2:17 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Quite a crowd today. You have picked a good day to turn up at the State Department, and I say that because we have a special guest, as you can see. It is my pleasure to introduce Rashad Hussain. Ambassador-at-Large Hussain is our ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. He’s here today to offer some additional remarks on the 2021 International Religious Freedom Report, and then he will look forward to taking your questions.
So without further ado, Ambassador Hussain.
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Thanks so much, Ned. Good afternoon, everyone. Today we released the 2021 International Religious Freedom Report. This comprehensive resource is an indispensable part of our efforts to advance human rights globally. The stories of so many people and the persecution that they face is brought to life in the pages documenting the state of international religious freedom in the report.
The report clearly shows that governments and civil society must collaborate to address deteriorating conditions around the world. During the past year, we have seen increased repression by authoritarian governments and the politicized use of blasphemy, apostasy, and conversion laws, including against Christian communities. We’re also witnessing rising societal violence against communities around the world. We’re seeing increasing anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim attacks from Europe to South Asia.
As the Secretary highlighted in his remarks, we remain concerned about members of religious minority groups in countries around the world, including in Afghanistan, Burma, the People’s Republic of China, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Vietnam. The concerning trend lines in these countries underscore that much work remains to be done.
Yet there is also reason for optimism. We are seeing the progress that is possible when civil society, a coalition of activists, and multilateral bodies work with government, and many – in many cases when they push and when they challenge governments to live up to their obligations. And the Secretary earlier today highlighted just a few positive examples in Morocco, Iraq, Taiwan, and Timor-Leste.
I look forward to the honest, frank conversations with my foreign counterparts and civil society interlocutors that will stem from the release of today’s report. We need those conversations to generate and sustain continued progress.
I’d like to thank those of you who are joining us in person and those that are joining virtually for covering the release of this report, and for your interest to these important issues. Your advocacy is critical to continued progress.
And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.
MR PRICE: Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’ve got a kind of a semi – there you go. I can see him now. That’s important.
This report covers obviously last year, not this year. But since you brought it up upstairs, you talked a little bit about Ukraine.
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah.
QUESTION: And I had something that I’m not even sure is within your remit, but I’m wondering that if we look at this year, particularly since February but also since January, basically, if you have – your office has any concerns about the role that the Russian Orthodox Church has been playing not just in Russia as it relates to the war in Ukraine but also in Ukraine itself.
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Absolutely. Following their unprovoked and unjustified invasion, Russia has targeted religious minorities in Ukraine. The Kremlin seeks to create division, as you alluded to, within the Orthodox Church and has targeted religious minorities and even damaged religious sites within Ukraine.
We’ve been in communication with the top religious authorities in the Ukraine. I recently actually just met with the Ecumenical Patriarch when I was in Riyadh. And the Ukrainian people continue to inspire the world with their courage. They’ve used, actually, some places of worship to host refugees. They have been doing phenomenal work – the faith-based communities have – at the border.
And so we will continue as a part of our economic and security and humanitarian assistance to do everything that we can to support the courageous people of Ukraine, and that includes the religious communities that are there.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I was less focused on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church than I was on the Russian Orthodox Church, and particularly – in particular, the patriarch, who you may have seen the reports today that the EU had him on their sanctions list – this is Patriarch Kirill, I believe his name is – and then removed him because of objections from Hungary. But I’m wondering if the United States has similar concerns about the role that the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church – not the Ukrainian Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox Church – has.
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Of course, yeah. And as I mentioned, the malign influence efforts that they continue to engage in in Ukraine and elsewhere continue to be of deep concern, and we will continue to be in touch with our counterparts in the Ukraine and other parts of the world regarding the concerns that you mentioned.
QUESTION: Okay, I’m sorry, and I don’t mean to belabor this, but you’re talking about the church itself, not the Kremlin per se? I guess one of the —
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: That’s right. That’s right.
QUESTION: — that you’re talking about. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Shaun.
QUESTION: Thank you. Two questions that are somewhat unrelated, if you don’t mind.
In China and Tibet, the reincarnation issue – that’s been something that’s gotten a lot of attention recently. What are the – what’s the trajectory that you see there? I mean, do you see any – do you find that there is more adamance on the part of Beijing perhaps to try to force a reincarnation process for the next Dalai Lama? How is the U.S. reacting to that? Do you find – is there a stance that the U.S. has ahead of whenever the reincarnation issue comes to (inaudible)?
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. The whereabouts of the Panchen Lama remain unknown since his 1995 abduction by PRC authorities, and actually, May 17th will mark the 27th anniversary of his disappearance. And we are concerned that the PRC continues to deny members of the Tibetan community access to the Dalai Lama – the Dalai Lama-designated Panchen Lama, the second most revered figure in Tibetan Buddhism – and instead continues to promote a state-selected proxy.
So we would urge the PRC authorities to account for the Panchen Lama’s whereabouts and well-being immediately and to allow him to fully exercise his human rights and fundamental freedoms in line with the PRC’s international commitment.
I actually had a chance to attend an event here in Washington a couple of months ago commemorating the disappearance of the Panchen Lama and at that time as well worked with some of our civil society partners to urge China to end their interference in the succession.
QUESTION: Could I just ask – if you don’t mind, just something related – unrelated to that? You mentioned and the Secretary as well briefly mentioned India in the remarks. Obviously, India can be quite sensitive about criticism. I know you’re not designating CPCs at this point, but the recommendations from the Commission on International Religious Freedom – how is that decision coming to bear with India? And does the United States actually raise these issues with India despite – in addition to comments (inaudible)?
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Absolutely, and you heard the Secretary’s remarks today. The remarks spoke for themselves. We continue to raise these issues regularly with our Indian counterparts. USCIRF is an important partner, and as we collect our data for our report we take their recommendations into account as well. We are concerned with targeting of a number of religious communities in India, including Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindu dalits, and indigenous communities as well. I welcome the opportunity myself to even visit there and continue our discussions, and we continue to encourage the government to condemn violence that we’re seeing and hold those who engage in violence against minorities communities accountable.
MR PRICE: Said.
QUESTION: Thank you. Should freedom of religion also cover freedom from religion? And the reason I ask this is because atheists in some Islamic countries and societies could be stoned to death and ostracized. Do you have any comment on that?
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. Well, when we look at the legal obligations that countries around the world have adopted as part of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, it’s for freedom of religion or belief. It’s for freedom of thought and conscience and religion, if you look at the ICCPR Article 18, for example. And we speak regularly with our counterparts, including in the countries that you mentioned, to urge them to uphold this freedom. A constant principle that we hear or a constant refrain that you may be familiar with in Arabic is La ikraha fid-deen, that there is no compulsion in religion, and so that is a principle that we share and that we continue to raise with our counterparts around the world.
MR PRICE: Janne.
QUESTION: Thank you. There is many religious peoples in prison in China and North Korea right now. How is the United States getting involved in North Korea and China, where there is no religion and the oppression of religious peoples?
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. Well, China continues to be one of the worst abusers of religious freedom in the world. They have engaged in genocide and crimes against humanity against the Uyghurs. They also continue their repression, as I spoke about, of Tibetan Buddhists, but also Protestants, Catholics, the Falun Gong, Hui Muslims.
We’ve taken a number of steps. China has been designated as a CPC since 1999. I alluded to the genocide determination. Congress passed and the President signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Act. As you recall, we decided not to send any diplomatic representation to the Olympics. We’ve implemented a series of financial sanctions, a number of visa restrictions as well.
