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Department Press Briefing – October 18, 2021

2:10 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone.

Before we turn to today’s business, I just want to spend a moment picking up where Secretary Blinken left off this morning. As you know, today is a very somber day here at the Department of State. Some of my colleagues were lucky enough to work for Secretary Powell. I’ve heard many of them over the course of this morning tell their favorite stories about Secretary Powell. They have, without exception, done so with a spark in their eye and with appropriate warmth in their voice. All of us here are fortunate enough to work in an institution that Secretary Powell has shaped and one that continues to reflect his tremendous legacy.

Speaking for myself as a child of the late Cold War and the first Gulf War, I remember thinking there could be no leader bigger, no leader greater than someone like General Powell, whom we now know as Secretary Powell, at least in this building. He was an inspiration to not only my generation, but many generations of America. Americans across this country are lucky enough to have experienced a trailblazing leader with integrity, with character, perhaps most of all with decency. And this institution in this country are better off because of Colin Powell, whom we all miss very dearly.

Now turning to today, the United States welcomes the opening of the Syrian Constitutional Committee’s sixth round of negotiations today in Geneva. We stand firmly behind UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and UN Special Envoy Pedersen, who brought the co-chairs together in advance of the Constitutional Committee for the first time yesterday.

It is essential the Syrian regime and leaders of the opposition engage constructively in Geneva, consistent with the political process outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

The Syrian people deserve nothing less after more than a decade of war.

And with that, I will be happy to turn to your questions. Matt, do you want to start?

QUESTION: Yes, please. Thank you. A couple of brief one. On Russia and NATO, you, I’m sure, have seen that they had suspended their office – their liaison office with NATO in Brussels, and I’m wondering if you have anything to say about that. And if you don’t or if you don’t care, that’s fine, but do you have any reaction to them also closing down NATO’s office in Moscow?

MR PRICE: Well, we would refer you to NATO for further information, but we do note that NATO recently withdrew the accreditation of eight members of the Russian mission to NATO who were serving as undeclared Russian intelligence officers. NATO’s policy towards Russia remains consistent. It has strengthened its deterrence and its defense in response to Russia’s aggressive action while, at the same time, leaving the door open for meaningful dialogue. That continues to be the case.

QUESTION: Okay, so no specific reaction to them suspending or closing down the office in Moscow?

MR PRICE: Nothing now on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, do you have any comment on the bombing in Tigray by Ethiopian planes?

MR PRICE: Well, we’ve seen these reports of an attack on the capital in Mekelle. We are in the process of looking into them. We, broadly speaking, do remain gravely concerned by what has been escalating violence for some time. That includes the expansion of fighting in northern Ethiopia and in regions throughout the country, and, of course, the growing risk that that fighting poses to the integrity of the Ethiopian state. Not only does it pose a risk to the state, it undermines critical efforts to keep civilians safe, and importantly, to deliver humanitarian aid to Ethiopians who are in dire need of such support.

We urge all parties to end hostilities immediately, and for the Ethiopian Government and the TPLF, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, to enter into negotiation without preconditions toward a sustainable ceasefire. We continue to believe that a sustainable ceasefire will help establish conditions for a dialogue that is credible, a dialogue that is inclusive, and to find a political settlement to the longstanding political grievances that have led to the conflict.

Moreover, as we’ve said before, the Government of Eritrea must immediately and permanently withdraw its forces from Ethiopia, consistent with the comments already made by both Ethiopia and Eritrea.

QUESTION: Can I have one more on Ethiopia?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The executive order on sanctions went into effect weeks ago. What is the administration waiting for to impose sanctions under that regime?

MR PRICE: Well, we have been very clear that we are prepared to use every tool at our disposal until and unless the various parties change their course. Obviously, the executive order that went into effect in September, I believe it is, does afford the U.S. Government an important tool to hold accountable those who are responsible for the violence, those who are responsible for the suffering of the Ethiopian people. We are absolutely prepared to use that tool and other appropriate tools as might be appropriate.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Ned, on Iran. I wonder how the United States view Iran’s request for a meeting in Brussels with EU officials to discuss the draft text from June. Do you think this is a way of them trying to slow roll you?

MR PRICE: Well, to be clear, we do not think it is necessary. We are, together with our allies and partners in the P5+1, of the same mind that negotiations in Vienna – a seventh round of talks between the P5+1 and Iran, indirect in the case of the United States – should resume as soon as possible. We have been very clear at that. The destination we seek is in Vienna, not an intermediate step in Brussels. Of course, we understand that Mr. Mora recently is in Tehran. Certainly appreciate the efforts of the EU to engage in this dialogue on behalf of the Joint Commission, on behalf of our allies and partners who seek the same goal, and that is a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA as negotiated in Vienna – and importantly, picking up in Vienna with a seventh round that takes up where the sixth round left off.

This is the message that we heard consistently from our allies and partners when we were in New York City on the margins of the UN General Assembly. This is the message that the Secretary has heard on a bilateral and multilateral basis in his conversations before the UN General Assembly and after the UN General Assembly. There is no daylight with our partners. There is no disagreement that a mutual return to compliance remains in our interests, it remains in the interests of our allies and partners, and that we should resume the work of testing the proposition as to whether we can get there in Vienna as soon as possible.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: One on Iran as well, if I could. Saudi Arabia said last week that they’ve had four interactions, or what they call interactions or discussions, with Iran since April. And is this department encouraged by these interactions? Do you see it as good for possibly encouraging Iran back to the table, and/or any concern with these interactions given that they’re both regional foes?

MR PRICE: Well, we certainly think constructive dialogue can be a useful tool for de-escalating tensions, regional tensions. We’re supportive of dialogue broadly speaking. We’re supportive of dialogue in this case.

Yes, Shaun.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know if this has to do with Iran or not, but since I haven’t seen a readout of it, what was the purpose of this virtual call the Secretary did with the Israelis and the Emiratis and the Indians?

MR PRICE: So you will see a readout of that later today, but —

QUESTION: If it wasn’t Iran, then we can move on to Shaun.

MR PRICE: It was not Iran. It was not Iran.

QUESTION: Okay. So —

MR PRICE: It was – well, you’ll have a readout later today.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Okay.

MR PRICE: But obviously this is a collection of four countries – the United States, the UAE, Israel, and India – with whom we share many interests. It was an opportunity for the ministers to discuss a range of topics, including expanding economic and political cooperation in the respective regions, deepening economic – excuse me, discussed climate change, energy cooperation, maritime security, a whole range of issues. But you’ll see a readout of it later today.

Shaun.

QUESTION: Can we go to Venezuela?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Can we do more on Iran?

MR PRICE: One more on Iran? Sure.

QUESTION: Right – would you say that the administration is sort of growing increasingly pessimistic that Iran even wants to come back into a deal? Are you preparing now for the possibility that this whole thing might just fail and it’s time to move on to not necessarily a plan B or other options, as the Secretary put it, but a new policy prerogative and declare sort of the death of the return to the JCPOA?

MR PRICE: Well, to your question, Nick, look, we’re not optimistic; we are not pessimistic. We are clear-eyed. And we are taking into account precisely what we are hearing from the Iranians, what we are not hearing from the Iranians, what we are seeing from the Iranians, what we are not seeing from the Iranians. We are in the midst of – in the midst of watching closely as the Iranians, it seems, form their own consensus as to what path they would like to choose. We are engaged in ongoing consultations with our allies and partners. As you know, Rob Malley is now in the Middle East. He has just concluded a set of good meetings in the UAE. He’ll be going on to Qatar, to Saudi Arabia, as well during this trip.

But look, we have been very clear and we have been clear for some time now this is not an exercise that can go on indefinitely. The Secretary made this point on the 8th floor of this building last week when he was with his Emirati and Israeli counterpart. We continue to believe that there is a path for diplomacy. We continue to believe, as I said before, that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, one that is diplomatically negotiated, is the best and most effective means at our disposal to see to it that Iran is once again permanently and verifiably prevented from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.

But of course, diplomacy, like many things in life, it takes two. And we have not seen – heard those messages, we’ve not seen actions to date that are all that comforting when it comes to what the Iranians might seek in the near term. But of course, the door remains open.

All the while – you heard this from the Secretary, you heard this after National Security Advisor Sullivan’s meeting with his Israeli counterpart on October 5th – the President has made clear that if diplomacy fails we are prepared to turn to other options, and this is part of the intensive consultations that we are undertaking with our allies and partners in the region and beyond.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I just ask a quick follow-up? What do you make of the fact that it now looks like Iran is exporting about a million barrels of oil a day and seemingly has no financial incentive to come back to negotiations? The economy is doing better, it’s gone back into positive territory, the currency is no longer in freefall. It feels like sanctions enforcement has tailed off and, really, there’s no leverage, economic leverage, despite the sanctions that the administration has in place to compel them back to the table.

MR PRICE: Look, I would dispute the premise that Iran doesn’t have economic incentives to come back to the table. These were economic incentives that led Iran to the table in the deal that came together in July of 2015 that was implemented in January 2016. These are some of the same incentives that remain today.

When it comes to our sanctions and sanctions enforcement, I just want to be very clear that our sanctions on Iranian oil and petrochemicals remain fully in place. We will continue to enforce them together with our allies and partners around the world until and unless Iran chooses a path of diplomacy and a path to a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

QUESTION: And what are you doing, then, about the fact that China continues to import, like, 750,000 barrels a day from Iran?

MR PRICE: Look, these are consultations that we’re having with our allies and partners. We have been very clear about where we stand in terms of our sanctions, in terms of our sanctions enforcement. The PRC has also been very clear in terms of where they stand on a potential mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. The PRC is an original member – a founding member, you might say – of the P5+1. The authorities in Beijing have made very clear that, like the United States, like the Russian Federation, like the EU, like the French, like the Germans, like the Brits, we are all of the mindset that a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action remains in our collective interest. And right now, we are waiting to be able to render a verdict as to whether Iran is willing and able to return to the negotiating table in Vienna.

Shaun.

QUESTION: Venezuela. Over the weekend, the Maduro government said it was suspending talks with Guaido. They were citing the extradition of Mr. Saab. Do you have any reaction, first, to the severing of the dialogue, what this bodes for the future in Venezuela, and also to the linkage with the extradition?

MR PRICE: Sure. Look, at the broadest level, Nicolas Maduro needs to end the human rights abuses and needs to allow the Venezuelan people, his people, to participate in free and fair presidential, parliamentary, regional, and local elections. We have been consistent in terms of where we stand with the Venezuelan-led negotiations between the Unity Platform and the Maduro regime. We support them, we continue to support them, and we continue to believe that they should lead to the peaceful restoration of democracy that the people of Venezuela so earnestly desire and deserve. They should end – they should result in an end to the regime’s human rights abuses and to the alleviation of Venezuela’s dire humanitarian suffering and put an end to a crisis that has gone on for far too long.

By suspending participation in these negotiations, the Maduro regime, on the other hand, has made very clear that it is putting its interests once again above the interests of the Venezuela people. Just think about it. They are putting the case of one individual above the welfare, above the well-being, above the livelihoods of the millions of Venezuelans who have made clear their aspirations for democracy, for greater freedom, for prosperity, and, at a most basic level, an alleviation of the humanitarian suffering that the regime has inflicted on the Venezuela people.

We will continue to work with the Venezuelan – with our Venezuelan international partners to, in the meantime, provide assistance to address the crisis in Venezuela. We call on the international community to redouble its support to the Venezuela people as they work to peacefully restore democracy to their country.

As I think all of you know, we’ll be headed in that direction tomorrow. We’ll be going to Ecuador and Colombia Tuesday through Thursday of this week, and we’ll have an opportunity there to discuss some of these broad themes as well.

QUESTION: Ned, on the CITGO-6.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

Let – Shaun, were you – yeah.

QUESTION: Happy to go to that. But just a brief follow-up on that.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: I think I know the answer, but I want to ask if the – linking the extradition to this, is that something that would be under discussion for the United States? Do you see some – any type of linkage there that you could have?

MR PRICE: It is often difficult for undemocratic, autocratic, repressive governments to understand a simple and fundamental truth about how we operate in this country, and that is that our law enforcement is independent of politics, of policy. The criminal charges against Alex Saab long predate and have no relation to the political negotiations between the Unity Platform and the Maduro regime. These operate on a second track. So no, there is no linkage.

QUESTION: Well, then how do you – how would you explain the whole Huawei case?

QUESTION: Ned, to follow up on that, just because it’s —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: — unclear where they are, and if this – if you’re worried about their fate being linked to this as well.

MR PRICE: Well, we are aware of the reports that the CITGO-6 have been moved from – back from house arrest into custody, but we can’t confirm their current locations. We often do have difficulty obtaining access to and confirming reports about detained individuals in Venezuela, but we make every effort to provide appropriate consular assistance even if that’s by phone, by video conference, by other means. We have been in frequent and direct contact with their families, however, and that will continue.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ned, I don’t think you just – just had said that the criminal charges are another thing in terms of the political negotiation in Mexico, but regarding the CITGO-6, their families here in the U.S. are demanding that the Biden administration take steps towards guarantee their safety and their release. And they are even suggesting that you kind of make some kind of exchange between Alex Saab and the CITGO-6. Is this even possible? Are you considering?

MR PRICE: Look, to be very clear, these are wrongful detainees. These are individuals who were lured to Venezuela by the Maduro regime and arrested upon their arrival. The regime continues to detain them to gain political leverage. They are holding them as political pawns. We call on the regime to release them immediately so that they can return to be reunited with their families in the United States.

If you take a look at the history of this case, after cancelling their initial appearance before a judge dozens of times over the last three years, a Venezuelan court convicted these individuals after a sham trial without any evidence. Having already spent four years wrongfully detained in Venezuela on these specious charges, they should be immediately and unconditionally released.

We have spoken many times before about the practice, the heinous practice of arbitrary detention of individuals, of holding individuals on trumped up charges, putting them through sham trials, refusing to afford them real due process. It is a practice that is as reprehensible in Venezuela as it is anywhere else in the world. And Secretary Blinken has made a point of working closely with our partners and allies, including, prominently, with our Canadian allies, to reinforce the norm that taking and holding individuals for nothing more than political gain is a practice that must be discarded, is a practice that has no place in the modern world. And that’s what we’ll continue to do.

QUESTION: So no exchange? No Saab for CITGO-6?

MR PRICE: These are individuals who were wrongfully detained who should be released unconditionally.

QUESTION: Ned, I want to ask you about the visit of Secretary Blinken to Colombia in two days. The U.S. has said that Colombia is a strategic ally, and with this trip I think that you want to show that. However, President Ivan Duque was here in Washington two times in the last three weeks looking for a meeting with President Joe Biden. Is President Joe Biden ignoring President Ivan Duque, or is he avoiding a meeting with Duque?

MR PRICE: No. There is no avoiding; it is very true that Colombia is a strategic partner of ours. That is precisely why the Secretary will be visiting Colombia on his first trip to South America as Secretary of State in just a couple days. He, of course, will have an opportunity to meet with President Duque, with his foreign minister counterpart. We’ll have an opportunity to meet with other government officials, with civil society, with business counterparts. So this is very much an effort to showcase, to strengthen, and to deepen the relationship – the important relationship – between the United States and Colombia, and we’ll have an opportunity to speak to that in the coming days.

Jenny.

QUESTION: On Haiti, do you have any update on the kidnapped Americans and Canadian? Do you – does the State Department know where they are? Who is taking the lead on trying to get them?

MR PRICE: Well, as you heard from us over the weekend, we can confirm that 17 individuals – 16 of whom are U.S. citizens – were kidnapped on October 16th, on Saturday, in the greater Port-au-Prince area. We have made this point before, but the welfare, the safety, the security of U.S. citizens abroad is one of our highest priorities.

Our embassy team in Haiti has been in constant contact with the Haitian National Police, with the missionary group Christian Aid Ministries, and family members of the victims. We’ll continue to work with them; we’ll continue to work with the Canadian Government, given that one of the victims is a Canadian citizen; and with our interagency partners in this ongoing investigation.

The State Department has – is part of a small team that is now on the ground that has been dispatched to Haiti to work closely with Haitian authorities on this matter. This is something that we have treated as – with the utmost priority since Saturday. Our teams across the building have been working closely with our interagency partners, and as I said before, with our partners on the ground in Haiti to do all we can to seek a quick resolution to this.

QUESTION: Is the State Department aware of their whereabouts? Are you in touch with this gang that has said they kidnapped them?

MR PRICE: Well, we’re not going to go into specifics, but we have been in close touch with the families, with the group to which this group of missionaries belongs, and we’ll continue to coordinate closely with them.

QUESTION: Following up on Haiti. Thank you. There were calls in the wake of the assassination for the U.S. to become involved in Haiti, to help provide security. Is that the kind of thing, being reminded how dangerous it is there, that the U.S. is re-evaluating?

And then on the other hand, there’s a question of whether migrants should be deported back to a country like Haiti that’s just dangerous, where gangs operate with impunity. Is the administration re-evaluating that policy, or is it – are we going to proceed forward with not intervening in Haiti and sending migrants back to the country?

MR PRICE: Well, let me start with the first element of your question, the conditions in Haiti. We have had a series of engagement – engagements with Haitian authorities, with civil society, with other actors on the ground, of course, before the assassination of President Moïse and in the weeks after. And one of the messages we’ve heard at every level is the real concern about security, about security conditions in Port-au-Prince and across the country.

It is no secret that Haiti faces severe security challenges. That is why our International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Bureau, or INL, has provided capacity building to the Haitian National Police to support the Haitian National Police’s development as a professional and an accountable institution able to – better equipped to take on some of these challenges. INL provides technical assistance through embedded subject matter experts, training, equipment, and other security assistance to help improve citizen security in Haiti.

We realize what a priority this is for the people of Haiti, and that’s why we have provided funding to the tune of $312 million in assistance over the last decade alone to strengthen law enforcement and capacity of the Haitian National Police and to maintain peace and stability throughout the country.

In response to the increasingly perilous security situation on the ground, in recent weeks alone we’ve allocated an additional $15 million to partnering with the Haitian National Police on top of those existing efforts, including $12 million specifically to strengthen the police’s capacity to respond to gangs, including efforts with communities to resist gangs and additional anti-gang subject matter experts in support of the Haitian National Police to establish and anti-gang task force among other measures that have been implemented as well.

To the second part of your question, we are a partner to the Haitian people and to the Haitian Government. We remain committed to supporting the Haitian people during this especially difficult time. We have been clear. We have been resolute on that both before the killing of President Moïse and, of course, in the weeks since.

It is important to us that we are doing all we can, and we continue to do all we can to provide assistance that supports and promotes stability, resilience, health, and safety for Haitians at home. And in accord with that we have provided $5.5 million in assistance and support – to support the reception of Haitian migrants returning to Haiti. This is administered by USAID and it supports several aspects of the International Organization for Migration’s ongoing efforts to provide immediate reception services for migrants returned to Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien.

When it comes to our immigration policy, U.S. immigration law remains in effect. Migrants arriving by irregular means and without a legal basis to remain are subject to removal under U.S. law. We are committed to supporting safe, orderly, and humane migration throughout our region, and we’re engaging with partners throughout the migratory corridor in the region to underscore our shared responsibility for helping to manage migration, knowing that what happens in Central and South America, what happens in the Caribbean, is of collective interest to all of us.

It is part of the reason why Secretary Blinken is eager to take part in a ministerial this week when we travel to South America precisely on the challenge of regional migration. It is a follow-on discussion in some ways to the ministerial that we attended in Costa Rica earlier this year, and we’ve had any number of opportunities, including recently in the General Assembly with some of our regional partners, to discuss how together as a hemisphere, as partners and allies throughout the hemisphere, we can work together to manage migration and how the United States can continue to develop a partnership, including in the Northern Triangle, to provide opportunities for individuals in their home countries.

The right to remain is what one of the participants at the SICA Ministerial called it. Making sure that those throughout the region, whether that’s in Haiti, whether that’s in the Northern Triangle, whether that is in any other country in our hemisphere or beyond, that individuals who might seek or aspire to seek a better life somewhere actually feel the promise and the hope and the potential within their own countries. And that’s precisely what our partnership with the region is all about.

Yes.

QUESTION: Secretary Powell is being remembered for many significant achievements today. But do you think that his reputation on the world stage is at all diminished by him garnering support for the Iraq War from allies like Australia based on poor intelligence?

MR PRICE: Secretary Powell is remembered in this building, in this country, and I think around the world as someone who exemplified the utmost integrity, character, and decency in all that he did. Secretary Blinken made the point today that he was a man of ideas, but he wasn’t ideological. And in that same vein, he was someone who could admit when he was wrong. And I think he is someone whose example really exudes leadership. When you think about a leader and you think about the qualities, whether that’s in a military leader or in a leader within this institution, a leader within our body politic, I think we would all do well if we were able to emulate what General Powell, what Secretary Powell, exemplified in this country and on the world stage.

Please.

QUESTION: Ned, so on Turkey, President Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said, United States has proposed the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. There was a recent request that was sent up – that you guys did not comment on, but it was sent up – in return for Turkey’s investment in the F-35 program. So can you confirm the president’s comments that it was indeed this – this was a proposal that was coming from the U.S. side?

MR PRICE: Let me say as a matter of general policy, and you know this, Humeyra, the department does not confirm or comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until and unless they have been formally notified to Congress. When it comes to Turkey, we strongly value our partnership with our NATO Ally Turkey. It’s an important NATO Ally. We have longstanding and deep bilateral ties, and Turkey’s continued NATO interoperability remains a priority.

Now, when it comes to the issue you raised, I will say that we remain – the Department of Defense, I should say – remains in consultation with Turkey on an F-35 dispute resolutions – dispute resolution. Turkish officials have publicly acknowledged their interest in purchasing F-16 aircraft. We would refer you to Turkish Government – to the Turkish Government to speak to its defense procurement plans. What I can say is the United States has not made any financing offers on Turkey’s F-16 request.

QUESTION: Okay. So let me elaborate just a little bit on that. Has the United States encouraged Turkey at any of its consultations to submit that request for F-16s?

MR PRICE: As I said, the Department of Defense does remain in consultations with Turkey on the F-35 program. How that dispute may be resolved, I’m not in a position to speak to that dialogue what – but to be clear, we have not made any financing offers on Turkey’s F-16 request.

QUESTION: Does that mean that the arguments that President Erdogan is making, like we have paid this amount of money for the F-35 program and we would like that to be counted for our potential F-16 request, you’re basically saying you have never told Turkey that that is possible.

MR PRICE: What I’m saying is that the Department of Defense continues to be engaged in a dispute resolution mechanism with Turkey on the F-35, but I’m not going to prejudge the outcome of that.

QUESTION: Is that technically possible, what President Erdogan is referring to, saying something like a store credit – we have paid this much amount of money and now we want that? Is that technically possible?

MR PRICE: This is all part of a dispute resolution mechanism. Again, I don’t want to prejudge it. I don’t want to go into private conversations between the Turkish Government and this administration. So I will leave it that.

QUESTION: Okay. Finale one. On – given the Congress, given the bipartisan opposition, would the administration be looking at perhaps lobbying for F-16 sales to Turkey in Congress?

MR PRICE: Again, this – I think this goes back to my first answer, and that is, we don’t speak to any defense sales or transfers until and unless they’re notified to Congress.

QUESTION: Could I ask you —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: — on the F-16s? So when you say the U.S. hasn’t made any financing offer – so you’re confirming the request if you’re —

MR PRICE: Well, the Turkish Government has made public –

QUESTION: Has that been formally submitted to you?

MR PRICE: I would have to refer you to the Turkish Government. They have spoken publicly to their interest, but in terms of a process there, I need to refer you to them.

QUESTION: And then also on the S-400, I mean, do you – would you be comfortable with a situation where they had the S-400 up and running with the F-16? I’m not talking about the F‑35. Separate from that dispute, would you be concerned about a situation where they had the S‑400 operating in a system where they were in an – in a theater where they were also flying the F-16?

MR PRICE: This is, I think, perhaps a more convoluted way of asking the same question Humeyra was asking, so I’m going to give you the same answer, that the Department of Defense is engaged in dispute resolution discussions with Turkey on the F-35 —

QUESTION: I’m not talking about the F-35. I’m talking about the F-16.

MR PRICE: But – well, this question is coming up in the context of discussions regarding the F-35, so don’t want to prejudge those, don’t want to go into private discussions.

QUESTION: But just one more thing, actually. When you say dispute resolution, Turkey has been removed from the F-35, so what are these talks about? Is it about trying to find a way to get their money back, or is it about finding a way to allocate that money to – what is the dispute resolution for?

MR PRICE: As you know, we’ve been very public about the lack of interoperability, the fact that the F-35 program is not consistent with the S-400.

QUESTION: Sure.

MR PRICE: We have been very clear about that. We’ve also been clear that the imposition of sanctions under Section 231 of CAATSA in response to that S-400 acquisition, it signaled the seriousness with which we approach this.

But again, when it comes to private discussions between the U.S. Government and our Turkish counterparts about follow-on to our very clear decision on the lack of interoperability between the F-35 and the S-400, I’m going to let those discussions take place behind closed doors, as they have been.

Yes.

QUESTION: On China, the Financial Times reported this weekend that they tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August. Was the State Department aware of this test, and did it catch you by surprise, as characterized in that article?

MR PRICE: Well, we’re not going to comment, of course, on matters that may pertain to intelligence or the specific reference in the article you mentioned. But what we have said for some time now is that we are deeply concerned about the rapid expansion of the PRC’s nuclear capabilities, including its development of novel delivery systems. These developments underscore that the PRC, as we’ve said before, is deviating from its decades-long nuclear strategy based on minimum deterrence.

As of the end of last month, September of 2021, the PRC had launched at least 250 ballistic missiles this year. All of this is concerning, especially concerning, I should say, given the PRC’s lack of transparency into its evolving nuclear posture. And this nuclear buildup just, in our view, reinforces the importance of pursuing practical measures with the PRC to reduce nuclear risk. We have reached out to the PRC. We have made very clear our interest in engaging with the PRC, as responsible countries would and do, in the context of these powerful weapons and weapons systems.

In the meantime, we will continue to maintain the capabilities to defend and to deter against a range of threats from the PRC, threats to the United States, threats to our allies, threats to our partners as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, last week this department said the latest figures for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents leaving Afghanistan with American assistance were 129 U.S. citizens, 115 LPRs. Do you have a figure or an approximate figure of those Americans who are leaving without U.S. assistance on these occasional charter flights? And also, do you have an update on a figure, an approximate figure, on the number of Americans who remain in the country and want to leave?

MR PRICE: Sure. Well, you cited the numbers as of last week. It was 129 U.S. citizens, 115 lawful permanent residents the U.S. Government had directly facilitated since August 31st. I can confirm that yesterday, October 17th, another Qatar Airways charter flight with both U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents departed Kabul and landed in Doha. We haven’t been able to update our tally just yet because we are still processing those passengers as they deplane in Doha. But when we do have an updated figure, we’ll be happy to pass that along.

In terms of a broader figure of individuals who have departed Afghanistan via a variety of means since August 31st, our estimate of that is probably a couple thousand, a couple thousand individuals, have departed Afghanistan. Of course, our efforts, we are focused and prioritize American citizens, lawful permanent residents, Afghans to whom we have a special commitment. We will continue to do that.

We will continue to do that through charter flights, which, as we discussed last week, we aim to make more routine and to add a degree of automaticity to their occurrence. We are continuing to work with our partners to see to it that the commercial airport in Kabul, Kabul International Airport, can resume normal commercial activity as quickly as possible. We want to provide additional options, including in the form of a fully functioning commercial airport, to see to it that those who wish to depart the country have another option to do so. In the meantime, we will support these charter flights. We will continue to support overland transfers as well.

