An official website of the United States Government Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Department Press Briefing – February 6, 2023

2:19 p.m. EST

MR PRICE:  All right.  Good afternoon, everyone.  Welcome to Monday.  A couple things at the top and then turn to your questions.

First, I would like to start today by echoing the President and the Secretary in expressing our deepest condolences to the people of Türkiye and Syria following the devastating earthquakes in Kahramanmaras, in Southeastern Türkiye.  The Department of State is in close contact with our Turkish allies and our humanitarian partners, and our initial assistance response is already underway.  We are determined to provide any and all assistance to help those affected by these earthquakes.  Secretary Blinken just got off the phone with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu of Türkiye, to reiterate the same message.  And we stand in solidarity with our allies, our partners, and the people of Türkiye and Syria affected by these terrible events.

Next and finally, one year after launching the COVID-19 Global Action Plan or GAP, tomorrow – excuse me – on Wednesday, February 8th, Secretary Blinken will host a fourth and final Global Action Plan Ministerial to reflect on progress made in addressing the acute phase of the COVID‑19 pandemic, the work remaining, and to collaborate with GAP partners on strategies to prevent, to detect, and to respond to future global health threats.

Foreign ministries came together through the GAP to catalyze political momentum around critical gaps in the response and to enhance coordination.  Health security is national security, and foreign ministries will remain engaged on these shared challenges – on these shared global challenges going forward.  The GAP partners include 33 countries, the European Union, the African Union, and the World Health Organization.  And the ministerial will be livestreamed on www.state.gov at 8:00 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday of this week.

So with that, happy to take your questions.  Sure.  Start with the front row.  Humeyra.

QUESTION:  Hi, Ned.  Just before I begin, thank you for that condolences as a member of – a Turkish member of the bullpen.  I really appreciate it personally.

I just want to ask about China.  Can you talk a little bit about like what these conditions will be for when the Secretary would go?  Has there been any like active planning on when —

QUESTION:  Let me ask about Türkiye.  Sorry, about the earthquake.

QUESTION:  It’s okay.

QUESTION:  Forgive me, because it’s just really —

QUESTION:  Sure.

QUESTION:  It’s just too devastating.  I mean, I know you mentioned condolences and offers of help and so on, and you – you just said that you stand in solidarity with our allies in Türkiye and Syria.  So you only stand in Syria with your – with the Kurds, for instance?  You don’t stand with the rest of the Syrian people?  Those are your allies.

MR PRICE:  No, Said, that is not what I said.  I said we stand in solidarity with Turkish allies.  Of course, Türkiye is an important NATO Ally.

QUESTION:  Okay.  I understand.  Where you do stand in Syria?

MR PRICE:  The United States is a partner to the people of Syria.  We have provided more humanitarian assistance to the people of Syria than any other country going forward.  We are committed to doing what we can on both sides of the border, to helping our Turkish allies respond in the first instance with rescue and recovery efforts.  That effort will be underway soon with U.S. assistance, but also with funding for recovery and broader response efforts.

The same is true on the other side of the border, Said.  We are determined to do what we can to address the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people.  We’ve done that over the course of the 12-year civil war to the tune of billions of dollars.  We do that through a different process.  In Türkiye, we have a partner in the government; in Syria, we have a partner in the form of NGOs on the ground who are providing humanitarian support.

QUESTION:  Well, let me just follow up on this because the Syrian Government, as far as I know, it’s a government that you still recognize.  You have never unrecognized the Syrian Government.  So why not reach out to the Syrian Government?  They are in power.  They’re the ones that run these rescue operations or aid operations and so on.  It would be a great gesture.  Another gesture would be to sort of the lift the sanctions that have basically suffocated Syria.

MR PRICE:  Said, I’m going to resist the temptation to go into your advocacy rather than questioning.  But I will make the point that it would be quite ironic, if not even counterproductive, for us to reach out to a government that has brutalized its people over the course of a dozen years now – gassing them, slaughtering them, being responsible for much of the suffering that they have endured.

Instead, we have humanitarian partners on the ground who can provide the type of assistance in the aftermath of these tragic earthquakes, but these humanitarian partners who have been active on the ground since the earliest days of the civil war.  This is a regime, Said, that has never shown any inclination to put the welfare, the well-being, the interests of its people first.  Now that its people are suffering even more, we’re going to continue doing what has proven effective over the course of the past dozen years or so: providing significant amounts of humanitarian assistance to partners on the ground.  These partners, who unlike the Syrian regime, are there to help the people rather than brutalize them.

QUESTION:  Can I follow up on that?

QUESTION:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Listen, and I apologize for missing the top, how exactly would it be ironic?

MR PRICE:  To use this as an opportunity to reach out to a regime that has brutalized its people when its people are in an even more dire situation.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Well, all right.  Maybe I’m not – maybe my understanding of the word irony is a little bit different.  Anyway, did you guys begin with this or with China?

MR PRICE:  It’s a long story, but —

QUESTION:  I tried to.

QUESTION:  It’s a long story?

QUESTION:  On unofficial initial assistance, we also heard Kirby say that the two rescue teams are going to Türkiye.  Have they left the country?  When are they going to be there?  And do you know how the process is going to go forward, where they will leave from?

MR PRICE:  So I don’t have specific details on where they will deploy from, but my colleague at the White House did make reference to two teams, two rescue and recovery teams that will be traveling to Türkiye in the coming days, two teams of 78 individuals.  That’s one element of our response.

There is a broader element of our response.  We’re looking at additional funding resources that we have available, again, for both sides of the border.  Secretary Blinken did think it was important of course to speak to Foreign Minister Cavusoglu as soon as he could today.  They’ve just got off the phone a few minutes ago.   The Secretary offered his profound condolences on the loss of life, the destruction throughout large swaths of Türkiye.  The imagery that we’ve all seen is just searing; it’s harrowing.  And unfortunately the death toll, we can all expect, will only climb in the coming days.

So we are going to remain committed to do what we can to support our Turkish allies just as we’re going to remain committed to do what we can to support the people of Syria who have also been affected by this.

Yes.

QUESTION:  I’d also like to thank, just like Humeyra did, for the great response in the first hours of the disaster because it’s really grim, looking grim out there.  And we heard from Kirby, just like my colleague pointed out, that two 79-person rescue teams are being dispatched to Türkiye at the moment.  And the Secretary’s message was that in the coming days, weeks, and months we’re determined to do any and everything that we can, so what’s on the table if you could elaborate on that a little bit?  You said that perhaps as well as the humanitarian assistance, likely what could be on the table?  What was discussed?  Because obviously we know that the United States has massive resources and experience in dealing with such natural disasters.

MR PRICE:  Absolutely.  So I think you have to look at this is discrete phases.  In the first phase that will unfold in the coming days is a phase of rescue and recovery.  And that’s why, as you heard from the White House, we are dispatching two teams of individuals who will work with our Turkish allies on that rescue and recovery effort.  It is our fervent hope that the rescue and recovery effort is able to save as many lives, to pull people from the rubble, to focus on that near-term priority to stabilize buildings, to pull people, and to again potentially save as many lives as possible.

Over the longer term in the coming days, weeks, and months, as the Secretary’s statement alluded to, there is going to be a massive rebuilding and reconstruction effort that is – that will need to be underway across Türkiye.  The Secretary in the senior staff meeting this morning directed his team to look across various accounts to see what funding we might have available, what other resources we might have available, to help our Turkish allies, to help through NGO partners on the ground the people of Syria.

This is very early hours, but we are going to be focused on this.  We are also going to remain in touch with our Turkish counterparts.  It was so important for the Secretary to speak to his foreign minister counterpart, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu, in the first instance to offer condolences and to make clear to Foreign Minister Cavusoglu that anything Türkiye needed that we could provide, they should pick up the phone and let us know.   We stand ready as an ally should to help our ally in a time of need.  Similarly, when it comes to the people of Syria, we stand ready as a partner and oftentimes the leading funding partner to the NGOs that are on the ground inside of Syria to be a partner to them and their efforts to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people.

QUESTION:  May I follow up on Türkiye, please?

MR PRICE:  Sure.

QUESTION:  There are reports about communication outages, blackouts in particularly in the south in parts like Hatay and other areas.  Is there anything the U.S. Government can do at this point to mitigate communication problems?

And secondly, any report, any information about the U.S. citizens being damaged, being affected by the latest —

MR PRICE:  Any reports of?

QUESTION:  U.S. citizens being affected.  I don’t know if maybe you can add up a little bit about the embassy’s efforts like that.

MR PRICE:  Sure.  So a couple things on that.  Of course we are focused on the safety and security of Americans who may be in Türkiye.  We did an accountability exercise for our team, our staff on the ground.  We have full accountability of our team members.  Of course we’re also going to have to do structural assessments of our facilities that are in regions that have been hit by this.

I should also add as a form of our assistance – and this gets back to your first question, Alex – our facility in Adana is going to be in a position to host others who are coming to facilitate and to help the rescue efforts.  So we’re going to open our doors.  We are going to open our collective wallet, as it were, to help Türkiye in any way that we can, to help the people of Syria in any appropriate way that we can.

When it comes to the specifics of this, it’s again very early hours.  We’ve talked about what we’re prepared to do when it comes to rescue and recovery.  But this will be a comprehensive effort that goes well beyond rescue and recovery, to include rebuilding, to include addressing the significant challenges, including the communication challenges, the infrastructure challenges that our allies are likely to find going forward.

QUESTION:  When you say —

QUESTION:  When you say your mission in Adana is going to open the doors to others, like, U.S. rescue teams or any —

MR PRICE:  To other countries who are prepared to assist in this effort.

QUESTION:  And when you say it’s full accountability, do you mean they’re all safe?

MR PRICE:  That’s correct.  Now, the —

QUESTION:  Okay, because full accountability can also mean —

MR PRICE:  Oh, yes – no, of course.  They – our —

QUESTION:  — that their deaths —

MR PRICE:  Our staff on the ground after our accountability exercise was deemed to be safe.  Now, the tragic reality is that the death toll of this earthquake is likely to continue to climb in the coming days.  Our consular team, consular officials on the ground, they’ve been in touch with the American citizen community.  As of earlier today, we had not yet confirmed the deaths of Americans, but I think we’re all realistic, we’re all very sober about the implications of this and the fact that many countries, many nationalities are likely to be implicated, just given the massive toll and destruction that this earthquake has caused.

QUESTION:  So can we go to China, or back to China, as it were?

MR PRICE:  Anything else on Türkiye?

Sure.

QUESTION:  Can you get into some more detail on how U.S. is scaling up support for NGO partners in Syria?  Groups like the White Helmets have the equipment but say they’re running out of diesel.  Is the U.S., for example, going to attempt to send partners diesel across Bab al-Hawa, which – the road into which has reportedly been damaged?  Can you speak to any of those logistical challenges?

MR PRICE:  Well, again, we’re in the very early phases of this so I don’t want to get too far ahead of where we are, what we may be in a position to do.  But I will expect that we’ll have additional details on that going forward.  What is important – and this was true even before the earthquakes of the past hours but is certainly true now – is that humanitarian crossings need to remain open.  The people of Syria need humanitarian access.  NGO actors, these organizations, many of whom have been active in parts of Syria over the course of a dozen years now, need to have access to be able to go back and forth across the border, to deliver the humanitarian assistance that the United States was providing before this earthquake and the humanitarian assistance that we’ll be in a position to provide after the earthquake as well.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)  You mentioned that the Secretary called his Turkish counterpart as soon as he could.  Is there any reason why it took this long?  He just got off the phone – why not last night?  Why not this morning?

MR PRICE:  Alex, these are scheduling issues on both sides.  We put in a call request very early.  We wanted to make clear to our Turkish allies that the Secretary was ready, willing, and available to be on the phone, and they were able to connect just a little while ago.

QUESTION:  I’m sorry if you – more on Türkiye?

QUESTION:  No, I was going to ask about China.

QUESTION:  Okay, so go ahead.

QUESTION:  Can I just pick up my previous line of questioning?

MR PRICE:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Is there any active planning for the Secretary to go back?  What kind of a timeline are we looking at?  Can you detail these – when conditions allow – what are they basically?

MR PRICE:  So the short answer is right now we are focused on a couple things.  We have been engaged extensively with our partners and allies over the course of recent days.  Over the weekend, today, at senior levels, both in Washington and from our embassy in Beijing, we have been consulting with a broad array of like-minded countries.  We want them to understand what it is that we’ve experienced.  As you’ve heard from my colleagues at the Department of Defense, other countries, other regions of the world have also been subjected to these brazen violations of sovereignty as well.  We think it’s important in the first instance that we share as much as we can, because these are challenges that many of us have and will continue to have to confront together.

Now, when it comes to engagement with the PRC, we’ve also been very clear that we seek lines of communication, lines of dialogue to remain open.  Secretary Blinken picked up the phone on Friday morning to reach out to Wang Yi, the senior foreign policy official within the People’s Republic of China, with a couple of messages.  One was that even in this time of heightened tension, in the context of the discovery of the high-altitude surveillance balloon, we wanted to be able to pick up the phone to speak to one another.  We believe that dialogue and diplomacy is always important when it comes to a competitive relationship like this.  We believe it’s especially important when tensions are even further heightened.

We’re going to remain in touch with our PRC counterparts.  The embassy has been in touch with their PRC counterparts.  Senior individuals in this building have been in touch with their PRC counterparts since Friday as well.  But you have to remember that the trip that Secretary Blinken was to have undertaken starting on Friday was to have been an extension of the conversation between President Biden and President Xi in Bali.  That conversation, and in turn the conversation that Secretary Blinken was to have had yesterday and today, would have been about establishing that floor on the relationship to see to it that competition doesn’t veer into conflict, but also to see – to test the proposition of collaboration, cooperation in areas that matter to us, that are of profound interest to us, but also that are of profound interest to the rest of the world.

The discovery of this high-altitude surveillance balloon in the days that preceded the Secretary’s visit, of course, undermined the point of that visit.  We would not have been able to conduct the important business that Secretary Blinken was looking forward to doing on the ground in Beijing in that context.

Now, just as we continue to remain in contact, in dialogue with the PRC in the coming days, as I expect we’ll do at various levels, when – we’ll determine when it’s appropriate to potentially look to travel to the PRC to have the type of discussion that we think it’s incumbent on our countries to have.

QUESTION:  So if you can’t have that conversation now about the guardrails and this incident has happened which was a breach of sovereignty, where does that leave the U.S.-China relationship, which wasn’t – which was already strained anyway?

MR PRICE:  Well, look, we’ve always been clear-eyed about this relationship.  We know it’s the most consequential, we know it’s the most complex relationship we have in all of our bilateral relationships.  We suspect it’s also the most consequential and complex bilateral relationship on the face of the Earth.  We believe it’s important to – again, to build that floor under the relationship to see to it that areas of potential competition don’t veer into conflict.  We believe it’s incumbent on us, the United States, as a responsible power, to see to it that we are doing all we can to protect and to promote not only our interests, but the elements that countries around the world care about.

And there are some cases where our interests with the PRC do intersect.  Part of the agenda of Secretary Blinken’s travel to Beijing – what would have been his travel to Beijing – was to talk about some of those issues, again, because it’s in our interests, it’s in the interests of the rest of the world, it’s what the rest of the world expects of us.

We are – we haven’t had conversations at this point about rescheduling the trip.  As I said, right now we are focused on coordinating closely with our allies and partners, sharing information, comparing notes, making sure that they understand the information that we have in our possession, they understand the basis for our actions, and that they understand the brazen nature of this violation of our sovereignty, violations of sovereignty that are not unique to us, that have taken place across countries and across regions around the globe.

So that’s going to continue to be our focus in recent – in the coming days.

QUESTION:  Ned —

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

QUESTION:  If the conversations since the Secretary spoke with Wang Yi on Friday have not revolved around or touched on a rescheduling of the trip, what have they touched on?  I mean, I’m presuming that on Saturday, if there were conversations, that they would have been about the shootdown of the balloon.  Is that correct, or am I – well, that yesterday —

MR PRICE:  So it is true that we notified – it is true that we notified the PRC after the fact of the action that the U.S. –

QUESTION:  And that they saw it on TV?

MR PRICE:  I presume they were watching, as were many of us.  That was conveyed to them on Saturday.  But in a sense, it shouldn’t have come to a – as a surprise to our PRC interlocutors.  As you know —

QUESTION:  Well, what else, other than the balloon being shot down?  What else did these conversations go over?

MR PRICE:  I’m not going to get into the conversations in any detail, but precisely what we said publicly is what we’ve conveyed privately as well.  This was inappropriate, it was irresponsible, it was unacceptable for –

QUESTION:  Okay, but that’s – right, but that’s the same thing you were saying on Friday and the same thing the Secretary said publicly, the same thing that you’ve said publicly, the same thing the White House has said publicly.  So the Chinese already know that.  So what were the point – what were the point or points of the conversations that have happened since the Secretary spoke to Wang Yi?

MR PRICE:  Well, part of the point, Matt, was repetition.  And repetition can be important, especially when you’re dealing with various interlocutors at various levels through various parts of a different government.  We wanted the PRC to be under no illusions about the way in which we’re treating this, the way we see this, and the implications that it has had not only on the Secretary’s travel, but more broadly as well, again, it was inappropriate, it was irresponsible, it was unacceptable for this sort of thing to happen.  We wanted to be very clear with them about that.  We did notify the PRC after the fact that this action had taken place on Saturday, that the rest of the world saw as well.

But again, it should not have come as a complete surprise to the PRC.  When Secretary Blinken spoke with Wang Yi on Friday morning, he underscored twice for Wang Yi that the United States would be prepared to take any appropriate action to protect our interests.  A similar message was conveyed to the PRC embassy official that Secretary Blinken and Deputy Secretary Sherman met with here on Wednesday when that individual was summoned to the department to discuss this.  We are – even as we convey these tough messages in a candid way, we are going to continue to maintain in contact with the PRC.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MR PRICE:  We believe in the importance of these channels of dialogue, precisely to – so that we can see to it —

QUESTION:  Last one, but if it’s – if it’s just repetition all the time, are you not at all concerned that the Chinese are going to start to think like you guys think when they repeat their whole Taiwan line every – at every single meeting they have with you – that it doesn’t really do any good just to repeat the same “This is inappropriate, it’s inexcusable, it’s a violation of international law” – do you not think that it’s going to have the same non-impact that their repetition of the talking point – of their talking points on Taiwan have with you?

MR PRICE:  Matt, we are now, what, 48 hours from Saturday afternoon.  We’re 72 hours from Friday.  We are talking about this over the course of a few days now.  I think to compare this and to try and analogize in that way, it’s not only asymmetric but it’s just not an apt analogy.

QUESTION:  Ned, on Türkiye?

QUESTION:  Ned, the President —

MR PRICE:  Yes.

QUESTION:  So President Biden is a big believer in personal diplomacy.  Isn’t it more important than ever to talk to China in person or even to confront China?  Is there any preconditions to resume the talks —

MR PRICE:  We –

QUESTION:  – or the visit?

MR PRICE:  We, too, are big believers in dialogue and diplomacy, absolutely.  That’s precisely why Secretary Blinken and Deputy Secretary Sherman took part in the conversation with a PRC  embassy official here on Wednesday.  It’s precisely why Secretary Blinken picked up the phone on Friday morning to speak to Wang Yi.  It’s precisely why senior officials in this building were in touch with PRC officials and officials in – at our embassy in Beijing have also been in touch with PRC officials as well.

We can convey messages in the near term as we emerge from what has been a very public incident between the United States and the PRC, knowing that, yes, face-to-face diplomacy is some ways is invaluable.  But in the near term, we were managing at the time what was an ongoing situation.  We wanted to be very clear with the PRC about our concerns about what this could lead to in terms of the action that ultimately took place on Saturday, and the fact that this action seems to have – well, in fact, did undermine the point of the trip that the two presidents agreed to in November.

You have to remember, the Secretary’s planned travel to Beijing was an outgrowth of the multi-hour meeting that President Biden and that President Xi of China had in November of last year on the sidelines of the G20 in Bali.  It was not a meeting to have discrete talks on tactical issues, on just a few specifics here and there.  This was to have been a fairly broad, wide-ranging discussion on constructing a floor below the relationship and, where we can, seeing to it – testing the proposition, at least – that we could try to seek out additional cooperation in areas that are profoundly of interest to us and the rest of the world.

Now, all of those things continue to be important.  But by taking the action that they did, by engaging in this flagrant violation of our national sovereignty, and by taking this irresponsible and ultimately unacceptable act, the PRC in effect undermined the point of what was to have been that face-to-face diplomacy.  That in no way devalues the importance, the indispensability of face-to-face diplomacy in general.

I suspect there will be opportunities going forward for the Secretary to engage in that face-to-face diplomacy.  After all, we didn’t cancel this meeting, we postponed it.  We postponed it until such a time where it would be appropriate for the Secretary to travel to Beijing to have the type of meeting that we hope to have, a meeting that could help to establish a floor under the relationship and a meeting where we could discuss everything that’s of interest to us and many issues that are of interest to the rest of the world as well.

QUESTION:  What is your reaction to critics saying that the United States overreacted due to domestic political pressure since this incident happened – a similar incident happened before, and given the fact Secretary Blinken is going to be the first secretary to visit China in four years and maybe meet – potentially meet President Xi Jinping?

MR PRICE:  We had an opportunity.  We had what would have been a valuable opportunity to engage in that face-to-face diplomacy.  It was to have been a near-term diplomacy.  Of course, the blame does not fall to us for undermining that opportunity.  It falls to the PRC for engaging in what was – in what was ultimately an inappropriate and irresponsible or unacceptable act.  We’ve acted responsibly.  We’ve acted practically.  We’ve acted prudently in this case but also in the broader context of the bilateral relationship.  We think it’s important that we have these lines of communication so that we can make very clear to the PRC what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

Unfortunately, they decided to undertake this action in the days leading up to Secretary Blinken’s travel that completely undermined the point of the trip and left us with, unfortunately, no option but to postpone it.

QUESTION:  Lastly, could you please clarify?  So you said Secretary Blinken was supposed to depart for Beijing last Friday.  But you have never announced the exact date of his visit.  What’s the reason behind it?

MR PRICE:  I think, as all of those reporters in this room who travel with us pretty frequently, they do know that we often announce travel the day before, the day of.  We were set to depart for Beijing, to make the long trip to Beijing, on Friday evening.  It had been our intention to announce it earlier in the week.  We ultimately had an opportunity to announce it on Friday morning.  But unfortunately, the PRC put us in a position where it just did not make sense at that time to continue with the trip because their irresponsible, inappropriate actions unfortunately undermined the utility of such a trip at that time.

Yes.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  One China and one on North Korea.  The Chinese deputy foreign minister will visit to Russia.  And also, it was reported that China supplied military equipment through Russian defense company and supported the invasion of Ukraine.  Do you have anything there?  How can you see that Russia and China, they get together right now?

MR PRICE:  Well, this is something we’ve spoken about extensively over the better part of a year now, the relationship between the PRC and Russia that in some ways has deepened.  We’ve seen very tangible manifestations of that.  It was just about a year ago, maybe almost exactly a year ago if memory serves, where we saw a communique emerge between the PRC and Russia speaking of a friendship with no limits.  We have seen the PRC attempt to take what they portray as a neutral stance to Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine, but in reality it’s been anything but.  They have provided Russia with rhetorical support.  They’ve provided them with political support.  They have continued their economic relationship as well.

Our message to the PRC has been very simple: we’re watching very closely; there are and would be costs and consequences if we were to see a systematic effort to help Russia bypass the sanctions that dozens of countries around the world have enacted against the Kremlin, President Putin, others, for this brazen aggression against Ukraine; and there would be consequences for the provision of lethal material that Russia could then use against civilians in Ukraine in the same way that it sought lethal material from Iran, from DPRK to use against the people of Ukraine.

QUESTION:  And one more on North Korea.  North Korea is preparing for a large-scale military parade this Wednesday.  How is the U.S. prepared for contingency?

MR PRICE:  Well, these are always exercises that we watch.  I think it is almost certainly the case that these have more messaging and propaganda value than any material value to the DPRK.  But we’re of course going to be watching, as we always do.  But more so, we are investing in our alliances and our partnerships in the region and well beyond.  As you know, the Secretary’s ROK counterpart was in Washington on Friday.  They had an opportunity to have a wide-ranging discussion about the challenges and opportunities that are presented in the Indo-Pacific region and well beyond.  At the top of that list of challenges is the DPRK.  It’s why we’re committed on – with an ironclad basis to the security of our ROK ally, to the security of our Japanese allies.  It’s why we have attempted to deepen and to advance trilateral cooperation not just in the context of the DPRK and its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons program, but 0across the range of challenges and opportunities that our three countries, that our alliance faces.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Okay.  One just on what – my colleague just used the term “overreaction” with regard to China.  Is – how much truth do you think it is if you say that the U.S. overreacted but just President Biden being pressured from, like, the U.S. media a little too much and there is not much truth into the surveillance equipment terminology there, and that it was just some media people who won’t want President Biden and China to get a little bit closer, that they were not interested in Blinken’s visit.  And is there any truth to that, do you think?  Or no, there was some surveillance equipment found in the balloons as well?

MR PRICE:  So a couple things there.  First, it is a fundamental misunderstanding of the United States to suggest that we take these sort of actions based on anything other than what’s in our national interest.  This was a decision that the President made in close consultation with the Secretary of State, with the National Security Advisor, with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with the Secretary of Defense as well.  And ultimately, the course of action was one that was put forward and executed by the Department of Defense.

When it comes to what we’ve heard from the PRC, I’m just not going to give that too much oxygen.  Let me see if I can state it as clearly as I can:  The PRC knows precisely what this was.  The PRC knows precisely why this was in our airspace.  The PRC knows precisely what this was doing over the United States.  And ultimately, the PRC knows precisely why we did what we did.

The Secretary made the point on Friday that if the shoe were on the other foot, if something analogous were to have happened within PRC airspace, you can only imagine the response from Beijing.  We’ve been clear.  We have been resolute.  But we’ve also been practical as well, and we have taken practical steps since the time this high-altitude surveillance balloon was detected to mitigate its ability to collect intelligence against sensitive sites, to mitigate any threat it could pose to the American people.

But more than that, in a way we flipped the script because we’ve trained quite a bit of capabilities of our own at this high-altitude surveillance balloon while it was violating our airspace.  We learned quite a bit about it and the practice in general, the technology that was on board.  And as you’ve heard I think just recently from my colleagues at the Department of Defense, there is an active effort underway to recovery what is left of this high-altitude surveillance balloon on the surface of the ocean, and in the coming days there will be an effort to collect what we can from the bottom of the ocean.

QUESTION:  In Pakistan, in my home city of Peshawar —

MR PRICE:  Well, anything else on China before we go on?

QUESTION:  Yes.

MR PRICE:  John, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Just on those statements you just made, have you guys ruled out an accident or incompetence when it comes to the balloon on the part of the Chinese?

MR PRICE:  John, I think those explanations just ring hollow to us.  They ring as hollow as the idea that this was some sort of weather balloon.

QUESTION:  Can I follow up on this?

QUESTION:  Just to clarify, you said something that the Chinese or the – I guess if the shoe was on the other foot and so on, what would they do?  Are you suggesting that there are no surveillance balloons over China, American surveillance balloons over China?

MR PRICE:  I am.

QUESTION:  Okay, thank you.

QUESTION:  Does the U.S. —

QUESTION:  A follow-up on the —

MR PRICE:  Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION:  Given how you dictated the scope of the violation, they violated the U.S. airspace, is it fair for us to expect more punitive steps from the U.S.?  You don’t down the balloon and just do nothing if they violate the U.S. airspace.

MR PRICE:  So —

QUESTION:  Like sanctions or something like that.

MR PRICE:  So Alex, in the first instance we’re discussing this with our allies and partners.  We’re comparing notes about what has happened to us in recent days, what has happened to us within recent years as well.  We want to learn as much as we can about not only what’s happened recently but in recent years, and we’re going to take steps to protect our interests as appropriate.

Anything else on China?

QUESTION:  Does the U.S. —

QUESTION:  Yes.

MR PRICE:  Okay, Ian.

QUESTION:  Can you just talk a little bit about how this balloon incident is going to change the trip that the Secretary may eventually go on if he does go?  Will Blinken bring up the incident?  Will he convey these messages in person to his counterparts there, and will he talk about Chinese espionage sort of more broadly with his counterparts there?

MR PRICE:  Well, in some ways the trip that had been planned would have provided the Secretary an opportunity to discuss this broad set of challenges.  As you know, we face a wide range of challenges from the PRC.  One is in the espionage realm.  We face economic challenges, we face diplomatic challenges, political challenges, economic challenges, and security challenges of course.

So every time we have an extended discussion with our PRC counterparts we spend a lot of time speaking about the threats that we face, the competition that is a part of this relationship.  And as I alluded to before, we seek both to advance our interests and to do what the rest of the world expects of us: to have a discussion of areas where we potentially can cooperate or even deepen that cooperation.

If and when the Secretary returns or travels to Beijing – and again, this trip was postponed, it wasn’t canceled – I fully expect he’ll have an opportunity to discuss the full range of our concerns with PRC behavior in all of those realms.

Dylan.

QUESTION:  Does the United States has a read on the tone of the statement issued by Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs?  Do you think it’s targeted on domestic Chinese audience, especially on those ultranationalists, or is it a signaling to U.S. that there may be more retaliation actions?  I mean, do you sense any tone, more conciliatory tone, from your private conversation?

MR PRICE:  And Nike, I’m just not going to parse their statements.  We’re going to be looking for actions.  We’re going to be looking for the PRC to act responsibly, to act responsibly and practically, calmly, resolutely, in the way that we have throughout this and over the much broader horizon.

Dylan.

QUESTION:  Yeah, the Pentagon said they were tracking the balloon since at least January 28th, so last Saturday.  The White House said the President was briefed on it Tuesday, so a few days after that.  I’m curious.  Can you clarify when the top officials in this department were first briefed on this?  When did they first learn about it?  And then why did it take till Friday morning to cancel the trip if you presumably knew about this earlier in the week?

MR PRICE:  So Dylan, our colleague at the White House and the Defense Department have spoken to the tactical timeline of this.  But you are right that we learned about it early in the week.  Obviously we were traveling early in the week to the Middle East.  We were in Egypt, Israel, the West Bank when this first started to percolate.  The Secretary was deeply engaged with his counterparts as well as with the President on this issue throughout the course of the week and as the end of the week neared.

And ultimately, Dylan, these are difficult decisions.  They are difficult decisions regarding the most prudent course to take with a high-altitude surveillance balloon like this.  There are prudent – there are difficult diplomatic decisions to make.  But as the week progressed and as we considered it and talked about it with partners across the government, it became clear to us that the PRC’s reckless, irresponsible, inappropriate action had undermined entirely for the time being the point of what was supposed to have been the trip that was starting late last week.  That decision ultimately was finally made early Friday.  We informed all of you shortly thereafter.

QUESTION:  On China.  China and India but China first.  Ned, I’ve been saying this for the last – over 25 years that China was spying on the United States to get its secrets in many ways.  Do you believe China is spying on the United States to get all the secrets, but they are now like in industries, and nuclears, and others?  And also, few Chinese citizens are now – they were arrested and in jail.

MR PRICE:  Yeah, so look, I’m not going to go into any detail, but I’ll just say this:  We’re under no illusions about the challenges about the threats we face from the PRC.  The reason we have sought to engage in dialogue, in diplomacy, is in the first instance to manage that competition, to see to it that that competition doesn’t veer into conflict, but also to set guardrails on a relationship that is complex, that is consequential, precisely because we have a number of concerns about PRC behavior, espionage being one of them.

QUESTION:  And India, please.  It’s been 14 years when scores of people were killed in November 26, 2008 in Mumbai terror attack.  Among six U.S. citizens were killed.  Now, after 14 years, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Chairman Mr. Michael McCaul, he wrote a letter to Madam Samantha Power, USAID administrator, that asking her to stop funding for HHRD, or Helping Hand Relief and Development Foundation, or it’s in the name of charity.  He said that the fundings are going or they are linked to the LET and other terror organizations based in Pakistan and ISI.

So what my – what I’m asking you is your question on 24 January letter written to her, one comment on the letter.  And second, the families and loved ones are asking when their loved ones will get – six U.S. citizens who were killed – justice.

MR PRICE:  Thanks for that question.  I will leave it to USAID to comment on the letter specifically.  As I understand, it was addressed to Administrator Power.  But the terrorist attacks that took place in 2009 in Mumbai – of course, the memories of that are still vivid.  They’re still vivid in India.  They are still vivid in the United States as well.  We can all remember the horrific imagery of that day, the assault on the hotel, the bloodshed that resulted, and it’s why we’ve continued to insist on accountability for the perpetrators of this, not only the individual operatives who took so many innocent lives that day, but the terrorist groups that were behind this that helped to orchestrated it as well.

QUESTION:  Thank you, sir.

QUESTION:  Ned, in Pakistan, Peshawar, a hundred people died in a suicide blast.  And so terrorism is very much active back in Pakistan.  Any help from the U.S. for an ally who was standing with America for 20 years, has lost over 75,000 of its people, and is begging the IMF where the people are fighting for bread?  Any support?  Any – I know there is so much happening in the world to be asking for —

MR PRICE:  No, of course.  But this is important, and it’s precisely why we took an opportunity last week to issue a statement on the bombing of the mosque that was inside the police lines in Peshawar.  Of course, this is – any terrorist attack is something that we condemn with the utmost vociferousness.  But this attack resulted in the deaths of scores of innocent civilians as well as public servants, individuals who had dedicated their lives to protecting their fellow Pakistani citizens.

This is a scourge that affects Pakistan, it affects India, it affects Afghanistan.  It is something that we’re focused on throughout the entire region.  When it comes to Pakistan, they’re an important partner of the United States, and a partner in any number of ways.  We’ve talked in recent days about our commitment to stand with Pakistan in the face of these security threats.  Pakistan will continue to be a stalwart partner of the United States and vice versa in the face of these types of horrific terrorist attacks.

QUESTION:  One last one, I have a story that I’ve been following, and I want to get your comment on it.  I have reports that some Taliban have gone into Ukraine to support them in the fight against Russia.  Do you have any information about that?  Any comment about that?

MR PRICE:  I don’t have anything to add on that.  I haven’t seen those reports.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR PRICE:  Missy.

QUESTION:  Ned, I wanted to ask you on a very different topic and follow up, I think, on a question that Said may have asked about a week or two ago, and it’s about the withdrawal of the DRL nominee Sarah Margon.  And can you just – is there anything else that you could say about the department’s perspective on the long hold by Senator Risch and the grounds or the alleged reason for that?  And can you tell us anything about what Secretary Blinken is doing to fill the DRL position since it’s already been half of the administration at this point?  Thanks.

MR PRICE:  Well, first, when it comes to the approach that the Senate has taken, I would need to refer you to the Senate to comment on that.  Sarah Margon is just a tremendous intellect.  She is committed.  She is passionate.  She is someone that many of us have worked with outside of government, someone that many of us were very much looking forward to working with inside of government.  Her talents, her determination would have been a tremendous asset to this department but also to the fuller administration.  This was ultimately a decision that Sarah herself made.  She came to recognize that there was not a path forward for her confirmation.  It is unfortunate, but – and it’s ultimately something that we sought to advocate for every step of the way.

Every time we have an in-depth discussion with the Senate, we bring up the issue of nominees and the need for a swift confirmation of our nominees.  The fact that we haven’t had a confirmed assistant secretary in DRL during the course of this administration – of course, it doesn’t mean that we haven’t focused on human rights, that we haven’t placed human rights at the center of our foreign policy.  This is something that Secretary Blinken is committed to.  It’s something that Uzra Zeya and others in this building are committed to.

But it is important that we have Senate-confirmed individuals in place both here in the department in assistant secretary positions as well as other confirmed positions, but around the world.  The point we routinely make is that no other country on the face of the Earth would put itself in this position, would tie a hand behind its back by leaving critical members of its team off the field, in a position where they are not able to be engaged.

I have no doubt that Sarah will direct her considerable talents to her advocacy work on the outside.  That, too, is a good thing for us.  It’s important to have voices like hers in civil society.  But we also need a confirmed assistant secretary in DRL.  Now that Sarah has made the decision she has, we are going to take a close look at what the appropriate next step is, and we’re going to continue to work with the Senate to see to it that our nominees are confirmed as – on as swift a basis as can be achieved.

QUESTION:  Do you have an idea – can you say anything about the timing of a potential nominee and whether or not the department will try to nominate another external appointee or – or a career person?

MR PRICE:  I’m just not in a position to speak to that at the moment.  It’s something we’re taking a close look at.  We want to see to it that DRL has an empowered assistant secretary, someone who reflects the commitment on the part of President Biden, on the part of Secretary Blinken, on the part of others throughout this administration to really give meaning to putting human rights at the center of our foreign policy.

Yeah.

QUESTION:  Ned, real quick, do you have any comment about Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday speaking out against laws that criminalize LGBTQI folks?

MR PRICE:  We’ve obviously heard similar comments from Pope Francis in recent days.  His Holiness using his voice in this way is something that will be noticed by people and governments around the world.  He obviously speaks with authority that perhaps no one else can.  We welcome those remarks, and for our part, we will continue as an administration, as a government, to doing what we can – perhaps in a very different way, but practical steps that we can to promote and to protect the rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world consistent with the executive order, with the presidential memorandum that the President put out a couple years ago now.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR PRICE:  Said.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  On the Palestinian issue.

MR PRICE:  Sure.

QUESTION:  A couple questions.  Couple days ago, on the occasion or World Cancer Day, the – with a theme – I think the theme for this year was closing the care gap – the Palestinian health ministry accused Israel of denying cancer patients the right to medical treatment abroad.  That’s what they claimed.  And they said that Israel deprives about 40 percent of patients in Gaza of their right to medical treatment.  I wonder if you are aware of these reports and you have any comment on that in view of the visit that just ended.

MR PRICE:  I’ve seen those reports, Said.  What I can say is that we’re aware of them.  We would reiterate, as you know, as we have always said, that Palestinians and Israelis should enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, and prosperity.  That of course includes freedom of movement to receive medical treatment.

QUESTION:  Another question is the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said today that they will not go back to security coordinations and so on.  We’ve seen Israel up its – sort of its raids and so on in Jericho, in other places, and so on.  So – and this comes in the aftermath of the Secretary’s visit to Israel and to the West Bank.  Are you disappointed that this visit did not have much of an impact in that realm, in that area?

MR PRICE:  A couple things, Said.  First, we were under no illusions that a single visit would be able to immediately reverse the tide of violence, the accelerating pace of violence, that we’ve seen in recent weeks and months and even over a longer time horizon.

On the trip, and before and since, the Secretary, we, have consistently made the point that it is incumbent on the parties themselves to take steps to de-escalate what is a dangerous situation, what is an increasingly combustible situation as well.  On the trip, the Secretary underscored the urgent need for all parties to de-escalate to prevent the loss of further civilian life, and for both sides to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank.  We believe that Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live in safety and security, and a key element of that is stemming this tide of violence.

After the trip, we continue to work closely with both Israelis and Palestinians to support their efforts to end this cycle of violence, and our overarching goal beyond the very near term, this immediate goal, is to support the de-escalation of tensions and to work with the parties to take action to lessen the violence, which has already taken far too many lives just at the beginning of this year as we look to advance the longer-term prospects of a negotiated two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians.

QUESTION:  And finally, CIA Director Bill Burns told a group in Georgetown on Thursday, I believe, that the conditions that he sees in the West Bank are very similar to those that were on the eve of the second intifada, which was so violent.  Do you have any – have you seen that, first?  And do you have any comment on that?

MR PRICE:  I’m familiar with that, and I think this goes back precisely to what I said a moment ago.  There are a number of very concerning trend lines and data points, and none is more concerning than the loss of civilian life that we’ve seen over the course of this year and in recent months as well.  It is precisely the reason Secretary Blinken from Israel, from the West Bank, from Egypt, encouraged Israelis, Palestinians to take urgent steps themselves that would de-escalate this situation and lead to greater degrees of security and stability for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Alex.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Ned.  On Russia-Ukraine, the Justice Department over the weekend confirmed that the first seized Russian assets to go to Ukraine had been already directed to the State Department.  Can you speak to the significance of that and how much amount we’re talking about.  Also, what kind of message does it send to Russian oligarchs?  And maybe is this something we should expect more in the weeks and months ahead?

MR PRICE:  Well, it sends a very simple message that those who would support this brutal war should not expect to have impunity, that they will find themselves on the other end of important tools that we have at our disposal to hold them to account.  Anyone who supports this war who is subject to our sanctions authorities, to our broader economic authorities, puts themselves in a vulnerable position.  And I think the action the Department of Justice announced in recent days speaks to that.

As you know, through working with Congress we have a significant sum at our disposal when it comes to security assistance, when it comes to humanitarian assistance, when it comes to economic assistance.  But again, looking at the announcement from the Department of Justice, we’re determined to be resolute and we’re determined to be creative in ways that we support the Ukrainian people, support their near-term security needs, support their near-term humanitarian needs, their near-term economic needs, but also the needs that they’ll have over the longer term when it comes to reconstruction and to rebuilding their country.

QUESTION:  Do you have more details about the amount of —

MR PRICE:  I would need to refer you to the Department of Justice.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  And how is it going to be allocated?  Through USAID projects or any particular details about how the State Department is going to spend it?

MR PRICE:  If we have more details on that, we’ll share it at the right time.

QUESTION:  And another question, if you don’t mind.  Reports have emerged again over the weekend that Russia and Iran are planning to build up – produce more drones.  Two questions.  First of all, what kind of reaction will that invite from the U.S.?  Secondly, does that make a potential factory wherever they’re going to build up a target, legitimate target?

MR PRICE:  I’ve seen those reports.  I’m not in a position to confirm it from here.  But it, in a way, at a broader level, doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.  We have spoken extensively over the past six months or so now about the burgeoning security relationship between Russia and Iran, between – about the provision of UAV technology from Iran to Russia, but also the fact that this is very much a two-way street.  Russia is in turn providing Iran with military and security wares that it has requested as well.  It’s part of the reason why we’ve enacted a number of tranches of sanctions against not only Russian actors, but in this case Iranian actors as well.

And in fact, the most recent illustration of that was on Friday when the Department of the Treasury designated eight Iranian individuals who were purporting or acting on behalf of an entity known as Paravar Pars.  It’s an Iranian firm that produces UAVs for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force.  It’s tested UAVs for the IRGC.  We designated this entity in September, and then on Friday we took action against these eight individuals affiliated with it.

I can tell you we don’t preview, of course, future sanctions actions, but we will continue to look for targets that will allow us to counter this relationship between Iran and Russia, and more concretely, the provision of UAV technology from Iran to Russia that has resulted in untold damage, destruction across Ukraine and to the people of Ukraine.

Yeah.

QUESTION:  On Brazil, President Lula comes to D.C. this week to meet President Biden, and I know climate is on the table.  Is the U.S. open to putting money on a fund to protect the Amazon?  And also I know democracy is another subject.  Former President Bolsonaro has been in Florida since December.  Does it somehow worry the U.S. Government?

MR PRICE:  Right now we’re focused on the upcoming visit of President Lula.  It’s something we’ve been looking forward to since his inauguration.  The president will be here on Friday for a meeting with President Biden at the White House.  We do expect a wide-ranging discussion between the two presidents, and we expect this will be an opportunity for our two countries to strengthen our already close relationship.  During the meeting, we expect the presidents will discuss our unwavering support of Brazil’s democracy, how our two countries can continue to work together to promote inclusion and democratic values in the region and around the world, and that’s especially so in the run-up to the Summit for Democracy, which will take place in March of this year.

We expect the presidents will also discuss how our two countries can continue to work together to discuss common challenges – this gets to your question – combating climate change, safeguarding food security, encouraging economic development, strengthening peace and security, and then managing regional migration throughout the Western Hemisphere.

George.  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Can you tell us, Ned, anything with the Paris meeting about Lebanon?  I think it’s over by now.

MR PRICE:  It did take place today.  Assistant Secretary Leaf led the U.S. delegation to the meeting in Paris.  I suspect we’ll have more to say, whether as a group of countries or ourselves, in the coming hours.  But this was an opportunity for us to work with partners to encourage and support Lebanese leaders to elect a president, to form a government, and to implement the necessary economic reforms.

QUESTION:  But no statements yet from —

MR PRICE:  We’ll have something in the coming hours, I would expect.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MR PRICE:  Yes, final question?

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Quick follow-up on the Chinese balloon issues.  There are speculations that the Chinese balloon flew over Japanese airspace before it reached continental U.S.  And there’s also speculation that other Chinese balloons might flew over Japan previously.  So do think Chinese balloon issues pose challenges to U.S. allies in Asia, like Japan?

MR PRICE:  Well, I’d say a couple things.  One, I would refer you to the Japanese Government to speak to any assessment of overflight, whether of this balloon or of previous balloons.  What we have said is that we have detected these – this variety of high-altitude surveillance balloon across five continents.  This is a challenge that a number of countries around the world have been subjected to.  And it’s precisely why, in the aftermath of the downing of this high altitude surveillance balloon, we thought it was important to convene, to reach out to like-minded countries around the world to share what we experienced, to share what we know, to express our common concern, and to do what we can to see to it that, as an international community, we’re speaking very clearly to the PRC – and for that matter, any other country around the world who would engage in this type of behavior – to underscore that it’s irresponsible, it’s inappropriate, and at the end of the day it is unacceptable.

Our Japanese allies are critical allies to us in the Indo-Pacific, in North Asia, and beyond.  We’ve applauded the investments that the prime minister announced in Japan’s defense capabilities.  We wholeheartedly embrace our alliance coordination and cooperation across a range of fronts.  And more broadly, whether it’s in the Indo-Pacific, whether it’s in Europe or anywhere else, when it comes to the challenges that are posed by the PRC, one of our greatest strengths are – is going to be the system of partnerships and alliances that we bring along with us.

We spent much of the first year of this administration – that is to say, 2021 until the end of that year – working to forge convergence with our allies in Europe, but also allies and partners around the world, on the broad set of challenges, threats that we face from the PRC.  I think you have heard a number of countries express their own concern, even outrage over what has transpired in the last couple of days.  But more broadly than that, we are lucky to have by our side allies in the Indo-Pacific like Japan, allies and partners around the world – in the Indo-Pacific, in Europe, and places in between – that are – with whom we are working in lockstep to confront the challenges and opportunities we face, whether that’s great power competition or whether that’s transnational threats.

Thank you all very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:25 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – February 2, 2023

2:10 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

MR PRICE: Good to see everyone. It’s been a couple days. To all the weary travelers, welcome back. Let me start with a few things, and then we’ll turn to —

QUESTION: Happy Groundhog Day.

MR PRICE: Happy Groundhog Day. Happy Groundhog Day. (Laughter.) I’ll mention a couple things at the top, and then we’ll turn to your questions.

First, today marks three months since the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front signed a permanent cessation of hostilities agreement in Pretoria, ending a horrific two-year conflict.

Immediately after the signing, the fighting stopped. Over the past three months, we have seen important progress by the parties in implementing key aspects of this agreement, including the steady and growing delivery of humanitarian aid, initial steps in discussions about a transitional justice process, the ongoing restoration of services – electricity, telecommunications, and banking – significant turnover of heavy weapons, and, in the past couple weeks, a pullback of Eritrean forces from the Tigray region.

We commend the parties for their commitment to the cessation of hostilities agreement and encourage continued implementation, including ensuring the protection of civilians through international human rights monitoring, as well as following through on accountability for human rights abuses and transitional justice.

As the Secretary conveyed to Prime Minister Abiy in their January 21st call, the United States is committed to supporting the African Union and its High-Level Panel to ensure the cessation of hostilities agreement delivers a lasting peace and efforts to avoid further conflict and human rights violations in Oromia. We continue to seek peace and stability in Ethiopia to build upon the longstanding, strong partnership between our governments and our people.

Next, as further details have come to light, the United States strongly condemns the unilateral January 30th release by Sudanese authorities of Abdel-Ra’uf Abuzaid, the individual convicted of the 2008 killing of our colleagues John Granville and Abdel Rahman Abbas. The Sudanese claim that the Granville family had extended forgiveness is false. We call on the Sudanese Government to exercise all available legal means to reverse this decision and to re-arrest Abuzaid.

The 2020 U.S.-Sudan bilateral settlement of legal claims did not address Abuzaid’s imprisonment or his sentence. We heard the heartfelt statement by John Granville’s mother, and we reaffirm our condolences to the families of the victims of this horrific targeted terrorist attack and will continue to urge that Abuzaid be held fully accountable for the murder of John Granville and Abdel Rahman Abbas. The safety of U.S. citizens and embassy personnel abroad remains the highest priority of this administration.

Today, we convoke the Sudanese ambassador to the United States. In addition, our ambassador in Sudan, John Godfrey, is engaging Sudanese officials at the highest levels on this issue, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Peter Lord is heading next week to Khartoum, where he will also take up this critical issue to demand action. We will not relent.

Finally, yesterday, the Department of State announced actions to impose additional visa restrictions under Section 212(a)(3)(C) or 3C of the Immigration and Nationality Act for certain current or former Taliban members, members of non-state security groups, and other individuals believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, repressing women and girls in Afghanistan. The immediate family members of such persons may also be subject to these visa restrictions.

This is consistent with our prior actions under the associated 3C policy and includes six individuals involved in discontinuing and/or restricting access to secondary and university-level education for girls and women; preventing women’s full participation in the workforce and their ability to choose their careers; and restricting women’s and girls’ exercise of their human rights. Due to visa confidentiality laws, we are unable to name the individuals who are subject to this policy.

But the Taliban cannot expect the respect and support of the international community until they respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Afghans, and of course that includes women and girls.

We condemn in the strongest terms the Taliban’s actions. The United States stands with the Afghan people, and we remain committed to doing all we can to promote and to advance the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Afghans, including – again, of course, – both women and girls.

With that, this will sound like Groundhog’s Day, but Matt, I turn it over to you.

QUESTION: Well, winter for apparently —

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: — another little while now. I’ve got a couple things, but I promise they’ll each be brief. The first one, on your statement on Sudan – just a couple days ago, the Secretary met with the Israeli foreign minister who was earlier today in Sudan. And I’m wondering if he mentioned the case of Mr. Granville’s murder. He – Granville was actually from my hometown. Was – did you ask the Israelis to raise this, or did you not know that the visit was happening?

MR PRICE: These reports have, of course, broken over the past couple days. It is our understanding that the Israeli foreign minister’s travel has also developed over recent days. But suffice to say that we are raising this at the highest levels, in the starkest terms, with the Sudanese authorities to see to it that there’s justice in this case.

QUESTION: Well, and if this was not covered in the compensation, well why are they suggesting that it was?

MR PRICE: That’s a better – that’d be better —

QUESTION: Are they just flat out lying?

MR PRICE: That is a better question for Sudanese authorities. It is our contention that this was not a part of the agreement in 2020. It is our contention that the perpetrator of this horrific terrorist attack should remain behind bars.

