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Department Press Briefing – January 27, 2023

2:20 p.m. EST

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

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

QUESTION: Sure. Can I follow up on that?

MR PATEL: Sure.

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

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

QUESTION: Can I just —

QUESTION: Can I ask a quick question?

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

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Does it affect the Secretary’s —

MR PATEL: I’ll get to you, Said.

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

MR PATEL: I have no changes —

QUESTION: — but in terms of what —

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

Kylie.

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

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

Said.

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

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Thank you.

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

QUESTION: In the region, but not necessarily Israel.

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

QUESTION: On the region.

MR PATEL: Okay. I’ll —

QUESTION: On Israel. Israel, actually.

MR PATEL: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Archbishop Desmond —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Alex.

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

MR PATEL: Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have two questions on Mexico.

MR PATEL: Sure.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?

MR PATEL: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Broadly the region – Latin America.

MR PATEL: Of course.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Can I do a Syria question?

MR PATEL: Sure, go ahead, Said.

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: On Syria?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go ahead.

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

MR PATEL: Sure, go ahead.

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

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

QUESTION: Thank you.

Go ahead, Alex.

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

MR PATEL: Yeah.

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

MR PATEL: Can you repeat the first part?

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

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

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

MR PATEL: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On the Russian embassy.

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

QUESTION: So – yeah, so Russia.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

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

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

QUESTION: I’m not talking about personalities.

MR PATEL: I understand.

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

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

QUESTION: Can I have an answer next time?

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Said.

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

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

QUESTION: All right.

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

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

Department Press Briefing – January 26, 2023

2:08 p.m. EST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Great. Yes. We all set?

MR PATEL: Yeah, I’m good.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: You sure?

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah?

MR PATEL: We’re great.

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

MR PATEL: No, no, no. I’m good.

QUESTION: Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Okay. Well, where?

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

QUESTION: May I follow?

MR PATEL: Sure, Said.

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

MR PATEL: I’m sorry?

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

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

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

MR PATEL: Said, let me – let me —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Okay.

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

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

MR PATEL: Said —

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

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

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

MR PATEL: Said, we have —

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

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

QUESTION: Right.

MR PATEL: — deserve to live safely and securely.

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

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

Okay. Humeyra.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Can I just follow up —

MR PATEL: Shaun.

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

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

Anything else on the region before we move.

QUESTION: Military?

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

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

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

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

QUESTION: Do you name JCPOA a dead deal?

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

You had your hand up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: On Iraq? Iraq.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shannon.

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

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

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

Anything else on Russia-Ukraine before we move away?

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

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

QUESTION: On the Wagner Group.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

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

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

Yes, Shaun.

QUESTION: Something else – something else in the region.

MR PATEL: Yes, go ahead. Go ahead.

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

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

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

Go ahead, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Michel.

QUESTION: I have a couple of questions on Lebanon.

MR PATEL: Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian.

QUESTION: Just had a couple questions on China.

MR PATEL: Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PATEL: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go ahead.

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

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

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

MR PATEL: Sure. Go ahead, Said.

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

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

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

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

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on this topic.

MR PATEL: Okay. Go ahead.

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

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

Go ahead in the back.

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

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

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

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

QUESTION: Thanks so much. This might be —

MR PATEL: — we’ll call it a day.

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

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

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

All right. Thanks, everybody.

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

# # #

  1. …exacerbate…
  2. …paid…

*Sino-British Joint Declaration 

Department Press Briefing – January 25, 2023

2:10 p.m. EST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With that, Matt.

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

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

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

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

MR PRICE: We – our —

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

MR PRICE: Most importantly, first of all —

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

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

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

Daphne.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leon.

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

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

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

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

Camilla.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kylie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, Alex.

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

MR PRICE: From this episode, meaning —

QUESTION: Last couple of weeks or days.

MR PRICE: Past couple of weeks.

QUESTION: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything else on this? Okay.

QUESTION: One more question (inaudible).

MR PRICE: Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Afghanistan, please?

MR PRICE: Sure. Afghanistan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Welcome Corps, yes.