In terms of a number of American citizens, this is a figure that, as you know, is not static. It is not immutable precisely because as Americans in the country – some of whom may be identifying themselves to us for the first time – see that we are able to effect the safe departure of Americans and LPRs and others from Afghanistan, that their calculus has changed. They have determined that they do with to depart the country. That range has been anywhere from below a 100 – right now it is somewhere in between 100 and 200 given that some Americans have – additional Americans have raised their hands, seeing our ability to effect their safe departure.

But again, we are constantly in touch with them to determine their status, to determine their plans, determine what kind of documentation they have. And importantly, we are in regular contact with our partners and allies, and additionally with the Taliban to make clear the political side of that equation. Just as we are focused on operations and logistics to put Americans on planes – those Americans who wish to leave – we are focused on ensuring that the Taliban lives up to its commitment to allow safe passage, to allow freedom of movement, again, for those who wish to leave the country.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, can you confirm that the U.S. will participate in the Moscow talks or won’t?

MR PRICE: We will not participate in the Moscow talks. The Troika Plus has been an effective, a constructive forum. We look forward to engaging in that forum going forward, but we’re not in a position to take part this week.

QUESTION: Why?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Why? If it was effective, why not?

MR PRICE: It has been effective in the past. It’s just logistically difficult for us to take part this week.

QUESTION: So you support the process to —

MR PRICE: We do.

QUESTION: – in the future you might take part?

MR PRICE: That’s right. That’s right.

QUESTION: But – what, are there no flights between here and Moscow? I mean, how is it logistically difficult?

MR PRICE: There – it is just not a meeting we’re able to take part in this week. But again, it is a forum that has been constructive in the past. And so —

QUESTION: Yeah, but presumably, if you thought it was worth going to, you could find a way to get someone – you could find someone to go and get them there, right? So —

MR PRICE: Well, I am non —

QUESTION: The logistics is not – as long as there are flights, that’s not a – so what’s the – so what is it? What is the real reason?

MR PRICE: We are not in a position to take part this week. But again, we look forward —

QUESTION: So if it was next week, you could take part?

MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to entertain that hypothetical. But again, the Troika Plus, including the Troika Plus that the Russian Federation has hosted in the past, has proven to be a constructive forum. And so we’ll engage with our partners going forward in that forum.

All right. Seeing no hands.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:54 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – October 15, 2021

2:02 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us today. I have two items at the top, and then we’ll turn to your questions.

Today, we condemn in the strongest terms the attack on a Shia mosque in Kandahar, the third such attack this month. We offer our condolences to the victims and their families. All Afghan people have the right to live and worship in peace and safety.

Second, as announced by the White House today, the new travel policy requiring foreign nationals traveling to the United States to demonstrate proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 will take effect on November 8.

The CDC’s website explains that, for the purposes of entry into the United States, the accepted vaccines will include FDA approved or authorized and WHO Emergency Use Listing vaccines.

CDC and the interagency are working to develop the orders and guidance documents to implement this new travel policy, and those details will be available well in advance of November 8 – for the airlines, for airline passengers, and for people coming to the land border to understand what is required for them to be in compliance.

So with that, we will go ahead and turn to your questions. Let’s start with the line of Shaun Tandon, please.

QUESTION: Thanks for that. Could I follow up on Afghanistan. The Russians have announced talks coming up next week, including the U.S. and other regional players. Could you – could you say if the United States – could you confirm that the United States does plan to participate in that? At what level? What do you hope to get out of it? And related to that, President Putin today is speaking of resurgent threats from ISIS in Afghanistan, talking of hundreds of fighters massing there. How concerned are you about the ISIS threat right now? Do you see it as having grown in the past month? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks for that, Shaun. So let me start with your first question. As you know, for a – we have been engaged in concerted diplomacy with our partners and allies to establish shared expectations for the Taliban and for any future government in Afghanistan. We’ve done that in any number of fora. We have done that bilaterally. We have done that multilaterally. In the latter context, we did it with the G20. We’ve done it with the UN Security Council. We have done so pulling together more than half of the world’s countries to make clear our expectations on one of our core imperatives, and that is safe passage.

We’ve also been in close consultation with countries with whom we share, in many cases, few other interests because, when it comes to Afghanistan, we do have an alignment of interests with countries like Russia when it comes to Afghanistan. And so we previously have found the extended Troika format to be useful. We’ve taken note of the upcoming session in Moscow. But we don’t have any meetings or participation to confirm on our end at this point.

When it comes to ISIS-K, we have made very clear that one of the core requirements for us and for the international community is for the Taliban to live up to the commitment it has made to counterterrorism, and specifically to taking on the shared threat we face from ISIS-K. We have seen, even in recent days, the threat – in recent hours, I should say – the threat that continues to persist inside Afghanistan.

We are determined to see to it that no group – be it al-Qaida, be it ISIS-K, be it any other transnational terrorist group – can ever again use Afghan soil as a launching pad for attacks on the United States or other countries. We are resolute in that. It is one of the shared interests that unite us not only with our allies and our close partners but also with countries like Russia, who also are very focused on the threat from ISIS-K and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan.

We’ll go to the line of Michel Ghandour.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Greece defense agreement signed yesterday affect the U.S. policy on the Eastern Mediterranean and the U.S. relationship with Turkey?

MR PRICE: Thanks, Michel. You were cut off at the beginning there. I think your question was pertaining to the renewed agreement with our Greek allies that the Secretary and his counterpart signed yesterday and whether that has any implications for our position when it comes to the Eastern Mediterranean.

We support efforts toward de-escalating tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, including the continuation of exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey. As a matter of principle, we encourage all states to resolve maritime delimitation issues peacefully through dialogue and in accordance with international law.

As you know, the United States generally does not take a position on how other states should resolve their maritime boundary disputes.

Let’s go to Said Arikat. And Operator, I think it’s rendered Sanid Ariata (ph) in the system.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. All right. Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I appreciate you taking my question. Listen, two quick questions. The Israelis advanced thousands of housing units in East Jerusalem, basically cutting off Jerusalem from Bethlehem, in essence. But there has been almost deafening silence. That’s according to Haaretz, for instance, deciding that there is silence on this issue.

And second, yesterday – this is the olive harvest season, and every year the settlers attack the Palestinians. It’s getting worse and worse. The attacks are protected under the protection of the Israeli army. And I wondered: Why can’t you demand that Israel cease and desist from that and in fact stop the settlers’ attacks? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Said. I appreciate that question. I’m not sure I agree with the premise of your first question. This is an issue that I have an opportunity to speak to, even within the past 24 hours, our position on settlements. Just to reiterate that, we believe it is critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and, critically, that undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution. We’ve been very clear that this includes settlement activity.

Similarly, when it comes to the destruction of property that you spoke to, the assault that you spoke to, we similarly believe, again, it is critical that all parties refrain from steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut those efforts that will help us arrive at a two-state solution. That includes, as well, destruction of property and violence against civilians. We’ve been consistently clear on those fronts.

Let’s go to Nick Wadhams.

QUESTION: Thanks very much. Can you just clarify on your comments about the Troika? You said the U.S. – or you have no travel or participation to announce. Does that mean that the U.S. will not send a delegation of any sort, that the Biden administration will not have any presence there whatsoever? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Nick. We are just not announcing any travel or participation at this time. If and when we do have participation to announce on our end, we will let you know.

We’ll go to Missy Ryan.

QUESTION: Turkey and Syria. There were reports from the region that President Erdogan is threatening another offensive against Kurdish-held areas in Northern Syria and talking about terrorist activity around Tell Rifaat. Just wondering if I could have a response to that. Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Missy. We’ve had occasion over the past couple days to condemn once again the cross-border attacks against our NATO ally, Turkey, and to express our condolences for, in this case, the Turkish National Police officers who were killed in Syria. For us, it is another important reason to underscore the imperative of maintaining ceasefire lines and halting cross-border attacks.

Similarly, and to your question, it’s crucial for all sides to maintain and respect ceasefire zones to enhance stability in Syria and to work toward a political solution to the conflict. We have many interests with our NATO ally, Turkey. Countering terrorism is one of them. Ending the conflict in Syria is another. Deterring malign influence in the region is another.

As I said, we share an interest with our Turkish allies in sustainably ending the conflict in Syria, and we will continue to consult with Ankara on Syria policy, just as we do with Syria’s other neighbors and our other partners in the region as we seek to cooperate with our allies and partners on this challenge.

We’ll go to Jenny Hansler.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, I was wondering if you have any updates on the number of American citizens and LPRs and SIVs who have gotten out of the country. The Qataris said yesterday they had a rather large passenger flight that was able to depart for Doha.

And then the Russians are saying they summoned the U.S. military attaché over an incident in the Sea of Japan. Can you confirm that, and do you have any details on that meeting? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Jenny. So in terms of Afghanistan and our ongoing efforts to facilitate the departure of Americans, of lawful permanent residents, of Afghans to whom we have a special commitment, those efforts are ongoing. As you know, we’ve been working and we’ve been in constant touch with Americans and others in Afghanistan who have expressed a desire to leave.

Most recently, there was a charter flight with Americans on board on October 11th. It was a Qatar Airways charter flight. In total, at least 129 U.S. citizens and 115 lawful permanent residents have departed Afghanistan with our assistance since August 31st. That is to say these departures were facilitated by the United States either with a charter flight or, in some cases, an overland transfer.

We will continue these efforts. We’re often not able to speak to them in real time because there is ongoing sensitivity with operations of this nature, but our commitment to Americans, to LPRs, to Afghans to whom we have a special commitment, is as strong as ever. And we are continuing to work with them and to facilitate the departure from Afghanistan, again, for those who wish to leave.

Let’s go to Pearl Matibe.

QUESTION: Happy Friday, Ned. My question is a two-part question this afternoon on Kenya and on Zimbabwe.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Starting with Kenya, could you respond to a statement put out by Ranking Member Risch? Leading up to the U.S.-Kenya bilateral at the White House yesterday, Ranking Member Risch said that while he is encouraged that President Kenyatta is, quote, “working with the United States on several fronts,” he still has several concerns, quote, “about deep government corruption, ongoing incidents of intercommunal violence.” He still is concerned about increasing debt in China, how Kenya might prepare for these contentious elections coming up next year, and Kenya’s own role on the UN Security Council. So on that question, what gives you confidence that Kenya can deliver, for example, on Ethiopia?

And on the Zimbabwe question, the international relations world order sanctions are valued when actors are not complying with international laws. My question is: Relevant to the United Nations special rapporteur and professor from State University in Belarus and the advocate for removal of sanctions, she is expected to start investigating in country the removal of sanctions based on Human Rights Council Resolution 2701 – 21 – sorry, Resolution 2721. That investigation starts on October 18. So since the United States has targeted sanctions on the – on the SDN list, do you have any comment on the legality of U.S targeted sanctions? Does the United States feel intimidated or do you feel compromised? Thanks, Ned.

MR PRICE: Thanks very much, Pearl. Let me take those questions in order.

First on Kenya, as you alluded to, the President did have an opportunity to host President Kenyatta of Kenya at the White House yesterday for a meeting. Secretary Blinken as well as our newly-confirmed Assistant Secretary for Africa Molly Phee were in attendance at that meeting. This was the leaders’ first in-person meeting. It was President Biden’s first bilateral meeting with an African leader. As you I’m sure recall, Pearl, we conducted a virtual visit to Kenya earlier this year.

When it comes to the bilateral relationship, Kenya is a strong partner. It is a leader on regional and global issues. We are committed to working closely with Kenya to advance peace and security, to defend democracy and human rights, to strengthen financial transparency, to accelerate economic growth, and to tackle climate change. We think this visit demonstrates that we have embarked on a new era of U.S. partnership with Africa based on the principles of mutual respect and the principle of equality.

Africa is a continent with tremendous opportunity. There is rapid demographic growth. There is vast economic potential and significant geopolitical influence on the world stage. And Kenya has been an important partner when it comes to our shared security concerns and interests and our shared desire to see an end to the conflict in Ethiopia. So the conflict in northern Ethiopia was certainly on the agenda. The conflict in northern Ethiopia is consistently on the agenda when the President, when the Secretary, when senior administration officials engage with others in the region and, as you know, well beyond the region given the imperative that we see in doing all we can to bring about an end to the conflict with a negotiated settlement as we provide humanitarian relief to the long-suffering people of Tigray and northern Ethiopia.

When it comes to transparency, when it comes to allegations of corruption, the – we have taken note of President Kenyatta’s statement in this case, for example, that the Pandora papers will enhance financial transparency and openness around the globe. The United States will build off of our current efforts with the Kenyans to bring additional transparency, additional accountability to domestic and international financial systems, just as we seek to do with partners around the globe.

When it comes to Zimbabwe and sanctions, our sanctions there target human rights abusers and those who undermine democratic processes or facilitate corruption. I want to be very clear that these sanctions do not target the Zimbabwean people. Zimbabwe’s economic ills, we know, are caused by leaders, those leaders abusing power, not U.S. sanctions. Our sanctions target only 83 individuals and 37 entities. We review our sanctions list regularly to acknowledge developments in Zimbabwe.

U.S. sanctions do make it more difficult for targeted individuals and entities to access funds through the global financial infrastructure. Sanctions do not target Zimbabwe’s banking sector, but rather ensure that sanctioned individuals and entities cannot use the U.S. financial system to enjoy their ill-gotten gains. To be very blunt, blaming U.S. sanctions for Zimbabwe’s problems detracts from the core issues of better governance that are required in Zimbabwe, and to that end, Zimbabwe must make reforms consistent with its constitution, with its international obligations, and with its other commitments.

Let’s go to Simon Lewis, please.

QUESTION: I have a question on Myanmar and ASEAN. Coming after the statement that you guys signed up to earlier on ASEAN’s handling of the – of Myanmar/Burma. I wondered: Did the U.S. support or suggest this approach that ASEAN has taken to not invite the Burmese military senior commander, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, to its regional meeting? Is that something that you – that the U.S. side has sort of suggested, and do you specifically welcome that? It wasn’t sort of specifically stated in the statement, so I just wanted to kind of clarify that.

And secondly, the statement that you signed up to sort of commits to or reaffirms the endorsement of ASEAN’s efforts on the crisis in Burma. But given the special envoy – the Bruneian foreign minister has not been able to meet – was denied permission to meet with Aung Sung Suu Kyi and subsequently canceled his trip, do you not think that perhaps some envoy with more heft might be required to get the Burmese junta to listen? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks for that, Simon. So let me take your – take elements of your question here. When it comes to the report that Bruneian Second Foreign Minister and ASEAN Special Envoy to Burma Erywan Yusof canceled his visit, we are, as I said, aware of those reports. We, along with our international partners, strongly support the ASEAN Special Envoy’s mandate and efforts to press the regime to urgently and fully implement the five-point consensus. We urge the regime to facilitate a visit by the Special Envoy and his engagement, importantly, with all parties, and that is very much in line with the five-point consensus of which we have been a strong and consistent proponent.

When it comes to Burma more broadly, we are concerned over the violence and the deteriorating crisis there. The Burmese military must cease the violence, release all those unjustly detained, address human rights abuses, and restore Burma’s path to inclusive democracy.

As I said before, we are determined, along with our ASEAN partners, to hold the military regime accountable to the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus, and to facilitate a meaningful visit to Burma by the Bruneian Second Foreign Minister. We respect ASEAN’s centrality. We value our strong partnership with ASEAN. Decisions when it comes to internal ASEAN dynamics and the appropriate level of participation in ASEAN-related events, those should be made by ASEAN members and we respect such decisions. The military has so far been unwilling to productively engage with ASEAN to respond to the crisis in Burma. We continue to support those ASEAN efforts to press the regime, and we continue to support a visit by the ASEAN Special Envoy – a meaningful visit where he would be meet – able to meet with all parties.

Overall, our goal is to support all efforts that promote a just and peaceful resolution to the crisis in Burma, and a restoration of Burma’s democratic transition.

Let’s go to the line of Laura Kelly, please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) taking my question. Secretary Blinken said alongside the Saudi Foreign Minister yesterday that the two men would talk about the continued progress the U.S. hopes to see in Saudi Arabia on rights. Is the State Department satisfied with Saudi Arabia’s actions on rights as they relate to freedom of expression? And did the Secretary raise concerns with the Saudi Foreign Minister over the 20-year sentence handed to the Saudi aid worker, Abdulrahman al-Sadhan?

MR PRICE: Thanks for that, Laura. So as you know, we have a partnership with Saudi Arabia that is important across a number of shared and mutual interests. The Secretary had an opportunity, one of many he has had, with his Saudi counterpart to discuss some of those shared interests. That includes the situation in Yemen. That includes the challenge posed by Iran. That includes the challenge and the threat posed by climate change. But it also – the discussion included broader issues, to include human rights.

Human rights is a staple of our conversations with partners around the world, and that includes with our Saudi partners. We have not been shy about speaking up when it comes to – when it comes to shortcomings in that arena. We spoke up regarding the sentencing of Abdulrahman al-Sadhan. We made very clear that we were disappointed by the reports that the Saudi court upheld the prison sentence and the travel ban given to Abdulrahman al-Sadhan.

The ability of individuals to express themselves freely, to assemble peacefully, to associate is one that we support, one that we speak up for around the world, whether that is in the Middle East or any other region. And so we issued a readout of that meeting, and I would refer you there for further detail.

We’ll go to Conor Finnegan.

QUESTION: Hey, a couple questions on Afghanistan as well. Just first to start, it’s a follow-up on Jenny’s question. Why weren’t there any Americans on yesterday’s Qatari Airways charter flight? And then secondly, UNHCR called today for countries to facilitate and expedite family reunification for Afghan – sorry, Afghan families who have family members left behind in Afghanistan, saying that the principle of family unity is protected under international law. Does the administration believe it has a responsibility to help reunite families? Does that go beyond minor children and spouses to other family members? And then do you have any update on your efforts to provide electronic visas or other ways to continue visa services for Afghans? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks for those, Conor. So when it comes to our efforts to assist Americans who wish to leave Afghanistan, as I said before, those are ongoing. We have to-date facilitated at least 129 U.S. citizens and 115 lawful permanent residents. We’ve facilitated departure from Afghanistan since August 31st.

Our goal, as we discussed at some length yesterday, is to see to it that these – in the first instance, these charter flight operations become more routine, that they garner a degree of automaticity in terms of their frequency and their cadence. We are continuing to work closely with our partners, including our Qatari partners, including our Pakistani partners, to facilitate these flights and to see to it that Americans and others to whom we have a special commitment are able to be on these flights. And we will continue to report our progress when it comes to that.

Your other questions – oh, in terms of family reunification, we have been clear that our first priority in terms of support is always going to be to American citizens. We’ve also made clear the priority we attached to lawful permanent residents and to Afghans to whom we have a special commitment.

When it comes to family members, this is a question that in some ways is governed by the Immigration and Nationality Act. It is written into statute the assistance that – to whom we’re able to provide some of these forms of assistance. So all of our operations need to be consistent with the Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows us to provide similar services to American citizens and their dependents. And dependents is defined not by us; it is defined in statute written by Congress.

So I would make the point that our operations have to comport with the INA even as we are continuing our efforts to prioritize support to American citizens, LPRs, and to Afghans to whom we have a special commitment. And that will be ongoing.

We’ll go to Eunjung Cho.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) foreign ministry announced U.S. Special Representative for DPRK Sung Kim will hold a series of meetings with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Washington on the 18th and 19th. Can you confirm this meeting? And can you tell us about the ongoing coordination with Seoul and Tokyo to revive denuclearization talks with North Korea?

I have one more question. There was a phone conversation between President Moon of South Korea and the new prime minister in Japan, and they only found their differing views on historical issues, including the comfort women issue. How important is Japan-South Korea relations for the United States? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks for those questions; I think they are related. As you know, part of our strategy when it comes to the DPRK is to work closely with our allies and partners, to work in lockstep with our allies and partners towards our ultimate objective, and that is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That is why we have put such a premium on our coordination, on our consultation with our Japanese allies, with our allies from the Republic of Korea.

You probably recall that the first physical trip that Secretary Blinken took upon his confirmation in this in this job was to Japan and the Republic of Korea. He was accompanied by the Secretary of Defense, where we met jointly with our foreign minister counterparts and the minister of defense counterparts as well in a 2+2 format with – in Japan and South Korea.

But we’re also committed to the trilateral relationship, knowing just how important it is. And we’ve had any number of opportunities to meet with our Republic of Korea and Japanese counterparts in a trilateral format. In fact, the Secretary did that just the other week on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. He has done that on other travels as well. Special Representative Sung Kim has done the same with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts.

I don’t have any meetings to announce at this time but suffice to say that we are – we continue to work closely on a bilateral basis as well as on a trilateral basis with our Japanese and South Korean counterparts to advance that ultimate policy objective.

Let’s do Ross (ph) Jaboori.

QUESTION: It’s actually Rafid Jaboori. Thanks for taking the questions. Hi.

On the Iraqi elections on Sunday, although the final results are yet to be announced, but it has become clear that the followers of the anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr won the most seats, and it’s acknowledged by almost everyone. How do you feel about it? And has been there, like, direct contact with al-Sadr and his movement since the elections?

And the second question is about the Iraqi SIV program or the direct access program for Iraqis who worked of the U.S. forces in Iraq. Now, correct me if I’m wrong: This program was suspended in January for 90 days, and then when that suspension expired in May it was – the suspension was extended, but it’s still suspended. Do we have any update on that? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks very much for those questions. We’ve had an opportunity to speak to the Iraqi elections. As you alluded to, the results have not been certified, but at this point we’ve congratulated the Iraqi Government on having fulfilled its promise to hold early elections. We are – we were pleased to see that the election days were conducted largely peacefully. We’ve seen the preliminary results announced by the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission, but as noted before, we are waiting for the final certified results.

Once those results are certified, we hope that the new Council of Representative members will form a government that reflects the will of the Iraqi people and which can work to address Iraq’s governance, security, and economic challenges. We look forward to working with the new government once it’s formed.

To your second question, I believe you’re referring to a suspension of what is known as the Priority 2 or P-2 program that had been active in Iraq. I don’t have an update for you, but if there is a change in status, we will be sure to make that known.

We’ll go to Sangmin Lee.

QUESTION: I have a question to DPRK. So you mentioned yesterday you have made specific proposals to DPRK and then you will wait. So can you tell me what the specific proposal was?

MR PRICE: Thanks for that. So you’re referring to the fact that, as we’ve said, we remain prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions to try to advance that overarching policy goal. We have conveyed messages and we have made specific proposals for discussion with the DPRK. Those aren’t specific messages or proposals that we are in a position to detail, but our – the message we have been quite clear about is that we are ready and willing to engage in constructive diplomacy even as we continue to engage, as I said before, with our allies and partners around the world, including our allies in the Indo-Pacific, Japan, and the Republic of Korea.

We will conclude today’s briefing there. Thank you very much, everyone, for joining us, and we will see you in person on Monday. Have a good weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:37 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – October 14, 2021

1:22 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Just a programming note before we begin: I don’t have interminable amounts of time today. I need to conclude by about 2:00 but look forward to taking your questions until then.

A couple elements at the top. First, the United States – the Department of State and people of the United States expresses our deepest condolences and sympathy to the people of Norway, especially the family members of victims of the acts of violence that occurred in Kongsberg on Wednesday evening.

The United States stands with Norway at this difficult time following the tragic killing of five people.

At the same time, we welcome the newly formed Government of Norway, seated earlier today.  We look forward to continuing to work with our Norwegian partners and allies on our mutual peace, security, and prosperity.

Next, the recent death of Venezuelan political prisoner Raul Baduel reminds the world of the deplorable and dangerous conditions Venezuelan political prisoners face in the Maduro regime’s custody. We call for an independent examination to confirm the true cause of the death.

Our hearts go out to the families of the political prisoners who have died in Venezuela while unjustly detained in regime custody.

Since 2014, at least ten Venezuelan political prisoners have died in regime detention, and three have died in the last year alone. Those are Rodolfo Gonzalez Martinez, Carlos Andres Garcia, Rafael Arreaza Soto, Fernando Alban, Nelson Martinez, Rafael Acosta Arevalo, Pedro Pablo Santana Carballo, Salvador Franco, Gabriel Medina Diaz, and Raul Isaias Baduel.

We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners. Maduro and those holding these prisoners bear responsibility for their well-being. Their family members deserve a credible and transparent review of the circumstances surrounding these deaths, as well as accountability for the gross violations of human rights.

And finally, today I’m pleased to note the United States was successfully elected to the UN Human Rights Council. The President and Secretary Blinken have put democracy and human rights – essential cornerstones of peace and stability – at the center of our foreign policy. We have eagerly and earnestly pursued these values in our relationships around the world.

We thank the UN member states who supported our candidacy for a seat on the council. We will use our position to renew the council’s focus on the core human rights principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Charter, which undergird the council’s founding. Our goal is to hold the UN Human Rights Council accountable to the highest aspirations of its mandate and spur the actions necessary to carry them out.

With that, I’m happy to turn to your questions.

QUESTION: Thanks. Let’s just do a couple, and you can be extremely brief in your answers.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: (Laughter) – if you would, please. Just on the council – on the Human Rights Council, this has become kind of a ping-pong between administrations – Republican, Democrat. And I’m just wondering, the previous administration’s position was they would leave if there were no reforms, and then made a bunch of demands on reforms, none of which were undertaken, and so it left. Do you really have any confidence that you’re going to be able to push reforms, and are they the same reforms that the previous administration was looking for?

MR PRICE: Well, Matt, I don’t know if I’m quoting Woody Allen or quoting a former boss of mine, or quoting a former boss of mine quoting Woody Allen, but to paraphrase, when you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. And that’s – that has been our guiding principle. We want to be at the table. We need to be at the table in order to be engaged, whether it’s with the WHO, whether it’s with the Human Rights Council, whether it’s within the Paris context, whether it’s within other realms that we’ve talked about. If we are to help shape institutions, to help them deliver on their highest aspirations – which is what we intend to do with the Human Rights Council, to help them promote the values, the interests that the United States and our partners share – we need to be there.

So yes, we have concerns with the council. We will vigorously oppose the council’s disproportionate attention on Israel, which includes the council’s only standing agenda item targeting a single country. We also will press against the election of countries with egregious human rights records. It is, of course, grossly inappropriate for such countries to be represented on the Human Rights Council.

QUESTION: Well, fine, but your group of countries that you’re in doesn’t have any of these serial offenders that you’re talking about, and you have very limited – any administration has limited – anyway, I mean —

MR PRICE: But the point is we would have no influence were we not a member of the council, and we’re gratified today that we will become a member of the council.

QUESTION: And with apologies to Woody Allen – I’m surprised you quoted him, but whatever – with apologies to him, if you’re not at the table, you’re not necessarily on the menu. You could be standing on the outside and having as much influence as you and the Canadians and the Europeans have, and others who have – who have been on the council without pulling out have had – which is arguably very little, right?

MR PRICE: The point, Matt, is that we would have no influence were we standing on the outside.

QUESTION: I get it.

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Very – again, very briefly, I noticed the Secretary called with – spoke with the Brunei foreign minister today. I just want to know, that – it was largely Burma, I think —

MR PRICE: That’s right.

QUESTION: — and ASEAN focused. Was that call occasioned by the fact that the ASEAN envoy, who happens to be a Bruneian diplomat, had to cancel – or canceled his visit? Or was it something else?

