Department Press Briefing – August 8, 2019
Morgan Ortagus, Department Spokesperson
August 8, 2019
2:09 p.m. EDT
Okay, let's get going. I'd like to turn to Secretary Pompeo's recent trip to Asia, which is a very successful effort that underscored the United States firm commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region. This trip allowed the Secretary to personally reinforce America's support for our allies and partners in the region, as well as our commitment to effective, meaningful multilateralism.
In Bangkok, the Secretary participated in the ASEAN-U.S. Ministerial, the ASEAN Regional Forum Ministerial, the East Asia Summit Ministerial, and the Lower Mekong Initiative, which has just celebrated the tenth anniversary. The Secretary held very positive bilateral meetings with a variety of his counterparts, including leaders from Thailand, the Philippines, China, and India. He also participated in a trilateral meeting with foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea as well as a trilateral meeting with Australia and Japan, after which those three nations released a statement expressing serious concerns about negative developments in the South China Sea.
Our diplomacy within ASEAN nations has been consistently guided by our desire for partnership, our respect for sovereignty, and a shared commitment to the rule of law, human rights, and sustainable economic growth – all points the Secretary reiterated in his speech at the Siam Society in Bangkok, which I'd encourage everyone to read.
In Sydney, the Secretary underscored our ironclad commitment to Australia, an unbreakable alliance based on shared democratic values and overlapping strategic interests. Secretary Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Esper led the U.S. delegation to AUSMIN, the Australian-U.S. Ministerial consultations, and discussed shared priorities – our work to achieve our shared vision for a free, open, and rules-based Indo-Pacific; the denuclearization of North Korea; freedom of navigation and global shipping and air lanes; the eradication of ISIS and other terrorist groups; and the campaign to counter foreign interference in our elections.
And finally, in Micronesia, Secretary Pompeo was warmly welcomed and became the first secretary of state to visit to the Federated States of Micronesia, where he stressed the importance of our decades-old partnership with the freely associated states and our continued support for the security, economic development, and prosperity of the region. Secretary Pompeo announced the United States' intent to begin negotiating amendments to certain provisions of the Compacts of Free Association with the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands and our intent to begin the compact review discussions with Palau.
Next I'd like to go – it has been 11 years since Russia's military invasion of Georgia, when hundreds were killed or injured and over 190,000 civilians were displaced. For many, the impact of the conflict continues. Livelihoods remain destroyed; families remain separated; freedom of movement has not been restored; and property has not been returned. Within the last 24 hours, we received reports that Russian-backed de facto authorities have started the process of borderization at a village near a South Ossetia administrative boundary line. If completed, this action would cut the village off from its irrigation system. These actions are a threat to peace and stability.
As today's actions show, Russia consistently violates the Georgian people's right to security and property. Further, Russia's invasion and occupation of 20 percent of Georgian territory is in stark violation of the UN – of the principles of the UN Charter, the Helsinki Final Act, and the fundamental norms and principles of international law. We urge the Russian Federation to reverse its recognition of the so-called independence of Georgia's occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. We call upon the Russian Federation to implement in full the EU-mediated August 2008 ceasefire agreement to withdraw its forces from the occupied territories of Georgia and to affirm and to implement a commitment not to use force against Georgia.
We will not stop working until Russia ends its occupation of sovereign Georgian territory. We support the right of hundreds of thousands of IDPs and refugees to return to their home safely and with dignity. Finally, we stand with the Georgian people and welcome the day we can commemorate the end of Russia's occupation of their territory.
We welcome the joint statement by the United States and Turkey yesterday on establishing a safe zone in northeast Syria. The military-to-military talks in Ankara made progress towards establishing a sustainable security mechanism that addresses the legitimate concerns of our NATO ally Turkey and the United States. While there are additional details that need to be worked out, we are encouraged by the initial steps that came out of these talks.
A U.S.-Turkey joint operation center will be established in Turkey to continue planning and implementation. We look forward to continuing our work with our partners on this important matter to achieve peace and security in northeast Syria.
The United States strongly condemns the vicious terror attack outside a hospital in Cairo on August 4th that killed at least 20 people and injured many more. The explosion, which occurred near a hospital, only underscores the callousness of this disgraceful act of terror. We extend our condolences to the families of the victims and wish a speedy recovery to those wounded. The United States stands with Egypt in its struggle against terrorism.
This week, the United States and Poland formally launched the Warsaw Process Working Group. Each group is dedicated to tackling a challenge to peace and security in the Middle East. The working groups build on the historic ministerial hosted in Poland in February. The Warsaw ministerial reinvigorated our efforts to address regional security concerns on built alliances with our partners. It was an opportunity for us to share our assessments of the region and together offer solutions to the ongoing global challenges.