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

This is really a way to position Americans to do what they’ve always done best when it comes to those coming to America: to be a neighbor, to be a guide, to be a friend, to newcomers in search of safety and freedom. We’re very excited about this for a number of reasons, but we do see it as the boldest innovation in the U.S. refugee resettlement process in decades – in some four decades. It is designed to strengthen our country’s capacity to resettle refugees by harnessing the energy of private American citizens. Much of this work to date has been done by private resettlement agencies. They continue to play a pivotal role, but we’re now in a position to enable American – private American citizens to do some of this. This will, we think and we hope, include Americans from all walks of life: members of faith and civic groups, veterans, diaspora communities, businesses, colleges and university – and universities, other community organizations as well.

These groups of Americans – private Americans will help refugees take on the tasks of daily American life: to find housing and employment, to help them enroll their children in school, connect them with other essential services. They’ll also raise funds to help refugees as they settle into their new life here in the United States.

So our goal in the first year is to mobilize at least 10,000 Americans to step forward as private sponsor – private sponsors and to offer this welcoming hand to at least 5,000 refugees. Since the announcement was made late last week, we’ve seen an outpouring of support from Americans from across this country. We have seen thousands upon thousands of hits on our website, a significant number of Americans raising their hands to learn more, and we hope before long a significant number of Americans actively involved in the process to welcome refugees and to be a guide to so many of those who are newly arrived in our country.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Ned, one question that’s related to internet, and the other one is – I’m going to make it a little bit vague so I don’t get in trouble.

Some of these leaders from some nations, when they come to the U.S. Government for assistance, those leaders themselves are billionaires and they ask financial assistance from the U.S. Doesn’t the U.S. tell them that, like, how come your country is so poor but you guys yourselves are billionaires? Like —

MR PRICE: When it comes to determining our assistance, we look not at the net worth of any particular leader but at the national needs of any particular country. We are very focused on how the United States can step up to help people in need. There, of course, each instance is going to be different. But what we care about most is what the people need – the conditions that they’re facing and how the United States can help alleviate those conditions.

QUESTION: And the second question is with regard to internet. Ned, I’m sure you are aware that due to corona, the internet business in the U.S. has gone pretty up in lots of fields. Now when the U.S. is in the chair, a lot of these companies are using the U.S.’s platform to cheat a lot of different bloggers, different publishers, and I’ve personally faced it myself as well. And I have noticed that the laws are a bit not very clear about it. Will the State Department raise this issue at some level with the Congress to look into it? Because in the online industry, there are a lot of frauds, and I’ve personally witnessed it, but quite a few, especially one reputed company, like publicists and their U.S. – which is a French company, but they have a U.S.-based company as well which is called Commission Junction, and they are literally cheating publishers and I would request you personally to at least look into this matter, how the internet – the U.S. internet is being used for fraudulent earnings basically by some of these companies.

MR PRICE: Understand. These can be questions of national legislation, including here in this country, legislation around the world. But in some cases, it sounds like what you may be referring to are individuals who are violating the terms of service of individual private sector entities. When it comes to that, regardless of whether an individual is violating U.S. law – that’s something, of course, that the relevant authorities would look into – it is incumbent on providers, on private sector entities to enforce their own terms of service. That’s not something that the State Department gets into, but it is – it is a message that we routinely convey to the private sector.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m going to ask you about Franco-German plan for Kosovo, or some are calling the European plan. My first question: Why there’s no mention of the U.S. in the title of the plan? For example, “The EU-U.S. Plan,” or “Franco-German-U.S. Plan?” Does this mean that you gave up on your active role in the Kosovo dispute?

And my second question is: What does Secretary Blinken think about this specific plan, and what expectations, if any, he has from the Serbian president when it comes to rejecting or accepting this proposal?

MR PRICE: I think I can answer both questions with one answer. It’s referred to as the EU dialogue, but it is something that has our strong support, and I think you have seen that represented over the course of this administration just recently – January 20th; I think that was last Friday – our Deputy Assistant Secretary Gabe Escobar together with senior representatives from the EU, from Germany, France, and Italy, conducted a joint mission to Pristina and Belgrade to discuss the proposal for the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. The leaders underlined the opportunities of the proposals and emphasized the urgency of swift progress to avoid the risk of further escalation.

