Daily Press Briefing - October 3, 2016

Elizabeth Trudeau
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 3, 2016



TRANSCRIPT:

2:04 p.m. EDT

MS TRUDEAU: Good afternoon, everyone. Sorry I’m a few minutes late. I have quite a lot at the top, so I ask for your patience. First, on refugees. At the Leaders’ Summit in September, President Obama brought together world leaders to galvanize additional support, improve education and employment opportunities for refugees, and expand opportunities for refugee resettlement.

As you know, the U.S. resettlement program serves refugees who are especially vulnerable – those who fled violence and persecution and cannot safely stay or return home. This is the largest refugee resettlement program in the world. For each of the past several years, it has offered 70,000 refugees new homes in the United States. In this fiscal year, President Obama set a new, more ambitious goal: resettling 85,000 refugees. The end of the fiscal year, just at the end of last week, we welcomed 84,995.

These refugees are admitted under the program, come from 79 countries. Over 70 percent fled five nations – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Burma, Iraq, and Somalia – where protracted conflicts have driven millions from their home. Over 72 percent of these individuals are women and children. Many are single mothers, survivors of torture, people who need urgent medical treatment, religious minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or inter-sex individuals, or others imperiled by violence and persecution.

American communities have long been the bedrock of the United States Refugee Admissions Program. The United States is proud to work with partners in about 180 cities in 48 states and that list is expanding in Fiscal Year 2017 as more and more American communities open their doors to refugees. As you know, the safety and security of American citizens is our top priority. Refugees are screened more carefully than any other type of traveler to the United States. Screening includes the participation of law enforcement, intelligence, and counterterrorism agencies.

Looking forward, we will welcome 110,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2017. This is a 57 percent increase over fiscal year 2015 and is consistent with our belief that all nations must do more to help the record number of innocent civilians who are uprooted, cast adrift, and desperate to find peace, safety, and the chance to rebuild their lives.

Next, I know a number of you are following Hurricane Matthew. An update on that: As Hurricane Matthew threatens the central Caribbean, the United States is carefully monitoring the situation and preparing to assist governments and communities in the region. The USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance has already deployed disaster response teams to Haiti, Jamaica, and the Bahamas in advance of the storm’s arrival. These disaster experts are actively monitoring the storm’s track in real-time and working with officials in Jamaica and Haiti, which have already requested U.S. assistance. The U.S. Government is also in close communications with officials in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Colombia, and Belize, to coordinate relief efforts if requested.

USAID has strategically pre-positioned emergency relief supplies including shelter materials, blankets, hygiene kits, household items, and water purification equipment to ensure that they can quickly help impacted communities. An initial shipment of relief supplies is being prepared to rapidly respond to those in need. We remain, as I said, in close contact with governments in the region. We’ll continue to coordinate preparations.

I’d also note, we’ve issued Travel Warnings for – excuse me, for Haiti, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, recommending U.S. citizens depart those countries if possible by commercial airlines. As we know, airports will close if conditions deteriorate. We advise U.S. citizens in affected areas, who have not already made travel arrangements, to make preparations immediately to shelter in place in a secure location and to protect their property. As always, we advise U.S. citizens to read Travel Warnings which provide embassies’ emergency contact information as well as other information to help them prepare for the storm. We’ll continue to update you as that unfolds.

Next, on Colombia. I think you all saw John Kirby’s statement this morning. The United States commends the government and the people of Colombia for the democratic process held yesterday and recognizes that difficult decisions will be taken, will need to be taken, in the days ahead. President Santos, FARC leader Londono, and opposition leader Uribe, have all indicated their commitment to achieve peace and to work together in an inclusive manner to do so. Colombians have also expressed their commitment to settle their differences through institutions and dialogue rather than violence.

Colombia can count on the support of the United States as it continues to seek democratic peace and prosperity for all Colombians. We support President Santos’s proposal for unity of effort in support of a broad dialogue as a next step towards achieving a just and lasting peace.

Finally, I think you’ve all seen the statement that just went out from John Kirby. The United States is suspending its participation in bilateral channels with Russia that were established to sustain the cessation of hostilities. This is not a decision we took lightly. The United States spared no effort in negotiating and attempting to implement an arrangement with Russia aimed at reducing violence, providing unhindered humanitarian access, and degrading terrorist organizations operating in Syria, including Daesh and al-Qaida in Syria.

Unfortunately, Russia failed to live up to its own commitments, including its obligations under international humanitarian law and UNSCR 2254, and was also either unwilling or unable to ensure Syrian regime adherence to the arrangements to which Moscow agreed. Rather, Russia and the Syrian regime have chosen to pursue a military course inconsistent with the cessation of hostilities as demonstrated by intensified attacks against civilian area, targeting of critical infrastructure such as hospitals, preventing humanitarian aid from reaching civilians in need.