These working groups will enhance cooperation around key areas of concern in the region. That includes cyber security, human rights, energy security, missile proliferation, and maritime and aviation security. The groups will begin meeting this fall, hosted by our partners – the Republic of Korea, Bahrain, Romania, Poland, and also the United States.
It's good that I have Floridians here with me for this announcement. As we head into August, we want everyone to be aware that late summer means storm season and the strongest Atlantic hurricanes hit between August and October. For Americans whose summer trips could put them in the path of a severe storm overseas, I'd like to share a few important reminders: Sign up at step.state.gov to receive safety alerts from us. Write down and carry with you contact information for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Buy both evacuation insurance and travel medical insurance. Have an emergency plan in place, in case you're unable to leave before a storm hits. During a storm, be sure to update your loved ones directly or over social media to let them know you're safe.
For more key tips for traveling safely during this storm season, I encourage you to follow our TravelGov social media platforms on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We will share important information on disaster preparedness through the months of August and September. As always, the safety and security of Americans abroad is our highest priority here at the department, and we want to ensure everyone travels safely this year.
QUESTION: If I'm going to Florida, I should sign up with STEP? You know, there are parts of Disney World that are – might be foreign countries.
MS ORTAGUS: You're ruining my mojo, Matthew Lee. (Laughter.)
I am pleased to announce that Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan will travel to Thimphu, Bhutan, the – and New Delhi, India August 11 through 17th to advance the United States partnership with two nations that are critical to preserving the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region. In Bhutan, Deputy Secretary Sullivan will explore expanding and deepening our ties with the government and people of Bhutan. The deputy secretary will be the highest-level executive branch official from the United States to visit Bhutan in over two decades, so this is quite an exciting announcement, and I know he is really looking forward to it.
The deputy will then travel to New Delhi to advance the broad and multifaceted U.S.-India Strategic Partnership, which is based on a shared commitment to democratic values, economic growth, and rule of law. There, the deputy secretary will meet Minister of External Affairs Jaishankar and address the India-U.S. Forum.
And one final personnel announcement, which I'm sad to make today – I have a personnel announcement, of course, to make. Our Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs – my friend also – Kim Breier submitted her resignation on July 24th and will be leaving the department at the end of August. Kim has been with the department for over two years, having started in the Policy Planning staff in June 2017. She was later nominated in March of 2018 and confirmed by the Senate to be the second woman and first female political appointee of either party to lead the Western Hemisphere Bureau at the Department of State. As assistant secretary, she built one of the most diverse leadership teams of any bureau in the department.
Kim is leaving us for personal reasons. As she noted during her swearing in, no matter what she may accomplish in this job or any other, her daughter, Emma, was the best thing she would ever do. After more than two years of late nights and constant travel, Kim wants to refocus her priorities at home. We thank Assistant Secretary Breier – my friend Kim – for her service to the Department of State and to the United States Government, and wish her all the best.
Now, Matthew –
QUESTION: Yes, ma'am.
MS ORTAGUS: – before you begin, my mom and granny are here, so if you're –
QUESTION: I'll be nice.
MS ORTAGUS: If you're too mean to me today, granny is going to get you. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I'm not going to be mean. Boy.
MS ORTAGUS: (Laughter.) You're such an easy target. I'm sorry. It's too easy.
QUESTION: Can I start with the Secretary – the Indo part of the Secretary's trip and also Deputy Secretary Sullivan's upcoming visit?
MS ORTAGUS: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: In terms of the – of Secretary Pompeo's meeting with the Indian foreign minister on Friday –
MS ORTAGUS: While we were at ASEAN?
QUESTION: Yeah, in Bangkok.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: There have been reports in the Indian media that have been denied by people here that the foreign minister gave – or told Secretary Pompeo what the Indian Government planned to do as it relates to Kashmir on the following Monday, like –
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. No, I was – those denials are right.
QUESTION: They were meeting on Friday.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: And then Acting Assistant Secretary Wells, I guess, or senior bureau official Wells –
MS ORTAGUS: She tweeted.
QUESTION: She tweeted yesterday that those reports are inaccurate. They were –
MS ORTAGUS: That's right.
QUESTION: But she wasn't in Bangkok, was she, at that –
MS ORTAGUS: No, but I was. I was in the meeting.
QUESTION: Okay, all right.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: So but – so whatever she was read out on that meeting was – that there was no heads up given –
MS ORTAGUS: That's right.
QUESTION: – is correct?
MS ORTAGUS: That's correct.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, given that, the situation is obviously very tense with –
MS ORTAGUS: Obviously.