And with regard to North Korea, we note there that the government continues to execute, torture, arrest, and abuse individuals that are engaged in religious activity, and there’s tens of thousands of political prisoners that are being held because of their religious beliefs, which are highlighted in our report. I’d urge you take a look at that. And we’re continuing to work with the international community to respond to what North Korea is doing as well.
MR PRICE: Alex.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Ambassador Hussain, let me ask about the tools that you have or you might want to see in your toolkit to move the needles. When I look at the report on Turkey, Azerbaijan, Russia, I see a continuation of same problems. What I also see is some quiet diplomacy going behind the scene – ambassadors meetings with officials. Are there other tools that you would like to see when you try to move the needle in those countries? One of them also used to be the Secretary’s Special Watch List. When should we expect them coming? Thank you so much.
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. So just like we do every year, we’re releasing the report today, and then consistent with our obligation under the International Religious Freedom Act, we’ll release the CPC and Special Watch List determinations before the end of the year. But for now, we’re – clearly laid out the latest state of religious freedom, including for the countries that you mentioned in our report.
With regard to tools, we are doing our best to use all the tools at our disposal to address these restrictions. We raise individual cases. I do that routinely with ambassadors here in the United States, in our travels overseas. We raise cases of individuals that are being held in prison and being persecuted because of their religious beliefs. We oppose policies and laws that are on the books, such as apostasy laws and blasphemy laws that are used often to restrict religious freedom.
Our report in and of itself is a unique document. It’s over 2,500 pages this year. It meticulously goes through the condition with regard to religious freedom in countries around the world. And we believe that highlighting the status of religious freedom country by country, something that is not done anywhere else in the world, raises the profile of the issues and the cases.
We’re also working within multilateral institutions, including at the UN, at the Human Rights Council. We formed a very powerful International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance that now has 35 countries, and it enables us to come together on a weekly basis to discuss some of the difficult trendlines that we’re seeing around the world. And then of course, there’s sanctions and visa restrictions and other tools.
So you mentioned the toolbox. There’s a number of toolkits. We try to apply them in the most appropriate way in each situation to make progress on these issues.
MR PRICE: Let’s take a couple final questions. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, sir. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV, Pakistan. So we heard Secretary Blinken’s speech this morning when he talks about religious freedom in many parts of the world. Countries like Pakistan, China, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and others are in CPC countries. But even after witnessing worst-ever situation of religious freedom in India, this country is still out of red list. So what is preventing State Department to include world largest democracy in CPC countries?
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Well, I think the Secretary’s statement today speaks for itself. In India, we’re concerned that some officials are ignoring or even supporting rising attacks on people in places of worship. And as I mentioned earlier in the briefing, there’s a number of religious communities that are being targeted.
With regard to the criteria that we assess when we’re making these determinations, we’re looking at countries that either engage in or tolerate or allow severe restrictions on religious freedom, and for the CPC designation, both of those factors are present. And so today we’ve issued our meticulous assessment of the current situation, and over the next six months, we’ll be making our determinations for all countries as to which of them should be included on the lists that we did.
QUESTION: The Secretary – excuse me – also spoke about the blasphemy laws in Pakistan.
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah.
QUESTION: So have you ever talked about this in – whenever you engage with the Pakistani authorities?
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah.
QUESTION: I remember you recently met with Pakistani Ambassador (inaudible) in Washington (inaudible)?
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Absolutely. In fact, for a number of years at the UN, there was a resolution passed with regard to so-called defamation of religion, and Pakistan was one of the leading advocates. And our concern with that resolution is that it is an instrument that gives support or sanction to blasphemy laws, and we work with a number of countries around the world, including OIC countries, including Pakistan – Pakistan was a close partner on this – to eliminate the use of that resolution and move towards the Istanbul process, which we continue to seek to energize today.
Now, there is a number of troubling blasphemy cases that continue today and those are cases that we continue to raise, and I raise them regularly with the ambassador here. And we’re – of course, we urge the Pakistani Government, as we have seen in some cases when there’s been mob violence, the government condemning them and actually offering support for investigations in those cases. Those are positive steps, but much work remains, and we continue to be in dialogue with our Pakistani partners about that.
MR PRICE: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Ambassador, thank you. My question is about Georgia. What are the main challenges the country is facing today in regards of religious freedom? And I wonder if you find any attempts of Russian church to increase its influence. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. Well, I’d refer you to the report and – but the short answer is yes, we are concerned about the influence of the Russian church, as I mentioned, and we urge the government to not only cease engaging in any actions which may restrict religious freedom, but to also take actions when there is societal violence and threats to religious communities, as we’ve seen in a number of places around the world. We’ll continue to use the whole range of tools that I mentioned to address this concern.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: On Hong Kong, there was the arrest of the cardinal in Hong Kong in mid-May. Are there concerns that forms of Chinese religious intolerance are going to be exported to Hong Kong in the future? Do you foresee, for example, greater control over Hong Kong religious institutions in the near future?
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: We did express in a statement our concerns about the arrest, and we condemn it. And we are concerned, I would say more broadly, about transnational repression, so the efforts to which China is going to to oppress religious minorities not just in their country, but minority groups that are elsewhere. We’ve seen that with the Uyghurs; we’ve seen that with other communities as well. So yes, it continues to be a concern and something that our office is watching very closely.
MR PRICE: Sir.
QUESTION: On Syria, your report points out that after the Turkish incursion into northwest Syria, members of minority groups have faced execution, extortion, kidnapping, and destruction of religious shrines. As far as – you guys looked at the issues there. As far as you know, is that because – do these things happen because Turkey allows the armed groups to carry out these acts, or is it because Turkey does not have control over the armed groups there? And is it safe to assume that if Turkey attacks other areas of northern Syria, the same fate will await the other minorities there?
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. Well, we would encourage the government to not only ensure that they’re refraining from taking any actions that would result in increased hostilities, but they are also taking steps to ensure that groups that might do so are held accountable and they’re taking steps to present – to prevent any of the types of atrocities that you mentioned.
MR PRICE: Thank you. We’ll do a final – Michel, final question in the back.
QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you. Secretary Blinken in his statement mentioned Saudi Arabia. Can you elaborate on that? And we didn’t hear anything about Iran from you or from the Secretary.
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. With regard to Saudi Arabia, we are concerned about the religious freedom situation there. Saudi Arabia has been designated as a CPC country since 2004. They continue to criminalize blasphemy and apostacy and discriminate against the Shia population within the justice system, the educational system, in employment. I just recently came back from Riyadh. The Secretary mentioned that we are seeing some signs of progress. At the conference that I attended, there was representation, which I think was unprecedented, from a number of major religious communities and from some of their top leaders, including the Ecumenical Patriarch, and there was other Christian leadership there, Jewish leadership, Hindu and Sikh community leaders as well. So we are seeing some positive developments, but Saudi Arabia remains a CPC, as does Iran.
Iran has been a CPC for the past 20 years. They are one – they have one of the worst records on religious freedom. I’d urge you to take a look at the detailed reporting on Iran in our report. Iran continues to target minority groups, Bahá’ís, Christians, non-Shia Muslims. And we have implemented a series of sanctions and support actions at the UN to condemn Iran and their human rights record, and we strongly support the mandate of the UN special rapporteur to investigate human rights abuses there.
MR PRICE: Ambassador Hussain, thank you very much. Thank you to your team as well. We hope you’ll come back next year.
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Ned.
QUESTION: Or come back before then.
MR PRICE: Any day in between.