As noted in the statement, the U.S. will also withdraw personnel that have been dispatched in anticipation of the establishment of the Joint Implementation Center. To ensure the safety of our respective military personnel and enable the fight against Daesh, the U.S. will continue to utilize the channel of communications established with Russia to de-conflict counterterrorism operations in Syria.

Thank you for your patience. We’re going to go to Lesley.

QUESTION: Thank you. So I assume that Secretary Kerry has informed Sergey Lavrov of the suspension of these talks?

MS TRUDEAU: Yes.

QUESTION: When?

MS TRUDEAU: We have been – we’ve been in direct communication with the Russians, not only in Geneva but consistently throughout this period.

QUESTION: But when did he specifically tell him that they had suspend --

MS TRUDEAU: I don’t have that – I don’t have that granularity in that. What I would say is that our teams met through the weekend. We engaged in what we viewed as very robust discussions. As I noted, this decision was not taken lightly.

QUESTION: Was it anything specific that brought this on?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to provide the granularity on the details of that, but --

QUESTION: Was it the bombing of the hospitals?

MS TRUDEAU: As we said in the statement, we were very – we were – the Russians made very clear that they would not cease the attacks that we’re seeing, that we saw this weekend, that we saw, the attack against the hospital. As we engaged in this dialogue with the Russians, our main points were always clear: humanitarian access, the re-establishment of a cessation of hostilities. We felt that we came to the point with Russia where we weren’t reaching the same goal.

QUESTION: And did --

QUESTION: So would the --

MS TRUDEAU: Hold on one second, Said.

QUESTION: Would the – yeah, so would the – I mean, Kerry would have had to have informed his counterpart of this. That’s what I’m trying to ask.

MS TRUDEAU: So what I’m saying is we had direct communication with the Russians. The Russians were informed.

QUESTION: Today? Or over the weekend.

MS TRUDEAU: So it was my understanding that that decision was taken today.

QUESTION: So given that this is now a suspension of talks, does this mean full-blown military warfare going on on both sides? Or does this mean that the U.S. has also now looked at those options and is ready to move forward on the alternatives?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, as the President said, we’re always examining our approach. The National Security Council has pulled in views from across the entire interagency, and that’s not just the diplomatic approach, where we’ve obviously been very focused, but also financial experts, military experts, intelligence experts. I’m not going to get ahead of next steps, but I will say, as we said last week, that those conversations have been going on.

QUESTION: Elizabeth --

MS TRUDEAU: Said.

QUESTION: -- just to follow up on Lesley’s thing on --

MS TRUDEAU: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary himself inform the foreign minister himself by phone that the talks are suspended?

MS TRUDEAU: I have no call to read out on that, Said.

QUESTION: Okay, because apparently they had several calls in the last – since Saturday, like three on Saturday, maybe a couple yesterday, in fact maybe today, and so on.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, I don’t have any discussion on that to read out.

QUESTION: How is that likely to affect what is going on today at the Security Council, for instance? There is a meeting – there is a French proposal. What is your position on all this? Where – does that throw it completely out of the realm of discussion or possibilities?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I would note that this is a suspension of bilateral engagement with Russia. It’s not the end of multilateral engagement through the UN or through the ISSG. I’m not going to get ahead of that. In terms of any French proposal at the UN Security Council, of course, we’d refer you to the French. Our goal, as we’ve said, has always been clear: we’re looking for ways where we can build that, or establish – frankly, re-establish at this point. Because let’s be clear, there’s no cessation of hostilities. So re-establish that cessation of hostilities. Get that full, impeded[i] humanitarian access. These have always been our strongest points, and thus create that space where political dialogue can happen.

QUESTION: And lastly, I know many have many questions on this, but as Lesley said, I mean, this un-friending – I don’t know what you want to call this lack of communication now – does that put you in a position where it is likely to have some sort of a conflict between Russia and American airplanes?

MS TRUDEAU: No, you’re asking me for --

QUESTION: I know you --

MS TRUDEAU: -- for hypotheticals. You know it --

QUESTION: Because you said something about maintaining the communication channel --

MS TRUDEAU: The de-confliction.

QUESTION: -- on de-confliction.

MS TRUDEAU: The de-confliction through the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: Right. But so that remains.

MS TRUDEAU: Correct.

QUESTION: Does that also – so the Russian attacks may still remain, correct?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, you’re asking me about what Russia’s planning on doing in Syria?

QUESTION: No, I’m asking because this is an ongoing thing. I mean, you’re saying that the reason you nullified or suspended these talks is because the Russians have not been true to form, they have not met their obligations, and so on.

MS TRUDEAU: Exactly as we said.

QUESTION: So they are likely to continue with these attacks and so on. Is the United States likely to counter those attacks in any way?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to get ahead of this decision taken today. I mean, I want to reiterate, this was not a decision – I think as you well know – that we took lightly. This is a serious – it’s a grave decision. We’re very much considering next steps. As I said, this does not preclude multilateral dialogue, but we felt that it had come to an end.

Dave, you had questions?

QUESTION: The – if the multilateral dialogue you say continues, the co-chairs of the ISSG are Russia and the United States.