We, together with our EU partners in this, expect parties to live up to their responsibilities. Both Kosovo and Serbia in this case should implement the agreements they’ve already signed on to through this very dialogue process, including progress establishing the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities, and we strongly encourage Kosovan Serbs to return to Kosovan institutions as quickly as possible to improve security and stability for all citizens. These are messages that Kosovo, Serbia are hearing from the United States. They’re also hearing from the EU, they’re hearing from EU member-states – in this case, with this delegation, Germany, France, and Italy.

So we are very much supportive of this process. Our approach to conflicts and tensions around the world often consists of this. We are supporting in some cases local, in some cases regional solutions. The United States lends our support when and how we deem to be most effective, and in this case, the EU dialogue, we believe, is – has the potential to be an effective vehicle to reduce tensions and to resolve conflicts between Kosovo and Serbia to bring greater levels of stability, prosperity, and opportunity to both peoples.

Yes. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. In the next two weeks, an Iraqi delegation will arrive in D.C. and they will have a meeting with Secretary Blinken. They will discuss dinar and dollar exchange rate. Then when they have a meeting with you, what will you have on the table to tell them to this matter? And second question, what concerns do you have about the dollar overflow from Iraq to Iran? Have you took any measurements against Iraqi commercial banks to this matter?

MR PRICE: So on your first question, we tend not to preview visits that far in advance. I suspect we would have more to say in advance of any bilateral engagement with our Iraqi partners in the coming days, so I don’t want to get ahead of that.

On – regarding the Iranian nexus, sanctions enforcement – first, our sanctions, as our international sanctions, our – continue to be enforced. We continue to enforce them. Sanctions enforcement is an iterative process. We routinely have engagements with partner governments and with the private sector to make them aware of the scope of our sanctions and to see to it as best we can that states and companies around the world are complying with those sanctions. Iraq is a partner of ours. The United States is a stalwart partner to the people of Iraq, to the Government of Iraq as well. And we’ll – I expect when we do have an opportunity for a bilateral engagement, we’ll discuss not only those bilateral issues but also the broader regional issues, including the challenges we see posed by Iran.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib from ARY News. This is about a BBC documentary on Prime Minister Modi. We have seen that Indian Government banned that documentary, also shutting down universities, colleges, and even banned all social media links. Do you think it’s a matter of press freedom or freedom of speech?

MR PRICE: I’ll say generally, when it comes to this, we support the importance of a free press around the world. We continue to highlight the importance of democratic principles, such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, as human rights that contribute to the strengthening of our democracies. This is a point we make in our relationships around the world. It’s certainly a point we’ve made in India as well.

QUESTION: And due to the political unrest and security situation in Pakistan, many foreigners avoid visiting Pakistan. I was just going through U.S. Travel Advisory for U.S. citizen. It says: Reconsider travel to Pakistan. Do not travel to KPK or Balochistan. So Pakistan is not safe to visit for the – for the U.S. citizen, right, or that’s Travel Advisory says, right?

MR PRICE: Well, you’re referring to the Travel Advisory that our Bureau of Consular Affairs updates regularly for countries around the world. The travel advisory for Pakistan was last updated in October of last year, and I understand that was not at the time much of a substantive update. But we do have an obligation to inform our citizens around the world, including our citizens in Pakistan, of potential risks.

And as do our Travel Advisories for countries around the world, this Travel Advisory offers advice to Americans who would consider travel to Pakistan. We have a tiered system from Level 1 to 4, and the advice in those Travel Advisories are based on so-called risk indicators. We look at levels of crime, of terrorism, kidnapping or hostage-taking, civil unrest, natural disaster, health, wrongful detention, and other potential risk. And that’s how we arrive at that tiered numbering system that you referred to in the case of Pakistan.

QUESTION: The United States donated $200 million to Pakistan in flood recovery. Is there any check and balance in that?