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: All right.
MR PRICE: Any day you’re here is a good day for me.
QUESTION: Maybe ahead of the ministerial.
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Absolutely.
MR PRICE: We’ll find opportunities.
AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Good. Great to see you all. Thank you so much.
MR PRICE: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: I know we’ve had an extended topper, but if you will indulge me, I have just a couple additional items at the top, before we get to your questions.
First, President Kais Saied’s June 1st decrees dismissing 57 judges and amending the rules governing the provincial – Provisional Supreme Judicial Council – they follow an alarming pattern of steps that have undermined Tunisia’s independent democratic institutions. We have consistently communicated to Tunisian officials the importance of checks and balances in a democratic system. We continue to urge the Tunisian Government to pursue an inclusive and transparent reform process with input from civil society and diverse political voices to strengthen the legitimacy of reform efforts.
Next, today we welcome the announcement by the UN special envoy extending the truce in Yemen by an additional two months to August 2nd. This extension brings further relief and hope to millions of Yemenis. This is a pivotal moment for Yemen. Yemen has the opportunity to continue this progress and choose peace instead of war, suffering, and destruction. And we also very much appreciate Saudi Arabia’s commitment to ending the conflict in Yemen and we thank the Governments of Oman, Jordan, and Egypt for their support in helping secure the truce extension.
We hope the parties to the conflict will seize the opportunity to take further steps to ease the suffering of Yemenis, including urgently opening roads to Taiz city. Most importantly, we hope the parties use this opportunity to begin an inclusive, comprehensive, UN-led peace process. We know that only a durable political agreement and permanent end to the fighting can bring true relief to Yemenis.
As the President said today, ending the war in Yemen has been a priority of this administration from the very start. The United States will remain engaged in this process over the coming weeks and months. The Secretary reiterated that the United States remains committed to an inclusive, durable resolution to the conflict that alleviates the suffering of the Yemeni people, empowers them to determine their future without foreign interference, and addresses their calls for justice and accountability.
Next, as you saw from the Secretary’s statement, yesterday marked the beginning of Pride Month. This is a moment to celebrate the progress we have made and reflect on what more needs to be done to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the globe and here at home.
The Department of State is working tirelessly to advance the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons and to understand and address the issues impacting their lives.
We’re implementing the President’s February 4th Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons around the world through American diplomacy and targeted foreign assistance.
This is also a moment to acknowledge the enormous challenges facing the LGBTQI+ community globally. In many such communities, LGBTQI+ persons face discrimination, violence, and persecution for being who they are and for loving whomever they choose to love. We will continue to stand with likeminded governments, the private sector, and LGBTQI+ activists and organizations and their allies that are working hard to build just and equitable societies globally.
Here at the Department of State, we are committed to ensuring all LGBTQI+ persons are affirmed and celebrated, and that the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons are respected today, this month, and throughout the year.
We know that countries are stronger when people – regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics – are fully recognized as free and equal members of their society.
With that, Happy Pride Month, and I look forward to taking your questions.
QUESTION: Happy Pride Month. I have a Russia sanctions question, but it really isn’t quite worthy of being the lead-off question, so I’ll defer, unless – as long as before we leave the topic of Russia and Ukraine I can get back to it.
MR PRICE: Promise to come back to you. Daphne.
QUESTION: Thank you. Russia regularly fires missiles from its territory at cities in eastern Ukraine. Does the U.S. believe that international law gives Ukraine the right to respond in self-defense? And if so, why is the U.S. denying Ukraine the right to respond with U.S. weapons?
MR PRICE: Everything we have provided to our Ukrainian partners, everything our allies and partners around the globe have provided to our collective Ukrainian partners, has a singular goal in mind, and that is self-defense. That is to say, this is security assistance that will permit and in fact has enabled our Ukrainian partners to defend their democracy, defend their freedom, their sovereignty, their independence, to defend their country. This is what it has always been about, and we’ve seen that our Ukrainian partners, as I alluded to a moment ago, have been in a position to put this equipment to extraordinary – extraordinarily good use.
We are now nearly 100 days into Russia’s war against Ukraine. There were those in the Kremlin who thought this war would be over within 100 hours, who thought that Moscow would essentially be in charge, in control of Ukraine, at least on a de facto basis, within several days. That, of course, is not the case. Our Ukrainian partners have won the battle of Kyiv; they have forced Russia to narrow its objectives and its war aims. Of course, the battle is now ranging in the south and the east. There is tremendous violence that the Russian Federation is inflicting on the Ukrainian people, including Ukrainian forces but also Ukrainian civilians, in the Donbas at this moment.
But we will continue to provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need to defend themselves. You’ve heard about the package we put forward yesterday, an additional $700 million in presidential drawdown authority, bringing our total security assistance to $4.6 billion since February 24th alone, to $5.3 billion since the start of the administration. And that is just what the United States has done. There are dozens of countries around the world, including the some 40 countries that Secretary Austin and the Pentagon regularly convene, that have provided their own forms of security assistance to Ukraine as well.
QUESTION: Do you even remember what her question was? Because you didn’t answer it at all. (Laughter.)
MR PRICE: Daphne, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, to follow up and clarify, Ambassador Brink held her first press conference in Kyiv and was asked about whether Ukraine had promised not to use the newly announced rocket systems on targets in Russia. She said the range itself is going to be up to the Ukrainian forces. So just to clarify, is the U.S. position or expectation that the systems not be used on targets in Russia? And why is that the expectation of the U.S.? Does Ukraine not have the right to respond to Russia’s —
MR PRICE: Ukraine absolutely has the right to respond to Russia’s aggression. The fact is that there are Russian forces inside sovereign Ukrainian territory. They have been there in some ways since 2014, but certainly on an expanded basis since February 24th of this year. Ukraine has every right, just as every country does, to defend its territory. That’s precisely why we are providing this security assistance.
Now, it is true that we have received assurances from our Ukrainian partners that they won’t use this weaponry to fire on targets inside of Russia. The fact is, the reality is – and it’s a sad reality – that Russia’s forces are on the ground inside Ukraine at locations that in some places are quite distant from the Russian border. So at every step of the way, when it was for the battle of Kyiv, when it has now shifted to the south and the east, we have provided our Ukrainian partners precisely with what they have requested and when they have requested it to take on the dynamics of the battlefield that they are encountering at this very moment.
QUESTION: So the question initially was: Does Ukraine have the right to respond to Russian attacks on Ukrainian soil that are launched from Russian territory?
MR PRICE: Russia – excuse me. Ukraine has the right to defend itself.
QUESTION: But not with – but not with your missiles?
MR PRICE: We have received assurances that the systems that we announced yesterday won’t be used against Russian targets on Russian territory, but they can be used to —
QUESTION: Even if those targets are where attacks into Ukraine are being launched from?
MR PRICE: As I said before, unfortunately – the unfortunate case is that Russia’s forces are in many places located inside sovereign Ukrainian territory at quite a distance from the Russian border.
QUESTION: In some cases they’re not. So the – and so I think it was a pretty specific question: Does Ukraine have the right to retaliate, to defend itself, against Russian attacks that are launched from inside Russian territory?
MR PRICE: Ukraine has every right to defend itself. We are providing Ukraine with precisely what it needs to fulfill that self-defense mission.
QUESTION: Continuing what Matt said to you, could they strike Russian territory? I mean, that – to be the devil’s advocate, if the Russians are striking Ukraine, isn’t it fair that the Ukrainians can strike Russian territory with the same weapons?
