTION: Hi. Question about these reports that the Kurdish forces are torturing ISIS prisoners who were captured during the joint operation in October. Are you aware of the reports? And can you tell us whether the U.S. is doing anything to try to stop that behavior if that’s the case?
MS TRUDEAU: To be honest, I am not aware of the reports. Why don’t I take that and we’ll come back to you.
Okay, Pam. I’m sorry, Michel, let me grab Pam and then I’ll come to you.
MS TRUDEAU: Sure.
QUESTION: -- tomorrow in Brussels. First of all, Vice President Biden said recently that the U.S. would support Montenegro’s membership in NATO. So my first question is: Does the U.S. expect an invitation to be issued to Montenegro during the Brussels meeting?
MS TRUDEAU: Okay, so good question. In September, we announced the United States support for offering an invitation to Montenegro provided they made improvements in rule of law and increased public support for membership. We applaud the great strides the Government of Montenegro has made in this – in these areas, and we are prepared to support an invitation to Montenegro at NATO’s foreign ministerial in December. We believe Montenegro’s membership in NATO will contribute to Balkan and European security.
QUESTION: Do we – does the U.S. expect the invitation to be extended?
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to get ahead of the decision making process. NATO is a consensual organization. But I will say the United States will support an invitation.
QUESTION: And one more concerning Georgia, which is another country that has been aspiring to be part of NATO. In this meeting, do you anticipate that Georgia’s progress or lack of progress will be recognized? And then also, will be there any focus by the U.S. in terms of what else Georgia needs to do?
MS TRUDEAU: So Georgia is an important NATO partner, a valuable contributor to NATO operations, including as the second-largest troop contributor to NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. The U.S. remains committed to NATO’s open door policy. We continue to support Georgia’s aspirations for integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions, including NATO. And the bottom line is we believe that Georgia’s relationship with the alliance contains all the practical tools that will prepare it for eventual membership.
Great. And I’m sorry, Michel, and then we’re going to move.
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to characterize Mr. Assad’s comments. I’ll – he can speak to himself on that. You’re asking me to confirm what Mr. Assad has said about the flow of Syrian refugees?
QUESTION: Any comment on this?
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I have no comment on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can we stay in this hemisphere a moment?
MS TRUDEAU: Of course.
MS TRUDEAU: Yep.
QUESTION: My understanding that there’s another round underway here at State. Do you have an update on what the agenda is, what the hopes are for these two days of talks?
MS TRUDEAU: So the migration talks?
MS TRUDEAU: Okay, so thank you for that. Today the U.S. and Cuba will hold their biannual migration talks at the department to discuss continuing implementation of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords, which provide for the safe, orderly, and legal migration of Cubans to the U.S.
We will be proposing to the Cuban Government a discussions on how both governments can contribute to combating smuggling organizations that take advantage of Cuban migrants. Additionally, we are looking for solutions to the challenge if migrants do not have a valid asylum claim or other legal basis to remain in a country. We recognize that governments have the sovereign right to return them to their home country. Any and all returns should be carried out safely and with dignity.
So this is part of an ongoing conversation. We’ll look to see if we have a readout on that. We have a number of things, but this is very narrowly focused on the migration issue.
QUESTION: Okay. Is there a second meeting that’s happening tomorrow that’s a part of the larger normalization process?
MS TRUDEA: So the one I’ve got is migration. I’m not aware of that second one.
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Hi.
MS TRUDEAU: I think we talked about this last week. I think, actually, there was – we – there was a conversation on this. If I can, we’ll punt that over, too.
QUESTION: I know it’s led by Homeland Security Department, not by the State Department, but do you – generally speaking, do you think such dialogue is a good thing, is a positive --
MS TRUDEAU: Dialogue is always important, and China is an important partner. So of course we’re encouraged by a dialogue at all levels. On specifics on that, though, I’d refer you to the department that runs it.
QUESTION: Why is that led by the Homeland Security Department, not by State Department? Is that because the cybersecurity working group is still suspended under the state --
MS TRUDEAU: So on that I’m going to refer you to Homeland Security, who’s the lead on that.
MS TRUDEAU: So we have a few more minutes. Yeah, of course.
QUESTION: So President Obama said before his meeting with President Xi earlier today that it was his intention to discuss how China can play a greater role in addressing the conflict in Syria. Can you say what specifically the U.S. is in talks to see what China can contribute? Is this mostly with the transition or also on the anti-ISIL component?