MR PRICE: There absolutely is. There are checks and balances across every form of assistance that the United States provides – security assistance, humanitarian assistance, economic assistance. That includes when it comes to the flood assistance in Pakistan. It’s something we take very seriously not only in this case, but anywhere around the world where our taxpayer dollars are implicated and when there’s an urgent humanitarian interest at stake. We make regular trips to monitor our programs in the field. USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART, traveled to more than 10 flood-affected districts in Balochistan, in Sindh province to assess not only the humanitarian conditions, but also the response activities, and to make sure that the response activities were meeting the humanitarian need of the people there.

We work with the UN. We work with NGO partners that have extensive knowledge about the affected areas and their populations. They are required to provide regular program updates on the progress of activities and any security concerns. And we also require our partners to immediately report any potential diversions, seizures, or losses. Throughout our flood relief efforts, we’re working in close coordination with Pakistani authorities and local partners to make sure that assistance is directly helping the communities and those who need it most, and as you know, we have been in a position to support flooding relief and recovery to the tune of more than $200 million total, making the United States one of the largest bilateral country donors. And we’re committed to helping Pakistan and its people rebuild better and even more resilient.

QUESTION: Ned, I have a question on Lebanon. Lebanon’s top prosecutor has ordered all suspects detained in the investigation into Beirut port blast released and filed charges against the judge who’s leading the probe. How do you view that scene?

MR PRICE: Michel, we’ve seen those reports. I would refer to Lebanese authorities on this development, but more generally, as we’ve stated, we in the international community have made it clear since the deadly explosion that we urge Lebanese authorities to complete a swift and transparent investigation into this horrific explosion at the Port of Beirut. The victims of this August 2020 explosion deserve justice, and we believe those responsible must be held to account.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. Ned, the road to Nagorno-Karabakh remains closed for 1.5 months by now, and I know that you personally and this administration has made calls to Azerbaijan to unblock the road. I was wondering if there is any new update on this, if you could provide any more information on this.

And my second question is: Azerbaijan continues to disregard all these international calls coming, whether from this administration or other international partners. United Kingdom’s foreign ministry today called again Azerbaijan to unblock the road, but there is no evidence that President Aliyev is willing to change his policy and to unblock the road. So my question is: If the situation continues, are there any other options on table, particularly in regards to delivering more humanitarian aid to Nagorno-Karabakh? Because the Red Cross is the only organization that can deliver very, very limited help to Karabakh, which doesn’t satisfy the dire needs of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.

And you just mentioned that USAID and U.S. administration works with international partners and delivers aid to situations, to the countries and geographies where humanitarian crisis exists, and it exists in Nagorno-Karabakh. Do you think that USAID particularly, an organization which work with Nagorno-Karabakh in – and was engaged in humanitarian projects before, could step in and try to increase the volumes of help to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. Thank you.

MR PRICE: So a couple things. The worsening humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh has been of significant concern to us. It’s been the topic of discussions, as you alluded to, between Secretary Blinken and the leaders of both Armenia and Azerbaijan in recent days. We’ve made the point that ongoing obstruction of normal commercial and private travel along the Lachin corridor is causing these very shortages of food, of fuel and medicine, for the residents – the many residents who depend on this corridor for those basic supplies. These periodic disruptions to natural gas and other basic utilities further exacerbate the worsening humanitarian situation.

We’ve called for the full restoration of free movement through the corridor, including commercial and private travel. We need to find a solution to this impasse that will ensure the safety and the well-being of the population living in this area. We believe the way forward is through negotiations. We remain committed to supporting a lasting peace. We’ve demonstrated both in word and in deed our willingness to engage with the parties, whether that’s bilaterally, whether that’s multilaterally through the OSCE, whether that’s trilaterally with both Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts at the table.

But above all, we believe that negotiations is the path forward. In the near term, we’ve called for that restoration of free movement so that the humanitarian needs of those who depend on this corridor for lifesaving essentials and supplies can be met, and the United States will continue to do what we can to bring the parties together, to encourage this dialogue, and to encourage a full restoration of this free movement through the corridor.

Sure.