QUESTION: And you don’t think there’s any way that it could have been interpreted by the Sudanese to —

MR PRICE: Well, we have heard various claims, including the erroneous claim that Sudanese authorities have heard forgiveness from the family of John Granville. You don’t have to take our word for it; you can read the statement that was put out by his family that makes clear that, too, was false.

QUESTION: All right. Secondly – do you – and I don’t really expect an answer on this, but I’m going to ask you anyway.

MR PRICE: Always appreciate that.

QUESTION: Do you have any – (laughter) – do you have any thoughts about the composition of the House Foreign Affairs Committee?

MR PRICE: This is a question that, of course, is a question for Congress to answer. These are decisions that are up to Congress, including namely congressional leadership. I suspect you’re asking about the case of Representative Ilhan Omar. I’m not going to weigh in on the composition of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. What I can say is that we have appreciated Representative Omar’s constructive engagement with the department in the 117th Congress, and we look forward to working with the House Foreign Affairs Committee and all relevant members of Congress in the 118th Congress.

QUESTION: All right, thanks. And then the last one – Vedant may have addressed this yesterday, and I’m sorry if I missed it on my way back from Israel. But there seems to be – and so if it has been addressed, you can ignore it. But this kerfuffle in the Hungarian Government and your ambassador there has been —

MR PRICE: I don’t know that that was addressed yesterday, and also not sure I would call it a kerfuffle. We have an ambassador in Budapest, as we do have ambassadors in capitals around the world who are standing up for American interests, American values, who are promoting those elements in ways that is appropriate, given their roles and responsibilities. Of course, we have a long relationship with our Hungarian ally. Hungary is an important NATO Ally.

That is not to say that we see eye-to-eye on every issue. Of course, there are many issues where we do have divergences of opinion or just flat-out disagreements. Ambassador Pressman is there in Budapest to represent our interests, our values. When we do have those disagreements, he can convey that to our Hungarian allies (inaudible), and that’s what he does.

QUESTION: Okay. So there’s no — you don’t have an issue with anything he has said?

MR PRICE: As I have seen the coverage of what he has done and what he has said, I see an ambassador who is working to protect and promote the values and interests of the United States.

QUESTION: Well, then do you have an issue with how the Hungarians are treating him or – particularly the foreign – foreign ministry?

MR PRICE: We – of course, we always have an issue when we see what at least appears to us to be a concerted effort on the part of senior officials in the Hungarian Government and some elements of the government-controlled press attempting to discredit the ambassador, in some cases attempting to discredit the United States. When we see that, we are clear about our concerns. And Ambassador Pressman is well placed to convey those concerns.

QUESTION: Could I follow up on Ilhan Omar?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I know you don’t interfere in congressional matters and so on, but the facts speak for themselves. I mean, the Republicans have put a target on her back. I mean, she’s been receiving hundreds of threats to her life, to her family, and so on. That’s (inaudible) a cause for concern, isn’t it?

MR PRICE: Said, I’m just not going to weigh in on this.

QUESTION: And it’s all because she uttered some words of support for the Palestinian cause.

MR PRICE: And Said, I am just not going to weigh in on this. I saw that Representative Jeffries, Minority Leader Jeffries, did offer his own statement on this. I just don’t have anything to offer on this.

We’ll go here.

QUESTION: Yeah. A couple of questions about the sort of – looking back on the trip to the Middle East —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: — in terms of what was achieved during that. Well then, firstly, on the issue of the consulate for the Palestinians, have you made any more progress from that trip towards reopening them?

MR PRICE: I think you heard this from the Secretary when he was sitting next to President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. Our position on a consulate in Jerusalem has not changed. We remain committed to reopening the consulate in Jerusalem, just as we have remained committed to re-establishing our relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people. This is a relationship that goes back many decades, well over a century. It was an early task of this administration to see to it that we had a relationship that served our interests, that was consistent with our values, that served the interests of the Palestinian people. We’ve taken a number of steps.

We have spoken of our commitment to reopening this consulate in Jerusalem. Late last year, in December, we established a Washington-based special representative for Palestinian affairs. Hady Amr is now serving in that role. He was sitting close to the Secretary in that meeting with President Abbas. Since April of 2021, we have demonstrated in very real and significant terms our commitment to the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people. We’ve provided over $890 million for Palestinians, including over $680 in humanitarian assistance for refugees in the region through UNRWA and an additional $150 million in development and economic assistance through USAID.

When Secretary Blinken was in Ramallah, he announced another $50 million in funding for UNRWA. That marked the first tranche of UNRWA funding we’ve provided in Fiscal Year 2023 funding. So in a number of ways, we are going to continue to support the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people as well as the aspirations of the Palestinian people. That was a central point of conversation on the most recent trip.

QUESTION: But given all that, why is it that you’re still not able to do the quite basic thing of reopening a consulate?

MR PRICE: These things take time. Obviously there are various parties that are involved in a process like this working through those. But I don’t want to suggest that reopening of the consulate is the totality of what we are doing to improve the lives of the humanitarian[1] people. And in fact, it is only a rather single and perhaps even small element of that compared to all that we have put forward already, what we have contributed in terms of our humanitarian assistance, the team that we have in Jerusalem and our Office of Palestinian Affairs, and now the new position of special representative based here in Washington, looking at ways to help the Palestinian people, to alleviate their humanitarian plight, and to do that in very real and practical ways.

QUESTION: Can I follow on?

QUESTION: One – sorry, one more.

MR PRICE: Go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: If you can give us an update on the work that officials stayed behind to do. Is there any progress on potentially restoring security cooperation or convincing the Palestinian Authority to do more in terms of taking more responsibility for security at different parts of the West Bank?

MR PRICE: Well, it was an important moment for the Secretary to travel to Israel and the West Bank for a number of reasons. But of course, the travel came in the context of really horrific levels of violence, levels of violence that have taken far too many innocent lives. The – while there, the Secretary was in a position to hear from the parties, and by parties in this case I mean not only Israelis and Palestinians but also our first stop was Egypt, and Egypt has played an important role over many decades now helping to maintain or restore calm and stability. That’s been the case in recent years as well.

So it was important that we first traveled to Cairo to speak with President Sisi, with Foreign Minister Shoukry, with other members of the Egyptian Government to hear their ideas, to see to it that our actions, our messaging, was coordinated. With that in hand, the Secretary then traveled to Jerusalem and Ramallah to hear ideas from Israelis and Palestinians, and really to impart the message of the urgency of de-escalating, of taking concrete steps to stop the violence, to reduce tensions, but also, over the longer term, to create a foundation for a more positive, ambitious horizon going forward for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

As he noted in his final press conference, two senior members of our State Department team have stayed behind; Barbara Leaf, our assistant secretary for the Near East, as well as Hady Amr, the aforementioned Hady Amr, did stay back to continue those consultations. They are holding consultations with key parties to hear ideas and to make clear that the United States is willing and able to support the steps, to support the parties as they take steps that we certainly hope will restore calm.

They’re meeting with a range of Palestinian and Israeli leaders, including security officials, including political officials, as did the Secretary. And the Secretary also had an opportunity while there to meet with elements of civil society, which is also important. Stemming the violence paramount; they are there to support the parties and the steps the parties will have to take to break this cycle of violence. Our overarching goal is to support the de-escalation of tensions and to work with the parties to take action again to lessen the violence which, as I mentioned before, has already taken far too many – far too many lives.

Said.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on the trip. Now, during the trip the Secretary and his whole team went into the Palestinian town Deir Dibwan, where many Palestinians hold U.S. citizenship and so on. And I think sort of a common concern for all of them is to be able to go to Jerusalem and without – not to be easier for them to go to Europe than to go to Jerusalem. So what steps have you taken or are taking right now in that regard?

MR PRICE: When it comes to freedom of movement for –

QUESTION: Freedom for Palestinian Americans.

MR PRICE: For – so, Said, a couple things. First of all, we did go to Deir Dibwan, and we went there to engage with civil society. And so we sat down with a number of civil society leaders, including Palestinian Americans, to hear their perspective. These are individuals who frequently do travel back and forth between the West Bank and the United States, and so of course their perspective on these questions is valuable.

We’re working on this through a number of ways. One very concrete way is through the Visa Waiver Program. And of course, when we talk about the Visa Waiver Program, we often talk about it through the lens of Israelis being able to travel visa-free to the United States once Israel completes all the steps required for entry into the Visa Waiver Program. But I think what’s often overlooked is that these elements would be reciprocal. That is to say, if Israelis are able to travel to the United States visa-free, then Americans would and should and must be allowed unhindered access to Ben Gurion Airport, for example. That would apply to Palestinian Americans. Anyone who has a blue passport would be able to travel to and from Israel, landing in Ben Gurion, and going to a place like Deir Dibwan, going to a place like Ramallah, unimpeded. That is —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: That is important to us.

QUESTION: How about a place like Jerusalem? Or Tel Aviv?

MR PRICE: To – it is important to us that citizens, that our citizens, have the ability to travel freely. Of course, these are conversations that we’re having —

QUESTION: So in other words, you are demanding that Israel allow Palestinian Americans access not just to Ben Gurion to get to the West Bank, but access to Ben Gurion so that they could go to – well, they could stay in Tel Aviv —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: — or they could go to Jerusalem or they could go to —

MR PRICE: There – there are – there are stipulations that are included in the Visa Waiver Program. Israel just met one of those stipulations. They now have the rest of this fiscal year to meet other requirements if they do seek entry into the Visa Waiver Program. Part of that is unimpeded access to Ben Gurion and freedom of movement for American citizens.

QUESTION: Okay. And that means – that includes within Israel, not – excluding the West Bank?

MR PRICE: A blue passport is a blue passport. That is the point of the Visa Waiver Program.

Said.

QUESTION: Let me follow up on a couple of points. The – Axios published a story yesterday that the Secretary of State pressed Abbas to accept U.S. security plan for Jenin. Is there anything you can share with us on this?

MR PRICE: Look, I’m – we issued, or I should say the Secretary had some fairly lengthy remarks after his meeting with President Abbas. We traveled to Ramallah just as we traveled to Jerusalem, to hear from the parties themselves the steps that they could take to de-escalate tensions, to reduce the level of violence, and to put relations between Israelis and Palestinians on a more sustainable path. Our team works very closely with the U.S. security coordinator on the ground. He regularly consults with both parties as well. But ultimately, these are steps that the parties themselves are going to have to take.

QUESTION: What does that mean? I mean, according to this story, it says that we were hard on Abbas because they are not doing their part in terms of chasing after militants and so on in Jenin and other places; you want to revamp or restructure their security forces and so on. Is that what happened? Is that a fair assessment of what happened?

MR PRICE: I’m not going to go into the meeting beyond what Secretary Blinken said in that rather lengthy statement. But the Palestinian Authority has certain responsibilities. One of those is to condemn violence and to do everything in its authority, everything within its power to prevent acts of violence, to certainly refrain from incitement to violence, and to do everything it can to, in this case, restore a sense of calm, a sense of stability so that, again, we can put relations between Israelis and Palestinians on a more peaceful, on a more sustainable path so that we can emerge from this current period of tensions and hopefully build on that to create a brighter horizon for both Palestinians and Israelis.

QUESTION: And my last on – Amnesty International just issued a report painting a very bleak picture on the system in place. It calls it apartheid and says that this is getting much worse for the Palestinians, that in fact, while so much energy is spent on talking about (inaudible), it has never been so improbable. (Inaudible.)

MR PRICE: As a general matter, Said, we don’t offer comprehensive evaluations or assessments on reports by third-party groups. We have our own rigorous process for documenting or reporting on human rights issues around the world. We issue those findings annually in the global Human Rights Report. That report, and throughout every other 364 days of the year, we make clear our commitment to promoting respect for human rights in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip and around the world, for that matter. We have an enduring partnership with Israel and discuss a wide range of issues with the Israeli Government, including those related to human rights.

We support the efforts of the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority, alongside human rights activists, to ensure accountability for human rights abuses and potential violations. We continue to emphasize to Israel and the Palestinian Authority the need to refrain from unilateral actions that only serve to exacerbate those very tensions. This includes annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, incitement to violence, and providing compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism. This was a part of the conversations we had in Jerusalem and Ramallah. I suspect it will continue to be a central element of our engagement going forward.

QUESTION: Ned, I’m sorry, it’s just not true —

QUESTION: Afghanistan?

QUESTION: — that you don’t offer assessments of third-party – in fact, this very same group and other groups, you do all the time —

MR PRICE: Matt —

QUESTION: — when it comes to Syria, when it comes to Burma/Myanmar, when it comes to —

MR PRICE: What we do, Matt – Matt, what we do —

QUESTION: — Iran, when it comes to China.

MR PRICE: We’ve – you and I have had —

QUESTION: You don’t – I know.

MR PRICE: You and I have had this very same —

QUESTION: Only when they come out with reports about Israel —

MR PRICE: You – you and I have had – you and I have had this very same conversation before, and the same point I made to you last time applies today. We do cite the reports of individual NGOs when we find their findings credible and when we are lifting up a policy priority, a policy prerogative of ours.

In a case like this, I think this is a report that we certainly take issue with, and some elements. We don’t, as a general matter or really ever, provide comprehensive assessments of third-party reports. That’s just not something we do. The only —

QUESTION: He wasn’t asking you for a comprehensive assessment.

MR PRICE: The only comprehensive assessment we provide when it comes to human rights is in our annual Human Rights Report.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Ned, can you elaborate on the new ideas that the Secretary (inaudible) Palestinians and Israelis when he was there?

MR PRICE: I can’t, primarily because this is still a volatile period. We want to keep our discussions with the Israelis, with the Palestinians, but also with other regional parties, because there needs to be regional engagement in this challenge. That’s part of the reason why we went to Cairo on the front end of the trip. It’s part of the reason why Secretary Blinken spoke to Foreign Minister Bourita of Morocco on his way back from the trip. It was a core element of the Secretary’s discussion engagement today with His Majesty the King of Jordan.

The Secretary is going to remain engaged with others in the region. We expect the countries of the region will in turn themselves remain engaged with both parties. We want to do everything we can to support the steps that only the parties themselves can take to de-escalate these tensions.

QUESTION: On Israel —

QUESTION: On the same topic? Same topic?

MR PRICE: Go ahead, yes.

QUESTION: King Abdullah had a meeting with the Secretary this morning. Do you have anything to read out from that meeting? And I’ve got one more on Israel.

MR PRICE: Well, we will have a more formal readout later today, but we were very glad to welcome King Abdullah back to Washington. The Secretary did have an opportunity to meet with King Abdullah, His Majesty King Abdullah, this morning at the Jordanian embassy.

Generally speaking, we continue to work together to advance our mutual objectives in key areas. That includes promoting a more stable, more integrated, more prosperous Middle East. Jordan in carrying this out is our longtime close friend. It’s an invaluable partner and an essential strategic partner on a wide range of shared concerns and regional challenges. Our close cooperation on security issues has helped keep Jordanians and Americans safer over many years. Jordan plays an indispensable role when it comes to Jerusalem as the Custodian of the Holy Sites in Jerusalem. Jordan of course has an important role to play when it comes to the current moment between Israelis and Palestinians.

QUESTION: Change topic, please?

QUESTION: Just one on Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu said in his CNN interview this week that he wouldn’t name a final peace solution as a two-state solution as such, and that any final deal would involve Israel having overriding security of the Palestinian territories. Does that square with U.S. policies understanding of what a two-state solution is? Does the U.S. understand a two-state solution to be sovereignty over each state’s borders and security, or not?

MR PRICE: Well, again, I will let the prime minister characterize his remarks and to spell that out. I think with issues as complex as this, it’s often difficult to convey what one means in a single sentence or an interview as such.

Our vision of what is ultimately required has not changed. We continue to believe that a negotiated, two-state solution is the only way to bring a sustainable, durable end to this longstanding conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. A two-state solution is the only means by which to protect Israel’s identity as a democracy and a Jewish state while also fulfilling the aspirations, the legitimate aspirations, of the Palestinian people – legitimate aspirations to govern a state of their own, to live in stability, security, to have prosperity and opportunity at their own hands.

QUESTION: Israel and the Iranian —

QUESTION: The same topic —

MR PRICE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Ned, Iran has sent a letter to the UN Security Council about Israel. It is attributing the latest attack to its military’s installation near Isfahan to Israel. It’s asking for the UN Security Council to condemn Israel because of that. It is citing comments by Israeli officials that they are threating Iran. There are claiming that Israel is a danger to peace and stability in the region.

Given the fact that the U.S. is a permanent member of the Security Council with veto power and also the U.S. track record in supporting Israel, do you have any comments?

MR PRICE: Well, I don’t know that any sort of session or any sort of vote certainly has been scheduled. We wouldn’t comment ahead of time on any hypothetical like that.

But I will say as a general matter, hearing these messages emanate from Tehran is especially rich. After all, it is Iran that poses a threat to regional peace and security. You can see that in any number of activities in any number of arenas. It is galloping forward with its nuclear program. It continues to be the world’s leading exporter of terrorism. It is providing support to proxy groups that profoundly destabilize the region. And it continues to develop a ballistic missile program among many other elements of its statecraft and foreign policy. So to hear Iran point the finger at anyone but itself I think is something we would take issue with.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Regarding China, I wonder if you have any more information to share about Secretary Blinken’s trip to Beijing. And it’s reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping is going to meet him in Beijing.

MR PRICE: I don’t have anything else to offer on the Secretary’s planned trip to the PRC. This is a planned trip that was an outgrowth, as you know, of the two presidents meeting in Bali last November. The two presidents there discussed the full breadth of what we believe to be the most consequential bilateral relationship on the planet. The – what is – when it comes to our engagement with the PRC, when we have an opportunity to sit down, we discuss the full breadth of that relationship. That includes the competition that we believe is at the heart of the relationship, but also the collaborative and also the potentially conflictual elements of the relationship as well.

That’s always what we do when we engage the PRC. We speak and act in ways that protect and promote our interests and those of the broader international community as we seek to see to it that the competition that really is at the heart of our relationship isn’t in a position to spiral into conflict. So I don’t have anything more to add on any planned travel, but we’ll let you know when that changes.

QUESTION: Follow-up. So pundits in Washington, D.C. said they don’t expect any breakthrough or major deliverables from this trip. Is that what we should expect?

MR PRICE: Every time we engage at a high level with the PRC, it’s really about one thing and one thing only, and that’s responsible management of, again, what is, we think, the most consequential, complex bilateral relationship on the planet. And so of course what we seek to do is to have these conversations, to see to it that competition doesn’t veer into conflict, to see to it that there are guardrails on that relationship so that in the course of our foreign policy, in the course of pursuing our values and our interests, we can do so in a way that serves them, that works for the broader good, the interests of the broader international community, and does so in a way that doesn’t have the potential or certainly minimizes the potential for what our two countries are doing around the world to veer into something potentially much more dangerous.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that Speaker McCarthy’s potential trip to Taiwan may undermine any agreement Secretary Blinken’s going to reach with China?

MR PRICE: Look, I am not aware that the Speaker has announced any travel to Taiwan. The travel on the part of any Speaker of the House of Representatives, it is – is a decision that he or she, and he or she alone, would make. Congress is a coequal, independent branch of government.

What I can say – and we made the same message clear last summer – is our concern with the PRC’s reaction to the previous speaker’s travel to Taiwan. In the aftermath of a visit that was not unprecedented, the PRC, our concern is, used that travel as a pretext to intensify what it has been doing over the course of many years now: attempting to erode the status quo, the status quo that has really been at the heart of decades of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. So any member of Congress, any speaker current or future, is going to make his or her own decisions about travel consistent with the independence and the coequality of the Legislative Branch, but we’ll continue to speak out when we see the PRC attempting to undermine the status quo that at every step we and our partners and allies around the world have only sought to strengthen and preserve.

QUESTION: Do you have —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Let me move around a little bit. Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have a couple of question on North Korea and South Korea. First question on North Korean ambassador to UN said that it would not give up nuclear weapons as long as the United States has nuclear weapons. How you going to response this?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, I missed the first part of your question.

QUESTION: North Korean ambassador to United Nations said that it wouldn’t – not give up nuclear weapons as long as the United States has nuclear weapons. How would you response?

MR PRICE: I don’t have a specific response to that beyond to reiterate what is and what has been our approach to the – to this challenge, and that is an approach that seeks complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That was an outgrowth of a policy review that this administration took on in the early months of the administration. We’ve made clear time and again to the DPRK that we are ready and willing and able to sit down with them, to have discussions about practical steps we can take towards that ultimate goal of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But time and again, the DPRK has indicated to us and to the international community, oftentimes in no uncertain terms, that it has no desire at the present to engage in that.

So rather than wait idly by, we have continued to consult and to coordinate very closely with our treaty allies in the region. That of course includes Japan and the ROK on a bilateral basis, but also on a – on a trilateral basis, knowing that we have an ironclad commitment to the security of our treaty allies Japan and the ROK. And this is a challenge that confronts all of us and it’s a challenge we’ll in turn have to confront collectively as well.

QUESTION: Okay. Although North Korea has launched many missiles, its foreign exchange reserves are still strong. As you know, North Korea continues to spend huge amounts of money for nuclear missile development through cyber hacking and money laundering. And the headquarters of the hacking organization is located in China. How do you concern about this, and when Secretary Blinken visit China will these issues be discussed?

MR PRICE: Well, let me say as a general matter that in every senior-level engagement, every significant senior-level engagement we have with the PRC, the DPRK is a topic of discussion, because the DPRK ‘s nuclear weapons program, its ballistic missiles program – ballistic missile program is not only a threat to the United States, is not only a threat to our allies in the region, but it poses a threat to regional peace and security. It is something that also implicates the PRC.

Our message to countries around the world, especially to those permanent members of the UN Security Council that themselves have voted in favor of now various UN Security Council resolutions, is that all countries – but especially those countries that are signatories of UN Security Council resolutions – have a responsibility to fully comply with and to enforce the sanctions that are on the books. That has not always been the case. It has not always been the case from the PRC; it’s not always been the case from Russia. There are other countries where we’ve raised this as well.

It’s important, again, not for our own interests but for the purposes of regional peace and security, that countries around the world hold the DPRK to account and send a very clear signal to the North Korean regime that there will be costs and consequences for its continued provocations that threaten the United States, our treaty allies, but again, also the broader region.

QUESTION: Yeah, one more, lastly. Secretary Blinken and South Korea Foreign Minister Park Jin are meeting tomorrow. What topic will they discuss at the meeting tomorrow?

MR PRICE: You will have an opportunity to hear directly from both of them in the context of that bilateral engagement tomorrow, but the ROK is a treaty ally of ours. There are a number of issues that will be on the table. We’ve already discussed one of them – the DPRK – but our relationship is multifaceted. There are a number of priorities that we are pursuing bilaterally with the ROK on the economic front, on the diplomatic front, on the political front, when it comes to our people-to-people ties, on the regional front but also on the global front.

The ROK is – has an influential voice, is an influential country on the world stage. We collaborate in any number of multilateral and global venues. And tomorrow’s engagement between Secretary Blinken and his South Korean counterpart will be an opportunity to discuss all of that, and you’ll have an opportunity to hear from both of them tomorrow.

Kylie.

QUESTION: Yeah. I just wanted to ask about the three Americans wrongfully detained in China – David Lin, Kai Li, and Mark Swidan. Can you commit that the Secretary will raise their names in his meetings with Chinese officials when he goes over the course of the next few weeks?

MR PRICE: Again, I’m not going to get into a meeting that we haven’t formally announced just yet, and certainly not in any detail. But what I will say is that I can commit to you that every time the Secretary has a significant bilateral engagement with a country where this is in fact a concern of ours, it is something that is raised. We raise these cases on an individual basis; we raise the broader systemic challenge. The Secretary has no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens around the world. Of course, that includes American citizens who are wrongfully detained anywhere in the world.

The Secretary has very much personally invested in this. He often speaks with the families of wrongful detainees on the specifics of their cases. He has invested quite a bit in the diplomacy to try to deter this type of activity in the first place, to make clear to those countries who would engage in wrongful detention that this is not only something that the United States vehemently opposes, but it will carry costs and consequences from the rest of the world.

That’s an ongoing project. We are committed, just as we work with countries around the world, to create and to reinforce that norm, to doing everything we can to see our wrongful detainees returned home to their families as quickly as we can. And oftentimes that includes very direct, very blunt, very frank conversations with our counterparts in countries where this is applicable.

QUESTION: And as far as we know, there aren’t any active negotiations between the U.S. and China to secure the release of these three Americans. Is that accurate, or would you describe it in a different way?

MR PRICE: I would describe it in a different way. But again, I’m not going to go into detail. I would describe it as the fact that we are always working to see the release of wrongful detainees. We do that in ways – in different ways, oftentimes in discreet ways, but just because something may not be on the surface doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not happening.

QUESTION: And one last question, just following up on the McCarthy question. You said that you’re not aware of any potential McCarthy trip to Taiwan being announced. Is this department aware of any trip being planned currently?

MR PRICE: That’s not a question for us. It’s a question for the Speaker and his office.

Nazira.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. There is – I have few question. Number one, today was a hot topic in Afghanistan about the former President Ghani, that he received a hundred million, hundred and ten, something around this amount. He received this amount from Qatar Government as – they say it was a gift. President Ghani follower say this was a gift, but people said – Afghan people said it’s not gift, bribe, something, and sold Afghanistan. Different people has a different idea. Italian reporter reported about this – disclosed this information. Any comment on that?

And the second question, you mentioned about more restrictions on the Taliban. They don’t pay attention in the past also. Taliban travel a lot and they don’t care about U.S. sanction. Any comment about that?

And the third question, so many Afghan refugee who stay in Abu Dhabi, they (inaudible), and there is (inaudible), and it took a long time for them to come to the United StateS. Any comment about that too?

MR PRICE: Sure. I’ll see if I can remember and get through of all three of those.

On your first question, I’ve seen the Italian report. I’m aware of it. We’re certainly not in a position to confirm it, so I don’t have anything more for you there beyond to say that Qatar is an indispensable partner of the United States. We are deeply appreciative of the role that Qatar has played when it comes to our approach to Afghanistan. Qatar, of course, has hosted those individuals that have departed Afghanistan during and since the end of U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan in August of 2021. Qatar has opened its doors. It’s been a generous host. It’s been a stalwart partner to the United States, but more importantly, to so many of the people of Afghanistan who have sought to begin new lives in the United States and countries around the world.

Of course, our partnership with Qatar goes well beyond our shared approach to Afghanistan. Qatar has also been a force for stability and broader integration across the Middle East region. We work with Qatar on a number of bilateral and multilateral priorities, and, of course, that cooperation will continue going forward.

On the question of the Taliban, you are correct in the sense that the Taliban have repeatedly failed to uphold the commitments that they have made to the international community, but more importantly, the commitments that they themselves have made to their own people. You will have to ask the Taliban for the thinking behind the egregious decisions they have made. It could well be that the Taliban is under the impression that it could have it – it can have it both ways, that it can take these draconian, brutal, repressive measures against its own people and still cultivate improved relations with the international community.

We seek to make very clear to the Taliban that it cannot have it both ways, that it can fail to uphold its commitments to the Afghan people and thereby close all avenues of opportunity for improved relations. We are doing that ourselves, but much more importantly, we’re acting in a coordinated way with dozens of countries around the world to signal very clearly both in words and in deed, including the actions that we made public yesterday, that any Taliban illusion that they can continue to take this approach when it comes to their own people is nothing more than an illusion if they do seek improved relations with the rest of the world.

When it comes to the Afghans who are remaining in the UAE, this is another country, the UAE, that has demonstrated incredible generosity to the people of Afghanistan, incredible partnership with the United States and many countries who have been helping the people of Afghanistan in any number of ways, including by facilitating the departure of those who wish to depart the country.

We’re working with the Emiratis and our partners on the ground to process Afghans who remain at the Emirates – Emiratis’ Humanitarian City just as quickly as we can. As you know, for those Afghans who ultimately will arrive in the United States, there is a vetting process that is undertaken in the Emirates, in this case. That process can take some time, but we’re working very closely with our partners throughout the Executive Branch to do everything we can to cut down that processing time while ensuring that we’re not cutting any corners whatsoever when it comes to the vetting process. We’ve been able to improve that over time. We’re going to keep at it to address the concerns when it comes to Humanitarian City.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Alex.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. Welcome back. Couple questions on Russia-Ukraine. Let me get them both in, but please come back to me on Caucasus (inaudible). The EU leaders today said that international center for prosecution of crimes in Ukraine will be established in the Hague. Does the Biden administration support this idea?

MR PRICE: So on this, Alex, you know that we are promoting and supporting accountability in every viable way, in every way that we think will be effective. We’ve spoken quite a bit about our support for the Ukrainian prosecutor general, for that office that has already undertaken prosecutions, has secured convictions through free and fair trials, and has actually sentenced individuals to prison terms for the war crimes that they have committed on sovereign Ukrainian soil. That is a process that is well underway. There are other processes that are underway to varying degrees as well. The OSCE has its own process that we’ve supported. The ICC is engaged in a process that we are supporting. The UN, too, has an accountability mechanism that the United States helped to establish.

We’re in constant conversation with our Ukrainian partners, in this case, with other allies and partners around the – around the world, to determine if there are other venues, if there are other mechanisms that can promote the goal of accountability for those Russian officials who were either directly responsible for perpetrating or responsible for ordering what ultimately turned out to be war crimes. Those are conversations that are ongoing.

QUESTION: Is it your position that President Putin should be punished in a courtroom? Thank you.

MR PRICE: That is a question not for me; that is a question for legal authorities. There is – war crimes carries with it various definitions and criteria. It’s a – we don’t render legal verdicts from the podium here. We leave that to the appropriate authorities.

QUESTION: You have —

QUESTION: And there has been discussion over coming up with alternative, let’s say, (inaudible) designation when it comes to Russian crimes, which is maybe not designate as a rogue state but an aggressive state. Has (inaudible) reached to any conclusion?

MR PRICE: So we continue to have conversations with our partners on the Hill about new vehicles that we might be able to take advantage of that would allow us to apply on the Russian Federation additional measures in response to the atrocities that it is perpetrating against the people of Ukraine. You know, Alex, that we have already levied against Russia financial sanctions, export controls, other economic measures as well that are having a tremendous bite not only in the Russian economy but also in Russia’s ability to wage war against Ukraine. You can see reflections of that in any number of steps that Russia has been forced to take.

The fact that Russia is now turning to, shall we say, nontraditional partners like Iran and the DPRK to backfill its military wares is a very concrete sign to us that we are starving the Russian Federation systematically of the inputs that it needs to create the outputs that ultimately would perpetrate such violence and brutality on the Ukrainian people. We’re always going to look for additional measures we can take under existing authorities that are available to us, but we’re working with the Hill, taking into – taking into consideration their concerns, taking into consideration the concerns that we’ve heard from various stakeholders, including humanitarian organizations and other humanitarian actors, about the implications of a potential state sponsor of terror designation to determine if there are other vehicles that could be crafted that would allow us to apply additional accountability on the Russian Federation.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) give your thoughts on the ongoing debate over Paris 2024 Games. And as you know, a couple of countries have issued a statement and they are asking for banning Russia and Belarusian athletes. First of all, are you able to reflect that statement from the U.S. position? Also, will the United States take part if there is different outcome?

MR PRICE: So in December the International Olympic Committee outlined its continued sanctions of Russia and reaffirmed its support for Ukraine, which was also supported by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. The United States has signed on to three letters to support Ukraine and to hold Russia accountable for its war. These letters call for a series of measures. Namely, to suspend Russia and Belarus’s sports – sport national governing boards from international sport federations; to remove individuals closely aligned to the Russian and Belarusian states, including but not limited to government officials, from positions of influence on international sport federations such as boards, organizing committees, other elements; and to encourage national and international sports organizations to suspend the broadcasting of sports competition into Russia and Belarus.

Look, in cases where national and international sports organizations and other event organizers choose to permit athletes – but not just athletes, officials, administrators, others – from Russia and Belarus to participate in sporting events, a couple things apply. It should be clear that they are not representing the Russian or Belarusian states. The use of official state Russian and Belarusian flags, emblems, and anthems should be prohibited. And appropriate steps should be taken to ensure that any public statement made, or symbols displayed at sporting events by, again, athletes, administrators, officials, are consistent with this approach.

We are proud of our close partnership with Team USA, and we look forward to our collective work around the world to use sport for good. That includes in the United States and in countries around the world. We continue to support the people of Ukraine and to hold Russia accountable for this unjust war in Ukraine, but ultimately, we would defer you to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee to comment on its position.

QUESTION: But I didn’t hear your answer to my second part of the question, that if they don’t go through that banning process.

MR PRICE: That’s a – we’ve put forward our position, as have a number of other countries, so we’ll entertain that question if it’s a real question.

Let me move around just a little bit. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: A follow-up on China. China suspended and then canceled the eight lines or channels of communication with the United States in response to the Speaker Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan last August. So could you tell us the current situation or status of these channels, and especially the ones with security issues such as defense policy and coordination talks? And if they are still suspended, will Secretary ask Beijing to restore these channels?

MR PRICE: So this goes back to your colleague’s question when I noted the fact that this relationship is the most consequential and complex on the face of the Earth. When we think about our bilateral relationship with the PRC, we tend to think about it in three ways: the areas that are competitive, and that’s a realm that really dominates our relationship with and our approach to the PRC; the elements that have the potential to be conflictual – that is to say the elements that may be prone to veer from competition into conflict, and those are elements where we seek to establish those guardrails to do everything we can to avoid unintended conflict with the PRC; but third, there are areas that are collaborative or have the potential to be collaborative. Some of them are quite obvious – climate, public health, drugs, and other transnational threats that our two countries face but also the rest of the world confronts.

To us, it’s important that we do all we can to act responsibly in those realms, to cooperate as much as we can in those realms – again, because it’s profoundly in our interest but also because it is expected of us. It’s expected of us by the rest of the world that the United States, in the case of climate for example, the number one and the number two emitters in the world do everything we can to reduce greenhouse gasses and to limit global warming consistent with the Paris pledges. That’s just one area.

When the PRC curtailed this cooperation in the summer in the aftermath of the former Speaker’s visit, we made very clear that the PRC was not doing this solely as a disservice to us, but this really was disregarding the interests and the wishes of the rest of the world. Part of the conversation the two presidents had in Bali was about seeing to it that our teams work together to seek to maximize collaboration and cooperation in these potentially collaborative areas. When we sit down with the PRC, not only will we discuss the competitive elements and the adversarial elements, but we will discuss how we can potentially deepen those areas of cooperation in real, practical ways.

Yes.

QUESTION: But are those channels open? Can you speak to that?

MR PRICE: Let me move it on. Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Can I just —

MR PRICE: You’ve seen from Secretary Kerry – let me take climate. You’ve seen from Secretary Kerry and his team that he has had engagement in recent weeks with his PRC counterpart. I would leave it to the PRC to characterize their level of cooperation. But we think it is vital and we know the rest of the world thinks it’s vital as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Ned. There are some reports saying that Iran got a portion of dollar that Iraq has received in the last two weeks, and the U.S. has solid evidence on that and working to support restrictions on Iraq in getting dollar from its oil revenue. What’s your comment on these reports, and how does the U.S. working with Iraq to overcome the concerns you have on the cashflow to Iran?

My second question. The Kurdistan Region parties have a loggerhead in different areas for weeks and months. This has led to raised eyebrows elsewhere, including the United States. So how does the U.S. view worsening relations between KR parties, and what engagements do you have for this (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: The second – the second one was how do we do – how do we view engagement between Baghdad and Erbil?

QUESTION: No. How do you deem the worsening relations between the Kurdistan Region parties, the Kurdistan Region parties, and what engagements do you have to help them to overcome the loggerhead they have for so long time?

MR PRICE: So on your second question, this is really a question for Iraqi authorities. The Iraqi people seek a government that is responsible and responsive to their needs. The Prime Minister Sudani and his team have stated their commitment to doing everything they can to serve the needs of the Iraqi people. The United States stands as a partner to the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi people to assist in any way we can. We have assisted over the years when it comes to security, when it comes to economic assistance, when it comes to humanitarian assistance. That partnership is ongoing. But when it comes to relations between parties within the Iraqi Government, that’s a question for the Government of Iraq.

To the first part of your question, this goes back to the point I was making in response to your colleague’s earlier question. We know that Iran’s chief export around the world is instability. Iran’s chief export is insecurity – attempting to take advantage of potential power vacuums, to spread its influence in ways that are typically profoundly unhelpful. We seek to be a partner to Iraq to help with stability, to help with security, to help with economic prosperity as well. We’re doing that in any number of ways. But it goes back to the commitment that we have to the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi people to use our resources, to use our voice, to use our standing on the international stage to help fulfill the aspirations of the Iraqi people.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Today 27 senators, both Democratic and Republican, sent a letter to President Biden asking him to not approve the sale of F-16 until Türkiye agrees to let the Finland and Sweden to join NATO. Do you share the same position with the sale of those? Can you explain to us, since the technical talks have been concluded, why you are delaying to send the official – the formal notification to the Congress?

MR PRICE: We’ve had an opportunity to speak about this both in recent weeks but going back into the summer, when President Biden was sitting right next to President Erdogan in Madrid during the NATO summit and President Biden made very clear that the United States supports the provision of F-16s to Türkiye. Türkiye, of course, is a NATO Ally; it has legitimate security concerns. We want to do everything we can to bring NATO – and to – and see to it that it’s fully integrated into the NATO Alliance. So that speaks to our support for the F-16s.

In our government, these are decisions that are not only within – that are not only left to the Executive Branch. These are the types of decisions that our legislative colleagues, our colleagues in Congress, also have a say over. We’ve made clear to Congress our support for the F-16s. Congress has made its position clear, or I should say individual senators – or groups of senators, in some cases – have made their positions clear.

We’re continuing to engage Türkiye. We’re continuing to engage the Hill. But our point is that Türkiye is a valuable NATO Ally. It’s role in the Alliance has been a profoundly important one over the course of decades now. And so we’ll continue to find ways to see to it that we can work together with Türkiye, even as we seek to make the NATO Alliance even stronger. And we think making the NATO Alliance stronger would entail bringing the membership from 30 to 32.

Finland and Sweden have expressed their aspirations to join the Alliance. Not only have they expressed their aspirations, but 28 out of 30 countries in the Alliance have ratified the Articles of Accession. The United States Senate did so in what was record time or near-record time when it comes to such a treaty. So there is overwhelming bipartisan support for the accession of Finland and Sweden into NATO. It is something that the administration strongly supports. We believe that both countries are ready, and these are countries with advanced militaries; they are advanced democracies, and they are in a position to make the Alliance to which we belong and Türkiye belongs, and 28 other countries belong even stronger than it already is.

QUESTION: But they are —

QUESTION: Ukraine.

MR PRICE: Let me move around. Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Back on Secretary Blinken’s trip to China. Will he raise the human rights situation of Tibetans and Uyghurs during that trip?

MR PRICE: Again, I don’t want to preview the agenda items of a meeting we haven’t announced. But I will just say that in every engagement around the world, human rights is a feature of those discussions. That is the case in countries where we work together to promote and to protect human rights around the world. That is also the case in countries that fail to uphold commitments to human rights. We’ve discussed this previously with our PRC counterparts, and I would expect that in any extended meeting between the Secretary and PRC officials, that it will feature once again.

Yes.

QUESTION: My question is about U.S. citizens in Mexico. There is a prominent front-page story in The Los Angeles Times today showing how pharmacists in Mexican resorts are selling fake prescription pills laced with fentanyl. They’re targeting precisely the U.S. tourists who are visiting. Are you aware or the State Department is aware of any cases of U.S. tourists that have fallen victims of these kind of pills? And what steps can the U.S. take to prevent this terrible trend?

MR PRICE: I am not immediately aware of individual cases. In any case, it’s not something we would speak to from a podium, for example. But we are intimately aware of the threat that is posed by fentanyl, not only to U.S. tourists in Mexico but to Americans and to people around the world. This is something that Secretary Blinken is seized with, and he is seized with it because fentanyl is the leading killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 49. It is a threat that our country has been grappling with. It’s a threat that has ended far too many lives, in too many cases far too many young, promising lives prematurely.

So we are working with partners around the world, including Mexico but in some cases countries much further afield, to stem not only the flow of fentanyl itself, but oftentimes the precursors; that is to say, the ingredients that are later assembled in third countries to produce fentanyl, that in far too many cases is then shipped into American communities and takes a devastating toll on people within those communities. It’s something we’re committed to. We’re committed to doing it with partners. We’re committed to redoubling our efforts with our partners within the Executive Branch, within this government as well, to do everything we can to address this lethal threat.

QUESTION: Ukraine? On —

MR PRICE: Guita? Sure.

QUESTION: Thank you. Russian media – state media – are citing a comment made by Under Secretary Nuland in an Al Jazeera interview. And the comment is that, and I quote, “The U.S. is working to meet Ukraine’s needs, including long-range missiles.” Is the U.S. considering giving Ukraine long-range missiles?

MR PRICE: You know we don’t preview security assistance announcements that have not yet been made, but what I can say generally is that we are always in conversation with our Ukrainian partners. We’re always in conversation with the dozens of countries who have signed up to help Ukraine with security assistance, with economic assistance, with humanitarian assistance, to determine what, in the first instance, Ukraine needs, and from there to determine what we have and what we’re in a position to provide. So these are conversations that are ongoing on multiple fronts when it comes to the needs of our Ukrainian partners, but I don’t have anything to announce or to preview.

Final question.

QUESTION: So 14 Republican senators wrote a letter to Secretary Blinken to press him on China. I just wonder how do this affect your agenda, and what is your response?

MR PRICE: Well, we appreciate constructive engagement from Congress when it comes to our approach to the PRC. In fact, Secretary Blinken was on the Hill last week. He met with a bicameral, bipartisan group of House members and senators to hear their perspective on our approach the PRC, to hear from them what they would like to see from us in our engagement with the PRC, and in turn to discuss with them what we’ve seen and heard and what we intend to convey to our – to the PRC.

So this is a process that is ongoing, but we very much welcome this sort of constructive engagement, these constructive ideas, and it’s a conversation that will continue in the aftermath of engagement with the PRC.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I ask my Morocco question? Really quick.

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: Really quick. There’s a – I don’t know if you’re aware of it. There is a Saudi who is being extradited from Morocco. His family says that if he is extradited – his name is Hassan al-Rabea. I don’t know if you know his case. Do you know this case?

MR PRICE: I’m not immediately familiar with it. But we’ll see if we can —

QUESTION: Well, could you find out, take it as —

MR PRICE: Yep, okay. Michel.

QUESTION: He’s being extradited, and they fear if he’s extradited, he will be subject to imprisonment and torture.

MR PRICE: Got it.

QUESTION: Do you have any – anything on the – a meeting between the U.S., France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia on Lebanon, and news reports saying that French officials are coming to Washington to discuss sanctions needed on the importation of gas and electric from Egypt and Jordan to Lebanon?

MR PRICE: When it comes to the meeting that you’re referring to next week in Paris, I suspect we’ll have more details on this in the coming days. But we look forward to meeting with French, Egyptian, Qatari, and Saudi partners in Paris to discuss ways to encourage and support Lebanese leaders to elect a president, form a government, and to implement necessary economic reforms. So we’ll have more for you on that engagement in the up-run.

QUESTION: On what level — on what level – would happen in – is going to happen in Paris?

MR PRICE: We haven’t announced representation just yet, but I suspect we’ll have more details as it gets closer.

QUESTION: And on the French official, do you have anything.

MR PRICE: Again, I don’t have anything to offer specifically on that. But France is a partner on many fronts, including when it comes to our shared approach to the challenges faced by the people of Lebanon, the humanitarian plight that the Lebanese people are enduring, and as this Paris meeting indicates, the approach that together we can take to address – help address the humanitarian, the economic, and the other needs of the Lebanese people.

Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:21 p.m.)

# # #

  1. Palestinian

Department Press Briefing – February 1, 2023

2:03 p.m. EST

MR PATEL:  Good afternoon, everybody.  As you can see, we have a special guest with us today, somebody who is no stranger to this building and no stranger to this briefing room.  With me I have Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who just came off of a week-long trip on the African continent and wanted to share with you all about it.

So, Ambassador, the floor is yours.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Thank you very much.  And thanks to all of you for being here.  As you know, last week I had a very productive week-long trip to Ghana, Mozambique, Kenya, and Somalia.  I had four overarching goals for this trip: to strengthen our partnership with current and former UN Security Council members; follow up on our priorities from the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, priorities such as climate change; I had an opportunity to shine a spotlight on humanitarian issues, particularly famine; and continue our consultations on UN reform to ensure the UN is fit for purpose.

In Ghana I met with the foreign minister, Shirley Botchwey.  We discussed important regional security issues, how we can advance UN peacekeeping in the region, and what inclusive UN reform would look like.

In Mozambique I met with the foreign minister, minister of foreign affairs and cooperation, to discuss Mozambique’s historic first term on the UN Security Council.  We discussed how we can use the council as well as our bilateral relationship to advance shared priorities like the rights and leadership of women and girls, and regional security threats.  We talked about tackling climate change, too, as I also volunteered alongside activists and civil society groups to help restore the last remaining coastal mangrove forest in urban Maputo.  Mangrove forests are an important natural defense against the effects of climate change that we must protect.  I also met with UN officials working to build a safer, more peaceful region, as well as members of civil society, entrepreneurs, students, activists, and members of the beloved YALI, Young African Leaders Initiative exchange program.

In Kenya I met with President Ruto as well as other officials.  We discussed ways that we can partner on food security, counterterrorism in the Horn of Africa, and in security.  In addition, I met with officials from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, the World Food Program, UNHCR, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and UNICEF to talk about refugee assistance in Kenya.  And I continued our emphasis on climate change by visiting a state-of-the-art manufacturing and assembly hub for electronic vehicles in Kenya.  I was really, I have to say, impressed with Kenya’s efforts to accelerate a just energy transition and tackle climate change.

In Kenya I also delivered remarks at the office of the International Organization for Migration with a representative from Church World Service about the value of the newly launched Welcome Corps.  When I was working as a refugee coordinator in Africa in the early ’80s and 1990s in Kenya, we simply did not have resources to process more people and give refugees a new home.  By bringing in civil society like Church World Services, we were able to expand the ceiling and bring more vetted African refugees to the United States than ever before.  We changed the lives of thousands upon thousands of families fleeing violence, disease, poverty, and hunger.  Now we’re expanding the circle of helpers.  With the newly created Welcome Corps, private civilians can welcome refugees to the United States and change even more lives, and also making their community stronger.

And finally, in Somalia I had the opportunity to meet with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to discuss the severe drought, as well as a wide range of issues including political reconciliation, threats from al-Shabaab, and how to develop security forces who can assume responsibility for ATMIS, the African Union Transition Mission.  I also met with ATMIS as well as local UN humanitarian and NGO groups to discuss how we can improve their safety and security as they deliver needed humanitarian assistance.

At the end of the trip, I delivered a speech in Mogadishu on how the international community must come together to end famine forever.  I announced over $40 million in new funding from the American people to Somalia to save lives, stave off famine, and meet humanitarian needs.  But the truth is the United States cannot do this alone.  My call is for the UN and for the international community to step up and do more, to be more ambitious, get more resources to those who are in desperate need.

With that, I look forward to your questions.

MR PATEL:  Shaun, you want to start us off?

QUESTION:  Thank you, Ambassador.  Thanks for doing this.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Hi.

QUESTION:  Could I start, actually, with Mozambique?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Sure.

QUESTION:  It sort of doesn’t get as much attention as some other parts of Africa.  But there is, of course, the long-running conflict in Cabo Delgado. Amnesty International has called it a forgotten war, so that there’s not (inaudible).  I was wondering, maybe in general terms, if you could give us your assessment about where things stand there in terms of the strength of the jihadists, how much of a risk there is, and also about the human rights issues on the part of the Mozambicans.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Good.  I spent a lot of time on Cabo Delgado when I was there, in discussions with the government as well as the UN and our embassy there on the ground. And in fact, the situation has improved. Working with the Rwandans and other regional forces, they were able to push the terrorists out of the major urban or at least city areas. They are still a threat and they still continue to terrorize people, but we’re – we’ve been able to get in humanitarian assistance. The NGOs are working there, USAID has an extensive program there, and the private sector is slowly going back in.

MR PATEL: Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you. Good to see you. I have a few questions, and one on South Korea and one on North Korea.

South Korea is trying to join as one permanent members of the UN Security Council. Will the U.S. support this?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have started discussions. As you know, the President announced in September during High-Level Week that we support UN Security Council reform and we support additional permanent members of the Security Council as well as new elected members of the Security Council. We have not stressed or stated what countries that will be other than the fact that we do support new members coming from Africa and Latin America.

QUESTION: And on North Korea —

MR PATEL: Nike?

QUESTION: One more. In response to North Korea’s provocations, the U.S. is maintaining its military deterrence through expanded deterrence. However, sanctions against North Korea in the UN Security Council are not being properly implemented. What sanctions are you taking against countries that are in violation against sanctions against North Korea? As you know, China and Russia are using their veto power to protect North Korea from North Korea’s illegal nuclear and missile propagations.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You’re reading my talking points.

QUESTION: Is it – thank you. Is it possible to deprive Russia and China of their veto power in the UN Security Council?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have pushed hard in the Security Council to produce products condemning the actions of the DPRK. And as you noted, both China and Russia have consistently protected DPRK from the actions of the Security Council. They have the veto power, and they have used that veto power. And unfortunately, the Security Council, the other 13 members of the Security Council, have been consistent and strong in wanting to condemn DPRK, and we will continue to work to do that, particularly as we see more and more tests being done by the DPRK.

MR PATEL: Is this on her trip, Nike?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for talking to us. Could you talk about Chinese footprint and Chinese influence in the African continent? In your conversation with officials there, what’s in their mind? What are they concerned of? And then, do you have a U.S. message regarding Russia’s war on Ukraine?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, we – we’re not asking African countries to choose between their friends and choose who they will partner with. Our message to Africa has been one of our strong partnership, our strong engagement on the continent, and that engagement has been consistent for decades. We’re not new to the African continent; I’m not new to the African continent. As you can see from my bio, I’ve spent most of my career on the continent, including as serving as the assistant secretary of state. So again, our message is about what we do and how strong our engagement is.

In terms of our message on Ukraine and the war in Ukraine, our message is also very consistent: Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine is also an attack on the UN Charter. It is an attack on the sovereignty and independence of a smaller neighbor. And it is important that we stand together, united, and condemn those actions. And we have been successful in the UN General Assembly, getting 141 votes and then 143 later, condemning Russia’s attempt to annex parts of Ukraine.

MR PATEL: Final question, Said.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Thank you, Madam Ambassador. I have a question departing from the Africa trip. It’s on the Palestinian issue. I am a reporter from a Palestinian newspaper. I want to ask you, has the United States departed from its position of designating the West Bank and East Jerusalem as occupied territory?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We are pushing for both sides to not take any actions that will exacerbate the situation. We have not changed our policy positions, and I think you’ve heard that from —

QUESTION: I just want —

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah.

