Department Press Briefing – August 8, 2019 (Excerpts)

Morgan Ortagus, Department Spokesperson
August 8, 2019

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear


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: 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: 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.


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: 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:  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:  German media is reporting that the German former diplomats who’s been tasked with running INSTEX from their side 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: I think the last time the Secretary was asked this was at his press avail 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.