MS TRUDEAU: So on that, because it’s a presidential meeting, I’m going to refer you to the White House.
QUESTION: Well, can you speak broadly to what the efforts in this building are? If --
MS TRUDEAU: Well, the efforts in this building is – as you know, sort of the counter-ISIL coalition has five components. So it’s not only a military campaign, but this is a campaign that takes a look at financing. It takes a look at messaging. It takes a look at the issue of foreign fighters. It takes a look at stabilization. And we’ve been very clear that any nation who feels like they can contribute in manner to that coalition, as long as their goals are aligned, are welcome.
I’m not going to speak specifically on the China issue. Again, I’d refer you to the White House on that. But this is a broad, wide-ranging issue. And we have a lot of different threads working on this.
QUESTION: Another on China?
MS TRUDEAU: Sure. I’ve got China and then I’ll go to you.
QUESTION: Last week there were some Chinese activists who were sentenced, including a media rights activist called Yang Maodong, and – but also a journalist who was released. I wondered if you had any comment on that.
MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So we are aware that a Chinese court has sentenced Yang Maodong to six years in prison on charges related to his peaceful advocacy for human rights. The trial fell short of internationally accepted standards of due process. Particularly disturbing was the last-minute addition of new charges with which – of which Mr. Yang and his attorneys were not given a chance to defend against. We call on the Chinese Government to release Mr. Yang. China cannot achieve its stated aim of building a rule-of-law society when it uses imprisonment as a tool to punish Chinese citizens’ peaceful expression of their views.
And you were looking for Gao Yu as well? But we understand that this was the release – his release. So we are encouraged, however, by news reports that Chinese journalist Gao Yu will be allowed to serve the remainder of her reduced sentence outside of a formal prison facility due to health issues. Again, though, the United States remains concerned that Gao’s conviction has been upheld following a closed retrial, given reports that Chinese authorities coerced her into confessing to charges of leaking state secrets to a foreign news outlet. And again, we continue to urge China to uphold its international obligations to universally recognized human rights, including freedom from coerced confessions and the right to a fair trial.
MS TRUDEAU: Sure.
MS TRUDEAU: Of course.
QUESTION: Now that the United States seems to – or knows that the Russians were the ones who violated the airspace of Turkey, does the United States have an intention to condemn or at least criticize the Russians’ act? Or if not, why not?
MS TRUDEAU: So we’ve spoken about this before. And the issue is a question of dialogue and de-escalation. And I think at this stage, where we’re very focused on is making sure that the situation doesn’t escalate, that Russia and Turkey are talking through this.
QUESTION: Just to – I really need to clarify this. Does the U.S. believe that the Russian plane was shot down while in the Syrian airspace?
MS TRUDEAU: So we believe that the Russian plane violated Turkish airspace.
QUESTION: But where was it shot down?
MS TRUDEAU: I’m going to leave it there, okay?
QUESTION: Another on --
QUESTION: Just one more.
MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.
QUESTION: What about the sanctions that Russia has said it will impose on Turkey? Do you think they --
MS TRUDEAU: So we actually talked about this before. This is, again, a situation where we call on both Russia and Turkey to de-escalate the situation, return to dialogue. This is a situation that we need to restore calm and make sure we’re having these conversations.
QUESTION: There are dozens of --
QUESTION: On Turkey, too.
MS TRUDEAU: Mm-hmm.
MS TRUDEAU: I’m not aware of, but if this is a bilateral Turkish-Saudi, I would refer you to those governments. I mean, I do – one more.
QUESTION: But you don’t have any problem with such a military operation?
MS TRUDEAU: Again, I’m not really tracking these reports, so what I would do is refer you to those governments.
I have one more.
QUESTION: Same subject, one --
MS TRUDEAU: Turkey? Syria?
QUESTION: Yes. While you are calling on Turks and Russians to de-escalate, President Putin just gave some remarks in Paris and he’s accusing Turkey for selling ISIS oil or trading with it. In brief, both leaders today in Paris accusing each other. So it seems like your wish is not being realized. Are you planning to talk to both countries to --
MS TRUDEAU: So we have talked to both countries, as I mentioned. We spoke to them last week. We continue to be in dialogue. This is a situation that needs to de-escalate. It’s a dangerous situation. It’s a situation where we need to have a dialogue on that. I can’t speak to Mr. Putin’s remarks; I haven’t seen them. But I would emphasize that we’re calling for a dialogue between the countries.
So thanks, you guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:44 p.m.)