MR PRICE: Ukraine has every right to defend itself. I’ll make one additional point. Our goal in all of this is to do everything we can to bring this war to an end, to diminish the violence and to put an end to a conflict that was needless to begin with. So we want to do everything we can to strengthen the hand of our Ukrainian partners both on the battlefield but also at the negotiating table. That’s why we are providing them this security assistance. That’s why we are, including with the tranche of additional sanctions we announced today, continuing to hold the Russian Federation to account.
But we also want to be careful to ensure that we are not doing anything or the international community is not doing anything that would needlessly prolong this conflict. Right now there is only one country that is prolonging this conflict, and of course that’s Russia. If Ukraine stopped fighting today, there would be no sovereign, independent country of Ukraine tomorrow. If Russia stopped fighting today, there would be no war today. That is what it boils down to.
What we are trying to do is to strengthen the ability of our Ukrainian partners to defend themselves, to defend their freedom, to defend their sovereignty, to defend their country on the battlefield as we strengthen their hand at the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions. One is on the M270 launchers that the UK needed U.S.’s permission before providing it to the – to Ukraine. The announcement came last night, but it was not fully clear whether or not they have your green light. I know that the Secretary had a phone call with his British counterpart this morning. Do they have your green light?
And separately, you mentioned 100 days that’s approaching. Is it fair for us to expect Russia’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism by the time we reach 100 days?
MR PRICE: So on your first question, Alex, I will leave it to our allies and partners to speak to their specific contributions to Ukraine’s defensive security needs. What I can say is that dozens of countries around the world have provided needed security assistance. In cases where the commitment is U.S. origin, the Secretary of State has himself signed off on an expedited basis on authorization to transfer U.S. origin equipment to Ukraine when those requests have come in, but I’m not going to speak for other countries in terms of their contributions.
In terms of the state sponsor of terrorism list, the point we have made is that – and you saw this again today – we are going to pull every appropriate lever to see to it that we are holding Russia to account, just as we continue to provide significant assistance to our Ukrainian partners: security assistance, economic assistance, and humanitarian assistance as well.
The state sponsor of terrorism statute is a statute. It is defined by Congress; it is written into law. What we are doing with all of the authorities that are available to us, many of which are written into law by Congress, is taking a close look at that law, taking a close look at the facts on the ground, determining whether the facts are, in fact, correspondent with the law. And if we think any such measure would be effective, we would enact it.
But I will make one additional point: With the financial sanctions that we have imposed on Russia, with the export controls that we have imposed on Russia, we have had an enormous effect on the Russian economy, on the Russian financial system. We have isolated Russia diplomatically and politically in a way that no single designation could do. The cumulative toll of every measure we have put in place has been extraordinarily biting on the Russian economy, and if you take a look at the latest facts and figures, the World Bank projects that Russian GDP will contract by about 11 percent in 2022. Inflation has been soaring, with analysts estimating that inflation above 20 percent for Russia in 2022. Our export controls have been biting. We are choking off Russia’s ability to access needed inputs for key strategic sectors – technology, energy, aerospace, defense – the types of sectors that Russia will need to continue to prosecute this war in Ukraine and to continue, for that matter, to potentially even threaten other neighbors. So the cumulative effect of what we’ve done has really been quite tremendous.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned.
MR PRICE: Oh, before we go on elsewhere, I —
QUESTION: Oh, yeah, no, this kind of ties into that.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: It’s a sanctions question. Does – I’m just starting to wonder a little bit about these – among the people who were sanctioned today by you guys is your Russian foreign ministry counterpart, who had not been sanctioned before. Was this something that you, like, wanted to do since they sanctioned you, so you wanted to get back at her? I’m just – the reason why I ask this is because when you go after spokespeople, like the Russians have gone – went after Jen, they went after Kirby, they went after you, you guys went after Peskov, and now you’ve gone after Maria Zakharova, right?
Well, as you said at the time that you were sanctioned, this has zero impact on you. It’s not like you were going to go to Sochi on vacation or to somewhere – Moscow. And I’m sure that your counterpart at the Russian foreign ministry, she – I don’t know, but maybe she’s – she might be more upset about the fact that you revealed her age in the notice, the Treasury notice, than any possible sanctions implication. What is the point of going after spokespeople like this?
MR PRICE: Let me make a couple points. One, I can assure you this was not personal. What I will say is that this individual was sanctioned not because of her specific role, but because she is a senior figure in the Russian Government. We have gone after, as you know, a number of senior figures in the Russian Government, and the spokeperson was included in this latest round.
Two, I would dispute the premise of your question when you talk about symmetry. Yes, I was, shall we say, unfazed when I was sanctioned by the Russians, when I was more recently banned from traveling to Russia, for a couple reasons. I have no particular desire to go there, certainly don’t have assets within the Russian economy. I think that is true of my other counterparts and colleagues that have been sanctioned. But —
MR PRICE: Well, I would not say that. There is not exactly symmetry between the United States and Russia when it comes to the allure of this country, when it comes to the strength of our financial system and the centrality of our financial system. I think it is far more likely – hopefully this is a noncontroversial statement – that a financial transaction would touch a United States entity or touch the United States before it would touch a Russian entity or the Russian Federation.
So the fact of the United States designating someone in Russia is in many ways far more biting than what the Russians would do to us. We are the United States of America. Russia, of course, is a country that is far —
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, you can wave the flag all you want, which is fine, but they’re going to wave their flag, too. And I just – I just – I don’t – I’m not quite understanding the point of sanctioning spokespeople.
MR PRICE: We are sanctioning senior members of the Russian Government.
QUESTION: But you know what, Russia has —
QUESTION: Did she have assets in (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: I am not in a position to speak to her particular assets. Yes.
QUESTION: Russia has been coveted by the West. It was attacked by the West. When you say that —
MR PRICE: I’m sorry, repeat that one more time?
QUESTION: No, I said that Russia has been coveted by the West, has been attacked by the West, more than – I mean, if we go back to France, by Europe, let’s put it that way. So it must have some sort of certain sense of allure, to use your word.
MR PRICE: Russia – explain what you mean by “Russia has been attacked by the West.”
QUESTION: You were saying that we have a different country, it’s got a lot more attractive things, and so on. That’s how I understood what you said to me. But Russia has – is a great country, and it has been attacked by the West, the West has tried to conquer, to —
MR PRICE: Said, are you referring to the measures we have imposed to hold Russia accountable for its unprovoked war in Ukraine as the United States or the international community attacking Russia? If so, I – we would, of course, dispute the premise of that.
QUESTION: Okay, fine, I take that back. Let me just ask you on the sanctions. Now, the sanctions that you impose on officials, they are on officials. Most of these officials have no, let’s say, bank accounts in the West. They have no bank accounts in America. They have – so the sanctions you impose really hurt businessmen, the people that you tried to sort of nurture over the past 30 years and establish relations with and so on, and have some sort of a business exchange environment, not these officials. I don’t think Zakharova has any bank accounts in – anywhere. I mean, I assume she doesn’t.
MR PRICE: Said, if you look at the most recent tranche of sanctions, what we announced today, I think you will get a flavor for those individuals we are holding accountable for the Russian Government’s actions in Ukraine. The Treasury Department targeted prominent Russian Government officials and business leaders, the luxury properties of oligarchs and cronies and elites, luxury asset management and service companies key to the Russian attempts to evade sanctions. The Department of State went after additional Russian oligarchs and elites close to President Putin. The Department of Commerce imposed additional export controls.