QUESTION: – with what's happened. So does that have anything to do with Assistant Secretary Wells' travel right now and Deputy Secretary Sullivan's upcoming travel and also Ambassador Khalilzad's travel to New Delhi, and is there any concern in the administration that the situation between – tensions between India and Pakistan could hamper, interrupt, or otherwise affect the Afghan peace talks?
MS ORTAGUS: All very good questions. I will 100 percent confirm this, but I'm pretty sure that these trips, from all three of them, have been planned for quite some time. I know I spoke to Alice earlier today, and I think both her and the deputy secretary's trips have been on the schedule, as have Zal. And so I think that these are all routine trips.
Do I think that this will come up? I mean, I think obviously this is something that we watch incredibly closely. It's something that we've called for calm and restraint by all parties. We want to main peace and stability, and we, of course, support direct – the direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and other issues of concern. And I'm sure that will be addressed when all three of them travel.
QUESTION: Right. But is there any concern that this might have some kind of an impact – negative – on –
MS ORTAGUS: On the – Afghanistan?
QUESTION: Yes. Because both India and Pakistan are going to critical if that –
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
QUESTION: – if that peace process or peace talks are to succeed or whatever –
MS ORTAGUS: And Zal – Ambassador Khalilzad certainly spends a lot of time in both places. I think that this is – I think this is we're at the 9th round, the 7th or the 9th round on his negotiations that he just finished in Kabul. Of course, we do have a negotiating team that has remained in Doha, and they continue to work towards a peace deal. And I think that the team feels fairly confident about the progress that we're making. Of course, it's tenuous; it's day-by-day. And I think that there are always a range of issues, not just India and Pakistan, that could affect the Afghanistan peace negotiations, but I think Zal is one of the best diplomats in the business, and if anyone can get to this deal, it's going to be him.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Hi, Andrea.
QUESTION: Hi. And welcome to granny and your mother.
MS ORTAGUS: Thank you. And my poor husband, who never gets a shout-out. Sorry. He's here too. (Laughter.) Yeah.
QUESTION: About Assistant Secretary Kim Breier.
MS ORTAGUS: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you explain why, despite complaints from Republican senators on Foreign Relations, she never agreed to testify about the Guatemala safe country agreement?
MS ORTAGUS: I need to double-check with H on that. I believe that she has had a number of consultations even though she has not formally testified on that subject. And her resignation was, of course, dated back to July 24th, and it's something that she had told some of us that was in the process, so I think that that was known around the building. But I will confirm what – excuse me – what discussions she's had, but I do believe that she has been in touch with many senators without having formally appeared before the committee.
QUESTION: But formal testimony is a very important part of oversight.
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
QUESTION: There have been numerous reports, credible reports, that Steve Miller and his demands regarding immigration – and Guatemala in particular, but other issues – had a role in her decision to spend more time with her family.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, so I talked to Kim about that. She's addressed that with me directly. She said there's absolutely no truth to that. The Washington Post reported that there was an email from Stephen Miller. She has denied ever seeing this email. I know that she's consulted with other people in the White House. I'll let them speak for themselves, but I believe that they would offer – also offer similar denials.
And Kim has been here 27 months. It's – I know I've been on two trips with her already in the four and a half months that I've been here. It's demanding, it's really grueling, and I think, unfortunately, we are losing one of the best and brightest that we have as she's moving on. But I think that she has indicated to everyone, and to me personally – I've spoken to her multiple times over the past few days – that this is something that she had planned in the works for several months now, as she felt like it was time for her to move on.
QUESTION: I mean, it's at a critical time –
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
QUESTION: – and assistant secretary positions are vacant or acting in a number of key regions.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. In fact, I think Kim was left hanging in the Senate for many months. I don't remember the exact number of months, but in the two years that she was here, she spent probably way longer waiting in the Senate for confirmation than she should have spent.
QUESTION: But concerns about the numbers of vacancies? I know Secretary Pompeo came and tried to fill a lot of these positions that had been vacant.
MS ORTAGUS: He did, yeah. He's been aggressive.
QUESTION: But now we've got policy planning, obviously you've got assistant secretaries in key regions, actings and others. How do you fill these gaps?
MS ORTAGUS: I think that – well, first of all, there's 69,000, I think, amazing people that work around the world for the State Department. I've been lucky on several occasions to serve at two U.S. embassies with I think some of the best and brightest diplomats around the world, and it's an honor to work with them, and it's an honor to speak for them here whenever I do brief at this podium.
I think – I'm sure that the Secretary will have some personnel announcements. They'll want to find the right people to step up in either acting roles or to fill these vacancies, and it's something that I think he has been very attuned to in the little more than a year that he's been Secretary of States in killing these – filling these key positions.
QUESTION: Hello, Morgan. A quick thing that is a breaking news story that I just wanted to ask you about.