MR PRICE: I understand this call was previously scheduled. Obviously, the Bruneian second foreign minister is the – we just saw the reports of his of his canceled trip.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the last one for me. The – yesterday the Secretary was asked specifically about – in discussions with the Israeli foreign minister whether you – whether the idea of a – reopening the consulate in Jerusalem was going – was on the table. The Secretary’s response – I just want to make sure that I’m not making too much out of this – was that, “As I said in May, we will be moving forward with the process of opening a consulate as part of deepening ties with the Palestinians.” But notably, at least to me, he did not say Jerusalem. So I’m just wondering: Are you guys exploring or looking at the possibility of opening a consulate that would be a liaison with the Palestinians in someplace other than Jerusalem?

MR PRICE: Matt, we have been very clear – the Secretary made this clear in May when he spoke to it in Jerusalem; he made it very clear when he spoke to it and Ramallah – we will be moving forward with the process to reopen our consulate in Jerusalem.

QUESTION: Okay, that’s it. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks. Shaun.

QUESTION: Can we go to Lebanon?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The violence that broke out there – first of all, do you have any reaction to it? How concerned are you about stability in Lebanon? And also this involves Hizballah. Obviously the U.S. has – considers Hizballah to be a terrorist movement. What’s your sense about who bears responsibility for this?

MR PRICE: Sure. Well, let me start with the violence that you raised, and to make the point that we offer our sincerest condolences to the Lebanese people and those impacted by the tragic loss of life outside the Palace of Justice in Beirut earlier this morning. We join Lebanese authorities in their call for calm, their calls for de-escalation of tensions. The health and the future of Lebanon’s democracy depends on the ability of its citizens to address the difficult issues with confidence and with confidence in the rule of law, confidence in the rule of law in their country, and through peaceful dialogue with the new government.

I would like to reiterate that we oppose intimidation and the threat of violence against any country’s judiciary, and we support Lebanon’s judicial independence. Judges must be free from violence, they must be free from threats, they must be free from intimidation, including that of Hizballah. As I said before – you asked about Hizballah broadly – we have consistently been clear that Hizballah’s terrorist and illicit activities undermine Lebanon’s security, they undermine Lebanon’s stability, and they undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty. There’s no question about that.

QUESTION: Just a couple. Is Toria – is Under Secretary Nuland there right now?

MR PRICE: She departed earlier today.

QUESTION: Did she have – so was she there – she had departed before this —

MR PRICE: Her program was not interrupted by today’s violence.

QUESTION: And did she have any message along these lines in terms of how to go forward in Lebanon to Lebanese political leaders?

MR PRICE: She obviously had engagements with Lebanese officials, Lebanese authorities. She spoke publicly as well. She made some of these very same points offering our support to the long-suffering people of Lebanon, offering our condolences today in the aftermath of this violence, and making clear that the Lebanese people deserve a government that is able to meet their aspirations, is able to meet their increasingly dire humanitarian needs as well.

QUESTION: One final one.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The – Hizballah has blamed the Lebanese forces, the Christian-oriented paramilitary group for this. Is the United States in a position to judge who was responsible for the violence?

MR PRICE: We don’t have a judgment to offer publicly at this time, but we’ll let you know if that changes. Thanks.

QUESTION: Afghanistan. There’s been some reporting around flights, potentially restarting U.S. flights back to – from Kabul. So I just wondered if you wanted to clear that up. And sort of separately, there’s a announcement from Pakistan International Airlines about them suspending flights, calling out the Taliban for heavy-handedness. And I’m wondering if the U.S. is leaning on the Taliban to have a different approach to international airlines. Is there – aside from the potential for U.S. flights, what are you doing to make sure that the airport stays open for other commercial international flights?

MR PRICE: Sure. I appreciate the opportunity to clarify. There’s been some misreporting on this. So to be very clear, the charter flights have been routine. Our goal is to make them even more routine, to lend a degree of automaticity to these operations, so that we can facilitate the departure of Americans, of lawful permanent residents, and others to whom we have a special commitment from Afghanistan, if they choose to do so.

But the idea that charter flights wouldn’t resume until later this year doesn’t, of course, comport with reality. We just had a charter flight that had Americans on board on Monday. There have been a number of charter flights in recent weeks, as you know, as we’ve had any number of occasions to discuss in this room. And in total, those charter flights have been key to our ability, to date, to facilitate the departure of 129 U.S. citizens, 115 lawful permanent residents who have departed Afghanistan since August 31st.

But our goal is to see to it that, working with our partners, that these flights become even more of a regular occurrence, to see to it that the flow of these flights increases. And ultimately, our goal is to see to it that Afghanistan has a functioning commercial airport. We have been able to make good use of charter flights, including working with our Qatari partners in recent weeks. But our broader goal, of course, is to see Kabul International Airport reopen to commercial traffic so that those who wish to depart Afghanistan have additional options to do so.

Now, that is the operational component of it. That is the logistical component to it. But there is a political component as well, and the political component is the other element that you referenced: holding the Taliban accountable to their pledge of safe passage, to their pledge that those who wish to leave Afghanistan are able to do so. The departures of the Qatar Airways charter flights and others, we see that as a positive step in upholding the Taliban’s commitment to free movement and to free passage.

But we are not satisfied, and we are continuing to press the Taliban to see to it that U.S. citizens, that see to it that lawful permanent residents, and those Afghans to whom we have a special commitment are able to depart the country if they so choose. As you know, a senior delegation met with senior Taliban officials, who traveled in from Kabul, in Doha on Saturday and Sunday. Free passage, freedom of movement, was key to that agenda. It has been key to every single one of our engagements with the Taliban in recent weeks, because it is of paramount importance to us.

But it is not only of paramount importance to us, it was also high on the agenda when the U.S., together with our European allies, met with the Taliban on Tuesday, earlier this week, following the U.S.-Taliban meeting in Doha. Safe passage, freedom of movement, was also a feature of that meeting, just as it has been a feature of every multilateral engagement we have had, whether that’s with the P5 of the UN Security Council, whether that’s with the G20, whether that is with the statements that the United States has put together, including one with more than half the world’s countries, 114 countries, I believe, at last count, who made clear the expectation that the Taliban allow those to depart who wish to depart.

QUESTION: So what – sorry. So you’re saying charter flights, those exist with U.S. – with support from you guys, sort of logistical support. Is there financial support for those flights? And can you just draw a distinction between that and U.S. Government flights? There’s no plan for military flights, for example?

MR PRICE: There is no plan for military flights. The idea that we are restarting evacuation flights, á la what we had prior to August 31st, is not accurate. We have worked very closely with several regional partners, including the Qataris, on those charter operations. Pakistan International Airways has also operated charter operations as well.

But yes, we have also been in constant touch with Americans in Afghanistan who have expressed an interest in departing. It is that process by which we reach out to them, we determine their status, we determine their intent, we determine what travel documents they may or may not have on them, and we in turn then work with our partners on these charter operations to facilitate their departure, if they so choose.

Andrea.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I want to ask you about a letter from members of the Foreign Relations Committee, a bipartisan letter that was sent to the Secretary which says, among other things: “While there has been progress” – this is on Havana syndrome, as know – “we continue to have concerns that the department is not sufficiently communicating with or responding to diplomats who’ve been injured from these attacks. We’re also concerned that the department is insufficiently engaged in interagency efforts to find the cause of the attacks, identify those responsible, and develop a plan to hold them accountable. And we urge you to immediately announce a successor to Ambassador Spratlen to lead the department’s Health Incident Response Task Force. Critically, this must be a senior-level official that reports directly to you.”

I am well aware of the long list of improvements, the progress that you have reiterated and that has been made available by a number of officials. But this is subsequent to those improvements; this letter is still an expression of concern from, as you know, a bipartisan list. You’ve got Menendez, Shaheen, Cardin, Chris Coons, Tim Kaine, Cory Booker, Risch, Rubio, Romney, Hagerty, Schatz. So —

MR PRICE: Certainly understand the expression of concern. We also have expressed our concern over these anomalous health incidents. That is precisely why we have made it such a priority to get to the bottom of them, and importantly to provide care for our employees who have been subject to them. The Secretary, late last week – on Friday I believe it was – added his voice to the support for the recently passed Havana Act. The Secretary appreciates the interest that Congress has demonstrated in this issue. It is very consistent with the priority he himself has attached to this, as you know, Andrea, as we’ve had an opportunity to discuss.

I’ve made this point before, but one of the briefings that the Secretary proactively requested before he assumed this office was on so-called cases of Havana syndrome or anomalous health incidents, as we call them. He wanted to enter this job on day one with a firm understanding of where we were, what we had provided to our employees, subject to them, and what more we could do. And we have been quite clear that this department has not always done – had not always done a sufficient job in addressing these anomalous health incidents. That is why you have seen Secretary Blinken put such a premium on several areas.

One is communication, the issue – an issue that was raised in this letter. And the Secretary has had an opportunity to meet with members of our State Department team who have themselves reported these AHIs. Deputy Secretary McKeon and other senior officials have held town halls with overseas posts where a number of these incidents have been reported. We have sent out regular messages from the Secretary, from the Deputy Secretary, from our Health Incident Response Task Force to the work force as well. We have made clear the resources that our employees have available to them, in terms of training, in terms of to whom they should turn if and when they should feel that they are subject – they have been subject – to an anomalous health incident.

QUESTION: So with all due respect, with all that you say has been done, there has been criticism from a number of victims of what they don’t call anomalous health incidents, by the way, because they think that diminishes and disparages what they are suffering. They believe that the Secretary should have met with them sooner; he should have been more engaged. And clearly the bipartisan members of the Senate, of the Foreign Relations Committee believe that the communication is inadequate, and that the appointment of Ambassador Spratlen’s replacement should not report to the Deputy Secretary but should report directly to Secretary Blinken, and that there has not been enough attention at the top – that this is not – this is not perceived – what you say is being done is not perceived by many of the people who are viewing it from the outside and from the inside.

MR PRICE: What I can tell you, Andrea, is that the Secretary has no higher priority than the health and the safety and the security of our work force and their family members and dependents. And this is precisely what that issue is about. I want – also want to be very clear that we believe those who come forward. We take every single report of an anomalous health incident extraordinarily seriously. And we do that for a couple of reasons.

Number one, we want to make sure that those who have come forward are getting the care that they need. And I can give you quite a bit in terms of what our Bureau of Medical Services has done, including since January of this year, to ensure that those who come forward are getting that care.

On June 1st, for example, we launched a pilot program to collect from employees and eligible family members a pre-incident health baseline, as we call it, so that we can compare that information should one of these individuals later be subject to an anomalous health incident. Additionally, we’ve partnered with a number of Centers of Excellence where our department team members can seek care, can seek pre-incident baseline testing, can seek care in the aftermath of such an anomalous health incident.

But we also take these reports seriously so that we can ensure that we are doing everything we can to protect our workforce and our broader State Department community, their family members and dependents, going forward, and do what we can to prevent such anomalous health incidents. To that end, we have sent teams of security engineers and occupational safety experts to conduct surveys and inspections of locations where these incidents have been reported. We have supplied additional and enhanced inspection equipment to overseas engineering service centers so that in the event of report of an AHI we can quickly dispatch that – those resources.

So we have made improvements in terms of our communication. We have made improvements in terms of our inspections and our defensive measures. We have made improvements in terms of our training so that, again, our employees know how to respond should they become subject to one of these, that their family members also have the information they need. We have improved our protocols internally with the Health Incidents Response Task Force and then, of course, with our Medical and CARE. That is all a reflection of the fact that there is no higher priority to the Secretary, there is no higher priority for our Deputy Secretary Brian McKeon, when it comes to these health incidents, because we know this is precisely about the health, the safety, and security of our workforce.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Ned, can you just address the letter? I mean, it said they wanted the Secretary to immediately name a replacement for Ambassador Spratlen.

MR PRICE: I —

QUESTION: It doesn’t say soon or as soon as – as quickly as possible. It says immediately. Do you intend to do that?

MR PRICE: I expect we’ll be in a position to do that in the coming days.

QUESTION: And then – and then the other thing it said was that it wanted – it wanted to make sure that you guys have set up mechanisms to make sure that the benefits included in the Havana Act, the financial and the compensation and medical assistance, were available now to people who have – are suffering these injuries. Has that been done?

MR PRICE: The Secretary added his voice to support for —

QUESTION: Well, is there a mechanism now in place for people to get this additional money?

MR PRICE: This just passed through Congress, I believe it was on Friday, so it’s only been a few days. But absolutely, we support the goals of this legislation because this legislation is about the health, the safety, and security of our employees.

QUESTION: And then lastly, you mentioned these inspection teams. When did they start going out, and what have they found?

MR PRICE: So Matt, this is one where, unfortunately, we’re just not in a position to provide much additional detail because this gets to our investigative tactics, techniques, and procedures.

QUESTION: Well, have you found anything unusual?

MR PRICE: That’s just one we’ll not be able to get into. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Well, can you say when they started going out to these places?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry. Please.

QUESTION: On that, Secretary Blinken is going to Colombia next week. Yesterday President Duque, Colombian president, confirmed these investigations on these cases of Havana syndrome. Could this investigation affect the incoming trip by the Secretary? And also there are rumors that Secretary Blinken is going as well to Ecuador. Can you confirm that?

MR PRICE: So we have not yet announced any travel for next week, so I’m not in a position to announce or speak to potential travel. But it is certainly possible that the Secretary will have an opportunity to visit with some of his South American counterparts in the coming days.

Yes, Missy. Or Nick – or, please, go ahead, Missy.

QUESTION: Okay. I just want to ask about Guantanamo. And there was another detainee who was cleared for transfer by the PRB, an Afghan national. And I’m just wondering if you could talk about, in line with the administration’s goal of transferring prisoners and closing the prison, how the situation in Afghanistan might affect his potential transfer or repatriation.

And also if you could just speak to the – because the State Department, as I understand it, is leading the transfer negotiations, can you talk about this idea of whether or not the State Department will reopen the Guantanamo closure office or appoint another special envoy for closure, somebody to handle these negotiations? Is there a reason why that hasn’t happened yet, especially as the administration tries to get this small group out? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Sure. Well, as you know, as we’ve had an occasion to discuss before, this administration is committed to seeing this detention facility closed. And as part of that, we are dedicated to a deliberate and a thorough process focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population at the detention facility. And so we are very much in the process of working with partners around the world, seeking to identify suitable onward transfer countries and to negotiate these transfer agreements. And as part of that, it includes appropriate security and humane treatment assurances from a host country for detainees whom the Periodic Review Board has determined the law of war detention is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing threat to the United States.

So the PRB process determines that a detainee has been deemed eligible for transfer and can recommend countries in which the former detainee may be resettled, but the PRB doesn’t itself determine where former detainees will actually be settled. That is the sort of diplomacy and talks that we have been engaged in.

In terms of staffing here at the department, as you know, our CT Bureau has been playing the lead role in representing the department and our equities in the interagency process that is seeking to responsibly reduce the detainee population at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. And Acting Coordinator Godfrey has been very engaged with countries around the world in seeking to find suitable onward transfer destinations for former detainees. So that process continues.

QUESTION: And just to clarify, on this one particular detainee, the Afghan national, is it possible that he could be sent back to Afghanistan given the situation there now? And has that – has he been discussed with the – in any of the interactions that the administration has had with Taliban officials in the recent weeks?

MR PRICE: We typically do not preview where detainees will be transferred until and unless such a transfer takes place, so I wouldn’t want to get ahead of those discussions.

Nick, I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you very much. A couple of random ones, but let me go back and ask a version of what Matt was asking: Have all of the steps that you detailed to Andrea delivered any more understanding of the source of the Havana incidents?

MR PRICE: So Nick, this is one of those questions that unfortunately we’re just not in a position to speak to publicly. We are doing everything we can as part of an NSC-led, interagency process to determine the cause of these incidents. We are doing that through any number of means and tactics, but we’re just not in a position to speak to that.

QUESTION: The U.S. has been calling for OPEC Plus – moving to oil – to increase production. Today in Moscow, there’s a big event with the oil ministers. They made it clear that they are not going to increase production. Does the U.S. believe Saudi Arabia is blocking the request to increase production?

MR PRICE: Well, we are concerned and we are monitoring the situation very closely. And as part of that, we are actively engaged with our European allies and partners during this critical time to ensure the security of energy supply. We also know that the high energy prices that we’re seeing right now really reinforce the need to advance the energy transition while continuing to safeguard against energy crises and price shocks going forward.

When it comes to OPEC, of course, we’re not a member of the organization, but we are routinely – and these days, constantly – engaged in diplomacy with OPEC member states, having these discussions in private, expressing our concern with current energy prices. It’s an absolute priority for us.

QUESTION: And therefore, are you concerned by OPEC Plus’s rejection of your request to increase production?

MR PRICE: We are engaged in diplomacy with member states of OPEC.

QUESTION: Fair enough. And last one, about Afghanistan.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: I know you’ve been asked about this, but I want to talk about the billions frozen in the U.S. Jan Egeland, Norwegian Refugee Council, who has been working on these issues for a long time, put it to me this way last night: “Why is the U.S. sitting on the fence when it comes to unfreezing billions of dollars?”

So I will ask you: Do you believe the U.S. is sitting on the fence when it comes to unfreezing billions of dollars that humanitarians say are for the Afghan people and can be delivered in a way that wouldn’t benefit the Taliban?

MR PRICE: Let me answer this question this way: We are absolutely not sitting on the fence when it comes to our humanitarian commitment to the Afghan people. We have demonstrated that time and again, including with significant humanitarian pledges – nearly $64 million just a few weeks ago for the Afghan people, $330 million in this fiscal year alone for the Afghan people that has benefited Afghanistan’s women and girls. It has provided health opportunities for the Afghan people. It has provided food, nutrition, the basic lifesaving services that far too many of Afghan – of the Afghan people need today. And we will continue to be a humanitarian leader when it comes to supporting the people of Afghanistan.

Now, it is true that the Taliban does not have access to the reserves that are held in the United States, and we have been very clear on that as well. Where we are – you might say sitting on the fence – is because we want to see and to judge any future Afghan government by its conduct. And we have been very clear about the conduct that matters immensely to us. It is holding the Taliban accountable to their commitments to safe passage and freedom of movement, to their counterterrorism commitments, to respecting the fundamental human rights of all of Afghan – of all of the people of Afghanistan, including women and girls, and it’s allowing humanitarian access to go back to where we started.

So we will judge any future Afghan government primarily on those criteria. And again, it is not just us, and it is – by the way, it is not just United States where Afghanistan’s foreign currency reserves are stored. This is something the international community has made very clear. So we are, of course, not in a position to provide financial support to the Taliban or any future Afghan government until and unless we see to it that these core requirements are being met and the rights of the people of Afghanistan are being fully respected, enforced.

Yes?

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I’d like to ask your question about Syria. As you know, there have been several attacks by YPG against Turkish forces inside Syria which resulted in casualties, and the Turkish president came out and said that was the final straw and with or without support, Turkey’s going to eliminate those elements. And you guys also came out and said that the State Department condemned those attacks against Turkish forces. So I’d like to ask you – but it means actually that the United States is supporting Turkey in its cause in the face of these attacks in Syria.

MR PRICE: If we are supporting – repeat the last part of that question?

QUESTION: I’d like to ask you whether the United States is now supporting – obviously considering the statement that you guys condemned those attacks against Turkish forces – does that mean that the United States is supporting Turkish cause in the face of these attacks?

MR PRICE: Well, we’ve been very clear that we condemn the cross-border attacks against our NATO ally, Turkey. We have expressed our condolences to the families of the loved ones who were killed in these attacks, and we’ve underscored the importance of maintaining the ceasefire – lines of ceasefire and halting these cross-border attacks. We’ve been eminently clear about all of that. We’ve also been clear that it is crucial that all sides maintain and respect ceasefire zones to enhance stability in Syria and work towards a political solution to the conflict.

When it comes to Turkey, Turkey, of course, is an important NATO ally. We have shared interests in any number of areas. That includes countering terrorism, ending the conflict in Syria, and deterring malign influence in the region. And so we do share an interest when it comes to Syria, and namely, to ending the conflict in Syria, and we’ll continue to consult with our ally Ankara on Syria policy, together with Syria’s other neighbors, as we seek areas for cooperation, as we seek to bring about an end and a diminution to that violence.

QUESTION: I have a quick follow-up with that, please. So with where we’re standing right now with the Turkish president saying that an operation, a cross-border military operation might be imminent, what’s the U.S. position on that?

MR PRICE: Again, we have condemned the attacks. We have emphasized the importance of all sides respecting and maintaining ceasefire zones in order to enhance stability in Syria.

Yes?

QUESTION: On Nicaragua, does the U.S. have anything on Nicaragua’s presidential election on November 7, and would the U.S. recognize the result? And separately, if I may stay on the same hemisphere, on Venezuela, does the U.S. agree with the EU’s decision to send electoral observers to Venezuela’s November 21st regional elections? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you, Nike. So when it comes to the elections in November of this year in Nicaragua, look, the simple fact of the matter is that President Ortega and Vice President Murillo, their decision on August 6th to ban the last genuine opposition party from participating in the elections, it underscores their fear of free and fair elections and their desire to remain in power at all costs. This autocratic maneuver followed the detention of seven presidential candidates and dozens of other opposition figures, human rights activists, business leaders, students, journalists, and NGO workers over the last several months.

We view the regime’s latest undemocratic and authoritarian actions, which has, again, been driven by a fear of an electoral loss, as the final blow against Nicaragua’s prospects for free and fair elections now next month. That electoral process has lost all credibility. It is now a foregone conclusion that Daniel Ortega will ensure that the elections in November are a sham and that he will proclaim himself victorious in the aftermath of those elections.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ned, just a quick little follow-up. I’m sorry.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you know if during Secretary Blinken’s meeting with the EU’s Josep Borrell these elections came up?

MR PRICE: I don’t know if the – if Nicaragua came up in the meeting today. We’ll find out and get back to you on that.

QUESTION: Wait. So does that mean you weren’t in the meeting?

MR PRICE: I was not in the meeting today.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. Well, then I have a question that maybe you could take on – about the meeting.

MR PRICE: Okay. Yes, please.

QUESTION: I want to be asking about the DPRK. You have mentioned you remain prepared to meet the DPRK without any precondition, anywhere, anytime. However, we haven’t seen any meetings so far. So what went wrong? So how do you propose the lifting sanction on the table?

MR PRICE: Well, to take a step back, we have been very clear that we believe diplomacy, including direct diplomacy with the DPRK, is the most effective means to meet the policy objective that has emerged from a review of our DPRK policy that we completed some months ago. And that objective remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. It is a policy that calls for a calibrated, practical approach that seeks serious and sustained diplomacy with the DPRK to make tangible progress towards that goal.

So we do stand prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions. We have made, in fact, specific proposals to the DPRK, and we will await a response. We will await outreach from the DPRK.

As we do that, I don’t want to give the impression that we are at a standstill. We are engaged in vigorous diplomacy with our allies in the Indo-Pacific, including with the Republic of Korea, including with Japan, including with our other allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific. But the threat of the DPRK’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, these are threats to collective security that we discuss with partners and allies the world over, and we’ll continue to do that.

I can take a final question or so. Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah, a question about the elections in Iraq. This – now more and more factions are refusing to accept the results. Do you feel that this political uncertainty will lead to more destabilizing the country, and will it affect the plans of the withdrawal of U.S. troops, combat U.S. troops, from the country?

MR PRICE: So I would refer you to the Department of Defense when it comes to our troop presence, our troop posture, in Iraq. It is something that we did have an opportunity to discuss in the Strategic Dialogue that we held with our Iraqi partners a couple of months ago. Now we made an announcement in terms of our troop disposition in Iraq. I don’t have any indication, I have no reason to believe, that that posture would change as a result of what we have seen to date.

When it comes to the election results, I want to be very clear that we condemn the threats of violence reportedly made against the Independent High Electoral Commission and UN personnel. We believe firmly, as do our partners, that any electoral disputes should be resolved through established legal channels. Of course, we haven’t seen final results. I think we expect to see final results in the coming days. So we are – aren’t going to prejudge the outcome of the election, but we are confident that we will be able to have a productive and constructive relationship with the future government in Iraq.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Wait, Ned. Can I do one more on Israel?

MR PRICE: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: And it doesn’t have to do with the consulate, but it does have to do with settlements. And that is, I just want to know that – if in yesterday’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lapid if the Secretary brought up the settlements issue. They seem to be plowing ahead, moving ahead with additional construction but not making as – not – without a lot of fanfare. And I’m just wondering if this is a concern for you, beyond what you have said in the past when you’re asked this by Said every time.

MR PRICE: Well, Matt, we did issue a readout of both the trilateral meeting and the Secretary’s bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Lapid. We have been clear publicly and in private about where we stand on settlement — on settlement activity, on annexation. We oppose any unilateral steps that put a two-state solution further out of reach.

QUESTION: I know, but you haven’t got – your concern about what they’re doing hasn’t increased in – over the course of the last month or so?

MR PRICE: Our position on this has remained constant. Thank you very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:06 p.m.)

# # #

Department Press Briefing – October 12, 2021

2:18 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. I hope everyone had a nice weekend. It’s nice to say Happy Tuesday instead of Happy Monday. We have just one element at the top, and then I look forward to taking your questions.

Today, we congratulate Tunisia on the formation of a new government under the leadership of Prime Minister Bouden Romdhane. The new government, which includes 10 female ministers, is a welcome step forwards towards addressing the significant economic, health, and social challenges facing the country. We look forward to further announcements to establish a broadly inclusive process for a rapid return to constitutional order.

With that, I am happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Is that all you have?

MR PRICE: That is all I have at the top.

QUESTION: You don’t have anything —

MR PRICE: I wanted to save plenty of time for —

QUESTION: You don’t have anything to – any personnel announcements or anything like that?

MR PRICE: Well, we have made a personal – personnel announcement today, as you know. Is that what you’re referring to?

QUESTION: A couple of them.

MR PRICE: A couple of them, yes. Would you like to ask me questions, or do you just want me to expound on —

QUESTION: I was giving you the opportunity to put it out in your own way without – I will ask about Afghanistan and Haiti.

MR PRICE: Sure, absolutely. So let’s start with Afghanistan. As you heard from me earlier today, I am happy to reiterate that we are, in fact, centralizing our efforts to facilitate the relocation and the resettlement in the United States of Afghan individuals to whom we have a special commitment. This is an updated operating posture that we announced earlier today that will ensure a more efficient, more streamlined, more effective coordination both within the department, across the interagency, with our outside partners, but also with our international partners who continue to be critical to this effort as well.

So as you heard from me earlier today, Ambassador John Bass, who – whom Secretary Blinken requested go to Afghanistan during the course of our evacuations to oversee evacuation operations from what was then known as HKIA, Ambassador Bass returned to the State Department after August 31st and has since been helping to lead and to coordinate those continuing facilitated departures since August 31st. But as you also know, Ambassador Bass had the high honor of being nominated by the President of the United States as the so-called M, the Under Secretary for Management. And so this was always a short-term position for Ambassador Bass upon his return from Kabul, and Ambassador Bass now needs to focus on his next job, which is a very important one at that.

So we are extraordinarily grateful and honored to welcome back to the Department someone I think many of you know well, and that’s Ambassador Elizabeth Jones. Ambassador Jones is assuming oversight of the entire Afghan relocation effort, from our ongoing efforts to facilitate the departure of individuals from Afghanistan, to their onward relocation, going to the so-called lily pads in the Middle East and elsewhere, and possible future resettlement here in the United States.