So I am not – again, I think I would dispute the premise of your question that we are pursuing those that we need to be reaching out to. We are pursuing those who are in many ways either directly or indirectly complicit in or culpable for the Russian Government’s aggression inside Ukraine.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yes.
MR PRICE: Sure. We’ll close out —
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Actually, I just wanted to ask, the question that Matt asked to the ambassador about Patriarch Kirill. Does the United States have any concerns about that, that the EU not sanction him at the behest apparently of Orbán? I know the United States, as far as I am aware, doesn’t have sanctions on the patriarch. Is there a reason why he hasn’t been targeted by the United States yet?
MR PRICE: I will leave it to our European allies to speak to their specific sanctions packages. We certainly applaud the advancement of the most recent sanctions package. Just as we did today, our European allies – in this case, the EU – has been working on their next tranche of sanctions. We have always said that our sanctions need not be identical. And oftentimes, they are not identical, but what they are is complementary. And we have taken actions that complement actions that our European allies have taken and vice versa with, again, the cumulative goal of having a significant bite, not only on senior Russian Government officials but oligarchs, cronies, elites who are in the inner circle of the Kremlin.
QUESTION: Thank you. Really appreciate. I have a question on China and North Korea. I have still jetlag. I’m sorry, so I feel like I wake up right now. And China said that – Chinese Government has said that opposed sanction – new sanctions even if North Korea conduct a nuclear test. How do you comment on what China has said and – but done about North Korea protect?
MR PRICE: That we – I’m sorry. Repeat the last part of that question.
QUESTION: Yeah. How would you comment on what China has said and done about North Korea protect.
MR PRICE: We think it is important, especially in the aftermath of the most recent ballistic missile launches, that the international community, including the UN system, make very clear a statement of accountability and hold the DPRK to account for its nuclear weapons program, for its ballistic missile programs, both of which are profoundly destabilizing, represent a threat to international peace and security. Of course, the UN Security Council is the world’s preeminent forum to uphold international peace and security, and I think what Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said, when she addressed this late last month on May 26th, was that we are beyond disappointed that the council has not been able to unify in opposition to the unlawful WMD and ballistic missile programs that the DPRK has demonstrated all too frequently in recent weeks and recent months.
We encourage all member-states to fully implement existing resolutions and we’ll continue to work with our allies and partners to uphold the sanctions on the DPRK. This is very much in line with what the Secretary laid out in his remarks on our approach to the PRC last week. The same stakes are at play. What we seek to do is to reinforce and preserve and protect the rules-based international order – the rules-based international order, including the idea that no country can engage in, should be able to engage in, provocation or pose a potential threat to its neighbors.
The DPRK’s ballistic missile program, its nuclear weapons program, is a clear threat to our treaty allies, the ROK and Japan. It is a clear threat to American citizens and American servicemembers in the region. And we’ll continue to work with our treaty allies, Japan and the ROK, along with allies and partners around the world, including those within the UN system, to hold the DPRK to account.
QUESTION: Special – excuse me, Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim’s visit to South Korea, as you know that. He will be discussing this further North Korea’s nuclear test. Is – what is there – his – purpose of his visit this week?
MR PRICE: Well, our Special Representative for the DPRK Ambassador Sung Kim is currently in Seoul. He’ll be there for the next couple days. While there, he will meet with Japanese Director General for Asian and Oceanian Affairs Takehiro. And he’ll also participate in a trilateral meeting hosted by the – hosted by his ROK counterpart.
This is really part and parcel of our bilateral efforts, again, with Japan and the ROK, but also in furtherance of our trilateral efforts. As we have emphasized, the importance of working trilaterally with our treaty allies to hold the DPRK to account, and more broadly, to seek to bring about and to push forward what is our collective goal, and that is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That’s a goal we share with Japan; it’s a goal we share with the ROK. And together, in a trilateral format, we’ll continue to discuss ways that we can push forward with that overarching objective.
QUESTION: Ned, on North Korea, did you guys have any thoughts on North Korea taking over the chairmanship of the Conference on Disarmament today?
MR PRICE: It is – certainly, North Korea has been far from a responsible actor when it comes to matters of nonproliferation. In fact, North Korea has been profoundly destabilizing vis-à-vis the global nonproliferation norm.
QUESTION: Well, so does that at all raise any questions about the utility of this organization?
MR PRICE: It certainly calls into question – it certainly calls that into question when you have a regime like the DPRK in a senior leadership post, a regime that has done as much as any other government around the world to erode the nonproliferation norm.
QUESTION: So does that mean that the administration is reconsidering its membership in the —
MR PRICE: I don’t have any announcement —
QUESTION: — ahead of the COD —
MR PRICE: Don’t have any announcement to make at the moment.
QUESTION: I don’t know whether you saw the story about the Chinese jets buzzing Canadian aircraft that were enforcing UN sanctions against the DPRK. Has the U.S. also seen an increase in these types of Chinese provocative actions directed at U.S. aircraft or ships that were contributing to this mission of enforcing UN sanctions against the DPRK? And does the U.S. believe that the increase in these provocations, if they have been detected, is timed to overlap with any particular actions that have been taken by the U.S. or the UN in the past?
MR PRICE: Well, I would need to refer you to the Department of Defense to speak to any particular trendlines when it comes to any potential PRC provocations against our forces, our ships, our vessels. We have spoken of PRC’s provocative military activity in the region, of course most recently in – its military activity near Taiwan. We’ve called this activity destabilizing. We’re concerned because it risks miscalculation; it undermines regional peace and stability as well.
QUESTION: Sir, (inaudible) media reports suggest that al-Qaida and ISIS are getting stronger in Afghanistan and even providing advice and support to the Taliban groups. Sir, is it a concern for U.S.?
MR PRICE: Excuse me, the media report said that ISIS and —
QUESTION: Al-Qaida are getting stronger in Afghanistan.
MR PRICE: And the last part of your question was – are providing support to?
QUESTION: Advice and support to Taliban.
MR PRICE: I don’t have a comment on that particular report. I would note, of course, that the Taliban and ISIS-K are, in many ways, sworn enemies. The Taliban has made public and private commitments to keep groups like ISIS-K at bay. Certainly, we have a commitment as well when it comes to threats to the American people, threat to – threats to the homeland. Even though we no longer have a military presence inside of Afghanistan, we’re remaining vigilant to potential threats that may emerge from Afghanistan, and we again call on the Taliban to live up to the commitments it has made, the counterterrorism commitments it has made, not to allow such groups to operate with impunity on Afghan soil.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. I am Patricia from SPC. Summit of Americas. Next week, the Brazilian delegation is arriving in Los Angeles for the summit and also for the bilateral meeting between President Biden and President Bolsonaro. For United States, what are the main topics to be discussed in a diplomatic level? Is there – are there other meetings being discussed between Secretary Blinken and the Brazilian minister of foreign affairs? And if yes, what are the topics to be discussed, and how do you describe the diplomatic relations between two countries nowadays? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you. So we’ll have more details on Secretary Blinken’s schedule. I assume the White House will have more details on President Biden’s schedule as the summit approaches next week. What I can say is that this summit will focus on the opportunities and challenges that are front and center for the Americas. It includes economic prosperity, climate change, the migration crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic. So of course, in our bilateral engagements, we’ll have an opportunity to discuss each of those with our counterparts, in this case Brazil. We have plenty to discuss in the realm of our economic ties, regional migration, health, climate as well. Food security is another issue that I’m sure will be a topic of discussion at the Summit of the Americas, and, of course, democratic governance and human rights will be the backdrop of this summit as well. So as the summit approaches, we’ll have more on individual engagements.