QUESTION: It’s getting more and more difficult for the United States to bring peace, so to end the war between Russia and Ukraine. And as you know, the Russia minister of foreign affairs is in Angola. He just met President Lourenço today. And I would like you to explain a little bit of what is the view of the U.S. administration on how African nations can help bring peace or end the war between Russia and Ukraine, because this in the great interest of African leaders. And they also want to end this war. And because the foreign minister of Russia is in Angola, I think even President Lourenço is trying to find a way to end this war that is affecting many country, including African nations. So what is the view of U.S. on how African nations can help put the end on this war?

MR PRICE: I would start by saying that African nations are in a unique and special position to lend their voices to ideally help bring about an end to President Putin’s aggression, and I say that because so many African nations have histories and legacies that are shaped by colonialism. Their histories and legacies have been morphed and, in some cases, distorted by the efforts of other countries to do what Russia is trying to do to Ukraine, to redraw borders arbitrarily, to dictate to countries what their orientation should be, what their choices should be. Across the continent of Africa, there is deep respect for the UN system, for the UN Charter, for international law. And I think that deep respect is born of the fact that for many decades across the continent, those principles weren’t adhered to. And the principles that are at the heart of the UN Charter, at the heart of international law were disregarded, and so African countries feel this acutely.

We think what countries across the continent and across the world can do most effectively is to make clear where they stand, to make clear to Russia, to visiting Russian interlocutors, but also to countries around the world that they stand for the UN system, they stand for the UN Charter, they stand for international law, and they stand against any effort to subvert that. African countries know all too well the consequences of a systemic subversion of those very principles, and lending their voice and making clear, not only to the Russian Federation but also to the rest of the world, that it’s not something they will tolerate, that itself would be very powerful.

QUESTION: And do you think it is appropriate, for example, for African nations who have received a lot of support from Russia in years to right now kind of give back to them? Because we heard also from the Congress that the United States is trying to pass some kind of law to force African nations not to work with Russia. But do you think this is a right decision for African nations to do right now when it comes to deal with Russia?

MR PRICE: I think what you’re pointing to is just a historical reality. It is again born of the fact that for many decades, the United States was not in a position to be a partner to so many countries across the African continent and, for various reasons, the Soviet Union was or Russia was. That of course has changed; that dynamic no longer holds. It eroded with the end of the Cold War. It has gone away entirely in the decades since.

The United States is ready, willing, and able to be a partner of first resort to the countries across Africa. You heard that very clearly from President Biden when he invited African heads of state and government to Washington late last year for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. He made very clear that we’re all-in on Africa in a way that the United States hasn’t been able to be all-in on Africa before. This is a dynamic that evolved over many decades. It is a dynamic that will likely take many years to chip away at and to ultimately reverse.

But we are committed to making the investment, to demonstrating both in word and in deed that we want a true partnership, a partnership with the countries of Africa that presents both of our peoples with opportunities. We are not looking to engage – to use Africa as a new geopolitical stomping ground or playground. We’re not looking for relationships that are extractive, that export chaos, that export instability, that advantage only American private companies, as you’ve seen an approach taken by countries who have a different model. Our model is one of true partnership, where we seek to do and to take on challenges and opportunities with the countries of Africa together in a way that provides both our people greater prosperity, greater stability, greater security, and greater opportunity.

QUESTION: One last one on the DRC. How the United States expect to support the election process that this country will go through this year, taking into account the instability going on there?

MR PRICE: Well, we had an opportunity to discuss the elections with the Government of the DRC, with President Tshisekedi and his team, when we were in the DRC in August of last year. Free and fair elections is what we advocate for around the world. We want to see and the people of the DRC want to enjoy free and fair elections, but you also have to have the conditions to conduct a free and fair election as such. President Tshisekedi and his government have committed to doing that, committed to fulfilling their – have committed to fulfilling and carrying forward with those free and fair elections. We will continue to be a partner where it is of use to our partners in the DRC, and we look forward to those free and fair elections in the DRC later this year.

Yeah, Leon?

QUESTION: Just to stay in the region, in Africa, two questions and very unrelated. On Nigeria, there was this – I’m sure very carefully calibrated – statement this morning by the Secretary, but a little bit strange in the sense that you are imposing sanctions, visa restrictions against Nigerian individuals. But you don’t name them and you don’t say if they’re part of the government or what have you. And then you go on to say this is not against the Government – precisely – of Nigeria, and – so you do you have any details as to which individuals we’re talking about, at least if they’re part of the government or what have you?