She is someone who in many ways is uniquely qualified to take on this role – her first assignment as a Foreign Service officer was in Kabul – and is a member of the Senior Foreign Service. She was what was then known as deputy SRAP, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. She’s been our ambassador to Kazakhstan, and she has been an assistant secretary here twice over, once to our Near Eastern Affairs Bureau and also to our Bureau of European Affairs.

And so as the new CARE – we like our acronyms here, but the Coordinator for Afghan Relocation Efforts – she will focus not only on the very complex issues related to relocation and resettlement but also on outreach: outreach to our partners with whom we’re working very closely in the advocacy community, in the veterans community; our partners, of course, in Congress; all of you we consider our partners as well; and to our international partners to help effectuate and streamline all of it.

And so just to put a period on this, CARE, the coordinator’s office, really has four key functions. One, as I said, is the relocation of individuals out of Afghanistan for individuals who so choose to depart. Two is the third-country transit and processing outside of the United States. Three is resettlement in the United States, and of course, there will be heavy coordination with DHS and with Governor Markell and his office at the White House. And then four, overall outreach and engagement, and we understand just how important that is. There are many stakeholders who have a keen interest in this and who have demonstrated a keen ability to help move forward our collective mission to bring out of Afghanistan those who wish to leave, those to whom we have a special commitment, and we look forward to continuing to work with them.

QUESTION: All right, I’ll let – but if you want to get into Ken Merten going to Havana, that’s fine. Does anyone –

MR PRICE: Haiti.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Did I – what did I say?

MR PRICE: You said Havana.

QUESTION: Oh, Havana, right. That’s another thing that will come up. But I won’t ask about it. On CARE, really, who came up with this acronym? Did you ask the actual CARE – ?

MR PRICE: Matt, we have a lot of acronyms in this building. This is probably one of the better ones.

QUESTION: Yeah. But there’s particular significance to the acronym CARE and how it relates to the Marshall Plan, and what the Secretary was doing in Paris last week. Did anyone think about that? No? All right.

I just want to ask about two reports. These are non-policy things. One – or actually, I’ll just ask about one because the IG report on it was not – I want to ask about something that has dropped off the radar but I asked you about a little while ago, and that’s the swastika incident in the elevator. What’s – it’s been now almost three – more than three months, or almost three months.

MR PRICE: It has. It has.

QUESTION: What’s going on?

MR PRICE: And our Diplomatic Security remains engaged in this investigation. As you know, immediately upon discovering this horrific symbol in the building, the Secretary ordered an investigation. They have resorted to a number of investigative techniques. We are also taking into account what other practices, procedures, tools we might implement here in the building to help us in the course of any such future investigations, hoping that we don’t need to resort to that. I don’t have an update for you.

QUESTION: So there’s – okay, nothing.

MR PRICE: But it remains a priority for us.

Barbara.

QUESTION: Thank you. Just a few questions about Afghanistan. After the talks at the weekend and the statement that you and the Taliban put out, does anything – has there been any development in terms of the sort of practicalities of getting humanitarian aid to Afghanistan? So the Taliban went into some detail about how they were going to cooperate with charitable groups and so on, so I thought maybe some boxes had been ticked and there’s a sort of framework in place. That’s my first question.

Secondly, in their statement, in the Taliban statement, they said that they would – I haven’t got the words exactly, but they would facilitate at the travel of foreign nationals. They didn’t say anything about Afghan partners. And I wondered what the agreement, if there had been, about that. And then also, finally, did – is there a plan to send COVID vaccines, doses, to Afghanistan as part of this humanitarian – part of your humanitarian assistance?

MR PRICE: Sure. Let me take that perhaps in reverse order, perhaps in a more convoluted order. But I’ll start last first.

COVID vaccines: There was a discussion of our support for the Afghan people, including support for combating COVID. As we know the world over, we are focused on bringing this epidemic to an end; and to do that anywhere, to ensure that COVID is no longer a threat anywhere, we must ensure that we are tackling it everywhere. And of course, that includes in Afghanistan.

In the context of Afghanistan, we’ve previously announced I believe it is 3.3 million doses of vaccine to Afghanistan through the generosity of the United States. Should there be an additional need, that is something we would entertain in the context of our broader humanitarian support. As you know, as we assess our relationship with any future Afghan government, what we are not assessing is our commitment to the Afghan people. And that – of course, one important staple of that is our humanitarian support and our assistance to bringing an end to the COVID epidemic there.

We have announced significant support this year, humanitarian support, $63, nearly $64 million in recent weeks, $330 million in this current fiscal year. Some 5 million of that has already been administered in Afghanistan to WHO-run programs, again, in support of the public health needs of the Afghan people, including at this critical time.

Barbara, you mentioned the meeting over the weekend in Doha. I just want to put that in slightly broader context, because there are really a series of three meetings that have taken place over the past 72 or so hours that I think speak to our priorities and our strategy for Afghanistan. Of course, there was a senior U.S. delegation that traveled to Doha over the weekend for meetings with the Taliban on Saturday and Sunday. There were two days of meetings. We issued a readout of that. But as we said in that readout, the meetings were candid, they were professional, they were businesslike, they were largely positive.

The delegation made clear, as we consistently have, that the Taliban will ultimately be judged not only on its words, but solely on its actions. And in the context of that discussion, we engaged on a practical and pragmatic basis with the Taliban, as we have done in recent weeks, focusing on security and terrorism concerns, a – in some ways a shared threat – from groups like ISIS-K in Afghanistan, safe passage for U.S. citizens and for foreign nationals, and – as well as our Afghan partners to whom we have a special commitment – and, of course, human rights. And that includes the rights of women and girls. There was a long discussion of that.

But, of course, that’s not the only meeting that took place. There are two others of note. One was a U.S.-Europe meeting with the Taliban that took place today. Tom West, our deputy SRAR, again represented the Department of State in that meeting. This is a regular U.S.-Europe meeting mechanism, and – but this meeting was a one-off meeting organized by the Government of Qatar. Its participants included the United States, the European Union, Germany, France, Norway, Italy, the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, Switzerland, Spain, with our representatives as well. And so that group, a broader set of our allies and partners, met with Taliban representatives, again, to reinforce some of these same issues: safe passage, the importance of counterterrorism, the imperative of respecting human rights, including the rights of all of Afghanistan’s citizens – its minorities, its women, its girls – the need for access to women and girls to all aspects of society, inclusive governance, and humanitarian aid and humanitarian access.

And then, of course, this morning, at the most senior levels of the U.S. Government, the President, as well as Secretary Blinken at his side, took part in a G20 meeting. And that meeting focused on the need to continue to provide Afghanistan with urgent humanitarian support, the fight against terrorism, freedom of movement, and open borders in the region. This, of course, follows on the G20 meeting we had in New York City – in New York City at UNGA – and a number of similar broad multilateral engagements that, in some cases, the United States has spearheaded, the United States has galvanized to brings together our allies and partners to make very clear that it is not just the United States focusing on these issues, but it is a broad swath of the international community making clear that together we will uphold – we will hold the Taliban accountable for the commitments that it’s made.

QUESTION: Do you think the talks will speed up now? You mentioned all these meetings and – have you got the commitments from the Taliban that you were looking for? I mean, you’ve mentioned $5 million so far since the Taliban takeover, the – is everything —

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: Has it been organized now that this – the humanitarian aid will speed up?

MR PRICE: Well, to be clear, when it comes to our humanitarian aid, that doesn’t flow through the Taliban; it doesn’t flow through any future government.

QUESTION: No, I know, but you obviously have to get – you’ve said yourself you want commitments from the Taliban to —

MR PRICE: Well, we do want commitment when it comes to humanitarian access.

QUESTION: Yeah. But did you get that?

MR PRICE: And – there has been progress on a number of fronts. I think there were – there were productive discussions on the issue of humanitarian assistance. As you know, USAID was represented in Doha by Sarah Charles, a senior development official with USAID. At the U.S.-Europe meeting too, it was a discussion – it was a topic of discussion. And together with our allies, we made clear the imperative humanitarian assistance, but the Taliban, I would say, also is looking for humanitarian assistance. There is a degree at least of consensus on this point. You’ve heard the Taliban speak to their interest in continuing assistance for COVID.

We, of course, have an enduring commitment to the humanitarian concerns and priorities of the Afghan people and to finding ways to ensure that aid gets to them. We have been in regular and continuing contact with our humanitarian partners on the ground in Afghanistan. As I mentioned, a good chunk of money, some $5 million has already been administered by the WHO. This is just one segment of the $330-some-odd million that the United States has committed in this fiscal year as we determine and assess the needs of the Afghan people.

Let me let me address one other point. You raised the ability of Afghans to depart Afghanistan if they so choose. Of course, our priority is on facilitating the departure of American citizens, of LPRs – lawful permanent residents, that is to say – should they choose to leave. But we have also assisted in the departure of Afghans, including Afghans to whom we have a special commitment. Our estimate is that since August 31st, a couple thousand Afghans have departed the country, Afghans who have chosen to leave the country, including with, in some cases, support of the U.S. Government.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Ned, a couple pointed questions on the Afghanistan comments, and I have a few others, including Havana syndrome.

So before the meeting – well, U.S. official had talked about the need to talk to Taliban about – to avoid, like, the resurgence of al-Qaida and other extremist groups. And there was reporting over the weekend that Taliban ruled out working with Washington on containing ISIS-K. You said the meeting overall, like, largely was positive. So can you first address that? Can you confirm if they ruled out working with you guys on that? And where does that leave your over-the-horizon, like, counterterrorism effort?

I’m going to go into the second one quickly. There has also been reporting that Taliban wanted U.S. to unfreeze Afghanistan Central Bank reserves. That’s something that they’ve openly said they want before. Did they come up – is there any inclination on the U.S. side to do that, maybe on a conditional basis or in any other form?

And can you confirm the Havana syndrome cases or deny it, or just address that in Colombia embassy in Bogotá, in U.S. Embassy in Bogotá?

MR PRICE: So let me start in the order in which you asked the questions.

So when it comes to counterterrorism, I said before that this was a staple of both the U.S., the senior U.S. meeting with the Taliban. There was a representative of the Intelligence Community there who was there primarily for that purpose. There – it was also a topic of discussion in the U.S.-Europe meeting with the Taliban that took place today. I don’t want to go into great detail into what the Taliban might have said. I will – you are welcome to ask them about their position on this. Our —

QUESTION: But would say that part of the discussion was also positive?

MR PRICE: Our position on this is that the United States will do what we need to do to ensure that – to see to it that Afghanistan cannot once again be used as a launch pad for attacks against the United States. That is our priority. We have the capabilities to do that. You’ve heard the Department of Defense speak to this. We will continue to make clear to the Taliban our expectations, to underline for them their own commitments on this.

But again, what is also true is that there is some shared set of interest in this. ISIS-K is a mutual threat to the Taliban and to the United States and our partners. And so we will and we do have the capabilities to see to it that groups like ISIS-K cannot use Afghanistan as a base to threaten us, and we’ll continue to raise the imperative of counterterrorism with the Taliban going forward.

When it comes to Central Bank reserves, look, I don’t want to go into various carrots and sticks. What I will say on this is what we have consistently said. We will judge and interact with any future Afghan government on the basis of its conduct and its conduct in those key areas.

QUESTION: But it hasn’t – their conduct has not been great, to say the least, already. And everyone agrees that. Like, you said that openly – they say it diplomatically; it hasn’t been encouraging. So I don’t quite understand, like, what it is that you guys are waiting. Are you inclined to – you also recognize the need for cash, and they need cash, and you’re committing for humanitarian aid and a number of things. So are you inclined to unfreeze their reserves to allow them some cash or not?

MR PRICE: This is not a static picture. The Taliban conduct a month ago, six weeks ago, is in some ways different from Taliban conduct today. We want to see to it that six weeks from now, six months from now, when any future Afghan government is formally announced, that government upholds the commitments that the Taliban has made, and importantly that the United States together with our allies and partners have confirmed will be the basis for our approach, for our engagement to the Taliban.

I should note that yes, there was a senior delegation in Doha, a senior U.S. Government delegation in Doha. Today, there was a meeting of the U.S. and EU partners with the Taliban. There is a difference between pragmatic, practical engagement on core national interests – and to us, those national interests are counterterrorism, they are safe passage, they are human rights, among others – and any sort of recognition or conferral of legitimacy on the Taliban or any future government of Afghanistan.

What our approach looks like, what our set of incentives – sticks, carrots, everything in between – looks like with any future government of Afghanistan, that will be determined by the conduct of the Taliban in any future government.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Havana – Havana syndrome.

MR PRICE: Havana syndrome.

QUESTION: Stick on Afghanistan for a second?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. So just following up on that, you said Taliban conduct is not a static picture. So what notably has changed in the perspective of the U.S. in the last few weeks or months that is positive, if anything? And did U.S. officials tell the Taliban specifically what actions they have recently taken that they need to reverse?

MR PRICE: So it was a very candid conversation, and you probably —

QUESTION: So yes?

MR PRICE: You probably are not surprised to hear me say that. But it was candid in the sense that there was a – an exchange of views. We were very clear with them. They also shared their perspective with our team. So I think I will leave it at that, but also leave no doubt that we were clear where we stood.

In terms of Taliban conduct, there are areas that are woefully deficient, and we have made no bones about the fact that some of the actions that we have seen from the Taliban government, including when it comes to human rights, respect for all of Afghanistan’s citizens, some of that conduct is inconsistent with what the Taliban itself has pledged, what the international community has made clear it would like to see. We have made very clear where we stand on the composition of this caretaker government and what we would like to see in any future government of Afghanistan.

At the same time, we’ve also been very clear about our ability to safely facilitate the departure of many from Afghanistan. Just to give you the latest figures, as you know, there was another charter flight that departed from Kabul International Airport yesterday. In total, at least 129 U.S. citizens and 115 lawful permanent residents have departed Afghanistan with our assistance since August 31st. That includes charter flights, that includes overland routes as well. I also spoke to the fact that there are a couple thousand additional individuals who, since August 31st, have been able to depart. So we will continue to underscore the imperative of safe passage with the Taliban as one of those key metrics for judging our approach to any future government of Afghanistan going forward.

When it comes to Havana syndrome, you will probably not be surprised to hear me say we are not in the business of confirming reports. But —

QUESTION: But I don’t understand, why are you not in the business of confirming reports? This is squarely about State Department personnel. These are happening at U.S. embassies. Who should be in the business of confirming these incidents?

MR PRICE: We are in the business of, number one, believing those who have reported these incidents, ensuring that they get the prompt care they need in whatever form that takes, whether that is at post, whether that is back here in the Washington, D.C. area. We are in the business of doing all we can to protect our workforce and the broader chief of mission community around the world.

QUESTION: So have they reported in Bogota U.S. embassy?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Have they reported – like, are you doing all of those things for U.S. embassy in Bogota?

MR PRICE: We are doing this everywhere an anomalous health incident is reported. But we are also doing things universally, and we are communicating with our workforce. We are instituting new training modules to ensure that outgoing State Department officers know how to detect a potential anomalous health incident, they know how to report a potential anomalous health incident, they know who – to whom to turn should they need to report it, they know the type of assistance that they can receive. Their families are apprised of these dynamics as well. And as you know, the Secretary has had an opportunity to meet with some of those who have reported AHIs.

There is no higher priority that the Secretary has to the health, the safety, the security of our workforce. I’ve said this before, but even before he was Secretary of State, one of the briefings he proactively requested as the nominee for the office he now holds during the transition was a comprehensive briefing on so-called Havana syndrome or anomalous health incidents. He wanted to make sure he entered this job understanding where we were and what we had done, and importantly, what this department could do better to support our workforce at all levels. And we have taken a number of steps, including in terms of communication, in terms of care, in terms of detection, in terms of protection for our workforce, and that is something that will continue to be a priority for the Secretary.

Francesco.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, it was this building that (inaudible) spoke about those cases in Havana and then in China. Why aren’t you confirming for the sake of transparency where there are cases reported – if they are Havana syndrome or not, it’s another thing, but where there are reported incidents, why aren’t you doing that? And then I have another question on Cuba protest.

MR PRICE: So in many cases it is a matter of privacy of individuals, wanting to respect privacy. But let me just make clear that when cases have been reported, our posts overseas have communicated that clearly to the community within the embassy. We have also engaged – Brian McKeon has engaged with posts that have reported a number of anomalous health incidents. So it is not – certainly not – the case that we are ignoring this. We are just not speaking to the press, we’re speaking to our workforce, as you might expect when it comes to a matter of their health and safety and security.

You said you had another question?

QUESTION: Yeah. I wanted to ask you about the Cuba’s Government decision to ban a protest that was planned for November 15th, claiming that the organizers are backed by the U.S. to overthrow the regime. Do you have any comment on that, any response?

MR PRICE: Well, let me make one thing very clear at the outset. What happened in July, what transpired in the days and the weeks after that, was not about the United States. It was about the conduct of the Cuban regime, the unmet aspirations of the Cuban people for freedom, for dignity, for prosperity, the elements that they have been denied by this regime for far too long, since 1959.

We – the world watched. The United States watched as Cuban authorities arrest and beat peaceful protestors, journalists, independent voices in mid-July, starting on July 11th. There have been many arbitrarily detained; many are missing. We know that the government has conducted secret summary trials of those arrested. And we join their families, we join Cuba’s human rights defenders, people around the world in calling for the immediate release of all those detained – all those who are detained or missing merely for exercising their fundamental human rights. It’s the freedom of expression, it is the freedom to assemble peacefully that the Cuban Government has denied to its people.

The violence that we’ve seen, the detention that we’ve seen, the crackdowns that we’ve seen, now the prohibitions on peaceful protests that we’ve seen – all of this remind us that it is the Cuban people who are paying dearly in their fight for freedom, their fight for dignity. We call for their release. We call for the government in Havana to respect the fundamental freedoms and the fundamental rights of the Cuban people.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) First, do you have any comment on the Iraqi parliamentary election? And how do you view that – that Moqtada al-Sadr won and the defeat of popular mobilization forces?

MR PRICE: So when it comes to the Iraqi elections, we congratulate the Iraqi Government on having fulfilled its promise to hold early elections. We are pleased the – we are pleased that the election days were largely conducted peacefully. We have seen the preliminary results announced by the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission, and we’re awaiting for the final certified results. So we’ll – we will omit judgment until then. But these elections included hundreds of international monitors and observers from the UN and the EU, in addition to thousands of domestic observers. We look forward to reviewing their reports.

Once the final results are certified, we hope that the new Council of Representatives members will form a government that reflects the will of the Iraqi people, and which can work to address Iraq’s governance, security, and economic challenges.

When it comes to Moqtada al-Sadr, again, we’re waiting for final results. We don’t want to prejudge the outcome. But we do look forward to working with the new government once it is formed.

QUESTION: At the – one on Lebanon, what is the purpose of on the Secretary Nuland took to Beirut tomorrow, and how do you view the threats made to the judge who is investigating Beirut blast? And it looks like this investigation will break the new government.

MR PRICE: Well, we have said and the international community has said multiple times we support and we urge Lebanese authorities to complete a swift and transparent investigation into the horrific explosion in the Port of Beirut. The victims of the August 2020 port explosion deserve justice; they deserve accountability.

When it comes to the report that you mentioned, we oppose intimidation of any country’s judiciary, and we support Lebanon’s judicial independence. Judges must be free from threats and intimidation, including Hizballah’s. We’ve long been clear that Hizballah’s terrorists and illicit activities threaten Lebanon’s security, stability, and sovereignty. Hizballah, we believe, is more concerned with its own interests and those of its patron, Iran, than in the best interests of the Lebanese people.

As you mentioned, the under secretary for political affairs, Toria Nuland, will be there to continue the important discussions that we have been having bilaterally with Lebanese authorities, but also in various contexts, including with our Saudi partners, with our French partners, in a trilateral format with our Saudi and French partners, in any number of multilateral formats, to see to it that the people of Lebanon can take advantage of the humanitarian relief that they so desperately need as we support the formation of a stable and inclusive government that is responsive to the profound needs of the Lebanese people. So there’ll be lots to discuss.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Toria —

MR PRICE: Yup. Uh-huh. Sure.

QUESTION: Her meetings in Moscow today?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: So the Russians say that they have made a proposal to you and said, “If you lift your sanctions, we’ll lift ours.” I haven’t seen any response from you guys yet. Do you have one?

MR PRICE: Well, we will leave the diplomacy to people like Under Secretary Nuland and to others who will carry this forward. What I can say about her engagement today: her meetings have been – there’s been open discussion. Her meetings have been useful. And the United – and our stance on the staffing of our mission remains firm. We expect parity on staffing numbers and we expect visa reciprocity. There must be fairness, there must be flexibility on the Russian side if we are to achieve an equitable agreement, and that’s precisely what we are after.

We did agree to another round of discussions, and we hope that continued talks may bring to bear a resolution so that our mission in Moscow can resume its normal activity. I do expect that follow-on discussions will be at a lower level, probably at the deputy assistant secretary of state level. But we do hope that those discussions can bear fruit because we do want open channels of communication with Moscow. We do think that a fully staffed or adequately staffed embassy in Moscow is important to our goal of having a free flow of information to manage responsibly the bilateral relationship with Moscow.

QUESTION: Well, does that mean that you’ve given up on trying to get St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok reopened?

MR PRICE: Again, I’m going to – I’m going to —

QUESTION: Well, you – three times in what you just said, in what was written down in front of you, you talked about the embassy in Moscow. But you didn’t talk about the consulates, closed or unclosed.

MR PRICE: The staffing – I should have been clear. The staffing of our missions, plural. So I will leave the —

QUESTION: Well, then, so are you willing to consider an agreement – deal for lack of a better word – with the Russians so that they can reopen their closed consulates here and you can reopen yours, or – and then staff them?

MR PRICE: We want to see – we want —

QUESTION: Are you just looking – look, are you only looking to get Moscow back to full staffing strength or are you looking for something more?

MR PRICE: What we know is that we need an adequately staffed embassy in Moscow if we are able to – if we are going to be able to conduct the sort of diplomacy to have the open channels of communications with the Russian Government that we need. But I don’t want to get bogged down in the details. The strategic – the broad point is that we want and we need an ability to engage diplomatically, at multiple levels, with the government in Moscow. So again, I’m going to leave the diplomacy —

QUESTION: Ned, come on, you —

MR PRICE: I’m going to leave the —

QUESTION: But you’re already able to have open diplomatic channels. I mean, you just had Wendy Sherman and Bonnie Jenkins in Geneva meeting with the Russians. You just had Tori – or – and she’s still there. It’s not like you’re not talking to the Russians.

MR PRICE: Matt – Matt – one-off engagements – one-off ad hoc engagements are no substitute for open channels of communication. So again, I’m going to leave the diplomacy to Under Secretary Nuland and to those who are carrying this forward, but it is important to us that we have an ability to engage bilaterally and in an open and effective way with the Russian Government.

QUESTION: Well, it just – it doesn’t sound like you’re pushing on the consulates. Is that correct, or not?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR PRICE: Please.

QUESTION: On this, on Russia still: To what degree cyber was a part of these discussions, and after these meetings if the U.S. is any more hopeful that Russia will actually take law enforcement action against those in Russia who have carried out these cyber attacks affecting American personnel.

MR PRICE: Addressing cyber issues, including ransomware criminals, has been consistently high on our agenda with the Russian Federation. We have said that Under Secretary Nuland’s discussions would center on our – the position of our – the staffing of our missions in Russia, but also address a broad range of bilateral issues. And ours is a bilateral relationship with Russia that is broad, that in many ways is complex, that in a lot of ways is challenging, and there were a number of subjects addressed.

Yes, Rich.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. On —

QUESTION: So any more hopeful about actions that they’ll take, law enforcement-wise?

MR PRICE: I – we will – again, we will judge based on what we see.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. On Taiwan, and given the events over the last week, week and a half, is the administration seeking to build and maintain closer relationships with Taipei? And does the strength of that pace, is that contingent on Chinese Government actions and aggressive – aggression towards Taiwan?

MR PRICE: Can you repeat the last part of that question?

QUESTION: Is that – the pace of that – and it basically is Chinese Government aggression, would that prompt a closer relationship or for the administration to seek a closer relationship with Taipei?

MR PRICE: Well, we have been very clear that our support for Taiwan is rock solid. We’ve also been very clear that we are committed to deepening our ties with Taiwan. We know that Taiwan is a leading democracy. It is a critical economic and security partner. And all of our approaches have been predicated on those key documents, including the Taiwan Assurance Act. We have reviewed the contact guidance for interactions with Taiwan, as we announced earlier this summer; I believe it was in May. Consistent with that, we issued updated guidance to better reflect the broadening and the deepening of our unofficial relationship with Taiwan.

And so coming out of that policy review, we developed new guidance that encouraged the U.S. Government – encouraged U.S. Government officials’ interactions with their Taiwan counterparts in a manner consistent with that unofficial relationship with Taiwan. Those guidelines have since governed any interactions we have had with Taiwanese, and we will continue the U.S. Government’s longstanding practice of providing clarity throughout the U.S. Executive Branch of how to implement our “one China” policy. We will continue that unofficial relationship with Taiwan as guided by the documents I referred to other – that is, the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances that were provided to Taipei.

QUESTION: And also just real quick, The Washington Post has a report out saying that the WHO was denied access to these caves in Hubei Province. As a WHO member, would the United States seek any type of sanction, penalty, or whatever is allowed under the WHO structure for China’s government not allowing these types of inquiries within their borders?

MR PRICE: So we have been very clear that the world has to be prepared for any future outbreaks of unknown origin if we are going to be able to investigate them swiftly and transparently and to stop, to halt the next outbreak epidemic from becoming a pandemic. And so we have been very clear that we need to get to the bottom of the coronavirus, including its origins.

We know that the WHO is in the course of its Phase 2 study. That Phase 2 study is something we have very consistently supported. We have encouraged several highly qualified technical experts to be members of the WHO Advisory Group on the Origins of Novel Pathogens, and we continue to make clear that the onus is on the PRC to provide needed access to data and samples. The PRC must let scientists into the country to conduct this critical work, and they must do so in short order. This is vital so that, importantly, we can understand how to prevent the next pandemic. This is about saving lives going forward. This is not just about accountability. This is not just about what happened in the past. It’s about saving lives going forward, and that’s why we’re so, so focused on it.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I’m Mark Stone from Sky News. (Inaudible) first time (inaudible) so thank you for having me.

MR PRICE: Welcome.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject to Northern Ireland, if I can?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The British Northern Ireland secretary is over here in Washington at a time when it appears the Brits don’t think that the Americans or your administration understands Northern Ireland. A senior minister said recently this is “very complicated” and “I’m not sure he” – President Biden – “fully appreciates” that. “We’re obviously doing all we can to help the U.S. Government” to “understand that.”

What is your understanding of the Northern Ireland Protocol and the difficulties that the UK and the EU are having? And who do you – whose side do you appreciate more?

MR PRICE: I appreciate the phrasing of the question. I will say that we support a close relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. We continue to support both sides’ efforts to engage in productive and cooperative dialogue to resolve their differences. We welcome the provisions in both the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol between the UK and the European Union, which will help protect the gains of the Belfast and the Good Friday Agreement. As the UK and the EU implement Brexit-related provisions, the Biden administration encourages them to prioritize political and economic stability in Northern Ireland.

This is something that this administration cares about very deeply. As you know, this is something that the President of the United States cares about very deeply. This is something he has worked on, something he has an interest in, and something we look forward to continuing to focus on with our UK and our EU counterparts.