MS ORTAGUS: Oh. Okay.
QUESTION: Are you aware of the French inviting President Rouhani to the G7?
MS ORTAGUS: I had heard rumors about that yesterday, and –
QUESTION: Yeah. Is it true?
MS ORTAGUS: I don't think it's true. We'll need to confirm for you, but as far as I've heard, it's rumors. I don't know why he would be invited.
QUESTION: I mean –
MS ORTAGUS: We'll confirm.
MS ORTAGUS: We'll confirm, but I believe those are just rumors.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, is that something that you think that the Secretary and even the President would welcome?
MS ORTAGUS: I think that the President and the Secretary have said that they're willing on multiple occasions to negotiate, to talk to Iran without preconditions. That offer remains on the table. Whenever the ayatollah and whenever Rouhani, the people that are actually in charge of that government, want to speak, we'll be there to listen.
QUESTION: And then I just have a follow-up –
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
QUESTION: – on something else that I wanted to talk to you about, was there was a letter today from Nita Lowey regarding the money that – there's a temporary freeze on some key foreign aid funds.
MS ORTAGUS: Is this the OMB?
QUESTION: That's correct.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: The question is: Has the State Department actually provided the OMB with any details or a response to the letter over the weekend?
MS ORTAGUS: That process is ongoing. I don't know that our response is finalized. And speaking with the department, OMB's call for this data and information that you referred to is the first step in a process, of course, to determine how best to spend foreign assistance funds. And so I have not seen the letter from Nita Lowey, but again, this is the first step. And we will, of course, comply and provide the data and information that OMB requires of us.
QUESTION: Okay. But that hasn't happened yet?
MS ORTAGUS: I don't know that it's finalized. I'm sure that we're in the process. We can certainly confirm when that is finalized, but again, this is just the first step in the process.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Hi.
MS ORTAGUS: Nice to see you.
QUESTION: Good to see you. The Chinese foreign ministry's office in Hong Kong has issued a formal protest over a reported meeting between U.S. consular officials in the city and opposition figures. The statement demanded the U.S. explain the purpose of the meeting and, quote, "immediately" cease interfering in Hong Kong's affairs. Do you have anything on that meeting and then reaction to the statement?
MS ORTAGUS: How did you characterize the first sentence? Can you say that again?
QUESTION: It was the Chinese foreign ministry office in Hong Kong, I believe.
MS ORTAGUS: Uh-huh. But how – but what did you say that – they issued a – you said? Read your first statement again.
QUESTION: A formal protest?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. I don't think that leaking an American diplomat's private information, pictures, names of their children – I don't think that that's a formal protest. That is what a thuggish regime would do. That's not how a responsible nation would behave. Releasing any of that personal information of an American diplomat is completely unacceptable. That's not a protest. That's what a thuggish regime does, and it's unacceptable.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: Well, (inaudible) address the reason for the thuggishness, which is a meeting between a consular official and –
MS ORTAGUS: This is – this is what – sure, I understand the question. This is what American diplomats do every single day around the world. American diplomats meet with formal government officials, we meet with opposition protesters, not just in Hong Kong or China. I mean, this literally happens in every single country in which an American embassy is present. So our diplomat was doing her job and we commend her for her work.
QUESTION: So you don't buy the Chinese argument that because Hong Kong is part of China, even though it's run differently, that this is interference in their internal affairs?
MS ORTAGUS: This is what not only American diplomats do, this is what other countries' diplomats do.
QUESTION: Right. The Secretary met with opposition people in Australia, did he not?
MS ORTAGUS: He did. In Australia?
QUESTION: Or in Thailand, or on his recent trip? No?
MS ORTAGUS: I was in almost every meeting and I don't recall that happening.
MS ORTAGUS: I can double-check to make sure I didn't miss something, but I don't – I was not in a meeting with opposition figures.
QUESTION: Last thing.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are you saying there was no formal protest at all? There was just this leaking of photographs and –
MS ORTAGUS: I don't know if there was a formal protest. My point is – is that I'm taking issue with the Chinese saying they issued a formal protest when in fact they harassed an American diplomat.
QUESTION: So are you saying that – just to put a finer point on it –
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
QUESTION: – that the Chinese Government behaved thuggishly? Are you calling them a thuggish regime?
MS ORTAGUS: I think I said that three times.
QUESTION: I mean –
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: Hi. On the agreement with Turkey that you mentioned at the top.
MS ORTAGUS: Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: An embassy statement said there will be a peace corridor and displaced Syrians will go there. You didn't mention that and neither did the Pentagon in its statement.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: So the question: Will displaced Syrians be brought into the area, and if so, will you ensure that there's no major demographic shift and no creation of a demographic corridor that separates the Kurds in Syria from the Kurds in Turkey?
