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State Department to resume briefings in March after six-week hiatus

By Yeganeh Torbati

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department will resume news briefings the week of March 6, a spokesman said on Friday, breaking a silence under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that had caused consternation among American diplomats and contributed to confusion abroad about U.S. positions on key issues.

The briefings, which in the past were televised and held daily, are watched closely by U.S. allies and adversaries for signals on American positions on major international crises and developments around the world.

But they have been halted ever since President Donald Trump took office on Jan. 20, a move that is unprecedented in at least the last three inter-party presidential transitions, according to online archives of briefing transcripts.

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The last televised news briefing at the State Department was held on Jan. 19, the last full day of Barack Obama's presidency. The question-and-answer sessions allow reporters to press spokespeople on the nuances of U.S. foreign policy and the actions of diplomats abroad.

"The Department will host press briefings beginning the week of March 6," said Mark Toner, the State Department's acting spokesman. "We continue to be responsive to media queries and breaking news on an ongoing basis."

Toner did not say if the briefings would be held every day, or if they would all be televised. In a statement earlier this week, Toner said the briefings might be made available to reporters outside Washington via remote video.

Top officials in the Trump administration - including Vice President Mike Pence, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, Homeland Security chief John Kelly, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and Tillerson - have at times made conflicting or diverging statements from Trump himself on issues including U.S. support for the NATO alliance, support for the two-state solution to conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, attitudes toward the news media, and the role of the U.S. military in immigration operations.

The diverging messages have raised questions in foreign capitals over who actually speaks for the Trump administration and which policies it will pursue.

The silence from the State Department during the tumultuous first month of Trump's presidency has also raised fears among current and former American diplomats that the department is being sidelined and is less able to help shape U.S. foreign policy.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

 
 
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