MS TRUDEAU: Correct.

QUESTION: Now, you’re co-chairs of a multilateral body, but – to work as an effective chair, you must maintain conversations on that. So will calls continue on ISSG and do you regard yourselves still as co-chairs?

MS TRUDEAU: I – so it’s my understanding we are open to working towards our end goals on that through multilateral efforts. What ended today was the bilateral engagement.

QUESTION: Right. But in order to arrange, for example, a meeting of the ISSG, then Secretary Kerry will have to call Foreign Minister Lavrov or vice versa.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I think that those sort of logistical details can probably be worked out, Dave.

QUESTION: I think what we’re trying to figure out here, Elizabeth --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- is what impact does this have then on the battleground?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, you’ve got the Syrian army backed by the Iranian-backed militia, you’ve got the Russian airplanes. What impact is this going to have on fighting on the ground? Does the U.S. step up its support for the opposition? Do you try and push back on eastern Aleppo, try to hold that? What – how does this translate into --

MS TRUDEAU: So I’m not going to get ahead of any sort of military decisions or, frankly, battlefield tactics that may be considered. The focus that the U.S. has had is the fight against Daesh, and we remain committed. I would say that you’ve seen tremendous gains within the last year on that, and also our focus to helping those most in need within Syria. In terms of how this impacts the Russians’ tactics, you’d have to speak to the Russians. Clearly, they had not pulled back. Clearly, they had not stopped their attacks, nor have the regime. That’s a conversation I think you would have with them.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. push back at, for example, the Saudis or anyone else arming – now really stepping up to arming the --

MS TRUDEAU: I wouldn’t get into sort of that – the granular talks that we have with partners in the region. What I would say is what we said last week: We’re aware that partners and allies are taking a look at a number of options. We remain in close contact with them.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS TRUDEAU: Hold on, wait. Gayane had a question, and then I’ll get to you guys. Gayane, we’ll keep it short, okay?

QUESTION: Yes. You said Russia did not live up to its obligations under the deal. Did the U.S. fully live up to its obligations?

MS TRUDEAU: We believe we did.

QUESTION: Did --

MS TRUDEAU: As we said, though – your question, I think, is the marbleization of the opposition with Nusrah. Am I – or am I leaning too far into that?

QUESTION: Did the U.S. separate the rebels from terrorists, as it said it would?

MS TRUDEAU: As we talked about last week, the United States continued to have detailed ongoing discussions with members of the opposition, emphasizing our view on the importance of de-marbleizing, of pulling apart from Nusrah.

QUESTION: In the few days --

MS TRUDEAU: Our view on that is Nusrah is al-Qaida in Syria. They are a terrorist group. As we said, it was never going to be fast, it was never going to be easy, and we were working hard towards that goal.

QUESTION: In the few days of the ceasefire, did the U.S. get leading rebel groups to abide by that ceasefire? Because right away, the second largest rebel group --

MS TRUDEAU: One of the things that we have always been clear that if they were attacked, opposition groups have the right to defend themselves.

QUESTION: But they said right away that they were not going to abide by the ceasefire. And in fact, they attacked. Did you expect --

MS TRUDEAU: And that was a conversation we had. And if they were attacked, they had a right to defend itself. Let’s do one more, and then I’m going to move around.

QUESTION: Did you expect a unilateral ceasefire, considering the fact that the second largest rebel group, right away, from the beginning of the ceasefire, refused to abide by it specifically in Aleppo?

MS TRUDEAU: We expected good-faith efforts from not only the opposition forces on the ground, as we continue to have dialogue, but also Russia as a proponent of the September 9th ceasefire, so – the September 9th agreement. So yeah, we did. We did expect action.

QUESTION: If you could go back to the deal on September 12th, what would have changed? Would the leading rebel groups abide by the ceasefire? Would the U.S. be able to separate the terrorists from the rebels?

MS TRUDEAU: I think you’re asking hypotheticals on this. What we wanted to see is we wanted to see both sides make a concerted effort and exert influence where they could. And according to our view, according to – as you can tell – our action today, we do not believe that Russia did that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you confirm – you referred to it slightly. Like, before this deal, there was a cooperation between Russia and U.S. about --

MS TRUDEAU: There were talks. There were dialogue.

QUESTION: No, no, there were – like, so that there is no friendly fire kind of thing.

MS TRUDEAU: Oh, you’re talking about the de-confliction --

QUESTION: Yes.

MS TRUDEAU: -- which is out of the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: Yes. But that still goes on?

MS TRUDEAU: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. So --

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Said.

QUESTION: Could I --

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: -- just very quickly follow up? Because there is some – a leak was made on some point that the Secretary made with the opposition and so on. How would you sort of juxtapose the decision today against what was – what has been leaked?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, so --

QUESTION: How would you --

MS TRUDEAU: So on the leak – or the audio that was reported.