QUESTION: Thanks. On the summit, there are reports the administration is considering inviting (inaudible) representative from Cuba to the summit. I was wondering if you could expand on that. And more broadly, what’s the State Department doing to prevent countries like Mexico from boycotting the summit?
MR PRICE: I am confident that we will have robust representation from throughout the Americas at the summit. I am also confident that the voices of people throughout the Americas will be reflected at the summit. Not only does the summit – not only will the summit include official government, representatives from government; it will include representatives from civil society and the private sector as well.
We have been in close contact with many of our partners throughout the region. Again, without reading out those discussions, we are confident that the summit will represent – the countries will be representative of the opportunities and the challenges that we face together as partners in the Americas.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. On Bangladesh, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. Momen provided a list of questions to the Bangladeshi-controlled media reporters to ask the U.S. ambassador in Bangladesh. In an open statement, he said nearly 100,000 U.S. citizens go missing, extrajudicial killing going on in the U.S. as U.S. security forces have killed over a thousand citizen – mostly African American and Hispanic – each year, America do not have the faith in their election process, and he also criticized the blocking Russian media, RT TV, here in the U.S.
Foreign minister circulated this message a day after the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas spoke on the U.S. priorities of human rights, democracy, and media freedom, and he said that they want free and fair elections in Bangladesh. What you would say about this authoritarian regime foreign minister remarks? And one more on Bangladesh.
MR PRICE: Well, we have a robust partnership with Bangladesh. As part of that partnership, we’re in a position to raise a number of issues, a number of shared interests, but also concerns. And we do regularly raise human rights issues with the Government of Bangladesh. We do that publicly, as I’ve done before, but we also do it privately. We urge for the strengthening of democratic processes and political institutions, the rule of law, protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, workers’ rights and safety, and the protection of refugees as well.
We have worked with the Government of Bangladesh to strengthen these rights and protections. We have provided more than $8 billion in assistance to Bangladesh since its independence. In 2021 alone, USAID provided over $300 million to improve the lives of people in Bangladesh through programs that expand food security, economic opportunity; improve health and education; but also promote democracy and good governance, as well as protection for the environment and increased resilience to climate change.
So we’ll continue to have those conversations with our Bangladeshi partners.
QUESTION: One more on Bangladesh. Countrywide protest going on against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her recent remarks on dropping opposition leader and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and the microcredit pioneer – Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus into the river from Padma Bridge. She claimed that Muhammad Yunus uses U.S. influence to stop the World Bank funding for the bridge construction, so they should punish – get punishment like this. She wants to drop them from the Padma Bridge to the river – into the river. See, she openly remarks, and countrywide protest going on. And ruling party (inaudible) alongside of the law enforcers agency the attacking of the peaceful demonstration. So what is your comment on this?
MR PRICE: As we do around the world, our comment is that the freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, the right of individuals everywhere to protest peacefully – that is a universal right. It applies equally to the people of Bangladesh as it does to those anywhere around the world. We call on governments around the world, we call on security services, security forces, civil forces as well to respect that right, to allow for individuals to assemble peacefully to make their voices heard.
QUESTION: I have one on Yemen and then follow – or not a follow-up, separate on Horn of Africa. On Yemen, we’ve seen the ceasefire was extended for, I guess, 60 days. In Secretary Blinken’s statement welcoming the extension, he mentioned the need to reopen roads to Taiz. He did not mention, but you guys have repeatedly spoken about the need to access the Safer tank. What – and there was a statement, I guess a joint statement, a couple days ago between you – the U.S. and the Dutch on the need for more funds in the event that there’s an emergency offloading operation. What leverage does the U.S. have now to push for those two things as the ceasefire hopefully continues?
MR PRICE: Well, we are at a point now, months into the ceasefire, with the prospect of two more months with the extension that was announced today, where Yemenis have now had an opportunity to see the benefits that greater levels of stability, greater levels of security, the greater benefits that peace can provide. This is the first time in seven years since the conflict started in 2015 where Yemenis have been able to enjoy greater mobility – mobility in terms of within Yemen but also the flights that have now taken place to Amman, to Cairo as well, but the humanitarian relief that has also been able to flow into Yemen given the ceasefire that has now been in place.
The UN has been working, we have been working assiduously with the UN to, in the first instance, extend the truce which was announced today, but also to take advantage of that truce to flow in humanitarian assistance that has been missing from large parts of Yemen for far too long. So rather than describe it as leverage, I think we can make the point that the benefits of peace, the benefits of stability, the benefits of security, and ultimately the benefits of a ceasefire are becoming clear to the people of Yemen, but they’re, we hope, also becoming clear to the Houthis as well.
We continue to support the work of Hans Grundberg, the UN special envoy, who’s worked very closely with the parties; very much appreciate the efforts of our partners in the region, including the Saudis, for the role they have played in extending the ceasefire that was announced today as well.
QUESTION: And also, on the Horn of Africa, in yesterday’s statement announcing the appointment of Ambassador Hammer as the new special envoy, the statement – the latter part of the statement mentioned Ethiopia but failed to mention Sudan or Somalia. And after so much time and diplomacy has been exerted from the State Department on Sudan, and then I guess a couple weeks ago the decision to redeploy troops to Somalia to fight back or combat terrorism – is there a reason Sudan and/or Somalia were omitted and it was strictly limited to Ethiopia?
MR PRICE: We are absolutely committed to continued robust diplomatic engagement with the Horn of Africa. That includes with Somalia; that includes with Sudan. What we know is that there has been tremendous challenge presented by the violence – the conflict in Ethiopia, a conflict that, with the help of U.S. engagement, including the efforts of outgoing Special Envoy David Satterfield, we have been able to diminish, to certainly bring down in terms of the levels of intensity and, just as we have in Yemen, to restore humanitarian access with additional food convoys, truck convoys that have been able to reach populations in Tigray who have not been able to benefit from humanitarian access for far too long.
So this will remain a priority for us. It’s going to be a priority for Special Envoy Satterfield in the remaining time he has in the post, and when Ambassador Hammer takes on the job in the near term, he’ll be focused on that as well.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) How come Sudan and – more so Sudan and even Somalia weren’t mentioned? It was strictly Ethiopia.
MR PRICE: We are very much engaged on the challenge that’s been presented by the setbacks we’ve seen in Sudan. Molly Phee, other senior officials have traveled there recently. We’re engaging with senior Sudanese officials, military and civilian, civil society as well to try to set Sudan back on the path to democracy.
QUESTION: Iain Marlow from Bloomberg. I’m just wondering if I could get a quick question on Turkey. What signs do you see, if any, that Turkey’s president is willing to dial back opposition to Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership applications?
MR PRICE: I will let the Turkish Government speak to their position on this. As you know, the NATO secretary general was here yesterday. He and Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to speak to a range of issues as it pertains to the NATO Alliance. One of those issues was the upcoming summit and the candidacies of Sweden and Finland to join the NATO Alliance, something we remain confident that can be completed swiftly. We are in discussions with our Turkish allies. We’re also in discussions with our Swedish and Finnish partners. Of course, yesterday there were extended discussions with the NATO secretary general on this topic as well. This is not a bilateral issue between the United States and Turkey or between the United States and Sweden and Finland, for that matter. But as a member of the Alliance, as an Ally and partner to the countries in question, we are engaging as appropriate to see to it that the consensus, the widespread consensus within the Alliance for a swift accession of both Sweden and Finland, is something that we can realize in short order.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah, at press conference yesterday here in the State Department, NATO secretary general has said that he will be hosting a meeting in a few days with senior officials from Turkey, Sweden, and Finland. I wonder if Washington is planning a similar meeting, any official from Washington is going to meet with officials from these countries.
