MR PALLADINO: One for the top. Today in Vienna, at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United States joined a coalition of 16 countries invoking the Moscow Mechanism, a rare diplomatic action reserved for serious human rights concerns. This action triggers a formal international fact-finding mission to look into reports of impunity for human rights violations and abuses in the Russian Federation’s Republic of Chechnya.
The United States and other OSCE countries repeatedly have pressed the Russian Federation to investigate disturbing reports of extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detentions, and other violations and abuses in Chechnya. These violations and abuses targeted members of the LGBTI community, members of human rights, nongovernmental organizations, and those the Chechen regime labeled, quote-unquote, “terrorists.”
We and likeminded countries have demanded that Moscow hold accountable those responsible for such violations and abuses. Russia has failed to provide a substantive response to repeated expressions of international concern and calls for accountability. Therefore, with these actions at the OSCE, the administration will continue to work with our European partners to expose Russia’s human rights violations and abuses.
With that, I’d be happy to take some questions.
QUESTION: Can you confirm reports, both from Seoul and New Delhi, that the U.S. is giving a waiver for oil imports from Iran to South Korea and India?
MR PALLADINO: The United States is in the midst of an internal process to consider significant reduction exceptions for individual countries, but that is only on a case-by-case basis. We have – we continue to discuss our Iran policy with our counterparts around the world and the implications of our re-imposition of sanctions previously lifted or waivered under the JCPOA.
QUESTION: Robert --
QUESTION: Robert, on Iran?
MR PALLADINO: On Iran? Let’s go – Iran in the front.
QUESTION: Robert, can you say as the administration goes through that process and is set to re-impose the JCPOA sanctions that the regime that will be in place will be at least as strong as the one that was lifted in 2015?
MR PALLADINO: We’re quite confident moving forward. And then we’re – if we look at what’s already taken place, we see businesses making business decisions and leaving Iran. We’re tracking around 100 major companies that have already made their business decisions to leave Iran and choose business with the United States over business with Iran. We are going to continue to push forward and we’re quite confident.
QUESTION: There are some – on the enforcement side, though – on the enforcement side, though, there are some concerns. We talked about the waivers that you say you’re looking at a case-by-case basis, but also when it comes to processing transactions through SWIFT, that perhaps the enforcement regime won’t be as strong as it was years ago.
MR PALLADINO: For any questions on SWIFT, I’d have to refer to the Department of Treasury. We are – we’re quite confident moving forward that the actions that are being taken are going to help us exert maximum pressure against the Iranian regime and this leading state sponsor of terrorism is going to see revenues cut off significantly that will deprive it of its ability to fund terrorism throughout the region.
QUESTION: Robert --
QUESTION: On Russia?
QUESTION: On Iran?
MR PALLADINO: Stay on Iran, please. Lesley.
QUESTION: Are there any countries that have actually gone down to zero on oil imports from Iran as you’re moving into the sanctions?
MR PALLADINO: Lesley, I don’t have that level of detail to speak to here at the podium today. Sorry. Anymore Iran?
MR PALLADINO: Iran?
MR PALLADINO: Let’s go – Michele.
QUESTION: Thank you. The State Department’s Twitter feed and social media has been focusing a lot on human rights abuses and corruption in Iran in recent weeks and days, and I wonder if that’s meant to encourage protesters to rise up, to make sure that Iranians don’t blame the U.S. for economic hardships once the economic sanctions goes in. Can you just describe a little bit about what you’re trying to do there?
MR PALLADINO: What I would say is the Iranian people are the ones who have suffered greatly thanks to the misuse of funds by the Iranian regime to fund proxies and malign activities across the globe. I would say the United States has at its disposal diplomatic information and economic avenues, and from the State Department that’s something that we – we look at the realm of what we can accomplish and something that we pursue.
QUESTION: Wait, what does that – what does that mean?
MR PALLADINO: Yep. Let’s go – Nick.
QUESTION: So just, right off bat, if the U.S. believes that Iranian human rights negative actions have increased under this policy by this administration, is that not a negative side effect of the pressure that you’re trying to impose, and self-defeating if the actual actions of the Iranian regime are going in the opposite direction you’re trying to achieve?
MR PALLADINO: We’re going to continue to exert maximum pressure against this regime. We ask that it modify its behavior, and the Secretary has been clear frequently on what we expect from the regime and human rights are certainly an important aspect of that. It’s – this is something that we’re going to ask others to help us with and we’re going to maintain this pressure on this regime. There is much more that it’s going to need to do.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed – are you disappointed that it --
MR PALLADINO: Nick, Nick, do your follow-up. Nick.
QUESTION: Just the specifics on the secondary sanctions. Bolton said yesterday a number of countries may not be able to go to zero immediately, we want to achieve maximum pressure, we don’t want to harm friends or allies either. So just on what you were saying before, who are those friends and allies that you’re negotiating with? And have there been any decisions made – I know you said you’re in the middle of it, but any decisions made about specific countries on exceptions to Iranian oil sales?
MR PALLADINO: I would just say that we’re prepared to work with countries that are reducing their imports on a case-by-case basis, and our goal remains to get to zero.
QUESTION: But you are interested in working with countries not necessarily to get to zero so long as they’re showing progress?
MR PALLADINO: We’re prepared to work with countries that are reducing their imports on a case-by-case basis. We have an internal process to consider significant reduction exceptions for individual countries and we continue to discuss that. And I’m not going to go into detail, any further detail on what that would constitute.