MS ORTAGUS: So the – so, yeah, the first part, I checked with the – or I had a member of my team, I should say, check with the Pentagon because I know that they gave you an answer to one of your questions. And I believe that the DOD maybe just left off a sentence and didn't give you the full response. So, I mean, I think that we have the full statement that's posted on the Embassy Ankara website. I believe the DOD also has it posted as well, and we can certainly – our team can make sure that you have a copy of the full statement.
And what else was it that you needed from me? I'm sorry.
QUESTION: That – will there be the movement of Syrian refugees in Turkey into that area, and will you ensure that doesn't result in a big demographic shift?
MS ORTAGUS: So it's the U.S. position that we do not support any sort of forced or coerced relocations of refugees or IDPs. If and when conditions allow any refugee who wants to return to their destination, it must be of their own choosing and must be voluntary, safe, and dignified.
QUESTION: Will these be Syrians who lived in that area or any Syrian can go there? Because 3.6 million Syrians, if –
MS ORTAGUS: Absolutely.
QUESTION: – would change the demography of that area.
MS ORTAGUS: It certainly would, and I think that any sort of discussions in fine detail on the safe zone are still ongoing. I think that we were certainly encouraged that the U.S. and Turkey issued a joint statement on something that the United States Government has been working very diligently with our NATO ally Turkey on, and I don't think I have any details beyond that.
QUESTION: Hey. Thanks, Morgan. Do you have a status update on the CAATSA sanctions for Turkey's purchase of the S-400?
MS ORTAGUS: No.
QUESTION: And can you say whether the recent Taliban-claimed violence has had any role in the ongoing discussions in Doha between the U.S. and the Taliban?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, you're referring to the attack yesterday, I assume?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, I mean, listen, the attack yesterday or any of these attacks are appalling. I mean, they are totally disgusting, and on every level, we think that the cost of war, especially in Afghanistan, is too high and the violence needs to end. And that is principally why Ambassador Khalilzad has spent so much time trying to get to a peace deal, because we want to get to peace. We want the Afghan people to be able to choose their own destiny, to be able to choose their own government, and we want the war to end.
QUESTION: But can you say whether they've warned the negotiators in Doha that this is unacceptable, whether there would be any consequences for this action?
MS ORTAGUS: Did the negotiators warn the Taliban? Is that the question?
QUESTION: Yeah, or just has there been any message from the U.S. directly to the Taliban to that effect?
MS ORTAGUS: I don't want to put any words in Zal's mouth, so I'd certainly need to speak to him, but I can tell you that anybody who's representing the U.S. Government is certainly going to condemn both publicly and privately attacks on innocent civilians.
QUESTION: And just one final question.
MS ORTAGUS: Did you – oh, sorry.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that Matthew Gebert has been placed on leave, the accused official involved with white supremacy?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, I am not able to confirm anything from this podium.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-on on –
MS ORTAGUS: On Afghanistan?
QUESTION: – the Kabul attack. Yeah, on Afghanistan. The Secretary 10 days or so ago in the interview with David Rubenstein said –
MS ORTAGUS: Right.
QUESTION: – that the President had directed him to prepare for the withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of his first term, and I think he said in a follow-up answer at that breakfast –
MS ORTAGUS: Well, I think the way – if I may interject –
QUESTION: Yeah, please.
MS ORTAGUS: – I think the way David asked the question was would it be by the end of 2020.
QUESTION: And I think what the Secretary said was that those were the President's orders to me and he said that he thought it would be job-enhancing to – to meet that.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, I mean, I think that the President has made that clear since he began campaigning in 2015.
QUESTION: I'm just wondering whether this Kabul attack –
MS ORTAGUS: It always complicates – yeah, sure, I mean, it's definitely – it's complicating and it certainly makes our job tougher. But at the same time, this is why we have Ambassador Khalilzad and some of the best people in the business trying to bring all sides to the table. It's not just a – I think we spend a lot of time focusing on the negotiations that we have with the Taliban, but we're also equally, incredibly focused on inter-Afghan dialogue.
I was with the Secretary in Kabul not long ago when we were meeting with leaders of their parliament. We met with women, we met with people in education and activists. And he had the same message, which was, of course, we want all people and all parties to be brought to the table. And I think many of you know my personal history with Afghanistan and my own personal commitment to seeing peace there. And we've talked from this podium, I think the last time I was here, about the number of people even on my team who have spouses serving in Afghanistan right now.
And so this is something that's, I think, incredibly personal to all of us, and it's incredibly personal to the American people. We're 18, 19 years in. We have young men and women who were born after 9/11 who are being sent over there to fight, and I think if the last 20 years has taught us anything, it's that the President is correct that we need to try to pursue peace in Afghanistan, and that's the goal that we're working towards.