MR PRICE: Again, this is not a bilateral issue between the United States and any of these countries. This is an issue between these countries, Turkey, and of course, NATO being at the center of it. I am not aware that we will have any official representation at that meeting, but we’ll continue to support our Allies and our partners through this process.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Iran, (inaudible) the U.S. will seek a formal resolution rebuking the country at the Board of Governors meeting next week. And I think we all know how that’s going to go over with Tehran. What do you anticipate will be the repercussions, the impact on those already admittedly dim negotiations to return to the JCPOA?
MR PRICE: Well, just more broadly, we’ve made clear – and we’ve spoken to this in recent days – but our very serious concerns that Iran has failed to credibly respond to the IAEA’s questions regarding potential undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran. And we’re continuing to work closely with the IAEA, with the director general, as well as with allies and partners on the Board of Governors as the agency pursues its investigations into the safeguard issues in Iran.
As you alluded to, we are currently consulting closely on the reports recently issued by the director general in advance of the Board of Governors meeting next week, and we can confirm that we plan to join the UK, France, and Germany in seeking a resolution focused on the need for Iran to fully cooperate with the IAEA. It is essential that Iran does fully comply with its legally binding obligations under the NPT and separately with its comprehensive safeguard agreement with the IAEA without further delay. The IAEA, its director general has our full support in carrying out its critical verification and monitoring responsibilities in Iran. As far as any anticipated reaction from Iran, look, far be it from me to try and predict what they might do. Our message is what Iran needs to do. Iran needs to comply with the IAEA in answering these outstanding questions regarding its obligations under the NPT and its comprehensive safeguard agreement.
QUESTION: Back to Turkey. You expressed concern over a possible operation in northeast Syria and said that you expect Turkey to live up to its October 2019 commitments in the joint statement. But it’s increasingly looking like Turkey won’t. Will the U.S. impose any consequences should Turkey invade?
MR PRICE: I don’t want to get ahead of where we are. Obviously, no such operation has started. We’ve voiced our concerns. Setting aside potential consequences from the United States, we know there would be consequences to the broader strategic environment. One of the reasons we are urging Turkey not to move forward with any such operation that jeopardizes existing ceasefire lines is the risk that it could undermine the significant gains that the counter-ISIS coalition, the Coalition against Daesh, has accomplished in recent months and recent years.
At the same time, we know that a renewed violence beyond the existing ceasefire lines has the potential to set back what UN Security Council Resolution 2254 calls for in terms of a political resolution to the ongoing crisis in Syria. So we’re concerned on those two fronts. We’re continuing to have discussions with our Turkish allies. We’re doing that in Turkey. We’re also doing that from Washington as well.
QUESTION: Can I – yes, thank you. Very quick couple questions on the Palestinian issue. First, Axios report that the Pentagon is – had planned to lower the rank of the security coordinator from a lieutenant general to a colonel, and that the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the Secretary of State counseled against that, that he spoke with Secretary Austin. Can you share any information on this with us? Is that true? Do you oppose it a —
MR PRICE: The Department of Defense is in the midst of a global posture review, so I would need to refer you to the Department of Defense to speak to any proposed moves in that regard. Look, leaving aside any particular position, as an administration we believe in the need to re-establish and to continue ties with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority as well, across multiple realms.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you – yesterday the Israelis shot another female journalist, 31 years old, Ghufran Warasneh. She was leaving her camp of Arroub in the – in the – north of Hebron, Al-Khalil, and she was shot. The Israeli army claimed that she had a knife. There was nothing shown, it was not proven, and so on. Then they attacked her funeral procession and so on.
I mean, it’s – this is becoming so redundant in a very sad way, week after week after week. And obviously, the Israelis have no value for Palestinian life, journalist or otherwise. What is your comment on this?
MR PRICE: We have urged all parties to work to maintain calm, to exercise restraint, and to refrain from actions and rhetoric that escalate tensions and that undercut efforts to advance what needs to be the goal, and that’s a negotiated two-state solution. We are deeply concerned by the ongoing violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem that has led to the loss of life. We condemn all violence. We call for calm. We urge all to refrain from actions and rhetoric that escalate tensions.
As you know, Secretary Blinken has had an opportunity in recent days to speak to Abu Mazen, to speak to President Abbas, to speak to Foreign Minister Lapid as well. That message calling for calm, calling for de-escalation, is one that we and he have reiterated in those conversations.
QUESTION: Yet 62 Palestinians have been killed, executed – extrajudicial execution – since the beginning of the year. That’s like 13 a month, Ned. I mean, should – shouldn’t you call on the Israelis not to practice that kind of practice, just to kill people because they can kill them?
MR PRICE: I am not in a position to confirm what you just said, but again, we have called —
QUESTION: The figure does not matter. I mean, they have killed a lot people since the beginning of the year.
MR PRICE: — and urged all parties to exercise restraint, to maintain calm, and refrain from actions and rhetoric that undercut the prospects of advancing a negotiated two-state solution.
Yes – sure.
QUESTION: Okay, one last Israeli question, I’m sorry, about the exercise, the military exercises that were just concluded in Cyprus between the Israelis on Cyprus soil. And it is supposed to emulate – or that’s what the Israelis are saying – mimic a situation where the Israelis could conceivably attack southern Lebanon. I mean, that’s what they said, that’s what they told their people, and so on.
Do – how do you view these exercises?
MR PRICE: I don’t have a response to that. I think the Department of Defense may be in a position to offer comment.
QUESTION: Thank you. On the Taiwan, about the one-on-one economic framework between U.S. and Taiwan, there is backlash from China. What is your comment? Why Chinese (inaudible) – isn’t happy with this framework, economic framework?
MR PRICE: Well, you’re referring to the fact that yesterday we did announce the U.S.-Taiwan Initiative on 21st-Century Trade. This initiative is held under the auspices of AIT here in – AIT in Taipei and TECRO here in Washington. And we intend to explore ways we can deepen our economic and trade relationship and deliver concrete outcomes for our workers and businesses. In the days and weeks ahead, we will and we do intend to move quickly to develop a roadmap for possible negotiations, followed by in-person meetings in Washington, D.C.
This is a broad framework. The areas of the initiative include trade facilitation, regulatory practices, agricultural trade through science and risk-based decision making, anti-corruption, supporting and enhancing our small and medium-sized enterprises, outcomes on digital trade, labor rights, the environment, standards, state-owned enterprises, and non-market policies and practices.
I can’t speak to the PRC’s reaction. What I can say is that everything we do in the context of our unofficial relationship with Taiwan is done pursuant to our longstanding “one China” policy, which of course is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three U.S.-China joint communiques, and the Six Assurances as well.
QUESTION: Going back to Africa. The Secretary met yesterday with the DRC foreign minister. In their brief comments, the Secretary praised the African efforts to defuse the situation with the DRC and Rwanda, I presume it’s – what he was alluding to in the eastern – or the eastern DRC. Could you elaborate a little bit of what the U.S. is looking for? And is there any diplomacy on the part of the United States in terms of trying to calm down the situation there?