QUESTION: Audio, audio. Right. Thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: We’re going to decline to comment on what was a private conversation that the Secretary had. I will note, though, that the Secretary was very pleased to have a chance to meet with this group of Syrians, to hear their concerns firsthand, and to focus on ending this war. In terms of some of the conversations, I’m just not going to unpack that more.

QUESTION: You’re not going to comment on the fact or on what has been alleged that he said that you guys are going to, let’s say, open and fair elections including Assad, correct?

MS TRUDEAU: Our position on Assad has not changed. We believe that Assad has lost legitimacy to lead Syria.

QUESTION: But if you feel that a fair and transparent election could be conducted in Syria, that he can --

MS TRUDEAU: Well, we’ve always said that this is up to the Syrian people. It’s up for the Syrian people to create the mechanics in that transition. Certainly, the international community stands with them as they do that, but this is a question for the Syrians. But our position on Assad has not changed.

Let’s finish up on Syria and then I know there’s a lot more. Let’s do – okay, we’ll do two, Gayane, and then we’re going to close this out, okay?

QUESTION: What is the U.S. strategy in Syria now without cooperation with Russia?

MS TRUDEAU: So as I noted, it’s the bilateral discussions with Russia. The suspension has happened. We will continue to talk with members of the international community through other multilateral fora. In terms of next steps, in terms of where we go, this happened today. I’m not going to get into hypotheticals on where we may be, but I do want to be clear that we’ve had these discussions within the U.S. Government across the whole range of facets of U.S. power. We continue to have these discussions with partners and allies.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. have a plan to fight al-Nusrah in Aleppo? Because this was part of the --

MS TRUDEAU: Our view – as we’ve said, Nusrah is al-Qaida in Syria. They are a terrorist organization. We continue to have conversations with those moderate opposition groups on the ground about the importance of de-marbleizing, of pulling apart.

QUESTION: And other than conversations, is there --

MS TRUDEAU: It’s a terrorist organization and we will continue to fight it.

So one more and then let’s wrap this, because there’s so much news.

QUESTION: There were reports today that one of the Nusrah leaders was killed. Could you confirm that or can you tell us about that?

MS TRUDEAU: So I’ve seen that. I believe the Department of Defense and also my colleague at the White House has spoken on this, so I’d refer you to their comments, Said.

Are we going to stay on Syria or are we --

QUESTION: Turkey.

MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Turkey.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Can we go to Turkey and then we’ll go – are you on Syria, Abigail?

QUESTION: Yes. Just wondering – there were also reports of more chemical weapon attacks over the weekend – if that played in any role – played any role in this decision or --

MS TRUDEAU: It’s – I think what you’ve seen is sort of a cumulative number of issues that led to our decision today.

So we’re going to go to Turkey. Are we good? Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Yeah. The Turkish Government shut down a number of television stations, including a station for children. Most of the television stations were broadcasting in Kurdish language or other – or for other minority groups. Are you concerned about this latest crackdown on --

MS TRUDEAU: We’ve spoken --

QUESTION: -- the media, including children television?

MS TRUDEAU: So I’ve seen those reports and we’ve spoken to this issue many times within this briefing room. Freedom of press is a fundamental pillar of our view in our own democracy and also in Turkey’s democracy. It’s enshrined in Turkey’s own constitution. We understand that as Turkey continues to take steps to recover from the failed coup, that it will take a look at a number of issues. On this, though, we would re-emphasize our view on the importance of freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of access to information.

QUESTION: Are you directly not calling on your ally that it’s gone too far in this case? I mean, shutting down a children television station on accusations that it is funding – supporting terrorism?

MS TRUDEAU: I would reiterate what we said: This is enshrined in Turkey’s own constitution. This isn’t a U.S. issue. This is an issue, in fact, for the Turkish people. We’ve made our views well known. I think others around the international community have as well.

More on Turkey?

QUESTION: Russia.

QUESTION: Turkey.

MS TRUDEAU: Let’s do one more on Turkey and then I’ll come to you, Lesley.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, the Turkish president stated that Turkey will be involved in the battle to retake Mosul and, quote, “No one can prevent us from participating.” The Iraqi Government has objected, and what is your position on this?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, so thanks for the question. As we’ve said before, the Mosul operation will be Iraqi-led. The coalition continues to work closely with the Government of Iraq on all aspects of the operation. That includes military, humanitarian, stabilization, and government – governance after ISIL is driven from the city. All of Iraq’s neighbors need to respect Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity. That is the premise that the global coalition to fight ISIL operates under in Iraq, and we expect all of our partners to do the same.

I’d note that Turkey is a key member of the counter-ISIL coalition. We’ll continue to work with them and we’ll coordinate with them as they also seek to achieve their national security goals.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Mosul?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, sure.

QUESTION: Very quickly, very quickly.

MS TRUDEAU: And then we’ll go to you, Lesley.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: The United Nations mission in Iraq, UNAMI, is warning that – of a looming human disaster as a result of the liberation of Mosul. Are you prepared in any way – what kind of pre-positioning or anything like this to deal with the situation?