QUESTION: Could you – sorry, Morgan. Could you just – I didn't realize you had personal experience in Afghanistan. But anyway, could you just explain why it was that you weren't able to answer the question –
MS ORTAGUS: Which one?
QUESTION: – about the person being put on suspension or leave? Just the explanation as to why. You said, "I'm not able to confirm anything from this podium." Why is that?
MS ORTAGUS: We're not – we just are not able to confirm suspensions from this podium.
QUESTION: Could I ask –
MS ORTAGUS: Go ahead, Conor.
QUESTION: Could I just ask you about climate change in light of the – another UN report? When the Secretary was in Micronesia, he said that one of the things that he tries to do – or we all can do – is help nations lower their carbon emissions. Is that something that you've seen him bring up in meetings with counterparts? He was with China last week. Did he urge the Chinese foreign minister to lower their emissions?
MS ORTAGUS: We covered a number of issues in China, and I believe we sent a readout on the meeting.
QUESTION: Yeah, it wasn't mentioned.
MS ORTAGUS: And I don't think that we had that mentioned specifically on there, but I've definitely been in meetings with him where we've discussed this. And I think that he's said to many of you who have asked him the question, he's quoted the emissions – the United States' emissions drop at 13 percent from 2005 to 2019. And this, of course, was at a time when our economy was growing by 19 percent.
And I think the one thing that the Secretary has always stressed, especially coming from the private sector, that he thinks one of the reasons why the United States has – able to make such significant gains in reducing emissions is because of private sector-led innovation. And that's certainly something that he champions and talks about.
QUESTION: On that statistic, though, the Energy Information Administration, part of the U.S. Government, reported that in 2018 emissions actually rose 2.7 percent. So is there any sort of concern that the U.S. is actually heading in the wrong direction now in terms of carbon dioxide emissions?
MS ORTAGUS: Well, I mean, if you look at the EIA forecast, they say that CO2 emissions will decline by 2.3 percent in 2019, and so that's certainly a target that we hope to hit.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can I ask a few questions on India and Pakistan?
MS ORTAGUS: I don't know that I'm going to go much beyond our formal statements that we said.
QUESTION: Okay, I –
MS ORTAGUS: But you have – certainly may ask.
QUESTION: Yeah. So do you have a readout of Ambassador Wells' meeting in Pakistan, who all she met and what were the issues to be discussed?
MS ORTAGUS: I spoke to her maybe about an hour ago, and we didn't have a great connection, so I don't have a readout yet. But I'll certainly talk to her team.
We announced her – I believe I announced her travel here from the podium. I think we also sent out a Media Note. But we will make sure to follow up with you, and maybe we could even have you meet with her when she gets back for a readout. I've certainly been trying to open up and get all of you more access to our officials here at the State Department.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing that. After Monday's decision on Kashmir by India and Prime Minister Imran Khan's speech in his own parliament, has Secretary Pompeo reached out to his counterparts in India and Pakistan?
MS ORTAGUS: So we had a meeting, of course, with Jaishankar in ASEAN, and I need to – I know that he has had a number of phone calls. I don't know which ones we've released publicly, but yes, I mean, he speaks with his counterparts on a daily basis. And as Matt so – did my job for me and pointed out how many State Department officials we have in the region, we have a lot of engagement. But listen, we have a lot of engagement with India and Pakistan. Obviously, we just had Prime Minister Khan here, not just because of Kashmir. That's certainly an incredibly important issue and something that we follow closely, but we have a host of issues that we work with India on quite closely and that we work with Pakistan on quite closely. I would say that we are – as a State Department, we are incredibly engaged in Southeast Asia.
QUESTION: Has there been any change in U.S. policy on Kashmir?
MS ORTAGUS: No.
QUESTION: There's no change on it?
MS ORTAGUS: No. And if there was, I certainly wouldn't be announcing it here, but no, there's not. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: A follow-up? Just a follow-up?
QUESTION: Well, why not?
QUESTION: A follow-up on Kashmir, please?
MS ORTAGUS: Because we would let someone more important like the President do that.
QUESTION: So the prime minister of Pakistan is calling it a genocide in Kashmir. Does the U.S. see any human rights violation even, or no?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, I mean, I really don't want to go beyond what we've said, because it's such a tenuous issue. It's something that we're talking to them about quite closely. We obviously, whenever it comes to – whenever it comes to any region in the world where there are tensions, we ask for people to observe the rule of law, respect for human rights, respect for international norms. We ask people to maintain peace and security and direct dialogue.
There are reports, as you've mentioned, of detentions and restrictions of residents in Jammu and in Kashmir. And again, that's why we continue to monitor this very, very closely.