QUESTION: But are you – just to follow up if I can. Are you – is the administration somewhat offended that the British seem to think you don’t get it, you don’t understand it?

MR PRICE: I’m not sure who you’re quoting, but I will say that —

QUESTION: I’m quoting George Eustice, a senior minister in the British Government.

MR PRICE: The – what I know is that our relationship with the UK – we have no closer ally, we have no closer partner. The President has been in a position to discuss this with his counterpart. Secretary Blinken now has been in a position to discuss this with two foreign secretaries during his time in office. We’ve engaged with our British counterparts regularly on this, and we’ve engaged with them on the full set of challenges that we face together, not to mention opportunities that we share. It is a relationship that allows us to work together not only in the bilateral context but also around the world, and we’re grateful for that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Just a quick question on (inaudible) Russia, and I have a question on Iran and Azerbaijan. Sergey Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister, was quoted as saying that the U.S. is not listening to – or heeding, if you want – “our demands.” Are you in a position to get into specifics of, like further demands if you have heard from Russia – Russian side?

And on Iran, we have seen (inaudible) statements if not actions from Iran against neighboring country Azerbaijan lately. They are threatening Azerbaijan on involving third parties to region. Are you at all bothered about – from those statements, and also particularly the fact that the U.S. interests and energy pipelines might be at stake in the region? Thank you.

MR PRICE: What was the last part of your question?

QUESTION: So the – given U.S. energy pipelines and other interests might be at stake in the region, given the heated threats and comments.

MR PRICE: I’m sorry. If you could just clarify your question on Ryabkov as well.

QUESTION: So Ryabkov mentioned that the American side is not listening to or heeding “our demands.” So the phrase “demands” is a little bit unclear. Are you in a position to get into specifics of Russian demands?

MR PRICE: So I’m not in a position to go beyond what we said. We, of course, have a number of differences with the Russian Federation. Under Secretary Nuland is there now to discuss some of them, including our staffing posture in country. There are another – there are a number of differences that we have across a broader set of issues. There are also some areas where we do have an alignment of interests.

And you mentioned Iran in a different context, but when it comes to the – our shared interest in a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, that is something that we share with the Russian Federation. It is something that we’ve had an opportunity to discuss with the Russian Federation given our shared interest and seeing to it that Iran is not able, is never able, to acquire or obtain a nuclear weapon.

When it comes to Iran’s regional activities, we have been very clear, broadly speaking, where we stand. Iran has been a destabilizing actor in many ways, including its support to proxies, its support to other regional actors, its threats and coercive statements more broadly.

QUESTION: Did you want to say anything – go ahead.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Please. Yes, please. Tracy.

QUESTION: Come back to me.

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: Apologies, I need to go back to Cuba for just two really quick questions.

MR PRICE: Okay, okay.

QUESTION: The humanitarian flights that – from the U.S. to Cuba that the State Department authorized some months ago, did those ever get started? If not, why not? And if so, how many have taken place?

And then is there any update on the remittance working group now that it’s been over a month and a half since they submitted their recommendations to the White House? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Sure. So I will take the question on humanitarian flights. I just don’t have an update on that in front of me.

As you know, the remittance working group did provide its report to the President some number of weeks ago. It is also an issue that is not uncomplicated in terms of what we need to sort through. At the end of the day, we have a profound interest in supporting the humanitarian needs of the Cuban people, but we also have the imperative of seeing to it that additional funds do not flow into the coffers of the regime.

So we’re taking a close look. The administration is taking a close look at that recommendation – at those recommendations, I should say – to determine how best we can support the Cuban people in the form of remittances while also not running afoul of that other imperative on our part.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Have you seen the reporting about Ethiopia’s national army launching a ground offensive in Tigray? Does the State Department have a comment? And the administration has sent repeated warnings to the parties not to prolong the conflict or they could cite sanctions. Will the U.S. impose the sanctions now that this has happened?

MR PRICE: Okay, so I have seen that reporting. We are aware of reports indicating that Ethiopia’s national army did launch a ground offensive against the TPLF forces in northern Ethiopia.

QUESTION: Do you have independent verification of that offensive, by the way?

MR PRICE: What we’re prepared to say now is that we’ve seen the reports. If we’re in a position to independently confirm that, I will let you know.

What we do know is that there is no military solution to the political crisis in Ethiopia. Escalating fighting undermines critical efforts to keep civilians safe and the ability of international actors to deliver humanitarian relief to all those in need, and we know there are too many in need, including in Tigray.

We urge all parties to end hostilities immediately and for the Ethiopian Government and the TPLF to enter into negotiations without preconditions to establish a durable ceasefire.

When it comes to the various tools and authorities we have at our disposal, I will say this. We are considering the full range of tools at our disposal to address the worsening crisis in northern Ethiopia, including potentially the use of targeted economic sanctions to promote accountability for those responsible for or complicit in prolonging the conflict, obstructing humanitarian access, or preventing a ceasefire. At the same time, and if we were to do so, we would also work to mitigate unintended effects on the people of Ethiopia and the wider region.

On the topic of Ethiopia, I know many of you are aware that the Secretary has a couple engagements on his calendar today focused on the situation there. The Secretary met with AU High Representative Olusegun Obasanjo to discuss the crisis in Ethiopia. Given the urgency of the situation on the ground, we then pulled together many of our – some of our partners, and following the Secretary’s discuss with Obasanjo, the Secretary, accompanied by Jeffrey Feltman, our special envoy for the Horn of Africa, they hosted a meeting with High Representative Obasanjo, chairman of the International Intergovernmental Authority on Development and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, EU High Representative Joseph Borrell, UK Foreign Minister Elizabeth Truss, German Foreign Minister at the Federal Foreign Office Niels Annen, and French Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Frédéric Clavier, to discuss the conflict. They welcomed the close coordination between the AU and IGAD in pursuit of a peaceful resolution to this crisis, and that’s what we’ll continue to do working —

QUESTION: Can I ask about the scheduling process?

MR PRICE: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The Secretary’s visit to Bogotá, is it still going on as scheduled next week?

MR PRICE: I don’t believe we’ve announced any travel for next week.

QUESTION: Wait, Ned. Do you want to say – go ahead.

QUESTION: No, no, go ahead.

QUESTION: I just want to know if you want to say anything about Ken Merten on camera. But if there’s more important stuff and you don’t —

MR PRICE: Well, as you know —

QUESTION: You clearly don’t care about Haiti anymore, so —

MR PRICE: And that’s – Matt, I am answering the questions that are asked of me. So I —

QUESTION: You had – I was —

MR PRICE: I care about your priorities. So if it has fallen off your priority list —

QUESTION: I think I brought it up at the very top. Did I not? I got the country wrong.

MR PRICE: I’m not sure you ended your sentence with a question mark because oftentimes you don’t. But —

QUESTION: Did you want – did you want to say —

MR PRICE: I am happy to reiterate what the Secretary said. We are  grateful that Ken Merten, an experienced department hand, will be going to serve in Port-au-Prince as our chargé d’affaires. As you know, Ambassador Sison is – has been nominated for an important post here. She has returned to the United States. And we’re grateful that Ken Merten has accepted the ask that he go serve in this important role.

QUESTION: So does that mean that she’s, like, left?

MR PRICE: That’s right. That’s right.

QUESTION: So she’s back here?

MR PRICE: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Just quickly on Ethiopia. I appreciate that you listed the meetings, and thanks for that. But can you talk a little bit about, like, the outcome? Was there, like, a unified stance on the sanctions and any upcoming action with everybody? Did anyone – everyone agree?

MR PRICE: So we will – we will have a readout of this, but I can – I can preview briefly. There was unanimity among these parties in terms of urging the parties to the conflict to immediately end abuses, to enter into negotiations toward a ceasefire, and to lay the foundation for a broader and inclusive dialogue to restore peace in Ethiopia and preserve the unity of the Ethiopian state. All sides were very clear that the parties need to adhere to international law. They need to allow unhindered delivery of humanitarian access to the many – too many – people who are suffering in Ethiopia.

I’ll take a final question here. Elizabeth.

QUESTION: Yesterday President Erdoğan signaled that Turkey was prepared to launch a new offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northern Syria following attacks blamed on the YPG. Does the U.S. have any reaction to those comments? And then just separately, can you confirm Turkey’s reported request to buy F-16s and modernization kits?

MR PRICE: Well, on your first question, what I will say is that we condemn the cross-border attack against our NATO Ally, Turkey. We express our condolences to the families of the Turkish national police officers who were killed in Syria. We underscore the importance of maintaining ceasefire lines and halting cross-border attacks. It is crucial for all sides to maintain and to respect ceasefire zones, to enhance stability in Syria, and to work towards a political solution to the conflict.

When it comes to Turkey, Turkey, as you know, is an important NATO Ally. We have shared interests across any number of areas – countering terrorism, ending the conflict in Syria, deterring malign influence in the region. We also share an interest in sustainably ending the conflict in Syria. And we’ll continue to consult with Ankara on Syria policy, together with Syria’s other neighbors and our broader set of partners in the region, as we seek areas for cooperation.

When it comes to F-16s, it’s just a matter of department policy that we don’t publicly confirm or comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until they have been formally notified to Congress.

Thank you all very much. We will see you later this week.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:15 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – October 7, 2021

2:11 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good to see everyone. Before we get to it, let me just say – just a moment of personal privilege to say thank you for everyone who reached out with the warm wishes and regards over the past couple weeks. I very much appreciate it. I want to also be sure to thank my team and others in the department who were in a position to stand up so I could take a step back for a couple days. The past 10 days have not always been fun, but I’m extraordinarily grateful to have the team around me, to be able to work with all of you, and also extraordinarily grateful to have benefitted from safe and effective vaccines that I know prevented serious illness in this case.

So now we’ll make the pivot from public health to foreign policy. Have just a couple elements at the top.

Today, I have the pleasure of welcoming the Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons Jessica Stern to the department as she officially assumed her duties late last month. This appointment reflects the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to advance and to protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons at home and abroad.

Prior to joining the department, Special Envoy Stern served as Executive Director of OutRight Action International, based in New York, where she specialized in gender, sexuality, and human rights globally.

At OutRight, she helped register LGBTQI+ organizations internationally, secure the mandate of the United Nations Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, expand the UN General Assembly resolution to include gender identity, and founded the UN LGBTQI Core Group. You can read her full biography on the department’s website.

We look forward to working with Special Envoy Stern as she leads department efforts to advance the administration’s priorities, and that includes pursuing an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics.

Finally, we are concerned and disappointed by recent reports from Tunisia on infringements of – on freedom of the press and expression and the use of military courts to investigate civilian cases. It is essential for the Tunisian Government to uphold its commitments to respect human rights as outlined in the Tunisian constitution and affirmed in Presidential Decree 117.

We also urge Tunisia’s president and new prime minister to respond to the Tunisian people’s call for a clear roadmap for a return to a transparent, democratic process, involving civil society and diverse political voices.

So with that, happy to turn to your questions. Start wherever. Matt. Shaun? Sorry, called you Matt.

QUESTION: I won’t imitate.

MR PRICE: Please. I hope you don’t.

QUESTION: Perhaps let’s start in Iran.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: On several developments there. Rob Malley earlier talked today with a senior official from South Korea. This comes as South Korea, the Republic of Korea, is in a dispute with Iran over some $7 billion in frozen assets. Was this a topic of discussion and do you see any headway on that?

MR PRICE: Well, so Special Envoy Malley did, in fact, have a conversation with his counterpart in South Korea. This is not the first conversation they’ve had. Special Envoy Malley routinely speaks to his counterparts in the P5+1, as well as in other parts of the world, and this includes in the Indo-Pacific with our ROK allies in this regard. They spoke and Rob issued a tweet on their conversation to confirm it took place. The ROK has been a stalwart partner. The ROK and we see eye-to-eye when it comes to the utility of a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. When it comes to the issue you referenced, we appreciate the ROK’s vigorous enforcement of existing sanctions. Those sanctions do remain in effect, as you know, until and unless we are able to reach that mutual return to compliance.

QUESTION: So the 7 billion is still – there has been no movement on that, basically it’s still there?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any update on that. That’s right.

QUESTION: Can I ask you something else on Iran before —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Just on – you’ve been asked this many times before, but in terms of the resumption of indirect talks of Vienna, an Iranian official – yesterday I believe it was – said it could resume within days. Do you have anything to say on that, in terms of any —

MR PRICE: Well, we have heard similar statements from the Iranian Government at various levels over the past couple weeks. If you recall, we were talking about this in New York, which seems like it was just last week, a couple weeks ago now. And we have heard from the Iranians that they expect negotiations to resume soon. We hope their definition of soon matches our definition of soon. We would like negotiations to resume in Vienna as soon as possible. We have been saying this not for weeks now, but for months now.

We think it is important for the parties to come back together, to continue, to resume where we left off in Vienna after the sixth round so that we can resume this seventh round on the basis of what we have accomplished to date. We think it is important for a number of reasons, but also because, as we have made very clear, we continue to believe the diplomatic path is open. We continue to believe that a diplomatic approach is the best means to verifiably once again ensure that Iran can never obtain a nuclear weapon with the permanent and verifiable restrictions that the JCPOA put in place.

But we also think a – imminent return to Vienna is necessary because this is not a process that can go on indefinitely. This is not a process that can drag out or that can be dragged out. We are firmly of the belief that we need to work quickly, we need to work with alacrity and a great deal of speed to see to it if we can achieve that mutual return to compliance that we have been sincere and steadfast in seeking to achieve for the better part of a year now.

QUESTION: So is resumption hinging on what? I mean, who’s going to —

MR PRICE: It’s hinging on the Iranians.

QUESTION: Who’s going to take the —

MR PRICE: It is hinging on the Iranians. We have made very clear that we are prepared, willing, and able to return to Vienna as soon as we have a partner to negotiate with indirectly. We have also made clear that we would be happy to engage in direct negotiations. And in fact, this process would be much more effective if we had a direct negotiating partner. The Iranians have not been willing to do that, as we know. The Iranians have heretofore not been willing to return to Vienna just yet. We have heard these repeated statements of soon, of within days. Again, we hope their lexicon matches ours when it comes to this.

Andrea.

QUESTION: Thank you. And we’re all really happy to see you well.

MR PRICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: It’s a great advertisement for vaccinations.

MR PRICE: Yes, thank you.

QUESTION: On Iran, can you expand on the conversations between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov in terms of what the Russians are willing to do, if they are, to help persuade the Iranians to come back to the talks? And I have a follow-up.

MR PRICE: Well, the Secretary did have an opportunity to speak to Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday. The brunt of the conversation was on the mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. We have – of course, it goes without saying, we have a number of profound disagreements with the Russian Federation. There are areas where our interests do align, and this is one of them. Russia, the Russian Federation, is an original member of the P5+1. Russia has been constructive in its engagements in the context of the P5+1. We agree with the Russian Federation that Iran should not be able to acquire a nuclear weapon. That is precisely why we and the Russians agree on this one issue that we should resume negotiations in Vienna as soon as possible. The Russians similarly read out this call, made similar points. This is one of those issues where our interests do, in fact, overlap.

QUESTION: And there was – a number of years ago, there were a number of conversations, before the JCPOA, about the Russians being involved in a deal with the Iranians on buying some of their processed uranium. Is there any thought of that, of the Russians stepping in in any way?

MR PRICE: Well, right now the thought is on resuming the mutual compliance with the JCPOA, testing the proposition that we can achieve that mutual return to compliance. The United States, the Russian Federation, our other partners in the P5+1 context – all of us are united in the belief that the JCPOA continues to provide the best and the most effective framework for achieving our mutual interests. And it is a mutual interest on the part of the United States, of France, of Germany, of the United Kingdom, of the European Union, of Russia and China, that Iran should not be able to acquire a nuclear weapon.

So look, we’re not entertaining at the moment, or at least not discussing publicly, other modalities, other alternatives because we still have a framework in the form of the JCPOA that would provide precisely what we would like to see, precisely what our partners and allies in the P5+1 would like to see, and what Iran was willing to agree to as recently as 2015, implementation in 2016, and certainly, the last government in Iran being willing to engage in good-faith, businesslike – indirect but businesslike – negotiations in Vienna. That’s what we would like to see happen to see if we can affect that mutual return to compliance.

Yes.

QUESTION: Change in topic?

MR PRICE: Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: I just – I have one more Iran question.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: But I also have another question on another topic. The – Namazi – I saw the tweet earlier this week.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Are you getting any indications that Iran is going to offer any kind of humanitarian gesture on that case?

MR PRICE: Well, this – these are cases that I will say a couple things about. These are cases that in the first instance we are prioritizing to the utmost degree. This is something we have done in parallel but independently of discussions regarding a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, precisely because we do not want or wish to tie – potentially tie the fates of detained Americans and other – and others to the fate of a proposition that has always been uncertain.

We want to see these Americans released. They have been held against their will for far too long. The fact that they have been held against their will unjustly – without basis, without cause, for this period, for any period – is an abomination. It is especially jarring in this case, in the case of Mr. Namazi given the serious medical condition that he has, his need to receive urgent medical care.

And so we are appealing and we have appealed to the Iranian Government to do what is right, to do what is just, to do what is humane in this and all cases, and to release Mr. Namazi and the other unjustly detained Americans in their custody. We have long made the point that using human beings, individuals, for political leverage has no place in foreign policy, it has no place in the international system. It does not afford any country, whether that is Iran or any other country, any additional leverage. And in fact, it just leads to international condemnation.

We have worked closely with a number of our allies and partners. We’ve recently spoken to this in the Canadian context. And in fact, our Canadian allies have launched an initiative to establish a norm to see to it that the practice of holding individuals for the purposes of political leverage is something that is cast aside, is something that no country resorts to. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do. We are working this in the case of Iran; we are working this in the case of all other countries where this occurs.

QUESTION: I have an Afghanistan question, but I can come back after.

MR PRICE: Sure. Okay, go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Thanks. Thank you. Good to see you. Welcome back.

MR PRICE: Yes, thank you.

QUESTION: So the Secretary is in Mexico tomorrow and he will be talking about security arrangements. The Mexicans say maybe that is dead, this agreement that has been sort of the bedrock of U.S.-Mexican security relations for more than a decade is dead. Do you agree that – do you, the State Department, the Biden administration agree that Merida is dead or at least has outlived its usefulness (a)? And (b) as you negotiate a new arrangement, what are the two or three elements that the U.S. really wants to see in any kind of future security arrangement with Mexico?

MR PRICE: Well, as you alluded to, the Secretary will be in Mexico tomorrow, on Friday, to take part in this High-Level Security Dialogue. He’ll be there with his counterparts from Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and the Homeland Security Secretary to discuss precisely this set of issues.

When it comes to Merida, look, this is an initiative that has been on the books for I think it is 13 years now. We believe we are due for an updated look at our bilateral security cooperation and that we need an approach that addresses the concerns and the priorities of both governments. And this will really be one of the core elements of the discussions tomorrow.

Our foreign assistance has supported deeper law enforcement assistance and coordination and information sharing between our countries, and it has helped strengthen ties between our security agencies and helped strengthen that security relationship more broadly. We also know that the Merida Initiative helped Mexico strengthen rule of law and counternarcotics capacity and has enabled Mexican law enforcement agencies international accreditation at the federal and state levels, resulting in increased transparency, professionalization of institutions, and respect for human rights. And our security cooperation has strengthened as threats from fentanyl and illicit finance has evolved.

So all of this will be on the table and more – tomorrow – will be on the table. The Merida Initiative has produced some significant gains. We want to see to it that those gains are preserved, that that cooperation is deepened, and that we have an updated approach that accounts for the threats of today and the threats that have evolved over the course of the, some, 15 years that Merida has been in place.

Yes.

QUESTION: So you’re saying those gains, but in perhaps a new forum or a new agreement?

MR PRICE: We don’t have anything to announce yet in terms of what that might look like, what that might mean, but certainly we want to see to it that our mutually beneficial cooperation with Mexico continues on these important security matters. The High-Level Security Dialogue tomorrow will be the natural complement to the Economic Dialogue that took place with our Mexican partners a couple weeks ago now. You had an opportunity to hear from the Secretary yesterday just how productive those discussions were on the economic front. I know that the Secretary – I know that our counterparts from DHS and the Department of Justice – are similarly hoping and expecting for a constructive discussion on the security issues tomorrow in an effort to deepen that cooperation further.

Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. I wanted to add my voice to my colleagues in welcoming you and seeing you behind the podium there.

MR PRICE: Thanks very much.

QUESTION: A very quick couple of questions on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. The Israeli press reported yesterday that the Biden administration is – quietly and behind the scenes – is putting pressure on the Israeli Government to freeze settlements. You know there was a big, I guess, plan or a huge plan or a huge settlement – can you comment on this? Do you guys – what is your position on the settlements?

MR PRICE: Well, part of your question I will comment on; part of your question I won’t comment on. I’ll start with the latter. We don’t comment on private diplomatic conversations, private conversations that may be taking place, whether that’s between the Secretary and his counterpart and the President and his counterpart. But what we have said many times before is that we believe it is critical for all parties to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-step – two-state solution. That, of course, includes settlement activity.

QUESTION: No, Ned – I mean, you guys have always stuck to this line about anything that would prejudice a two-station solution outcome and so on. But in fact, you say unilateral steps. We’re talking about one side who is doing this, which is Israel. It is taking the land. It is throwing people out. It is making the two-state outcome almost impossible. So what is there left for the United States to do in order to pressure Israel to end these activities that actually render the two-state solution almost impossible to attain?

MR PRICE: Said, the two-state solution is something we discuss with our Israeli partners at just about every opportunity. It continues to be the guiding principle for our approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it continues to be the guiding principle, the guiding framework, for a simple reason: The two-state solution is the best means by which to protect Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state while affording to the Palestinian people what they have long sought, and that includes self-determination, dignity, safety, security, prosperity in a state of their own. And so that is why we’ve remained focused on this.

Look, we don’t always – in fact we never read out our private diplomatic conversations, the back and forth we have, whether that’s with our Israeli partners or any partner around the world. But suffice to say we have made our position very clear, and when it comes to unilateral action like settlement activity, we have also made that very clear. And in fact, I just reiterated where the United States stands on settlement activity. There should be no question about that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on the settler violence. It is – I know you guys addressed that last week, but this has increased. I mean, the settlers are not deterred. The Israeli Government is not doing – Israeli forces are not doing anything. They just watch as they attack. Today they attacked a seven-year-old girl. I mean, it’s happening every single day. They’re throwing people out and so on. Why can’t you take a stronger stand on settler violence?

MR PRICE: Said, I think we have taken a strong stand on settler violence, and you saw our statement the other day. We made very clear in that statement that the United States Government – that this administration strongly condemns the acts of settler violence that took place against Palestinians in villages near Hebron and the West Bank on September 28th. We appreciate Foreign Minister Lapid and other Israeli officials’ strong and unequivocal condemnations – condemnation of this violence.

And again, look, we believe it is critical for all parties to refrain from those unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and, again, undercut efforts to achieve a negotiated two-state solution. That includes, as I was saying before in a different context, annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions and evictions, incitement to violence, and providing compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism. We have been very clear on all of those things, just as we were on the settler violence you referenced within recent days.

Yes, Michele.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Senator Blumenthal says that two charter flights have left Mazar-e-Sharif and made it to Doha with 800 Americans and Afghan allies. I wonder, one, what role the State Department played in any of that, and two, how many Americans do you think are still in need of evacuation.

MR PRICE: Well, let me start with that second question first. This is a figure that continues to be dynamic, and it continues to be dynamic because it’s a number that goes down with each flight, with each overland transfer, with each departure of a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident from Afghanistan for those who wish to do so. It also goes up because – especially in recent weeks because we have been quite successful with our efforts to facilitate the departure of Americans and lawful permanent residents and others who wish to depart Afghanistan. You’ve seen that in the context of the flights that have departed from Kabul International Airport; you referenced some of the private charter flights as well. I made a reference to overland transfers additionally.

Since August 31st, we have assisted 105 U.S. citizens and 95 lawful permanent residents to depart. An additional number of U.S. citizens and LPRs have departed on charters or have independently – on their own – crossed a land border. Those figures that I cited – 105 citizens and 95 lawful permanent residents – those are individuals that the United States Government directly facilitated, whose departure they directly – we directly facilitated, I should say. When it comes to the issue of charters, we are not in a position to confirm private charters that depart Kabul and – that depart Kabul or Mazar-e-Sharif, as the case might be, because of operational security considerations, because of our desire not to, in any way, impede such operations.

But let me make a couple broad points. When it comes to private efforts to facilitate the departure of Americans, of lawful permanent residents, and others from Afghanistan, there are a really two elements to relocating these groups of people: One, there is arranging the departure and safe passage out of Afghanistan, but there is also the issue of where these individuals can go temporarily as well as eventually to resettle permanently. And when it comes to the Department of State, we have been working very closely with the Department of Defense and other interagency partners, as well as with many of these outside groups and entities, to evaluate requests for assistance on a case-by-case basis to support these privately organized flights.

This support takes any number of forms, but it does involve evaluating the passenger manifests provided to us by the private groups or – by the private group or groups, as the case might be, organizing these flights to see which proposed passengers, if any, may be potentially eligible for permanent resettlement in the United States through some affiliation with the U.S. Government. Now, in many cases – and you have heard this from many of these private groups – we have provided that direct and effective assistance. Again, we don’t confirm on a case-by-case basis, but many of the groups have spoken to our assistance and support.

That is not to say that these private charters are not without challenge, and we have also spoken of the challenges that these present. We’ve made the point that without personnel on the ground in Mazar-e-Sharif, in this case, it is – we are unable to ensure the fidelity of intended manifests, and there is no ability on the part of the U.S. Government directly to determine whether the passengers aboard the plane would be eligible for relocation or for resettlement in the United States.

Now, there have been several instances in which private entities have chartered aircraft to transport individuals out of Afghanistan where identity checks on arrival at transit destinations have revealed that many of the passengers were not, in fact, eligible for relocation to the United States and, in some cases, that despite our best vetting and vetting to the best of our ability, the manifests were not accurate.

And when this happens, it does put these individuals in a very difficult spot. It puts them at risk with no plan for relocation to the United States. It has the potential – we are cognizant of the fact that it has the potential to damage the bilateral relationship when it involves landing in a third country, as it does in these cases. And it makes it more difficult for the U.S. Government to rely on partner countries to assist in future relocations out of Afghanistan.

So that is why we go to great and I would say extraordinary efforts on the front end, working with groups or individual groups, to do all we can to vet manifests on the front end, to provide each and every form of assistance we can, to see to it that where there are manifests where we feel we have a good sense of the fidelity of that manifest and that manifest provides us with an ability to relocate, to move many of these people through the system and ultimately to relocate them to the United States, we have been in a position to provide that assistance on any number of occasions. But again, we just don’t speak about individual flights for that reason.

So sticking with Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Mexico? Afghanistan?

MR PRICE: Afghanistan. We’ll come back to Mexico.

QUESTION: Could you answer the question —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: — on how many Americans do you think are left since you’ve taken a hundred out and you were telling us about a hundred were there, but that number changes? And then, if you are facilitating to the extent that you just talked about, trying to validate these passenger manifests, and you’ve said before you’re working on landing rights for some of these flights – at least you were – you have to have some idea of the number of people who’ve gotten out on charter flights. Can you give us guidance on either of those things?

MR PRICE: Well, we are, again, striving to provide data that is both timely and that is accurate, and the data that is most accurate is that data that entails operations that the United States Government ourselves have facilitated. And so that’s why we have until now spoken to the 105 U.S. citizens and 95 LPRs that we have directly – whose departure from Afghanistan we have directly facilitated.