MR PRICE: Well, there is, and you saw an element of it yesterday. We are concerned about the rising tensions between the DRC and Rwanda. We urge both sides to exercise restraint and to engage in immediate dialogue to de-escalate tensions and hostilities. We support the continuation of the Nairobi Process and we encourage countries in the region to work together to advance peace and security in the eastern DRC. M23, for its part, must terminate their offensive and immediately cease attacks on vulnerable populations. We continue to urge the group and all non-state armed groups operating in the region, in eastern DRC, to cease violence against civilians, to disband, to lay down their arms. The people of eastern Congo have suffered violence and displacement for far too long. We appreciate MONUSCO’s efforts in support of the armed forces of the DRC to protect civilians. Just as the Secretary was yesterday, we’re going to remain engaged on this challenge to try to de-escalate tensions.
A couple final questions. Daphne.
QUESTION: Let’s stay on Africa. Eritrean forces shelled a town in north Ethiopia over the weekend, according to UN documents and regional forces, killing a 14-year-old girl and injuring at least 18 people. Does the U.S. have a reaction to that, and is Washington looking at imposing further sanctions on Eritrea over its role in the conflict?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, the President signed an executive order last year that gives us some degree of latitude to hold accountable those who pose a threat to peace and stability in Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa. We have already exercised a degree of that authority against actors in Eritrea. They have played a profoundly destabilizing role. I don’t have a comment on that particular operation. If we do, I’ll follow up.
But we have managed to achieve, in close coordination with our partners in the region and the Ethiopian Government and authorities in Tigray, what has been a humanitarian truce. Our goal is to see that truce extended not only in furtherance of peace and stability, but also in furtherance of expanded humanitarian access for people in Tigray that have been denied it for far too long. We would condemn anyone who seeks to undo that progress, and we’ll be working together with our partners on the ground to try to preserve that.
QUESTION: Sorry, one more.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Back on Iran. For the JCPOA talks, Jerusalem Post is reporting that Israeli officials have offered or presented a new idea which – for – now the talks are seemingly frozen, for Iran to get economic sanctions, or to have economic sanctions lifted under a new deal but removing the sunset clauses. Can you speak to that at all? Apparently Israel’s national security advisor raised this during his meetings – was it this week or last week – in Washington.
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to speak to any specific proposals, but what I can speak to is the level of coordination we’ve had with our Israeli partners on a range of issues, including the threat that Iran poses, including the threat that its nuclear program poses to the region and potentially beyond. It was just this week, I believe, just yesterday that the National Security Advisor led a delegation that entailed individuals from the State Department, from the Intelligence Community, and from the White House, to meet with his counterpart, Israeli National Security Advisor Hulata, to discuss a range of issues, including the challenges that Iran poses.
When it comes to Israel, we see eye to eye on the big picture, and the big picture, of course, is that Iran must never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. If there are additional developments in the context of Vienna, we’ll continue to keep our Israeli partners fully informed of any such developments. If there continues to be no progress, we’ll continue to consult closely with them on the appropriate next steps to see to it that we can fulfill President Biden’s solemn commitment that Iran is never able to acquire a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Ned —
QUESTION: Is the administration looking to strictly go back to the 2015 deal, or are you – or is the administration now looking at maybe alternatives to reaching the deal but in a different version?
MR PRICE: Right now, we continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA would be in our national security interest, precisely because it would be a far preferable alternative to the present. The challenge that everyone in this room is familiar with is that Iran in recent years, since 2018, has been in a position to gallop forward with its nuclear program in ways that are deeply concerning, even alarming, reaching a point where its breakout time – that is the time it would take Iran to acquire enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, should it choose to pursue the path of weaponization – is now far too short. And we want to see that breakout time extended. We continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance is the best way to do that.
QUESTION: Ned, I’m sorry, on the —
QUESTION: Including the – the same deal, including the same sunset clause?
MR PRICE: We continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is in our national security interest. There will come a day when that will no longer be the case, and that will be a technical calculation based on the advancements that Iran is making and the assurances that the 2015 nuclear deal affords, in terms of the requirements that it imposes on Iran’s nuclear program.
QUESTION: Perhaps let’s save the sunset clause issue for another time – some of those sunset clauses have already sunsetted.
MR PRICE: Well, it’s —
QUESTION: So – all right. So anyway – but in terms of the IAEA resolution, what changed since when you were opposed to bringing this to the Board of Governors before, almost the very same allegations? Are your concerns now so severe that you think that it’s worth the risk of Iran blowing up whatever is left of the JCPOA talks?
MR PRICE: Matt, even in recent days here in this briefing room, you’ve and others have asked me about recent IAEA reports, reports that, while not yet public, seem to contain additional fodder for concern, for deep concern about the unanswered questions regarding the – Iran’s commitments under its comprehensive safeguard agreement and also pursuant to the NPT.
So right now, over the course of the past year or so, we’ve worked very closely with the IAEA. The IAEA has been in a position to visit Iran, to have inspectors there in an effort to get answers. Of course, they have not been able to acquire all of those answers. We know that Iran has been deceitful in the past. Iran certainly has not been fully transparent. That continues to be the case. So as the IAEA has been in a position to acquire additional information, we have worked very closely with our partners on the Board of Governors, and right now we feel, given the concerns we have, given the information that the IAEA has put forward, that an appropriate recourse would be the one we have talked about, that – our joint resolution that we plan to file with the UK, France, and Germany.
QUESTION: Well, if you’re so concerned or if you believe that Iran has been deceitful in the past, at least as it relates to its NPT obligations, why on Earth would you trust them with a nuclear negotiation, to get back into a nuclear deal with them?
MR PRICE: Precisely because the JCPOA has the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated. This is about a couple things. It’s about putting Iran’s nuclear program back into a box, putting back those strict limits in terms of what Iran could be able to do with its nuclear program. But on top of that, layering this verification and monitoring program so that the IAEA can be in a position that they haven’t been in a position in for some time – to determine precisely what Iran is doing, to ensure that Iran is living up to the commitment that it previously made under the JCPOA that was implemented in 2016. And if we get there again, which of course is a big “if”, to see to it that just as Iran was abiding by the JCPOA prior to the last administration’s decision to abandon it, that Iran would be abiding by it once again.
QUESTION: Concerns about the NPT go back well before that. So I don’t understand why you’re okay – you don’t trust them and you accuse them of being deceitful on one, and yet you’re perfectly willing to trust them and get into a deal with them on the other.
MR PRICE: Our position is firm that whether or not there is a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, the IAEA’s outstanding questions need to be answered.
QUESTION: Right. Well, they weren’t before, remember? The PMDs were never – basically you told Amano the case is closed, so close the case and that’s what happened.
MR PRICE: Matt, if only we had such a relationship with any international organization, certainly not with the IAEA.
QUESTION: Can I change – I just want to get – I want to give you the opportunity to respond on the record now to this allegation that was made in the New York Times story about Haiti, that – the allegation was that the United States conspired with France to topple President Aristide back in 2004, in part because President Aristide wanted to – was demanding reparations from France.
MR PRICE: This is an allegation that I now understand has been floating around for some time. It is also an allegation that is incorrect. There was no such collaboration in 2004 to sideline or to oust President Aristide. Ambassador James Foley, who was then our ambassador to Haiti, published an op-ed not all that long ago in response to these allegations. Ambassador Foley wrote, quote, “In particular, the assertion the United States collaborated with France to mount a coup against Haiti’s democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a claim made by French – by former French officials, is not true.” We have consistently said that President Aristide was not removed because of his call for reparations.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:38 p.m.)
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