QUESTION: You’re the face of U.S. diplomacy at the United Nations, at the most prominent world body. So do you consider the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be occupied territory? You have been asked. Why can’t you say that they are occupied territory?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Because we are working with both sides to try to find a solution that will lead to peace, where both the Palestinians and the Israelis are able to live in security and —

QUESTION: Until such time, Madam Ambassador —

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Until such time —

QUESTION: Until such time, what is the —

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: — we will continue to work with both sides.

QUESTION: What is the designation of the Palestinian people in these areas?

MR PATEL: Said, we can talk more about this during our briefing. I want to thank the ambassador for joining us today.

QUESTION: Ms. Ambassador, I have one question.

QUESTION: Vedant, one question —

MR PATEL: And we – you’ll have to come back very soon.

QUESTION: — on the Afghanistan – on their situation, please. Because you are woman, and women has a lot of pain in Afghanistan. Could you please respond to my question?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Let me just say, you have heard our views on Afghanistan. We have been extraordinarily strong in condemning what the Taliban have done as it relates to women and girls’ education, women’s ability to work. We supported the recent visit by the deputy secretary general to engage with the Taliban, to try to get them to reverse what they’re doing, and we will continue to do that. We’re going to judge them on their actions, so for that reason they are not recognized in the UN and we have not recognized them here in the United States.

MR PATEL: Thank you, Ambassador. Thank you.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you all.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, everybody.

MR PATEL: All right. Okay. I have a few things for you at the top, and then I’m happy to proceed with the normal press briefing.

Two years ago today, Burma’s military regime seized power from a democratically elected government, flagrantly rejected the will of Burma’s people, set the country on a disastrous path that has killed thousands and displaced over 1.5 million people, and reversed the hard‑fought democratic progress the country achieved over the last decade.

Today, the United States is imposing sanctions on six individuals and three entities linked to the regime’s effort to generate revenue, procure arms, including the senior leadership of Burma’s ministry of energy, Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise, and Burma’s air force, as well as an arms dealer, and a family member of a previously-designated business associate of the military. We are also sanctioning the Union Electoral Commission, which the regime has manipulated and deployed to advance its flawed election.

It is clear that the regime’s planned election will not be free or fair, while the regime continues to kill, detain, and force possible contenders to flee, and continues to inflict brutal violence against its peaceful opponents. These so-called elections, held under these conditions, will only serve as a trigger for further violence and instability.

The United States will continue to promote accountability for the military’s atrocities, including through the support to the UN’s Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar. We will also continue to support other international efforts to protect and support vulnerable populations, including Rohingya.

We welcome the actions taken by our allies and partners, including Canada – the UK, who also took action today – to urge the regime to end the crisis, and we look forward to building our cooperation with the UN, ASEAN, and international community to increase diplomatic and economic pressure against the military and in support of a peaceful, democratic, prosperous Burma.

I also want to share that today the United States announced the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Honiara, less than one year after Secretary Blinken announced our intent to open it.

For more than 50 years, the United States and the Solomon Islands have worked together to tackle major challenges facing our shared Pacific community. The opening of the embassy builds on the U.S. efforts not only to place more diplomatic personnel throughout the region but also to engage further with our Pacific neighbors, connect U.S. programs and resources with needs on the ground, and expand on people-to-people ties.

The embassy will be a central part of future engagements with the Solomon Islands.

With that, Shaun, I don’t know if you want to —

QUESTION: Sure.

MR PATEL: — take us away.

QUESTION: Could I follow up Burma?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: The sanctions, I guess, announced yesterday as well – the – I mean, they target the oil and gas industry, but the major state-owned business itself, the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise. Is there any talk about sanctioning it as an entity as a whole or is that a step too far?

MR PATEL: Shaun, what I would say is that we’re certainly not going to preview additional next steps or preview our actions, but what we are going to do is that we’re going to continue to promote accountability for the military’s atrocities, including through the UN independent mechanism that I mentioned, and we also continue to support other international efforts to protect and support vulnerable populations. And we’re going to continue to support the pro‑democracy movement and its efforts to advance peace and genuine multiparty democracy in Burma.

QUESTION: Can I go to a different topic unless anyone else wants to continue with Burma?

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Brazil. Bolsonaro, I understand —

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: I’m guessing you’re probably not going to say much about this, but Bolsonaro has – through his lawyer has applied for an extension of six months staying in the United States. I know visa records are usually confidential, but —

MR PATEL: They indeed are.

QUESTION: — but there is a precedent – I mean, even just recently the Secretary put sanctions on – visa restrictions on people from Nigeria for election interference. Is there any concern that Bolsonaro having political activities here could be of concern to the United States, especially in light of what happened in Brazil?

MR PATEL: I appreciate your question, Shaun, but, again, as you so note, visa records are confidential, so I’m just not unfortunately able to get into this.

QUESTION: Staying with Brazil?

MR PATEL: Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, and I want to switch topic, go to the Palestinian issue.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: On the Secretary’s trip – now, Secretary Blinken reiterated while he was there that the U.S. policy seeks to ensure equal measures to freedom and prosperity for both Israelis and Palestinians – among many other things that he said, but he also said that. My question is, what is the U.S. plan to effectuate such a goal?

MR PATEL: Well, Said, let me say a couple of things. President Biden has been clear that Israelis and Palestinians equally deserve equal measures of freedom, dignity, justice and prosperity. And the negotiated two-state solution is the only way to achieve a lasting peace. The President and the Secretary have also been very clear that the U.S. understands the opportunity for negotiations is not necessarily ripe. And we are currently focused on de-escalating the current tensions, improving the daily lives of Palestinians, and creating the necessary conditions for future negotiations. You saw the Secretary speak to a great deal of this over the course of this trip.

We also believe that it is also among the parties themselves to effectuate this goal and to move this goal forward, and you saw the Secretary speak to that on his travels as well.

QUESTION: I understand, but I mean, this is like – the President himself said last summer this is not in the foreseeable future or it’s far away, the state. In the interim, I mean, what should be certain application of these measures of equality? For instance, should the Israelis reduce their checkpoints? Should they allow more people to move about the West Bank? Should they stop their raids into the camps and so on? Should they stop seizing land for settlements and so on? I mean, these are things that are the kind of measures one would take in the preparation or the process to achieve such a goal.

MR PATEL: Said, over the course of the Secretary’s travel he made clear that the United States will continue to oppose unilateral steps that worsen tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution, including but not limited to settlement expansion, legalization of illegal outposts, a move towards annexation of the West Bank, disruption of the historic status quos on Jerusalem’s holy sites, demolitions and evictions, and incitement of violence. We continue to oppose those things that we think, like I said, will not advance a negotiated two‑state solution.

QUESTION: Sorry?

QUESTION: And lastly —

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: — I just wanted to ask about Gaza. OCHA said that the situation in Gaza is unlivable. I mean the – the blockade that has gone on now for 16 years makes life in Gaza – despite efforts by Egypt and others and so on to alleviate the suffering, the suffering is increasing tenfold and eightfold and so on. You have any comment on that? Should – has the time come to lift that siege?

MR PATEL: Said, we are committed to working with the UN and other international partners to provide humanitarian assistance and other international support in a manner that benefits the Palestinians but does not benefit Hamas. And while meeting with President Abbas over the course of this trip, Secretary Blinken announced $50 million in U.S. funding towards UNRWA. This is in addition to 344 million the U.S. provided to UNRWA in 2022, which supports the provision of health care, emergency relief to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Palestinian children and families. And we also call, of course, on donors to contribute as well.

In addition to the $940 million in assistance we’ve provided the Palestinian people to date, we’re finding innovative ways to spur greater and more inclusive economic growth in the West Bank and Gaza. This means supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs, expanding access to 4G, increasing the supply of renewable and reliable energy. And we also reaffirmed our commitment to bolstering independent media with Palestinian civil society leaders. Working with Congress, we intend to make up to $2 million available to support journalists in the region, including Palestinians.

One thing that I also wanted to note, Said, if you’ll allow me the opportunity, and since you asked the ambassador this question, I just want to take a second and clarify the United States position on this – and Ned has spoken to this before; so has the Secretary. It is a historical fact that Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza after the 1967 war. As we have said it then, it continues to be a U.S. position that the West Bank is occupied. This has been a longstanding position of previous administrations of both parties over the course of many, many decades.

QUESTION: Vedant?

MR PATEL: Anything else on —

QUESTION: Sorry – yeah, on the same topic.

MR PATEL: — before we move away?

QUESTION: On the same topic.

QUESTION: Afghanistan?

MR PATEL: I’ll work the room a little bit. Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Yes. Yesterday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an interview with CNN, he didn’t commit it to – he didn’t commit to two-state solution. He said he would not call it like this, and he said – he didn’t commit to that. How do you characterize his statement yesterday? I believe you saw it.

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to characterize or comment – characterize his comments from here.

Nike, go ahead.

QUESTION: Are we ready to switch topic?

QUESTION: Can I just ask about Iran?

MR PATEL: Go – let me – and then I’ll come back to you, Nike. I promise.

Camilla, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. The Secretary said that he had discussed deepening cooperation to confront and counter Iran’s destabilizing activities. Should we understand that as something different from what already exists in terms of cooperation between the United States and Israel, given the nuclear talks have stalled or have been described as Iran having killed the talks from the U.S. side? Or is it the same as usual?

MR PATEL: I wouldn’t interpret that as new policy. You have seen us, over the course of this entire administration, talk about Iran’s malign activities, not just across the world but in the region more broadly. And of course, when it comes to combatting some of Iran’s destabilizing and malign activities, including work to ensure that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon, of course Israel is an important regional partner and ally in the fight against Iran’s activities in the region.

QUESTION: On Iran?

QUESTION: Iran?

QUESTION: Iran?

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: I’m going to call on people. Guita, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I was going to ask Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield about this, but you get to take a stab at it. Protests are still ongoing; arrests are ongoing still in Iran, especially now, many Sunni clerics are criticizing the regime and how they are suppressing the people. There’s been – some of them have been arrested. Is the United States in general doing anything at the United Nations to take any actions in any international fora in this regard?

MR PATEL: Guita, we have not hesitated to take action as a country through our own designations, through designations in multilateral fora, and through designations with our allies and partners to hold the Iranian regime accountable. I certainly don’t have any actions to preview or get ahead of, and of course we’ll let our colleagues at the UN speak more to any – about any UN processes. But I think what you should take away here, Guita, is that we will not hesitate to use the tools in our toolbelt to hold the Iranian regime accountable.

QUESTION: Thank you. One more?

MR PATEL: Anything else? Go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Last week, we talked about the report that the Iranian navy is trying to establish itself in the southern and central part of the Western Hemisphere by sending naval ships and, as you were talking about, Brazil and the Brazilian president coming here to the U.S., docking there sort of maybe as a base or whatever and then being present in the Panama Canal. Is – what else is – what is the U.S. doing, except for monitoring?

MR PATEL: Well, Guita, I will say that we have seen the reports and aware of the claims by Iran’s navy. And we do, as you said, continue to monitor for any Iranian plans of naval activities in the Western Hemisphere. What I will say is largely in line with what I said previously. We continue to have a number of tools in our toolbelt available to hold the Iranian regime accountable. We, of course, are not going to preview sanctions, but we will continue to vigorously enforce our sanctions. And what I’ll say is that anybody doing business with a sanctioned entity risks exposure to designation themselves. We also continue to vigorously push for implementation of UN Security Council resolutions.

Anything else on Iran, before we go to Nike, who’s been patiently waiting?

QUESTION: On Iran? Yes.

QUESTION: Iran?

MR PATEL: Go ahead. Go ahead, Nike.

QUESTION: Sure. The U.S. Treasury has sanctioned a Chinese company for providing satellite imageries of Ukraine to Wagner Group’s combat operation for Russia. So as the Secretary of State Blinken is preparing his meetings in Beijing, what is the U.S. message to PRC and is it still the State Department’s assessment that PRC Government is not providing any material or security assistance to Russia?

MR PATEL: Our assessment hasn’t changed, Nike. We are closely monitoring the situation, as we have been. And we continue to communicate to China the implications of providing material support to Russia’s war against Ukraine. We’ve also continued to be clear in public and in private with any country that, as it relates to the conflict of Ukraine, Russia is very clearly, publicly violating Ukrainian territorial integrity and Ukrainian sovereignty, and we’ll continue to raise that wherever we can.

QUESTION: And Chinese President Xi Jinping may visit Moscow in February by invitation from the Russia. Do you – how close are you watching this potential visit and what – do you have anything on the diplomatic relations between China and Russia? Thank you.

MR PATEL: So I will let these two countries speak to their own bilateral relationships. But again, on the situation broadly, we continue to monitor and pay close attention. The PRC has made its alignment with Russia clear through its rhetorical support of Russia’s war, its support for Russia in multilateral fora, as well as the amplification of Russian disinformation. But I’ll let these two countries speak to their own multilateral – bilateral relationship.

QUESTION: Afghanistan.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Follow-up on Ukraine.

MR PATEL: Hold on. Hold one second. Follow-up on Ukraine, then I’ll go to you, Alex.

Go ahead, Janne.

QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you, Patel. NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg met with the South Korean President Yoon Sun Yeol in South Korea a couple days ago to ask for arms support to Ukraine. If South Korea provides weapons to Ukraine, how do you think it will affect the Korean peninsula?

MR PATEL: Well, Janne, what I will say is that it is, of course, in each country’s independent, sovereign decision to offer security assistance to any other country. Obviously as it relates to Ukraine, the United States has had a pretty clear track record of providing security assistance to our Ukrainian partners. That will continue to persist. I will of course let the South Koreans speak to their own efforts as it relates to our Ukrainian partners, but what I can say broadly is that, of course, South Korea is an important ally and partner in the Indo-Pacific as it relates to a variety of shared priorities between the Republic of Korea and the United States as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: The President ruled out the idea of sending F-16s to Ukraine. If other countries that possess F-16s decide to send on their own, will the United States give its consent of your – or your green light to that?

MR PATEL: Alex, I’m just not going to get into hypotheticals, and I am going to let the President’s comments speak for themselves. But the one thing that I want to reiterate, much like Janne’s question since you’ve given me the opportunity, is that the United States is sending a significant amount of weapons and equipment to Ukraine to help with its battlefield needs. That of course includes artillery, ammunition, armored vehicles, air-defense capabilities. And we’re in regular contact with our Ukrainian partners, and I expect we’ll have more to talk about when it comes to continued security assistance. But I don’t want to get ahead or get into any hypotheticals here.

QUESTION: But what would you say to critics that say, hey, you always get to the right place with decisions like tanks, HIMARS, but it always takes too long?

MR PATEL: Alex, we have been steadfast in our continued security assistance for Ukraine. We have done so quickly, we have done so efficiently, and we have done so at a steady clip dating back to even prior to February 24th.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: Anything else on Russia or Ukraine before we move? Go ahead.

QUESTION: So in today’s action, the sanctioning – the sanctions – sanction-evasion network supporting Russian military-industrial complex. There are several South Cyprus-based companies in that sanction designation. As far as I remember, the United States lifted arms embargoes on Cyprus as part of their commitment to crackdown on money laundering and keeping distance with the Russian military and defense sector. And we still see that Cyprus, like, five companies – we’re talking about five companies in that designation. Still, despite lifting of this arms embargo, we still see that the Greek Cypriot side is the safe haven of money laundering and also evasioning of Russian sanctions. Can you – are you ready to reconsider the lifting of embargoes on Cyprus? And what’s your thought on —

MR PATEL: I have new – I have new – no new policy to announce today. Today’s action was about designating individuals and entities across multiple jurisdictions who are connected to a sanctions evasion network supporting Russia’s defense sector, including prominent arms dealer Igor Vladimirovich Zimenkov. It has become increasingly difficult for Russia’s military-industrial complex to resupply the Kremlin’s war machine, forcing it to rely on nefarious suppliers such as the DPRK and Iran. Today’s actions were also taken in part of the U.S. commitment to Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs Task Force, a multilateral effort to identify and seize the assets of Russian proxies around the world.

QUESTION: Do you still – do you still assess the policy decision to lift the embargoes on Cyprus, south Cyprus, is correct?

MR PATEL: As I said, I don’t have any new policy to announce today.

QUESTION: Vedant, I have a Russia question.

MR PATEL: Camilla?

QUESTION: One on Russia.

MR PATEL: I’ll come back to you, Said.

QUESTION: So the State Department yesterday announced that Russia is noncompliant with the New START Treaty. So what happens now?

MR PATEL: Well, as I said, Russia – as we said yesterday, Russia is not complying with its obligations under the New START Treaty to facilitate inspections on its territory. And its refusal to facilitate inspection activities prevents the United States from exercising important rights under the treaty and threatens the viability of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control.

There is a clear path for returning here. All Russia needs to do is to allow inspection activities on its territory, just as it did for years under the New START Treaty, and meet in a session of the Bilateral Consultative Commission. There is nothing preventing Russian inspectors from traveling the United States and conducting inspections.

QUESTION: Has there been any effort to reach out to the Russians since that announcement was made?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific diplomatic engagements to read out, Camilla, but the path here is very, very clear and very straightforward. The Russian Federation, all they need to do is to allow inspection activities on its territories, just as it’s done for years.

QUESTION: On Russia?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: The Israeli prime minister told CNN today that they have very complex relations with Russia, and he does not want to provoke any possible confrontation with Russia, especially over Syria. He said that we share the skies and all these things. Does that mean that Secretary of State Blinken during his visit did not succeed in sort of pushing the Israelis toward a more pro- or proactive in terms of support to Ukraine?

MR PATEL: Said, I am not going to characterize the prime minister’s comments. But what I will say is that Secretary Blinken, to his counterparts and to leaders around the world – the United States has had a consistent message as it relates to Russia, which is that Russia is – it is incumbent on Russia to cease its aggression and to remove its troops from Ukraine’s soil to achieve a just and durable peace. And that continues to be the message that we convey as it relates to the conflict in Russia and Ukraine.

QUESTION: Afghanistan?

MR PATEL: Nazira, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Yesterday, about Tom West, U.S. representative to Afghanistan, perhaps. He is in Pakistan and he met with a military high official member about Afghanistan, Afghanistan girls, Afghanistan women situation. And then he go to Germany, I think, and then to Switzerland. I need to get about a straight conclusion. Do you think that it’s going to be effective in – to the current situation in Afghanistan?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things. We are in regular communication with Pakistani leadership and discuss a range of vital matters. Special Representative Tom West was of course there to talk about some of these issues as it relates to the situation in Afghanistan. The U.S. Government has been, of course, reviewing our approach and our engagement with the Taliban in the context of their increasingly draconian edicts targeting and discriminating against women and girls in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah, on Sudan. You issued a statement on this, but to what extent were you surprised by the release of Abdel-Ra’uf Abuzaid? And what’s your message to the Sudanese Government?

MR PATEL: We are aware of those reports, of the release of Abdel-Ra’uf Abuzaid by the Sudanese Government. Our embassy is engaging with government officials to obtain more information, and we’re seeking clarity about the release of the individual convicted of killing John Granville and his Sudanese colleague. The convicted killer was designated a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the U.S. in 2013, and we are expressing our deep concern over the January 30th release of this individual. We’re troubled by the lack of transparency in the legal process that resulted in his release, and we’re just continuing to seek more information.

QUESTION: Did you ask the Sudanese Government to bring him back to prison?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific diplomatic requests to offer, Michel. But this is something that our embassy personnel are engaging on and monitoring very closely.

QUESTION: On Sudan?

MR PATEL: Go ahead. I’ll come back to you after that. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. On Bangladesh. Critics of the Bangladesh ruling government are again being targeted as vehicles carrying a renowned civil society member and rights activist, Rizwana Hasan, came under attack by the ruling party activist. As you know, the Assistant Secretary Donald Lu recently visited, and he had a meeting with her. Meanwhile, a leading Bangladeshi book publisher, Adarsha publisher, known for its works by dissident writers, has been banned from the country’s largest book fair for criticizing ruling prime minister and her father. They cannot allow the publisher access to the book fair. There are reports that the same publisher is being obstruct to open its pavilion in another book fair in India state, West Bengal. So what is your comment as we are recently seeing that assistant secretary and the (inaudible) here very much engaged on Bangladesh and asking for free, fair, and credible elections?

MR PATEL: Sure. Let me say a couple of things. As it relates to your first question, the United States will not hesitate to speak out publicly in support of those everywhere who are fighting for recognition of their human rights and dignity. Around the world, democracy and respect for human rights are foundational to peace, economic prosperity, and stability. These values are inextricably linked.

What I will say to your second question about the publisher, we continue to highlight the importance of democratic principles, such as the freedom of expression, as human rights that contribute to strengthening our democracies.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just on Bangladesh?

MR PATEL: Oh, sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Similar to that, but as you – as you probably know, the Bangladeshi Government said it blocked, I think, nearly 200 websites for anti-state material, as they describe it. Do you have any comment on that? Is that at all a concern to the United States?

MR PATEL: Of course any kind of censorship or blocking of information channels like that would be of deep concern. I’ve not seen that specific report, but we’ll see if we can get you some more specifics on that, Shaun.

You had your hand up, sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, Vedant, I wanted to ask the ambassador about this. Lavrov is expected to visit Sudan on February 8th, I believe. So do you see any connection between the release of this detainee and this visit? And what do you make about this visit, about Russia footprints in the continent, especially after his visit to South Africa as well?

MR PATEL: On this specific release, I will reiterate that we are, through our embassy, working with government officials to try and obtain more information. I don’t want to draw any more conclusions beyond that. What I will echo is what I said to Said’s question, which is that to countries around the world, including on the African continent – and the ambassador spoke to this a great deal – we have been very clear about that in the context of the conflict in Ukraine, Russia is infringing on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. And our message in public and private continues to be the same, which is that the Russian Federation needs to cease its aggression and remove its troops from Ukrainian soil.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: About Russian sanctions, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson is going to visit Türkiye tomorrow and the next day to meet with Turkish officials, and according to the Treasury readout, he will convey to his counterparts about institutions operating in permissive jurisdictions risk potentially losing access to G7 markets. Are you in touch with the Treasury about this meeting and do you have any comments on the status of Türkiye’s compliance with Russia sanctions?

MR PATEL: I will let our colleagues at the Treasury Department speak to that. That’s – obviously involves travel of one of their senior officials, so I will just let them follow up with you on that —

QUESTION: And on Türkiye, another question, if possible.

MR PATEL: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Today the German and British consulates in Istanbul closed after the Netherlands did the same thing following threats to Westerners related to recent Qu’ran burning stunts in European cities. A U.S. security alert also updated two days ago and still continues. Are we in touch with Turkish officials? Is there any updates about the intelligence sharing or how long will the security alert stay in effect?

MR PATEL: So what I will say is that, first and foremost, the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul remains open, and I will of course let the foreign ministries of these other countries speak to their own operating status as it relates to their missions in Türkiye. But to widen the aperture a little bit, the U.S. State Department has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas, and earlier this week – or over this weekend, rather – the U.S. Mission in Türkiye issued security alerts to inform U.S. citizens of possible attacks by terrorists against places of worship and diplomatic missions in areas foreign nationals frequent, especially in specific neighborhoods. Turkish authorities are investigating this matter, and would refer you to them to speak to more.

QUESTION: Follow-up on —

MR PATEL: Go ahead in the back. I’ll come back to you, Alex.

QUESTION: On Iran, the Iranian foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian – Abdollahian, after his meeting with the Qatari foreign minister, he said that we’ll see what Tehran has to say with a message from the world powers regarding the JCPOA. And after that, Iranian media reported that the top Qatari officials said that the message was from the U.S. Have you sent any message to the Iran regarding JCPOA? If say so, what was the message?

MR PATEL: I think I have been very clear from this podium a number of times, and so I will say it again, that the JCPOA has not been on the agenda for months. It is not our focus. The Iranians killed the opportunity for a swift return to full implementation of the JCPOA back in September when they turned their backs on a deal that was on the table approved by all. Since September, our focus has been standing up for the fundamental freedoms of the Iranian people, standing with the Iranian people, and countering Iran’s deepening military partnership with Russia and its support for Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. sent a message to Iran?

MR PATEL: Again, as I said, the JCPOA has not been on the agenda for months. It is not our focus.

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry, Vedant, you just said “killed” the opportunity. So it is dead and buried, the JCPOA? There’s no chance of going back to the negotiating —

MR PATEL: Said, we have – your question is rooted in a hypothetical. We of course have —

QUESTION: You just said killed the opportunity.

MR PATEL: We of course have said – we of course have long said and continue to believe – and it’s the belief of this administration – that Iran should never obtain a nuclear weapon, and we continue to believe that diplomacy continues to be the best mechanism to work through that. But as the specific question about the JCPOA, it has not been on the agenda for months.

Alex.

QUESTION: Said’s question really – the Iran one – I’ll leave it for another day. Two questions, particularly on Russia-Türkiye. There are reports that U.S. leans on Türkiye to end Russian flights with American-made Boeings. Are you in a position to confirm those reports?

MR PATEL: American-made what?

QUESTION: Boeing. Boeing planes.

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything to offer on that. I haven’t seen that report, Alex, but —

QUESTION: On the South Caucasus, the Secretary just made an announcement this afternoon. He appointed – basically, Ambassador Reeker was replaced with, if I’m not mistaken, a non‑ambassador career diplomat, Louis Bono. I was wondering if he is going to carry the same badge, because I read through the statement; I didn’t see much about his job. Basically the role is really outlined, but I did not see the name of Minsk Group or chief negotiator. Is it still the same job?

And secondly, is it the Secretary’s concern that the sides, Azerbaijan and Armenia, are sleepwalking towards another war?

MR PATEL: So, Alex, let me say a couple of things. First, broadly, I think you know this – you’ve covered this issue closely – this is something that is of deep importance to the Secretary. It’s something that the department is paying close attention to. Secretary Blinken in particular, as you know, had the chance to speak with both the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan. So this is something that we’re going to continue to remain deeply engaged on.

On the subject of Mr. Bono, he is the lead for U.S. engagement to promote peace and stability for the South Caucasus. And he also represents the United States in the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair format, as his predecessors have in this role. Specifically, what I will say, though, about his qualifications – as I just said, this is an enduring priority for the Biden administration. And Mr. Bono is a senior leader in the department with significant experience working on challenging and complex issues. And he has the personal confidence of Secretary Blinken and this department in taking on this new role.

QUESTION: Do you have any announcement on – of trip, upcoming trip for him?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any trips or travel to preview yet for you.

QUESTION: Do you have a new tool that he’s going to use, or is it the same badge, same tools?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any new policies to announce today, Alex. But again, this is of course something that we’re going to continue to pay close attention to and focus on.

You had your hand up?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Two clarifications, please. The president of Türkiye said a while ago that his position on – on Finland is positive, but he’s not positive on Sweden. So what is the American position on this? Do you accept this new position by Türkiye, or you want both countries at the same time to be members of NATO?

MR PATEL: So let me speak a little bit about this. Secretary Blinken has spoken about this previously. There has been a process and a process that has been ongoing involving Türkiye, Finland, and Sweden. That process has been productive in addressing some of the concerns that Türkiye has raised about its own security, and both Finland and Sweden have taken significant steps to address those concerns.

Let me be very clear. Finland and Sweden are ready to be NATO Allies; both are ready to be NATO Allies. Both are members of NATO’s Partnership for Peace and NATO’s Enhanced Opportunity Partnership. Their militaries work seamlessly with Alliance forces, and we are confident that NATO will formally welcome Finland and Sweden as members very soon.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: I’m going to work the room a little bit. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Tunisia, please.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: The results of last Sunday election in Tunisia announced yesterday, and it has shown that 90 percent of the voters didn’t participate. The reason was, as explained, that the president has put all the power in his hand. And this number is unheard of. Did you have any comment? Did you issue any statements on it or did you have any comment?

MR PATEL: So the United States remains committed to the longstanding U.S.-Tunisia partnership. The second round of parliamentary elections that took place over the weekend is another step in the important and essential process of restoring the country’s democratic checks and balances. But as we noted back in December, low voter turnout reflects the need for government to engage in a more inclusive process going forward to further expand political participation. And we’re going to continue to support the Tunisian people’s aspirations for a democratic and accountable government that protects human rights and fundamental freedoms, including free expression, and preserves space for civil society as well.

QUESTION: So you don’t have any, let’s say, criticism or whatever —

MR PATEL: I think you’ve just heard me —

QUESTION: — for the president?

MR PATEL: I think you’ve just heard me say that the low voter turnout is – reflects the dire need for the government to engage in a more inclusive path going forward. So I would reiterate that.

In the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’ve got a follow-up on that Sweden-Finland question, because over the past couple of weeks I posed these questions to you and your colleague, Mr. Price. When the United States says that they are ready to join NATO, that’s kind of a verdict, a judgment on the U.S. side that they are ready to join NATO. But the disagreement between Stockholm and Ankara still persists, as Ankara says that according to Article 5 of that trilateral memorandum, some of those steps that they should have taken in the past eight, nine months regarding eliminating terrorism has not been met.

And over the weekend we heard from Sweden’s chief NATO negotiator, and it’s not hearsay. He made his remarks to Swedish public radio. He said: Unlike Finland, we have a larger share of funding for the PKK from Sweden. These are often multitaskers in their field – extortion, financing weapons and drugs exists in this field. And they are still yet to pass a legislation in the Swedish parliament regarding these terrorist activities. So how is it possible still in Washington to say that they are ready to join NATO? Because that’s kind of interpreted in Europe and also in Washington that there is a directive that is given to Ankara. Can you please clarify that? Because even Stockholm are saying that they are not ready, actually, to join NATO.

MR PATEL: We – our assessment is that they are ready to join NATO. They are ready to be NATO Allies. Both, as I just said, Sweden and Finland are partners of NATO’s Partnership for Peace and NATO’s Enhanced Opportunity Partnership. These are two countries whose militaries work seamlessly with NATO Alliance forces already. And what I will also say in reflection to the top of your question, we acknowledge Türkiye’s legitimate security concerns, but we also appreciate the tangible actions both Finland and Sweden have already taken to address those concerns. This of course is a process; that process continues to be underway. And we look forward to welcoming NATO – welcoming Sweden and Finland into NATO very soon.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, please?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: So if the progress in implementing the trilateral memorandum varies between the two aspirants to NATO, why wouldn’t it be possible that we consider separate approval timelines for two countries? Why the United States is trying to mention two countries together and taking – having them all together into NATO instead of having one by one?

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get too into the weeds of this process. This process has been ongoing, and you have seen the United States do its part in – as it relates to the responsibilities that we have as a NATO member. We, of course, through our Congress, approved the accession of both of these countries, and we’re going to continue to let this process play out. But we, of course, have been very clear that Finland and Sweden are ready to be NATO Allies.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: There seems to be a bipartisan consensus forming on the Hill about designating – in support of designating the Wager Group as a terrorist organization. Would this be helpful in the Sudan and also in Ukraine and elsewhere around the world, in Russia as well, given their horrible activities? What is – do you have a – I know the State Department in the past has worried that this might interfere with some humanitarian organizations, their work. Is this still an ongoing concern, or is there a greater consensus now that we need to designate them and – for what they are?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to preview any specific actions, but if you look at Wagner’s track record, it’s clear that they are a criminal organization, a transnational criminal organization. They are motivated by things that are evocative of criminal organization, things like profit, not necessarily for status or reputation or things like that.

But one thing that I want to be very clear about – and you saw us speak to this last week – is that countries that experience Wagner Group deployments within their borders find themselves poorer, weaker, and less secure. And that is why you saw the United States take a number of actions last week, a number of designations, to hold the Wagner Group accountable.

QUESTION: Mostly on the same topic, but a little different – slightly different.

MR PATEL: Sure, Alex. And then we probably have to wrap up.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Do you have any comment on the so-called bounty offers that we have been hearing from Russia coming from, well, so-called independent organizations, but it’s definitely encouraged and supported by the Kremlin, against the U.S. tanks and other weapons?

MR PATEL: What I would say, Alex, is that I’ve seen that reporting as well. But I think it’s important to remember here that, in the context of Ukraine, it is, again, the Russian Federation that is illegally and unlawfully on Ukrainian soil, violating Ukrainian territorial integrity, violating Ukrainian sovereignty.

And so what the United States is going to do is continue to do everything in our power to hold the Russian Federation accountable and to support our Ukrainian partners. That, of course, includes through security assistance, but that also includes continuing to take actions against the Russian Federation and holding them accountable.

QUESTION: Are you willing to —

MR PATEL: Go —

QUESTION: Would you be willing to designate those organizations as terrorist organizations, if they pursue these – what they say they do?

MR PATEL: Alex, I think we’re just – we’re getting into hypotheticals here.

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

MR PATEL: Final question.

QUESTION: Yeah. You ask many times Türkiye to return this Russian S-400 to Moscow. Will you sanction Türkiye for this? Can you tell us if your position change since Türkiye refused to send back the system? Or do you still asking Türkiye to send the S-400 to Mr. Putin? Thank you.

MR PATEL: So we have imposed sanctions on Türkiye because of that. Our position has not changed. The, obviously, S-400s would – continues to have them in violation, and that’s why we’ve imposed sanctions under CAATSA 231 in December of 2020 on Türkiye.

All right. Actually, I’ll take a last question in the back. Go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you for taking my question. Yesterday U.S. and India agreed to cooperate in advanced technology, including in the military field. What does the – what does this mean against the China and Russia? And will the four country in Quad in the Indo-Pacific region, including Japan, Australia, also proceed with military cooperation? What do you think?

MR PATEL: So I will – as you so noted, yesterday, with National Security Advisor Doval in Washington, he had the opportunity to, with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, to kick off the inaugural U.S.-India initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology, which will elevate and expand our strategic technology partnership and defense industrial cooperation. The two sides discussed opportunities for greater cooperation in critical and emerging technologies, co-development and co-production, and ways to deepen connectivity across our innovation ecosystems. We also expanded our defense cooperation with joint development and production, and this will focus on projects related to jet engines, munition-related technologies, and other systems. I will let our colleagues at the White House and National Security Council speak further about this meeting.

All right. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:03 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – January 27, 2023

2:20 p.m. EST

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everyone. Before we get started, I wanted to offer some comments on the news out of Jerusalem. This event just unfolded before I came down, and we are still gathering information, but the public reporting states that a gunman opened fire near a synagogue in Jerusalem. This is absolutely horrific. Our thoughts, prayers, and condolences go out to those killed and injured in this heinous act of violence. We condemn this apparent terrorist attack in the strongest terms. Our commitment to Israel’s security remains ironclad, and we are in direct touch with our Israeli partners. And our thoughts are with the Israeli people in light of this horrific attack.

With that, Shaun, I don’t know if you want to start us off.

QUESTION: Sure. Can I follow up on that?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: The – I know it’s just unfolding. It seems to be quite a few people killed. You said that you’ve been in contact with the Israelis, not you personally but the State Department. What’s the messaging? Is there a sense that this could accelerate the cycle of violence? What’s the sense of what is happening now and what you’re expecting and what you’re fearing in the —

MR PATEL: As it relates to this specific incident, Shaun, we’re just working to unearth as much information as we can, as this just happened. But broadly, of course we’ve been in touch with our Israeli partners on a number of issues over the course of the past days, and I’m sure that we will talk about a lot of these issues or at least the Secretary will in the lead-up to his trip this weekend also.

QUESTION: Can I just —

QUESTION: Can I ask a quick question?

QUESTION: Yeah, go ahead. But just to reframe —

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Does it affect the Secretary’s —

MR PATEL: I’ll get to you, Said.

QUESTION: Does it affect the Secretary’s trip at all either in terms of – presuming he’s still going ahead —

MR PATEL: I have no changes —

QUESTION: — but in terms of what —

MR PATEL: — in the schedule to announce, and nor would I expect any changes for the trip at this time.

Kylie.

QUESTION: Just – I know you guys are still collecting information, but is there any indication that this shooting is at all related to frustrations that came as a result of the raid that happened in the West Bank earlier this week?

MR PATEL: I don’t want to speculate or get into hypotheticals, Kylie. As I said, this just – this just happened before I came down. And so our thoughts are with the Israeli people. We stand with the Israeli people in solidarity. And we’re working directly with our Israeli partners to assess as much as we can about what happened and continue to offer our direct support.

Said.

QUESTION: A follow-up on Kylie’s. Actually, that was —

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask that question. So you don’t find any connection between the deaths of Palestinians over the past 27 days – 30 Palestinians have been killed and most recently yesterday, which we talked about at length here – you don’t find any connection between these kinds of events? Because if they are related, then we are likely to see more of these incidents. Do you agree with that?

MR PATEL: Said, we have – first, first, I want to reiterate again that this just transpired, and we’re working to unearth as much information as we can. And we’re in direct talks and in close touch with our Israeli partners about that. But broadly Said, I want to be very clear about this, we have been consistent and clear, as recently as yesterday from both myself and Assistant Secretary Barbara Leaf, from Ned earlier in the week, from the Secretary as often as he is asked about this, about condemnation of any kind of violence against civilians and the need broadly – again, not talking specifically about this situation Said because it just happened, but the need broadly for steps to be taken to de-escalate tensions.

QUESTION: But at least generally in theory, you will agree, no doubt, that violence begets violence anywhere, correct?

MR PATEL: Said, of course, we condemn any kind of violence against civilians.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me just – a couple more questions on this issue. It seems there are reports in the Israeli media that Abbas tried with the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan when he was there last to actually arrange for a meeting with the new prime minister, Netanyahu, and apparently the idea was not either taken seriously in terms of pursuit on behalf of the National Security Advisor with the Israelis. Do you have any information on that?

MR PATEL: What I would say about that, Said, is I would let the White House and the National Security Council comment on any of NSA Sullivan’s trip to Israel and the West Bank. As you saw, they read out that trip pretty extensively.

In regards to the Secretary’s trip, I don’t want to get ahead of that process beyond what we’ve said, but I know that he is looking forward to holding meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah with senior officials to discuss a range of the key issues that a number of State Department officials, including myself and others, have talked about extensively this week.

QUESTION: And lastly, there is going to be a meeting between Palestinian Americans and the Secretary of State today. Can you give us an update on what are they likely to discuss, how was this meeting arranged and so on, if you have information on that.

MR PATEL: Said, what I – I will speak broadly about this because I don’t want to get ahead of a meeting that has not transpired. But of course, this department engages with members of civil society both as it relates to Palestinian Americans, Jewish Americans, Israeli Americans. We take part in that quite regularly. But I will see if we have a specific update about today’s engagement.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Anything else on this, Alex, or are we —

QUESTION: In the region, but not necessarily Israel.

MR PATEL: Okay. Let me — go ahead. On the region or —

QUESTION: On the region.

MR PATEL: Okay. I’ll —

QUESTION: On Israel. Israel, actually.

MR PATEL: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Archbishop Desmond —

MR PATEL: I’ll come to you after that, Alex. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Archbishop Desmond Tutu died a year ago – a little over a year ago. His last published article was an admonition to this administration entitled, “Joe Biden should end the U.S. pretense over Israel’s, quote, ‘secret’ nuclear weapons.” “The cover-up has to stop,” read the headline. And with it, he called for the U.S. to use laws to cut off funding to human rights abusers, citing Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians as well as nuclear proliferators.

Tutu, of course, headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He ended the piece, “There are a few truths more critical to face than a nuclear weapons arsenal in the hands of an apartheid government.” Will you here today acknowledge the obvious truth that Israel has a nuclear weapons arsenal, or will you continue with this “cover-up,” as the archbishop referred to it?

MR PATEL: What I will say is that we recognize the very real security challenges facing Israel and the Palestinian Authority and condemn terrorist groups planning and carrying out attacks against innocent civilians. And we also mourn the innocent – loss of innocent lives and regret injuries to civilians. But I don’t have any specific comment to offer on what you asked.

QUESTION: Israel has had nuclear weapons for decades, and you can’t acknowledge that Israel has a nuclear weapons arsenal?

MR PATEL: I’m going to work the room a little. Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: You expect us to believe what you’re saying from that podium, and you can’t acknowledge the empirical reality of Israel’s nuclear weapons?

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: My question is about same region, different attack, in Iran against Azerbaijani embassy this morning.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: I’ve seen your – well, Ned’s statement on that. Give us – help us a little bit to put it in the context, because this is not the first time the Azeri diplomatic mission is under attack by Iran’s – Iran-related, let’s say, groups. You have spoken behind this podium and you mentioned that Iran is becoming more and more dangerous in the region. Is it getting bolder, more provocative, and is there anything we can learn from this – today’s attacks in terms of Iran’s danger in the region?

MR PATEL: Alex, I want to be very careful about attaching causation or anything like that as it relates to the attack at the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran, as we are still figuring out exactly what happened, and motive and all of those things still remain to be unearthed. So I want to be very careful about that, Alex.

But broadly, what I want to say is that we express our condolences to the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the families of those hurt and killed in the attack of Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran. The U.S. condemns any form of violence and is committed to ensuring the safety and security of foreign diplomatic missions.

While, as I said, the details of this incident are still emerging, what we are doing is we are calling on the Iranian authorities to investigate and to hold those responsible for the attack, hold them accountable. We note that Azerbaijani missions in several other countries have also experienced security issues in recent months, and we reiterate our support for the safety and security of all diplomatic missions. We also would remind the Government of Iran of its responsibility under the Geneva Convention to protect foreign diplomats in Iran.

QUESTION: The reason why I’m asking that because we just have learned that DOJ charged three men in murder attempt here in the States. Iran is proving to be capable to even hire Azerbaijani nationals even – not only at home, even abroad, even here in the United States. Do you feel that – do you feel that – I’ll now go back to my first question – that the threat that we are seeing basing from Iran is becoming much more aggressive, much more bolder, and is there any implication to the (inaudible)?

MR PATEL: Alex, we broadly – first on the piece about the Department of Justice, I will let – refer you to the Department of Justice to speak to that. Jake Sullivan from the White House just put out a statement on that as well, and I don’t have anything additional to offer beyond that.

But broadly speaking, we have not parsed our words as it relates to Iran’s deeply destabilizing and deeply malign activities not just in the region but across the world more broadly. We have seen that take form in Ukraine through its provision of UAV technologies to the Russian Federation for them to wreck havoc on Ukrainian infrastructure. We have seen it take form in a number of other instances as well.

So as the United States, we’ll continue to take steps to hold the Iranian regime accountable, to – we’ll do so in close coordination and contact with our allies and partners across the world.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have two questions on Mexico.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: The first one is related to the press release that you, the State Department, put out yesterday about a call between the Secretary and the minister of foreign affairs of Mexico. The press release only said that they dealt with fentanyl and the fight that both countries are dealing against the trafficking of this substance. Can you provide more information on what exactly was discussed – operations, collaboration with China? What exactly was the nature of the conversation?

MR PATEL: I’m certainly not going to get into specific diplomatic discussions and certainly don’t have more to offer beyond the readout of the call that we put out – the Secretary’s opportunity to chat with Foreign Minister Ebrard. What I would say though of course is that addressing fentanyl is a important priority for Secretary Blinken. And of course Mexico is an important partner on a lot of these priorities, not just as it relates to the illicit fentanyl trade but also a number of other priorities between the United States and Mexico as well – security cooperations, trade cooperations. And in addition to of course speaking to Foreign Minister Ebrard about that, the Secretary had the opportunity to discuss some of this in person at the North American Leaders’ Summit earlier as well. But I don’t have anything specific to add beyond that.

QUESTION: And the second question I have is you may be aware that there have been some harassment incidents against tourists in Cancun, which is one of the top ports in the world for American tourists. Do you have any reports of any violence directed specifically to – against American citizens there by taxi drivers?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific advice to offer from this podium. But of course any American citizen traveling abroad to any country, we would encourage them to not only enroll in our Smart Traveler program but to make sure to check the State Department’s website for specific guidance as it relates to not just the country that they are visiting broadly – in this case, Mexico – but also a specific region that they might be visiting in that country as well.

QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?

MR PATEL: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Broadly the region – Latin America.

MR PATEL: Of course.

QUESTION: Peru. President Boluarte today moved ahead elections to 2023. That was of course at least in part a demand of protesters who wanted the elections pushed forward. Does the United States have a view on this step, whether it could help de-escalate tensions? How do you see things going forward in Peru?

MR PATEL: Sure, Shaun. So our understanding was that this was a call as part of a national truce. And we, frankly, support continued efforts for open avenues of dialogue with relevant actors and groups around the country, and we continue to call for calm dialogue and for all parties to exercise restraint and nonviolence. This of course is an internal Peruvian democratic process and one that we support. We support the internal democratic processes of Peru.

QUESTION: Just briefly on that, some of the violence we’ve seen in recent months – I think there have been calls for – from some sides for accountability and that. How do you see the violence in the recent months? Do you think that there’s been enough of an investigation or would you like to see more?

MR PATEL: Well, Shaun, we remain concerned about the violent demonstrations. We also recognize the right of peaceful assembly, and we call for calm and dialogue, as I said. And we also support the Peruvian Government’s commitment to investigate all deaths related to the protests in an effort to ensure that its security forces uphold law and order consistent with human rights and Peruvian laws as well. And we also remain committed to helping Peru strengthen its democratic institutions and will work with regional governments and the Organization of American States to assist Peru in these efforts as well.

QUESTION: Can I do a Syria question?

MR PATEL: Sure, go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: The World Food Program has warned that hunger related to Syria in Syria has reached record levels, and – because of the collapse of the financial and economic system. But it’s also exacerbated by the sanctions imposed by the United States of America, especially the Caesar law or the (inaudible). Are there any plans to lift these laws or these sanctions any time soon in view of what might happen in Syria?

MR PATEL: There are not, Said. The United States, I will say, is the leading donor of humanitarian aid for the Syrian people, including Syrian refugees and their host communities. Our humanitarian aid includes funding for early recovery programs implemented by independent and impartial humanitarian agencies on the basis of need. These programs ensure Syrians in need have more sustainable access to basic services for themselves and their families.

As it relates to sanctions, though, Said, the United States will continue to hold Assad and his regime to account for their atrocities against the Syrian people, some of which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Our sanctions, including the ones under the Caesar Act, as you noted, remain in full force and are an important tool to press for accountability for the Assad regime. We condemn in the strongest possible terms any use of chemical weapons anywhere by anyone under any circumstances.

QUESTION: But these sanctions are really hurting the average Syrian more than anyone. And it may usher in a new wave of refugees leaving the country.

MR PATEL: Said, I don’t want to get into a speculative debate. But what I will say is reiterate that we are the leading donor of humanitarian aid for the Syrian people, and we will continue to use the tools in our arsenal to hold the Assad regime accountable for its actions against the Syrian people.

QUESTION: On Syria?

MR PATEL: I’m going to work the room a little bit. Michele, go ahead.

QUESTION: I have two very different questions, one on Russia. I saw your statement about the closing of the Helsinki Commission or whatever in Russia. And I wanted to know why put that statement out now? What are you guys going to do about that? How can you support Russian civil society in those circumstances?

And then separately on Haiti, I just wonder if you can give us any update on the situation around the airport there and about U.S. personnel.

MR PATEL: First, on your first question, I don’t have anything additional to offer beyond the statement that we put out. But if you’ll give me the opportunity, I will reiterate that in the recent days the Kremlin has struck more blows against independent civil society and media. On January 25th, a Moscow court ruled to close the Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia’s oldest human rights organization and something that was the inspiration for citizens’ groups monitoring human rights in the Europe/Eurasia region and around the world. This crackdown on independent civil society and media creates a climate of impunity that enables the Kremlin’s aggression against its neighbors. And can you repeat your question about Haiti?

QUESTION: I just wanted to know if you – if the situation has eased around the airport, if there are any U.S. officials still in Haiti, because I understand that the situation around the airport forced them to move some of their meetings yesterday.

MR PATEL: So we remain deeply concerned by the ongoing lawlessness associated with armed gangs and condemn, in the strongest terms, the violent gang activity that led to the death of several members of the Haitian National Police on January 20th and January 25th. As it relates to U.S. officials, a group of U.S. Government officials who were in Haiti for a previously scheduled visit moved the location of some of their scheduled meetings out of an abundance for caution before continuing with their schedule.

We have accounted for all U.S. personnel. We understand that the airport is functioning normally and airlines are operating normally scheduled flights. The Haitian National Police continue to fully cooperate with us and maintain their presence around the U.S. embassy and housing compounds as well.

QUESTION: And any status of Henry, the prime – the leader of – or de facto leader of Haiti?

MR PATEL: I will refer you to the Haitian authorities to speak about that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I ask about semiconductor export control, Netherlands and Japan?

MR PATEL: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: I think along with the United States, Japan and Netherlands are planning to agree on new Chinese semiconductor declarations. What is your reaction, or do you have anything for this new agreement?

MR PATEL: I will let those two countries speak specifically to their own announcements that they’ve announced today. Both Japan and the Netherlands are important partners to the United States on a number of issues, including in the trade and technology space as well. But I will let them speak to this specific announcement today.

QUESTION: Thank you.

Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you. A couple questions on Ukraine and Russia.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: IAEA reported, as you know, a blast they heard near Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Russia, of course, rejects it, as usual, but do you have any comment on that?

MR PATEL: Can you repeat the first part?

QUESTION: The blast that – explosions that IAEA reported near Zaporizhzhia power plant.

MR PATEL: Sure. So I have not seen that reporting, Alex. We of course continue to monitor very closely the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. I’ve said this a number of times from this podium, and I will say it again: Any kind of violent and volatile activity close to a nuclear power plant is not only reckless, it is unsafe. But I don’t have any specifics on this to offer.

QUESTION: That’s fair. Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: On Wagner, we have seen congressional legislation – the HARM Act was introduced recently on Wednesday, actually, urging the administration to go even further with a FTO designation, which will provide you with more tools. Is there any change on your end? I know we have discussed it before, but I’m just wondering, given this latest development, if you are reconsidering your position.

MR PATEL: I have no updates or change or new policy to offer, Alex, beyond what was announced earlier this week as it relates to the Wagner Group. But I think an important perspective to have as it relates to this conversation is: What are the tangible impacts of the designations and the actions that we undertake, and what impact are they having on the group’s ability to operate? And I think we were very clear about that earlier this week when we announced these new package of sanctions.

To reiterate, we, along with Treasury, took actions against individuals and entities linked to the Kremlin-backed paramilitary group and its head, Mr. Prigozhin. This action supports our ultimate goal, which is to degrade Moscow’s capacity to wage war against Ukraine, to promote accountability for those responsible for Russia’s war of aggression and associated abuses, and to place further pressure on Russia’s defense sector.

QUESTION: And last, this is on behalf of my colleagues in Spain, in Madrid at La Razón. They’re asking – as you know, Spanish police recently arrested a man involved into their bomb case last year. There were speculations that Russian GRU was behind it, but the police didn’t mention anything based on his early comments of Russian involvement. I’m just wondering if there’s any back-and-forth, any communication between you guys and Spanish Government on this. And what is your assessment of the latest —

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific update to offer on this, Alex, beyond – we mentioned this a little bit earlier in the week. We thank the Spanish authorities and law enforcement for their persistent investigation into this matter and would refer to the Government of Spain for information regarding the information, investigation, and arrest.