MS TRUDEAU: So we’ve been taking a look at this for quite some time, and as you know, we’ve spoken about this from the podium. We – we’re in very close touch not only with the UN but also Iraqi authorities as we take a look on this. Anywhere in operations like this, the protection and the care of civilians is our number one priority, and also ensuring that when they do return to their homes, that they’re supported there.

Lesley.

QUESTION: Right, I want to come back to Russia. Putin today suspended a treaty with Washington on cleaning up their weapons-grade plutonium. Did this maybe have anything to do with the decision to suspend talks in Syria, the bilats?

MS TRUDEAU: I would not link those at all.

QUESTION: Not at all?

MS TRUDEAU: I would not, but I do have a comment on it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS TRUDEAU: We regret Russia’s decision to suspend this agreement unilaterally. The United States remains committed to the agreement. We believe it’s in the best interests of both the United States and Russia as part of our efforts to secure nuclear materials and combat nuclear terrorism. I would note this is the latest in a series of steps by Russia to end longstanding cooperation on nuclear security and disarmament, including its decision to not participate in the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, and its unwillingness to continue strategic arms control reductions.

I would also note it’s disingenuous of Russia to cite the United States threat to strategic stability as a reason for this decision. The United States seeks a constructive dialogue with Russia on strategic issues, but it is Russia instead who continues to engage in destabilizing activities, and to suspend cooperation under existing agreements like this one that benefit international security.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: So if you’re not linking both --

MS TRUDEAU: Hold on one second.

QUESTION: If you’re not linking both of them --

MS TRUDEAU: We are not.

QUESTION: -- because Moscow specifically said today that it was a series – it was done in response to unfriendly acts by Washington.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. You’re going to have to ask --

QUESTION: How can you not --

MS TRUDEAU: You’re going to have to ask the Russians for their decision. We believe it would be a shame if this important agreement was put aside because of an unrelated issue.

QUESTION: Would you say that this is the lowest point in U.S.-Russian relations in the last --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not going to characterize it as that.

QUESTION: Well, how would you characterize it?

MS TRUDEAU: What I would say --

QUESTION: Because tension is high, rhetoric about particular armament and so on, differences in Ukraine, over Syria, almost everywhere. Would you say that this is really a very low point in U.S.-Russian relations?

MS TRUDEAU: I think what you see is that in areas where we have commonalities, areas where we can work with Russia, we continue to do so. We’ve had conversations – the Iran deal is a perfect example on that – DPRK, issues like that. However, we do have sharp differences with Russia certainly on Syria, on Ukraine, on this issue right now. Where we can work with Russia to benefit the international community and also to increase our own national security, though, we will continue to do so.

Okay, wait. Are we still on Russia?

QUESTION: Russia.

QUESTION: No.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, let’s do Russia.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the arrest of Ukrainian journalist in Moscow of three days ago --

MS TRUDEAU: So --

QUESTION: -- when he had private visit to his close relatives?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. So I have seen those reports – being detained in Moscow. Obviously, we’re monitoring the situation. I don’t have a lot of detail. On more of that, I’d actually refer you to the Ukrainian Government.

Okay. Are we done with Russia?

QUESTION: One more on Russia.

MS TRUDEAU: One more.

QUESTION: There’s a report on Radio Free Europe that two U.S. diplomats were drugged in St. Petersburg at a conference last year.

MS TRUDEAU: I am aware of those reports.

QUESTION: One of them was hospitalized, apparently. Was this an act of provocation by the Russian services?

MS TRUDEAU: So what I would say is what we’ve said before on incidents like this. I’m not going to speak to the specific, of the various incidents that have occurred. What I can say is that we are troubled, we remain troubled by the way our diplomatic and consular staff have been treated over the past two years. We have raised our concerns at the highest levels. In particular, the harassment and surveillance of our diplomatic personnel in Moscow by security – personnel and traffic police – has increased significantly. As we’ve said before, we find this unacceptable.

QUESTION: And on this particular incident, you’re not confirming it --

MS TRUDEAU: I’m – no, I’m not going to speak to this --

QUESTION: -- but you’re not denying it either?

MS TRUDEAU: I will not speak to this particular incident.

QUESTION: Asia?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Are we done with Russia? Let’s go to Asia. Hello, Tejinder.

QUESTION: So in – with respect to that surgical strike, Pakistani Lieutenant General Bajwa, the director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations, he took journalists from various outlets and – to the LOC, the Line of Control, in Boxor (inaudible), Hot Springs Formation, and showed them that, look, there is not – there’s no devastation, there’s – so – and then India is saying there was a such. What is your position on this?

MS TRUDEAU: So our position is what it was last week. We’re not going to speak to specific reports of incidents along the border. We urge calm and restraint on both sides. We understand, as we said last week, that the militaries are in touch. We believe that that continued communication is vital to reduce these tensions.

QUESTION: So do you confirm it happened or it didn’t happen?