MR PRICE: Well, I can tell you why we didn’t go into greater detail, and that’s because visa records are confidential. I know this is an issue we’ve discussed before. It’s an issue that can be deeply unsatisfying when we’re trying to explain what it is that we’ve announced. But what I can say is that, just as you said, this is a policy that doesn’t target the Nigerian people, that, to the contrary, seeks to support the Nigerian people and their desire for free and fair elections in the coming weeks. This policy does cover those believed to be responsible for, complicit in undermining democracy, including through the rigging of the electoral process; corruption; vote buying; intimidation of voters, the media, or elections observers through threats or acts of physical violence; suppression of peaceful protests; threats against judicial independence; or the abuse or violation of human rights in Nigeria.

We wanted to send a very clear message, just as we indicated we would prior to the enactment of this visa restriction policy, that the United States will be watching very carefully the actions of those who would engage in any such activities. When we see that, we’re prepared to revoke visas, to take other actions as appropriate. And today, we make good – we made good on that pledge.

Yes.

QUESTION: And I had a follow-up.

MR PRICE: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Not a follow-up, but another question on Africa. There’s a very peculiar case involving a French student in Morocco, detained in Morocco, and he’s being extradited to the United States, being accused of cyber attacks, as I understand it. Have there been any conversations with the French? Because arguably, he’s a French citizen – the crimes would have been committed in France. One would think he would be extradited to France, if anything, but he’s extradited here. State Department have any comment on that?

MR PRICE: Our only comment would be that we refer you to the Department of Justice on extradition matters.

Yes.

QUESTION: Upcoming Security Blinken’s trip to China – at this point there is no nuclear arms reduction agreement between PRC and United States or Russia. Given the fact, is Secretary going to – also going to talk about nuclear disarmament in China? And more broadly, how do you think the importance to sign such a deal with PRC?

MR PRICE: A couple of things. We’ve – I’ve made very clear that we’re just not going to get into the agenda this far ahead of the travel. I expect we may have more to say on that in the coming days, next couple of weeks. But we want to allow space for Secretary Blinken to engage in the meaningful and constructive diplomacy that we hope to find in Beijing. But broadly speaking, Secretary Blinken will have an opportunity to carry forward the conversation that President Biden had with President Xi in Bali late last year. And that was a conversation predicated on how we can responsibly manage what is the most consequential bilateral relationship that we have probably on the face of the planet, a conversation that seeks to ensure that the stiff competition that we’re engaged in with the PRC doesn’t veer into conflict.

As part of that we’re going to discuss the areas of competition. We are going to discuss those areas that have the potential to be conflictual, where we hope to establish those guardrails to see to it that competition doesn’t veer into conflict, but to also discuss those areas where we see the potential for further cooperation with the PRC. And principally, these are going to be on transnational challenges, challenges like changing climate, COVID, drugs, fentanyl, precursors, essentially threats to people around the world, threats that know no borders. But, of course, it is in our interest, as it is in the PRC’s interest, that we be able to discuss strategic stability broadly. We’ve noted with some concern the growing size of the PRC’s arsenal. There have been various public reports that have been written about this. Of course, it is an issue that we seek to discuss. We believe responsible nuclear powers need to act responsibly; they need to engage in discussions of strategic stability to see to it that the world’s most powerful weapons are managed appropriately and that our respective stockpiles are handled appropriately.

So all of these are issues that we seek to discuss with the PRC. We’ll have an opportunity to do – to do some of that in the coming weeks.

Quick final question.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Two separate questions. Ukraine first. The negative on the latest situation on the ground: There are reports that Russians have captured – apologies – captured Soledar. Is Russia on its back foot, front foot, or somewhere in between based on your assessment?