QUESTION: But the suspect did mention that he was targeting Spanish Government’s support for Ukraine. I’m just wondering if the department’s concerned that there might be more and more terror attacks through Europe, particularly in the countries that are supporting Ukraine.

MR PATEL: I don’t have any kind of causation or preview to offer as it relates to that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On the Russian embassy.

MR PATEL: Can I come back – I’ll come back to you right after that, okay?

QUESTION: So – yeah, so Russia.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Back to Israel. The Israeli author Miko Peled, author of The General’s Son, has talked about the U.S. – the Israeli context as on the one hand you have Netanyahu, who will not acknowledge that Israel drove out Palestinians in 1948; and now you have people on the right wing in Israel calling for another expulsion of Palestinians that Netanyahu claims never happened. Will you call on Israel to acknowledge the past expulsions and condemn the Israeli right wing, which is calling for other expulsions?

MR PATEL: What I would say is I would echo what Secretary Blinken has said a number of times in that our engagement with the new Israeli Government will be rooted in the policies it pursues, not in personalities. And I don’t have anything else to offer on this right —

QUESTION: I’m not talking about personalities.

MR PATEL: I understand.

QUESTION: It doesn’t matter if I like Netanyahu or you like Netanyahu. Israel should acknowledge the past expulsions of Palestinians. You condemn ethnic cleansing in other situations.

MR PATEL: I understand your question and I don’t have any additional comments to offer on that.

QUESTION: Can I have an answer next time?

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the Russian embassy. They issued a statement yesterday calling your sanctions frivolous because they have come – they have become sort of a knee-jerk reaction to everything, and that your naming the deputy prime minister and others as connected to the Wagner Group is ridiculous. Do you have any comment on that?

MR PATEL: What I would say, Said, is if our sanctions were frivolous, then why are we seeing Russian GDP shrink? Why are we seeing Russian – why are we seeing multinational corporations, American ones and others, choose to leave doing business in Russia? Why are we seeing Russia further isolated than ever before because of its unlawful and its unjust aggression in Ukraine and its very blatant infringement on Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty?

QUESTION: All right.

MR PATEL: All right, everybody. Thank you today. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:46 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – January 26, 2023

2:08 p.m. EST

MR PATEL: Good afternoon everybody. Happy Thursday. I have a few things at the top, and then I’m happy to dive into your questions.

Today, we are announcing the designation of former President of Panama Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Berrocal for his involvement in significant corruption. Specifically, Martinelli accepted bribes in exchange for improperly awarding government contracts during his tenure. This designation renders Martinelli and his immediate family members, including his two sons Luis Enrique and Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Linares, ineligible for entry into the United States. Such acts of public corruption diminish confidence in governance, reduce resources available for schools, hospitals, roads, and other government services. And this was a public designation made under Section 7031(c).

I’m also pleased to highlight today’s announcement by President Biden, the decision to extend Deferred Enforced Departure for Hong Kong residents for another two years. This extension provides Hong Kongers who are concerned about returning to Hong Kong with temporary safe haven in this country. The U.S. will continue to defer the enforced departure of eligible Hong Kong residents who are physically president – present in the United States as of January 26th for a period of up to two years.

The U.S. reaffirms its solidarity with the people of Hong Kong in the face of Beijing’s steady assault on the rights and freedoms guaranteed to Hong Kong under the Basic Law and Sino-British Joint Declaration, a binding international agreement. This decision to extend Deferred Enforced Departure and expand to include those who have arrived in the U.S. since August 2021 complements steps being taken by our allies and partners – including the UK, Canada, and Australia – to provide options to those who fear returning to Hong Kong.

This announcement was made necessary by Beijing and Hong Kong authorities’ continued and repeated attacks on the protected rights and freedoms cherished by people in Hong Kong. We strongly urge Beijing and Hong Kong authorities to restore Hong Kong’s autonomy and rule of law, stop draconian application of colonial-era laws and national security apparatus, and allow people in Hong Kong to exercise rights and freedoms and participate meaningfully in their own governance.

We again call on the PRC and Hong Kong authorities to immediately and unconditionally release those detained or imprisoned solely for exercising their rights and freedoms.

And lastly, as I’m sure you all saw, Russia launched yet more missiles and Iranian-made Shahed drones across Ukraine last night, followed by another strike of missiles this morning. On behalf of the United States, I want to extend my sympathy to all those who were hurt and condolences to the families of those killed across Ukraine.

Russia remains bent on causing death and destruction despite its ongoing strategic failures, and Iran’s transfer of these lethal weapons continues to help Russia in its brutal war. These tactics will not diminish Ukraine’s determination to resist. The U.S. will support Ukraine for as long as it takes, and our allies and partners have made the same quite clear.

We stand in unity and resolve with Ukraine as they defend their country and seek to build the bright, peaceful, democratic, and prosperous future for which the people of Ukraine have sacrificed so much.

And with that, I am happy to take your questions. Matt, if you want to start.

QUESTION: Great. Yes. We all set?

MR PATEL: Yeah, I’m good.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: You sure?

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah?

MR PATEL: We’re great.

QUESTION: Okay. You don’t want to raise it up a little bit?

MR PATEL: No, no, no. I’m good.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PATEL: I should have done that before. But go ahead.

QUESTION: So I am going to presume that you don’t have a whole lot to add to what Assistant Secretary Leaf said on – earlier today, but I’m just wondering in – since 11:30, since she spoke, have there been any contacts between the Secretary and/or other very high-level officials here in the – either the Israelis or the Palestinians about what happened in Jenin as it – and as it – as that might relate to the Secretary’s upcoming trip?

MR PATEL: Sure, Matt. So I don’t have any specific engagements to read out for the Secretary or anything to preview there. But as Assistant Secretary Leaf noted on this very call that you’re referring to, the department has been working the phones and in touch with both our immediate U.S. State Department counterparts – this – over the course of the morning – but as well as others in the region.

Specifically, if you’ll give me the opportunity, Matt, we are aware of the reports that today in Jenin at least 10 Palestinians, including militants and at least one civilian, were killed and over 20 injured during an Israeli Defense Force counterterrorism operation against a Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell.

We recognize the very real security challenges facing Israel and the Palestinian Authority and condemn terrorist groups planning and carrying out attacks against innocent civilians. We also regret the loss of innocent lives and injuries to civilians and are deeply concerned by the escalating cycle of violence in the West Bank. I want to underscore the urgent need for all parties to de-escalate, to prevent further loss of civilian life, and to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank. Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely.

QUESTION: Okay. And it remains the case that you do not believe that the Palestinian decision or announcement that they are going to suspend all security cooperation with Israel and also take this incident and refer it to the UN, the ICC, and others, other places, that you still think that’s a bad idea, correct?

MR PATEL: That’s correct, Matt. As we’ve made clear, and the assistant secretary touched on this earlier today, we believe that there is an urgent need for all parties to de-escalate, and in fact this should be an opportunity to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank. And as it relates to the UN, we just don’t believe that this multilateral fora is appropriate for this, and this is something that the two sides should work together on. And again, we believe that this should be – we should be deepening our security cooperation.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, recognizing that you don’t know exactly what happened – an investigation, an Israeli investigation, is underway. But recognizing that you don’t know, I wanted to go back to a question that I asked Ned last year or even 18 months ago. If you don’t think that the Palestinians should go to the UN or to the ICC or to any other international forum, where do they go?

MR PATEL: We believe that this is something that the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority should be engaging on together in dialogue with one another. Of course the United States has made quite clear that we continue to believe that steps should not be taken to incite tension, to exasperate[1] the situation, and that both Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely. And we continue and have made this clear pretty consistently that we believe that steps that would – could potentially undermine a future two-state solution are also not helpful to this process.

QUESTION: Yeah, but – well, whether or not their grievance or grievances are legitimate or not, where exactly are the Palestinians supposed to take them? Do they – if you don’t think that they can go or should go to the UN or to the ICC or to another international forum, where do they take them to? Where do you think they should be allowed to take them or that they should take them to? To the Israelis themselves?

MR PATEL: Our belief is that this is something that should be engaged on through dialogue, through diplomacy between the Israelis, between the Palestinian Authority. And of course the United States has made its opinion on this very clear.

QUESTION: Well, you haven’t made your opinion very clear. So you think that this should – that the Palestinians should take their complaints, their grievances, to the Israeli court system?

MR PATEL: I’m not just speaking about the court system specifically, Matt. I’m saying that —

QUESTION: Okay. Well, where?

MR PATEL: This is something that we think that should be addressed through dialogue and diplomacy between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority, and we’ve said that quite consistently.

QUESTION: May I follow?

MR PATEL: Sure, Said.

QUESTION: So what is the status of the Palestinians in the West Bank? What is their status?

MR PATEL: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: What is the status of the Palestinian people in the West Bank, including Jenin, including the camp of Jenin, and everywhere else in the West Bank? How do you designate them? What kind of designations do you give the Palestinians in the West Bank?

MR PATEL: That they reside in that – those territories.

QUESTION: They reside in that – they’re totally independent of the rest of the world, as if it were a different planet. Are they occupied, for instance? Do you – do you subscribe to the fact that they are under a military occupation?

MR PATEL: Said, let me – let me —

QUESTION: It’s a simple question. Are they under occupation?

MR PATEL: Said, let me say a couple of things to the point that I believe —

QUESTION: Vedant, are they occupied or are they not occupied? What is the status that you give the Palestinians right at this moment? What kind of status do they have?

MR PATEL: Said, the recent period has seen a sharp and —

QUESTION: I’m not talking about a recent period. I am saying about legally, how do you designate the Palestinians in the West Bank? What is their status?

MR PATEL: Said, I understand the question you’re asking, and I – as we’ve said previously, it is vital for both sides to take action to prevent even greater loss, and we condemn any violence, escalation, or provocation. We have made quite clear – and I spoke to this in addressing Matt’s question – that we believe Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely.

QUESTION: Now, who guarantees that equality? Who will guarantee that Palestinians and Israelis can actually have the same equal measures, as you keep repeating? It’s not the Palestinians that keep going day after day into Israeli villages and towns and so on and attack them during night raids, killing their people. You just basically recited the Israeli story that they are nine militants killed and one civilian, as if you were sure of that fact, even before an investigation went on.

Where should the Palestinians go for protection? I’ve asked this question many times in this room. How should the Palestinians be protected?

MR PATEL: Said, we have been very clear and we believe that there is an urgent need for all parties to de-escalate and to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank.

QUESTION: Right. But you know that we have seen Israel, as the governing authority, as the military authority, it can conduct raids anytime it wants to against any Palestinian place. We have not seen any Palestinians attack Israeli villages, for instance. So how is that equal measure? How do you guarantee it? I mean, I get lost in understanding what you’re saying in equal measures for both.

MR PATEL: Said, we recognize the very real security challenges facing both Israel and the Palestinian Authority and condemn terrorist groups planning and carrying out attacks against innocent civilians.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PATEL: We also, again, underscore the urgent need for all parties to de-escalate to prevent further loss of civilian life and to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank and the region broadly.

QUESTION: And I have a couple more; just please indulge me. If they are occupied, if you agree that the Palestinians are under occupation, is collective punishment a war crime for any captive people, for any people under occupation?

MR PATEL: Said —

QUESTION: Is it your view that collective punishment is a war crime?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m just – I think I’ve spoken to this pretty extensively, and what I’m just going to reiterate again is that we believe that there’s an urgent need for all parties to de-escalate and to work together to improve the security situation.

QUESTION: Can you call on the Israelis to de-escalate? Do they listen to you when you tell them to de-escalate and not to attack —

MR PATEL: Said, we have —

QUESTION: — innocent Palestinians day-in and day-out?

MR PATEL: Said, we have consistently called on both sides to de-escalate, and we have consistently spoken about our – the need for both Palestinians and Israelis to equally —

QUESTION: Right.

MR PATEL: — deserve to live safely and securely.

QUESTION: And if they don’t listen to you, where should they go? Just to follow on where Matt began, where should the Palestinians go?

MR PATEL: Again, Said, we continue to believe that this is something that can be discussed through dialogue and diplomacy between both parties.

Okay. Humeyra.

QUESTION: Still on Israel, Vedant. So recently, there have been, like, some meetings about the Negev Summit, which is also another, like – what should we call it? – like, alliance or, like, conference umbrella that actually does not have any representation for the Palestinians. I’m wondering how this rising escalation of violence would impact the future of Abraham Accords. It’s been – Washington has been trying to get on board more countries to that, some important Arab allies. Are you not at all worried that – what’s happening there and the behavior of, like, Israel’s new right-wing government? They might be put off and have second thoughts about that.

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things to that, Humeyra. First, we can – as I said, we reiterate and believe that this is an urgent opportunity for all parties to de-escalate and work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank.

On the Negev process specifically, as you know, earlier this month senior officials from the United States concluded two days of productive meetings of the Negev Forum in Abu Dhabi. This was a significant meeting of six working groups with around 150 officials representing the different countries of the Negev Forum. This was the largest gathering of Israeli and Arab government officials since the Madrid process, and we believe that these meetings represent an important step in the advancements of the goals of the Negev Forum, which was launched in March of 2022. And we thank the UAE for hosting this important gathering.

QUESTION: Did they actually talk about any of the Palestinian issues in any of those working groups?

MR PATEL: The working groups sought to develop clear and pragmatic steps to bolster regional integration and cooperation. They discussed a variety of specific proposals, which, over the coming weeks and months, will be further refined and discussed in these various capitals.

QUESTION: But anything to improve the livelihoods of the Palestinians at all?

MR PATEL: That is something that we, of course, think is integral to this process, as I have said previously, that we continue to believe that both Israelis and Palestinians equally deserve to live freely, safely, and securely.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up —

MR PATEL: Shaun.

QUESTION: — on the violence today and the Secretary’s trip. Is there any metric that the Secretary wants from his talks with the Israelis and Palestinians? Does he want some sort of agreement? Obviously, not major agreement, but anything about a ceasefire or anything about ending the violence? What – is it more just he’s going to urge things, or is there actually something he’s looking for in terms of commitments to get on the ground?

MR PATEL: So I will not get ahead of the Secretary’s trip, but you saw Assistant Secretary Leaf speak to this a little bit in the call earlier today. And this, of course, this broader trip to Egypt, Israel, and the West Bank is also about consulting with our partners on a range of bilateral, regional, and global priorities, including the advancements of efforts that will promote human rights, democratic norms, values, and other things that are integral to our foreign policy, as well as, of course, deepening and expanding our economic partnerships, expanding and promoting regional security, stability, and prosperity, including through mechanisms like the Negev Forum that I just spoke to Humeyra’s question about.

Anything else on the region before we move.

QUESTION: Military?

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. The U.S.-Israel wrapped up their biggest joint military drills this week. Is this a sign that the U.S. is preparing for a reality without JCPOA?

MR PATEL: So we have been quite clear for quite some time that the JCPOA is not on the agenda, and it is not on the agenda because of the Iranian regime. The Iranian regime killed the opportunity for a swift return to full implementation of the JCPOA in September when they turned their backs on the deal that was on the table. And since September, our focus has been on standing up for the fundamental freedoms of the Iranian people and countering Iran’s deepening partnerships with Russia and its support of Russia’s barbaric and unjust war in Ukraine.

On the specific piece about joint exercises, I will let my colleagues at the Pentagon speak to that specifically.

QUESTION: Do you name JCPOA a dead deal?

MR PATEL: Look, we have been very clear from the beginning – President Biden has been clear about this, that he is absolutely committed to ensuring Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. And we still believe that diplomacy is the best way to ensure, on a sustainable and verifiable basis, that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. But as of now, as we’ve said previously, we don’t see a deal coming together anytime soon.

You had your hand up.

QUESTION: Talking about standing up for Iranian people, my question is about GL D-2s. It’s been few months that you issued the general license which let companies – private tech entities – to help Iranians to bypass the governmental internet shutdown. Is the Biden administration funding or financially supporting in any way the Iranians inside Iran to have access to internet – this is including Starlink — if you are funding – buying the satellite dishes, if you are helping any partners to send the dishes inside Iran, or no?

MR PATEL: So we spoke about this a little bit a number of months ago when the GL-2 licenses were brought on board. These decisions – ultimately the implementation, the deployment of them are private sector decisions. The United States’s role in bringing that license about was for the easier access of information and the flow of information between – not just between Iranians but between Iranians and the outside world. But no, the United States is not involved in the way that you’ve described.

QUESTION: Because in the case of Ukraine, we have a big governmental funding going from United States to Ukraine. Why this is not the case for Iranians, that they really need help regarding Starlink or free internet?

MR PATEL: For – so let me say a couple of things. These situations – these circumstances are a little bit apples and oranges. Perhaps they are not even apples and oranges; they are two very different situations. In the case of Ukraine, we have the Russian Federation unlawfully, unjustly infringing on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of another country, that of Ukraine. And you are correct, the United States has done – has taken a number of steps through security assistance, through economic assistance, through sanctions and export controls on the Russian Federation, and has taken – and has done a number of things in regards to that.

In the context of Iran, we also have taken a number of steps. The steps are different because the circumstances are different. We have, even as recently as Monday, taken actions and made designations to individuals and entities to further hold the Iranian regime account for its atrocious human rights violations on its own people. I’m certainly not going to preview any actions, but together with our allies and partners we’ll continue to have those discussions on a bilateral basis, through multilateral fora, and take the appropriate steps necessary to continue to support the Iranian people.

Anything else on the region before we move away? Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Verdant. Happy Thursday. I want to start with Russia-Ukraine. I want to start with the Wagner decision today. As a result of today’s designation, you made it clear that the assets in the U.S. have been frozen. Do you have an estimated number, how much funding do they have and have been frozen? And also, is the administration considering further steps, such as to seize it and to allocate that amount for Ukraine’s reconstruction?

MR PATEL: Alex, I will let our colleagues at the Treasury Department speak to specific – any specific asset number or any appropriate next steps on forfeiture or seizure or things like that. But I do want to use the opportunity to reiterate that this action supports our goal, which is to degrade Moscow’s capacity to wage war against Ukraine, to promote accountability for those responsible for Russia’s war of aggression and associated abuses, and to place further pressure on Russia’s defense sector. We are steadfast in our resolve against Russia’s aggression and other destabilizing behaviors worldwide, and today’s designation will further impede the Kremlin’s ability to arm its war machine that is entangled in a war of aggression against Ukraine and which has caused unconscionable death and destruction.

The Wagner Group’s pattern of serious criminal behavior includes violent harassment of journalists and aid workers among others, rape and sexual assault in the Central African Republic, as well as rape and killing in Mali. They are a deeply destabilizing entity, and today’s action was another step in degrading their capacity.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. I also want to ask you about American companies operating – well, they are still present in Russian market. It appears there are over 300 companies that are still there. They might not necessarily violating U.S. sanctions, but they are paying taxes there and also exposing American business investors to all kinds of risks. This administration has in the past come up with advisories on business risks in different regions – Cambodia, Sudan, and some other countries.

My question is – as you know, we are approaching to a one year’s anniversary of Russian invasion. Are you planning to do the same vis-à-vis American business in Russian market? And if so, are you willing to cooperate with civil society organizations and other groups that have been advocating for that?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things to that, Alex. First, I would also note that Russians – Russia’s brutal war has also led to a number of American corporations choosing to leave Russia and choosing to cease doing business in Russia as a result of its aggression and as a result of its very clear violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. It is very clear that Russia is not a place where companies want to invest, and we will continue to see businesses and individuals fleeing the Russian Federation.

Specifically, though, Alex, the decision to suspend or exit or operate is ultimately up to individual companies and legitimate commercial actors and investors are rationally assessing the various risks associated with doing business in Russia. I don’t have any memo or action to preview or business guidance to preview for you, but as we have long done, we are encouraging U.S. organizations and their personnel operating in the region to join the U.S. department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council, which is managed by Diplomatic Security. This is a free resource that’s available to all U.S. incorporated organizations operating outside of the United States, including, of course, corporate actors. And it issues ongoing assessments of the situation in Ukraine, highlights safety concerns, security concerns, logistical information, and other things as well.

QUESTION: Is the department in touch with advocacy groups who have been advocating for such guidance?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific NGO or nonprofit engagements to preview, but this is, of course, something we’re paying very close attention to.

QUESTION: And perhaps it’s also best time to ask about the U.S. ambassador just arrived in Moscow. What do you expect from her in the days and weeks ahead? I know I’ve asked this question before, but it’s relevant now.

MR PATEL: Sure, sure. I don’t have any specific updates to offer you. You are correct; Ambassador Tracy has arrived in Moscow, and we expect her to present her credentials in the coming days. But as we have previously said, there of course are issues of bilateral relation between the United States and the Russian Federation, and I know Ambassador Tracy is eager to continue working on these issues that will expand U.S. interest in a variety of areas.

Let me work the room a little bit. Anything else on the region before we move away?

QUESTION: On Iraq? Iraq.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Leah, ABC News. So yesterday, Ned Price said for decades the U.S. was not in a position to be a partner to African countries, but Russia was, but that that dynamic has gone away entirely. And this morning, Prigozhin wrote in a letter that he has contracts with presidents in African countries, and he claims if he pulls out those fighter – pulls out his fighters, those countries would cease to exist. So what does the department say to those African countries who have contracts with Prigozhin or other Russian entities who do feel their country would be in danger without that support?

MR PATEL: We have clearly seen that the Wagner Group, when they operate in a country, they take very destabilizing, very harmful actions – actions that are a threat to the stability in a specific country, but also the regional stability more broadly. And that was in part why the United States took the designations that it took today. And we’ll continue to take steps and assess the situation and work closely with our allies and partners to hold the Wagner Group accountable.

I will also say that as it relates to deepening our cooperation in the African continent, I would point no further than the most recent African Leaders Summit that was held in December, where you saw countries from all across the continent represented here, where the Secretary or President Biden had the opportunity to hold bilateral engagements with many representatives of these countries. You saw last year the Secretary of State, USAID Administration Power, the UN ambassador take important trips to the region. Secretary Yellen is in the region now; Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield just returned from the region or is still there.

So this is a continent that of course we’re continuing to place an important emphasis on, and one where we look to deepening our deep diplomatic ties with.

QUESTION: Could the U.S. – would the U.S. take action against any countries that do work with Prigozhin, Wagner, or any of their affiliated groups?

MR PATEL: Of course I will refer to our Treasury colleagues to speak to the specific ins and outs of the designations that are being made today. But I would reiterate that we’ve been quite clear that countries that partner with Prigozhin and Wagner are not – do not end up in a better place afterwards.

Shannon.

QUESTION: Thank you. Circling back to the latest slate of attacks from Russia on Ukraine that you denounced at the top of the briefing – of course, we’ve seen this kind of violence before, but it comes right on the heels of those high-profile tank announcements. Does the U.S. assess that those strikes are retaliatory – retaliatory, rather, in any way, or that perhaps reducing the profile of these announcements might dissuade Russia from these strikes?

MR PATEL: We have been very clear over the course of this conflict that we will support our Ukrainian partners with the appropriate security assistance and security apparatus that the status and – of – on the battlefield and the tides and turns of the conflict requires. And that continues to be the case.

Ultimate, it is Russia here that is being the aggressor. It is Russia taking the unlawful, unjust actions that are infringing on Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty. As the President, the Secretary, and others have made quite clear, we will continue to support Ukraine, our Ukrainian partners in their efforts to defend themselves.

Anything else on Russia-Ukraine before we move away?

QUESTION: This is sort of on the Russia-Ukraine situation.

MR PATEL: Go ahead. Yeah, go ahead, Shaun.

QUESTION: On the Wagner Group.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Burkina Faso – I wondered if you have anything to say about Burkina Faso asking French troops to withdraw. Obviously, to a certain extent it’s bilateral, but to the extent that there have been allegations that Burkina Faso is moving closer to the Wagner Group – I believe the Ghanaian president said that publicly when he was here in Washington. Do you have any comment on the – on the move to boot out the French troops and whether this indicates a greater relationship with the Wagner Group by authorities in Burkina Faso?

MR PATEL: I don’t have a – I don’t want to be speculative or offer a shot-in-the-dark assessment. But we’ve been very clear, and as I said just now, that countries that deepen their cooperation with the Wagner Group do not end up in a stronger position. And in fact, it’s quite the opposite: Countries that partner closely with Prigozhin and the Wagner Group find themselves susceptible to deeply destabilizing activities, activities that are destabilizing to not just their own country but also the region more broadly. But I can check if we’ve got anything further to add on Burkina broadly.

Yes, Shaun.

QUESTION: Something else – something else in the region.

MR PATEL: Yes, go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I guess it’s a couple days old, but Rwanda-DR Congo, the tensions there. Has there been any U.S. diplomacy involved in – involved there in this past week? How do you see things going? And specifically, the Qataris have been trying to organize a summit apparently between the DRC and Rwanda. Do you have any – has the U.S. been involved in that at all and has the Secretary called the Qataris?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific – specific calls or new engagements for the Secretary to read out, but I believe Ned spoke about this earlier in the week, and we of course are continuing to track the fighting that erupted among the M23 and the Congolese security forces and several armed groups on Monday. We’re also aware of Rwandan forces firing on DRC military aircraft on Monday as it was landing, and we welcome the swift investigation on this.

We, of course, continue to believe that all actors to support and abide by commitments to the regional mediation efforts led by Angola and the East African Community, and we urge all actors to seize this opportunity to achieve peace. But I’ll check if we have anything additional to share.

Go ahead, yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I have a question about some of the comments that Under Secretary Nuland made today at a hearing in Congress. She said that Congress would look more favorably to the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Türkiye if the Turkish parliament approved the NATO applications of Sweden and Finland. But we know very well that long before that application of those two countries, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez and a few others in Congress pledged that they’re going to do everything in their power to block the sale from taking place. So how is this supposed to be interpreted by the Turkish parliament as a friendly advice by Ms. Nuland when a few congressmen are creating an unfriendly or perhaps, let’s say, a hostile environment and holding the sale hostage? Can you please weigh in on that?

MR PATEL: Yeah. I will – I will reiterate what we’ve said previously. First, on the specifics of arms sales, I’m just not going to get into the specifics of that until they’ve been formally notified to Congress. Of course, we are seeing members of Congress make their opinions quite clear and quite vocal about this process, and that of course – they have every right to do that.

On NATO accession specifically for Sweden and Finland, we have been very clear about that and I will be clear about that again. We believe that they are ready to join NATO. They are already NATO partners. Their security forces are ready. Their security apparatuses are ready. They are countries that we and NATO both have partnered closely with, and that is why you saw our Congress ratify this process swiftly. It’s why you saw President Biden and Secretary Blinken be enthusiastic about this accession process. And we’re going to continue to push for that process to move forward.

QUESTION: If I can have a follow-up on that. I obviously know all of the points you just made, but I’m seeing – perhaps it’s a personal assessment, you can say, or there’s actually a shift in the U.S. narrative. Because now it’s getting to a point where it’s going to a place – okay, if you’re not approving the – if you’re not ratifying the applications, then you’re not getting the F-16s because President Biden said in June 2022 that there’s not going to be any quid pro quo, and that those two things are separate. Obviously that was the U.S. assessment. So now —

MR PATEL: That still is the U.S. assessment. That still is the U.S. assessment.

QUESTION: — the under secretary’s comment is basically like a clear-cut message to Ankara that, well, they’re going to look more favorably if you approve the ratification. But you’ve got the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair and a few others that are saying that no matter what the circumstances, we’re going to try and block the sale. So how is this supposed to be a message to not only the ruling party, but also opposition parties, that you’re going to get the F-16s if you approve the applications? Because that doesn’t seem to be the case unless you can remove some of those roadblocks.

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things. I did not catch Under Secretary Nuland’s hearing today, so I don’t want to speak about something that I haven’t had a chance to see myself. But what I will say broadly, though, is we have been very clear – the Executive Branch, President Biden, this department have been very clear on F-16s. He’s been clear about this process and made his comments quite public.

On the specifics of the sale, though, we’re just not going to get ahead of that process till the formal congressional notifications have happened. Of course, Congress is an actor here and they have made their opinions quite vocal, and we welcome those, but we have also been clear about our continued support for Türkiye, our important NATO Ally, and their security operability within the NATO system and – though that is something that we’re going to continue to be clear-eyed out – about as well.

QUESTION: You said those two things should be separate as the State Department —

MR PATEL: They continue to be separate. We’ve – there is no quid pro quo. These two items continue to be separate.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Michel.

QUESTION: I have a couple of questions on Lebanon.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: One of the suspects that the top prosecutor released yesterday is a U.S. citizen who left Lebanon, coming to the U.S. Did the U.S. Government coordinate with the Lebanese authorities in the departure or regarding his departure?

MR PATEL: So I’m aware of your – the reports that we’re seeing that a U.S. citizen was released by Lebanese authorities. I don’t have specific updates for you, due to privacy considerations, but I will note that we generally offer and provide appropriate consular services to American citizens while they are abroad.

QUESTION: And some Lebanese considered the release of all the suspects a blow for the investigation. Do you agree with this assessment?

MR PATEL: So I will refer you to Lebanese authorities on the specifics, but I want to use the opportunity to reiterate what we have said before – we and our partners in the international community – which is that since this explosion, we continue to urge Lebanese authorities to complete a swift and transparent investigation into the horrific explosion at the Port of Beirut. The victims of the August 2020 port explosion and their families deserve justice, and those responsible must be held accountable.

QUESTION: And finally, is the U.S. ready to set forth any move at the UN Security Council to launch an international investigation in the – into the blast?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any update or change in policy to offer, Michel. I think, again, we are at the place of urging Lebanese authorities to complete a swift and transparent investigation into this explosion.

Ian.

QUESTION: Just had a couple questions on China.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: The first one is Secretary Blinken was obviously up on the Hill this morning briefing lawmakers. I’m wondering if there’s anything additional you might be able to provide in terms of what the message was and whether it was about the trip he’s taking to the PRC in February.

MR PATEL: I don’t have specific engagements to offer, Ian. Obviously, we engage with Congress on a number of issues, and the Secretary himself engages with leaders in Congress on a number of issues. Of course, as you know, he is intending to travel to the PRC at some point soon, and of course engagements with Congress relating to that would be appropriate. But I don’t have any specific readouts to offer.

QUESTION: Okay. Just on the trip itself, I mean, obviously, we’ve seen reports that Senator McCarthy is likely to make a visit to Taiwan in the coming months. And I’m just wondering: What will the Secretary’s message be to officials in Beijing about that visit? I mean, obviously, we saw the fallout from Pelosi’s visit over the summer. The Chinese have said previously that they would respond to any further visit of the same kind. So I’m just wondering – this will be the – one of the most high-level visits to China in years, and it will be the highest-level one ahead of – presumably ahead of any visit by McCarthy to Taiwan, so I’m wondering what that message will be to China on McCarthy’s potential visit.

MR PATEL: So I will let the Speaker’s office speak to any travel that may or may not coming down – be coming down the pike. I certainly don’t want to get ahead of that, and I also am not going to get ahead of the Secretary’s own trip. We, of course, I’m sure, will have more to talk about as that date gets closer, but I don’t want to get ahead of that process as well.

In the back. And then I’ll come to you, I promise.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Prashant Jha from The Hindustan Times. Vedant, last weeks, Xi Jinping held a meeting from the PLA headquarters in Beijing with the PLA troops stationed on the India-China border. He inspected their combat readiness, he asked about border patrol, he asked them to persist in their efforts, he asked them to make new contributions. This is, of course, a border that has seen tensions over the last two years. What would – how would you read it, and how – what would be your take on the larger dynamic that’s still ongoing on the India-China border? And then I have a follow-up after.

MR PATEL: I will have to get back – actually, I will have to get back to you on the specific developments that you just mentioned, but we are closely monitoring the situation broadly on – regarding the border clashes and are glad to hear at least in December that both sides to – have appeared to have disengaged. But we’ll check if we’ve got any specific updates for you.

QUESTION: Sorry, you’re saying that both sides disengaged in December?

MR PATEL: You’re speaking about the situation with India, correct?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PATEL: Yes.

QUESTION: Are you suggesting that both sides disengaged in December?

MR PATEL: No, I was speaking previously that they had. But we’ll check if we have an update for you.

QUESTION: My second question: Next week, the national security advisors of India and U.S. are meeting for the first initiative on critical and emerging technologies. I know that’s a process that’s shepherded by NSC, but given the history of India-U.S. relations, where technology denial has been a part of that past, would you like to speak broadly about the future of technology cooperation between India and U.S., especially in critical and emerging technologies?

MR PATEL: What I would say is that India is a important partner of choice for the United States in a number of spaces. That includes trade cooperation. It of course includes security cooperation. It also includes technological cooperation as well. So I don’t want to get too ahead of the process or get ahead of any specific meetings that might be coming down the pike, but this is of course of great importance to us.

QUESTION: Just one final question. After the formation of the new government in Nepal, China has been asking the Nepal Government to sign up for the Global Security Initiative. What’s your take on GSI and what would you – what’s your message to governments in South Asia which are feeling the Chinese heed to sign up for GSI?

MR PATEL: I’m going to have to check back on that, and we can make sure that someone follows up with you.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Iraq and Kurdistan. The legal decision came as the Iraqi Government simply decided to send 260 million to the Kurdistan Regional Government as payments. As you know, the Iraqi federal supreme court, ruling against releasing payments by the federal government to the Kurdistan region. KRG completely rejects and all political party they are very, very angry, including Kurdish leadership, President Masoud Barzani. How you can help both side to find a solution? I know stability of Iraq is very important for the United States.

MR PATEL: Absolutely. And what I would say broadly that the United States wants to see a strong, united, resilient, and sovereign Iraqi state. And we want to see an Iraq that provides security, jobs, electricity, water, and healthcare for all of its citizens. I will also note that President Biden understands the importance of Iraq, including the Kurdistan region, and the importance of the United States to Iraq, including the Kurdistan region, for security needs and how critical it is to the regional security and the security of not just Iraq but also the Middle East as well.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a question about the withdrawal of a presidential nominee?

MR PATEL: Sure. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: On Sarah Margon, you probably heard that she withdrew from contention because, I guess, the position of Senator Jim Risch from Idaho that she’s critical of Israel. Do you have any comment on that withdrawal?

MR PATEL: I would say that Sarah Margon is someone who is deeply experienced and deeply accomplished in her field. This was a decision that she made personally, but of course she is somebody who has deep experience in the works of democracy, of human rights and issues that are very, very important to this department and this administration. But of course she made the decision to withdraw her nomination.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: Go ahead in the back. Let me work the —

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on this topic.

MR PATEL: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: As you know, she – her nomination wasn’t considered because of a Tweet she put out there. What is the department reaction to the fact that the Senate – one Senator – right after a very important nominee that was supposed to lead the very important department of this – bureau of this department, just because of a Tweet?

MR PATEL: Alex, I’m not going to speculate or get into reasoning or anything, but I want to reiterate again that Sarah is someone who is deeply experienced, deeply knowledgeable in her field. She’s a subject‑matter expert, no doubt one of the most renowned experts in these areas that I outlined of democracy, of human rights, of labor issues. And of course, she made the – what I’m sure was a tough decision to withdraw her own candidacy.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: According to the reports from South Korea, ROK Foreign Minister Park is planning to visit to United States and talk with Secretary Blinken. Can you confirm on this report, and what would be the possible agenda?

MR PATEL: I of course would let our Republic of Korea partners speak to their own travel. I don’t have any meetings or anything to read out. But I of course will use this opportunity to note that we have a deep relationship with the Republic of Korea. The Secretary has an – has had the opportunity to engage with the foreign minister on a number of occasions in bilateral settings, in multilateral settings. And we of course would look forward to any future opportunity to do that as well, but I don’t have any specifics to offer.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: One final question, Alex, and then —

QUESTION: Thanks so much. This might be —

MR PATEL: — we’ll call it a day.

QUESTION: — last minute for you, but Russian foreign minister, you probably have seen, issued a sharp statement today criticizing the EU for sending a civilian monitoring mission to Azerbaijan-Armenian border – something we discussed with Ned yesterday. They used pretty undiplomatic language. They blamed them on pursuing confrontation policy in the region, of bringing geopolitical confrontation. My question is, first off, your reaction to that statement. And secondly more broadly, how does the department view Russia’s role in the region? Is it truly a peacemaker or a troublemaker?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things, Alex. First, the U.S. is committed to Armenia‑Azerbaijan peace negotiations. We welcome efforts by partners, including the European Union, to build confidence in the region and to ensure an environment conducive to direct dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We continue to work closely with all our partners directly and with partners in the region as well when effective.

Specifically, about Russia’s role, the U.S. was not involved in the November 20 ceasefire brokered by Russia between Armenia and Azerbaijan that resulted in the deployment of Russian peacekeepers, so I just wouldn’t have anything additional to offer on that. But of course, as you know, Alex, this is something that is deeply important to the Secretary, something he’s paid – played[2] close attention to and been deeply engaged on.

All right. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:57 p.m.)

# # #

  1. …exacerbate…
  2. …paid…

*Sino-British Joint Declaration 

Department Press Briefing – January 25, 2023

2:10 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Wednesday. We have a couple things at the top, and then we’ll take your questions.

First, the United States has officially taken on the chairship of the Freedom Online Coalition from the previous chair, Canada. This is a commitment the United States made at the first Summit for Democracy last December.

The Freedom Online Coalition is the only international group of countries specifically dedicated to supporting and advancing respect for human rights online and in digital contexts. Its purpose is to protect the promise of the internet as an open, interoperable, secure, and reliable global “network of networks” and to ensure that the same human rights that people have offline are protected online. The coalition demonstrated its impact, for example, when its members came together in October to jointly condemn the internet shutdown perpetrated by Iranian authorities as part of their brutal suppression of peaceful protests, the Freedom Online Coalition’s first-ever statement addressing a single country’s internet censorship.

During our chairship, and in partnership with the Freedom Online Coalition’s 34 member countries and its nongovernmental Advisory Network, we intend to build on Canada’s excellent work to bolster the coalition’s policy efforts on protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms online; building resilience to digital authoritarianism and the misuse of digital technologies; advancing norms, principles, and safeguards regarding the development and use of artificial intelligence; and promoting digital inclusion.

We are excited to continue strengthening our partnership with like-minded governments, civil society, industry, and other relevant stakeholders to reclaim the promise of the internet and look forward to an impactful year as chair of the Freedom Online Coalition.

Next, and finally, the United States strongly condemns the murder of Thulani Maseko, a prominent human rights lawyer in Eswatini and a champion of social justice who was shot and killed on January 21st. Eswatini has lost a powerful voice for nonviolence and respect for human rights, as Maseko spent his life fighting for human rights using nonviolent means. We offer condolences to his family and friends, and we call for a full, transparent, and impartial investigation, as well as accountability for those responsible.

We remain deeply concerned about continuing violence in Eswatini, and we continue to urge the Government of Eswatini to set a date for an inclusive, national dialogue as soon as possible, as this is the best way to ensure respect for human rights, national healing, and lasting peace.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. Thanks, Ned. On the Ukraine tanks – and I’m not really expecting that you’ll have a whole lot more to add than – to what the Pentagon and the White House and the President have already said. But I just wanted to know if the U.S. has placed conditions on the supply of Abrams tanks. In other words, is it okay with you guys if the – if – when the Ukrainians get these tanks, for them to roll over into Crimea? Is it okay for them to roll over the border into Belarus, into Russia? Or have you told them, no, you can only use these when you get them – this is just the Abrams; I’m not talking about the other ones.

MR PRICE: Sure. So, Matt, on every single element of security assistance we’ve provided, there has been one and really only one condition placed on it. That is the fact that everything we’ve provided is for Ukraine’s self-defense. Everything we have provided is to enable our Ukrainian partners to take on, effectively and successfully, the Russian aggression – the Russian invaders that have crossed internationally recognized borders to be on sovereign Ukrainian territory. That is the case with today’s latest announcements – latest announcement of Abrams tanks. It’s the case with every other system we have provided going back to the elements that we provided prior to February 24th of last year: the Stingers, the Javelins, the anti-air, anti-armor systems that are also defensive in nature.

Everything we have provided is with that in mind. Our Ukrainian partners know that. They respect that. And when it comes to what they pursue, when they pursue, and how they pursue it on their own sovereign territory, that is absolutely their decision. DOD, of course, has an active dialogue with the Ukrainian military and their counterparts about how most effectively to take on Russian invaders, but these are sovereign decisions on the part of the Ukrainian Government regarding where, when, and how to strike back at Russian forces who are on their sovereign territory.

QUESTION: Okay. And just – just to make clear, the use of allied weapons by Ukraine into Crimea is not prohibited?

MR PRICE: We – our —

QUESTION: Because you still – you consider Ukraine – I mean Crimea to be part of Ukraine. So —

MR PRICE: Most importantly, first of all —

QUESTION: So that would be – so that would be defensive?

MR PRICE: Most importantly, first of all, Crimea is Ukraine. That has been our position since 2014. That is our position now. That will be our position going forward. That will never change.

When it comes to the security assistance we are providing, that has of course evolved over time. I don’t need to offer a reminder of that, as President Biden just today announced the provision of a new capability. We have been responsive to the discussion we’ve had with our Ukrainian partners, a discussion that is predicated on what they need and when they need it. So of course we are providing them with the systems they need to confront Russian invaders and aggressors where the battle is now. Right now, the battle is in the Donbas, the battle is in the east. The capability that we’re talking about today will enable our Ukrainian partners, will provide them another capability that they can use to take on Russian invaders in this part of their sovereign territory, just as we provided other systems that will help them do the same.

Daphne.

QUESTION: Thanks. On the tanks, what does this do for the U.S.-Germany relationship? They effectively strongarmed you into providing these sort of diplomatic cover. Moving forward, is this something that you’re going to be able to accommodate every time? And is this counterproductive for Ukraine’s needs on the battlefield?

MR PRICE: So a couple things on this. When I look at today’s announcements, what I see is determination, what I see is unity. I see determination on the part of the United States – stalwart determination to provide our Ukrainian partners with precisely what they need for the battle they’re facing now. As I alluded to with Matt, I see determination on the part of Germany to provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need, with what is in their stocks. And I see determination on the part of the dozens of other countries that have provided systems and capabilities from their own stocks.

At the conclusion of the latest contact group meeting that Secretary of Defense Austin and Chairman Milley attended last week, a number of countries, as I somewhat laboriously outlined the other day, made clear that they were providing new forms of assistance. But I also see unity. I see unity in the sense that today President Biden had an opportunity to speak with his so‑called European Quad counterparts, our German, British, and French allies. The decision announced today both in Washington and Berlin follows the contact group meeting last week. It follows a number of calls and discussions on a bilateral basis, on a multilateral basis, on an alliance basis between the United States and our partners, including Germany.

Now, you raised Germany and what this says about our relationship with Germany going forward. This only confirms what we’ve seen since the earliest days of Russian aggression. Germany is a strong U.S. ally. It is a strong partner to Ukraine. It has stepped up in ways that would have been, I think to most observers, unimaginable prior to February 24th. Leaving aside today’s announcement of the provision of Leopards, the capabilities that Germany has provided Ukraine over the course of the past 11 months – from the IRIS-T air-defense system to an MLRS System to a Patriot missile battery – all of this, I think, would have been almost unbelievable to a number of observers prior to the start of Russian aggression. This is on the security assistance side.

Look what Germany has done diplomatically, politically, something that I think probably startled a lot of observers. It happened, as I recall, on February 25th or so of last year; it was Germany’s decision to cut off the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. We – and I say this as someone who was on the receiving end of a lot of this – we got a lot of criticism in the summer of 2021 when we signed a joint agreement with Germany that called for precisely that.

There was a lot of doubt, there was a lot of skepticism in Washington and in places around the globe about whether Germany would actually follow through with a political commitment that was reflected in that joint statement. We saw that. We saw that almost immediately as tanks rolled over onto sovereign Ukrainian territory.

So time and again, Germany, I think, has proven itself: proven itself as a stalwart bilateral ally of the United States, as a stalwart member of the NATO Alliance, and an absolutely dedicated and stalwart partner of Ukraine.

QUESTION: But is this a tenable way to continue doing this going forward where you have to move together on these sort of actions? It seems counterproductive to Ukraine’s needs.

MR PRICE: You describe it as if it were a burden. And in our view, the unity that we’ve achieved and the coordination that we have is actually one of our greatest strengths. The fact that we are acting in a consultative, deliberate, but also coordinated way with partners and allies from the earliest days of this aggression – in fact, predating this aggression when we worked with partners and allies to spell out precisely what we would do on the three fronts that we outlined: provision of security assistance to Ukraine, holding Russia to account, and buttressing the NATO Alliance, including the eastern flank. Many of you were traveling with us late in 2021, early in 2022 when we were hammering out those details well before Russian tanks rolled onto sovereign Ukrainian territory beyond what they had captured or purported to capture in 2014. At every step of the way, we have attempted not only to maintain that transatlantic – that Alliance, that multilateral unity, which we have, but also to strengthen it.

You know that in the early days of the war, there was a UN General Assembly vote: 141 countries came together to condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Later last year, certainly not fewer than that – actually 143 countries came together to condemn Russia’s purported annexation at the time. So you have seen us by dint of diplomacy, of our phone calls, of our secure video conferences, of our travel around the world, really put a premium on this international unity. So far from holding us back, we see this as actually one of our greatest strengths, and one of the greatest assets that Ukraine has in all of this.

Leon.

QUESTION: Yeah. And just to follow up, it’s all very true, but it could have been done last week. Meanwhile, you have all this public debate over tanks, whether they were useful, not useful, or whatever. And in the meantime, you had the Poles and the Baltic states, which were very strong and adamant – not very kind, put it that way – with the Germans. So I wonder if – of course you’ve reached a decision, and transatlantic unity and all that. But in the long run, has there been some damage done to this unity, given the rift open in the public between Germany, the Baltics, Poles, and the United States?

MR PRICE: I can’t help that these – but notice that these questions are being asked on a day when the United States and Germany provided new capabilities to Ukraine. The President of the United States brought together his counterparts from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and in the wake of concerted diplomacy, constructive useful and ultimately successful diplomacy that got us to the announcements you have today.

When we look at what we’ve demonstrated today, it is that determination to continue to help Ukraine on the part of the United States and our partners, but also that unity. At every step of the process, we are coordinating closely with our Ukrainian counterparts. Those discussions are then had between and among our NATO Allies, but also the dozens of countries from around the world who have raised their hands to provide security assistance to Ukraine.

Now, most of the time those discussions take place in diplomatic channels, in private channels. Occasionally you will hear some of those discussions out loud. That fact in no way detracts from the signal of unity, the signal of resolve, the signal of determination that the United States demonstrated today, Germany demonstrated today, and dozens of countries have consistently demonstrated over the course of President Putin’s brutal war.

Camilla.

QUESTION: Thank you. A French official told reporters in D.C. today that right now, we are testing the Russian appetite regarding getting to the negotiating table by changing the battlefield dynamic. In that vein, is there any effort now when you talk about concerted diplomacy to reach out to the Russians after making this joint decision about tanks? Is there an aim to increase outreach and encourage dialogue with them? And the same for friends of Moscow such as for those that can have influence over Moscow, including the Chinese and the Indians. And I have one more question after that.

MR PRICE: A couple things on that. First, we absolutely see an inter-relation, a nexus, between what happens on the battlefield and what ultimately will happen when a negotiating table emerges. What we are doing now is to strengthen Ukraine’s hand so that when that comes to pass, when a negotiating table emerges, Ukraine will be in the strongest possible position.

The unfortunate reality is that Russia has made very clear that they are not in the mood or the spirit for constructive diplomacy or, really, constructive dialogue of any sort. You want one vivid example of that. Just a couple weeks ago, President Erdogan, whose efforts to facilitate and to encourage this dialogue we deeply appreciate, had a phone call with President Putin. It was in the Kremlin’s own readout that made clear that Russia would need Ukraine, and in turn the world, to recognize what it termed, in its own readout, the quote-unquote “new territorial realities,” making very clear that they were in no mood to engage in dialogue that would bring about an end to this war on a just and durable basis.

When we say “on a just and durable basis,” we mean a basis that ultimately respects the principles of the UN Charter, respects the principles of UN law – of international law, respects the principles that countries around the world – West, East, developed, developing – have long espoused, including territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence, the right of states to determine their alliances, their partnerships, their friendships, their foreign policy orientation. Russia has made very clear that it is in no mood to entertain that.

So our task at the moment is to change that calculus, to continue to provide Ukraine with what it needs to be successful on the battlefield, because we do see that nexus, that interrelation between battlefield dynamics and the prospects for diplomacy going forward.

QUESTION: And so this French official said we know that they need to be – the Ukrainians need to be in a better tactical situation, which mean means breaking the territory that Russia has captured along the Azov Sea. If Russia were to signal a willingness to come to the table before such territory in the south was taken, is that something the U.S. would support, or is there a belief that that territory now needs to be taken?

MR PRICE: This is not a question for us. It’s not a question whether we would support it. It’s a question better put to the Zelenskyy government and to Kyiv, because these are decisions that Ukraine itself is going to have to make. We are seeking, first and foremost, to put Ukraine in the strongest possible position when it’s confronted with those decisions. The sad reality, the tragic reality, is that Ukraine is not now in a position to have to address those decisions because, again, Russia has shown absolutely no willingness to engage in dialogue or diplomacy.

Kylie.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on the tanks specifically? And there was an article in The Washington Post this morning that the Secretary was quoted in, and there were some senior State Department officials quoted in it, and it talked about building up deterrence, not just fighting Russia’s invasion right now, but trying to prevent them from future aggressions. And so I wonder if you could just explain to us the thinking of the administration in terms of how these tanks specifically build up that long-term deterrence.

MR PRICE: Sure. So, a couple things, and I appreciate you raise the long-term aspect of this. So much of the security assistance that we’ve provided to date has been for the near-term needs of the Ukrainians – what they are facing at the moment they are facing it, where they’re facing it. We have spoken quite a bit about that.

But we have also provided our Ukrainian partners with billions of dollars’ worth of assistance, including through our FMF program, our foreign military funding program, that is geared not towards the immediate but towards the longer term. And I think you can think of this Abrams capability in that light as well.

This goes back to what I was saying to your colleague Camilla when we were – when we have placed an emphasis, but more importantly President Zelenskyy has placed an emphasis on achieving what he has termed a just peace, as well as a durable peace. Just, we’ve already talked about – a peace that respects the principles of the UN Charter, of international law, the rules of the road that have really governed relations between states for the past 75 or so years.

When we talk about a durable peace, we mean a peace that will last, that will leave Ukraine with the capability it needs to deter the possibility of future aggression, or, if necessary, to defend itself against renewed Russian aggression. What we don’t want to see happen is to have essentially a frozen conflict that will allow Russia to rest, refit, regroup, repair, and re-attack. We want to see to it that when this comes to an end, Ukraine is in a position where it can deter against that going forward and if necessary, again, defend itself.

This is part of that long-term deterrence capacity that we focused on with our FMF funding, that we focused on in terms of other provision of security assistance. It’s very important to us; it’s very important to President Zelenskyy.

QUESTION: So just to summarize, the administration believes that it’s more likely that Russia could back off militarily if Ukraine has more advanced weaponry?