MS TRUDEAU: No. As I said, I’m not going to speak to any reports of these incidents.

QUESTION: And the --

QUESTION: What --

MS TRUDEAU: One second.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: And the – it’s – another one is about the – you have any comments on the Paris Agreement, which Indian lawmakers have given a nod and they have technically submitted the instrument to the UN?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. We welcome this. This is fantastic news. India, like many countries, has been working to complete its domestic process as quickly as possible. We are very encouraged. We care about strong climate action , and the Paris Agreement has been a matter of personal commitment and leadership for both President Obama and Prime Minister Modi. Thank you for that question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: We have heard from this podium that United States is engaged with the leadership of border countries Pakistan and India.

MS TRUDEAU: Correct.

QUESTION: So what is the core issue is being discussed in those discussions, in those engagements?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I think what you would take a look at being discussed is regional stability and regional security. One of the things I think we all need to focus on is conflicts or issues or rising tension are not contained to any specific region. We are in favor of any reduction of tensions that both sides agree to in this particular instance. We have strong ties with both Pakistan and India, and we’ll engage on that basis.

QUESTION: Both the militaries are on high alert, and there’s a threat of – obviously, there’s a threat of a nuclear war in that region. And the main reason all this started is the Kashmir issue. So is there any kind of discussion with India for the solution of this international matter, as it poses a real threat to the region, a threat of nuclear war?

MS TRUDEAU: What I would say is that our position on Kashmir has not changed, and I would remind you that we are having conversations with both on the importance of reducing the tensions in the region.

Said.

QUESTION: The Philippines?

QUESTION: Can I ask just a quick question on the Palestinian-Israeli issue?

MS TRUDEAU: We’ll do this and then we’ll go to you, Lesley.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS TRUDEAU: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Very quickly, Israel announced plans to expand the settlement of Amona, apparently an outpost to all sides. Do you have any comment on that?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. Thank you for the question. We are deeply concerned by the reports of the government’s – of Israel’s decision to advance plans for settlement units. We’re still gathering information. But as we continue to make clear, as we have repeatedly made clear, we oppose steps like this, which we believe are counterproductive to the cause of peace.

QUESTION: Also, last week the Israelis forced Palestinian families to demolish their own homes --

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- in Jerusalem to avoid the heavy fines and so on that come along with the government demolishing them. Do you have any position on that?

MS TRUDEAU: It’s exactly what we’ve said when these issues have come up before. What we call on all sides is to reduce the tensions, to create the environment that can advance these dialogues and promote peace.

Lesley.

QUESTION: I --

MS TRUDEAU: Oh, I’m sorry. One more.

QUESTION: I’m just tempted to ask now that the Secretary will not be so consumed by the Syria issue on a daily basis with his counterpart Mr. Lavrov, will he have more time for the --

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I would -- I would --

QUESTION: -- Palestinian-Israeli peace process?

MS TRUDEAU: I would dispute both sides of that question, okay. One is that the Secretary remains seized with Syria. This is a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions, and so I would not --

QUESTION: I’m not being smart-alecky. I was --

MS TRUDEAU: I would not say that he is reducing his interest.

QUESTION: Okay, I’m sorry. I --

MS TRUDEAU: But I would also say that the Secretary has never lost sight of the importance of the Middle East peace process. He remains deeply committed. He will continue to pursue that.

QUESTION: And I’m not making light of the Syria situation by any means.

MS TRUDEAU: No, of course.

QUESTION: I’m saying that it has taken a great deal of energy in the last few months on the international level. I’m saying that in the remaining months of this Administration, are we likely to see an energized and maybe renewed effort in that direction?

MS TRUDEAU: I would say that Secretary Kerry never stopped pursuing it.

QUESTION: So to the Philippines.

MS TRUDEAU: Yep.

QUESTION: The – Duterte at the weekend said he had complained to Russia and China about the United States. Do you have any comment on that, first of all?

MS TRUDEAU: I do not.

QUESTION: It’s not really the complaint that everybody’s looking at this. It’s the escalation of tensions with an ally in the region. How does – I mean, how does the U.S. basically view this escalation of tensions? Are there discussions going on directly with them? Is there any kind of discussion underway of maybe withdrawing aid from that or suspending or withdrawing any kind of military cooperation that the U.S. recently agreed with the Philippines?

MS TRUDEAU: So a few things because there’s a lot of questions in there. What I would say first off about it is we’re very focused on our broad and deep and, frankly, historic partnership – in fact alliance – with the Philippines. We have a scope of relationship that spans all of the gamuts – diplomatic, military, certainly people-to-people. The cultural ties that our two peoples have are deep and broad. So we’re very focused on that and we’re very focused on the relationship.

Our partnership with the Philippines has been a cornerstone of stability for over 70 years. The Filipino people are some of our best friends, our allies, and that’s what our relationship is built on.

In terms of individual comments, I’m not going to get into a position – I think we addressed this last week – where we’re going to address every comment that’s made, because our focus is on the underlying relationship.