QUESTION: One small –
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you, Morgan.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: Two questions for – on the South Korea.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay.
QUESTION: First question is President Trump said yesterday that South Korea agreed increase of –
MS ORTAGUS: The President said what? I'm sorry.
QUESTION: President said yesterday that South Korea agreed increase of defense cost sharing. Is there some more negotiation with the South Korea or he just is saying so? Because South Korean parliament said that negotiation is not starting yet.
MS ORTAGUS: Right.
QUESTION: So I want to know about that. Second question is the –
MS ORTAGUS: Sure.
QUESTION: – Defense Secretary Esper has mentioned recently United States are deploying a medium-range missiles in Korea, Japan, and other Asian countries. Can you confirm on this?
MS ORTAGUS: So I'll start with Esper. I mean, I would defer you to the Department of Defense and to Secretary Esper to clarify his comments for anything that you may need there. We certainly don't want to speak on behalf of them.
I mean, listen, when it comes to U.S. bases in South Korea and those agreements, this is one of those issues that the President has been incredibly crystal clear on, right. There's no ambiguity in where the President stands. He wants – he said that he wants our allies to contribute more. It's certainly a reoccurring theme. We're also – I would say that we are – here at the State Department, we're, of course, very appreciative of the considerable resources that South Korea has provided to support the alliance. South Korea is one of our most crucial allies in Northeast Asia; they will remain so. And they, of course, contributed towards the cost of maintaining U.S. presence – U.S. forces in South Korea.
But of course, this is something – burden sharing is a theme of the President's and it will be a theme of the President's as it relates to South Korea, as it relates to NATO. Pick your issue; the President wants all countries to share in the mutual defense.
QUESTION: I have two questions in regards to Iran. With the designation of Mr. Zarif by the Treasury, does the prohibition on providing services to Mr. Zarif include barring his access to the U.S. social media, including his access to Twitter and Instagram?
MS ORTAGUS: I think he's still tweeting. Pretty sure you could – I mean, it's too bad the Iranians can't tweet, the Iranian people. But yeah, he's still tweeting.
QUESTION: Okay. And the second one is that you mentioned that there is a precondition still on the table with the negotiation with the Iranian –
MS ORTAGUS: No, I said there's no preconditions.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. No preconditions on the table.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: Does that – with Mr. Zarif out of the picture with the designation, so who the U.S. administration prefers to do the talking with?
MS ORTAGUS: I don't think that we have said that we must talk to person X or person Y in the regime. I mean, our request to the ayatollah and to Rouhani is for their country – for them to think very carefully about how they've terrorized the region and to consider stop doing so. And if they want to talk about how they can behave like a normal nation, they know – and how they can be brought back into the world and have sanctions removed, they know exactly who they can call, and that's President Trump, and he's waiting on their phone call.
QUESTION: Also, any update on the maritime security initiative? What is the latest?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, we had an update yesterday. I don't know if you saw the press conference with the new British foreign minister in which they announced their participation as well. I think we're – this is also led by DOD, and so I'm not going to get ahead of any announcements, but I think we've had over 60 countries that have been in meetings and consultations and participation. And we will – I think we will continue to give updates and provide which countries are participating on a routine basis.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran for one second –
MS ORTAGUS: Sure. Michelle. Is it Michelle?
QUESTION: Yeah, it's me. (Laughter.) The Princeton graduate student Xiyue Wang marked three years now in prison in Iran. And his wife was here in Washington today, asking the Trump administration to do more, pointing out that the U.S. sent its hostage negotiator to Sweden to get Rocky – A$AP Rocky out. What more is this administration doing on behalf of Americans –
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, the implication there is that if we're working to help one hostage that we can't help to work another. And we can walk and chew gum. Robert O'Brien is a close friend of mine, someone I've known for years. I know that he is working diligently behind the scenes. I think this administration has one of the most successful records in getting American hostages released. Robert is constantly traveling and negotiating, working with these countries. And this is something that's very personal to him, to get our American hostages back; it's something that's incredibly personal to the Secretary, and of course to the President. And that's why we have such a great track record of doing so, and we are going to continue every day that we all draw breath here at the State Department to fight for our Americans to get them – to get our American hostages back.
QUESTION: Wait, Morgan, are you saying by that answer that you – the administration considered A$AP Rocky to be a hostage held by Sweden?
MS ORTAGUS: No, that's – thank you for clarifying that. Thank you, Matt. Robert is the head of hostage negotiations here, but he was working with – within the consular affairs in those negotiations because he was already –
QUESTION: Right, but you said you can walk and chew gum at the same time, and we can – in other words, we can work to free one hostage. She specifically mentioned this guy in Sweden. And –
MS ORTAGUS: Right, right.