MR PRICE: It is – two things, really. One, we’re talking about putting Ukraine in the strongest possible position for the aggression that it’s facing now. This aggression is, as President Zelenskyy has said, almost certainly going to end at the negotiating table. We want Ukraine to be in the strongest possible position when that table emerges. That’s why we’re providing them with the presidential drawdown authority, the 30 PDAs that we’ve announced so far, the 27-, nearly $28 billion in security assistance that we’ve provided so far.

But when that time comes and there is an end to this conflict, we want that resulting peace to be just – and I won’t go through that again – but to be durable – “durable” meaning it is not just a moment in time where a week later, a month later, a year later, or 10 years ago, Russia decides to rest, regroup, refit, and re-attack. We want to equip Ukraine with deterrent capabilities, but also defensive capabilities, if Russia once again makes a disastrous decision to cross international borders and to re-attack Ukraine in the future.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MR PRICE: Anything else on this? Yeah. Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Two things, first. Is that the approach for the post-war era in which there is no security guarantees under Article 5 for Ukraine, instead given weapons, and we’ll send the economic reforms in Ukraine in order to make it in a stronger position? Is that the approach that you are pursuing? And second, do you have any response to the Russian ambassador in Washington in light of today’s announcement in which he says that it’s obvious that Washington is trying to inflict a strategic defeat on the – on Russia. Do you have any comment about that?

MR PRICE: On that second question, Moscow has already inflicted a strategic failure on itself. We’ve seen the strategic failure since the earliest days of this war, when President Putin sent his forces into Ukraine under the erroneous assumption that Kyiv would fall; that the country would be his; that more so than the territorial conquest, that he’d be in a position to erase Ukraine, erase its identity, erase its people, subsume the country. Obviously, that has failed. It has been a strategic failure, and that is precisely a result of Russia’s own actions.

On the first part of your question, two points. One, NATO’s door remains open. This is in some ways what this aggression is all about, the fact that this is a defensive alliance – NATO, the world’s strongest defensive alliance – that has an open door policy. That door will never be closed. And in fact, it will always be open to those countries who aspire to join this defensive alliance and who meet the membership criteria in order to do so.

Now, leaving apart NATO, we want to make sure that regardless of Kyiv’s choices going forward, of NATO’s decisions going forward, that Ukraine is in a position to deter and to defend itself, if necessary, against potential aggression over the longer term. This is about equipping Ukraine and making real that idea of a peace that is both just and durable. And the durability part of that requires us to make not only these short-term investments in Ukraine – providing them with what they need when they need it, at the moment they need it, but also over the longer term so that when this war ends, when Russia’s aggression ends, if Russia once again makes a disastrous decision – whether that’s a week, a month, a year, a decade later – that Ukraine is prepared to defend itself.

Yes, Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Happy Thanksgiving, as they say. (Laughter.) I want to follow up with the first question that Daphne raised, and your response is very interesting. I did get your point about robust diplomacy, but we also have witnessed evolving views and intense diplomacy, if you want. My question is: How much of this is a game changer in terms of your future decisions? This is not the first time that allies have to make this tough decision. And it’s not going to be the last time; Ukraine still needs air force support and other support. I’m just wondering how much of this is a case study for you. Is there any lesson learned from this episode, if you want?

MR PRICE: From this episode, meaning —

QUESTION: Last couple of weeks or days.

MR PRICE: Past couple of weeks.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PRICE: Well, look, I think what we see over the past couple of weeks, in the past couple of days principally are the two elements that I outlined at the top: determination, making very clear that we are determined to do everything we can to continue to support Ukraine; and unity, doing so, demonstrating, exhibiting that determination together with our allies and partners. I wouldn’t say it’s a game changer, Alex, because this has really been – those have been two hallmarks of our approach since long before Russia’s aggression started. I think at every chapter, at every twist and turn of this conflict, you see those once again highlighted, and I suspect those two traits will be with us for as long as this aggression continues.

QUESTION: But did you listen to the President this afternoon and think that, gee, this was easy?

MR PRICE: Did – I’m sorry, did we what?

QUESTION: I mean, was it, like, necessary to – did – when you listened to the President this afternoon, did you – was it – did you think that this was easy? Why did it take this long for the U.S. and allies to go back and forth? The sausage-making process was really too long.

MR PRICE: I would hesitate to call anything in this tragic saga easy. There are no easy decisions of this sort, but there is nothing easy in the context of brutal aggression against a country that posed no threat, that didn’t present any sort of challenge in a way that is contrary to international law, to the UN Charter, to the principles of the rules-based order. These are always – at every step Ukraine, but those countries supporting it, have faced decisions, have faced trade-offs, but I think once again today you see that we are demonstrating that determination and we’re demonstrating that unity in facing those decisions.

QUESTION: And my last question on this: What lessons do you think Russia and its allies should take from this episode when they were looking at you past couple of days and smelling some split?

MR PRICE: I couldn’t tell you what Moscow was smelling, but I can tell you that if they were to continue – and mix metaphors – if they were to look under the hood, they wouldn’t see any sort of split, as you said. In fact, I think they would see what has been a hallmark of our approach and really the indispensable ingredient to Ukraine’s ability to take on these Russian aggressors so effectively, and that is the unity, the coordination, the resolve within the international community. I think you saw that today. I think you’ve seen that at every step.

Anything else on this? Okay.

QUESTION: One more question (inaudible).

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Just – should the expectation of the Ukrainians and the Russians be that the U.S. will replenish and refurbish these tanks in the long run for Ukraine, even if the current conflict, the Russian invasion, isn’t happening?

MR PRICE: Again, this is a hypothetical. We are focused on a shorter time frame right now. You’ve heard from my DOD colleagues about the time frame for providing our Ukrainian partners with the first tranche of these deliveries. Ultimately, again, we want our Ukrainian partners to have the capabilities themselves to deter and to, if necessary, defend against renewed aggression. And to have those capabilities themselves, in some cases it means having capabilities, having systems within their country; sometimes it means having that know-how, how to repair, refurbish, refit. In some cases that requires training, as will be the case with the Abrams.

So ultimately we want Ukraine to have its own capacities, but DOD would be in a better position to speak to the specifics.

QUESTION: Do you have any concerns that today’s announcement will push Russia to expand its cooperation for weaponries from countries like Iran, North Korea, or even China?

MR PRICE: Russia is seeking these wares from other countries because its ability to produce them at home has been systematically blocked, not by the United States acting alone, not by any one other country acting alone, but by dozens of countries instituting sanctions, financial controls, export controls on the Russian economy. This has been a very deliberate strategy to starve the Russian war-making machine of the ability to indigenously produce what it needs to propagate this war against Ukraine.

Now, that doesn’t mean that Russia is in the near term at least any less dangerous because it has turned to Iran, it has turned to the DPRK. It’s seeking alternate sources of these wares. But it’s important to us that we institute these measures so that over time we will shrink Russia’s ability to propel force beyond its borders to engage in something like this once again.

QUESTION: Afghanistan, please?

MR PRICE: Sure. Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. First question about Mike Pompeo new book. He published his book and criticized former President Ghani and former President Abdullah. Afghan people will think that United States also blame – Afghan people blame too – that they are responsible too. I need your comment.

And second question: Two, three days ago, White House announced a new program for Afghan refugees, not only Afghanistan – around the world. I need to get some more details about it, and also Taliban doesn’t – they stopped to issue passport. People want to sponsor their family and their friend, but as long as they are not have a passport, how can they leave Afghanistan?

MR PRICE: So first on former Secretary Pompeo’s book, I’m just not going to weigh in on that. He is expressing the views of a private citizen, as is his right. The history of Afghanistan especially in the final years of America’s military engagement in Afghanistan is the subject of quite a bit of interest, understandably so.

We’ve made very clear the decisions we made, the basis for those decisions; but I also want to make very clear, of course, that the United States Government is a partner to the people of Afghanistan. We are supporting the people of Afghanistan. We’re doing that in a number of ways. We are doing that, of course, through our leadership when it comes to humanitarian assistance, providing more than $1.1 billion to the Afghan people in a way that bypasses the Taliban that goes directly to the Afghan people. Of course, the Taliban have made that ever more difficult with the restrictive limitations that they’ve placed on the provision of that aid. We’re taking a close look at that and how that will impact our ability to provide humanitarian assistance going forward.

But we have also consistently stood up for the Afghan people, for the rights of the Afghan people, the rights that the Taliban committed to respecting. That includes the rights of women, girls, religious minorities, ethnic minorities. When we say all of the people of Afghanistan, we mean all of the people of Afghanistan. There is no one in this administration who is placing blame on the Afghan people. In fact, this administration recognizes the tremendous suffering that the Afghan people have endured because of the decisions that those in positions of power have made over the course certainly of the past 18 months but even before that as well.

You raised the – you’re referring, Nazira, to the Welcome Corps.

QUESTION: Welcome Corps, yes.

MR PRICE: Welcome Corps. This is a program that we were very proud to launch last week, I believe it was. Yesterday or earlier this week, the White House – the press secretary also did a briefing topper on it. But this builds on the longstanding tradition the United States has as a country that derives strength from our diversity and that welcomes those who are seeking refuge. At the core of our refugee resettlement program has always been our local communities. And based on that and in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services, we did launch the Welcome Corps. It is a private sponsorship program that will create opportunities for private American citizens to directly sponsor refugees from around the world through what we call our U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, or USRAP, and make a difference by welcoming these new arrivals into their communities.

This is really a way to position Americans to do what they’ve always done best when it comes to those coming to America: to be a neighbor, to be a guide, to be a friend, to newcomers in search of safety and freedom. We’re very excited about this for a number of reasons, but we do see it as the boldest innovation in the U.S. refugee resettlement process in decades – in some four decades. It is designed to strengthen our country’s capacity to resettle refugees by harnessing the energy of private American citizens. Much of this work to date has been done by private resettlement agencies. They continue to play a pivotal role, but we’re now in a position to enable American – private American citizens to do some of this. This will, we think and we hope, include Americans from all walks of life: members of faith and civic groups, veterans, diaspora communities, businesses, colleges and university – and universities, other community organizations as well.

These groups of Americans – private Americans will help refugees take on the tasks of daily American life: to find housing and employment, to help them enroll their children in school, connect them with other essential services. They’ll also raise funds to help refugees as they settle into their new life here in the United States.

So our goal in the first year is to mobilize at least 10,000 Americans to step forward as private sponsor – private sponsors and to offer this welcoming hand to at least 5,000 refugees. Since the announcement was made late last week, we’ve seen an outpouring of support from Americans from across this country. We have seen thousands upon thousands of hits on our website, a significant number of Americans raising their hands to learn more, and we hope before long a significant number of Americans actively involved in the process to welcome refugees and to be a guide to so many of those who are newly arrived in our country.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Ned, one question that’s related to internet, and the other one is – I’m going to make it a little bit vague so I don’t get in trouble.

Some of these leaders from some nations, when they come to the U.S. Government for assistance, those leaders themselves are billionaires and they ask financial assistance from the U.S. Doesn’t the U.S. tell them that, like, how come your country is so poor but you guys yourselves are billionaires? Like —

MR PRICE: When it comes to determining our assistance, we look not at the net worth of any particular leader but at the national needs of any particular country. We are very focused on how the United States can step up to help people in need. There, of course, each instance is going to be different. But what we care about most is what the people need – the conditions that they’re facing and how the United States can help alleviate those conditions.

QUESTION: And the second question is with regard to internet. Ned, I’m sure you are aware that due to corona, the internet business in the U.S. has gone pretty up in lots of fields. Now when the U.S. is in the chair, a lot of these companies are using the U.S.’s platform to cheat a lot of different bloggers, different publishers, and I’ve personally faced it myself as well. And I have noticed that the laws are a bit not very clear about it. Will the State Department raise this issue at some level with the Congress to look into it? Because in the online industry, there are a lot of frauds, and I’ve personally witnessed it, but quite a few, especially one reputed company, like publicists and their U.S. – which is a French company, but they have a U.S.-based company as well which is called Commission Junction, and they are literally cheating publishers and I would request you personally to at least look into this matter, how the internet – the U.S. internet is being used for fraudulent earnings basically by some of these companies.

MR PRICE: Understand. These can be questions of national legislation, including here in this country, legislation around the world. But in some cases, it sounds like what you may be referring to are individuals who are violating the terms of service of individual private sector entities. When it comes to that, regardless of whether an individual is violating U.S. law – that’s something, of course, that the relevant authorities would look into – it is incumbent on providers, on private sector entities to enforce their own terms of service. That’s not something that the State Department gets into, but it is – it is a message that we routinely convey to the private sector.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m going to ask you about Franco-German plan for Kosovo, or some are calling the European plan. My first question: Why there’s no mention of the U.S. in the title of the plan? For example, “The EU-U.S. Plan,” or “Franco-German-U.S. Plan?” Does this mean that you gave up on your active role in the Kosovo dispute?

And my second question is: What does Secretary Blinken think about this specific plan, and what expectations, if any, he has from the Serbian president when it comes to rejecting or accepting this proposal?

MR PRICE: I think I can answer both questions with one answer. It’s referred to as the EU dialogue, but it is something that has our strong support, and I think you have seen that represented over the course of this administration just recently – January 20th; I think that was last Friday – our Deputy Assistant Secretary Gabe Escobar together with senior representatives from the EU, from Germany, France, and Italy, conducted a joint mission to Pristina and Belgrade to discuss the proposal for the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. The leaders underlined the opportunities of the proposals and emphasized the urgency of swift progress to avoid the risk of further escalation.

We, together with our EU partners in this, expect parties to live up to their responsibilities. Both Kosovo and Serbia in this case should implement the agreements they’ve already signed on to through this very dialogue process, including progress establishing the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities, and we strongly encourage Kosovan Serbs to return to Kosovan institutions as quickly as possible to improve security and stability for all citizens. These are messages that Kosovo, Serbia are hearing from the United States. They’re also hearing from the EU, they’re hearing from EU member-states – in this case, with this delegation, Germany, France, and Italy.

So we are very much supportive of this process. Our approach to conflicts and tensions around the world often consists of this. We are supporting in some cases local, in some cases regional solutions. The United States lends our support when and how we deem to be most effective, and in this case, the EU dialogue, we believe, is – has the potential to be an effective vehicle to reduce tensions and to resolve conflicts between Kosovo and Serbia to bring greater levels of stability, prosperity, and opportunity to both peoples.

Yes. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. In the next two weeks, an Iraqi delegation will arrive in D.C. and they will have a meeting with Secretary Blinken. They will discuss dinar and dollar exchange rate. Then when they have a meeting with you, what will you have on the table to tell them to this matter? And second question, what concerns do you have about the dollar overflow from Iraq to Iran? Have you took any measurements against Iraqi commercial banks to this matter?

MR PRICE: So on your first question, we tend not to preview visits that far in advance. I suspect we would have more to say in advance of any bilateral engagement with our Iraqi partners in the coming days, so I don’t want to get ahead of that.

On – regarding the Iranian nexus, sanctions enforcement – first, our sanctions, as our international sanctions, our – continue to be enforced. We continue to enforce them. Sanctions enforcement is an iterative process. We routinely have engagements with partner governments and with the private sector to make them aware of the scope of our sanctions and to see to it as best we can that states and companies around the world are complying with those sanctions. Iraq is a partner of ours. The United States is a stalwart partner to the people of Iraq, to the Government of Iraq as well. And we’ll – I expect when we do have an opportunity for a bilateral engagement, we’ll discuss not only those bilateral issues but also the broader regional issues, including the challenges we see posed by Iran.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib from ARY News. This is about a BBC documentary on Prime Minister Modi. We have seen that Indian Government banned that documentary, also shutting down universities, colleges, and even banned all social media links. Do you think it’s a matter of press freedom or freedom of speech?

MR PRICE: I’ll say generally, when it comes to this, we support the importance of a free press around the world. We continue to highlight the importance of democratic principles, such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, as human rights that contribute to the strengthening of our democracies. This is a point we make in our relationships around the world. It’s certainly a point we’ve made in India as well.

QUESTION: And due to the political unrest and security situation in Pakistan, many foreigners avoid visiting Pakistan. I was just going through U.S. Travel Advisory for U.S. citizen. It says: Reconsider travel to Pakistan. Do not travel to KPK or Balochistan. So Pakistan is not safe to visit for the – for the U.S. citizen, right, or that’s Travel Advisory says, right?

MR PRICE: Well, you’re referring to the Travel Advisory that our Bureau of Consular Affairs updates regularly for countries around the world. The travel advisory for Pakistan was last updated in October of last year, and I understand that was not at the time much of a substantive update. But we do have an obligation to inform our citizens around the world, including our citizens in Pakistan, of potential risks.

And as do our Travel Advisories for countries around the world, this Travel Advisory offers advice to Americans who would consider travel to Pakistan. We have a tiered system from Level 1 to 4, and the advice in those Travel Advisories are based on so-called risk indicators. We look at levels of crime, of terrorism, kidnapping or hostage-taking, civil unrest, natural disaster, health, wrongful detention, and other potential risk. And that’s how we arrive at that tiered numbering system that you referred to in the case of Pakistan.

QUESTION: The United States donated $200 million to Pakistan in flood recovery. Is there any check and balance in that?

MR PRICE: There absolutely is. There are checks and balances across every form of assistance that the United States provides – security assistance, humanitarian assistance, economic assistance. That includes when it comes to the flood assistance in Pakistan. It’s something we take very seriously not only in this case, but anywhere around the world where our taxpayer dollars are implicated and when there’s an urgent humanitarian interest at stake. We make regular trips to monitor our programs in the field. USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART, traveled to more than 10 flood-affected districts in Balochistan, in Sindh province to assess not only the humanitarian conditions, but also the response activities, and to make sure that the response activities were meeting the humanitarian need of the people there.

We work with the UN. We work with NGO partners that have extensive knowledge about the affected areas and their populations. They are required to provide regular program updates on the progress of activities and any security concerns. And we also require our partners to immediately report any potential diversions, seizures, or losses. Throughout our flood relief efforts, we’re working in close coordination with Pakistani authorities and local partners to make sure that assistance is directly helping the communities and those who need it most, and as you know, we have been in a position to support flooding relief and recovery to the tune of more than $200 million total, making the United States one of the largest bilateral country donors. And we’re committed to helping Pakistan and its people rebuild better and even more resilient.

QUESTION: Ned, I have a question on Lebanon. Lebanon’s top prosecutor has ordered all suspects detained in the investigation into Beirut port blast released and filed charges against the judge who’s leading the probe. How do you view that scene?

MR PRICE: Michel, we’ve seen those reports. I would refer to Lebanese authorities on this development, but more generally, as we’ve stated, we in the international community have made it clear since the deadly explosion that we urge Lebanese authorities to complete a swift and transparent investigation into this horrific explosion at the Port of Beirut. The victims of this August 2020 explosion deserve justice, and we believe those responsible must be held to account.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. Ned, the road to Nagorno-Karabakh remains closed for 1.5 months by now, and I know that you personally and this administration has made calls to Azerbaijan to unblock the road. I was wondering if there is any new update on this, if you could provide any more information on this.

And my second question is: Azerbaijan continues to disregard all these international calls coming, whether from this administration or other international partners. United Kingdom’s foreign ministry today called again Azerbaijan to unblock the road, but there is no evidence that President Aliyev is willing to change his policy and to unblock the road. So my question is: If the situation continues, are there any other options on table, particularly in regards to delivering more humanitarian aid to Nagorno-Karabakh? Because the Red Cross is the only organization that can deliver very, very limited help to Karabakh, which doesn’t satisfy the dire needs of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.

And you just mentioned that USAID and U.S. administration works with international partners and delivers aid to situations, to the countries and geographies where humanitarian crisis exists, and it exists in Nagorno-Karabakh. Do you think that USAID particularly, an organization which work with Nagorno-Karabakh in – and was engaged in humanitarian projects before, could step in and try to increase the volumes of help to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. Thank you.

MR PRICE: So a couple things. The worsening humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh has been of significant concern to us. It’s been the topic of discussions, as you alluded to, between Secretary Blinken and the leaders of both Armenia and Azerbaijan in recent days. We’ve made the point that ongoing obstruction of normal commercial and private travel along the Lachin corridor is causing these very shortages of food, of fuel and medicine, for the residents – the many residents who depend on this corridor for those basic supplies. These periodic disruptions to natural gas and other basic utilities further exacerbate the worsening humanitarian situation.

We’ve called for the full restoration of free movement through the corridor, including commercial and private travel. We need to find a solution to this impasse that will ensure the safety and the well-being of the population living in this area. We believe the way forward is through negotiations. We remain committed to supporting a lasting peace. We’ve demonstrated both in word and in deed our willingness to engage with the parties, whether that’s bilaterally, whether that’s multilaterally through the OSCE, whether that’s trilaterally with both Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts at the table.

But above all, we believe that negotiations is the path forward. In the near term, we’ve called for that restoration of free movement so that the humanitarian needs of those who depend on this corridor for lifesaving essentials and supplies can be met, and the United States will continue to do what we can to bring the parties together, to encourage this dialogue, and to encourage a full restoration of this free movement through the corridor.

Sure.

QUESTION: It’s getting more and more difficult for the United States to bring peace, so to end the war between Russia and Ukraine. And as you know, the Russia minister of foreign affairs is in Angola. He just met President Lourenço today. And I would like you to explain a little bit of what is the view of the U.S. administration on how African nations can help bring peace or end the war between Russia and Ukraine, because this in the great interest of African leaders. And they also want to end this war. And because the foreign minister of Russia is in Angola, I think even President Lourenço is trying to find a way to end this war that is affecting many country, including African nations. So what is the view of U.S. on how African nations can help put the end on this war?

MR PRICE: I would start by saying that African nations are in a unique and special position to lend their voices to ideally help bring about an end to President Putin’s aggression, and I say that because so many African nations have histories and legacies that are shaped by colonialism. Their histories and legacies have been morphed and, in some cases, distorted by the efforts of other countries to do what Russia is trying to do to Ukraine, to redraw borders arbitrarily, to dictate to countries what their orientation should be, what their choices should be. Across the continent of Africa, there is deep respect for the UN system, for the UN Charter, for international law. And I think that deep respect is born of the fact that for many decades across the continent, those principles weren’t adhered to. And the principles that are at the heart of the UN Charter, at the heart of international law were disregarded, and so African countries feel this acutely.

We think what countries across the continent and across the world can do most effectively is to make clear where they stand, to make clear to Russia, to visiting Russian interlocutors, but also to countries around the world that they stand for the UN system, they stand for the UN Charter, they stand for international law, and they stand against any effort to subvert that. African countries know all too well the consequences of a systemic subversion of those very principles, and lending their voice and making clear, not only to the Russian Federation but also to the rest of the world, that it’s not something they will tolerate, that itself would be very powerful.

QUESTION: And do you think it is appropriate, for example, for African nations who have received a lot of support from Russia in years to right now kind of give back to them? Because we heard also from the Congress that the United States is trying to pass some kind of law to force African nations not to work with Russia. But do you think this is a right decision for African nations to do right now when it comes to deal with Russia?

MR PRICE: I think what you’re pointing to is just a historical reality. It is again born of the fact that for many decades, the United States was not in a position to be a partner to so many countries across the African continent and, for various reasons, the Soviet Union was or Russia was. That of course has changed; that dynamic no longer holds. It eroded with the end of the Cold War. It has gone away entirely in the decades since.

The United States is ready, willing, and able to be a partner of first resort to the countries across Africa. You heard that very clearly from President Biden when he invited African heads of state and government to Washington late last year for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. He made very clear that we’re all-in on Africa in a way that the United States hasn’t been able to be all-in on Africa before. This is a dynamic that evolved over many decades. It is a dynamic that will likely take many years to chip away at and to ultimately reverse.

But we are committed to making the investment, to demonstrating both in word and in deed that we want a true partnership, a partnership with the countries of Africa that presents both of our peoples with opportunities. We are not looking to engage – to use Africa as a new geopolitical stomping ground or playground. We’re not looking for relationships that are extractive, that export chaos, that export instability, that advantage only American private companies, as you’ve seen an approach taken by countries who have a different model. Our model is one of true partnership, where we seek to do and to take on challenges and opportunities with the countries of Africa together in a way that provides both our people greater prosperity, greater stability, greater security, and greater opportunity.

QUESTION: One last one on the DRC. How the United States expect to support the election process that this country will go through this year, taking into account the instability going on there?

MR PRICE: Well, we had an opportunity to discuss the elections with the Government of the DRC, with President Tshisekedi and his team, when we were in the DRC in August of last year. Free and fair elections is what we advocate for around the world. We want to see and the people of the DRC want to enjoy free and fair elections, but you also have to have the conditions to conduct a free and fair election as such. President Tshisekedi and his government have committed to doing that, committed to fulfilling their – have committed to fulfilling and carrying forward with those free and fair elections. We will continue to be a partner where it is of use to our partners in the DRC, and we look forward to those free and fair elections in the DRC later this year.

Yeah, Leon?

QUESTION: Just to stay in the region, in Africa, two questions and very unrelated. On Nigeria, there was this – I’m sure very carefully calibrated – statement this morning by the Secretary, but a little bit strange in the sense that you are imposing sanctions, visa restrictions against Nigerian individuals. But you don’t name them and you don’t say if they’re part of the government or what have you. And then you go on to say this is not against the Government – precisely – of Nigeria, and – so you do you have any details as to which individuals we’re talking about, at least if they’re part of the government or what have you?

MR PRICE: Well, I can tell you why we didn’t go into greater detail, and that’s because visa records are confidential. I know this is an issue we’ve discussed before. It’s an issue that can be deeply unsatisfying when we’re trying to explain what it is that we’ve announced. But what I can say is that, just as you said, this is a policy that doesn’t target the Nigerian people, that, to the contrary, seeks to support the Nigerian people and their desire for free and fair elections in the coming weeks. This policy does cover those believed to be responsible for, complicit in undermining democracy, including through the rigging of the electoral process; corruption; vote buying; intimidation of voters, the media, or elections observers through threats or acts of physical violence; suppression of peaceful protests; threats against judicial independence; or the abuse or violation of human rights in Nigeria.

We wanted to send a very clear message, just as we indicated we would prior to the enactment of this visa restriction policy, that the United States will be watching very carefully the actions of those who would engage in any such activities. When we see that, we’re prepared to revoke visas, to take other actions as appropriate. And today, we make good – we made good on that pledge.

Yes.

QUESTION: And I had a follow-up.

MR PRICE: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Not a follow-up, but another question on Africa. There’s a very peculiar case involving a French student in Morocco, detained in Morocco, and he’s being extradited to the United States, being accused of cyber attacks, as I understand it. Have there been any conversations with the French? Because arguably, he’s a French citizen – the crimes would have been committed in France. One would think he would be extradited to France, if anything, but he’s extradited here. State Department have any comment on that?

MR PRICE: Our only comment would be that we refer you to the Department of Justice on extradition matters.

Yes.

QUESTION: Upcoming Security Blinken’s trip to China – at this point there is no nuclear arms reduction agreement between PRC and United States or Russia. Given the fact, is Secretary going to – also going to talk about nuclear disarmament in China? And more broadly, how do you think the importance to sign such a deal with PRC?

MR PRICE: A couple of things. We’ve – I’ve made very clear that we’re just not going to get into the agenda this far ahead of the travel. I expect we may have more to say on that in the coming days, next couple of weeks. But we want to allow space for Secretary Blinken to engage in the meaningful and constructive diplomacy that we hope to find in Beijing. But broadly speaking, Secretary Blinken will have an opportunity to carry forward the conversation that President Biden had with President Xi in Bali late last year. And that was a conversation predicated on how we can responsibly manage what is the most consequential bilateral relationship that we have probably on the face of the planet, a conversation that seeks to ensure that the stiff competition that we’re engaged in with the PRC doesn’t veer into conflict.

As part of that we’re going to discuss the areas of competition. We are going to discuss those areas that have the potential to be conflictual, where we hope to establish those guardrails to see to it that competition doesn’t veer into conflict, but to also discuss those areas where we see the potential for further cooperation with the PRC. And principally, these are going to be on transnational challenges, challenges like changing climate, COVID, drugs, fentanyl, precursors, essentially threats to people around the world, threats that know no borders. But, of course, it is in our interest, as it is in the PRC’s interest, that we be able to discuss strategic stability broadly. We’ve noted with some concern the growing size of the PRC’s arsenal. There have been various public reports that have been written about this. Of course, it is an issue that we seek to discuss. We believe responsible nuclear powers need to act responsibly; they need to engage in discussions of strategic stability to see to it that the world’s most powerful weapons are managed appropriately and that our respective stockpiles are handled appropriately.

So all of these are issues that we seek to discuss with the PRC. We’ll have an opportunity to do – to do some of that in the coming weeks.

Quick final question.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Two separate questions. Ukraine first. The negative on the latest situation on the ground: There are reports that Russians have captured – apologies – captured Soledar. Is Russia on its back foot, front foot, or somewhere in between based on your assessment?

MR PRICE: Our assessment really hasn’t changed since the earliest days of this war. It has been a strategic failure for President Putin and his forces since the earliest days. The only reason that there is some discussion about tactical movements in Soledar now is because the Russians have not been in a position for months to tout any forward momentum, even incremental as it might be. Of course, the Russians are looking for a propaganda victory in what has been a sea of failures that they have confronted since the earliest days. Nothing that we’ve seen today or nothing that we’ve seen in recent days changes our assessment of the strategic course of this conflict. The Ukrainians have demonstrated remarkable determination and, most importantly, remarkable effectiveness in pushing back Russian aggression and recapturing much of the territory.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. On – back on the Nagorno-Karabakh topic, we have seen some back-and-forth between Washington and Baku in terms of the Lachin corridor. The readout of the Secretary’s call and what we have seen from the Azerbaijani side is completely different, contradicting against each other. We also heard Azeri foreign affairs ministry spokesperson today put out a tweet contradicting what you said yesterday.

My question is: The Europeans have eyes on the ground right now; they sent a monitoring mission. Is there any concern on your end that you don’t have independent eyes on the ground, there’s no ambassador in Baku? That was a concern that Ambassador Reeker raised in October, that the President’s nominee hasn’t even received any invite to the Senate foreign affairs committee. So we are sort of, like, stalled here and two different narratives. Is there any step you are going to take in the weeks ahead, days ahead, to move the needle?

MR PRICE: So, Alex, on your question, you yourself refer to the fact that our European partners do have monitoring missions; they have a presence on the ground. Of course, as you know, we work remarkably closely with our European partners when it comes to Nagorno-Karabakh, when it comes to the current challenge we face in the Lachin corridor, and when it comes to tensions and conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan more broadly.

So we share our information with our European partners. The same is true of them to us. And we believe it’s important that we continue to work closely together with our European partners, through the OSCE as appropriate, directly with the parties if and when it’s effective. We’ve done all of those things and we’ll continue to do what we think is effective to bring about a lasting peace and a diminution of the tensions.

QUESTION: Do you still consider the United States a co-chair of the Minsk Group? Because there is no chairman in the U.S. side.

MR PRICE: The Minsk Group has not been a functioning body for some time, but we are prepared to work to resolve this conflict bilaterally, multilaterally through the OSCE, with partners, with the parties themselves.

Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:20 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – January 24, 2023

2:30 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: All right, good afternoon, everyone. Happy Tuesday. One item at the top and then I’ll take your questions.

Secretary Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi convened this morning a meeting of G7 foreign ministers, Ukraine’s foreign minister, key European partners, and multilateral institutions to reaffirm our collective support for Ukraine and its energy sector, which remains under a brutal assault by Russia’s missile and drone strikes. Since October, the Department of State has been leading efforts with the rotating G7 – with the rotating G7 Presidency to coordinate and accelerate the delivery of critical energy infrastructure equipment from our allies and partners to Ukraine.

This group of foreign ministers last met November 29th of last year on the margins of the NATO Ministerial, where the Secretary announced over $53 million in U.S. emergency support for Ukraine’s electricity grid. Since then, the United States has delivered two plane loads of critical equipment, with another delivery scheduled soon. Further efforts include procuring high-voltage autotransformers and industrial-scale mobile gas turbine generators to support essential public services.

In today’s meeting, the Secretary highlighted the newest $125 million package we announced on January 18th, which will also be used to procure autotransformers and other priority grid equipment. Since the start of the war, the United States has provided $270 million in assistance to help repair, maintain, and strengthen Ukraine’s power sector in the face of continued attacks. The Secretary applauded the tremendous efforts by our allies and partners to coordinate complicated logistics, procurement, and delivery of critical equipment to help Ukraine repair its electricity system and maintain energy sector resilience.

The group also condemned Russia’s continuing brutal attacks against Ukrainian energy infrastructure and its cruel consequences for Ukrainian civilians. The Secretary and partners also emphasized the importance of continuing to provide air defense systems, which have helped Ukraine defend effectively against Russian attacks.

The group reinforced its commitment to stand with Ukraine as long as it takes and discussed the importance of this G7+ coordination mechanism beyond emergency response, to include long-term reconstruction towards a modern, distributed, clean, and efficient Ukrainian energy system fully integrated with Europe. The Secretary committed to continuing State Department leadership, in partnership with Japan, to convene and coordinate the G7+ group at the leadership and working levels going forward.

With that, I’m happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Right. Thanks, Ned. Sorry I missed the very top. I’m assuming you didn’t mention anything about tanks in your opening, no?

MR PRICE: I do not believe the word “tank” was in my topper, no.

QUESTION: Okay, well, then let me do it now. So it appears that you guys are ready to sign off or approve the transfer of Abrams tanks, and so I’m just wondering what you can say about that.

MR PRICE: Well, Matt, I know how much I tend to frustrate you when I do this. So I will just be clear and frank that if you’re looking for me to say something different from what I said yesterday, you’re not going to find it today. What I can tell you is that this is a conversation that we are regularly engaged in with our Ukrainian partners. We in turn have conversations with our European partners, other allies and partners, some 50 around the world who are providing much needed security assistance to Ukraine.

I know there has been a lot of focus on one particular capability over the past few days; there was extended discussion of it yesterday. But I also think it’s important in the context of that discussion that we not lose sight of the forest for the trees. The amount of security assistance that the United States and allies and partners around the world has – have provided to Ukraine, it is in a sense staggering, not only the sheer amount measured in dollars but the capabilities that we have provided as well, capabilities that match Ukraine’s needs, match the timing of those needs, and in some cases have put us in a position to provide our Ukrainian partners with new capabilities or capabilities that they previously did not have.

When it comes to tanks, these are capabilities that the United States has helped provide our Ukrainian partners over the course of many months now. We’ve worked with European partners to source and ultimately to provide former Soviet-made tanks, former – tanks that were produced by the Russian Federation itself to provide tanks as well, not to mention the Bradley Fighting Vehicles, the heavy armored vehicles that the United States and many of our allies, including Germany, have in the past provided.

We’re not going to get ahead of any potential announcements from other allies, other partners. We’re not going to preview anything else we may have to say. But needless to say, this is an ongoing conversation and it is a conversation that allows us to be responsive to the needs of our Ukrainian partners.

QUESTION: But it is correct, is it not, that you would like to see Germany in particular give tanks to Ukraine, either itself or by giving the okay for Poland to send these Leopard tanks to Ukraine? Is that not correct?

QUESTION: Matt, you’ve heard me say this enough that I think you have a sense. We are not prescriptive in terms of —

QUESTION: I’m not saying that.

MR PRICE: — in terms of —

QUESTION: I’m just —

MR PRICE: — in terms of what other allies and partners should provide. This is a sovereign decision on the part of every sovereign government around the world.

QUESTION: Yes, and you (inaudible), right?

MR PRICE: We would like to see countries around the world step up, and in some cases continue to step up, to provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need. In some cases that’s providing them with replenishments of capabilities that our Ukrainian partners have had, whether they’re long had it or whether it is a more recent addition to their arsenal, or in some cases we’ve been in a position to provide new capabilities. This is a sovereign decision for each government to make.

QUESTION: Then I’ll – I’ll take a last stab at it then, though. Would you be willing to do what the Germans would like you to do in order for the Germans then to send additional materiel to Ukraine?

MR PRICE: These are conversations that we’re having with the Ukrainians, that we’re having with the Germans. We will leave private conversations, diplomatic conversations, to those channels. What matters most to us is that we continue to maintain the level of coordination, the level of consultation with Ukraine, and in turn with our allies and partners around the world, that has enabled us to provide our Ukrainian partners with billions of dollars worth of equipment that they need when they need it to take on the threat that they’re facing at that very moment.

Daphne.

QUESTION: On the question of tanks, do you believe that the choice of what U.S. heavy weapons to send to Ukraine is a diplomatic issue or one that’s best left to the U.S. military?

MR PRICE: This is a conversation that not only do we have with our Ukrainian partners, with our allies and partners, but it’s a conversation that we have with other departments and agencies in this government. Now, of course when it comes to military know-how, tactical battlefield knowledge, no one is going to have more than that – more of that than the Department of Defense. It is the Department of Defense that – especially when it comes to the USAI program, the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative – is sourcing much of this. So this is a conversation where they bring that expertise and knowledge to bear.

But there are diplomatic elements to this. We have relations with senior Ukrainian officials through political channels, whether that’s the Secretary’s frequent engagements with the foreign minister, others in this building working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the Office of the President. So we take all of those conversations that we’re having with Ukraine, that we’re having with allies and partners, and share that of course with colleagues across the Executive Branch to arrive at what is – what we’re in a position to provide and how we can provide it.

QUESTION: Just on —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: If she’s – are you done?

QUESTION: I was going to ask about corruption, but —

QUESTION: No, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: — you can finish on this.

MR PRICE: Is it the same topic, before we move on?

QUESTION: Yeah, on the Leopards, because we’re a little bit confused. I think Der Spiegel said that Germany will provide Leopards to Ukraine.

MR PRICE: I have seen various reports of this all citing anonymous German officials. I will let our German allies speak to any announcements that they are prepared to make when they are prepared to make it.

QUESTION: And also Bloomberg reported that they are going to announce tomorrow that they are allowing Poland to send in Leopard tanks.

MR PRICE: Again, all of the reports I’ve seen – feel free to correct me – point to anonymous sources and not German leaders who would need to be in a position to make any such announcement themselves.

Anything else on this?

QUESTION: May I follow up on this?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PRICE: Okay, Alex.

QUESTION: No new comments since yesterday doesn’t mean no progress since yesterday, right? (Laughter.) Just trying differently.

MR PRICE: It’s – I commend you for how you’ve gone about the question. (Laughter.)

We’ve – it’s fair to say that we’re always discussing these issues with allies and partners. Just because we’re in the same public place doesn’t necessarily mean that we haven’t made progress on any given issue. I’m not speaking particularly to this issue but across the board.

QUESTION: You know that Poland officially requested already from Germany. Do you welcome Poland’s step that Poland has taken, or what is your position on Polish side?

MR PRICE: Our position is that this is a question for our German allies, for our Polish allies. Just as when allies request permission from the United States to re-export U.S.-origin material, that’s a question for us and them. This is a question for, in this case, our German allies and our Polish allies.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, and last, your White House colleague just told us that – she has cited DOD officials – just told us that the tanks have never been off the table.

MR PRICE: That’s fair. We have not taken capabilities off the table. Again, this is a conversation based on what our Ukrainian partners need, when they need it, where they need it.

Yes, in the – yeah.

QUESTION: The New York Times earlier reported a story that Ukraine has suspended 10 of its military officials for some sort of corruption. Is the U.S. making sure that all the aid that has been given and billions of dollars is going to the right people and they’re not building themselves some things?

MR PRICE: We absolutely are. We take extraordinarily seriously our responsibility to ensure appropriate oversight of all forms of U.S. assistance that we are delivering to Ukraine. We’re actively engaged with the Government of Ukraine to ensure accountability. There are challenges associated with the current environment in which our Ukrainian partners are in the midst of a brutal attack by the Russian Federation. But we take this commitment seriously nonetheless, and we’re still able to take steps to ensure that accountability.

We have teams in Kyiv, we have teams back here in Washington, who are working literally around the clock to support our Ukrainian partners. And a key focus is to ensure safeguards, both for the accountability of weaponry as well as adherence to the laws of war, are built into all assistance efforts as we help Ukraine defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity against this ongoing aggression.

We’ll continue to work to ensure the assistance we provide is subject to that oversight – the security assistance, the humanitarian assistance, the economic assistance – and when it comes to that security assistance to ensure that everything we provide is in compliance with our Leahy Laws, international humanitarian law, and other applicable requirements, and of course consistent with respect for human rights and democratic values that we share with our Ukrainian partners. This is a robust system of oversight and accountability. We thank Congress for providing us with additional resources to see to it that we’re able to conduct this oversight, and this is a conversation that we are regularly engaged in with our Congressional overseers as well.

When it comes to the actions that we’ve heard about from our Ukrainian partners in recent hours, this stems from a desire we’ve heard very clearly from the people of Ukraine over the course of many years now, going back to 2014; it was certainly a key element of President Zelenskyy’s platform when he was running for his current office in 2019. The Ukrainian people have been very clear about their desire for good governance and transparency.

And in this case, we welcome quick and decisive actions by President Zelenskyy as well as vigilance by Ukrainian civil society and media to counter corruption, to ensure effective monitoring and accountability of public procurement, and to hold those in positions of public trust to account when they fail to meet the obligations and the responsibilities that are entrusted to them.

Just as the people of Ukraine want to see good governance, want to see anti-corruption, want to see the rule of law, we support all of these things, as well as Ukraine’s commitment to transparency and accountability, and we saw an example of that in recent hours. We’ll continue to stand with Ukraine as it works to implement these important anti-corruption reforms.

QUESTION: Same topic, one question?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Russian Ambassador in D.C. Anatoly Antonov met with the new chief of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Moscow Lynne Tracy here at his residence. Do you have any readout on what kind of discussions —

MR PRICE: We – this is not the type of a meeting that we would typically formally read out, but I can confirm that Ambassador Tracy did meet with Russian Ambassador Antonov. This was an opportunity for her to have a discussion with her counterpart here in D.C. As you know, Ambassador Tracy was confirmed – overwhelming confirmed – by the Senate on a bipartisan basis late last year. We expect Ambassador Tracy will be departing for the Russian Federation, where she will present her credentials in the coming days. We expect her to be in place later this month. She’s currently in the process of having consultations with desks and individuals here in Washington, and in this case she had an opportunity to have a discussion with Ambassador Antonov.

QUESTION: Ned, this meeting suggests that they’re all, like – diplomatic channels are on with Russia and that you are – you’re being engaging with Russia. Obviously, the Ukraine is the most important thing to discuss with them. So what you see that – what kind of demands Russia have to stop this war? I mean, obviously, they are saying something. They want this, and you can – they can stop this war. I mean, what kind of demands they are making to stop this whatever’s happening in Ukraine?

MR PRICE: Well, let me say this. I’m not going to speak to what Ambassador Tracy discussed with Ambassador Antonov, but I can pretty clear about what she didn’t discuss: didn’t discuss any form of a negotiated settlement over Russia’s brutal war with Ukraine. That’s not for us to do. It is not for us to do in Washington. It is for our Ukrainian partners to do with, as appropriate, our support. And we stand ready to support them, if and when the time comes for meaningful dialogue and diplomacy. We know that our Ukrainian partners are for that. We’ve heard a pretty well articulated vision for a just and durable peace that President Zelenskyy presented to the world last November and has since rearticulated, as have other members of his government.

Setting that issue aside, because it’s not an issue for us to discuss with Russia, we have been clear about a desire to maintain open channels of communication with Russia. We have an embassy in Moscow. It’s under duress because of the pressure and the limitations that the Kremlin has imposed on it. But because – I mentioned Ambassador Antonov a moment ago – the Russians have an embassy here, we have the ability to pick up a phone in – when that is warranted and appropriate, as Secretary Blinken has done, as Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, has done, as the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and others have done.

So there are open channels of communication. We use these channels to convey where we are on issues that are of the upmost priority to us. In our case, it’s been on wrongfully detained American citizens; it has been on the costs and consequences of potential Russian escalation – at worst the use of a nuclear weapon, other weapons of mass destruction – but other issues that are of primary bilateral importance to the United States.

Anything else on this?

QUESTION: Just more on the corruption?

MR PRICE: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Going back to the question about the resignation of the deputy defense minister in Ukraine, does the U.S. – was any U.S. support to the armed forces of Ukraine meddled with by this deputy defense minister or anyone in his office?

MR PRICE: We are not aware that any U.S. assistance was involved in what we’ve heard about in recent hours.

QUESTION: And are you undertaking a review to make sure that that was the case?

MR PRICE: We are always engaged in rigorous oversight and accountability. As of right now, we are certainly not aware that any U.S. assistance was involved in the allegations that we’ve heard about from our Ukrainian partners. But this is an ongoing effort. Day in, day out, teams in Kyiv, teams back here are working to ensure that our support, the tremendous amount of support that we’re providing – security assistance, humanitarian assistance, economic assistance – it is going to its intended objectives.

Anything else on Russia, Ukraine before we move on?

QUESTION: On Russia.

MR PRICE: Let me — yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: NATO. Finland’s foreign minister has suggested that Finland might try and join NATO alone, and then he backtracked later in comments to Reuters, I believe. It’s that something that – Finland joining NATO alone – is that something that the U.S. would support? Do you have any comment on that? Is that a bad idea?

MR PRICE: What we would support is Finland and NATO – excuse me – Finland and Sweden joining NATO at the earliest opportunity. I spoke at some lengths to this yesterday. They are ready. These are countries with advanced militaries, militaries that have exercised with the United States and those of other NATO Allies. These are advanced democracies, countries —

QUESTION: And them joining separately?

MR PRICE: Again, we’re not going to comment on a hypothetical. What we believe is that Finland and Sweden are ready to join the Alliance. It’s not only the view of the Executive Branch; it’s the view of the Legislative Branch as well. You saw that in the swift accession process and the Senate’s ratification of the treaty last year. This is a point we’ve made very clearly, repeatedly, in public, in private, to all of our partners, including to our Turkish allies in this case, and it’s a point that we’ll continue to make.

QUESTION: Here.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) statement —

QUESTION: The question is whether you think that they should join together or whether one could join before another one really. There are —

MR PRICE: The discussion —

QUESTION: And it’s not a hypothetical. It’s —

MR PRICE: Well, it is a hypothetical, because as your colleague mentioned, it —

QUESTION: It’s a hypothetical if they’ll ever get in in the first place. But the question is whether the U.S. thinks that they should go in together or whether Finland —

MR PRICE: This has always been —

QUESTION: — and/or Sweden should go in first.

MR PRICE: This has always been a conversation about Finland and Sweden – and – joining NATO.

QUESTION: That – fine, Ned. It’s just what —

MR PRICE: That is precisely – that is —

QUESTION: It’s what the administration thinks is the best – is best for the Alliance, right? Is it – do you guys think that it’ll be better for them to join together or do you have no objection to the idea of Finland going first?

MR PRICE: Of course we want to see Finland and Sweden join the Alliance. This has always been a discussion about Finland and Sweden, two countries —

QUESTION: Ned, that is not the question.

MR PRICE: — moving from an Alliance of 28 to an Alliance of 30[1]. That’s what we want to see happen, yes.

QUESTION: All right. Well, no. So you don’t have anything to say about the idea that one could join before the other?

MR PRICE: It’s just a question that we’re not entertaining. We want to see Finland and Sweden join the Alliance. This has always been —

QUESTION: Well, you might not be entertaining it, but other people are.

MR PRICE: I’m actually not aware that they are. There was a insinuation that was quickly taken off the table. So I’m just not aware that that is a live question right now. We want to see both countries —

QUESTION: All right. So your idea is that they will both join – or your preference is that they both join together?

MR PRICE: Of course.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Change topic?

QUESTION: Can I just —

MR PRICE: Okay. Let me – same topic? Same topic?

QUESTION: But the – Türkiye has indefinitely delayed conversations, that trilateral conversations today, so do you – are you in touch with your – with the Turkish officials about this issue right now?

MR PRICE: I’ve seen statements, including statements from the Swedish prime minister, that the latest consultations – the next rounds of consultations I should say – haven’t been canceled. They have been postponed. It’s an opportunity for Finland and Sweden and Türkiye to take stock of where they are. We obviously want to see those consultations continue and we want to see those consultations culminate in Finland and Sweden joining the Alliance, bringing an Alliance of 28, an Alliance that is more purposeful, more united than at any time during the Cold War – bringing that Alliance to 30.

QUESTION: I have another question on this issue, because this all started with this Quran burning thing in Sweden, in Stockholm. And you said yesterday maybe a private individual, a provocateur might be behind this. Do you – are you reflecting these allegations that maybe Moscow has a hand in this incident?

MR PRICE: I wasn’t attempting to suggest that. What I was suggesting – and we’ve seen similar suggestions from our Swedish partners on this – is the fact that individuals who are taking part in these activities may, in some cases, not want to see Sweden join NATO, may want to disrupt the Transatlantic Alliance. The fact is that there are individuals who are taking advantage of the robust, established, deep-seated democratic principles that Sweden holds dear – in this case, Sweden holds dear – to engage in an activity that is vile, is repugnant, is reprehensible.

I’m not speaking to the motives, the particular motives at play in the latest incident, but just as you’ve heard from our Swedish partners, there is of course the concern that provocateurs, those who may not want to see Sweden join NATO, are engaging in some of these activities, and may want to see disruption in the transatlantic community or in the Atlantic community, the Euroatlantic community.

Yes, still on NATO?

QUESTION: Just one, a quick one on Sweden.

MR PRICE: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: So I brought the trilateral memorandum that Sweden and Finland have signed with the presence of the United States President as well, Joe Biden, back in June 2022. So after (inaudible) – I’m not going to read out the whole thing, but —

MR PRICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: — Sweden commits to prevent activities of the PKK and all other terrorist organizations and their extensions, as well as activities by individuals in affiliated groups as well. So what you’re looking at, coming from developments from Stockholm, that the PKK are running wild and they’re sabotaging, clearly, because they’re saying no to NATO. And these are hurting Sweden’s chances. And Sweden’s chances are hurting Finland’s chances. And Finland even came out today saying that we might even try our chances separately.

So can the United States, can you give a message to Ankara from here, right here, right now, that Sweden, including Article 5, has completed and fulfilled all the tasks in that trilateral memorandum? Because the – Ankara is saying that that’s not the case, that’s far from being the case.

MR PRICE: You referred to it as a trilateral memorandum. It is a trilateral memorandum; it is a trilateral memorandum between Türkiye, Finland, and Sweden. These are ultimately questions that will need to be resolved between Türkiye, Finland, and Sweden. We were proud to be there present for the signing of this memorandum, but ultimately we are not a party to it.

What I can say is that Finland and Sweden have already taken concrete steps to fulfill the commitments they made under the trilateral memorandum with Türkiye that, as you mention, they signed on the margins of the NATO summit in Madrid, including substantially strengthening their bilateral cooperation with Türkiye on key security concerns.