MR PRICE: Our assessment really hasn’t changed since the earliest days of this war. It has been a strategic failure for President Putin and his forces since the earliest days. The only reason that there is some discussion about tactical movements in Soledar now is because the Russians have not been in a position for months to tout any forward momentum, even incremental as it might be. Of course, the Russians are looking for a propaganda victory in what has been a sea of failures that they have confronted since the earliest days. Nothing that we’ve seen today or nothing that we’ve seen in recent days changes our assessment of the strategic course of this conflict. The Ukrainians have demonstrated remarkable determination and, most importantly, remarkable effectiveness in pushing back Russian aggression and recapturing much of the territory.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. On – back on the Nagorno-Karabakh topic, we have seen some back-and-forth between Washington and Baku in terms of the Lachin corridor. The readout of the Secretary’s call and what we have seen from the Azerbaijani side is completely different, contradicting against each other. We also heard Azeri foreign affairs ministry spokesperson today put out a tweet contradicting what you said yesterday.

My question is: The Europeans have eyes on the ground right now; they sent a monitoring mission. Is there any concern on your end that you don’t have independent eyes on the ground, there’s no ambassador in Baku? That was a concern that Ambassador Reeker raised in October, that the President’s nominee hasn’t even received any invite to the Senate foreign affairs committee. So we are sort of, like, stalled here and two different narratives. Is there any step you are going to take in the weeks ahead, days ahead, to move the needle?

MR PRICE: So, Alex, on your question, you yourself refer to the fact that our European partners do have monitoring missions; they have a presence on the ground. Of course, as you know, we work remarkably closely with our European partners when it comes to Nagorno-Karabakh, when it comes to the current challenge we face in the Lachin corridor, and when it comes to tensions and conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan more broadly.

So we share our information with our European partners. The same is true of them to us. And we believe it’s important that we continue to work closely together with our European partners, through the OSCE as appropriate, directly with the parties if and when it’s effective. We’ve done all of those things and we’ll continue to do what we think is effective to bring about a lasting peace and a diminution of the tensions.

QUESTION: Do you still consider the United States a co-chair of the Minsk Group? Because there is no chairman in the U.S. side.

MR PRICE: The Minsk Group has not been a functioning body for some time, but we are prepared to work to resolve this conflict bilaterally, multilaterally through the OSCE, with partners, with the parties themselves.

Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:20 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – January 24, 2023

2:30 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: All right, good afternoon, everyone. Happy Tuesday. One item at the top and then I’ll take your questions.

Secretary Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi convened this morning a meeting of G7 foreign ministers, Ukraine’s foreign minister, key European partners, and multilateral institutions to reaffirm our collective support for Ukraine and its energy sector, which remains under a brutal assault by Russia’s missile and drone strikes. Since October, the Department of State has been leading efforts with the rotating G7 – with the rotating G7 Presidency to coordinate and accelerate the delivery of critical energy infrastructure equipment from our allies and partners to Ukraine.

This group of foreign ministers last met November 29th of last year on the margins of the NATO Ministerial, where the Secretary announced over $53 million in U.S. emergency support for Ukraine’s electricity grid. Since then, the United States has delivered two plane loads of critical equipment, with another delivery scheduled soon. Further efforts include procuring high-voltage autotransformers and industrial-scale mobile gas turbine generators to support essential public services.

In today’s meeting, the Secretary highlighted the newest $125 million package we announced on January 18th, which will also be used to procure autotransformers and other priority grid equipment. Since the start of the war, the United States has provided $270 million in assistance to help repair, maintain, and strengthen Ukraine’s power sector in the face of continued attacks. The Secretary applauded the tremendous efforts by our allies and partners to coordinate complicated logistics, procurement, and delivery of critical equipment to help Ukraine repair its electricity system and maintain energy sector resilience.

The group also condemned Russia’s continuing brutal attacks against Ukrainian energy infrastructure and its cruel consequences for Ukrainian civilians. The Secretary and partners also emphasized the importance of continuing to provide air defense systems, which have helped Ukraine defend effectively against Russian attacks.

The group reinforced its commitment to stand with Ukraine as long as it takes and discussed the importance of this G7+ coordination mechanism beyond emergency response, to include long-term reconstruction towards a modern, distributed, clean, and efficient Ukrainian energy system fully integrated with Europe. The Secretary committed to continuing State Department leadership, in partnership with Japan, to convene and coordinate the G7+ group at the leadership and working levels going forward.