QUESTION: So that – the strength of that relationship was obviously before Duterte came in.

MS TRUDEAU: I think it continues now, Lesley.

QUESTION: So are you saying that what he’s saying is just --

MS TRUDEAU: I would refer you to the presidency of the Philippines to speak specifically to that. What I would note is we have not been officially contacted by the Philippine defense department authorities regarding President Duterte’s statement. I’d also note that we’ll live up to our commitments, and we expect them to live up to theirs.

QUESTION: But how can you continue to have a relationship with someone like this who speaks ill of the United States so publicly, demeans the President, and --

MS TRUDEAU: Because – because I think what you do is you look at the breadth of relationship, you look at our long-term partnership and, in fact, friendship with the Philippines. And that’s where our focus is.

QUESTION: But it surely can’t be business as usual between the two of you when he’s – when he acts like this.

MS TRUDEAU: Well, we’ve spoken about it before.

QUESTION: I mean, has this in any way changed the relationship?

MS TRUDEAU: I mean, Mark talked about this yesterday, I think. More importantly, President --

QUESTION: Yesterday was Sunday.

MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry. It feels like yesterday.

QUESTION: Yes, it does.

MS TRUDEAU: President Obama addressed some of this. Where we’re really focused, as I’ve said, is our partnership.

Okay? Are we still on the Philippines?

QUESTION: I’d like to go to Gambia.

QUESTION: Colombia.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. We’re all over. So why don’t we do the Gambia?

QUESTION: Is it true that you have banned visas for all Gambian government employees and people certain – from certain groups related to the government such as political parties? And is this in response to Gambia’s refusal to accept 2,000 deportees?

MS TRUDEAU: So what you’re talking about is recalcitrance, okay? So I’m going to read a little bit about this because this is a very detailed and technical thing, so again, bear with me. As of October 1st, 2016, the United States and Banjul, The Gambia, has discontinued visa issuance to employees of the Gambian government, employees of certain entities associated with the government, and their spouses and children, with limited exceptions. Under Section 243(d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, when so requested by the Secretary of Homeland Security due to a particular country’s refusal to accept or unreasonably delay the return of its nationals, the Secretary of State must order consular officers to suspend issuing visas until informed by the Secretary of Homeland Security that the offending country has accepted those individuals.

I’d note, as a point of fact, that for many years, the State Department and ICE, part of DHS, have worked with recalcitrant countries at all levels to improve cooperation on removals. We consider all options at our disposal, taking into account complex bilateral relations, foreign policy priorities, and other extenuating circumstances. In many cases, diplomatic efforts are successful in addressing the problem. The Gambia is unique in that we have applied numerous tools on how to engage, but without any result. Some other countries have responded in some way or made partial efforts to address the deficiency; The Gambia has not.

We have been seeking cooperation with the Government of The Gambia on the return of Gambian nationals for some time, from the working level up to the highest level, and we have exhausted diplomatic means to resolve this matter.

QUESTION: Is it true that it’s 2,000 that they won’t take --

MS TRUDEAU: I won’t speak to numbers, David.

Okay, I had promised Gambia. I’m going to go to Abigail and then we’ll go to Colombia, because I know someone had a Colombia question.

QUESTION: Iran.

MS TRUDEAU: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you offer any – offer any comment on Jason Rezaian filing a federal lawsuit against the Iranian Government claiming he was taken hostage and psychologically tortured for 18 months in prison as an effort by Tehran to influence the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, I’ve seen media reports on that. I’m not going to comment on the specific details. What I can say is that the safety and security of U.S. citizens remains our top priority, and we were determined to see Jason Rezaian and other American citizens released and returned to their families.

QUESTION: So do you accept the premise that there was --

MS TRUDEAU: This is an ongoing legal case and I’m just not going to speak to it, Abigail.

Colombia.

QUESTION: Colombia.

MS TRUDEAU: Tracy.

QUESTION: Thank you. The Secretary has repeatedly said how heavily invested the U.S. Government has been and is in the Colombian peace process in Colombia. You – in the statement, you talk of difficult decisions ahead. So what do you foresee? Do you foresee a return to war, to violence? Are they going to have to change the accord in some way (inaudible)?

MS TRUDEAU: I wouldn’t – first, the first part of your question, on the return to war – I think the Colombian people have been very clear on their view that they believe in a peaceful future for their country, for their citizens, for their children. Instead of getting into hypotheticals – what will happen, point A; what happens with point B – I’d just reiterate our commitment. We’ll stand by the government and the people of Colombia as they work through this.

QUESTION: On Armenia-Azerbaijan.

MS TRUDEAU: Of course.