But just as you’ve heard from our Swedish, our Finnish partners, there are ongoing discussions between Türkiye, Finland, Sweden. The NATO secretary general has at times been engaged in this as well. These are questions for those three countries. This is not a bilateral issue between the United States and Türkiye, or the United States and any other country. These are ultimately questions that will have to be adjudicated between those three countries.

QUESTION: The question was – because you obviously keep saying from the podium that Sweden is ready to join NATO, because that is interpreted and translated as a statement that, okay, they’ve done it all; they completed all the tasks in that memorandum. Because that’s why I’m saying, can you say to Ankara right here, right now, that they completed – including Article 5, that they prevented all PKK activities and they’ve been eradicated from the face of the Earth, especially on Swedish soil?

MR PRICE: What I can point to is the concrete steps that Finland and Sweden have taken. When we say that Finland and Sweden are ready to join NATO, it’s a reference to the rigorous membership requirements that apply to any aspirant country. You can take a look at the North Atlantic charter for more information on precisely what aspirant countries must fulfill if they are deemed to be ready to join NATO. In our assessment, Finland and Sweden have fulfilled those requirements; they are ready to join NATO.

But one of the great strengths of NATO is that we act as an alliance. We act by consensus, by unified consensus. And so ultimately this is a question that Türkiye will need to determine for itself when it comes to the requirements that it believes Finland and Sweden need to fulfill. We believe Finland and Sweden are ready to be members. We are supporting their candidacies. We are supporting their desire to join the world’s strongest defensive alliance.

Okay, anything else on NATO?

QUESTION: On Sweden?

MR PRICE: On NATO?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PRICE: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: So just to be clear, are you not trying to – are you not going to try to convince Türkiye to drop its objections? Because you make it seem like it’s purely a trilateral issue, or bilateral issue. So are you just staying hands-off?

And if I may go back to the tanks issue, do you still maintain that there is – the provision of German Leopards is not related or contingent on the Abrams, that there’s no deal between the countries on tanks?

MR PRICE: So on your first question, which was —

QUESTION: Are you going to try to convince —

MR PRICE: Oh, right, yes. You made the distinction – you said we were – asked if we were “hands-off.” I think there’s a difference between not making this or seeking to make this a bilateral issue – because it is not a bilateral issue – versus being entirely hands-off. We have been very clear in public, we’ve been very clear in private about our views on the question of Finland and Sweden’s candidacies for NATO membership. I’ve been very clear today. We believe they are ready, we believe they should be added to the world’s strongest defensive alliance at the earliest possible opportunity.

When it comes to the Leopards, look, this is a question for Germany. We’re not going to get ahead of any potential announcements Germany might make. We are – just as I was alluding to a moment ago in the context of NATO, we seek to engage in good-faith coordination, consultation not only with Ukraine, but all of the countries that are contributing much-needed security assistance to Germany to see to it that we’re providing as much as we can, as swiftly as we can, and as effectively as we can.

If there are steps that we can take to see to it that Ukraine acquires quantities or capabilities that it needs, we’ve demonstrated before that we’re prepared to do that. You’ve seen us do this when it comes to the S-300 early on in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. We facilitated Slovakia’s passage of the S-300 system to Ukraine; we in turn backfilled it. We’ve been able to do the same with other capabilities. We’re always having conversations with our allies and partners about what more we can do, in many cases together, to get our Ukrainian partners what they need.

Anything else on this, on Finland? Yeah.

QUESTION: On Sweden. The prime minister said today that he wants to get back to a functioning dialogue on NATO membership. I know you said you don’t want to make this a bilateral issue, but what can the U.S. do to help Finland and Sweden return to a functioning dialogue?

MR PRICE: Well, ultimately the question of the pace, the tenor, the content of these talks are going to have to be a question for Finland, Sweden, and Türkiye. We can continue to voice our support for their candidacies. We can continue to engage in public and in private with Türkiye and with other relevant countries to make very clear that we believe these two countries are ready, that they are prepared, and that they should be admitted to the Alliance at the first possible opportunity.

But again, this is not a bilateral issue between the United States and Türkiye, as much as some might like to turn it into one. We are cognizant of the fact that this is a decision that Türkiye will have to make in dialogue, in discussion with Finland and Sweden and, as appropriate, with Secretary General Stoltenberg.

Okay.

QUESTION: Ned, last question on that. Will you – sir, will you condemn the burning of Quran or do you think this is a matter of freedom of speech?

MR PRICE: So we can do two things at once. We can make very clear that an action like this is reprehensible, it’s disgusting, it’s vile, it’s repugnant, even as we uphold the principles that allow something like this to be able to happen. The fact is – and I mentioned this yesterday – in our own democracy, we have seen actions that we might term lawful but awful. I think this would fall within that category. I want to be very clear that no one in this administration is voicing any degree of support whatsoever for this vile action that took place. Quite the contrary. But we’re also very quick to add that Sweden is a vibrant democracy, and the reason something like this could happen in a country like Sweden is precisely because of its democratic character, precisely because Sweden upholds freedom of expression, freedom of assembly. And when you provide people those freedoms, when you safeguard those freedoms, sometimes they make terrible decisions; they do awful things.

QUESTION: Ned?

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: If you would. But let me comment on this burning of the Quran. Do you believe that your condemnation would deter any lunatic from burning the Quran?

MR PRICE: I – if only – if only our condemnation would have that effect, Said?

QUESTION: Now I’m going to move to the Palestinian —

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: — issue. I don’t think the condemnation would deter some crazy guy from doing that. But let me ask you about a couple of things on the Palestinian issue. I asked you yesterday on the Human Rights Watch report. I wonder if you had had a – if you’ve had a chance to take a look at it, and what is your comment?

MR PRICE: I have. This report pertains to the COGAT procedures – the COGAT procedures that went into effect in October of last year. These are procedures that impact the entry, study, work, and/or the residency of potentially thousands of people to and in the West Bank. As you know, Said, because we’ve talked about this, we reviewed the pilot procedures published by Israel’s COGAT in September. We have noted the improvements in some of the regulations from the original draft that was published in February of last year. We remain concerned, however, about the adverse impact many procedures could have on Palestinian civil society, on tourism, investment, and academic and health care institutions, as well as on U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals by restricting and unduly burdening travel and family unification.

We expect that Israeli authorities will work to ensure both enhanced transparency in the West Bank entry process and the fair treatment of all U.S. citizens and all other foreign nationals traveling to Israel and the West Bank.

We, along with other stakeholders, will closely monitor and continue to engage the Government of Israel on the implementation of these guidelines during the trial period. We’ll continue to engage with Israel and the PA to ensure that civil society and humanitarian organizations based in the West Bank and Gaza as well as Israel have the space to carry out their important work. This was really at the center of the Human Rights Watch report that you mentioned.

We strongly believe that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible, responsive, and democratic governance around the world.

QUESTION: And a couple more issues on the plans in – the Arab press and the Israeli press are both reporting that Israel is planning a – like a – to accelerate the demolishing of – the demolition of Palestinian homes in Area C and in other areas. Do you have a comment on that?

MR PRICE: Our comment on this is – remains the fact that we believe it’s critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-step – two-state solution. This includes the annexation of territory, settlement activity, and demolitions.

QUESTION: And finally, on UNRWA. UNRWA is urging or appealing to you and to the Europeans and to the Arab donors and so on because it’s in dire need for about $1.3 billion. Are you – I know that the United States have accelerated its donations to UNRWA, but have you this year, this —

MR PRICE: What was your question?

QUESTION: Are there any plans to sort of increase the fund that —

MR PRICE: So you’re correct. Not only have we accelerated our funding of the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people, but we in fact resumed it under this administration as part of our early efforts to re-engage with the Palestinian Authority but also with, importantly, the Palestinian people.

UNRWA is one vehicle through which we’ve done that. We’ve provided hundreds of millions of dollars for the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people through UNRWA, and I do expect we’ll be in a position to continue to do that with additional announcements going forward.

QUESTION: Ned, on the — I guess, do you have any comments on the Israeli-Jordanian summit, and did the U.S. play any role to decrease the tension between the two personalities?

MR PRICE: Between the two personalities?

QUESTION: Yeah. Between the king and the prime minister.

MR PRICE: We of course are aware of the visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu to Jordan. It is something that we welcome. We have spoken of our firm belief, the fact that we stand firmly for preservation of the historic status quo with respect to the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, and we’ve affirmed the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s special role as Custodian of Muslim Holy Sites in Jerusalem. We’ve consistently underscored the need to preserve that historic status quo at Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount, as you’ve heard recently from the Secretary as well.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Briefly, the shootings that we’ve had in the United States. The Chinese foreign ministry today asked its citizens to exercise greater precautions in the United States because Asian and Asian Americans have been targeted or have been involved quite a bit in these shootings. Does the U.S. have any – any take on that, whether it’s appropriate for China to be encouraging greater caution in the United States?

MR PRICE: I’m not going to weigh in on what would, in effect, be a consular message from the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We of course follow our own guidelines and protocols when it comes to the consular messages and the security alerts that we issue to our citizens around the world, and we appreciate the space that countries around the world provide for us to do so.

I am also hesitant to comment on these particular incidents. Of course there are active law enforcement investigations to determine the motives behind the killers, the shooters in each of these cases, so I’m just not going to wade into that.

Yes, in the back. Yeah, Guita.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Special Envoy Rob Malley has said that the U.S. has been pushing China not to buy oil from Iran. Would you shed some light on that, please, and what the Chinese response may have been?

MR PRICE: Sure, Guita. So we have been clear and consistent about the need for countries around the world to enforce sanctions that are on the books and, as appropriate, to increase pressure on the Iranian regime in response to its intransigence. We are regularly and robustly engaged with the day-to-day business of enforcing our sanctions, including with regular and effective communications with allies and partners about those attempting to evade our sanctions.

As Iran’s largest oil customer, the PRC remains a top focus for our sanctions enforcement. We regularly engage with the PRC and other countries to discourage them from taking steps vis-à-vis Iran that – from taking steps vis-à-vis Iran that have the potential to undermine U.S. sanctions. We don’t preview potential sanctions actions, but we continue to monitor Iran’s oil exports and to engage Iran’s trading partners about the possibility of exposure to U.S. sanctions.

And that possibility of exposure is not just an academic question or a hypothetical. We, during the course of this administration, have levied multiple tranches of designations targeting Iran’s illicit petroleum and petrochemical trade over the past year or so. Some of these have included PRC-based entities or actors. In September of last year, for example, we sanctioned two PRC-based entities for operating crude oil storage facilities for Iranian petroleum products and a shipping company that had transported Iranian petroleum products, along with affiliated entities in other countries. In June of last year, 2022, we sanctioned a network of Iranian petrochemical producers and front companies in the PRC, UAE, and Iran.

These are just two examples of the accountability steps we’ve taken – those who would seek to circumvent U.S. and in some cases international sanctions imposed as a result of Iran’s own behavior. Iran’s nuclear program, Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and well beyond – it’s of course clear they are not in our interest, but they are also not in the interest of the PRC or any other country around the world.

And so we think it’s important that we work together even when we have profound differences across multiple fronts, as is the case with the PRC, that we work together to see to it that sanctions are very clearly and rigorously enforced.

QUESTION: One more question, please. Okay, since these suppressions in Iran of the demonstrators, you’ve been saying, everybody at the State Department has been saying, that the focus is not on JCPOA but supporting the demonstrators and those seeking their fundamental rights. It seems like Senator Ted Cruz is not accepting, does – is not believing you, the State Department on this, and says that the Biden administration is obsessed with reviving the JCPOA. Any comments?

MR PRICE: I don’t know how we could possibly be much clearer in terms of where we are now, and in this case where we are not. I’ll repeat it: the JCPOA has not been on the agenda for months. What has been on the agenda is our support to the brave Iranians who are taking to the streets to – and in doing so, expressing their universal rights. What has been on the agenda is seeking to condemn and counter Iran provision of security assistance to Russia, security assistance that in turn has targeted civilians in Ukraine. And what has been on the agenda are efforts that we continue to undertake to see to it that our wrongfully detained citizens are released.

The JCPOA has not been on the agenda because the Iranians have consistently turned their back on a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. They did so last September when an agreement was essentially on the table, when the other participants in the P5+1 had essentially agreed to it, and all it would have taken was an Iranian determination to move forward with it. They chose not to; they chose to renege on commitments. This was a pattern that we’d seen from Iran. So even while we believe that a diplomatic solution to the challenges posed by Iran’s nuclear program is by far the most preferable option, a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA has just not been on the table. It’s not something we’re seeking.

QUESTION: You mentioned the detainees, Ned – sorry – any updates on that?

MR PRICE: The only update I have is that it is an issue that we are prioritizing in everything we do. We have means by which to convey messages to the Iranian regime. We have made very clear to them since the earliest days of this administration the priority we attach to the safety and security of these Americans and the fact that these Americans should be released. These Americans are being held as political pawns. This is an abhorrent practice. It’s a practice that Iran has long engaged in. It’s a practice that we seek to put an end to with these American citizens.

Yes.

QUESTION: President Biden and the Vice President both had raised voice for the people of Kashmir when they were running in elections. And today, Rahul Gandhi of congress has also said that if his party comes into power the autonomy issue and the self-determination issue for Kashmir will be his first priority. And of course, Pakistan and India, this is one of the major issue. Is there going to be a time when we will see a just resolution to this issue, or is this issue going to continue to linger on?

MR PRICE: This is a question for India and Pakistan. We had an opportunity to speak about this yesterday, made clear that we support constructive engagement between our two partners – in this case India and Pakistan. But ultimately, the character, the tenor, the details of that engagement is a question for them.

QUESTION: On Pakistan —

QUESTION: One more —

MR PRICE: One more, sure. Go ahead, Shaun.

QUESTION: On the – Russia and Pakistan. A few days ago, Russia said that it’s nearing a deal to sell oil to Pakistan, which of course traditionally hasn’t been a major importer of Russian oil but has some very serious economic problems. Does the United States have a stance on that – on this? Has there been any dialogue with Pakistan about whether to move forward or not?

MR PRICE: Well, our approach to this is – has been laid out in the price cap mechanism that we worked out with other countries around the world, including the G7. And the virtue of the price cap is that it allows energy markets to continue to be resourced while depriving Moscow of the revenue it would need to continue to propagate and fuel its brutal war against Ukraine.

We have made the point that we have very intentionally not sanctioned Russian oil. Instead, it’s now subject to the price cap. So we have encouraged countries to take advantage of that, even those countries that have not formally signed on to the price cap, so that they can acquire oil in some cases at a steep discount from what they would otherwise acquire from, in this case, Russia.

We have been very clear that now is not the time to increase economic activity with Russia. But we understand the imperative of keeping global energy markets well resourced, well supplied, and the price cap, we believe, provides a mechanism to do that.

QUESTION: One on China?

MR PRICE: Let me move around. Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I want to ask regarding Ms. Julie Turner, nominee for special envoy on North Korea human rights issues. Can you add some more details about her career and competence as a diplomat? And also what’s the reason for nominating her two years after the inauguration of Biden administration?

MR PRICE: Sure. So first, let me just say that we congratulate Julie Turner on her nomination as the U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights issues, and we look forward to the Senate confirming her, we hope, swiftly. She is uniquely qualified for this position, having worked for nearly two decades on North Korean human rights and other regional issues in the State Department and at the National Security Council staff. There are few people with the depth of knowledge, experience, and relationships that she brings to bear on North Korean human rights issues.

This administration, as you know, is committed to placing human rights at the center of our foreign policy. And for decades the United States has championed efforts to improve respect for human rights and dignity of North Koreans and we’ll continue to promote accountability for the DPRK Government, for its egregious human rights records, including through the appointment of the special envoy for North Korean human rights.

Even has this position has been vacant – and of course, it’s a position that wasn’t filled by the previous administration, so it’s been some time since we’ve had a Senate-confirmed individual in this position – State Department officials at all levels, from the Secretary on down, have been actively engaged on issues of North Korean human rights. This engagement has included working with the international community to raise awareness of these issues and introducing resolutions in multilateral bodies, documenting violations and abuses through our annually Congressionally mandated reports, and supporting efforts to increase the flow of information into, out of, and through the DPRK.

Julie Turner’s appointment reflects our priority in addressing the DPRK’s deplorable human rights situation.

Kylie.

QUESTION: Just a quick one on that.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: So by nominating her, the administration doesn’t plan to elevate its focus on North Korea human rights abuses?

MR PRICE: She will be the special envoy for North Korea human rights issues, of course. She will fulfill a position that, as I mentioned before, was vacant for the entirety of the last administration, hasn’t had a Senate-confirmed individual in place for a number of years now. I would add, however, that even in the absence of a Senate-confirmed individual in this role, it’s been a focus of ours. We are very pleased to see Julie Turner’s nomination and, again, we hope that she is swiftly confirmed by the Senate so she can be in place formally in this role before long.

QUESTION: And if I could just ask one quick question about the letter from Congressman McCaul to the Secretary yesterday. A lot of questions related to the documents found in the President’s former office in the Penn Biden Center. I’m wondering if you have any update for us as to if the department knows if any of those documents are State Department documents, because that’s one the questions in this letter. And if you don’t yet know that, if you expect that you’ll be getting any update from the IC or from DOJ on the content of those documents.

MR PRICE: So first, on the letter we received yesterday, let me just add that we’ve had productive, constructive engagement with the 117th Congress, with the last Congress. We had thousands of engagements on that Congress’s priorities and importantly on the priorities that matter most to the American people. This is what we certainly hope and expect to have with this Congress, with the 118th Congress.

Chairman McCaul, as you know, was in the building earlier this month. It was, from our vantage point, a very useful, constructive meeting. In the aftermath of that meeting, we’ve received multiple letters from his committee, and we’ve made initial responses to several of those letters. We’ve done so quickly. We’re actively engaged with the committee on multiple fronts, wanting to be responsive to their interests.

Regarding the letter that was transmitted yesterday, we’re going to coordinate with the Executive Branch and consult with the committee, as is standard in all of these cases. These are discussions that we’ll have internally and that we’ll have with the committee going forward.

On the question of the documents themselves, I’m just not in a position to go beyond what you’ve heard from me before, and now from the Secretary before. He – just as the President was, he was surprised that there were any government records found in the Penn Biden Center. Obviously, there’s an ongoing DOJ review. We’re going to let that review play out.

QUESTION: And just one more question. There’s a lot of questions in this letter. Some of them pertain to the Secretary’s life before he was the Secretary of State. So is there a plan for a personal lawyer for the Secretary to be responding to some of those?

MR PRICE: These are precisely the kinds of questions that we are going to discuss internally and then we’re also going to discuss with the committee. We’re going to have those discussions before we say anything publicly on that front.

Yeah, Dylan?

QUESTION: Yes. You said twice in the last week or so that China is no longer a major source of fentanyl coming into the United States. Joe Biden, President Biden’s, top official working on the overdose crisis through said just this past weekend that it’s still a major source of a components of fentanyl flowing into the United States. I know you’ve mentioned those when you were talking about the subject, but isn’t that a bit of a distinction without a difference to say – to commend China for restricting the flow of fentanyl itself when it’s still distributing all the components needed to make fentanyl, is still a major source of that?

MR PRICE: I think it’s a distinction that I laid out very clearly yesterday, when I was last asked about this. Made the point that the PRC scheduled fentanyl and related substances as a class in 2019, but we continue to see the PRC-origin precursor chemicals used in illicit fentanyl production. Don’t want to discount – and in fact, I pointed out earlier this week, yesterday I believe it was – that we have a concerted focus on fentanyl at this department because it is a leading killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 49. The Secretary is determined to see to it that we are doing everything that we can from the equities of this department to be responsive to addressing this challenge, working with countries around the world, working with our partners in the Executive Branch to see to it that there’s no stern – stone unturned. And when we travel around the world, this is an issue that he routinely raises.

When it comes to the PRC, of course it’s a complex, multifaceted relationship. One of those facets is the potential for deeper cooperation in some areas. We would like to see that. We would like to see greater cooperation between the United States and the PRC on fentanyl, specifically on these precursor elements that, as you alluded to, do still make their way to third countries and ultimately form the basis of so much of the fentanyl that arrives in the United States and kills our citizens.

This is not a challenge that affects Americans alone – far from it. That’s why it is incumbent on countries like ours – in this case, the United States and the PRC – to work together where we can – and we believe we can, in this case – to take on a challenge that is such a threat to our citizens and citizens of the world. This is precisely what the rest of the world, what the international community expects of the United States and the PRC, to do everything we possibly can to tackle a challenge like this.

QUESTION: You did say yesterday also that there hasn’t been much engagement on this issue in recent months. And now you’re saying that it’s a top priority, of course, and that the Secretary mentions it often. So does that mean that the PRC are the ones that are holding up that engagement, are the ones not engaging on the issue?

MR PRICE: I didn’t intend to suggest – and I don’t think I did – that there hasn’t been a priority in this building. The point I made is that engagement on these issues has been limited in recent months. We’re actively seeking to engage the PRC to accelerate the engagement on this particular issue with them in that bilateral relationship.

Shannon.

QUESTION: Thanks. Also on China and the allegations that the U.S. has communicated with China, that state-owned companies are supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine through non-lethal and economic means, the White House said today that it’s not clear whether the Chinese Government knows about this activity. I wanted to ask how much of the onus is on the Chinese Government that – given these are state-owned companies to monitor their activity and know what they’re doing? And could they still face repercussions?

MR PRICE: So let me make the point that this is something that we have been closely monitoring since even before Russia’s – the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine in February of last year. We’ve been very clear with the PRC of the implications of providing materiel to support Russia’s war against Ukraine.

I’m not in a position to confirm some of the accounts you’ve read, but we would be concerned if we were to see not only the PRC itself engaging in this, but Chinese companies, PRC companies doing this. Obviously there is close synergy, cooperation, coordination between the PRC Government and companies operating in and out of the PRC. And in all of our conversations, we have emphasized to our PRC counterparts the importance of – that we attach to this and to the need to – our ongoing monitoring of this. I suspect it’s something that we’ll discuss in the coming days, when the Secretary has an opportunity to travel to Beijing.

Let me take a couple more questions. Yes. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. There was an incident today in Ankara, Türkiye. A Voice of America reporter was harassed by the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party today. And one of the members he also said on Twitter that her permanent duty on – in foreign media outlet VOA, which is a prominent propaganda tool for the U.S., are revealing of her true intention. Do you have any reaction or comment to this?

MR PRICE: I’m not immediately familiar with this incident, so I would need to look into it. What I can say is, as a general matter, is that we support freedom of the press, the ability of journalists and reporters to conduct their indispensable work free of harassment, free of threats, free of violence around the world. It’s a principle that applies to countries around the world. So we’ll have to look into that.

QUESTION: I have a follow up on that.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: This is not the first time VOA reporters, especially in Türkiye, are being harassed. And VOA Turkish website is still blocked in Türkiye since I believe June 2022. Is there an ongoing conversation between Ankara and Washington about this U.S. public broadcaster position in Türkiye?

MR PRICE: What I can say is that in our engagements with our Turkish allies we raise issues that are of mutual concerns, issues that are a concern to us as well. We talk quite a bit about security issues, about diplomatic issues, economic issues, but also issues of human rights and civil liberties. Those are a staple of our conversations with our Turkish allies. We emphasize the universality of universal rights. One of those universal rights is the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, in this case freedom of the press as fundamentally important.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Follow-up on North Korea. When it come to the North Korean issue, I think Ambassador Sung Kim is still concurrently serving as special representative for the DPRK. If you are seriously looking for the diplomatic path with DPRK, why don’t you guys just appoint a full-time special representative for DPRK?

MR PRICE: When it comes to Sung Kim, who is serving concurrently as our special envoy to the DPRK and as our bilateral ambassador to Indonesia, he is an extraordinary talent. There is – there’s few people, if anyone, who has his level and depth of knowledge when it comes to the issues that are at play with the DPRK. He’s been involved with this for many years. We want to make sure that we’re leveraging that experience, that knowledge, that expertise as well.

Now, there’s a very practical issue at play. We’ve made very clear that we seek to engage directly with the DPRK to see if we can arrive at practical, pragmatic steps we can take towards what is our ultimate objective of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The DPRK, unfortunately, has demonstrated no interest or willingness or ability to engage with us on these questions. So it may be a different story were there active diplomacy ongoing with the DPRK, were there active dialogue ongoing.

In the absence of that, Sung Kim has been very focused on working with our Japanese allies, on our South Korean allies, other allies in the Indo-Pacific, other allies and partners around the world. That is a significant amount of work, and if we are to arrive at a position where it does make sense to have an individual singularly focused as special envoy for the DPRK, we can cross that bridge, but right now Sung Kim has been doing a really tremendous job as our ambassador and as our special envoy.

Take – yes, go ahead. Final question or so.

QUESTION: Thank you. Reportedly, House Speaker McCarthy has planned to visit Taiwan in the spring this year. So as we remember, last year after Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, China conducted a large-scale military exercises along Taiwan. So my question is: What would be the State Department position on Speaker McCarthy’s potential trip to Taiwan?

MR PRICE: I’m not aware that the Speaker’s office has announced any planned travel; would have to refer you to the Speaker’s office. Of course, Congress – and we made this point last summer as well – is a co-equal, independent branch of government. They are going to make their own decisions when it comes to every issue under the sun, and that includes potential travel.

Now, what concerned us last summer and what has concerned us throughout this administration with Beijing’s approach to cross-strait issues is the apparent desire on the part of the PRC to undermine the longstanding status quo that has really held up decades of stability, peace across the Taiwan Strait. We do not want to see that eroded. Our concern is that in the aftermath of Speaker Pelosi’s visit, the PRC used that as a pretext to accelerate what it had already been doing, trying to create a new normal, trying to undermine the status quo that, far from undermining, we seek to preserve.

That continues to be our concern going forward. Just as we discuss issues of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in meeting with our PRC officials, we also discuss cross-strait issues, and in all of those discussions we emphasize the priority the international community attaches to peace and stability across the strait and to upholding rather than diluting the status quo that has really been at the crux of that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. Follow-up question to the North Korean human rights ambassador. Why the – was the ambassador post appointed at this time after being vacant for six years? Dialogue with North Korea remained disconnected. What message does it send to North Korea? What do you think?

MR PRICE: Well, I can’t comment on those six years. Of course, four of those years were in the last administration, when the position went unfilled for the entire time. What I can say is that this administration has prioritized and put human rights at the center of our foreign policy, and that includes in the context of the DPRK. Secretary Blinken, senior officials in our Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, in our Bureau of Democracy, Rights, and Labor as well, have worked fervently to do everything we can to raise awareness, to work with allies and partners, to shine a spotlight on the human rights abuses that are ongoing in the DPRK. We’re very pleased now that we have a nominee who will be able to do this day in, day out upon her confirmation by the Senate, and we urge the Senate to act swiftly on that.

Quick —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Let me follow up on Secretary’s recent calls to South Caucasus. He urged Azerbaijan’s Aliyev to redouble his efforts on peace negotiations, and he also welcomed Pashinyan’s – Prime Minister Pashinyan’s – commitment. Is it your impression that the ball is on Azerbaijani side? And in that case, may I get your reaction to – actually, the Secretary’s take on how he envisions the process moving forward? What is his conclusion?

MR PRICE: Well, we don’t go into it with a conclusion. We go into it hoping to see direct dialogue – direct dialogue leading to a resolution of the issues that have long divided Armenia and Azerbaijan – and through that dialogue, hopefully reaching a lasting peace. We’re continuing to engage in direct discussions with Armenia and Azerbaijan. We’re doing that bilaterally; we’re doing that with partners; we’re doing that through multilateral institutions. We’ve had an occasion to do that trilaterally a couple times last year as well. We are going to do what is most effective to bring about a resolution to these very thorny issues.

QUESTION: But does the Secretary have clear understanding of where the negotiation process is stalled at this point?

MR PRICE: We have a good sense of the state of play. We have various concerns. Let me just state, on the topic of those concerns, our concerns regarding the Lachin corridor. We are concerned that the situation there is worsening; the worsening humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh has been a focus of not only the Secretary but others in this building. Ongoing obstruction of normal commercial and private travel along the Lachin corridor is causing shortages of food, fuel, and medicine for the residents who depend on the corridor for those very basic supplies. Periodic disruptions to natural gas and other basic utilities exacerbate the worsening humanitarian situation. We call for the full restoration of free movement through the corridor, including commercial and private travel. We believe we need a solution to this impasse that will ensure the safety and well-being of the population living in the area, and we believe the way forward is, as I said before, through negotiations. We remain committed to supporting a lasting peace.

Yes, Julie.

QUESTION: He also raised human rights —

MR PRICE: I need to move on, Alex.

QUESTION: Just very —

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, I need to move on. Yes, go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah, I wanted to go back to the meeting that was hosted this – co-hosted this morning between the Secretary and foreign minister – the Japanese foreign minister on the energy sector in Ukraine. There are a lot of other issues that are going on in Ukraine. There’s no water. A lot of other utilities are damaged as well as the energy infrastructure. Are there plans also to include some – try to address some of that within the international community, within this cohort of G7 that came together this morning?

MR PRICE: So the basic answer is yes. I would add, though, that some of the challenges that you alluded to – water, for example – is a consequence of Russia’s targeting of energy infrastructure. If you don’t have energy, you can’t purify, you can’t dispense, you can’t see to it that water is distributed to the civilian population that so needs it. And so really, many of the humanitarian predicaments that our Ukrainian partners face, the root of that is what Russia has sought to do to the civilian energy infrastructure.

Participants today had an opportunity to hear directly from Foreign Minister Kuleba of their needs. Among the needs that he put forward was a call for additional air-defense assets. Those air-defense assets of course can protect electricity and energy infrastructure just as they can protect other forms of critical infrastructure, including water, as you alluded to.

Other participants laid out what they are in the process of providing. Secretary Blinken noted what we already had announced – the fact that we’ve had two planeloads travel to Ukraine in recent weeks; the fact that we expect additional supplies to arrive in the coming days. And he really put an emphasis on how we can continue to leverage this group of foreign ministers, the G7 plus a number of other countries, to in the first instance keep this group going, providing Ukraine what we have and what we can in the form of assistance for their energy infrastructure, but also as we effect the shift from emergency response to long-term reconstruction.

We have demonstrated an ability to help our Ukrainian partners with that emergency response, and the resilience that we’ve seen from our Ukrainian partners turning the lights back on, being in a position to turn those lights back on within hours or even minutes of these deadly strikes I think speaks to not only the Ukrainian resourcefulness but also the determination of countries around the world to provide that. But we’re also thinking about the longer term, how we can make Ukraine’s – help Ukraine’s energy infrastructure to be stronger, more resilient, green; how we can see to it that it is integrated with that of Europe as well.

QUESTION: And then can I – can I have a follow-up on – also on Ukraine? The designation of the Wagner Group as its power within the military, or the Russian military organization, rises – how – could you speak for a few minutes about how – or for a second about how you think – what you think the impact of that will be? Will that be helpful, and how soon?

MR PRICE: Sure. So I will limit my comments today because we spoke to it yesterday at some length, and I expect we’ll have more to say later this week. But suffice to say we have a number of authorities that we’ve already levied against the Wagner Group to attempt to counter some of its nefarious activities around the world. It is a primary export of chaos, of instability, of violence. We see that in Ukraine, but we also see that in other parts of the world, including in Africa.

The announcement that you heard that we would label the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organization provides us with another tool. It will leave senior officials and employees of the Wagner Group susceptible to visa bans. For example, it will allow our law enforcement entities to work with law enforcement counterparts around the world to counter the Wagner Group’s activities from that angle.

But again, we are going to use every appropriate and relevant authority we have to try to counter, to try to neutralize what this group is attempting to do around the world.

Thanks very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:43 p.m.)


1. an Alliance of 32 upon Sweden and Finland’s accession

Department Press Briefing – January 23, 2023

2:10 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Happy Monday. Good afternoon to everyone. It’s quite a full briefing room. I was joking with my colleague that I have a hard out today at 5:00 p.m. – (laughter) – so we’ll make good use of our time. Just one announcement at the top, and then we’ll turn to your questions.

The United States took further action today, concurrently with the United Kingdom and the European Union, to promote accountability for the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses by imposing sanctions on 10 additional Iranian individuals, including Iran’s deputy minister of intelligence and key commanders in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as one additional Iranian entity.

Today’s action is the latest of numerous tranches of sanctions made in close consultation with our allies and partners and aimed at Iranian individuals and entities connected to Iranian authorities’ cruel and violent crackdown against peaceful protesters. In addition, we applaud our allies and partners, including the United Kingdom, members of the European Union, Canada, Australia, and others, who also continue to sanction Iranian authorities and entities involved and complicit in human rights abuses and in Iran’s supply of weapons to Russia for use in the Kremlin’s brutal war against Ukraine. Today, we are united with our allies and partners in the need to confront Iran’s leadership for its human rights abuses and destabilizing activities, which should alarm the entire world.

With that, we’ll turn to your questions.

QUESTION: I was late so I will allow others to —

MR PRICE: That’s very magnanimous of you.

QUESTION: Could I?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Nothing? I’ve always said that about you, Matt. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I think people may want to start elsewhere, but can I start in Ethiopia?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The withdrawal of Eritrean troops. There was the call over the weekend with Prime Minister Abiy. To what extent is this verified that this is a withdrawal? Do you expect it to be permanent, expect it as in do you acknowledge that it’s permanent?

MR PRICE: This was a subject of the call with the prime minister over the weekend. As you know, they had an opportunity to speak on January 21st. They spoke of numerous elements, but that included the ongoing withdrawal of Eritrean troops from northern Ethiopia. The Secretary welcomed this development, noting that it was a key to securing a sustainable peace in northern Ethiopia, and he urged access for international human rights monitors. The Secretary also affirmed the commitment of the United States to support the AU-led peace process in northern Ethiopia. They also discussed the need to bring an end to ongoing instability in the Oromia region of Ethiopia.

We do applaud the continued steady progress towards implementing the key elements of the cessation of hostilities agreement that was reached a number of months ago as well as the positive role of the AU’s Joint Monitoring Verification and Compliance team.

When it comes to Eritrea, as I mentioned before, Shaun, we are aware that Eritrean forces are beginning to withdraw from Ethiopia. We reiterate the call that you’ve heard consistently from us, including the call that was included in the communique that emanated from the talks in South Africa, for the withdrawal of all foreign forces. We reiterate the call for the complete withdrawal in line with that November 12th Nairobi agreement as well.

The departure of Eritrean and other forces is crucial, as I said before, to achieving lasting peace, securing full humanitarian access, and ensuring the territorial integrity of Ethiopia. Even as we continue to see positive signs, including the ongoing withdrawal of Eritrean forces, we are concerned by reports that Eritrean forces have committed human rights abuses against civilians, and we continue – and continue to impede the delivery of much-needed humanitarian assistance. We call on the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea to investigate these reports and to hold those responsible to account. We also call on the Government of Ethiopia to fulfill its commitment to grant full access to international human rights monitors.

QUESTION: Sure, just to follow up on a couple of these. The abuses that you’re talking about, you’re talking about in the past, not currently?

MR PRICE: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Prior to the withdrawal?

MR PRICE: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Two things. As far as you know, has there been any contact with the Eritreans? Obviously the U.S. has a difficult relationship there, and of course there are sanctions that are imposed on Eritrea in the course of the war. Will those – not today, I’m sure, but will those – will those be lifted in some sense for this?

MR PRICE: In terms of our – any dialogue with Eritrea, we of course do have an embassy in Asmara. It is a relationship that is, to put it lightly, strained. Of course we have the means by which to convey messages to counterparts in Asmara, sometimes delivering those messages publicly as the most effective means by which to do that, but we do have an embassy there.

When it comes to the sanctions that are on Eritrean officials, you are right that there are a number of accountability mechanisms that – some of which were devised and announced in the course of this civil war in Ethiopia that we hope is finally coming to an end. One of those was the executive order that this administration devised and President Biden announced some number of months ago. Eritrean forces have been subject to its provisions because of their activity during the course of this conflict.

If this continues, if we continue to see positive momentum, we of course will take that into account. We will take into account everything we see – the good, the bad – as we evaluate the next steps and determine whether any additional accountability measures are warranted or, to the contrary, if certain sanctions that are in place no longer have a basis in that executive order.

Yeah, Humeyra.

QUESTION: Ned, can we talk a little bit about this whole saga around the tanks in Europe? And there seems to be a lot of back and forth and even, like, almost a dispute about Germany doesn’t want to send the tanks independently, you guys are saying it’s their sovereign decision, but they want – they seem to want the shield of allies. So what can the administration do to support that process? And the administration has made an effort to keep NATO unified, and this seems to be a bit of an emerging clash. How does the Biden administration feel about this in Europe?

MR PRICE: First, let me take the second part of your question first. At virtually every step of Russia’s war against Ukraine, we’ve heard these prognostications or predictions that the transatlantic unity that we’ve marshaled and maintained is fraying at the seams, it’s coming apart. In fact, we heard that even before the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th. At every step of the way, those predictions have proved to be premature and just flat out wrong. You – let me just give you one example: Look at what came out of the latest convening of the Defense Contact Group that Secretary of Defense Austin and Chairman Milley attended last week.

And you saw announcements – new announcements from any number of allies and partners that speak to the tremendous amount of not only unity but determination from countries around the world to continue to stick with it. France and Germany and the UK, they’ve all donated air-defense systems to Ukraine. That includes from Germany a Patriot battery. The Netherlands is donating a Patriot – Patriot missiles and launchers and training. Canada has procured a NASAM system and associated munitions for Ukraine. The UK of course announced the provision of Challenger 2 tanks for Ukraine. Sweden announced it’s donating CV90 infantry fighting vehicles and additional donations soon of ARCHER Howitzers. Denmark, Latvia, other countries all announced new provision of support to Ukraine in the context of the Defense Contact Group, and that was just last week. Oh, and I should be – I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that we also announced $2.5 billion of our own —

QUESTION: Yeah, but all of the –

MR PRICE: — of our own security assistance.

QUESTION: All of that lacks —

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: All of that lacks tanks, and that’s the urgent request from the Ukrainians. So like great cooperation and agreement on all of those, but they say this is the most urgent one —

MR PRICE: So tanks —

QUESTION: — and you guys seem to have lacked —

MR PRICE: Tanks. We have taken steps over the course of many months, including over the summer, to see to it that partners are in a position to provide tanks to Ukraine. Ukraine has tanks. I don’t want to leave you with the misimpression that Ukraine doesn’t have tanks. Ukraine has hundreds of tanks, so point A.

When it comes to any —

QUESTION: Are you saying their request is irrational or —

MR PRICE: When it —

QUESTION: — unnecessary?

MR PRICE: When it comes to any particular capability – you’ve heard us say this before and you actually summed it up – this is a sovereign decision on the part of each country to decide what types of security assistance to provide, what they’re in a position to provide. We applaud all of our allies and partners for what they have done so far, and I just recounted some of that that we’ve heard over the past 72 hours or so. We’ve previously, when it comes to Germany, applauded its announcements that they’ll send Ukraine infantry fighting vehicles, MLRS systems, air-defense capabilities including the IRS-T air-defense system, and as I mentioned before a Patriot missile battery. We also applaud the decision by the UK, as I mentioned before, to send these Challenger tanks to Ukraine.

We will continue to do our part to provide Ukraine with what it needs. I mentioned our latest provision of security assistance that we announced on Thursday and Friday. That was the 30th drawdown of so‑called Presidential Drawdown Authority. Thirty times now we have announced hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars’ worth of security assistance to Ukraine. And on Friday, we announced that we’ll provide more than 500 armored vehicles to Ukraine in addition to the Bradley Fighting Vehicles that we’ve previously announced.

QUESTION: But what role —

MR PRICE: I see you —

QUESTION: — do you play in the —

MR PRICE: I see you having a follow-up question. I suspected you would go there.

Our role there will be to continue to speak with our Ukrainian partners, to speak with our allies, including in the context of NATO, including in the context of the Defense Contact Group, to determine the needs of the Ukrainian fighters and also what members of this coalition of some 50 countries are in a position to provide.

We are not going to be prescriptive. The only thing that we’re continuing to prescribe is that President Putin’s aggression will be – continue to be a strategic failure. We are going to provide Ukraine with what it needs to take on the battle that it’s facing at any given moment. We can say that until we’re blue in the face, but more importantly, we can continue to demonstrate that. And I think you see that with the success that our Ukrainian partners have had on the battlefield, including with the security assistance that we have provided and some 50 other countries around the world have provided.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: In the meantime, Ned – Ned —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: In the back, yes. Yes, please.

QUESTION: In the meantime, on this issue. Ned —

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I have follow-up, obviously, to the tank question. What impact does Germany’s hesitation have on the German-American relationship when it comes to not sending tanks now, question number one? And Poland says that they want to send Leopards to Ukraine without the permit of Germany. Would Secretary Blinken support that decision?

MR PRICE: These are questions for Germany. These are questions for Poland. In some cases, these are questions that our German allies will need to discuss with our shared allies. And my impression, having seen headlines that are just emerging, is that we may be hearing more from our German allies in the coming hours and the coming days.

But I will say Germany is a stalwart ally across the board, including in the context of the security assistance that it has provided to Ukraine. I’ve already mentioned some of the systems that Germany has provided – the IRIS-T system, the MLRS systems, the Patriot missile battery; not to mention everything else that Germany has spoken to over the past 11 months or so.

If you had mentioned these systems and the amount of security assistance that Germany has to date provided on February 23rd of last year, I think there would have been a lot of people around the world who may not have believed you. Germany has stepped up. Germany has stepped up in a big way. It has provided quantity, but it has also provided capabilities that our Ukrainian partners need. There is no doubt in our mind that Germany is a reliable ally on this front and on every front.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: A follow-up, please?

MR PRICE: Is it on this? Is it on this?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. On this issue. In the meantime, you are really pressuring Germany to send the Leopard tanks. Right?

MR PRICE: Said —

QUESTION: Why not send the A1M1 Abrams?

MR PRICE: Said, I just went to some length to say that —

QUESTION: No, no. I’m just saying.

MR PRICE: — to say that it is a sovereign decision of each country.

QUESTION: I understand. But there is a lot of pressure to send the Leopard tank. Why not send the A1M1 Abrams tank? I mean, why not? It’s the best tank in the world, admittedly. Right?

MR PRICE: Said, this is something that our colleagues at the Department of Defense have spoken to. I don’t want to compare apples and oranges, and I think the comparison of these two systems as apples and oranges may understate the differences that we’re talking about here. Let me just say that we are in direct, regular communication with our Ukrainian partners. We’ll continue to provide them with what they need to defend themselves, given the nature of the battle that they are confronting at any given moment.

Now, the other point I should make, and I made this to Humeyra, is that we’ve already helped our Ukrainian partners to obtain tanks. We have worked with them to obtain former Soviet-made and Russian-made tanks that they’re already trained on, they know how to use, they can put to use right away, they can repair them, they can keep them operational, and most importantly, they can be effective with them.

We also announced, as I said before, on Friday an assistance package that included 500 additional armed vehicles in addition to the Bradley Fighting Vehicles that we announced for the first time a couple weeks ago.

QUESTION: Although – although – just a quick follow-up.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Although – I understand. Although – but we have not really seen any great tank battles in this war. We have seen that these tanks are being used as artillery. I mean, what – maybe you can supplement that, send them some fancy artillery or something.

MR PRICE: You’re basically describing what we’re already doing. Yes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Follow-up? Go ahead. Okay.

QUESTION: Same topic.

QUESTION: Okay. So TVN Warner Bros. Discovery from Poland, so it’s obviously a question about Poland’s role here. So Poland wants to build, and it’s a quote from the prime minister, at least a small coalition of countries that would send Leopards to Ukraine. Would you diplomatically help build such a coalition so that Poland and other countries in the region could send those Leopards to Ukraine?

MR PRICE: We have marshaled, built, led a coalition of countries, of 50 countries, that for – over the course of the better part of a year has provided billions and billions of dollars’ worth of security assistance to Ukraine. And we keep talking about security assistance because that’s where the questions are coming. But I would be remiss not to mention the economic assistance, the humanitarian assistance that countries around the world have also provided. I don’t want to suggest that security assistance is the only form of assistance our Ukrainian partners need. They need all of it, and they need it from as many countries as are positioned to provide it.

So to answer your question, there is an extant coalition. The United States has helped to put this together, helped to lead it. We’ll continue to do that.

QUESTION: How about Leopard coalition to provide tanks?

MR PRICE: Let me just make a quick point. We don’t have Leopard tanks, as I think you know. This is a question for countries in Europe that do have them.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Any – okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: So, Ned, to understand your position on this. We aren’t questioning about the unity. That’s clear. That part has been established, and thank you for that. The question’s about the leadership. Germany says the U.S. needs to lead by providing with one single Abrams so we can release all the Leopards. So are you waiting to —

MR PRICE: Alex, I think – I think oftentimes people in this room put words into my mouth. I think you might be putting words into the mouths of German officials. I’m not sure I’ve heard that from our German allies.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Change topic —

QUESTION: The Polish —

MR PRICE: Are you asking a question on this?

QUESTION: No, no.

MR PRICE: Okay. Let’s try and move on in a couple (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Anything else on this, Kylie?

QUESTION: Today the Polish prime – or maybe yesterday – but today or yesterday the Polish prime minister made a remark saying that they’re going to try and put together a coalition of European countries that would like to send these Leopard tanks, and essentially made the argument that they might do it without getting the approval of Germany. Would the U.S. support those countries in doing that if Germany doesn’t give them the green light?

MR PRICE: This is not a question for us. This is a question for our German allies. This is a question for our allies that have these systems.

QUESTION: But could it be harmful to the NATO coalition if they did that?

MR PRICE: Again, an indispensable element of the effectiveness that our Ukrainian partners have had has been the unity, the consensus, the unanimity that we’ve seen within this broad coalition, whether it’s within NATO, whether it’s within this grouping of some 50-odd countries that are providing security assistance to Ukraine. Of course we put a premium on maintaining that consensus and that cooperation and that close coordination, but that’s not a question for us, that’s a question for our allies and partners with these particular systems.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Sorry, did you just say that just say that you guys would actually prefer unanimity or you would want unanimity?

MR PRICE: We – of course, it has been indispensable to the success – and I’m not speaking to the provision of a system; I’m speaking –

QUESTION: And it would be indispensable on this occasion as well?

MR PRICE: I am speaking in terms of the indispensability of the consensus, the coordination, the consultation that we have achieved and maintained with partners around the world in support of Ukraine. That’s my point.

QUESTION: Russia?

QUESTION: Just on – Ned, one – yes, on this subject.

MR PRICE: Anything – we’ll take one more question on this. You seem particularly – here, yeah.

QUESTION: Yes, sir. A little bit on the peace side of these tanks, because I know Putin has been talking about if these tanks were to be given, nuclear war could have started. So let’s – if you could change the subject a little bit to the peace side of it, is it true that Ukraine has asked China to help out in this issue, and maybe bring about some peaceful result to this whole thing? Or no?

MR PRICE: That’s a better question for our Ukrainian partners. I can say that we are looking to all countries around the world that have relations with Russia, including a relationship with Russia that we certainly don’t have and many of our closest partners in NATO and in the broader international community don’t have, to use their voice, to use their pull, to use their leverage to encourage President Putin to put an end to this brutal war. China is a country that, perhaps more so than any other country, has leverage with Russia – political leverage, economic leverage – that we would like to see the PRC use to bring about an end to needless bloodshed, an end to civilian harm, suffering, destruction; and, by the way, to hold up the very principles that the PRC over the course of many decades now has at least maintained that they hold dear.

Whether it’s in the United Nations system, whether it’s in any number of international fora, we’ve heard from the PRC over the course of decades an emphasis on state sovereignty, an emphasis on the rules-based international order, an emphasis on the UN Charter. By tacitly – and in some cases explicitly – supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they are eroding their standing on all of those issues. They are taking actions that counteract everything they have said that they believe in.

QUESTION: And Ned, one question on India. India.

MR PRICE: We’ll come back.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Go ahead, Russia. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have Russia and North Korea together. The head of Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group sent a message of action to the White House refuting the arms deal between North Korea and the Wagner Group announced by the White House last week, and they asked what the crime was. What is the State Department position on the objection of the Wagner Group?

MR PRICE: Well, I would note that this letter from Mr. Prigozhin to my colleague at the White House came precisely in the aftermath of the White House declassifying additional information regarding the Wagner Group’s activities inside Ukraine, the Wagner Group’s – the support that it is receiving from the DPRK, not to mention the – a broader discussion about the destabilizing influence that the Wagner Group is having, not only in Ukraine, but in other parts of the world, including in parts of Africa.

So we’ve gone to great lengths to explain our concerns with the Wagner Group. We have declassified information, we have declassified imagery, we’ve spoken to our concerns in the Ukrainian context and the broader context, and I think I’ll let those comments speak for themselves.

QUESTION: Regarding UN Security Council sanctions, if China and Russia oppose sanctions against the Wagner Group, will the U.S. pursue its own sanctions?

MR PRICE: Yes, and we are. What the White House noted last week is that we are imposing additional designations, using additional authorities to pursue the Wagner Group. This is a group that for quite some time has been subject to U.S. sanctions. We imposed further sanctions in March of 2022 related to Mr. Prigozhin’s funding of the Internet Research Agency, which he uses to propagate his global influence operations.

So we are going to use every appropriate tool to pursue the Wagner Group, to attempt to counter its destabilizing actions, its destabilizing influence – again in the Ukrainian context and more broadly as well.

QUESTION: And then will you engage in diplomatic cooperation with South Korea on these matters, these issues?

MR PRICE: On this particular issue?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PRICE: It is fair to say that, of course, we have the closest of relations with our South Korean ally. There is a nexus to the DPRK in this case, given the provision of arms and other military wares from the DPRK to Wagner entities for use in Ukraine. We routinely discuss with our partners in the ROK the broad array of threats and challenges we face from the DPRK, most frequently the challenge we face from its nuclear weapons program, its ballistic missile program. But we’ve spoken, too, to its activities in the cyber realm, to money laundering, to criminal activities, and yes, to its support for what Russia is perpetrating on the people of Ukraine.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on —

MR PRICE: I need to move around to – yes – to get everyone.

QUESTION: How do you respond to Erdogan? He said today that Sweden cannot count anymore on Türkiye to join NATO.

MR PRICE: Well, you know our position on Finland and Sweden and their NATO accession. You’ve heard this from the administration, you’ve heard this from members of Congress. We strongly support their NATO candidacies. Finland and Sweden are ready to join the Alliance. They are ready to join the Alliance because of their military capabilities, the longstanding security partnership that we have with Finland and Sweden that now goes back decades. We exercise together, we cooperate together, we share information together. But they’re also ready to join the alliance because these are highly developed democracies.

When it comes to what we’ve seen in recent days, we support freedom of association, the right of peaceful assembly as elements of any democracy. But just as the Swedish prime minister said, burning books that are holy to many is a deeply disrespectful act, and he made the point that what is legal is not necessarily appropriate. We have a saying in this country – something can be lawful but awful. I think in this case what we’ve seen in the context of Sweden falls into that category.

