Excerpts from transcript of US State Dept. Press Briefing (link includes complete video) –
Heather Nauert, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and Spokesperson for the United States Department of State
MS NAUERT: I thought I’d take a few moments to give you a sense of the administration’s priorities for this year’s UNGA, and they fall within five overarching themes. First among the priorities is addressing the global threat posed by weapons of mass destruction. That includes the proliferation of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, as well as ballistic missiles. The President intends to chair a UN Security Council meeting on that issue, and you can expect considerable discussion of North Korea, Iran, and Syria in this category throughout High-Level Week and beyond.
The United States will use UNGA High-Level Week to highlight humanitarian crises around the world and to encourage all nations to do more to support humanitarian response and also food security. The United States believes UN member-states can do more to address threats to peace and security, in particular the world drug problem. That’s something that the President, the First Lady, and the Secretary and others will certainly be highlighting in the early part of the week.
The United States will continue to emphasize also global initiatives to defeat ISIS, al-Qaida, and other terror groups that threaten America and its interests. We will reinforce last year’s call for member-states to support meaningful and lasting reform to ensure that the UN is serving the interests of its membership effectively, efficiently, and accountably.
Regarding Secretary Pompeo’s schedule: On Monday, Secretary Pompeo will join the President’s Global Call to Action on the world drug problem. On Tuesday, Secretary Pompeo will speak out against Iran’s proliferation in an event hosted by the United – United Against Nuclear Iran. On Tuesday, Secretary Pompeo looks forward to hosting the annual Transatlantic Dinner. He’s excited about that. We know many of our European friends are looking forward to joining that as well. On Wednesday, Secretary Pompeo will participate in an African Union meeting regarding the peace process for South Sudan. On Thursday, he’ll join the P5 foreign ministers to address some of the world’s most pressing global issues. Then on Friday, the Secretary will meet with some of our Middle East partners to address shared security goals.
Some of the other senior officials who will be in New York next week include our Deputy Secretary John Sullivan, Under Secretary David Hale, Under Secretary Andrea Thompson, our Director of Policy Planning Kiron Skinner, our Special Representative Steve Biegun, and Special Representative Brian Hook, among many others from the State Department.
The United States seeks a strong, sovereign, and independent partnership with countries that control their own destinies, and the United Nations General Assembly provides an excellent platform to advance our American interests. And I look forward to seeing you all in New York and talking with you nonstop, I am sure.
QUESTION: Hey. My apologies if I missed some of this at the top, but were you asked whether or not Secretary Pompeo will be meeting with any member of the Palestinian delegation, if there’s an attempt to be meeting with a Palestinian while he’s there? And separately, given the general feeling that often the U.S. is ganged up on on this issue, do you anticipate any sort of blowback from recent U.S. decisions to not fund UNRWA and take funding away from the East Jerusalem Hospitals?
MS NAUERT: Yeah. So I’m not aware of any meetings taking place. Again, I don’t have the full schedule, but I’m not tracking any meetings between the Secretary and the Palestinians at next week’s UN General Assembly.
To the hospital issue – and I know some of you have asked questions about that in the past, so I’ll just address that right off the bat, and you all know the news that was made there. The United States Government does not believe that it is responsible for paying for the hospital bills. Now, that may shock some people to hear that. The Palestinian Authority is the one that actually incurs these bills on behalf of Palestinian citizens and others who seek treatment at that hospital. The Palestinian Authority is solely responsible for paying for the treatment of Palestinians in those hospitals.
Historically, they have neglected to pay the bills at their hospital of those individuals and other bills related to the hospital. Our funding in the past has generously shored them up. The PA, though – we have seen the Palestinian Authority is prioritizing paying its debts – has failed to prioritize paying its debts and has instead put money into funding things like payment to families of terrorists and payment to – as you all are well aware of the Taylor Force Act – and payment to families of those who have been imprisoned. We think that that is a wrong decision, that the Palestinians should be funding the care of their own people in the hospitals and that it should not be the responsibility of the United States Government to pay those bills when the Palestinians have that money that they could choose to use on their own people, as opposed to funding the families of terrorists and those who are serving in prison.
QUESTION: Sorry, wait a second, Heather. Are you saying that the Palestinian Authority takes money that it would otherwise be using to pay for medical treatment for Palestinians in the East Jerusalem Hospital Network and instead pays – gives that money to the relatives of prisoners and people who have committed anti-Israel acts or killed —
MS NAUERT: Three words to answer that question: Money is fungible, and that is the money that we provide to different entities and groups throughout the Palestinian Authority can be used for other things. So we see that. We hope that the Palestinians will choose – the Palestinian Authority will choose to spend money on its own people at the hospital, and the United States should no longer be forced to shoulder that bill.
QUESTION: Heather, hi. Britain’s ambassador to Iraq tweeted that he had met with the Iranian ambassador about forming the next government, the next Iraqi government. And Baghdad responded with a mild statement that it was surprised. What is your view of meeting with the Iranian ambassador on the next Iraqi government.
MS NAUERT: Yeah, I can’t confirm that that meeting took place, so I’d have to refer you both to the British Government and to the Iraqi Government about that alleged meeting. But I can tell you overall we wouldn’t have any comment on that without having heard more from them.
QUESTION: Actually I have also a follow-up on the Palestinian, but on – in Iraq there are some reports in the Arab media circulating that actually the State Department has informed the Iraqi Government that it will be held responsible for an attack by Shiite militias in Iraq on any American targets. Can you confirm that?
MS NAUERT: I can’t confirm that. I can tell you that we have said that we will hold the Iranian regime responsible — for attacks on our facilities. As the Secretary had talked about last week, we’ve seen Katyusha rockets fired at our facility in Basra, something also happening to our embassy in Baghdad, and as Laurie can probably attest to, weapons being fired at Kurdish facilities in the north.
We recognize that Iran continues to be a destabilizing element in the region. They continue to try to attack other governments and individuals through their proxy militias. We will hold them responsible for any loss of American life. I just want to be clear about that.