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Heather Nauert

Spokesperson 
Department Press Briefing 
Washington, DC
January 16, 2018
TRANSCRIPT:
 2:39 p.m. EST
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QUESTION: Let’s start with – in the Mideast with the Palestinians.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Today you guys informed the UN Relief and Works Agency that you’re going to be withholding $65 million in a $125 million tranche, the first one of this calendar year. And I’m just wondering if you could explain exactly why you’re doing this.

MS NAUERT: So let me start by saying that we delivered a letter today to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestinian refugees in the Near East – UNRWA. We committed a voluntary contribution of $60 million for 2018 so far. This will be divided into tranches. Sixty million is what we have indicated as the first available tranche. That money is going to sustain schools and health services to ensure that teachers and also health care providers can be paid their salaries. One of the reasons we decided to do this is that we felt that not providing that money would run the risk of having the organization and the people there run out of funds and that those entities would have to be potentially closed down.

You bring up an additional pot of money, and that’s also 2018 dollars: $65 million. That is money that will be held for future consideration. It’s money that’s being frozen at this time. It’s not being canceled. It’s just being held for future consideration.

One of the things that the United States would like to do is see some revisions made in how UNRWA operates. One of our bureaus, PRM, our – one of our bureaus here at the State Department has a formal oversight role with UNRWA. We have people on the ground who take a look at some of the UNRWA activities and things they do, how the money is being spent. And one of the things this administration would like to do, just as we talk about UN reform, is take a look at UNRWA, trying to make sure that the money is best spent and best spent so that people can get the services, whether it’s school or the health care services, that they need.

QUESTION: Right. Well, so what do they – what does it have to do to get the other 65 million?

MS NAUERT: Well —

QUESTION: Or is it pretty much a lost cause, and they’re not going to get it?

MS NAUERT: No, no, it’s not a lost cause at all. We would like to see some reforms being made. You’ll want to know the specifics. I’m not going to get into the specifics of that today. But we’re taking a look at the organization, we’re monitoring it, and we’d like to see some reforms be made.

QUESTION: Well, is this a response to the Palestinians bringing the UN General Assembly resolution to a vote? I mean, is this – I guess there’s a lot of – there’s been a lot of criticism of plans to do this, which are by people who say that this is all political —

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: — that this doesn’t really have to do with reforms, that this is an – aimed at punishing the Palestinians further.

MS NAUERT: This is not aimed at punishing anyone. The United States Government and the Trump administration believe that there should be more so-called burden sharing to go around. The United States has been, in the past, the largest single donor to UNRWA. We would like other countries – in fact, other countries that criticize the United States for what they believe to be our position vis-a-vis the Palestinians, other countries that have criticized us – to step forward and actually help with UNRWA, to do more. So we’re asking other countries to do more. Just as we have with NATO, asking other countries to provide that 2 percent GDP into its defense, we are asking countries to do more as it pertains to UNRWA.

QUESTION: All right. I’ll let others after this – this is my last one.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: So when you say you’re asking other countries to step up, have you actually asked other countries to step up? Or is it —

MS NAUERT: I believe we’re —

QUESTION: Or is it up to UNRWA to go and put out their hat to the Europeans, to whoever?

MS NAUERT: Well, I think just based on the way that the United States has operated in the past, where we’ve put pressure on other countries, we’ve had conversations with other countries asking them to do more, I can’t imagine that we would handle this any differently.

QUESTION: No, I guess the – my point is, are – if, in fact, it is not a punishment or a political move to withhold this money, it seems to me that you would – and in fact, it’s only about redistributing the – how UNRWA gets its money so that the United States pays less, it would seem to me that you guys would be out beating down people’s doors saying, “Hey, we’re not going to – we’re withholding 65 million. Make this up,” or, “You should.” Are you doing that?

MS NAUERT: Well, what we do as a government – and you don’t hear us very often call out other countries specifically to do more. Sometimes we do that, but other times we find that we can be more effective and get countries to do more in whatever area we’re looking for them to do more when we have some of those private conversations. But I can assure you as a part of our policy, we will be going to different countries and we will ask them to step up to the plate and provide additional money.

Again, today announcing the $60 million that’s going, the $65 million, and a potential second tranche is being held for now. And when I have more for you on that, I’ll certainly give it to you.

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