We are aware of other U.S. citizens and LPRs who have been aboard private charter flights. We have a sense of that from the manifests. But again, where these operations are not ones that we are directly facilitating, in the first instance we have usually less fidelity there, and so we are reticent to provide precise figures there, although in the case of many of these private charters I know groups have provided their own numbers to give you some sense of roughly what this universe may look like.

When it comes to the number of Americans who remain in Afghanistan, this is a figure, again, that is dynamic. We said as of a couple weeks ago the figure was around a hundred Americans in Afghanistan who wished to depart at that time. This – of course, since then, several dozen Americans have departed Afghanistan with our assistance or via other means. But we’re also aware that, again, as we have demonstrated our ability to affect the departure from Afghanistan of Americans who wish to leave, others have raised their hands. And so this is a number that is changing by the day and it is a number that is by no means static. So —

QUESTION: Blumenthal says dozens are in contact with his office. So is it dozens? Is that —

MR PRICE: We are certainly in contact with dozens of Americans in Afghanistan who wish to leave, but it is difficult for us to put a firm figure on it, just because people are departing, and as Americans in Afghanistan who previously may not have made themselves known to us or previously may have told us “I am content to stay here” or “I am going to stay here” for various reasons, as they see our ability to facilitate the departure of Americans and LPRs, they are raising their hands for the first time or changing their calculus after seeing that.

Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PRICE: Conor. Sure.

QUESTION: The number that you provided of 105 U.S. citizens and 95 LPRs, that’s the same number from about a week and a half ago.

MR PRICE: That’s right.

QUESTION: Why haven’t any – has there been difficulty getting in touch with people? Why haven’t you been able to facilitate more Americans getting out?

MR PRICE: It’s a combination of a number of things. There are – there is a universe of Americans who wish to leave. There is a smaller universe of Americans who are fully prepared to leave in various ways, whether that means they or their family members have travel documents, are ready to leave at this moment. That’s a smaller universe than the universe of Americans that we’re in touch with that have expressed some desire to leave. We work closely with our partners on – when it comes to flights, and when it comes to flights departing Kabul International Airport. We have continued to work very closely with our Qatari partners on this as well. As you know, they have been able to facilitate the departure of dozens of Americans and LPRs on charters aboard their aircraft. We have also been able to do this via overland routes. We are continuing to work with partners and to communicate with Americans on the ground on – regarding future opportunities to depart Afghanistan should they choose to do so.

QUESTION: When we were given that number – I think it was a senior State Department official who said that there were about 100 U.S. citizens and LPRs in Kabul ready to go that you guys were working with. Did that group get out?

MR PRICE: So I believe what you’re referring to was just a few days ago when that senior State Department official made that statement. We have – there have not, to my knowledge, been any USG-facilitated flights departing Kabul International Airport since then, but this is something that we are always in the background working to arrange with our Qatari partners, working closely with our Turkish partners on the ground as well when it comes to KIA operations. And then we’re in constant and regular touch with Americans regarding other avenues to depart the country if they should choose to do so, including overland.

QUESTION: Were the Turkish involved in it?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: There’s apparently – can you provide any update on the number of Afghans who were evacuated and then have been sort of red-flagged and had to be moved elsewhere? How large is that group of people and what your plans are to do with them.

MR PRICE: So I cannot – the Department of Homeland Security may be in a better position to provide you specific figures. What I can say is that the processing, the security vetting that you’re referring to is a process that entails reviews by the Department of Homeland Security, by law enforcement, by our Intelligence Community. In many cases, these reviews are able to be conducted expeditiously and result in an all-clear in a relatively short period of time. There have been cases where we have been unable to secure an expeditious resolution of a particular case. In such instances, additional checking does tend to verify that the person is who she or he says they are, and that person is able to continue on with their journey. So sometimes it does take a bit longer, but the continuous checks and vetting – in nearly all cases that I’m aware of – has resulted in resolution and the ability of individuals to continue their travel in relatively short order.

Yes, please, hello.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you something about India, about Deputy Secretary Sherman’s visit to India. What are the key points of her travel, visit there? What were the main issues of discussions during her meetings in Delhi?

MR PRICE: Well, the Deputy Secretary, as you said, has been in India over the past couple days. I – she is – has just concluded her visit and she will be moving on to Pakistan from there. She has had an opportunity to go engage substantively and constructively with some of our key interlocutors. She had a meeting with the Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla. They discussed, as we often do with our Indian partners, growing security, economic, and Indo-Pacific convergence between India and the United States, including around topics that are of mutual interest to both of our countries: ending the COVID-19 pandemic, combating the climate crisis, and accelerating clean energy deployment, deepening trade and investment ties, and expanding cooperation on cybersecurity and emerging technology.

We, of course, have worked closely with India over the course of many months now, after an announcement that emerged from the first virtual Quad Leaders’ Summit, about India’s role as a key COVID vaccine manufacturer for the region. And so this is one of the many areas where we have enjoyed a deep and collaborative relationship with India. In the course of that meeting, they also discussed pressing regional and global security challenges. That includes those posed by events in Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, the People’s Republic of China. They also discussed ongoing efforts to return Myanmar to a path to democracy.

The deputy also had an opportunity to meet with Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr. Jaishankar. They discussed some of these same issues. But overall, this was an opportunity for the United States to deepen our strategic partnership with India, a partnership that affords opportunities for both countries and a partnership that is incredibly important to us as we seek to underscore and to underline a free and open Indo-Pacific. And India to us, as member of the Quad, as an important geopolitical partner, is an instrumental element to that overarching goal.

QUESTION: One quick one. Were they able to decide on the dates for the 2+2 next month here in D.C.?

MR PRICE: I don’t have anything to announce in terms of a future meeting.

Andrea.

QUESTION: Do you have any better understanding of China’s intentions regarding Taiwan after Jake Sullivan’s meetings? And anything else about the fact that this will only be a virtual meeting between the two leaders rather than an in-person meeting? And —

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: It’s okay.

MR PRICE: So when it comes to Taiwan, let me take that first. And you’ve heard from the State Department – you’ve heard from the White House on this in recent days. But we are very concerned by the PRC’s provocative military actions near Taiwan. As we said, this activity is destabilizing, it risks miscalculations, it undermines regional peace and stability. And so we strongly urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan.

We’ve said this many times before, but our commitment to Taiwan is rock solid. And it contributes, we believe, to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the broader region as well. And so we’ll continue to stand with our friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values, and we’ll continue to deepen our ties with a democratic Taiwan.

The other point I would make is one of the elements that I think distinguishes our approach, not only to the PRC but also our approach to Taiwan, is that it is not something that we are speaking to ourselves. And you have seen over the course of many months now that we have been able to raise the priority of this issue on the agenda. It featured in the joint statement with Prime Minister Suga in April of 2021, when he visited the White House. It similarly featured in the joint statement after President Moon’s visit in May of this year. The G7 communique in June of this year made a reference to the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. And the more recent AUSMIN statement from last month, September of this year, says that Taiwan holds an important role in the Indo-Pacific region, and we invite – we invite you to join us in maintaining and expanding strong ties with Taiwan.

So this is something that, consistent with our broader approach to the Indo-Pacific, consistent with our broader approach to the PRC, we have worked concertedly with allies, with partners in Europe, in the Indo-Pacific, around the world, to make very clear not only where the United States stands, but also where we stand together with our allies and partners.

Yes, Michel.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the so-called virtual summit?

MR PRICE: In terms of the virtual summit, I know that the White House made clear yesterday that President Biden and President Xi would have an opportunity to convene virtually before the end of the year, but I don’t have any additional details beyond that.

Yes.

QUESTION: First on Libya, the U.S. has been pushing the Libyans to hold the elections on December 24th, but yesterday the parliament has postponed Libya’s legislative elections until January instead of being held on December 24th as planned. Are you aware of that? Do you have any comment? And how will you deal with this?

MR PRICE: We are aware of that. Our goal when it comes to Libya is a sovereign, stable, unified, and secure Libya with no foreign interference and a democratically elected government that supports human rights and development and that is capable of combating terrorism within our[1] borders. And so that’s why we have increased our diplomatic focus on supporting that progress in Libya, including through the work of our Special Envoy Richard Norland.

Now, we know that elections – free and fair elections – are a core part of that. There is an urgent need for Libyan leaders to come up with creative compromises on an electoral framework. As we underscored in Berlin in the conference that Foreign Minister Maas convened in June and the UN Security Council session on Libya the following month in July, the international community expects national elections to take place in the roadmap adopted by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, and we welcomed that in UN Security Council Resolution 2570 in April.

So the conduct of free and fair elections, holding of free and fair elections, is extraordinarily important to us. It is something that we will continue to work with our partners in the international community to continue to support as we work to help the Libyan people achieve their broader aspirations.

QUESTION: Ned, do you prefer both elections, presidential and parliamentary elections, to be held on the same day instead of being held one in December and the second in January?

MR PRICE: I don’t know if we have a position on that. If we do, we’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: And one more, Ned, or two more. One on Egypt: A delegation of Egyptian parliamentarians and politicians is visiting Washington this week to discuss human rights in Egypt. Did any official in this building meet with the delegation?

MR PRICE: Yes, I can confirm that our Acting Assistant Secretary for our Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert did meet with members of the dialogue – of the dialogue international task force visiting today from Egypt. We welcome this visit and the opportunity to discuss our ongoing concerns about human rights in Egypt. The delegation included two individuals nominated by Egypt’s parliament to the National Council for Human Rights. That’s Chairman Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat and board member and Ambassador Moushira Khattab.

We have, as we’ve made very clear, concerns related to human rights in Egypt, and we’ve relayed those concerns directly to Egyptian authorities on any number of occasions. Such meetings can provide productive ways to engage on these concerns and show the United States can support – show United States support for Egypt in achieving the objectives set out in its own national human rights strategy which it launched last month.

QUESTION: And last on Iran, Iran-Lebanon: A third tanker containing a shipment of Iranian oil destined for Lebanon docked in Syria’s Baniyas port on Wednesday, and they are on their way to Lebanon. Are you aware of that too, and what’s your reaction?

MR PRICE: We are aware of that, and what we would say is that, broadly speaking, fuel from a country subject to extensive sanctions like Iran is not very clearly a sustainable solution to Lebanon’s energy crisis. We support efforts to find transparent and sustainable energy solutions that will address Lebanon’s acute energy and fuel shortages. This is, in our minds, Hizballah playing a public relations game, not engaged in constructive problem solving.

QUESTION: And what about the sanctions on Iran?

MR PRICE: Again, there is no change in terms of our approach to these sanctions. We do not foresee that until and unless we are able to achieve a mutual return to compliance, as we are eagerly seeking to do.

We’ll move around. I haven’t – please.

QUESTION: Thanks. I have a question about China. There’s been a lot of focus on the tone of the meeting yesterday, especially compared to the one in March in Alaska. And people kind of thinking about what that might mean for the U.S.-China relationship and where it’s going. So I was hoping you could clarify just kind of a fundamental question about where things stand right now, which is: Has anything at all changed in the U.S.-China relationship and where it’s going between that first meeting in March and right now?

MR PRICE: Well, look, I think there is a mistaken assumption out there that our relationship with the PRC is binary, that either we’re in a period of engagement with the PRC or we’re in a period of confrontation with the PRC. That is fundamentally just not how it works, at least it’s not how it works today.

Our relationship with Beijing is one that is dynamic; it is one that is multifaceted; it is one that at its core is defined by stiff competition. And the point of this engagement is to see to it that through dialogue, including at high levels, as took place yesterday between the National Security Adviser and Director Yang – to see to it that we can manage this competition responsibly. That is the dynamic that is with us now; it’s what we expect the dynamic to be going forward.

There are – when it comes to our relationship with the PRC, there are areas of competition. And again, most of our engagement with the PRC is predicated on this idea of competition, and in many cases stiff competition. It is a relationship that, in some ways, is adversarial. And our goal, of course, is to minimize these points of friction in the relationship, and part of that is engaging constructively in dialogue with our partners, with the PRC.

And there are also areas where there is room for cooperation, and we’ve spoken to some of those areas for cooperation and potential areas for cooperation: working together on climate change, committing to it that we work together, that we work constructively to address the existential challenge of climate change, the existential threat of climate change that poses that very threat not only to the United States but also to the PRC. And it’s especially important that we do so when you have the world’s largest emitter and the world’s second largest emitter coming to the table and taking responsible action and demonstrating leadership, raising that level of ambition, not only for the sake of our own two countries, but also to galvanize action on the part of countries the world over.

So we will – and you heard from the White House yesterday there will be an opportunity for the President to engage directly with President Xi in the coming months. This is very much part of that belief that in order to manage the relationship, in order to establish and reinforce those guardrails on the relationship there needs to be dialogue. It doesn’t fundamentally shift the nature of the relationship. It is a relationship that is complex; it is a relationship that is dynamic; it’s a relationship that’s multifaceted. And when it comes to the PRC or any other challenge that we face, we can do multiple things at once.

Daphne.

QUESTION: On Mexico, could you share a bit more what the U.S. hopes to see come out of the security dialogue tomorrow? Will the U.S. raise Haitian migrants moving to the U.S. border through Mexico, and what will that message be, if so? And should we expect any sort of announcement on the Merida Initiative?

MR PRICE: I don’t want to get too far ahead of tomorrow because tomorrow is another day, but also because we are doing a call to preview this engagement this afternoon. I will just say that this dialogue comes at an opportune moment, and it’s opportune because the threats of the 21st century are complex, they are dynamic. They are also threats that we need to confront together. These are threats that are transnational. These are threats that, by definition, know no borders. And so that is why this dialogue, the highest-level dialogue to date in this administration of this sort, will build on previous discussions that we’ve had with our Mexican partners, in terms of how to protect our people, how to prevent transborder crime, how to best pursue criminal networks, while also promoting human rights and the rule of law.

So we’ll have much more to say on this today and, of course, the Secretary and his counterparts will have more to say tomorrow.

QUESTION: Completely separate issue, Western Sahara.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: The Secretary put a statement yesterday welcoming Staffan de Mistura’s appointment as the UN special representative on Western Sahara. Could you go into what you’re expecting from this in terms of his discussions, the U.S. position that Western Sahara is under Moroccan sovereignty? Is that a position that is up for review? Is that something you’re willing to discuss? What do you see —

MR PRICE: Well, as you heard from the Secretary yesterday, we strongly support Personal Envoy de Mistura’s leadership in resuming the UN-led political process to advance a durable and dignified solution to the conflict in Western Sahara. We will actively support his efforts to promote a peaceful and prosperous future for the people of Western Sahara and the broader region. We remain engaged with all sides in support of that effort and will support a credible, UN-led, political process to stabilize the situation and secure a cessation of any hostilities. We are consulting with the parties about how best to achieve that lasting settlement. We don’t have anything further to announce at this time. As I’ve said, we are consulting with the parties about how best to achieve that lasting settlement.

QUESTION: So the U.S. still considers Western Sahara to be under Moroccan – to be legitimately part of Morocco?

MR PRICE: We don’t have anything to announce beyond what we’ve said.

Yes.

QUESTION: So I have a question on China and North Korea, and I seriously think we should talk more about Indo-Pacific if the United States is serious – seriously think the Indo-Pacific is important. So anyway – so regarding China, President Biden said that he and President Xi will abide by a Taiwan agreement. Of course, he meant the agreement about Taiwan, but it just caused some confusion and anxiety in Taiwan, so can you just clarify what he meant with that Taiwan agreement?

And my second question is about North Korea. And so the World Health Organization has started shipment of COVID medical supply to North Korea, and I remember like three weeks ago the U.S. special envoy, Ambassador Sung Kim, he said that he was prepared to closely work with North Korea to address humanitarian concerns. And so do you – can you share any progress on that, like, front?

MR PRICE: Sure, I’ll take those in turn. First, on Taiwan, the President, the State Department, we have been clear and consistent that our policy for some four decades now has – that is to say, our “One China” policy – has been guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, by the three joint communiques, and the six assurances provided to Taipei. Those documents form the basis of our approach to Taiwan and to cross-strait relations.

When it comes to North Korea, look, we’ve made this point the world over: Even when we disagree with a particular regime, we believe that we must work to the best of our ability to do all we can to alleviate the suffering of the people. And so we continue to support international efforts aimed at the provision of critical humanitarian aid to the DPRK. It’s important to emphasize, at the same time, that the DPRK regime itself is primarily responsible for the humanitarian situation in the country. The regime continues to exploit its own citizens, to violate their human rights, to divert resources from the country’s people to build up its unlawful WMD and ballistic missiles program.

But we do support efforts to alleviate the suffering of the North Korean people. We are involved in efforts to facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid to the neediest in North Korea. This is most evident, I would say, in our ongoing work to expedite approval – approvals in the UN 1718 Committee for organizations from around the world to deliver lifesaving aid to the DPRK.

QUESTION: So I have one follow-up question on that. So yesterday the UN special representative for human rights in North Korea, he said that – basically he called on – that the UN sanctions against North Korea should be reviewed and eased to facilitate humanitarian assistance. So – and so can you just clarify how the United States view the relations between the UN sanctions against North Korea and the humanitarian aid?

MR PRICE: Well, I believe he was referring to the UN sanctions regime, not the U.S. sanctions regime. Look, we have made very clear that our policy calls for a calibrated, practical approach that seeks serious and sustained diplomacy with the DPRK to make tangible progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies, and our deployed forces. Our goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and to that end we remain prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions – anytime, anywhere. We have made specific proposals for discussions with the DPRK in our messages to them, and we hope that they respond positively to our outreach.

Again, we support efforts to alleviate the humanitarian suffering of the North Korean people, cognizant that, again, it is far too often the regime that is the cause of that suffering. We also know that our – whether it’s our own sanctions regime, whether it’s the UN sanctions regime, there are certainly carveouts in these regimes to ensure that in the first instance we are not doing anything that would compound the suffering, the deprivation of the North Korean people.

Thank you all very much. We’ll see you next week.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:11 p.m.)

 

  1. its

 

Department Press Briefing – October 4, 2021

2:03 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. I don’t have anything at the top, other than to note what I imagine to be another first for this administration, and that is a press briefing conducted from COVID-19-induced quarantine. But in all honestly, it’s very good to begin to re-emerge and to engage with all of you. I look forward to rejoining you in person later this week.

So with that, why don’t we turn to questions. We can start with the line of Shaun Tandon, please.

QUESTION: Hey, Ned, I hope you’re doing well. Thanks for doing this. Could I ask you for a reaction on two things that are unrelated? In Korea, North and South Korea have restored their communication hotline. I wanted to see if you had any reaction to that. How significant do you see this in light of the recent tensions and the recent launches?

Also on Nord Stream, the operating company has said that they’re beginning to fill up the pipeline. Do you have any reaction to that? Do you foresee any additional efforts by the United States to try to stop it, or is it really too late at this point? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Shaun. So on your first question on diplomacy between the two Koreas: Look, our policy calls for a calibrated, practical approach that seeks serious and sustained diplomacy with the DPRK to make tangible progress that increases the security of the United States, that of our allies, and that of our deployed forces.

Our goal, as you’ve heard – and this was the goal that emanated from the policy review we undertook – remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And we remain prepared, as we’ve said, to meet with DPRK officials without preconditions. In our messages, we have made specific proposals for discussions with the DPRK, and we hope the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach. We continue to consult closely with our allies at the same time – and of course, that includes the Republic of Korea; that includes Japan, other allies and partners – regarding how best to engage with the DPRK on that overarching goal.

When it comes to the re-establishment of inter-Korean communications, we have said this before, but we support inter-Korean dialogue and engagement as well as cooperation, and we’ll continue to work with our ROK partners to that end.

When it comes to Nord Stream, we don’t have a specific response to the announcement you referenced today. Our policy, as we’ve made very clear, including in the context of the announcement of the joint statement with Germany some months ago, we continue to oppose this pipeline. We continue to believe it is a geopolitical project of the Russian Federation. And we will continue, consistent with the law, to – we will continue to apply the law consistent with our periodic reviews, which, of course, remain ongoing.

We will go to the line of Daphne Psaledakis.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thanks for doing this. Hope you’re feeling better. A couple questions for you. First on Ethiopia, the seven UN staff declared persona non grata by the Ethiopian Government have left the country to ensure their safety. What action is the U.S. planning to take given the UN Security Council won’t take any? Do you have any update on if and when the new EO might be used in response to this?

And then on China’s air incursions near Taiwan, it’s a pretty unprecedented level. Does the State Department think that China is responding to the stepped-up U.S. military presence in the region?

MR PRICE: Thanks for those. I’ll start with Ethiopia, and you heard from us, from Secretary Blinken in fact, on this. But we strongly condemn the Government of Ethiopia’s expulsion of seven UN officials, and we call for an immediate reversal of this decision. The officials expelled from the country include a senior official from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as well as the head of both the United Nations Children’s Fund and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, whose work is so critical to the ongoing humanitarian relief efforts. And this announcement came just days after OCHA Chief Martin Griffiths warned that a man-made famine is taking hold in Ethiopia. That’s why these expulsions are counter-productive to international efforts to keep civilians safe and to deliver lifesaving humanitarian assistance to the millions in dire need.

The UN is also conducting important human rights investigations, which is why these expulsions are so troublesome. It is critical that these individuals be allowed to return to Ethiopia in order to carry out their important lifesaving work and duties.

Daphne, you referenced the EO. This was the executive order that on September 17th President Biden issued to establish a new sanctions regime that authorizes the imposition of targeted economic sanctions in connection with the crisis in northern Ethiopia. We have been very clear: We will not hesitate to use this authority or other tools to respond to those who obstruct humanitarian assistance to the people of Ethiopia or a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and we call on the international community, similarly, to employ all appropriate tools to apply pressure on the Government of Ethiopia and any other actors impeding humanitarian access. We urge the Government of Ethiopia to collaboratively work with the UN and international partners to allow – to allow and facilitate safe and unhindered humanitarian access to all in need. That has been a longstanding call of ours.

When it comes to Taiwan and the recent activity we’ve seen, we are, as we’ve said in a statement over the weekend, very concerned by the PRC’s provocative military activity near Taiwan. This activity is destabilizing, it risks miscalculations, and it undermines regional peace and stability. We strongly urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan. Our commitment to Taiwan is rock solid. It contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region, and we’ll continue to stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values. We will do that as we continue to deepen our ties with Taiwan.

Look, when it comes to what we’re seeing, we’re not going to speculate on motivations. We will just reiterate that our commitment to Taiwan is rock solid, and over the years it has certainly contributed to the maintenance of peace and stability across the strait and within the broader region.

We’ll go to Michele Kelemen, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have a question about Iran – sorry – and the Namazi family. They say that Baquer Namazi needs surgery within the next week to prevent a major stroke. I’m wondering if you are raising that case with Iranians directly, whether you hold Iran responsible for his health, and whether there’s any sign of any negotiations on the hostage issue. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Michele. So on that, as you know, even with the talks in Vienna focused squarely on the nuclear program, we have taken advantage of every single opportunity to raise the cases of Americans and other foreign nationals who are unjustly held against their will by Iran. We have made very clear to Tehran that this practice is unacceptable, it does not give Tehran any leverage, and the world is united against this abhorrent practice of holding human beings, holding individuals, for political leverage.

We have continued to work these cases and to raise our concerns together with our international partners and allies. As you know, Michele, with these cases the work is often more effective when it is done out of the public spotlight, so we’re not in a position to go into great detail in terms of how we do this. But let me leave no doubt that the safe return of these Americans who have been unjustly held in Iran for far too long is a top priority of this administration, it has been a top priority of this administration, and it will continue to be a top priority of this administration as long as these individuals are held against their will.

We’ll go to Ellen Nickmeyer.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. I’m glad you seem to be doing okay.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Ellen. Appreciate that.

QUESTION: Sure. Let’s see, on Pandora, King Abdullah of Jordan is – his country is one of the biggest recipients of U.S. aid. They get hundreds of millions of dollars annually. And the Pandora investigation says since 1995 he has used shell companies to buy 14 houses, including a $23 million California mansion. Is that – does that use of money and that emphasis on kind of luxury purchases, is that going to have any impact on U.S. aid to Jordan? Is it going to cause any evaluation or is it causing any reconsideration of any funding?

MR PRICE: Thanks, Ellen. So let me start with the Pandora, so-called Pandora papers broadly, and then I’ll speak for a moment to these allegations in the context of Jordan. I know there’s a lot of interest in this. We’ve, of course, seen the reporting on the Pandora papers, and we’re not in a position to comment specifically on the findings, which are we are reviewing.

However, it is important to note more generally that the U.S. Government actively focuses on strengthening financial transparency and investigating possible illicit and sanctions evasion activity using all sources of information, both public and non-public. Through our leadership in the G20 and the Financial Action Task Force, or FATF, among other international efforts, we consistently push for full implementation of existing standards and, where necessary, stronger measures precisely to make possible the disclosure of the ultimate beneficiary behind shell companies and the use of other means to hide illicitly acquired wealth. Of course, the Treasury Department is deeply engaged in this, and I would refer you there for further information.

When it comes to our assistance to Jordan, we have been helping to improve the lives of the Jordanian people for over six decades. We carefully conduct monitoring and evaluation of all of our assistance programs to ensure they’re implemented according to their intended purpose. And our assistance to Jordan, we know it is in the direct national security interests of the United States. It helps Jordan confront regional challenges. It secures its borders. It helps Jordan participate in coalition activities against ISIS. And it helps the country to build the core capacity of its armed forces and promote economic prosperity and stability through investments in the Jordanian people and economic reforms.

We’ll go to Said Arikat, please.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I hope you are doing well and looking forward to seeing you behind the podium. And I have two —

MR PRICE: Likewise. Thanks, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. Two quick questions. I know that you guys condemned settler attacks last Thursday in Hebron and so on, but these attacks are increasing. I don’t think that the settlers are deterred or the Israelis are doing anything about it.

And my second question, pertaining to UNRWA, the – Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner of UNRWA, said that if they don’t get infused funds pretty soon they will – they cannot do their services come November and December. I know the U.S. committed to – back in April to $235 million. My question to you: Has the money been turned – all of it turned to UNRWA? And is the U.S. prepared to put in more aid to sustain the agency?

Thank you, Ned.

MR PRICE: Thank you, Said. So on UNRWA, we have contributed 318 million to UNRWA this fiscal year, and we’re closely tracking and coordinating with other donors on the agency’s financial situation. At the same time we’re also coordinating and encouraging other donors who have not yet contributed or who have reduced their funding this year to provide funding for UNRWA’s core programs to prevent UNRWA from suspending critical services in November and December, later this year.

You are right that we did issue a statement on some of the violence that you have – that you referenced. We have been very clear in calling on all sides to avoid unilateral steps that escalate or exacerbate tensions.

We’ll go to the line of Eunjong Cho.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Do you have reaction to North Korea’s pushback against UN Security Council’s meeting on North Korea’s recent missile launches? On Sunday North Korea accused the UN Security Council of applying double standards over military activities among UN member nations.

MR PRICE: Yes, we are aware of the reports of a DPRK statement directed towards the UN Security Council. We remain concerned by the DPRK’s repeated violations of multiple Security Council resolutions, and we underscore the need for both full compliance with Security Council resolutions and full implementation of all existing UN sanctions.