We are also cognizant of the fact that those who may be behind what has taken place in Sweden may be engaging in an intentional effort to try to weaken unity across the Atlantic and within and among our European allies and partners. We feel that Finland and Sweden are ready to be NATO Allies. We have voiced that consistently, but ultimately, this is a decision and a consensus that Finland and Sweden are going to have to reach with Türkiye.

QUESTION: On the same subject?

QUESTION: And on Russia – sorry.

MR PRICE: Let’s stay on the same subject and come back. Sure.

QUESTION: So the United States, we all know, that says that it fights extremism in all its forms around the world. And that might be true, but the – from so many Muslim countries and international organizations alike, even the United Nations, have come out condemning this extremist behavior. So does the United States condemn this behavior? Because it is going to send a pretty clear signal to the whole world – wider Muslim world – that if there’s no condemnation from the United States, it’s kind of a clear-cut message that the reaction might be a little bit softer than expected.

MR PRICE: So a couple things. As I said before, we support freedom of association and the right of peaceful assembly as elements in any democracy, and one of the reasons Finland and Sweden are ready to join NATO is because they are advanced democracies. We have had our own challenges along these lines in this country. There was a famous incident not so long ago in this country that would fall in the – under the same terms, something that may be legal but that is profoundly disrespectful; that is profoundly, we might think, inappropriate, profoundly incendiary – something that is lawful but in this case awful. It is up to Sweden, it is up to Finland to interpret and to enforce their own laws, just as it is up to us in this country to interpret and enforce our own laws when we’re confronted with something that a provocateur might wish to take on.

QUESTION: So in that scenario, then, what’s keeping the United States from condemning this act? Because I’m not trying to extract some kind of a statement from you, but what’s the thought process at the State Department to condemn this or not, because even the United Nations have come out and condemned it?

MR PRICE: Well, again, no one here is defending what happened. And in fact, you’ve heard the very same thing from senior Swedish authorities. We are cognizant, though, that within democracies there is freedom of association, there is freedom of expression. Within that freedom, that gives people the right to undertake actions that may be disrespectful, they may be repugnant, that may be disgusting. I think all of those descriptors apply to what we’ve seen here. It’s what we’ve heard from our Swedish partners as well.

QUESTION: Ned, just to follow up on that.

QUESTION: Follow-up, please.

QUESTION: What is the U.S. assessment on Erdogan’s specific comments, though? Like, do you think – is the U.S. assessment that he is closing the door, or he’s just very angry with what happened over the weekend and this is a temporary thing?

MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to interpret President Erdogan’s comments from here.

QUESTION: It’s not interpretation. What do you guys understand? Like, what is your take?

MR PRICE: Well, you’re asking me – you are asking me to interpret his comments.

QUESTION: Well, the – Washington would have an assessment on this. Like, is he closing the door on this or is he —

MR PRICE: Our assessment – our assessment is that Finland and Sweden are ready to join the Alliance. We’ve made that very clear in public; we’ve made that very clear in private. Our Congress has made that very clear as well.

QUESTION: Change subject?

MR PRICE: Yes, Nike.

QUESTION: Ned, do you have anything for the Asian community regarding the tragic Monterey Park shootings over the weekend?

MR PRICE: Of course, we all woke – awoke to the heartbreaking news on Sunday morning, the terrible shooting that took place in Monterey Park. Our – just as you heard from President Biden, from the First Lady, our thoughts are with all of those who were killed in this horrific attack, all of those who were wounded in this shooting, those who are still recovering and fighting for their lives.

This is an attack, of course, that has been felt across this country. We know that this is an attack that has, of course, been especially devastating for the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander community as well. Our thoughts are with the entire community, and obviously our law enforcement partners are pursuing this matter aggressively.

QUESTION: Can I also ask about U.S.-China cooperation on (inaudible) to fight narcotics? When was the last time the two countries talked or had meeting to talk about combating narcotic (inaudible) including the illicit fentanyl? And do you expect that to be on the agenda for Secretary Blinken’s travel to Beijing?

MR PRICE: When it comes to the agenda for his upcoming travel, I’m going to avoid getting into any detail at this point. I suspect we’ll have plenty of opportunities to speak to all of you ahead of his travel to the PRC next month. Suffice to say, the Secretary will seek to engage substantively and constructively when it comes to those areas of competition, those areas that have the potential to be conflictual, to see to it that we can prevent competition from veering into conflict, but also those areas where we would like to see cooperation or, in some cases, deeper cooperation.

On that third category, we have a long history of successful cooperation with the PRC on counternarcotics. It is a threat that is felt acutely in both of our countries, and it’s also a threat that neither of our countries can address alone. Engagement on this issue has been limited in recent months, but we are seeking to re-engage the PRC on this issue precisely because it is within that bucket of issues where we feel that we have a responsibility as two great countries to tackle this and to tackle one of the core challenges that we feel acutely here.

I made this point the other – the other day, but fentanyl is the leading killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 49. It’s precisely why Secretary Blinken in any number of engagements with his senior team raises the challenge of fentanyl, the need on the part of the State Department to see to it that we’re doing everything we can through our bilateral relations, through international bodies, cooperation with the DEA and other departments and agencies in this government, to see to it that we’re doing everything to address it.

When it comes to the PRC, since the PRC scheduled fentanyl and related substances as a class in 2019, the PRC is no longer a major source of fentanyl flowing to the United States. But we continue to see PRC-origin precursor chemicals being used in illicit fentanyl production. Though its past action has helped counter illicit synthetic drug flows, we do hope to see additional action from the PRC – meaningful, concrete action – to curb the diversion of precursor chemicals and equipment used by criminals to manufacture fentanyl and other synthetic drugs. This is a challenge not only within our own two countries, but around the world. Countries around the world expect us to work cooperatively to address it.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Last week Secretary Blinken spoke with President Lourenço, and on the call he highlight the efforts of President Lourenço to bring peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Can you elaborate a little more on this call and can you give us a view of the State Department on the effort that Angola is making to bring peace to the DRC? And what can the U.S. do to help?

MR PRICE: Sure. I appreciate the question. The two did have an opportunity to speak on January 19th, late last week. We issued a readout in the aftermath of that call. But it was an important moment for Secretary Blinken to speak to President Lourenço about a couple of things.

Number one was Angola’s constructive engagement through the Luanda process – Luanda process to engage with authorities from the DRC, authorities from Rwanda, to try to bring about an end to this conflict, this needless violence in the eastern DRC. When we were in the DRC and Rwanda over the summer, the Secretary spoke in very complimentary terms with high praise about the role that we’ve seen Angola and other countries play to try and address the disagreements between the DRC and Rwanda and to bring about an end to the bloodshed that has cost far too many lives.

We also have a burgeoning economic partnership with Angola. It was a topic of conversation between the two leaders. The Secretary raised the upcoming visit of Amos Hochstein, who is the special presidential coordinator for the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, something that we are very bullish on as an opportunity to bring additional economic prosperity, partnership to countries and places around the world where the United States has not always been the partner of first resort when it comes to infrastructure, when it comes to investment projects. And we hope to see that change.

They also discussed some follow-up matters from the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. We were very happy to welcome the Angolan delegation to Washington in December, and I suspect that we’ll continue to see follow-up from other senior officials in this department to their Angolan counterparts in the weeks and months ahead.

QUESTION: And can you tell us if there is any upcoming visit from U.S. officials to Angola?

MR PRICE: What I can say —

QUESTION: Obviously the coordinator for —

MR PRICE: Yes. What I can say – you heard this from President Biden at the conclusion of the U.S. Africa-Leaders Summit that individuals from across this administration – senior individuals from across this administration are going to be spending quite a bit of time on the continent over this year – this coming year.

QUESTION: So Angola is one of the countries?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any travel to announce today, but whether it’s Secretary Blinken, whether it is our Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield who just announced an additional trip to the African continent today, the First Lady, the President himself, others – I suspect you will see a number of senior officials from this administration in Africa in the coming months.

QUESTION: Can I just get your comment real quick?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: There was an attack today in the east of the DRC claimed by ISIS. Is – just briefly, do you have any reaction to that? How much of a concern is there that there could be more ISIS violence there?

MR PRICE: We’ve unfortunately seen ISIS claim a number of attacks in the DRC. Last week, ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Protestant church in the eastern Congolese town of Kasindi, killed more than a dozen people, it injured dozens more – some 60 people. We have consistently condemned ISIS-DRC for the cowardly attacks, bombings that they’ve carried out against the civilian population in this part of the DRC. The fact that they would attack a church makes what they have done especially dastardly and contemptible. Our thoughts are with the victims, with their loved ones. Those responsible for this must be held to account.

QUESTION: And just very briefly on DRC, the – there’s a weekend statement – the Secretary’s call with Foreign Minister Al Thani of Qatar, and it mentions – actually, they talked about DRC. Can you be more specific what the Qatari role there that they’re looking from them?

MR PRICE: There’s not much additional I can add on this, but of course our Qatari partners have been useful bridge builders across any number of challenging issues. They have helped us indispensably when it comes to Afghanistan. They’ve been a force to help create and reinforce regional stability and integration in the Middle East, but they’ve also played a role that is much further afield, including in the context of the conflict in eastern DRC.

Yes.

QUESTION: On the Taliban?

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, follow up so —

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The United Nations human rights representative for Afghanistan released a report today that shows a new high level of human rights violations by the Taliban in many levels. They torture women, human rights activists, and so on and so forth. So may I ask you, which kind of action the United States would take to keep the Taliban accountable? So far we have seen that the Taliban asked many things from the United States, and they got it – many of them. They got money and also they are flexible, some sort of. But they haven’t given anything so far. Especially, the United States asked for including women’s right; they banned women from universities, and they are torturing journalists and human rights activists. So the people are asking this question that which kind of action the United States would take to keep them accountable?

MR PRICE: Sure. I just want to be very clear on the premise of your question. It is certainly not the case that we have provided the Taliban with any support whatsoever. And in fact, we have gone to great lengths to continue to be the world’s leading humanitarian provider to the people of Afghanistan in a way that doesn’t flow through the coffers of the Taliban. We’ve provided about $1.1 billion worth of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, not to the Taliban, not to any entity purporting to represent or to serve as the Government of Afghanistan for that very reason.

When it comes to the trust fund that we established, we established a trust fund so – precisely so that this funding would not be able to be diverted to the Taliban and to use for their own ends. The trust fund – the $3.5 billion in the so-called Afghan Fund that we established is for broader macroeconomic stability, again, for the people of Afghanistan but certainly not to support the Taliban in any way. Much to the contrary, we’ve been reviewing our approach and engagement with the Taliban in the context of many of the human rights violations, the draconian edicts, the repugnant actions that we’ve seen from the Taliban in recent weeks and in recent months. I’m just not in a position to detail where we are in that process, but I can tell you we are actively evaluating with allies and partners the appropriate next steps.

We’ve been clear that there will be costs for the Taliban for these actions. Absolutely everything remains on the table. And we’re looking at a range of options that will allow us to maintain our position as – principled position as the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan – again, that’s funding that goes directly to the Afghan people – while also doing everything we can to prevent the humanitarian situation from deteriorating even further. These responses take some time. They involve significant coordination with our allies, with international partners, and Afghan women themselves. We have been in touch with senior UN officials as well. There have been delegations from the UN to Afghanistan to investigate the situation and to be a constructive force vis-à-vis what we’ve seen from the Taliban. But the human – humanitarian and human rights communities, there’s no question, are facing extremely difficult options as they strive to help those in dire need while also remaining neutral, impartial, and independent in their provision of support to the Afghan people. Because, as a result of these edicts, men are not allowed to enter women-headed households, NGOs cannot reach most of the most vulnerable inside of Afghanistan, including in women-run households and mothers who must maintain adequate nutrition for their newborn babies without female workers present.

As of earlier this month, about 83 percent of organizations operating in Afghanistan have suspended or reduced their operations because they came to the conclusion that they could not do their work under these new edicts. This is unacceptable to us, but more importantly to the international community, because it imperils some 28 million Afghans who need this humanitarian assistance to survive, and especially women and children, those who are especially vulnerable. So we’re firmly committed to helping alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people. And as I mentioned before, we’ve been the world’s leading humanitarian provider – $1.1 billion in assistance since August of 2021to provide critical aid. And I have no doubt that we’ll continue to do everything we can to support the weighty humanitarian needs of the Afghan people.

QUESTION: Yeah. The concern is that the Taliban are getting that money, because there is not any clear strategy to give that money to ordinary people and vulnerable people. So the concern is and there are reports that Taliban are obviously using that money for their own benefits.

MR PRICE: This money is not flowing to or through the Taliban. It is being administered by NGO partners on the ground – or I should say it has been administered by NGO partners on the ground, and I say “has” because of the challenge we’re facing now, these draconian edicts on the part of the Taliban, including an edict propagated on Christmas Eve of last year that NGOs couldn’t work with women, had to work with men. Of course that is an unsustainable obligation, restriction on the part of many international NGOs, and we’ve seen many international NGOs come to the conclusion that they’re just not in a position to continue providing this aid to the Afghan people. We’re going to do what we can to see to it that these edicts are reversed using the leverage that we have to seek to accomplish that, but also to do everything we can to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people in the context of these restrictions and edicts.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News, Pakistan. This is about press freedom again. Our director of news – of ARY News, Ammad Yousaf, is facing criminal charges for just doing his job. He’s also being dragged for extradition case, which can get him a death sentence. And we talked about this press freedom many times. Your thoughts on that, please?

MR PRICE: We have discussed it many times, and each time you’ve heard of the emphasis we place on press freedom around the world. Free press and informed citizenry are key for any nation and its democratic identity, its democratic future, the democratic aspirations of its own people. We routinely raise our concerns about press freedom to governments, to stakeholders all around the world. When it comes to this particular case, would need to refer you to the Government of Pakistan.

QUESTION: Sir, Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has called for the peace talks with India. He says that he’s ready to talk about all the burning issues, including Kashmir, but India rejected that offer. They say this is not, like, the right time to talk about these issues. What are your comments on that? Because you always talk about the peace and stability in the region.

MR PRICE: We have – you’re right, we’ve long called for regional stability in South Asia. That’s certainly what we want to see. We want to see it advanced. When it comes to our partnership – our partnerships with India and Pakistan, these are relationships that stand on their own. We do not see these relationships as zero-sum. They stand on their own. We have long called for regional stability in South Asia, but the pace, the scope, the character of any dialogue between India and Pakistan is a matter for those two countries, India and Pakistan.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) with respect to today’s Quran burning incident in Sweden. Ned, you used so many words, so many terrible words – like repugnant, disrespectful, disgusting – but for condemning it. What take you from saying that you condemn this act of hatred? And even Russians came out condemning it.

MR PRICE: I’m certainly not refraining from condemning this particular action. As I said before, it’s repugnant. It is something that is vile. Of course countries around the world have – and what we also seek to uphold are the very democratic principles that we’re talking about here: the right to freedom of assembly, the right to freedom of expression. I was making the point that we’ve had at least one high-profile similar incident in this country that was equally repugnant and vile, and that we spoke out against at the time just as we’re doing so in the context of what has happened in Sweden, just as our Swedish partners have done.

QUESTION: Yes, but at the end of the day, currently, the Turkish public and of course the entire Muslim world is outraged by this act done under the protection of police, Swedish police, and then it has a political pressure on the Turkish leadership with respect to the Swedish bid for NATO. So do you think that just calling it, yes, some repugnant, disrespectful, and disgusting action happened under the auspices of freedom of speech would help in any way to resolve the current deadlock between Türkiye and Sweden with respect to Swedish membership to NATO?

MR PRICE: Our Swedish partners have spoken to this. They have spoken out forcefully against it. The fact of the matter is this was, as I understand it, a private individual, a provocateur, someone who may have deliberately sought to put distance between two close partners of ours, Türkiye and Sweden, who may have deliberately sought to have an impact on the ongoing discussion regarding the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO. This of course was not an act of the Swedish Government. This is something that our Swedish partners have rightfully spoken out against, just as we spoke out against a similar vile act that took place about a decade ago in a previous administration here. It doesn’t – because something happens in a democracy does not mean that the government supports it. It is a reflection of the values and principles that we hold dear, including freedom of association, freedom of expression. Something, again, can be lawful and awful at the same time. It’s precisely why Sweden has spoken out against it in this case as we’ve spoken out against similar examples in the past.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Yes, Ned. Last week I had asked you about Narendra Modi and how the U.S. has compromised on some of its values. And the BBC just released a documentary on Modi on how he had butchered, and the report was just released. It was a government report. BBC just released it. It was made by a former secretary in which he has even mentioned higher number of deaths, higher numbers of women raped, and it was just done right under the nose of Narendra Modi. I don’t – I have never challenged the strategic interest of the U.S. with India, but I regret the fact that since last eight years that I have been covering the State Department I have not seen once an senior official standing here at your seat condemning Narendra Modi himself individually – not just as a prime minister but individually his acts. And I’m sure the U.S. officials were aware of it as well.

MR PRICE: I am not aware of this documentary that you point to, but I – what I will say broadly is that there are a number of elements that undergird the global strategic partnership that we have with our Indian partners. There are close political ties, there are economic ties, there are exceptionally deep people-to-people ties between the United States and India. But one of those additional elements are the values that we share, the values that are common to American democracy and to Indian democracy.

India, of course, is the world’s largest democracy. It’s a vibrant democracy. And again, we look to everything that ties us together, and we look to reinforce all of those elements that tie us together.

QUESTION: So my godfather is an Indian as well, by the way, so I have all the respect for India. Don’t get me wrong or anything. But I just regret the fact that how is it possible that State Department officials who were posted there at that time did not know that this individual, who was a former chief minister, he is – it happened right under his nose. Two thousand people were burned alive.

MR PRICE: Again, I’m not familiar with the documentary you’re referring to. I am very familiar with the shared values that connect the United States and India as two thriving, vibrant democracies. When we have concerns about actions that are taken in India, we’ve voiced those. We’ve had an occasion to do that. But we want first and foremost to reinforce those values that are at the heart of our relationship.

QUESTION: One follow-up. But does – do you think that such foreign policy has affected President Biden’s Indian voters here in the U.S., though?

MR PRICE: We don’t think about it through those terms. I don’t think about domestic politics, and neither does anyone in this building.

Yes.

QUESTION: On China, one on China. What is your assessment of the COVID situation in China? Do you have any – because the figures that are coming from inside China are not – said to be not very reliable. Do you have any estimate how many people have died, how many people have been impacted by COVID-19? And has it impacted its aggressive behavior against its neighbors?

MR PRICE: One, I wouldn’t want to even speak to the toll of COVID inside the PRC. That’s a better question for the WHO, for global health authorities, including those like the WHO, who have had an opportunity to sit down with PRC authorities to look at the data.

The point that we have routinely made is that we wish to see transparency from the PRC. We wish to see transparency towards the WHO so that the broader international community can be best prepared to detect and prevent the spread of any new variants that may be circulating and could have the potential to emerge. It’s not just a point we have made, but it’s a point that the WHO has made as well.

QUESTION: Has China asked for any help and assistance from the U.S. in terms of any supplies, medical supplies or vaccinations?

MR PRICE: The United States is the world’s leading provider of vaccines to countries around the world, 600-plus million vaccines without any political strings attached that we have provided over the course of nearly the past two years. We have been very public about the fact that we’re willing to provide vaccines to any country that would seek it that’s in need of them. That includes the PRC. The PRC has publicly said that they appreciate the offer of vaccines but they’re not in need of them at the moment.

QUESTION: I have one more question on Pakistan. There is a massive national grid collapse inside Pakistan. The federal minister has said that even the emergency services are being shut down, like hospitals. I know U.S. has played a big role in Pakistan’s power electricity generation. Is U.S. sending someone over there to look into it for a long-term solution to the collapse of the power grids?

MR PRICE: Of course I’ve seen what has transpired in Pakistan. Our thoughts are with all those who’ve been affected by the outages. The United States of course, as you mentioned, has assisted our Pakistani partners across any number of challenges. We are prepared to do so in this case if there is something that we’re able to provide. But I’m not aware of any particular requests.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Real quick here.

MR PRICE: Let me move around to others who haven’t gotten a question.

QUESTION: Yeah, very quickly on the Palestine-Israeli issue. Human Rights Watch issued a report today saying that the new Israeli measures regarding the entry of foreigners into the West Bank threatened to exacerbate the separation of Palestinians from the local civil society. Do you have any comment on that? Because they are not allowed – they can go into Israel, but apparently they’re not allowed to go into West Bank towns and villages.

MR PRICE: Said, I haven’t seen that particular report. If we do have a comment, we can get back to you.

QUESTION: Can you look into it? And one other question. Israel, regarding Israel. Today the United States and Israel launched one of the biggest exercises that they have ever held. It’s called Juniper Oak, and it combines all forces together. Does that mean that diplomacy with Iran has – has slid off the table?

MR PRICE: No, it means that our security commitment to Israel is ironclad. And exercises, including military exercises, with our Israeli partners are something that we’ve done routinely in the past. I would need to refer you to DOD to speak to this. But it is a reflection of the vibrant security cooperation and commitment we have to our Israeli partners.

QUESTION: Yeah, but they made no secret of the fact that it actually resembles now perhaps an attack on Iran or anything like this.

MR PRICE: Again, Said, we are —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: We work day in, day out with our Israeli partners to be prepared to confront any number of challenges. But what you’re referring to is a reflection of that ironclad security commitment that we’ve long had.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about there have been ongoing protests in Israel about what’s viewed as stacking or diluting the power of the supreme court? Does the U.S. have anything to say about that and whether this shows respect for judicial independence in the way that the United States would see as consistent with democracy?

MR PRICE: Well, as a matter – in terms of our approach, we support policies that advance Israel’s security and regional integration, support a two-state solution, and lead to equal measures of security, prosperity, and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians. We strongly support freedom of assembly. This includes peaceful protest – countries around the world. Of course that includes inside of Israel as well. We look forward to working with Israel to advance the interests and values that have been at the heart of our relationship for decades, and that includes the equal administration of justice to all of those who live in Israel.

Let me move to people who haven’t – yes, in the back.

QUESTION: On China and human rights, that we have American families, like, who have family members that detained in China. Is that – like, they are calling for negotiations or even prisoner exchange. Is that something the U.S. would consider with the PRC?

MR PRICE: We have no higher priority than the safety and security of Americans overseas. Of course you’ve heard the priority we attach to individuals who are wrongfully detained, who are subject to coercive exit bans. In any country where this is the case, we raise that with local authorities. We raise it when we travel to such countries. We routinely raise it when we have discussions with authorities from those countries as well. That is the case with – in the context of the PRC. It’s been a discussion with our PRC and the – with our PRC counterparts in the past. I suspect it will be, and I know it will be, a topic of discussion in the future as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Today’s sanctions against the Islamic Republic, along with the UK sanctions and EU sanctions, showed a very remarkable unity. But on the same day, today, we have a comment from Josep Borrell about listing IRGC as a terrorist group. So he said that this cannot be decided without a court, a court decision first, and then EU is going to proceed with that. And then he said something interesting. He said, “You cannot say, ‘I consider you a terrorist because I don’t like you.’” This is what he said, quote unquote. And also, Islamic Republic foreign minister said that he has assurance from Borrell that IRGC is not going to listed as a terror organization. Do you have any comment on this development?

MR PRICE: We’ve heard a number of statements from the Iranian foreign minister that are dubious if not outright lies, so I would just keep that broader context in mind when you point to statements from the Iranian foreign minister.

When it comes to our European allies, we welcome Europe’s strong and principled approach to the IRGC. As you know, the IRGC remains designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization, and a specially designated global terrorist. We’ve also sanctioned many IRGC leaders individually for their involvement in terrorism and human rights abuses. You mentioned the latest tranche of human rights sanctions that we announced in conjunction with many of our closest partners earlier today.

We applaud the EU’s recent designations of IRGC officials and entities for their involvement in providing drones to Russia which are being used to fuel Russia’s unconscionable attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. Our European allies recognize the threat, the challenges posed by the IRGC and Iran more broadly. We have enjoyed exceptionally close cooperation and coordination with Europe on confronting these challenges.

QUESTION: And Ned, his hesitation, Borrell’s refraining from this, which is very the opposite of what we are hearing from other, let’s say, parliament members like Germany’s member at the parliament, European Parliament, do you think this hesitation is coming from a hope that he has? I cannot help but wonder – maybe Borrell is still hopeful that JCPOA is going to be revived. Can be this a sign of that, or —

MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to the high representative’s comments – in fact, I would refer you to the EU on his comments – and these are questions for our European allies. But what is not a question is the JCPOA. We’ve been very clear that the JCPOA is not on the agenda, has not been on the agenda for months. Iran has consistently turned its back on opportunities to pursue mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. And as a result of what Iran is doing around the world and to its own people, we have focused on sending very clear messages to Iran: Stop killing your people, stop providing drones to Russia for use in Ukraine, and release the Americans that you are wrongfully detaining.

Yeah, Shannon.

QUESTION: Same topic. Can you say if the U.S. has given the European Union any consult on whether to designate the IRGC? And can you say just would the U.S. welcome – while it’s in the hands of the EU, would the U.S. welcome such a designation?

MR PRICE: This is a question for the European Union. But what I can tell you is that we routinely discuss the challenges and threats posed by the IRGC with allies and partners around the world. And of course, that includes with our European allies bilaterally, but also with the EU as a whole. There is no illusion in Europe about the challenges or threats that the IRGC poses. We’re always looking for ways that we can work with our European allies to counter the malicious activity of the IRGC, other Iranian proxy groups, other groups that Iran has supported. And we have applauded the recent designations that we’ve seen from our European allies of IRGC officials and entities for their involvement in some of what we’ve already discussed: Iran’s provision of drones to Russia, and as a result of the human rights abuses that we’ve seen in Iran.

Yes, Elizabeth.

QUESTION: If I could follow up on that – on today’s human rights sanctions, do you have any indications that the designations of Iranian officials are having an impact internally, including on the security force’s behavior?

MR PRICE: It is always difficult to delve into a hypothetical or a counterfactual like that. We want to send – and I think we are sending – a very clear message to the Iranian regime – two messages, really: that the world is watching, and the world is prepared to take action in response to the violence that Iranian officials are perpetrating against their own people. This is not the first round of sanctions that we have announced against Iranian officials in response to the protests that we’ve seen in Iran since late last year. If Iran continues to engage in these human rights abuses, we will continue to apply even more pressure on Iran. But of course, this is about human rights.

We have other concerns with this regime, and we are going to use every relevant and appropriate authority to hold it account on the various fronts, from human rights to its provision of UAV technology to Russia, to the challenges that are posed by its nuclear program, to its support for terrorist groups and proxies as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible), BOL News, Pakistan. Former prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, has said he wanted to establish good relations with United States of America. As we know, many thing happened in the past. If he get elected as the prime minister of Pakistan, what – would you open the door for talk to him and his party?

MR PRICE: We are, of course, open to and would work with any elected government in Pakistan. Pakistan is a partner of ours; we share a number of interests. We have demonstrated our desire to see constructive relations with Pakistan over the course of successive governments. As we have said in different contexts, we judge governments by the policies they pursue. It would ultimately be a question of the type of policy that any future government of Pakistan might pursue.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. A quick follow-up on Wagner, and I also have another question on the Secretary’s call to Azerbaijan. I’m having trouble understanding the administration’s strategy on, first of all, going with the TCO designation instead of FTO, which we discussed last week, Foreign Terrorist Organization. And if the intention here is to go after their business, why announcing your intention on Friday and not taking action until this week? Aren’t you galloping against the time (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: So a couple things on that, Alex. One, as I said before, we’re reaching for every appropriate and effective authority when it comes to countering the activity that the Wagner Group is engaged in. These authorities are not authorities that we’ve created ourselves. Oftentimes they are legislated, they are written into law with various requirements that any particular group would have to meet, whether that’s the transnational criminal organization authority, whether that’s a state sponsor authority, whether that is any authority that we’ve attached to terrorist organizations, criminal organizations, or otherwise.

When it comes to what we announced about our forthcoming plans for the Wagner Group, the activity that we’ve seen on the part of the Wagner Group allows us to meet that threshold that is established under the transnational criminal organization authority. It is engaging in activity out of a pursuit of in some ways a profit, in some ways prestige; it is employing officials who are criminals; in some cases, its subordinates include those who have been released from prison, where they have been serving long sentences for the – for committing violent crimes.

So we look to the authority and the requirements that we have to meet. In this case, we’re confident that we’re able to meet it, in the case of Wagner’s status as a transnational criminal organization. It provides us another tool to hold the Wagner Group, its other senior officials, and its employees to account. We’ll have more to say on a broader set of actions that we’re taking later this week. I don’t want to get ahead of that, but we are confident that this is an appropriate step given what we’ve seen from the Wagner Group.

QUESTION: Thank you. My next topic (inaudible).

MR PRICE: I need to move on, Alex. Yes.

QUESTION: One question on Lebanon and the other on Russia. On Lebanon, today the judge investigating Beirut blast resumed his work, and he made charges against senior officials. Some of them are your allies and have been in the States before, a few months ago. Do you have any comment on that?

And my second question is on Russia downgrading relation – diplomatic relation – with Estonia. Do you expect similar behavior from the Russia – from Putin against other NATO members?

MR PRICE: If you’re referring to the decision on the part of Baltic states to downgrade their relations with Moscow, these are sovereign decisions on the part of our partners. We would defer to them as to determine the level of diplomatic representation, if any, that is appropriate with Russia.

When it comes to Lebanon, we in the international community have made it clear since the explosion that we support swift – that we support and urge Lebanese authorities to complete a swift and transparent investigation into the horrific explosion at the Port of Beirut. The victims of this explosion in August of 2020 deserve justice. Those responsible must be held accountable.

Yes – yeah.

QUESTION: Yes, I have a question on – I see the statement that you continue the talks with Türkiye on the F-35 program, and I’m wondering if something changed, because the last we knew was that Türkiye is under CAATSA sanctions for buying the Russians – the Russian system S-400. Why do you talk —

MR PRICE: That’s right. Nothing has changed in terms of Türkiye’s eligibility for the F-35 program. DOD did issue a statement. This is a discussion regarding how to wind down elements of that program.

All right. Thank you all very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:23 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – January 19, 2023

2:05 p.m. EST

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Thursday. So as you can see, we have a special guest joining us today to talk about our new Welcome Corps program that we launched this morning. So with me I have Assistant Secretary Julieta Noyes from our Bureau of Populations, Refugee, and Migration. She has some thoughts she’d like to share with you at the top and then has time for a couple of questions, and then we will continue on with the rest of the briefing.

So Assistant Secretary —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Thanks, Vedant.

MR PATEL: — the floor is yours.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Thanks, Vedant. Hey, everybody.

QUESTION: Hello.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: It’s great to be here. I am here today to share an exciting development in the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, through which the United States has long welcomed newcomers in search of safety and freedom.

We’re launching the Welcome Corps, a private sponsorship initiative that will create new opportunities for private Americans to directly sponsor refugees from around the world who are here fleeing conflict, fleeing persecution, and to help these refugees settle in their communities. The Welcome Corps invites Americans to do what we do best – welcoming newcomers, being good guides, neighbors, and friends.

Welcoming refugees reflects our values as a nation, and local communities have long been at the heart of our resettlement program. Just in the past year, individual Americans and community groups around the country have opened their arms to Afghans, Ukrainians, and refugees from around the world fleeing conflict and persecution.

The Welcome Corps is the boldest innovation in the U.S. refugee resettlement in four decades, and it reflects the Biden administration’s commitment to expand community engagement as we rebuild our refugee program. It’s designed to strengthen and expand our country’s capacity to resettle refugees by harnessing the energy of private sponsors from all walks of life – including community volunteers, faith and civic groups, veterans, diaspora communities, businesses, colleges, universities, and more.

Private sponsors will help refugees find housing and employment, enroll their kids in school, enroll the adults in English classes, and connect with other essential services, including those that are funded by federal programs.

The Welcome Corps is distinct from other sponsorship programs, like Uniting for Ukraine, in that private sponsors will support refugees who are being permanently resettled in the United States and help them integrate as thriving members of their new communities.

Private sponsors in the Welcome Corps will receive training and support from resettlement experts and become part of a nationwide community of people engaged in this work.

We’re launching the Welcome Corps in two phases. In the first phase, groups of five or more Americans or legal permanent residents can apply to form a private sponsor group. When certified, they will be matched with a refugee who is already approved for resettlement in the United States.

In the second phase, which will launch around the middle of this year, groups can identify and refer to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program the refugees they would like to sponsor. If approved and certified, they will then sponsor the resettlement of these specific refugees.

Our goal in 2023 is to mobilize 10,000 Americans to step forward as private sponsors, and help resettle at least 5,000 refugees. Time and again, we’ve seen the generosity and the welcoming spirit of the American people. If more than 10,000 sponsors join the Welcome Corps this year, we will make every effort to pair them with refugees in need.

We at the State Department are excited to launch the Welcome Corps as part of our broader effort to rebuild, expand, and modernize the refugee resettlement program. We look forward to engaging with individuals and communities around the world who wish to participate.

And I would just say something on a personal level. My own parents arrived in this country as refugees, before the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program was created. And the people who helped them were ordinary, everyday Americans., and they still tell stories about how they were welcomed to this country. So, I see this as an offshoot of the historic traditions in our countries of welcoming newcomers.

Anyway, for more information on the Welcome Corps, I invite Americans who wish to be involved in this fulfilling effort to visit our new website welcomecorps.org to learn more about how to join this program.

And with that, I am happy to answer any questions.

MR PATEL: Thanks. Matt, do you want to kick us off?

QUESTION: Great, thanks. Thank you, Assistant Secretary. I have two – one extremely brief. Why is it groups of five or more? I mean, why can’t an individual – and I can think of several off the top of my head who are fabulously wealthy – who might be able to do this just on their own. So why is it limited to groups of five or more?

And then secondly, much more broadly, this administration has tried to make up for the reduction in admissions from the previous administration, but it has not yet come even close. And the first – for the first quarter of this fiscal year, the numbers are quite low. Why is that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Okay. So to go to your first question, why five or more, and you mentioned that wealthy people could do it.

QUESTION: Well, even moderately wealthy people can —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Because it’s not about money, Matt. It’s about commitment. It’s about the community. It’s about bringing people together and forming a group so that the refugees have more than one person that they can refer to and can work with. And it’s our view – it’s a lot of work involved in sponsoring a refugee – finding schools, helping them find affordable housing, getting their kids signed up for school, helping them find jobs, showing them where the pharmacy is, what bus to take. It’s a lot more than what the average American can do, and so we think that providing a group of five or more Americans is more likely to be successful, and it gives more resources to the incoming refugees – and creates greater connections with the community.

In terms of the numbers, you’re right; we are still working to build the numbers up in order to get to the President’s ambitious targets of 125,000 refugees admitted per year. We are doing that in a variety of ways. The launch of the Welcome Corps is one initiative, but we’re doing a lot of work with our traditional resettlement agency partners to try and speed up processing while maintaining the integrity and the security of the program and not in any way changing the requirements. Refugees are the most vetted individuals to enter this country.

So, we’re speeding up the processing. We are amplifying, expanding the ways that people can be referred for refugee resettlement in the United States – Welcome Corps and maybe the private individuals nominating refugees to come in this way, but we’re also expanding NGO referrals. We are asking our partners at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to expand the number of referrals they send us.

We’re also looking to clear out our backlog of cases. We are doing hiring. Our resettlement agency partners are doing hiring. So, there’s a lot of work going on.

While the numbers of people admitted, of refugees admitted in the first quarter, were not where we could like them to be, admissions of refugees is actually a lagging indicator. In the first quarter of this fiscal year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service conducted over 20,000 interviews of refugees overseas. We expect that those people should be hitting our country within the next few months, and we expect and I am confident that you will see an increase in the number of refugees arriving in the months ahead.

MR PATEL: And Said, you had your hand up.

QUESTION: Thank you, thank you for doing this. Along the same lines but particular to Syrian refugees. And can you give us the status of Syrian refugees, figures and numbers? It went from a high of 16,000 in 2016 to as low as 4,000 during the past administration. And in 2020, I think this – last year was maybe 4,000 refugees. How are they admitted? Do they have to go through a third country? Can they leave directly from Syria, from embattled areas in Syria and so on?

And related to it, you opposed the re-allowing of Syrian refugees now back into Syria, or the United States —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Oh, the involuntary return.

QUESTION: Yeah, did not agree to it because they say conditions are not – are not ripe for them to return. So give us your take on that. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: So it’s a great question and it’s one that’s close to my heart. In November I visited Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan that hosts tens of thousands of Syrians. Look, the situation in Syria is terrible, and we don’t believe that conditions are right in Syria for people to be able to return safely, voluntarily, with dignity, and sustainably. It’s just not – it’s just not safe for people to return, and people – Syrians who have left the country don’t want to return voluntarily to Syria.

So, we’re looking for new solutions for them and working with our partners around the world, because this isn’t an effort that just the United States is undertaking. Other countries also are resettling refugees. So we are looking for avenues to find more durable solutions for these refugees, whether it is helping them to integrate in the countries where they have fled in search of safety, providing programs and assistance to them where they currently are. But then for those people who are the most vulnerable and face the greatest danger if they were to return to their own country, we’re looking for solutions like resettlement.

And we are confident that with all of the changes and all of the growth that we’re making to the refugee admissions program – whether it’s the Welcome Corps or the other initiatives that I talked about, we will be creating the conditions to bring refugees from vulnerable situations all over the world, whether it’s Syrians or Rohingya who are currently in Bangladesh or other people who need to flee to safety and to find solutions for them – again, working with our partners around the world, because this isn’t a burden or a responsibility that the United States is taking on alone.

But thanks for that question.

MR PATEL: Camilla, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. You probably saw that the rates of irregular border crossing in Europe reached an all-time high since 2016 last year. The – is there other programs or is there coordination with the EU for any refugees who would want – who could come to a European country but who could come to America instead, particularly in countries in Europe that are inundated with refugees? Is there more coordination to get more of them to come to the States through this particular program? And I’m sure that you can talk about the other programs as well, but more specifically this one.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: We talk regularly with our partners in Europe and around the world with like-minded countries around the world to try and coordinate to find solutions to work together. It’s our view and the view of our partners – and I do talk regularly with the EU and with partners over there – it’s our view that this is a responsibility that democracies and that countries that love freedom and uphold human rights need to all work together. I mean, we faced a terrible milestone this past year when the UN High Commissioner for Refugees announced that more than 100 million people are now forcibly displaced around the world. That’s over 1 percent of the world’s population. There has never been a higher number of forcibly displaced people.

So, we need to pursue all kinds of durable solutions, whether it is creating the conditions so that people can return to their home countries safely, voluntarily, with dignity – and that’s always the preferred solution, for people to be able to go home, but only when it’s safe – but also looking for initiatives and providing support and assistance to help people integrate where they happen to be. The resettlement solution is the most dramatic; it is also by far the smallest. Less than 1 percent of refugees around the world ultimately are resettled to third countries, and that – we really only use that solution for the most vulnerable: people who are fleeing religious persecution or human trafficking or who have been victims of torture.

So, it really is kind of the in extremis solution but it is one that that we take happily and voluntarily in the United States and that many of our partners do as well. So we’re working on all of those solutions at the same time, but I’m really happy that today we’re announcing the Welcome Corps as part of our solution for – and part of our means of bringing about resettlement here in the United States and tapping into Americans who have such a long, long history, as a nation of immigrants, of welcoming newcomers and making things better. And again, my own family history is proof of that.

MR PATEL: Thank you so much, Assistant Secretary. Appreciate it.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Thank you, Vedant. Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: We’ll work — I’ll get to you when we work the room. Thank you.

QUESTION: No, I want to know are there any protections for Americans? You are selling access to the United States.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: We’re not selling access, and there are protections.

QUESTION: Yes, you are. The second – in the second aspect, you say private families —

MR PATEL: I will call on you when we work the room and I work through the briefing.

QUESTION: No, it won’t matter. You’re not going to have the answer. But I have what I need. Thank you.

MR PATEL: Matt, if you want to kick us off, you’re welcome anytime.

QUESTION: Yeah, so – yeah. Do you – just – I’m wondering if you’ve managed to find anything out about this report or this FSB claim that they’ve arrested an American citizen in Russia for espionage.

MR PATEL: So a couple of things, Matt. We have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas. We are aware of these unconfirmed reports of an investigation regarding a U.S. citizen – unconfirmed – unconfirmed reports of an investigation regarding a U.S. citizen in Russia.

Generally, the Russian Federation does not abide by its obligations to provide timely notification of the detention of U.S. citizens in Russia. Russian authorities also don’t regularly inform the embassy of the trials, sentencings, or movement of U.S. citizens. We’re looking into this matter and we’ll continue to monitor. The Embassy in Moscow continues to engage with Russian authorities to ensure timely consular notifications and access to all U.S. citizens.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, apart from whether or not there has been an espionage investigation, are you aware of any additional Americans having been detained for any reason in Russia by the Russians?

MR PATEL: I’m not —

QUESTION: Apart from this —

MR PATEL: I am not, but as you know, this is a number that fluctuates. And I will see if we have a more specific update for you. But I am not aware.

QUESTION: Can we stay on the subject of —

MR PATEL: Sure. Yeah, we can stay in the region. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. It’s funny you should mention timely notifications. The Russian national Anatoly Legkodymov was arrested yesterday in Miami, and the Russian embassy is saying that you didn’t guys follow an appropriate consular notification in his case. Why is that?

MR PATEL: I’m not aware of that specific case. I would obviously refer you to local authorities in Miami as well on the specifics surrounding that, but I’m happy to check to see if there’s specific —

QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t have anything?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any updates for you on that right now, but I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: Okay. And one additional thing. Do you have any updates that you can publicly share on a potential swap, prisoner swap, between the United States and Russia? Anything new on that subject matter?

MR PATEL: Are you talking about as it relates to a specific case, or just generally?

QUESTION: No, no – I’m talking about – I’m referring to cases like that have been mentioned in the past. I’m not talking about Legkodymov or the case that Matt has referred to. I’m talking about past cases.

MR PATEL: Look, as it relates to wrongful detainees, wrongful detainee American citizens – not just in Russia, but in other countries also – this is a top priority for this Secretary and this President, and it’s something that this department continues to be deeply engaged on. Of course, we’re not going to offer specifics as it relates to those engagements, but this continues to be a top priority, and I don’t have any updates to offer.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Said, you’ve had your hand up.

QUESTION: Yes. Can I switch topics?

MR PATEL: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. I want to go to the Palestinian issue.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Yedoith, the Israeli newspaper Yedoith, said that Ambassador Nides is going to announce or announced that the visa waiver for the Israelis is tied to how Israel treats and receives Palestinian Americans. Do you have any comment on that? Can you confirm that’s – what he’s saying, that’s what he’s telling the Israelis?

MR PATEL: Said, I don’t have any announcement to preview or to get ahead of. But what I would reiterate – and I think you saw the ambassador speak to this – is that we, of course, support steps in our bilateral relationship with Israel that would be beneficial for U.S. and Israeli citizens. One such step would be working together toward Israel fulfilling the requirements of the Visa Waiver Program. Secretary Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with Secretary Blinken, may designate countries for participation in the Visa Waiver Program if the country meets the established criteria.

At this time, Israel does not meet all of the Visa Waiver Program eligibility requirements. The U.S. Government is continuing to work with Israel towards fulfilling those requirements, such as, for example, extending reciprocal privileges to all U.S. citizens and nationals, including Palestinian Americans and Arab Americans to travel to and through Israel. And this includes Americans on the Palestinian population registry as well.

QUESTION: And related to that, so just to clarify, you’re saying that it is conditioned, really, to allowing Palestinian Americans to travel to the West Bank through Tel Aviv, for instance, through Ben Gurion Airport, right?

MR PATEL: The reciprocal issue that I mentioned continues to be one of the issues that still needs fulfillment, as it requires to – as it relates to the Visa Waiver Program eligibility.

QUESTION: Okay. Another thing. Palestinian Authority President Abbas told the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan – so that’s what the Palestinians are saying – that he’s calling on the Biden administration to pressure Israel to quit its aggressive policies in the last few months – over the last couple of months, and so on. Have you received, like, an official request from the Palestinians that you ought to be doing that, or are you having that as part of your policy from here on forward?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific diplomatic engagements to read out to you, Said. But our colleagues at the White House and the NSC just put out a readout on National Security Advisor Sullivan’s travels, and just to reiterate some of the things they – that they underscored is that – underscoring the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security, as well as discussing the challenges and opportunities facing the region, including the threat posed by Iran, and progress and deepening normalization between Israel and other Arab countries. But I don’t have any other updates to offer.

QUESTION: Quick follow-up on this?

MR PATEL: Go ahead. Stay in the region?

QUESTION: Yeah, they also discussed Ukraine, and the increase in defense partnership between Russia and Iran and its implications for security in the Middle East. Can you explain the most implications that the U.S. fear it would impact the region in light of this increase in cooperation between Iran and Russia, please?

MR PATEL: Well, this is a position that we have long held, that Iran’s destabilizing actions – most recently we’ve seen those precipitate as the provision of UAVs and other kinds of security assistance to Russia for use in Ukraine – is deeply destabilizing. It’s troubling not just for the world but also has immediate impacts on Israel and Israel’s neighbors, as well as other countries in the region as well.

Guita, go.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On – on Iran. But go ahead.

MR PATEL: Oh, sorry. Let me go to Guita and then I’ll come to you, Michel. Sorry. Go ahead, Guita.

QUESTION: Thank you. Speaking of the – Iran’s destabilizing activities, I want to go back to yesterday’s subject. The EU Parliament yesterday approved and today issued a resolution for the – to sanction human rights abusers in Iran in general, and also the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group – and I want to focus on this. Does the State Department think it’s a good idea for the EU to also designate the IRGC, just like the U.S. has?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things to that, Guita. First, we are aware of the European Parliament’s resolution. The United States position on the IRGC has been quite clear. It is an entity that is subject to perhaps the most U.S. sanctions of any entity on the planet. We have also specifically sanctioned many IRGC leaders individually for their involvement in terrorism and human rights abuses. Ultimately though, Guita, it is up to each country – or in this case, up to the EU, EU blocs of countries – to determine what is applicable under their governing systems and their legal systems, and what is in their best interests.

As you know, we’ve applauded the EU’s recent designations of IRGC officials and entities for their involvement in the provision of drones to Russia, which are being used to fuel Russia’s infringement on Ukrainian sovereignty and used – being used to attack Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. But beyond that, I don’t have anything additional to offer.

QUESTION: Well, it’s clearly – it is – yes, it’s – it depends on their laws and regulations and everything. It’s their decision. But the NSC tells us that the White House supports the designation and even encourages the EU to use all the authorities that they may have to designate the IRGC. So, does the State Department think differently from the NSC?

MR PATEL: I would have to refer you to our White House and NSC colleagues to clarify any comment that they gave you. But I would reiterate just what I said, which is that the United States position on the IRGC is quite clear. We have taken a number of steps, and have – as I said, it is an organization that is subject to perhaps some of the most U.S. sanctions. And ultimately, it is up to the EU bloc of countries to determine what kind of apparatus is most applicable or makes the most sense for the system that they have and what is in their best interest.

Michel.

QUESTION: Vedant, you continuously say that you consult with allies and partners on everything. It can’t be that this subject is an exception. What does the State Department, what has the State Department advised or talked about to the EU?

MR PATEL: We, of course, consult with our allies and partners on a number of issues, including – of course, our united approach when it comes to the Iranian regime’s malign and destabilizing activities. Of course, a lot of those discussions are private and will remain private, but again, the United States position on the IRGC is quite clear.

Michel, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on this, how do you see the impact of this possible designation on reviving the nuclear deal given the role of the Europeans through the negotiations?

MR PATEL: We have been clear for quite some time that the JCPOA is not on the agenda, and it is not on the agenda largely because the Iranians killed any possibility of it being on the agenda.

Michel.

QUESTION: He did ask my question, but I have another question on the Arab summit in Abu Dhabi.

MR PATEL: Okay, sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the summit, and do you know why Saudi Arabia and Kuwait didn’t attend?

MR PATEL: I would let other countries speak to their own multilateral and bilateral engagements and participation at any summit. We’re aware of the reports of a meeting in Abu Dhabi between several regional states, but obviously the United States was not a participant. But don’t have anything additional to offer beyond that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: In the back, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Venezuela, about – it is true that this administration is considering withdrawing the $15 million reward that was issued for the capture of Nicolas Maduro?

MR PATEL: I am not aware or am not here to offer any new change in policy. Our sanctions policy on Venezuela remains unchanged. We will continue to implement and enforce our Venezuela sanctions in support of a return to democracy in Venezuela.

QUESTION: On Colombia, really quick, on the extradition of the brother of Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba to the United States. The senator says that neither she or – nor her brother have anything to do with drug trafficking, that this is just political persecution, she said. I would like to know, what do you think about these arguments?

MR PATEL: I am not aware of this specific request. I will let our Department of Justice colleagues speak specifically about any extradition requests that have come in specifically. But broadly speaking, of course we have an important working relationship with Colombia. The Secretary had the opportunity to visit the region – I believe it was in the late fall of last year – and we look forward to continuing engagements with them.

QUESTION: I have a last one on Cuba. Since United States is having contact with the Cuban regime, is this administration thinking in withdraw Cuba from the list of countries supporting terrorism?

MR PATEL: I have no change in policy to announce. I addressed this a little bit last week; the engagements that you’re referring to were specifically related to some security dialogues, regional security dialogues. I don’t have any other updates to offer beyond that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Leon, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to stay in the same region.

MR PATEL: Of course.

QUESTION: A little bit farther – Peru. I wonder if you have any concerns with the developments in Peru now with the demonstrations ongoing. There’s another big one for today. There were more deaths also this morning, two more. The situation doesn’t seem to be getting really any better. What is your position on that for the United States?

MR PATEL: Of course we remain concerned about the violent demonstrations. We also recognize the right of peaceful assembly, but most importantly we call for calm dialogue and for all parties to exercise restraint and nonviolence. We also welcome the Peruvian Government’s stated efforts to dialogue peacefully with the relevant actors and groups around the country. We also support the Peruvian Government’s efforts and commitment to investigate all deaths related to the protests.

Specifically. also, Leon, since you’ve asked the question, I want to also make sure that folks know that the U.S. embassy in Lima is in direct contact with a small number of U.S. citizens who do not wish to leave and are sheltering in place. And the Travel Advisory for Peru is at Level 3, which is “reconsider travel.” And we continue to recommend that U.S. citizens reconsider all travel to Peru at this time.

Go ahead. Actually, before I go to you, anything else in the region before we move around? Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. If you remember, I asked you last week about the sanctions on the CAATSA against Türkiye, and if a country like Türkiye was under sanctions, I ask if this country can buy the F-16. Because if I remember well, you sanctioned them and you cancelled the contract for F-35. Correct? So what changed and you want to give to Türkiye the F-16s? And also, tell us if Türkiye is still under sanctions.

MR PATEL: Specifically, I believe I answered your question last week, but to reiterate —

QUESTION: No, no, you took my question and they sent me an answer from your office.