QUESTION: So you're not trying to say that the Swedes were holding him hostage?
MS ORTAGUS: No, no. No, we are not – no, no, sorry for implying that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: You're right. Thank you.
QUESTION: Why was it appropriate even for him to be in Sweden when the prime minister had very specifically said that their system of laws is that the prime minister does not interfere with their judicial system? I mean, wasn't it offensive for the hostage negotiator – who has a very specific mission – to show up in Sweden on the A$AP Rocky case?
MS ORTAGUS: I think it's appropriate that he went because the President sent him.
QUESTION: Well, that doesn't make it appropriate.
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up on Iran?
QUESTION: Thank you. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV Pakistan. President –
MS ORTAGUS: You're not going to ask me about Kashmir again, are you? Because I'm done with that.
QUESTION: Okay, okay.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay.
QUESTION: So let's go to Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Silk. (Laughter.)
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. Yes.
QUESTION: So after a meeting, President Trump, Prime Minister Imran Khan invited Taliban delegation to talk about the peace agreement between Taliban and the Afghan Government.
MS ORTAGUS: Who invited the Taliban?
QUESTION: Prime Minister Imran Khan.
MS ORTAGUS: Oh, Khan. Thank you. I thought you said President Trump. I thought –
QUESTION: Yeah. So how do you see this progress, connecting Taliban with the Afghan Government?
MS ORTAGUS: I don't think that I have anything additional really to go beyond what I've already said. I think we've talked about Afghanistan quite a bit. But I would say that obviously that Prime Minister Khan is going to be incredibly crucial in helping us with these – with this peace deal and with this peace negotiation that continues. And I think when he was here in Washington, the President and the Secretary alluded to that as well, how important that relationship will be in helping us pursue peace in Afghanistan.
It's certainly – it's not a bilateral issue between the U.S. and Afghanistan. It certainly affects us, but it affects our NATO allies who are there with us. It affects India; it affects Pakistan; it affects Russia and China. It's something that affects many nations in the world, and that's why I think you see Zal traveling so much and working diligently.
I think we'll do last question with Nick.
QUESTION: Yesterday Zarif – this is Iran again – Zarif –
MS ORTAGUS: Okay.
QUESTION: – Javad Zarif said that if Iran doesn't see more commitment from the Europeans to give it the benefits of the JCPOA, that it would violate additional terms of the nuclear deal.
MS ORTAGUS: He says that a lot, yeah.
QUESTION: So I'm wondering what this means for the decision to keep extending nuclear waivers, waivers for the civil nuclear program. Would successive violations by Iran cause the U.S. to reconsider the decision to grant those waivers?
MS ORTAGUS: I don't know that those two things are ultimately connected the way that you just connected them, so I'll take the first part of what you said. I mean, listen, if the European – we're not a part of the JCPOA, obviously. We withdrew. So if the Europeans want to be held hostage by the threats from Iran as it relates to the deal, that's their business to do so.
As it relates to the nuclear waivers and their extensions, I believe they were extended for another 90 days, and that's a decision that the Secretary and the President made together. And if there is another extension in 90 days, we'll certainly let you know.
QUESTION: And can I – just one follow-up on INSTEX? Sorry.
MS ORTAGUS: Only because I like you.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you. (Laughter.) On – German media is reporting that the German former diplomats who's been tasked with running INSTEX from their side has been –
MS ORTAGUS: I haven't seen this.
QUESTION: – has been pushed out because of some anti-Semitic comments he made on YouTube.
MS ORTAGUS: Well, that would be bad.
QUESTION: I'm just wondering what your current attitude is toward INSTEX. Do you see this as a viable conduit for humanitarian financial transactions, or would you rather that countries – Germany, for example – stay away from INSTEX?
MS ORTAGUS: Were you with us in Germany on that trip? I thought you were. Were you with us?
QUESTION: Which one?
MS ORTAGUS: I don't think so. So I think – and we'll have to look this up – I think the last time the Secretary was asked this was at his press avail –
MS ORTAGUS: – with the German Foreign Minister Maas, in which he spoke and said – at the time, when he was asked about it – and again, he could have addressed this recently; I will certainly double-check. My recollection, the last time he was asked about this, he was very forthright and said if there are trades – excuse me, if there are goods that are not sanctioned that are being used in that facility, then he's supportive of it. And we can certainly pull the exact language that he used from the press conference with Foreign Minister Maas.
QUESTION: Right. Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Thanks, everybody. I'll see you – I may be on reserve duty next week, so I may not be here. But I will confirm with all of you and let you know. So if I'm not here, I will brief as soon as I'm back. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:52 p.m.)
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