Let’s go to Devna Devdariani.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you, Ned, for organizing this. In the last 72 hours in Georgia, many things happened politically, and I will now ask a few questions about that. First off is the arrest of former President Mikhail Saakashvili in Georgia. He is at this moment on a hunger strike. What would be your reaction on that? Many believe in Georgia that he’s a political prisoner, so I’m just wondering what would be your reaction. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks very much for that. We are aware of the reports of the detention of Mr. Saakashvili and we’re following developments very closely. We urge Georgian authorities to ensure that Mr. Saakashvili is afforded fair treatment in accordance with Georgian law and Georgia’s international human rights commitments and obligations.

We’ll go to James Martell.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. You’ve over the weekend – I think it was Friday the State Department confirmed that your U.S. energy envoy Amos Hochstein would be going – traveling at the end of the month to Lebanon and Israel, but no details. Do you know exactly when he’ll be traveling, who he’ll be meeting with in Lebanon and Israel and working towards resolving this dispute over natural gas?

MR PRICE: Well, we can confirm that Amos Hochstein will resume his role as the U.S. mediator for the Israel-Lebanon maritime border talks, which he held during the Obama administration. He looks forward to building upon the strong work done by Ambassador John Desrocher over the last year. When it comes to his travel, we will release details there as we’re able, so please do stay tuned.

We will go to Conor Finnegan.

QUESTION: Hey, can you hear me okay?

MR PRICE: I can, yeah.

QUESTION: Hey. So —

MR PRICE: We may have lost you now, Conor. I think we’ve lost you, Conor. Are you still there?

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m here. Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: Yes, I can hear you now. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry about that. The Qataris said yesterday that another charter flight had taken off with American citizens on board. Can you confirm whether or not that’s the case? If so, how many were on board and how many in total have now gotten out? And how many U.S. remain behind? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Conor. So we continue to fulfill our pledge to U.S. citizens, to lawful permanent residents, and to Afghans to whom we have a special commitment. As you heard us say, we’ll be relentless in helping them depart Afghanistan if and when they choose to do so. Since late last month, we have assisted 105 U.S. citizens and 95 lawful permanent residents to depart.

Now, these are numbers of people whose individual departures we directly facilitated. An additional number of U.S. citizens and LPRs have departed on private charters or have independently crossed via land border, and they are not included in those tallies. There have been private charters that have departed in recent days, but we’re just not in a position to detail those from here.

We’ll go to Janne Pak.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thank you very much. How you feel?

MR PRICE: I’m feeling much better. Thank you for asking.

QUESTION: Good, good, good. Hopefully you’re pretty soon well. Thank you.

I have two questions for you today.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: First one is South Korea, one is North Korea. First question is: Timing the South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s announcement of an end-of-war declaration will have a political impact on the South Korean presidential election next year. What is the U.S. position on the political end-of-the-war declaration?

And second question: The North Korea has recently pursued a dual strategy of launching missiles and sending dialogue approaches to South Korea, but North Korea said it refuses to talk to the United States because it is hostile to them. The hostile acts that North Korea insists on are withdrawal of the U.S. troops from South Korea and the elimination of the strengthen of the U.S.-ROK alliance. What is the U.S. position on the North Korea’s absurd claims? Thank you very much.

MR PRICE: Well, on the second question, the answer is very simple. We have said this and reiterated it a number of times: We harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK, and this gets both to your second question and to your first question on what we’ve heard from our allies in the ROK. But our policy calls for a calibrated, practical approach that seeks serious and sustained diplomacy with the DPRK to make what we hope to be tangible progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies – and, of course, the ROK is included in that group – and our deployed forces.

To do that, we are coordinating closely with our allies, including in the Indo-Pacific, the ROK, and Japan. But we are also, as we have said, prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions.

We will go to Joseph Haboush, please.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thanks for doing this. Just a quick question: Could you confirm or detail any of Under Secretary Nuland’s travels following Paris? There have been reports that she could head to Beirut or other destinations. Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks for the question. I’m not in a position to do that today. If and when she does undertake subsequent travel after Paris, I suspect we’ll be in a position to speak to that then, so we will keep you posted.

And we’ll conclude with the line of Austin Landis.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thank you. I just wanted to follow up on Afghanistan flights as well, but specifically on SIVs. Last week some SIV holders made it out on a chartered flight, and I’m wondering if – first of all, are you all relying on charter flights for SIVs at this moment? And then just looking ahead, what is the plan for SIVs since you guys have committed to help even after August 31st? Secretary Blinken talked about this in his testimony a bit, about a potential mechanism for people to get documents. I’m just wondering if you have any overall update on SIV relocation.

MR PRICE: Thank you very much. So it does remain a priority of ours, and we’ve spoken about the priority groups we’re assisting should they decide to leave Afghanistan. At the top is, of course, American citizens, lawful permanent residents, and then Afghans to whom we have a special commitment, and SIVs are certainly in that category.

We are continuing to process SIV applications at every stage of the SIV process, including by transferring cases to other U.S. embassies and consulates around the world where applicants are able to appear. We know, of course, that it is currently extremely difficult for Afghans to obtain a visa to a third country or to find a way to enter a third country, but we are developing processing alternatives so that we can continue to deliver these important consular services for the people of Afghanistan. This is something that is of the utmost importance to us.

And consistent with that, we are also continuing to press the Taliban to live up to their commitment of free passage for those who wish to leave the country. We are doing this ourselves in our direct and pragmatic engagement with the Taliban on something like this that is of the utmost national security concern and national priority to us, but we’re also doing it in tandem with our allies and partners around the world.

And you heard this only recently during the UN General Assembly and on the margins of it when much of the world came together – including in different contexts, whether it was the P5, whether it was the G20, whether it was other bilateral or multilateral fora – to make clear that the international community will continue to press the Taliban on this commitment that they have made. And we’re pressing them, of course, for our own citizens, but also to facilitate the departure of Afghans to whom we have a special commitment should they wish to leave the country.

It looks like we have exhausted our question queue, so I want to thank everyone for joining today. We will come back to you on Thursday – I expect we’ll be able to do an in-person briefing then – and we’ll, of course, be in touch in the meantime. Thank you all very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:28 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – September 28, 2021

2:06 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Good afternoon and happy Tuesday. Thank you for joining today’s press briefing from the State Department. I have two quick announcements at the top and I will start taking your questions.

Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian A. Nichols and National Security Council Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere Juan Gonzalez will travel to Miami, Florida and Port-au-Prince, Haiti from September 29th through October 1st. While in Miami on September 29th, they will meet with Cuban-American and Haitian-American stakeholders. While in Haiti from September 30th through October 1st, they will meet with civil society groups, political stakeholders, and Prime Minister Ariel Henry and Foreign Minister Claude Joseph to discuss a Haitian-led process charting the path to democratic elections in Haiti, the Haitian migration response, security, and support for and recovery from the August 14th earthquake and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Next, we are pleased that the Secretary of Homeland Security has designated Croatia as the 40th country for entry into the Visa Waiver Program.

Our rock-solid relationship with Croatia is built upon shared values, shared security, as well as shared prosperity. Its designation into the Visa Waiver Program is a pivotal milestone in our partnership and also a testament to Croatia’s hard work in meeting the strict program requirements.

Croatia’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program will facilitate travel between our nations while increasing security. We recognize the importance of business and tourist travel to both our countries and our shared interest in making travel more secure as we continue to expand our economic and people-to-people ties.

Participant countries must meet strict criteria to join the Visa Waiver Program. We applaud the Croatian Government for successfully meeting all Visa Waiver Program requirements.

The Department of Homeland Security will announce the date when Croatian citizens planning travel for business or tourism, including B-1 and B-2 visas, and all who meet the other requirements can apply for the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, also known as ESTA.

We expect that Croatians will be able to apply for ESTA by December 1st of 2021.

Croatia is a trusted partner and NATO Ally, and travel between our countries both increases and deepens our strong ties.

With that, I’m going to give it just two minutes and we’ll start taking your questions.

Let’s start with Said Arikat, please.

QUESTION: I have two quick questions regarding the Palestinian-Israeli issue. The prime minister of Israel, the Prime Minister Bennett, he said his government rejects the reopening of the Jerusalem – the American consulate in Jerusalem. I wonder if you have any comment on that or have there been any concessions made in that regard?

And my other question – there were no meetings whatsoever between American and Palestinian officials on the periphery of UNGA. Are there anything ongoing in that regard, perhaps behind closed doors? Thank you, Jalina.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Said. To your first question, I believe the Secretary actually shared with us earlier this year that the U.S. will move forward with the process to reopening the consulate in Jerusalem. At this time, I don’t have anything to share beyond that as far as specific dates.

But when it comes to your second question on interactions between American officials and Palestinian officials in UNGA, I won’t get too deep into the weeds of some of those discussions, but I can say that our U.S. deputy representative to the UN, Ambassador Mills, did engage with Palestinian officials, but again, these engagements were informal. But they were very much strategic and just the same as our U.S. representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield – any time that we engage on issues of – surrounding Palestine they are strategic, but again, I won’t get into the details of those conversations. But what I will say is that our interest remains in supporting peace and stability. And, of course, that certainly requires having constructive engagement around this issue.

As we’ve said before, we believe that a negotiated two-state solution is the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And this administration has made clear on a number of occasions that the Israelis and Palestinians both equally deserve to live in security, prosperity, and freedom.

Let’s go to Michel Ghandour, please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) for the call. I have a couple of questions. First, do you have any comment on Jordan decision to resume commercial travel and reopen main crossing with Syria this week?

Second, any comment on the suspension of the investigation into Beirut explosion and the threats that Hizballah made to the investigator?

And third, on the French president comment on the U.S. and that Europe should rely on itself in defending itself, not on the United States?

MS PORTER: Thank you, Michel. Well, I’ll let the French president’s words speak for themselves. We don’t have any comment from here.

And to your question on the investigation in Beirut, we’re going to have to take that back to you.

When it comes to commercial travel and Jordan, we certainly welcome this announcement.[1]

Let’s go to Shaun Tandon.

QUESTION: Wanted to follow up on what you said on Haiti. Can you say a little bit more about what the message will be of Mr. Nichols and Mr. Gonzalez in Port-au-Prince, particularly regarding migration? Are they going to look for ways to stop migration, as has been said by some here in Washington, looking for a more humane way? What’s the message on that?

And also related to Haiti, it seems that the elections have been postponed indefinitely. The U.S. has been calling for elections this year. Does the U.S. have any reaction to that?

And finally, are there any plans for a new special envoy in Haiti? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Shaun. To your question on a new special envoy in Haiti, we don’t have anything to announce at this time.

To your question on the elections, these – reports are imminent, but we are just seeing these reports. What we can state from here is that we do support a Haitian-led process that would chart Haiti’s path to free and fair elections. Obviously we know that this a very, very challenging time for the people of Haiti and we know that it’s crucial for Haiti’s government, their political parties, civil society, as well as the private sector that they lead and work together during this process and that they do what’s best for the interests of the Haitian people.

To your question at the top regarding the meetings, well, I won’t get ahead of those meetings, but again, those meetings are to serve as a conduit to meet with civil society, both with Haitian-American equities as well as Cuban-American equities, to find viable solutions to the problems that are going on right now.

Let’s go to Jennifer Hansler.

QUESTION: Jalina, thanks for doing this. Secretary Austin just said that the U.S. got an additional 21 American citizens and their family members out of Afghanistan today and I was hoping you could give us a little more detail about how they were taken out of the country and whether any permanent residents or SIVs were also involved in those evacuation efforts today.

And then separately, has the State Department or the U.S. Government been in touch with the family and the surviving members of those killed in the drone strike in Kabul? Will they be offered resettlement in the United States? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Jenny. So we aren’t in a position from here to confirm additional departures for security reasons. Anything from Secretary Austin I would have to refer you back to the DOD.

Let’s go to Kristina Anderson.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) taking my question. SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, has released a report on the World Food Program activities in Lebanon, and there in the report, which is quite detailed and lengthy, they do find that the program is a source of stability in the country at this point. Would you like to comment on the situation in Lebanon, and if – I don’t know if you’ve read the report – on the report, perhaps, and the work of SIPRI? Thank you.

MS PORTER: I actually have not read the report or seen the report at this time, and so I’m not in the position to make a comment on the situation in Lebanon. But if that’s something that you need, we’d be happy to take it offline and get you something for later today.

QUESTION: I would appreciate that. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you.

Let’s go to Jiha Ham.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my questions. I have two questions today.

Yesterday, the State Department said that North Korea’s missile launch yesterday was in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. As you know, if it was a ballistic missile, then it is a clear violation, of course. But we still don’t know whether it was a ballistic missile or not, so I’m wondering if you are assessing this missile as a ballistic one. And is this why you said it was in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions?

Also yesterday, Kim Song, the North Korea’s ambassador to the UN, said that the U.S. should give up its hostile policy, the joint military exercises with the ROK, and all kind of strategic weapons deployment if the U.S. wants to see the Korean War come to an end. So what’s your reaction to that? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Jiha.

I won’t from here do any specific classifications, but I can lead you to the statement that we did release yesterday on this, and I will just reiterate that the U.S. condemns the DPRK’s missile launch. Again, this launch is in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions, and it also poses a threat to DPRK’s neighbors and the international community. We remain committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK, and we also call on the DPRK to engage in dialogue.

To your second question, we don’t have anything to announce from here.

Let’s go to Simon Lewis.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you.

Just firstly, I wanted to clarify something I think in response to one of the questions earlier about Jordan and Syria. You – I think you said that the U.S. welcomes the resumption of commercial flights. Could you just clarify that? You don’t have diplomatic relations with Syria and there previously hasn’t been relations between the two – between Jordan and Syria. So are you – is the U.S. supporting a rapprochement between the two countries, and does this sort of change your – the status of your relations with Syria, if you say you’re welcoming that move? I wonder if you want to clarify that.

And secondly, there’s some reporting about the – some new Havana syndrome cases, specifically in The Wall Street Journal talking about CIA officers. But I wonder if there’s any update you can give us on State Department officials, any new cases or numbers of cases that you can tell us about, and if there’s an update on the progress of sort of ongoing investigation and work on that that you announced earlier. Thank you.

MS PORTER: So to your first question, I have nothing to announce as far as the status of the relationship or any change in policy. What I can say is that we’re certainly reviewing the announcement.

To your second question, what I can say from here is that, in close coordination with our partners across the U.S. Government, we are vigorously investigating the reports of possible anomalous health incidents wherever they have been reported, and the State Department is taking this extremely seriously. We have been doing everything possible to ensure that employees who have reported any of these incidents have received immediate and appropriate attention and care.

More broadly, these incidents have been a top priority for Secretary Blinken, who has also set clear goals for the Health Incidents Response Task Force to strengthen the department’s communications with our workforce and also provide care for affected employees as well as their family members.

Let’s go to Laura Barros.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you for taking my question. I would like to know if you have any details about the meeting today between Secretary Blinken and Dominican Republic Minister Roberto Alvarez. Have – you have any details? Have they talk about the Haiti situation, for example? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. So we don’t have anything to read out from the meeting. I know that we did produce the remarks that were at the top of the meeting on our website just from – Secretary Blinken welcoming the – Foreign Minister Alvarez to the State Department and that he is appreciative of the leadership of the Dominican Republic. Outside of that, I don’t have anything to share at this time.

Let’s go to Hiba Nasr, please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) for taking my question. If I may, I have three questions.

First, I want to follow up on Said’s question when he asked about the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem. I understood that the Secretary made it clear that he will move on with the process to open a consulate in Jerusalem, that media quoted Israeli PM saying that this won’t happen. How do you respond to this?

And on Lebanon, as we know, the Beirut explosion was the largest non-nuclear explosion, so – and the U.S. called for a transparent investigation. Another judge was dismissed, was suspended yesterday. Don’t you have any message to the Lebanese leaders, to them?

And on the reopening of the main crossing border between Syria and Jordan – sorry – were you not notified in advance? Because this is not isolated. There are many things happening at the same time. We saw the meetings between the Syrian foreign minister and other foreign ministers and – on the sidelines of UNGA. So can you comment on that? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Hiba.

So to your first question, I’ll just have to reiterate what I’ve already told Said is that, again, we don’t have a deadline, unfortunately, to announce today, but again, we will move forward with a process to reopen the consulate.

To your second question on the explosions in Lebanon, we’re just seeing these reports and don’t have anything to share at this time.

And your last question we’re going to have to take back. Thank you.

We’ll take a final question from Hye Jun Seo.

QUESTION: Hello?

MS PORTER: Hi.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you for taking my question. So I have a similar question on North Korea. So on the DPRK ambassador Song Kim – Kim Song saying that U.S. has a hostile policy and that U.S. should show it by actions not by words, what is the State Department’s comment on this? How will State Department engage in dialogue with North Korea?

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. We have said this from here before and I think it’s worth repeating that we are committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK, and again, we call on the DPRK to engage in dialogue.

That concludes today’s briefing. Thank you so much for joining us, and we look forward to seeing you soon.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:29 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – September 27, 2021

2:39 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Hi. Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to today’s press briefing. I have nothing at the top, but I’m going to give it a few minutes to enter the queue before I start taking your questions.

Let’s go to Francesco Fontemaggi.

OPERATOR: One moment while we open your line. You may go ahead. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for this. I wanted to ask you if you have a comment on the German elections and whether there is any concern that the negotiations for government could last very long, and for the stability of a key ally.

And also, if I may, I have a question on the ICC prosecutor decision that its probing on Afghanistan was focused now on the Taliban and ISIS-K. Is that a welcome development for the U.S.? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Francesco. I will start with your second question.

What I can say from here is that we are aware of the Office of the Prosecutor’s announcement that it will seek judicial authorization to reopen its Afghanistan investigation prioritizing the alleged atrocity crimes committed by the Taliban and ISIS-K. We’re deeply concerned about the current human rights situation in Afghanistan, and that also includes allegations of atrocities, and certainly welcome efforts to ensure accountability.

We have also consistently emphasized, as has the international community, the importance of respect for human rights as well as fundamental freedoms on the part of any government in Afghanistan. Of course, these rights would include freedom of expression as well as the promotion and protection of the rights of women and girls as well as other ethnic and minority religious groups.

To your second question on Germany, we are also aware of the preliminary results and await the outcome of negotiations to form the next German government. We also look forward to continuing our strong partnership with Germany and on many key issues of mutual concern. We’ll also say that the current German government will remain in place until a new government is formed, and we certainly look forward to continuing our engagement with German officials on a range of bilateral issues and global challenges as well.

Let’s go to Eunjung Cho.

QUESTION: North Korea said it is willing to consider a summit with South Korea. For a second straight day, North Korea indicated that it wants to improve relations with South Korea. Do you have any reaction to this?

MS PORTER: Thank you. What I can say from here is that we – that the United States certainly supports inter-Korean dialogue as well as engagement and cooperation.

Let’s go to Pearl Matibe.

QUESTION: Hello, Jalina. Good morning. Hopefully this will be a slower week for everybody at State Department. My question is regarding the announcement today regarding the data strategy, the Enterprise Data Strategy. Can we speak a little bit about that and what does that mean for, for example, journalists like ourselves when we interact with State Department and for our audiences, maybe perhaps in layman’s terms? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question, Pearl. I’ll start by saying that we did issue a Media Note this morning that details our first-ever Enterprise Data Strategy, but we are excited. Again, this is a new platform for the department, and the goal of this strategy is to basically help us to harness and promote any evidence-based decision making, especially when it comes to our diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility efforts, and really throughout the entire department. So this is a new effort. I’m sure we’ll have updates ongoing throughout the year and the rest of our time here, but I also encourage you to view our Media Note as well. Thank you.

Let’s go to Jenny Hansler, please.

QUESTION: Thanks for doing this. Given Ned’s tweet about his COVID diagnosis, I was wondering when the last time Secretary Blinken was tested for COVID, if all the members of the traveling delegation who were at UNGA have tested – have gotten tested, and if anyone else has tested positive since General Assembly week last week. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Jenny. So, while we typically from here won’t comment of the health status of any individual employees, of course, per the tweet, I can confirm that Spokesperson Price has tested positive for COVID-19. He actually first felt symptomatic only this morning, and he had no previous symptoms before that. He confirmed his diagnosis in coordination with our Medical Unit with a PCR test this morning, and we’ll all follow all relevant protocols and will quarantine for the next 10 days.

To your question on Secretary Blinken, Secretary Blinken has actually tested negative for COVID-19 as recent as this morning, which is a matter of his routine testing. None of the other members of the traveling party are currently exhibiting symptoms, and all will also continue to follow appropriate protocols.

Let’s go to Michel Ghandour.

QUESTION: I have a quick question on Iran. Israeli prime minister has said today that Iran has crossed all redlines in its nuclear program and words do not stop centrifuges from spinning. Do you share his assessment? And do you have any comment on that?

MS PORTER: Thanks, Michel. What I can say, broadly speaking from here, is that a mutual return to compliance is in America’s national interest and we believe the best available option to restrict Iran’s nuclear program and provide a platform to address Iran’s destabilizing conduct.

Let’s go to Janne Pak, please.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Hi. Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Jalina. Thanks for doing this. I am talking about the end of the war declaration, and I think you know that Kim Jong-un’s sister, she also said that if South Korea satisfies all the conditions for North Korea, then it could go ahead with a declaration of an end to the war or an inter-Korean summit. And China also agreed with the North Korea’s message. Do you think this message goes against the preconditions for the U.S.-North Korea dialogue that the U.S. want? And also, do you think an end to the war declaration is necessary without resolving the North Korean nuclear matter? Thank you very much.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Janne. So to start with I think your second question, we are prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions, and we certainly hope that the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach. Again, you’ve heard us say this from here, and I think it’s worth underscoring that our goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

OPERATOR: Once again, if you wish to ask a question, you may press 1 then 0 at this time.

MS PORTER: Let’s go to Carmen Rodriguez.

QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon, Jalina, thank you. During the past week, President Bukele has sent messages from his Twitter account implying that the United States is not a good friend of El Salvador for pointing out it’s government official as actors of corruption. What repercussion do these statements have on the United States-El Salvador relationship, which is not in a good time?

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. We don’t have an official response from here, but it’s certainly something we’ll take back to the team and get back to you after the briefing with.

Let’s go to Simon Lewis, please.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you, Jalina. I just want to follow up on I think one of Francesco’s questions about the ICC investigation in Afghanistan. You said you welcomed efforts to ensure accountability. I wonder could you respond specifically to the fact that the U.S. forces and Afghan Government forces – the prior Afghan government forces – are not the subject of this investigation. And is that something that the U.S. specifically welcomes and did the U.S. make any representations to the court for that to be the case? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Simon. So what I can say from here is that we’re pleased to see that the ICC prioritized its resources to focus on the greatest of allegations and atrocity crimes. We have also long objected to the ICC’s attempt to assert jurisdiction over nationals of non-state parties such as the United States absent the consent of the state or a UN Security Council referral. And that objection remains unchanged.

Let’s go to Soyoung Kim.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. I’d like to follow on North Korea. Are you willing to consider adjusting or easing sanctions for rejoining talks with North Korea? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Again, I’ll just reiterate what I said before. We’re prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions, and of course, we certainly hope that the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach.

Let’s go to Kylie Atwood.

QUESTION: Thanks, Jalina. Just one more quick question on Ned testing positive for COVID-19. Has the State Department notified all of the countries that Secretary Blinken met with last week given Ned was in most of those meetings? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question, Kylie. So from here, we’re all following proper CDC and COVID-19 protocols, but I just do want to underscore that Spokesperson Price hasn’t been in contact with any foreign delegations since Thursday, so – which is nearly a hundred hours before he actually started to experience any symptoms. In consultation with the State Department’s Medical Unit, we believe the risk of exposure would have actually started on Saturday, and again, he at that time was not around the Secretary, he wasn’t around any other senior State Department officials or any foreign officials as well.

I’ll take the question from Nick Wadhams.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks very much, Jalina. Just to follow up on the judgment that he would not have – risk of exposure would have started on Saturday, as far as I understood, the data so far on COVID-19 suggests that people can be – can transmit the virus even while not symptomatic two to even three days ahead of exhibiting symptoms. So I’m a little unclear on why the State Department in this case is only doing a 24-hour exposure window rather than what appears to be the data-supported notion that it could be up to 72 hours. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Well, I just want to reiterate that Spokesperson Price did not experience any symptoms of COVID-19 until this morning. So, I mean, we reported on this immediately. This wasn’t a 24-hour hold at all. Again, he’s been following all the rules here, as has everyone else who has been to UNGA. And he’ll continue to follow all the COVID – I’m sorry – COVID protocols and will be sure to be quarantining for the next 10 days.

Let’s take our final question from Tomoko Beck.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you for taking my question. So it’s also following up. So can you confirm that Ned was exposed to COVID during the UNGA in New York? And also, is Secretary Blinken also quarantined, as his spokesperson is positive, and I assume he’s a close contact to him? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Yeah, we don’t have any specific details on the where that COVID-19 was contracted by Spokesperson Price, but again, I can reiterate that he is duly and properly quarantining and following all necessary protocols. And then to your question on Secretary Blinken, Secretary Blinken tested negative for COVID-19 this morning and undergoes regular testing.

Thank you all for joining today’s press briefing. I hope you all have a wonderful afternoon and look forward to hearing from you again soon.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:00 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – September 24, 2021

2:00 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Thank you for that, and good afternoon, everyone. As you all know, this week Secretary Blinken participated in the UN General Assembly’s High-Level Week. This, of course, was the first one since President Biden took office.

It was an opportunity for the United States to show up, to listen, and, as Secretary Blinken said, to lead as we rally others to work together in tackling the most pressing challenges of our time. You heard the President call for “relentless diplomacy,” and our State Department team – of course, that includes the Secretary, the deputy secretary, our under secretaries, our assistant secretaries, and diplomats and others from across the department – have been doing just that, including here in New York this week.

The Secretary for his part had the opportunity to meet with partners and allies from around the world for a wide range of bilateral and multilateral discussions. You’ve seen the readouts by now, so I won’t bore you with detailing each of them, but I will note the Secretary met with counterparts from six continents, engaging with more than 60 countries in bilateral, regional, or multilateral groupings, and that includes meeting with foreign ministers from the UK, Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, France, Pakistan, EU High Representative Borrell, and the president of the DRC.

Among his multilateral engagements were meeting with – meetings of counterparts from the P5 that was hosted by the UN Secretary-General, and the C5+1. He met with foreign ministers from ASEAN nations, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and with foreign ministers from Mexico and Central America. The Secretary also participated in trilateral talks with the Japanese and Korean foreign ministers on the margins of the General Assembly.

In addition, he participated in the ministerial on Libya, hosted by France, Germany, and Italy. He had a productive dialogue with G20 foreign ministers on Afghanistan, and he attended yesterday’s UN Security Council meeting on climate and security. The Secretary also spoke at the Global COVID-19 Summit hosted by the White House where he affirmed the U.S. commitment to fighting the virus at home and around the world.

All of these engagements are essential, because if we are to deliver for the American people – to confront the truly great challenges of our time – we have to work together. We’ve been very clear about that. We know that and we recognize that.

And that’s why you’ve seen the United States making such a determined effort to revitalize our alliances and partnerships. We’ve reaffirmed, for example, our unshakable commitment to NATO, and in particular the sacrosanct notion of Article 5, as well as to the defense of our allies in East Asia. We’re renewing, broadening, and deepening our engagement with the European Union and elevating the Quad partnership, as you’re watching unfold at the White House right now. We’re re-engaging with regional institutions from ASEAN to the African Union to the Organization of American States.

But across all of our diplomatic engagements this week, as you heard from the Secretary yesterday, two challenges really stood out above the rest: COVID-19 and the climate crisis.