MR PATEL: Understood. So, specifically on – as it relates to CAATSA, of course we make those assessments and any provisions of sales are made on a case-by-case basis. I don’t have any other specifics to offer right now.

But on F-16s, President Biden said last June, as a general matter, that we should sell Türkiye F-16 jets and modernize their fleet as well. However, when it comes to specific arms transfers, we decline to comment until there is a formal notification process with Congress. Broadly speaking, though, the U.S. strongly values its partnerships with our NATO Ally Türkiye, and the U.S. and Türkiye have longstanding and deep bilateral defense ties, and Türkiye’s continued NATO interoperability remains a priority for this administration.

QUESTION: I – can I follow up, please?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Because your people sent me an answer, and I thank you for that; also, they sent an answer to my colleagues. In your answer, you say that the sale of F-16s to Türkiye is not prohibited by these CAATSA sanctions provided Türkiye’s Presidency of Defense – it’s a company called SSB – is not a party to the transaction. You need to explain to us what is going on, because I think the Turks, they will change the name of the company to buy the F-16s, and as you understand, this is a fraud.

MR PATEL: So I’m just not going to get ahead of the process or —

QUESTION: Can you take the question, at least, because it’s very serious?

MR PATEL: — get into hypotheticals. As I’ve said, I would reiterate what Ned, the Secretary, what President Biden have said previously, which is that we should sell Türkiye the F-16 jets and modernize their fleet as well. However, when it comes to specific arms transfers, I’m just not going to get ahead of that process until formal notifications have happened to Congress.

Said.

QUESTION: Just on this point, the foreign minister, the Turkish foreign minister, said – I think today or late last night – that the F-16 sale is completely independent of whatever plans they have for northern Syria; whether they invade or not invade northern Syria, it should be independent of any NATO admission to Sweden and Finland – and so on. Is that your understanding of this deal, or is this deal conditioned on, let’s say, Türkiye refraining from attacking Syria and going along with the admission of Sweden and Finland to NATO?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m not going to offer parallels or connections here. As it relates to the F-16s, we’ve been quite clear, but – and as it relates to incursions into Syria, we’ve also been quite clear. Ned spoke about this as recently as yesterday, in which – of course, we are very sensitive and want to make sure that any actions that happen in Syria do not degrade the important work that has happened over the recent years to degrade ISIS and their operability in the region.

I’m going to work the room a little bit because I already called on you. Dylan, in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah, a question about the Welcome Corps.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Hoping – I was hoping to ask the assistant secretary, but maybe you can answer as well. There’s a handful of organizations – about half a dozen – that the Welcome Corps is working with – NGOs and nonprofits that it’s working with to carry out the new policy and this new program. One of them is called the Church World Service. It’s a nonprofit that has advocated for things like abolishing ICE, it’s campaigned to defund the Border Patrol – various policies and priorities that the administration has said it stands against, it opposes. So, I’m just curious kind of what was the vetting process for the organizations that State is partnering with for this new program, and if you have any idea why this particular organization was chosen when there are others that were presumably available.

MR PATEL: Well, Dylan, the assessment on the – to take a little bit of a step back, the department is working with a consortium of nonprofit organizations with expertise in welcoming, resettling, and integrating refugees into U.S. communities to support the Welcome Corps program. This consortium that I just mentioned will manage and oversee a process for vetting and certifying these private sponsors that want to welcome refugees. And it is specifically that metric that I just offered – expertise in welcoming, resettling, and integrating refugees – that I’m sure the assessment was made of who would be part of that consortium. And specifically, it is a reflection of that metric alone, and not some sort of linkage to any policy position, the ones that you described or otherwise.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Sorry, I just want to take another stab at the potential prisoner swap issue.

MR PATEL: I answered your question.

QUESTION: No, no, no, I know. It’s a bit different.

MR PATEL: Okay.

QUESTION: As you know, U.S. citizen Taylor Dudley was released by Russia several days ago. He returned here, as far as I understand, as a result of Bill Richardson – Bill Richardson’s effort, not as a result of a government-to-government negotiations. That’s my take; I might be wrong.

I wanted to know if this case changes – in any way, your thinking about the prisoner exchange issue. Do you think tri-actor, something like that, might be the preferable way to do this, judging by what Governor Richardson had been able to do, or not?

MR PATEL: So when it comes to the release of American citizens who are wrongfully detained, whether it be in the case of Trevor Reed, whether it be in the case of Brittney Griner, whether it be in the still-unresolved case that we continue to be fighting for regularly when it comes to Paul Whelan, there are channels that exist, there are channels that have been laid out by the two presidents, President Biden and President Putin, to have these discussions that are ongoing. And we continue to believe that those channels are the best avenues for these decisions and these things to come to a conclusion, as we have seen in the case of Trevor Reed and Brittney Griner as well.

QUESTION: Is that —

MR PATEL: Go ahead. I’m going to work the room a little bit. I called on you already. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sure.

QUESTION: Thank you. You spoke somewhat generally earlier when you said that the U.S. embassy in Moscow is engaging with Russian authorities regarding all U.S. citizens. I just wondered if you could say any more about this specific alleged case, about what the embassy, what the State Department is doing. Has the embassy reached out to – officially to try to confirm details about this individual, to request access if they are indeed in custody?

MR PATEL: You’re talking about the case that Matt raised at the beginning?

QUESTION: Yes, yes, off the top.

MR PATEL: Yeah. Sure, sure.

QUESTION: And what other efforts are ongoing and what sort of reception has the State Department and the embassy gotten.

MR PATEL: So again, we are aware of these unconfirmed reports that an investigation regarding a U.S. citizen in Russia is taking place, but we continue to try and get as much information as we can. And I unfortunately don’t have additional specifics beyond that. But to reiterate, the U.S. embassy in Moscow is engaging with Russian authorities to ensure timely notifications, and to ensure access to all citizens – and broadly we are looking into this matter and will closely monitor the situation and get as much information as we can.

QUESTION: Have the Russian authorities responded at all at this point?

MR PATEL: I’m just not in a place to offer the specific tit-for-tat engagements, but this is something that we’re monitoring closely and we are engaging directly with the Russian authorities on this.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Camilla.

QUESTION: Just on Afghanistan, 78 people have been reported dead due to conditions, harsh winter conditions in Afghanistan. Do you have any update on the talks between this department and the Taliban at all, anything that’s – whether these talks are still ongoing? That’s my question.

MR PATEL: So, I hadn’t seen that report, but I will see if we have any updates to offer on that. I will note we have over the past – since the Taliban takeover in August of 2021 provided more than 1.1 billion in U.S. humanitarian assistance. I will see if there’s a specific breakout for that as it relates to weatherization or for things that could help with the extreme cold or anything like that.

But broadly speaking, Camilla, I don’t have any updates to offer, but you saw the Secretary speak to this not just in his end-of-the-year press conference, but also – I believe, earlier this week as well. The Taliban’s policies towards women and girls are an affront to human rights, and as long as the Taliban repress women and girls, the Taliban’s relations with the international community are going to suffer. We’ve been quite clear, the Secretary’s been quite clear, to earn legitimacy and credibility, actions are going to need to speak loudly and they will need to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms to all Afghans, not just occasionally.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: I want to ask about Vietnam.

MR PATEL: Ask about —

QUESTION: Vietnam.

MR PATEL: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. A few days ago, Vietnam President Nguyen Xuan Phuc resigned in the middle of his term, which was reported to be surprising and unprecedented in its political history. Do you think it could have any diplomatic impact on U.S.-Vietnam bilateral relationship or Indo-Pacific region?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things on that. So we are aware of the reports of President Phuc’s resignation, and to state broadly, Vietnam is a valued partner of the United States and we look forward to celebrating the 10th anniversary of our comprehensive partnership later in 2023. We are confident that the positive momentum in our bilateral relationship will continue following a robust series of senior-level engagements in this past year, which included President Biden meeting with Prime Minister Minh Chinh at the U.S.-ASEAN Summit in D.C. in May, as well as at the summit in Phnom Penh in November.

I would reiterate again that the U.S.-Vietnam partnership has never been stronger, and we have moved from a history of conflict and division to comprehensive partnership that spans political, security, economic, and people-to-people ties as well.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Vedant, I just want to ask what the U.S. thinks about Medvedev’s rhetoric and comments, the latest being, “The defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war may trigger a nuclear war.” And we’ve heard, like, this kind of really apocalyptic rhetoric from him repeatedly. Does the U.S. think he does speak for Putin, or, like, what is the U.S. assessment on —

MR PATEL: Well, I’m not going to parse who speaks for who in the Russian Federation. But to echo what you said, Humeyra, this is not the first time that we’ve seen such kind of rhetoric from Russia broadly. And candidly, we think provocative rhetoric regarding nuclear weapons is not only dangerous, it is reckless. It adds to the risk of miscalculation and, candidly, it should be avoided – and we will not indulge on it. A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

Go ahead, Camilla.

QUESTION: In a similar vein, do you have – do you want to comment at all on the Iranian foreign minister’s comment that Iran does not see Crimea as a Russian territory, that they see Crimea and other annexed territories in Ukraine as Ukrainian? Do you welcome that comment from Iran?

MR PATEL: Well, this is another situation when it comes to the Iranian regime that actions should speak louder than words. We would agree that Crimea is Ukraine, and all the other annexed territories are Ukraine, also. But what we would not agree with is the deadly provision of UAVs that Iran has done to Russia so that Russia can carry out strikes on Ukrainian civilian and energy infrastructure in the middle of winter, all for their war that is illegal, unjust, and a clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Okay. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:48 p.m.)

 

Department Press Briefing – January 18, 2023

2:18 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

MR PRICE: Welcome. Welcome to our visitors as well. A couple items before we get started. First we are deeply saddened to hear of the tragic Yeti Airlines crash over the weekend, which killed 72 people, including two U.S. citizens and two lawful permanent residents.

Our thoughts are with the families of those on board.

The United States stands ready to support Nepal in any way we can at this difficult hour.

Similarly, I believe many of you will have heard the Secretary offer his own condolences in response to the tragic helicopter crash that took place earlier today in Ukraine, as did President Biden. We were saddened – deeply saddened to learn of the passing this morning of so many of those aboard, including some of our key partners: Minister of Internal Affairs Denis Monastyrsky, First Deputy Minister of Interior Yevheniy Yenin, Minister of Interior State Secretary Yuriy Lubkovychis, and the parents and children who were also killed in that devastating crash. We have offered our full support, full assistance to Ukraine, and of course our thoughts are with them as well in this difficult hour.

With that, happy to start where you would like.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you.

MR PRICE: Sure, Said.

QUESTION: I want to start with the Palestinian issue.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Can you comment on the embassy issue in Jerusalem? It is alleged that it is being built on land that was confiscated from the Palestinians. There was a big op-ed yesterday in The New York Times. I wonder if you saw it.

MR PRICE: I did see it, and I appreciate the opportunity to comment on it – primarily because there has been some misinformation or some misimpressions about our plans. To be very clear, we have not decided on which site to pursue. A number of factors, including the history of the various sites that are in contention will be part of that very site selection process. We are committed, as you know, Said, to keeping the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. The United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Jerusalem itself, of course, is a final status issue to be resolved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and we’re currently considering two options for our future embassy facility in Jerusalem. One is the Allenby site and the second is the Arnona site. But again no decision has been made on site selection. In accordance with Israeli law, we started the process to amend the town plan for both potential locations. The public comment period for the Allenby site remains open. We also expect to advance the plan for the Arnona site shortly, with a separate comment period to open soon.

The reason there is a comment period is so that we can garner a fuller sense of public reaction, public response to sites that may be in contention. The public comment periods will allow the public to voice any objections to the proposed zoning changes before the district committee asks for any adjustments to those proposed zoning changes. Construction, location, and a range of other factors, including – as I said before – the history of these very sites will be part of that ultimate site selection.

QUESTION: So let me ask you, in retrospect – I mean, this has been since 2017 when the former administration recognized Jerusalem as capital. No one really has followed through, none of your allies – not the British, not the Germans – nobody did. Was it a mistake, perhaps, maybe you can nullify this and go back to Tel Aviv until the Jerusalem issue is resolved? I mean, there is an international status for Jerusalem that you could – that you have followed for a very long time – for decades – but you could redo the same thing.

MR PRICE: Said, Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. The last administration recognized that; this administration recognizes that. But what has not changed is the fact of the status of Jerusalem as a final status issue. This issue – the final status of the Holy City – is to be determined between and by the parties themselves, Israelis and Palestinians.

QUESTION: One more —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: One more question on this issue. This year has been very bloody for the Palestinians, as has the last year. More than 14 or 15 Palestinians – many of them kids, teenagers, and so on – have been killed. Are you concerned that maybe the Israeli occupation army has been too trigger happy, that they shoot and then find out what was – what’s going on? And would you call on them perhaps to pull back from this shoot first policy?

MR PRICE: Said, you made reference to the tragic loss of life that we’ve seen on the part of Palestinians and Israelis over the course of the latter part of last year and then this year. Today, of course, is the 18th of January. We’re only 18 days into this month, and already, since the beginning of this year alone, 15 Palestinians have been killed. Several Israelis have been injured in the West Bank. We are deeply concerned by the situation in the West Bank. The preceding period has seen a sharp and alarming increase in Palestinian and Israeli deaths and injuries, including many children among them.

We continue to emphasize to both parties, Israelis and Palestinians, that we want to see a de-escalation of tensions. We want to see constructive engagement. We continue to emphasize to both Israelis and Palestinians that they both equally deserve to have equal measures of security, stability, justice, dignity, and democracy. It is alarming to see the pace of violence, the rate of deaths, of injuries. It is also incumbent on the parties to take steps themselves to see a diminution in the tensions that have spiked in recent weeks and months.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Jerusalem?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: As you know, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Brett McGurk are in Israel now. They expect also to meet with President Abbas. You know that, right?

MR PRICE: I am aware.

QUESTION: You look a bit surprised. (Laughter.)

MR PRICE: I am aware. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. So basically, John Kirby told me today that the purpose of the visit was to emphasize the U.S. position vis-à-vis the two-state solution, and also to encourage the parties, as you said, to not to undermine that prospect. So is the U. S. current policy – is to keep the status quo in the Palestinian areas or not to be involved in any peace prospect, not to encourage the Israelis and Palestinians to get into any peace process or negotiation considering the – Netanyahu may have government being right wing – I mean, are there ways like basically we will be happy just to keep things as they are and not to initiate anything new?

MR PRICE: Our policy is fundamentally a pragmatic one. At the present moment – and this goes back to Said’s question – we recognize the deeply concerning trends that have taken place and, in some ways, accelerated in recent months, but also over the course of several years now. Those are the very trends that, over the course of last year and then earlier this year, have led to extraordinarily high, far too high numbers of deaths and injuries, both on the part of Palestinians and Israelis.

So task number one, as we see it, is to do what we can to help de-escalate tensions, to see to it that this alarming rate of violence is diminished, that tensions are eased, and to encourage both sides to refrain from steps that only further exacerbate tensions. Our first priority at the present moment is doing just that, is seeing if we can be a constructive voice, a constructive partner in helping the two sides de-escalate and put an end to this cycle of violence.

Now, of course our longer-term approach continues to be support for a negotiated two-state solution, a negotiated two-state solution that will bring into existence what we ultimately hope to see: Israelis and Palestinians living side by side equally, enjoying equal measures of stability, of security, of democracy, of dignity, of prosperity as well. Now, of course, this is a moment in some ways of triage. Our end goal is one that is quite far off. We recognize that at the moment. No one at the moment is speaking to the possibility of near-term constructive dialogue culminating anytime soon in a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. We acknowledge that; we appreciate that. That’s why our approach is practical, it’s pragmatic, it is focused on what Palestinians need at the moment and what Israelis need at the moment.

In delivering that, what we are trying to do is to set the stage so that the parties can, over the longer term, make progress towards what remains our goal, what has remained the goal of Israelis and Palestinians over successive decades, and that is a two-state solution to this longstanding conflict.

QUESTION: I want to ask you about Yemen unless somebody want to ask about Israel.

MR PRICE: Anything else on Israel?

QUESTION: Just one more on this Israel-related trip. Are you in a position to confirm the media reports that the U.S. has moved munitions stored in Israel to Ukraine for use in Ukraine? If so, can you speak to the significance of that, and also what other steps do you expect from Israel given the fact that there’s a negotiation going on?

MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to speak to that report. I would refer you to DOD if they’re in a position to speak to those types of tactical movements. That’s not something we would speak to from here. I suspect it’s also not something that our partners throughout the government would speak to in any detail as well.

QUESTION: May I ask (inaudible) topic, if possible – housekeeping —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Housekeeping first, you started the briefing by welcoming our guests. When it comes to foreign leaders’ trips to this building, the recent practice has been on the part – the trips from – not the countries like (inaudible) countries, but allies and partners, the practice has been the Secretary would put together a press conference along with the guest leader. The fact that there is no press conference featuring the today’s dialogue, how do you want us to read that? Is it a reflection of the nature of the trip or the nature of the relationship between Türkiye and the U.S. or the nature of the state of press freedom in Türkiye.

MR PRICE: I certainly wouldn’t read much into it. This is a discussion we have with our guests. It is also a factor of the Secretary’s schedule, of the schedule of the visiting dignitary. Of course, you’re asking this one day after Secretary Blinken spent 45 minutes to an hour in front of all of you with Foreign Secretary Cleverly, and we were in a position —

QUESTION: No, no, hold on – let’s say you started 45 minutes to an hour late.

MR PRICE: Thank you, Matt.

QUESTION: I’m not sure that they actually spent 45 minutes to an hour in front of —

MR PRICE: I wasn’t – I wasn’t counting the time, but it was about 45 minutes, if I recall – rough estimate, at least. So as you know, with some visiting dignitaries, we are in a position to have a joint press avail with some scheduling constraints; preferences on the part of our guests or other considerations preclude that.

QUESTION: I mean – and there’s no other reason why Turkish foreign minister would be deprived of the State Department podium, right?

MR PRICE: You all heard from Foreign Minister Cavusoglu today. You all heard from Secretary Blinken today as well. These are questions that we coordinate with our visiting guests.

QUESTION: May I move to South Caucasus, if possible?

MR PRICE: Let – let me —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) something about Türkiye?

MR PRICE: Yeah, sure. Türkiye?

QUESTION: Yeah, so – specifically on Türkiye. The foreign – Turkish foreign minister said he expected the United States to approve the sale of F-16s – he said that to the Secretary, obviously. What will be the message of the Secretary, given that the U.S. Government officially supports this deal, but there’s strong opposition in Congress? So what are your expectations the Secretary will tell the Turkish foreign minister on this issue?

MR PRICE: Well, I expect our Turkish allies will be hearing – because the meeting is ongoing now – a similar message to what they have heard, President Erdogan has heard directly from President Biden, and what all of you have heard, because President Biden said this publicly in June in Madrid. When it comes to the F-16s, President Biden said that as a general matter, he believes that we should sell Türkiye the F-16 jets and modernize their existing fleet as well.

As you know, there is a process for these types of sales, these types of transfers. This is a process that involves Congress, of course, and we would decline to comment on the particulars of that process until and unless there is any formal notification to Congress. We are not in a position to do that yet; our position has not changed. It is also fair to say – and I don’t think I’m betraying any secrets, because our partners on the Hill have been quite vocal about this as well – is that there are strong opinions on the Hill.

So we will continue to engage with our Turkish partners. We will, as appropriate, engage with our partners on the Hill. We want to see to it that Türkiye, as a NATO Ally, has what it needs to be – continue to be a valued member of that Alliance and to address the very real security concerns that Türkiye itself faces.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, please. Senator Menendez said that he is going to block the transfer of F-16s to Türkiye, and he said till Ankara, as he said, improves its human rights record and cease threatening U.S. regional allies like Greece and Cyprus. He said that Erdogan is undermining international law, and Türkiye is not a good ally. I don’t know if you agree with the senator, but I wanted to hear your comment, please.

MR PRICE: Well, Congress has a key role to play when it comes to these decisions. This is a process that we respect. It has been a priority of this Secretary to engage with Congress not only, as he likes to say, on landing, but also at the takeoff; that is to say, at every step of the process, to have iterative engagement with our congressional overseers, but also the authorizers and approvers, including those who sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

We have a very constructive relationship with Türkiye. We are grateful for the role that Türkiye has played in helping to address many of the most pressing challenges of our time, and that includes, of course, Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that without Türkiye’s constructive role, we would not have the Black Sea Grain Initiative, certainly not the grain initiative that is functioning at the scope and scale that it is now. We’ve consistently said that we are grateful for Türkiye’s role in that. We’re also appreciative of the fact that President Erdogan and his government has used their somewhat unique position to seek to address Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Now, it is not for any lack of trying on Ankara’s part that those efforts have not diminished or put an end to this war. That is a function of President Putin – his determination to continue this brutal war despite the costs that it’s inflicting on his own people.

Now, as allies, where and when we have disagreements, we can be candid about those disagreements, and we’ll speak clearly when it comes to shared values and shared interests. We’ve said this many times before: We remain deeply concerned by the continued judicial harassment of civil society, media, political and business leaders in Türkiye, including through prolonged pretrial detention, overly broad claims of support for terrorism, and criminal insult cases.

The people of Türkiye, like people everywhere, deserve to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms without fear of retribution. The right to exercise freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association is enshrined in Türkiye’s constitution, and in its international law obligations, and in its OSCE commitments.

We urge Türkiye to respect and ensure freedom of expression, these very fair pretrial guarantees, fair trial guarantees, judicial independence, and other human rights and fundamental freedoms. And we urge the government to cease prosecutions, these prosecutions, and to respect the rights and freedoms of all Turkish citizens. Our Turkish allies know where we stand on this; the message we convey in private is precisely the message we’ve consistently conveyed in public.

QUESTION: Another question, please. You said that you are happy, of course, with the role that Türkiye has played with the Ukraine. But are you happy with the role that Türkiye is playing in northern Syria? I mean, Mr. Kalin said two days ago that they are going to invade.

MR PRICE: And this is an area where we’ve also been in a position to have candid conversations with our ally, precisely because we are allies. And when you’re friends, let alone when you’re allies, you have the ability to sit down together and to be frank with one another, and we’ve done that. But we’ve also recognized that Türkiye faces legitimate threats to its own security. Türkiye has endured more terrorist attacks on its soil than any other NATO Ally. This goes back to the point I was making before about our desire to see Türkiye continue to be an important, constructive NATO Ally with the means by which to participate meaningfully in that Alliance, as Türkiye has.

When it comes to Syria, we’ve been clear publicly – also privately – that we don’t want to see any unilateral actions that have the potential to set back the tremendous progress that the international community has achieved in the effort to counter ISIS, counter Daesh, over the past several years. The so-called territorial caliphate of ISIS has been virtually destroyed. It has been virtually destroyed because of the stalwart coordination and cooperation on the part of dozens of countries who are part of the global coalition to counter ISIS or Daesh.

We are concerned that any unilateral moves have the potential to set that back and have the potential to set back the prospects for a political resolution to the longstanding – 12 years now – conflict in Syria in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

QUESTION: Sorry. At the very beginning of your – you said you are grateful for the – I think this is a quote – “grateful for the role that Türkiye has played in helping to address many of the most pressing challenges of our time.” You named one, which was the Black Sea initiative. But then after that, you listed a whole bunch of problems that you have with Türkiye, including the human rights situation, Syria just now. You didn’t mention but it’s clear that there are differences over NATO expansion as well. So can you name – I mean, you only named one. So when you say “many of the most pressing challenges of our time,” I’d like to give you the opportunity to identify another —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: — other than the Black Sea initiative.

MR PRICE: So embedded in what I said were two high-profile priorities of ours. Number one is Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and I believe I mentioned this, but Türkiye has played a very helpful, meaningfully helpful role in seeking to put an end to this conflict, or at the very least diminish the violence. They have —

QUESTION: Well – okay. But whatever they’ve done, as laudable as it might be, it doesn’t seem to have worked.

MR PRICE: And again, that is – that is not – that is not for lack of trying on the part of Ankara. That is —

QUESTION: Okay. So you’re – so you’re giving them credit for trying to push the Russians to stop —

MR PRICE: Of course.

QUESTION: – their aggression against Ukraine. And you’ve got – okay. So that’s two.

MR PRICE: And dealing with the implications of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, food insecurity being one of them. That’s embedded in the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

QUESTION: Okay, but that’s – that’s the second one. So there’s two. But you said “many of the most pressing challenges of our time.” So give me another example.

MR PRICE: Another example, Matt, is terrorism and the joint efforts that we’ve —

QUESTION: You just went after them about Syria, which —

MR PRICE: — that Türkiye has taken, including the steps that we announced together just a couple weeks ago now to go after a network of ISIS facilitators.

QUESTION: That was, like, four people.

MR PRICE: Yes, Matt. But Türkiye has been a valued member of this coalition. Its efforts have been —

QUESTION: Okay. I’m not saying that they’re not doing any of this. I’d just like to have another example. When you say “many,” does “many” mean two?

MR PRICE: Many ways —

QUESTION: Does it mean – does it mean three? Okay. So you’ve got Black Sea and then they attempt to get the Russians – not successfully, but they attempt to get the Russians to ease up in Ukraine. You don’t like what they’re doing or what they’re threatening to do in Syria. On terrorism, yeah, okay, so you have one joint statement over the course of the last year about sanctions. I’m just wondering where the “many of the most pressing challenges” are, and I’m not – again, I’m not saying the Turks aren’t doing anything about this, but I’d just like you – I’d like to give you the opportunity to explain what those are.

MR PRICE: And I think we’ve just gone through a number of them, not to mention Türkiye’s role in NATO over the course of several —

QUESTION: Türkiye’s role in NATO – they’re stopping —

MR PRICE: Over the – over the – over the course —

QUESTION: They are the main obstacle to NATO doing what it wants to do right now in expansion.

MR PRICE: Over the course of several decades.

QUESTION: Can you explain that deal —

MR PRICE: Yes. Let me move around to someone who hasn’t had a question yet.

Janne?

QUESTION: On the Turks —

QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you. Let’s do a – different issues, please. Thank you. Yeah, I have two questions for the North Korea. North Korea refuted the message from the UN Security Council that it should return to denuclearization negotiations. At the same time, the North Korean foreign ministry announced that their status as a nuclear power was a stark reality. Do you think North Korea declared itself a nuclear state? How do you see this?

MR PRICE: Well, it doesn’t change our overarching goal, and that remains the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Of course, the DPRK has demonstrated its capabilities when it comes to its illegal nuclear weapons program, when it comes to its ballistic missile program. We continue to be concerned that the DPRK may make additional provocations, and “provocations” is probably too euphemistic of a term for it. Each and every one of the DPRK’s ballistic missile launches – certainly each and every one of the DPRK’s six tests of its nuclear weapons – pose a profound and, in some cases, grave threat to international peace and security, certainly to the security and to the peace of the Indo-Pacific region.

So despite the comments that we’ve heard from the DPRK, despite the provocations that we’ve seen from the DPRK and that we may yet see, our approach will remain steadfast. It’s an approach that we honed early on in this administration, but just as importantly if not more importantly, it’s an approach that we’ve adopted jointly with our treaty allies – in this case, Japan and the ROK.

We are committed to the security of our treaty allies. We will take steps as appropriate in response to any additional provocations by the DPRK, and we’ll continue to work with partners and allies around the world to see to it that the DPRK is held accountable for its unlawful programs – its ballistic missile program, its nuclear weapons program – and to do everything we can to see to it that especially members of the UN Security Council uphold the commitments that they’ve made – the binding commitments that they’ve made in successive UN Security Council resolutions – to impose cause and – costs and consequences on the DPRK for these illegal acts.

QUESTION: The last one – this is very serious issues; maybe you (inaudible). Recently, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has purged many North Korean officials who led the dialogue between the United States and North Korea in the past, including the North Korean foreign minister and the highest-ranking officials. How do you see the future prospect for dialogue between the United States and North Korea?

MR PRICE: I’ve seen those reports; I’m not in a position to confirm them. But the latter part of your question is really a better question for the DPRK, because we have a vision for what could be if only the DPRK would agree to engage in the pragmatic, practical discussion and dialogue that we’ve put on the table for months and months now. We have made no secret of the fact we wish to engage with the DPRK on the basis of the ultimate denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula to discuss how we might – again, with practical, pragmatic steps – advance that vision that we’ve put forward that would be in the interests of the United States, of our partners and allies, of the broader region, and, we think, in the interests of the DPRK itself.

Of course, the DPRK has to date shunned those offers. It has responded to our repeated statements that we harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK, to our repeated offers to engage in dialogue, with only more provocations and more threats. That is a dynamic that we are using various tools at our disposal to seek to change. It’s a dynamic that we would like to see changed.

QUESTION: The last one – China. And China said that there are limits to – persuading North Korea. Would Secretary Blinken discuss these issues during the – his visit to China this time?

MR PRICE: I am certain that the challenge that the DPRK poses to the Indo-Pacific region and beyond will be on the agenda when Secretary Blinken travels to Beijing.

Yes.

QUESTION: A China question?

MR PRICE: Okay, one more —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: China? China?

MR PRICE: China, and then I’ll come back.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Last week we heard a lot about what the U.S. and Mexico can do to stop fentanyl to arrive to the Western Hemisphere. But we didn’t hear that much about what the U.S. and Mexico are doing to press China on the illegal exportation of precursor chemicals to produce fentanyl. Can you describe what’s the current status of any dialogue between the U.S. and China on precisely this issue, the illegal exportation of fentanyl precursors?

MR PRICE: Sure. Let me start by saying that this is a priority of Secretary Blinken. He consistently brings up to his senior team the threat that fentanyl poses to the international community but, in very real terms, poses to the American people. It is the leading killer of Americans between the age – ages of 18 to 49. It presents a clear and present danger to our people but, to your question, to people around the world. This is the very definition of a transnational challenge because it is a drug whose precursors originate in various places around the world. its manufacturing takes place in very places – various places around the world, and it kills far too many people around the world as well.

That is why he has directed his team to do everything we can, often in concert with our partners in the U.S. Government – whether that’s the DEA, whether that’s customs – the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border enforcement[1], whether that is other partners as well – to address the challenge that fentanyl poses.

When it comes to the PRC, since the PRC scheduled fentanyl and related substances as a – as a class in 2019, the PRC is no longer a major source of fentanyl flowing into the United States. We continue to see PRC-origin precursor chemicals being used in illicit fentanyl production. Though its past action has helped to counter illicit synthetic drugs, we continue to urge the PRC to take additional meaningful concrete action to curb the diversion of precursor chemicals and equipment used by criminals to manufacture fentanyl and other synthetic drugs.

We are committed to working with the PRC. We often talk about the areas in which the United States and the PRC can work together constructively to deepen that collaboration to the betterment of our two peoples but also to the betterment of people around the world. This is very much one of those areas. It is a challenge for the Chinese people, it is a challenge for the American people, and we hope that we can continue to collaborate effectively and constructively with the PRC to take on this challenge.

Yes, Ian.

QUESTION: Over the last week there’s been a little bit more data sharing from China on COVID after a back and forth with the WHO. Is the U.S. satisfied with the level of transparency in recent days from China on COVID, or would you like to see more transparency over data on illnesses and infections and deaths?

MR PRICE: So this is really a better question for the WHO. The WHO is in the best position to judge the level of transparency that the PRC is exhibiting. They’ve made various statements. There was a session between WHO officials and PRC officials early this year. In the aftermath of that session, the WHO issued a public statement. Over the weekend, I believe it was, the PRC provided additional data, and that was welcomed by the WHO. We continue to urge transparency on COVID-19 data, including from the PRC. Our position is the position of scientists; public health experts around the world that without this data, it will be difficult for public health officials to ensure they will be prepared to reduce the spread and identify any new potential variants.

So we continue to urge the PRC to be fully transparent. The measures that we put in place, the measures that we announced just before the new year and put into place earlier this year, the pre‑departure testing for individuals traveling from the PRC to the United States also made this point. Those measures are based on both the prevalence of COVID in the PRC, but also what we were seeing at the time – or namely what we were not seeing at the time – the lack of transparent data distribution from the PRC, principally to the WHO, including the genomic sequencing so that the WHO could have an early warning should any new variants develop and be spreading beyond the PRC’s borders.

QUESTION: And has that lack of data colored any of the discussions between the U.S. and China in the leadup to the – to Blinken’s visit in February? Has it —

MR PRICE: If by colored, do you mean has it derailed, has it disrupted the planning? I’ll say that Secretary Blinken fully expects to travel to Beijing next month. That is something that we are still planning for on a daily basis, including – we’re working closely with our counterparts in the PRC to see to it that this trip is constructive, it is productive, that it’s substantive as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: European Parliament is calling on European Union to blacklist Iran’s IRGC. On Thursday European Parliament is expected to pass another resolution which includes a call to declare the IRGC a terrorist organization. Do you have any comment on that? Do you have a word of encouragement – because four years ago, U.S. decided to put IRGC on FTO, and four years later European countries seems to reach the same point as U.S. was four years ago.

MR PRICE: On questions like this, we tend not to be prescriptive just because each country, or in this case each bloc of countries, have their own authorities, they have their own evidentiary requirements and evidentiary basis for determining whether a particular group – in this case the IRGC – would qualify under their own legislation, be it domestic or be it continent-wide in this case.

What – where we do see eye to eye with our European partners is a recognition that Iran is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. There is no more nefarious exporter of international terrorism than Iran. There is no disagreement between the United States and our European allies on this. We’re also clear-eyed about the need to cooperate to counter the threats that are posed by the IRGC over the past – well, certainly in recent years. Europe, the United States, countries around the world and regions around the world have seen all too vivid demonstrations of the lethality of the IRGC, of its repugnant willingness to take innocent lives in its operations. So we’re committed to continuing to work with the EU and with other allies and partners on this very challenge.

Guita.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. In reaction to this development in the European Union parliament, a member of the Iranian parliament has said that if the EU does designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization, the Islamic Republic would designate Britain, Germany, France, and the EU also as terrorists. And he continued to say, and I quote, that “the defenders of Iran know how to deal with terrorists,” unquote. Any comments? Do you think this is clearly a threat and it should be – should it be taken seriously?

MR PRICE: We don’t respond to threats. We condemn them. What we do respond to is any threat to American citizens, threat to our partners. Countries around the world, including Iran, know full well that we take such – any such real threats seriously, and we’re prepared to respond and respond decisively if appropriate. Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: Related, kind of.

MR PRICE: Okay. We’ll see how related or kind of that is.

QUESTION: Yemen, Yemen. So yesterday the White House issued a statement – and then – I think it’s a year anniversary of the Houthis’ attack on UAE, and they said basically that this is a heinous terrorist attack. So if this is the case – if you describe the Houthis as a terrorist organization, why are they not on the FTO till now? I mean, what is this deliberation as we speak?

MR PRICE: So when it comes to the Houthis, you are right that we did condemn the terrorist attack that the Houthis perpetrated against our Emirati partners one year ago yesterday. President Biden issued a statement. Secretary Blinken issued a statement. In both of those statements, we reiterated our commitment to working with our Emirati partners to help them, help them defend against such cross-border attacks.

We do that in a variety of ways. We’re committed to continuing to do that going forward, just as we’re committed to our much broader partnership with the UAE. It’s a partnership that has realized but also has far more potential to bring about a region that is more stable, is more integrated, and more prosperous as well. And we’re committed to working with President MBZ and Foreign Minister ABZ in an effort to promote that vision.

When it comes to the Houthis, we are under no illusions about the Houthis, the challenge they pose, and the threat that they have the potential to pose as well. What you’ve seen over the course of this administration is a focus on putting an end to the civil war in Yemen, a civil war that the Houthis have at key moments only sought to propagate and extend. Over the past year or so, we have achieved a great deal of success. Levels of violence are greatly diminished. There was a cessation of hostilities that was formally in place.

Even as that cessation of hostilities has at least formally expired, the level of violence have remained quite low. That is good for the people of Yemen. It is also good for our partners in the region as they have endured fewer of these repugnant cross-border attacks that have targeted the UAE, have targeted Saudi Arabia, and others as well.

There are ways that we have to hold the Houthis to account. They – we have taken action against specific Houthi leaders. The group as a whole is designated under various authorities, but we made very clear that when the last administration in the final hour – almost literally – labeled the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, that came with a series of consequences – some perhaps intended; many perhaps unintended. Among those unintended consequences were profound costs on the people of Yemen.

We heard loud and clear from humanitarian actors, NGOs who were operating on the ground that the FTOs, that the – the fact that the Houthis had been labeled an FTO precluded them from providing, or at least limited their ability to provide, lifesaving humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen. So we made a determination early in this administration that we could do two things at once: We could hold the Houthis to account with various authorities, including authorities attached to individual Houthi leaders, while removing the roadblocks that had stymied the provision, or potentially in some cases stymied the provision, of humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen.

I think our approach to the Houthis, our approach to investing so much in diplomacy with Special Envoy Tim Lenderking leading the charge under the direction of Secretary Blinken, has proved its effectiveness. We have seen a period of stability and diminution of tensions that we have not seen in some eight years, since the start of this conflict in 2014. It is our hope to build on the progress that we’ve achieved, even as we continue to partner with our partners and allies in the region, including the Emiratis, including the Saudis, to see to it they have what they need to defend themselves.

Let me move to someone who hasn’t had a question. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. I just wanted to go back to Türkiye really quickly.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Specifically – pardon me – Senator Menendez. As you know – as you know, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, he can basically block this F-16 sale as long as he wants. So if the Biden administration is committed to getting this sale done, it will have to persuade him to get on board with it. So what’s the State Department’s game plan to get Senator Menendez to lift his opposition to the sale?

MR PRICE: Sure. As you know, we don’t often detail our private diplomacy. The same principle applies to our private conversations with our congressional partners, so I don’t want to go too far down this road. What I will say is that we have conveyed to our partners on the Hill our support for the provision of F-16s and for enabling Türkiye to maintain its existing fleet of F‑16s. Again, our partners on the Hill – at least several of them – have made no secret about their opposition to this. They have pointed to various elements. These are questions that will – are better addressed for our congressional partners.

We are going to continue to work with the Turks on priorities of ours. Again, that is the war in Ukraine, the constructive role that Türkiye has played. It is its unique role as a bridge between East and West, in this case using its good offices, or at least its voice, to encourage Russia to end this brutal war against the people of Ukraine. We’re going to continue to work on food security, we’re going to continue to work on our shared counterterrorism agenda, even as we continue to encourage Türkiye, Finland, Sweden to find a way to achieve what we would all like to see, and that is the quick accession of Finland and Sweden as NATO’s newest Allies.

There is strong support within the Alliance, but, to the point of your question, there is strong support within the U.S. Congress for Finland and Sweden to be – to become NATO’s newest members. When the treaty was put before the Senate last year, it was approved in near record time on an overwhelming and bipartisan basis. Congress has made no secret of its support. Of course, we share the enthusiasm that we’ve heard from our Hill partners when it comes to Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership. And we’re going to continue to encourage Finland, Sweden, Türkiye to engage in constructive dialogue to see this through just as quickly as can be managed.

Let me – Kylie. Kylie.

QUESTION: Could I just ask one question for a minute?

MR PRICE: Kylie, go ahead. Kylie.

QUESTION: There’s a few articles out right now about targeting in Crimea, the Crimean Peninsula. I’m just wondering: Over the course of the last year, has the U.S. ever put limits on where Ukraine can or cannot use their weapons? Have they been allowed to use those weapons to attack Russians in the Crimean Peninsula or in Crimea?

MR PRICE: To the first part of your question, we are providing Ukraine with the security assistance, the weapons and supplies it needs to defend its territory, to defend its territory against this Russian aggression, against these Russian invaders.

QUESTION: Including Crimea?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Including Crimea?

MR PRICE: Crimea is Ukraine. We are, of course, not making targeting decisions on behalf of our Ukrainian partners. These decisions are up to them. But as you know, the United States and countries around the world have never recognized Russia’s purported annexation of parts of eastern Ukraine or its purported annexation of Crimea. Crimea is Ukraine. That is not going to change. We have provided our Ukrainian partners with precisely what they need to take on the threat where it is raging most violently. Right now that is in the east, it’s in the Donbas. This has been the case for some time.

But as you track the provision of U.S. security assistance from well before February 24th, as we saw the potential storm clouds approaching to the start of Russia’s war on February 24th, you see the evolution, going from the battle of Kyiv, where Stingers and Javelins were in need and requested by our Ukrainian partners, to what we’ve provided in recent weeks and months: HIMARS, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, long-range artillery, the longer-range systems that Ukraine needs to take on Russian positions on sovereign Ukrainian soil.

Now, what we have not done, we have neither encouraged nor enabled our Ukrainian partners to strike beyond their borders. Everything we are providing to Ukraine is for a singular purpose, and that’s for its self-defense.

QUESTION: And just one quick question. You said the advice of the U.S. is – would be to take on the threat where it’s raging most violently, and right now that’s in the east and in the Donbas. So if they are using the weaponry to go after targets in Crimea or the Crimean Peninsula, is that supported by the U.S.? Is that a move that you see as the most productive use of the weaponry that they have at their dispense right now?

MR PRICE: So we are not calling the shots when it comes to targeting. We are – and when I say “we,” in this case it’s our Department of Defense counterparts – they are in constant conversation with our Ukrainian partners about the dynamics, about the systems that would be appropriate for the threat that Ukraine is facing at each moment during the course of this invasion. But ultimately, it is up to our Ukrainian partners to determine how – how best, where – to use these weapons and supplies to defend their sovereign territory.

QUESTION: And if that – and if they believe they’re best used targeting the Crimean Peninsula, then you support that?

MR PRICE: Again, it is – we are not calling the shots. These are questions – just as the ultimate question of negotiations, what that looks like, what the Ukrainians are vying for in the course of any future negotiations, these are questions for our Ukrainian partners.

QUESTION: Can you clarify something on (inaudible)…

MR PRICE: Yes. Let me move to people who have not had a question.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Yesterday – two days ago, Peskov, Kremlin spokesperson, didn’t rule out a meeting between CIA Burns – Director Burns and any Russian officials. Do we expect something in the near future, such a meeting?

MR PRICE: Even if we had something to say there, that is not a question I would wade into. Now, of course the Russians consistently like to allude to potential engagement with the United States, just as they do with other close allies of ours. Our longstanding position since the start of Russia’s aggression is that it can’t be business as usual.

If there are discreet elements that we need to convey to our Russian partners, elements that are profoundly in our national security interest, we have channels to be able to do so. Secretary Blinken has picked up the phone to Foreign Minister Lavrov when it came to Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, the detained AMCITs at the time. We’ve conveyed in no uncertain terms the consequences of annexation. Secretary Blinken did that as well. We’ve also conveyed in no uncertain terms the costs and consequences that would come with the use of a chemical weapon or a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Next Monday there is a meeting on Lebanon between the Saudis, the Qataris, and the French, and the U.S. Would Assistant Secretary Leaf attend this meeting? And also, what’s your position on the presidential election in Lebanon? I mean, do you support an agreement ahead of the election or do you want a president to be elected ahead of an agreement?

MR PRICE: To the second part of your question, this is a question for the Lebanese parliament. It’s a question for the Lebanese parliament to determine the next president in accordance with the demands of the Lebanese people, who continue to face a number of crises. We call on Lebanese – Lebanon’s leaders to quickly select a president and to subsequently form a government. The Lebanese people deserve political leadership willing to put the interests of the country first and a government able to implement long-overdue reforms critical to unlocking crucial international support.

QUESTION: What’s the date on that guidance?

MR PRICE: We’ve been saying this for —

QUESTION: For about – what, about like 10 years?

MR PRICE: Well, not quite that long. But as to any engagements next week, if we have details to share in advance, we’ll do that.

QUESTION: Just one more question, please, on Saudi Arabia.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday in an interview with Bloomberg, Saudi finance minister said – hinted that the Saudis are open to discussion – discussions about the trade in currencies other than the U.S. dollar. Do you have any comment on that?

MR PRICE: I do not. I do not.

QUESTION: Can you clarify something on Türkiye? You said that Türkiye faces real threat of terrorism, and you understand that. But you don’t see eye to eye with them, because they consider the YPG to be a terrorist organization and the flipside of the PKK. You don’t see eye to eye on that, do you?

MR PRICE: Said, we’ve been clear that with our allies, we may not always see eye to eye. We have disagreements with our Turkish allies. That doesn’t diminish the alliance between our two countries. That doesn’t diminish the fact that we share interests, and as partners, as an alliance, there are fundamental values that we want to see protected as well.

QUESTION: But you’re on opposite sides. I mean, you support the YPG, and they are your allies and so on, and Türkiye is going to attack them, maybe any time. So what will your position be if this happens?

MR PRICE: Our position will be precisely what I spent probably five minutes describing earlier in this briefing.

QUESTION: And my question is on South Caucasus. But before we get there, just to clarify, you – in answer to the question on Crimea, you said you never encouraged them to take the shot. On the reverse side, you will also not discourage them from retaking Crimea, right? You will not do or act in any way that would discourage Ukraine from doing what it —

MR PRICE: These ultimately are questions for our Ukrainian partners.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. And South Caucasus.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: I need to move on to people that have not had a question yet.

QUESTION: Different topic —

MR PRICE: I need to move on.

Yes, go ahead, go ahead.

QUESTION: Are you still in agreement with Türkiye over normalization with Syria? I’m sure this topic was on the table today up on the seventh floor. Are you still opposing Türkiye normalizing with Syria?

MR PRICE: I will allow our Turkish allies to note their approach to the Assad regime in Syria. Our approach to the Assad regime has not changed. We believe that now is not the time for normalization, now is not the time for countries to seek improvements in relations with the Syrian regime. One need only look at the track record of the regime over the past 12 years, the violence and brutality that the Assad regime has inflicted on its own people. We continue to believe in the utility of pursuing the goals and metrics enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

QUESTION: And Foreign Minister [Cavusoglu] was told that today?

MR PRICE: The meeting is still going on, so I’m just not in a position to speak to it.

Abbie.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Are you aware of the death of an American in Rosarito Beach, Mexico?

MR PRICE: Yes. Let me just pull this up. I can confirm the death of a U.S. Citizen in Baja California in Mexico. We stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. Out of respect for the privacy of the family, I just wouldn’t be in a position to comment any further.

QUESTION: Is there any investigation into his death, or is there any reason for suspicion of foul play?

MR PRICE: When a U.S. citizen dies in a foreign country, local authorities are responsible for determining the cause of death, issuing a death certificate, among other steps. We’ll support any Mexican investigation, we’ll continue to monitor it closely, but would refer you to Mexican authorities for details of their investigation.

Yes.

QUESTION: I have a question for the U.S.-Japan. Following up on U.S.-Japan summit meeting, seems like it is necessary continue discuss specific measures such as countering, like, export of, like, a semiconductor. What is current outlook on that meeting? And how soon we can expect a U.S.-Japan economic version of the 2+2? In near future?

MR PRICE: Sorry, I didn’t – I missed the first part of your question. Was this in relation to the prime minister’s visit, or this was in relation to the Dutch prime minister’s visit?

QUESTION: The U.S.-Japan economic version 2+2 meeting.

MR PRICE: I don’t have any additional 2+2 meeting to announce. Of course, we had a meeting, what, I guess it was last week now, of the bilateral consultative committee with Japan, brought together our Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense with their Japanese counterparts. But I just don’t have any additional meetings to announce at this stage.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Pakistan has less than $5 billion left in its FOREX reserves. Is the U.S. paying any attention to or is planning to give maybe, like, some sort of debt relief to the country, or not?

MR PRICE: So this is a challenge that we are attuned to. I know that Pakistan has been working with the IMF, with international financial institutions. We want to see Pakistan in a economically sustainable position. Those conversations, as I understand it, are ongoing. We are supportive where we can be of our Pakistani partners, but ultimately these are conversations between Pakistan and international financial institutions.

QUESTION: But in this critical time, does the U.S. – on government-to-government level, are you guys giving any, like, suggestions for Pakistan to take some immediate steps which could improve the economy?

MR PRICE: These conversations with our Pakistani partners often do entail technical issues. Oftentimes these are addressed between the Department of the Treasury and our Pakistani partners. But Pakistan’s macroeconomic stability is a topic of conversation between the Department of State and our counterparts, the White House, the Treasury Department, among others.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks. Yes.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on Secretary Blinken’s visit to PRC. According to a political report last weekend, the date is likely to be on February 5th and 6th. Can you confirm anything on that report, including a possible counterpart in PRC?

MR PRICE: Including a possible —

QUESTION: Counterpart.

MR PRICE: Counterpart.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PRICE: So I’m not in a position to confirm a date just yet. The Secretary has said for a number of weeks now that he will travel to the PRC early this year. Now that we are in early 2023, I would expect that the Secretary will have an opportunity to travel to Beijing next month. The details of that visit are still being worked out. And I would imagine if and when Secretary Blinken does travel to Beijing, he will have an opportunity to meet with several interlocutors to discuss the broad array of issues that form the basis of what is arguably the most consequential bilateral relationship in the world.

Final question. Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. The Secretary today spoke with Armenian prime minister. Did he have a chance to dial Baku as well?

MR PRICE: Did we have a – I’m sorry?

QUESTION: To call Azerbaijani officials?

MR PRICE: So the Secretary did have an opportunity today to speak to the leader of Armenia. I do expect that he will have an opportunity in the coming days to speak to President Aliyev.

QUESTION: According to your readout, they discussed the steps to restart bilateral talks with Azerbaijan. I was just wondering, are we in the process of putting together another round of meeting, or the Secretary is just trying to test the waters with the side to see if there’s any appetite for next round of dialogue?

MR PRICE: We’re going to do what is ultimately most helpful. And at the end of last year, there were a couple meetings that the Secretary chaired between his counterparts, a trilateral meeting between Armenia, Azerbaijan, with Secretary Blinken in the middle. We did that at Blair House. We did that in New York. Of course, we’ve seen setbacks when it comes to Nagorno-Karabakh of late. We want to see constructive dialogue put back on track. We stand ready to engage bilaterally. We stand ready to engage with and through partners, through the OSCE or, if and when appropriate, trilaterally, as we have done in the past.

QUESTION: The same format or different format —

MR PRICE: We are going to do what is most effective at the right time.

QUESTION: I know who is not going to be behind the table, which is Ambassador Reeker.

MR PRICE: Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: Who is going to be behind table from the sides? Like are you seeking presidential-level meetings or the foreign ministers?

MR PRICE: So, of course, Ambassador Reeker did retire from the Department of State after an illustrious 30-year career just last week. But there are a number of individuals in this department who are deeply invested in this process, not the least of whom is Secretary Blinken himself. This is a personal priority of his. But people like Toria Nuland, people like Karen Donfried, people like a number of the senior officials in our Bureau of European and Eurasian affairs, will remain deeply engaged in this.

QUESTION: But from the other side, ministers or the presidents are you looking for? Who is going to be behind the other side of the table?

MR PRICE: That is for them to decide.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:20 p.m.)

# # #

  1. Customs and Border Protection
78241 6404173

Welcome to the U.S. Department of State Twitter account. Follow @SecBlinken for more from the Secretary. For all Department accounts: https://t.co/kzsNMIOwF9.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future