QUESTION: So last week, Secretary Kerry was speaking at the Atlantic and Aspen Institute, and he was discussing various conflicts including Syria, issues with Iran. And he touched upon the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He said something to the effect of that the prospects for conflict resolutions are not there because the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan are not ready yet. Can you clarify what he might have meant, or more importantly, what would warrant such a statement?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Well, I won’t parse the Secretary’s words. I think they’re pretty clear. What I would reiterate, though, is that the U.S. supports a negotiated settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We continue to engage actively with the sides. You know we’re co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group. Our longstanding policy shared by the Minsk Group co-chairs is that a just settlement must be based on international law, which includes the Helsinki Final Act, the principle of non-use of force or the threat of force, territorial integrity, and self-determination.

QUESTION: So the reason I’m asking is because Secretary Kerry, back in March, stated that U.S. reaffirms its support for territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, plus Ambassador Warlick has repeatedly stated the U.S. position, which is based on Madrid principles, which is withdrawal of Armenian troops from districts adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh and allowing return of IDPs and then awarding – granting interim status to Nagorno-Karabakh and then future expression of will of the population on the territory.

So Azerbaijan’s position does not conflict with that – with the position of U.S. or the OSCE Minsk process. So the only party which refuses to withdraw troops is Armenia. So why is it that the Secretary is stating that the leaders – two leaders are not ready?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, the responsibility for peace rests on the leaders of both countries, and we would reiterate their importance in finding a negotiated peace.

One more, I’m sorry, and then I’ll get to you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Afghanistan. A couple of weeks ago, President Ghani – there’s a peace deal between President Ghani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Now President Ghani is saying that United States and United Nations should lift international sanctions on Hekmatyar. So will U.S. pull out his name from the global terrorist list?

MS TRUDEAU: Well, as you know, we never get ahead of sanctions decisions. I won’t do that now. I think we spoke about that agreement when it was first announced out of Kabul and we welcome that. But in terms of individual actions on sanctions, I will not get ahead of that.

Hi.

QUESTION: Thanks. So according to the House Judiciary Committee, as part of the investigation of former Secretary Clinton’s email server setup, two former State employees, Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson, were – under their – as part of their immunity deals, they were allowed to destroy the laptops after they had been inspected. And so my question for State is just given the ongoing FOIA lawsuits and also congressional investigations, is that provision something you all condone?

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, I can’t speak to immunity agreements and I certainly can’t speak to the FBI’s investigation. As we’ve said before, our focus is on processing for public release materials we have received from the FBI.

QUESTION: Okay. And just one --

MS TRUDEAU: Sure.

QUESTION: -- quick other question. According to the FBI files, a State Department employee told federal investigators that some of the classified codes on the emails had been changed in order to shield them from public review. Is that also something that’s within the spirit of your responsiveness to FOIA requests?

MS TRUDEAU: You’re talking about the B(1) classification to a B(5) deliberative?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So we strongly refute those claims. We’ve been clear all along that our Freedom of Information Act review of former Secretary Clinton’s emails was a complex and multistep process that included consultation with State Department policy experts and legal advisors as well as other government agencies. State Department attorneys are involved in the multistep review process to ensure that proposed FOIA redactions and classification upgrades are defensible in court. State Department lawyers who are part of the staff in Legislative Affairs did not change proposed upgrades. State Department policymakers sometimes seek guidance from attorneys regarding the Freedom of Information Act and the attorneys advise on the legal standards.

We made appropriate redactions following the standards laid out under the FOIA guidelines for redactions as well as the rules governing classification as defined by Executive Order 13526. The department has complete confidence that the attorneys performed – that its attorneys performed the highest professional and ethical standards, including, with connection, with the review and release of Secretary Clinton’s emails.

QUESTION: So to be clear, these claims to the contrary are unfounded, it sounds like, from your --

MS TRUDEAU: We strongly dispute them.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS TRUDEAU: Thank you. One more. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Syria just very, very quickly?

MS TRUDEAU: Of course you can.

QUESTION: Because your counterpart over the weekend, at the Syrian – at the Russian foreign ministry, said that an attempted attack or an attack on the Syrian army or Syrian military or bases or Damascus and so on will cause something akin to tectonic shifts or something like this in the Middle East. I wonder if you saw the comments.

MS TRUDEAU: I saw the comments. Our focus in Syria --

QUESTION: How do you – how do you respond to that?

MS TRUDEAU: -- has always been on fighting ISIL. Our focus is on fighting Daesh. I’m not going to clarify or speak to her comments.

QUESTION: Is that a threat? Is that a threat?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m sorry, Said.

QUESTION: What does that mean, tectonic shifts that will cause – tectonic shifts?

MS TRUDEAU: I would have a very different job if I could read the Russians’ minds.

Thanks, guys.

QUESTION: Just one more, please.

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, I’m sorry. Tejinder, one more.

QUESTION: Yeah. I had asked last month about – there’s going to be a EU-Arab summit in Athens November 3 and 4. Will there be a U.S. presence and in what capacity?

MS TRUDEAU: I need to look at that, Tejinder.

QUESTION: All right.

MS TRUDEAU: I just don’t have an update for you.

Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:50 p.m.)

DPB # 168


[i] unimpeded