On the former, on COVID-19, the President announced new commitments the United States is making to end the pandemic, including purchasing half a billion additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine. That brings the total number of doses the United States will donate to more than 1.1 billion. We are working with countries around the world to vaccinate billions of people, taking bold steps to save lives, and building back better to prevent the next pandemic.

We know, as you’ve heard, that as long as the virus is circulating anywhere, is it a – it is a threat to people everywhere.

On tackling the climate crisis, only a few weeks away from COP26, you heard the Secretary very clearly state that every nation will need to come to the table with their highest possible ambitions. We must keep within reach the essential goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. That’s precisely why earlier this year the President made an ambitious commitment of our own when it comes to the United States.

The Secretary also had several opportunities – bilaterally and multilaterally – to make the point that all countries and organizations represented here in New York at the UN have a shared interest in a stable and secure Afghanistan. And together we must stay united in holding the Taliban to their commitments in key areas, and there are five of them that we have talked about.

First, we must hold the Taliban to their commitment to allow foreign nationals and Afghans to travel outside the country if they so choose. We support the safe departure of Afghans who want to leave, and we support our partners in their efforts to relocate Afghan staff and family members. We believe this should be a prerequisite to any meaningful engagement with the Taliban.

Second, we must hold the Taliban accountable to their commitment to prevent terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base for external operations that threaten other countries.

Third, we must be fierce advocates for the human rights of all Afghan people, of all the people of Afghanistan, and that includes women, children, members of minority groups. And the Taliban must make good on their commitment not to carry out reprisal violence and to grant an amnesty to all who worked for the former government or coalition forces.

Fourth, we must keep pressing the Taliban on unimpeded humanitarian access. It is something that is of paramount importance to us that, together with the international community, we are able to continue to deliver these substantial pledges and commitments that collectively we’ve made

And finally, we’ve called on the Taliban to form an inclusive government that can meet the needs and reflect the aspirations of the Afghan people. And in saying “we,” I use the term collectively, because this is not something that the United States alone has called for or signed onto. This is something that much of the international world has been behind throughout the course of the recent weeks.

High-Level Week at the UN may be ending, but our relentless diplomacy, as you’ve heard, both here at the UN and around the world will continue. So with that, I’m happy to take questions. Operator, do you want to repeat the instructions for asking questions?

OPERATOR: Certainly. Once again, ladies and gentlemen, to ask a question, press 1 0 on your phone, listen for your name to be called, and please wait for confirmation that we’ve opened your line before you start speaking so we won’t miss any of your question. Once again, that’s 1, 0 to queue up for questions. Go ahead, sir.

MR PRICE: We’ll start with Jennifer Hansler.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) for doing this —

OPERATOR: Go ahead, Jennifer. Your line’s open.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks. I wanted to ask on Afghanistan if there have been any additional flights for American citizens and green card holders, and if so, how many LPRs and AMCITs have left the country? Have there been any more overland crossings, and what is your estimate of how many folks still remain there who would like to leave? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Jenny. So I’m happy to offer a recap as it stands when it comes to American citizens and LPRs. Since August 31st, a total of 85 U.S. citizens and 79 lawful permanent residents have departed Afghanistan with our assistance. That includes four Qatar Airways charter flights that have departed Kabul with a total of 78 U.S. citizens and 66 lawful permanent residents. Additionally, since August 31st, seven U.S. citizens and thirteen LPRs have departed Afghanistan with our assistance via overland crossing. I think all of this underscores that we continue to make good on our pledge to U.S. citizens, to LPRs, and to Afghans to whom we have a special commitment that we will be relentless in helping them depart Afghanistan if and when they choose to do so.

We’ve spoken about the charters facilitated by our partner Qatar that are leaving from Kabul International Airport. We’ve spoken about the overland crossings. We can also confirm that a few privately organized flights have departed from Mazar-e-Sharif, and we’re continuing to facilitate the safe and orderly travel of U.S. citizens, LPRs, and Afghans to whom we have a special commitment who wish to leave Afghanistan through all of those means.

Go to the line of Nick Wadhams.

OPERATOR: Go ahead, your line is open now, sir.

QUESTION: Ned, can you comment on the announcement that there’s been an agreement in the case of Meng Wanzhou? Is this part of a broader agreement between the United States and China? Did the U.S. get anything in return for the decision involving her case? And this was obviously on the list of irritants that China had presented to Wendy Sherman in the Tianjin meeting a little while ago, so could you comment on that, please? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Nick, but I need to refer you to DOJ to speak to cases that are within their purview.

Let’s go to the line of Katerina Sokou.

QUESTION: Thank you, and thank you for doing this. I was on the previous press briefing, where you just reiterated that Turkey is an important NATO Ally for the U.S., and I know that you have tried to engage with Turkey, including during this week. So I was wondering how you take the Turkish president’s recent comments that the U.S. supports terrorism and his threats for the upcoming trip to Russia, substituting the F-35 with Russian technology aircraft. I would like your comment, please.

MR PRICE: Thank you very much. As I mentioned just a moment ago to a different group, we consider Turkey to be an ally and a friend. Turkey is, in fact, an important NATO Ally that has played an important role across any number of challenges over the years. I’ve spoken about Turkey’s ongoing efforts together with our partner Qatar to facilitate operations at Kabul International Airport as one example of that.

We continuously seek opportunities to strengthen our longstanding bilateral partnership even when we disagree, and ours is a relationship with Turkey where we can have important areas of cooperation even as we have disagreements in other areas as well.

We’ll go to Missy Ryan.

QUESTION: Quick question – and I don’t know if you can answer this or whether we do need to go to Treasury or not, but there was this announcement about a general license issued related to – I guess to – related to aid, humanitarian activities in Afghanistan, and also something – it looked like it was about medicine and other kinds of commodity commerce. And I’m just wondering if you can sort of tell us how – how that difference and the specific license that was issued a few weeks ago, and just sort of what this represents in trying to facilitate the humanitarian assistance that you referenced at the beginning of the call. Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Missy. So yes, today the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, issued two general licenses to support our continued flow of humanitarian assistance or other activities that support basic human needs for the people of Afghanistan as well as critical food and medicine. As you’ve heard from us, we have been in touch with partners around the world about work in Afghanistan both regarding security conditions on the ground and about their ability to continue that important and critical work.

Humanitarian assistance and other activities that support basic needs are conducted by independent organizations like UN agencies and NGOs and are aimed at providing vulnerable Afghans with critically needed food, emergency health needs, and emergency health needs including those related to COVID-19, and other urgently needed humanitarian relief.

And so today, Treasury took further steps to mitigate the impact of sanctions on humanitarian assistance and other activities that support basic human needs in Afghanistan by issuing, as I said before, those two general licenses and four Frequently Asked Questions. These actions authorize the U.S. Government, certain international organizations including the UN and the World Bank and NGOs and those acting on their behalf, to continue humanitarian assistance and other activities that support basic human needs in Afghanistan.

These licenses and corresponding FAQs, or Frequently Asked Questions, will enable non-U.S. persons, including NGOs and foreign financial institutions, to continue to support critical and lifesaving activities. This follows past precedent in which the United States has taken steps to address urgent humanitarian needs in jurisdictions subject to U.S. sanctions regulations, as is the case here.

As we maintain our commitment to the Afghan people, we’ve maintained sanctions pressure on the Taliban and its leaders as well as the significant restrictions on their access to the international financial system. And this gets back to the core point that even as we maintain pressure on the Taliban and we continue to hold them to account for the commitments they’ve made both publicly and privately, we will not relent in our efforts to provide needed humanitarian support to the people of Afghanistan. We can and will do both.

We’ll go to Humeyra Pamuk.

OPERATOR: I apologize for that delay. Go ahead, your line is now open.

QUESTION: Sorry. Okay, I was talking. Sorry about that. Thanks, Ned.

I was just wondering if you saw the latest from the Iranian foreign minister. He says nuclear talks to resume “very soon.” Over the past 24 hours or 12 hours since the Secretary last spoke, have you guys been communicated by the Europeans of any date? Do you have anything more on this “very soon” in terms of timing? And overall, what’s your response to this statement that – him saying this is going to resume pretty soon? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Humeyra, for that question. We’ve, of course, seen Foreign Minister Abdollahian’s statements that Iran will return to the negotiating table. You’ll need to ask them on the meaning of “soon” and “very soon.” That is a message we’ve heard all week, but we have up until this point not received clarity on what precisely that means.

For our part, we are ready to return to Vienna and to conclude our negotiating – negotiations quickly before the window of opportunity to return to the JCPOA closes. We have made very clear that we are ready to do so. And notably, all of the P5+1 in the context of discussions this week and in recent weeks have agreed on the need to resume talks as soon as possible, and important to pick up those talks where they last left off in June. That in our minds and that in the minds of the collective P5+1 needs to be the starting place if we are going to resume talks in Vienna and if we are going to make every effort to conclude those talks as quickly as we can with a joint return to compliance with the JCPOA.

We’ll go to Matt Lee.

OPERATOR: Go ahead, sir. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Yeah, hey. Sorry, Humerya asked my question, so I’m okay.

MR PRICE: Okay. All right. We’ll take that.

We’ll go to Elizabeth Hagedorn.

OPERATOR: Your line’s open. Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Hi. Does the administration have any reaction to Tunisia’s president saying this week that he will rule by decree? And does the State Department – or did the State Department ever make a legal determination as to whether or not a coup occurred in July? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks for the question. We share the Tunisian people’s goal of a democratic government that is responsive to the country’s needs as it battles economic and health crises. We are concerned that transitional measures are continuing without a clear end. President Saied should appoint a prime minister to form a government able to address those urgent needs. We echo calls from the Tunisian public for the president to articulate a plan with a clear timeline for an inclusive reform process that includes civil society and diverse political voices.

When it comes to the actions that led to this point, more important than debating what to label these events is the critical work of supporting Tunisia on its democratic path, and that’s what we’re focused on.

We’ll go to Janne Pak.

QUESTION: Hello?

OPERATOR: Go ahead. You’re open.

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Hi, Ned. Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: We can.

QUESTION: Okay. On Quad, the United States attaches a great importance to the Indo-Pacific region. However, there are currently only four countries participating in the Quad. I think more allies should join the Quad to counter China’s power. Are you hoping for the participation of other allies such as South Korea in the near future? And why do you think South Korea is hesitant to join the Quad? Thank you very much.

MR PRICE: Thanks for that question. Of course, there is an important meeting of the Quad today. It will be the first time the leaders of the Quad see each other in person in that context. We believe the Quad is an essential multilateral grouping that convenes four likeminded democracies – the United States, Australia, Japan, and India – to coordinate in the Indo-Pacific, ensuring our collective commitment to peace, to security, to prosperity in the region. The Quad leaders today will be focused on deepening our ties and advancing practical cooperation on a number of areas: combating COVID-19, addressing the climate crisis, partnering on emerging technologies and cyberspace, promoting high standards, infrastructure, and promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Hosting the leaders of the Quad demonstrates this administration’s priority of engaging in the Indo-Pacific, including through new multilateral configurations to meet the challenges of the 21st century, but it also is true that there are a number of bilateral and multilateral fora that are incredibly important to us, including in the Indo-Pacific. And we seek and welcome cooperation with any number of allies and partners, including the EU, when it comes to the Indo-Pacific and reinforcing the rules-based international order and a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Look, when it comes to the Quad, you said something in your question that I think bears a point here. The Quad is not about any single challenge. It’s not about any single competitor. This is an entity formed out of our common interests and our common values. And at the heart of the Quad is the idea that together we should preserve, protect, and strengthen a free and open Indo-Pacific. We look forward to doing that – continuing to do that with the Quad. We look forward to doing – continuing to do that with our South Korean allies. We look forward to doing that with our European allies, and we’ll do all of those things together.

Shaun Tandon, please.

OPERATOR: Go ahead, Shaun, you’re open.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I wanted to see if you had anything to say about Taiwan’s application to join the successor to the TPP. I realize the U.S. isn’t involved in that, but does the U.S. have any take on that? And how do you see as well the Chinese reaction to that, including the jets that recently have been flying near Taiwan? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks for that, Shaun. We do understand that Taiwan has submitted a formal request to join the CPTPP. As you alluded to, we are not a party to the CPTPP, therefore, we’ll have to defer to CPTPP parties regarding their views on Taiwan’s potential accession. That said, we would expect that Taiwan’s record as a responsible member of the World Trade Organization and Taiwan’s strong embrace of democratic values would factor into the CPTPP’s parties’ evaluations of Taiwan as a potential candidate for accession. Our colleagues at the USTR Office may have more to say on that as well.

When it comes to Taiwan more broadly, we will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues consistent with the wishes and the best interest of people in Taiwan – people on Taiwan, excuse me. We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan.

QUESTION: Hi Ned, thanks for doing this. I had a couple questions about the Taliban. One, I just wanted to see if you had any reaction to the AP’s reporting that Taliban founder Mullah Turabi had declared that executions and amputation of hands and things like that would resume under Taliban rule.

And secondly, just from talking to a lot of Americans who are intimately involved and in direct contact with Afghan families on the ground who are trying to escape the country and have been trying to do so since before the fall of Kabul, when it comes to holding the Taliban accountable if they’re not allowing that to happen – I mean, a lot of these instances from what we’re hearing is that the Taliban are using intimidation and sometimes beatings and detainment to thwart people who want to escape from escaping. So does the State Department already consider the Taliban in breach of those agreements? And if so, what methods are being used to hold them to account?

MR PRICE: Thanks for that and for those questions. When it comes to your first question, the announcement we’ve heard from the Taliban, we condemn in the strongest terms reports of reinstating amputations and executions of Afghans. The acts the Taliban are talking about here would constitute clear gross abuses of human rights, and we stand firm with the international community to hold perpetrators of these – of any such abuses accountable.

We stand with the Afghan people, especially with women, children, journalists, human rights defenders, persons with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ community, and members of minority groups, and demand that the Taliban immediately cease any such atrocious abuses. The world is watching. The international community is watching very closely. And together we have consistently emphasized the importance of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for any future government in Afghanistan.

Those rights include freedom from torture and cruel and inhuman – inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as rights related to due process. And so again, we are watching very closely, and not just listening to the announcements that come out but watching very closely as the Taliban conducts itself.

When it comes to – and I should add that over the course of this week, we’ve had any number of occasions to speak with our partners and allies in a bilateral and multilateral basis, including in a G20 ministerial on Afghanistan where one of the key expectations that we heard echoed within that forum was holding the Taliban to account for the human rights of the Afghan people. And of course, that includes the rights of women, the rights of children, the rights of minorities. So this is not just the United States offering our voice and putting forward what we will do. This is the international community doing that in concert with us and speaking with one voice.

And that gets us to the second part of your question. Look, the United States has significant leverage when it comes to the Taliban and any future government of Afghanistan, but we have all the more leverage when we work in coordination and in harmony with our allies and partners around the globe. The Taliban will need and in fact want international assistance. They will seek legitimacy. They’ve already sought such legitimacy in important ways already. We have been very clear that the United States and the international community will be watching very closely as things unfold going forward to make sure that we continue to have a unified approach to ensure that we’re best-positioned to assist the people of Afghanistan going forward and into the future.

We’ll go to Eunjung Cho.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thank you. Today North Korea indicated that it is willing to hold constructive talks with South Korea. Can you update us on North Korean reaction to U.S. offers to talk? And also, is – the New York channel through the North Korean Mission to the UN Headquarters in New York, is that channel open and running between Washington and Pyongyang at this point?

MR PRICE: Thanks for the question. As you’ve heard from us, our goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And our policy, the product of an intensive policy review, calls for a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy with the DPRK in order to make tangible progress that increases the security of the United States, of our allies, of our deployed forces and other partners in the region.

And so, as we’ve said, we are prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions. We hope the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach. We’ve made very clear that we have no hostile intent towards the DPRK.

In the meantime, we’re continuing to consult closely with our allies, the Republic of Korea and Japan. And in fact, just yesterday the Secretary had an opportunity to meet on a trilateral basis with his Japanese and ROK counterparts, because we know that our approach to the DPRK will be as effective as we – as it can if we are working in lockstep with our treaty allies, Japan and the ROK.

With that, we’ll conclude today’s briefing. I want to thank everyone for joining, and we will see you on Monday. Thank you very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:30 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – September 17, 2021

2:00 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to today’s State Department press briefing. I have one item for you at the top, and then I’ll start taking your questions.

Next week, the Secretary of State will attend the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where he will continue to advance U.S. interests and promote a healthier, more peaceful, and secure world.

This UNGA High-Level Week is going to look different than others given the ongoing pandemic. The United States delegation will be smaller, and we have worked within the UN, the CDC, and the City of New York to put into place several COVID-19 mitigation measures. The safety of UNGA participants and New Yorkers is a top priority.

I’d like to take a few moments to also give you a sense of the administration’s goals and objectives for this year’s UNGA, which fall into three overarching themes.

It will come as no surprise that sustained action to defeat COVID-19 is the administration’s top priority at UNGA this year.

The U.S. is committed to leading the global response to COVID-19, to galvanizing commitments to bring an end the pandemic, and to financing global health security so the world is better prepared to avert and respond to future outbreaks.

We are building a global coalition to accelerate vaccine production and expand access to lifesaving treatments around the world.

We look forward to working with our international partners at UNGA to end this pandemic and build back better for the future.

The United States will also use UNGA High-Level Week to reinvigorate global communities – a excuse me, commitments to combat the climate crisis.

President Biden committed to rejoining the Paris Agreement on Day 1 of his administration in recognition that climate change is the greatest existential threat facing our world today – and quite simply there is no time to delay.

This year at UNGA, we will urge the international community to make ambitious goals – ambitious global and national commitments to combat climate change in this decisive decade.

Finally, the U.S. will use UNGA High-Level Week to voice support for universal human rights, democratic values, and the rules-based international order.

Defending human rights and democratic values at home and around the world is essential to renewing the United States’ national strength and advancing our interests.

It is incumbent upon democracies, including through action in the UN system, to prove that we can deliver for our people in the face of unprecedented global challenges.

We look forward to a week of bold and energetic engagement with our international partners at UNGA High-Level Week.

Let’s start with Daphne, please.

QUESTION: On Ethiopia, the administration painted the executive order as a warning shot with several officials, promising sanctions would be imposed if a negotiated solution is not reached and humanitarian access is not allowed. How long is the administration willing to give parties to the conflict to make these changes? We’re 10 months into this. Are you looking to wait weeks, months to see if these changes are made before imposing sanctions?

MS PORTER: So we haven’t made any announcements when it comes to sanctions, and we certainly wouldn’t preview that from here. But what I will say in response to the growing conflict as well as the humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia, which has quite frankly threatened the peace, security, and stability of Ethiopia and the greater Horn of Africa region, President Biden signed an executive order imposing sanctions on certain persons with respect to human rights and human – the humanitarian crisis and human rights in Ethiopia.

This EO provides the Secretary of the Treasury, as well as in consultation with Secretary of State Secretary Blinken, the authority to impose sanctions on persons in connection with the crisis in northern Ethiopia. It also authorizes the imposition of financial sanctions on those who are responsible for threatening peace and also threatening stability, obstructing humanitarian access to progress towards a negotiated ceasefire, or committing serious human rights abuses.

Let’s go to Said Arikat.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jalina. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Excellent. Two quick questions. One, related to the virtual meeting this morning on the one-year anniversary of the normalization accords, the Abraham Accords. Well, the Secretary of State Tony Blinken emphasized time and again the need to achieve a final goal of two-state solution. Yet this administration has done absolutely nothing in that regard over the past eight months. And in fact, his Israeli counterpart didn’t even mention the word Palestinians except maybe in some sort of a economic thing or at one time in his talk. So are there any plans to actually take any steps in that regard?

And the second one is related to where you began at the top at UNGA. Will Secretary Blinken meet with any Palestinian officials in his UNGA meetings? Thank you.

MS PORTER: I’ll start with your second question first. When it comes to UNGA meetings, we don’t have anything to preview specific to the Secretary’s schedule at this moment in time.

In regards to your first question, I will underscore what we’ve said from here before, which is that we believe a negotiated two-state solution is the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And to reiterate what President Biden has said, he believes the United States believes that Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy. He has also said that, “My administration will continue our quiet and relentless diplomacy toward that end.”

Let’s go over to Pearl Matibe.

QUESTION: Happy Friday, and hope you enjoy your weekend. My question, I guess, is twofold here. I do appreciate that you are not able to preview anything that Secretary of State Blinken will be doing in terms of meeting people on the margins at the United Nations come next week, but I trust that you will keep us closely informed, for example, if he does meet with any African leaders on the margins and so on. So I’d appreciate that.

My question is related to Ethiopia. So I do see that the former president Obasanjo is playing a key role now. I’m wondering: Were all other avenues exhausted before President Biden decided to go the route of sanctions? For example, Kenya played a key role in Sudan’s transition through IGAD. Did they at least try to rope in the Ghanaian president or, for example, President Cyril Ramaphosa from South Africa or Kenya, for example, to try and work together with Obasanjo? So I’m just wondering: Were all other avenues exhausted to try to get President Abiy to cease what’s going on in northern Ethiopia?

Thank you.

MS PORTER: Pearl, I’d want to reiterate about the EO. No sanctions – we’ve announced no sanctions at this time. But when it comes to what I understand that you’re asking is any consultations with former leaders, I certainly wouldn’t be able to preview any diplomatic discussions with current leaders, so I wouldn’t be able to do the former as well. So that’s all I have for you, but if there’s anything else specific, we’d be happy to take that back to the team offline.

Let’s go to Dan Noyes.

QUESTION: Hi Jalina, I appreciate you taking my call. I wonder if you have a readout on the [redacted][1] family. There is a three-year-old boy from California who was born in California, a U.S. citizen. His parents worked with the Americans in Kabul, and they were stranded at the airport. I understand that today they’re on a charter flight that was arranged by the State Department. Is there any more information? I wonder what the biggest challenge was and what took three – almost three weeks to get them out. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question. So for security and privacy reasons, we are unable to comment on specific and/or individual cases. But our commitment remains there that we are continuing to get people out as quickly and efficiently as possible. Our team here has been working on a 24/7 operation, and we’ll continue to do so moving forward.

Let’s go to Cindy Saine.

QUESTION: Yes, hello, Jalina, and thank you. Yeah, my question is also on the tweet by Special Representative Khalilzad that more Americans were able to leave Afghanistan – not on any specific person, but if you could tell us approximately how many, and in general who these people were, any information that you could provide. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Cindy. So I can confirm that a flight did depart from Kabul, but all of that, we’ll have information for you later on offline.

Let’s go to Luis Martinez.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. It’s Luis Martinez with ABC News. My question has to do with, I think, the previous question. Can you provide any details about this flight? Was it a Qatari Airways flight? How many individuals? We’ve seen numbers have been – so many as 170 people aboard. And if you can’t talk about it right now, can you tell us in what format you will talk about it offline, as you indicated before? And what are the current numbers that you have for Americans and legal permanent residents who have been able to leave Afghanistan, either through overland routes or through aircraft? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Well, I’ll start off by saying that the situation is very dynamic, and as we have more precise and specific details, we’ll be able to provide those. So excuse me, by mentioning the word “offline” I just mentioned to say that when we have those details we’ll be able to share them when they’re more precise and accurate and available.

Again, I think your first question was verifying the airline. So we can confirm that it was a Qatari Airlines[2] flight, excuse me. And I’ll just underscore, while I have you, that we’ve said repeatedly in the context of Afghanistan that we will always provide accurate and timely information as we have it.

When it comes to the number of U.S. citizens as well as lawful permanent residents aboard the latest flight, we are going to cross-reference those individuals that we believe were on the plane when it departed Kabul International Airport.

To your other question concerning numbers, in total between the charter flights and the overland crossings that we’ve discussed, 36 U.S. citizens and 24 lawful permanent residents have departed Afghanistan with our assistance since August 31st of this year.

Let’s go to Francesco Fontemaggi.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Happy Friday. I wanted to ask you about UNGA and Iran. Even if you guys haven’t previewed any direct contact with the Iranians while in New York, the President will be addressing the General Assembly virtually and the foreign minister will be there. Do you hope or do you expect to have a better sense at the end of next week about what are – what is the stance of the new Iranian Government towards saving the JCPOA? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Well, I can say broadly from here that our interests with Iran remain that a mutual return to compliance is in the United States’ national interest, and the best available option to restrict Iran’s nuclear program as well as provide a platform for – to address its destabilizing conduct. And again, we – what we’re seeking is a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

When it comes to any specific engagement at UNGA, again, we don’t have anything to preview at this time.

Let’s go to Jenny Hansler, please.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thanks for doing this. I was wondering if State has any update on the flights out of Mazar-e-Sharif. Is there any movement on that front? How many green card holders and American citizens do you estimate are in the area? And then does the State Department support the current Afghan ambassador to the UN keeping that seat for UNGA with – given that the Ghani government has collapsed? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Jenny. To your second question, I would have to refer you to colleagues at the UN for their response. The first one we’re actually going to have to take back to the team.

Kristina Anderson, please.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. I was wondering if there’s any update on the human rights group in Belarus that is calling for some action now to raise awareness about their members who have been arrested.

MS PORTER: Well, what I can say broadly from here is that this administration takes a high priority when it comes to human rights, and in fact, we’re centering it around our foreign policy. The United States stands strong in support of the Belarusian people’s aspiration for a democratic, prosperous future that is free and independent.

Let’s go to Eunjung Cho.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jalina, for the opportunity. I want to ask you about North Korea. North Korea’s state media today issued commentary accusing the United States of double standards over military activities, saying it – U.S. actively shields some countries while antagonizing others. Just to remind you, both South and North Korea test-fired ballistic missiles this week. The North Korean commentary also said unless the United States drops hostile policy on North Korea, negotiations are futile. So what is State Department’s reaction to the commentary from North Korea? And what can you tell us about the latest efforts to restart dialogue with North Korea? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Well, what I can say from here is that the United States remains committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK, and we also call on the DPRK to engage in dialogue.

Let’s take our final question from Janne Pak.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Okay. Jalina, thank you for doing this. I have two questions. First question: During a recent visit to South Korea, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the relationship between South Korea and China is inseparable. At the same time, he reaffirmed his commitment to a strategic cooperation between South Korea and China. So what is the effect of Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s gesture on the ROK-U.S. alliance?

Second question: Will the Secretary Blinken attend the UN General Assembly next week to discuss the North Korean nuclear and missile issue with his counter-partners? Thank you very much.

MS PORTER: Janne, if I still have you here, to answer your second question, again, we won’t get ahead of the UNGA meetings or preview anything about it from here.

I want to be sure I fully understand your first question, so if we still have you, do you mind re-asking it?

QUESTION: Hello?

MS PORTER: Yes. Can you re-ask your first question?

QUESTION: You want to – yeah, so do you want to repeat the first question or what?

MS PORTER: Yes, please repeat your first question.

QUESTION: Yes. During a recent visit to South Korea, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the relationship between South Korea and China is inseparable. At the same time, he reaffirmed his commitment to a strategic cooperation partnership between South Korea and China. What is the effect of Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s gesture on the ROK-United States alliance? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Well, the – our relationship with the ROK is rock solid. That hasn’t changed. I’m not in a position to speak on hypotheticals, but what I will say is that our relationship with the ROK is – centers at the cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity, and is integral to a thriving Indo-Pacific region as well as around the world.

QUESTION: All right, thank you.

MS PORTER: That concludes today’s press briefing. Thank you all for joining. I hope you have a safe weekend ahead.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:24 p.m.)

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