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

QUESTION: Right. Thanks, Ned. Sorry I missed the very top. I’m assuming you didn’t mention anything about tanks in your opening, no?

MR PRICE: I do not believe the word “tank” was in my topper, no.

QUESTION: Okay, well, then let me do it now. So it appears that you guys are ready to sign off or approve the transfer of Abrams tanks, and so I’m just wondering what you can say about that.

MR PRICE: Well, Matt, I know how much I tend to frustrate you when I do this. So I will just be clear and frank that if you’re looking for me to say something different from what I said yesterday, you’re not going to find it today. What I can tell you is that this is a conversation that we are regularly engaged in with our Ukrainian partners. We in turn have conversations with our European partners, other allies and partners, some 50 around the world who are providing much needed security assistance to Ukraine.

I know there has been a lot of focus on one particular capability over the past few days; there was extended discussion of it yesterday. But I also think it’s important in the context of that discussion that we not lose sight of the forest for the trees. The amount of security assistance that the United States and allies and partners around the world has – have provided to Ukraine, it is in a sense staggering, not only the sheer amount measured in dollars but the capabilities that we have provided as well, capabilities that match Ukraine’s needs, match the timing of those needs, and in some cases have put us in a position to provide our Ukrainian partners with new capabilities or capabilities that they previously did not have.

When it comes to tanks, these are capabilities that the United States has helped provide our Ukrainian partners over the course of many months now. We’ve worked with European partners to source and ultimately to provide former Soviet-made tanks, former – tanks that were produced by the Russian Federation itself to provide tanks as well, not to mention the Bradley Fighting Vehicles, the heavy armored vehicles that the United States and many of our allies, including Germany, have in the past provided.

We’re not going to get ahead of any potential announcements from other allies, other partners. We’re not going to preview anything else we may have to say. But needless to say, this is an ongoing conversation and it is a conversation that allows us to be responsive to the needs of our Ukrainian partners.

QUESTION: But it is correct, is it not, that you would like to see Germany in particular give tanks to Ukraine, either itself or by giving the okay for Poland to send these Leopard tanks to Ukraine? Is that not correct?

QUESTION: Matt, you’ve heard me say this enough that I think you have a sense. We are not prescriptive in terms of —

QUESTION: I’m not saying that.

MR PRICE: — in terms of —

QUESTION: I’m just —

MR PRICE: — in terms of what other allies and partners should provide. This is a sovereign decision on the part of every sovereign government around the world.

QUESTION: Yes, and you (inaudible), right?

MR PRICE: We would like to see countries around the world step up, and in some cases continue to step up, to provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need. In some cases that’s providing them with replenishments of capabilities that our Ukrainian partners have had, whether they’re long had it or whether it is a more recent addition to their arsenal, or in some cases we’ve been in a position to provide new capabilities. This is a sovereign decision for each government to make.

QUESTION: Then I’ll – I’ll take a last stab at it then, though. Would you be willing to do what the Germans would like you to do in order for the Germans then to send additional materiel to Ukraine?

MR PRICE: These are conversations that we’re having with the Ukrainians, that we’re having with the Germans. We will leave private conversations, diplomatic conversations, to those channels. What matters most to us is that we continue to maintain the level of coordination, the level of consultation with Ukraine, and in turn with our allies and partners around the world, that has enabled us to provide our Ukrainian partners with billions of dollars worth of equipment that they need when they need it to take on the threat that they’re facing at that very moment.

Daphne.

QUESTION: On the question of tanks, do you believe that the choice of what U.S. heavy weapons to send to Ukraine is a diplomatic issue or one that’s best left to the U.S. military?

MR PRICE: This is a conversation that not only do we have with our Ukrainian partners, with our allies and partners, but it’s a conversation that we have with other departments and agencies in this government. Now, of course when it comes to military know-how, tactical battlefield knowledge, no one is going to have more than that – more of that than the Department of Defense. It is the Department of Defense that – especially when it comes to the USAI program, the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative – is sourcing much of this. So this is a conversation where they bring that expertise and knowledge to bear.

But there are diplomatic elements to this. We have relations with senior Ukrainian officials through political channels, whether that’s the Secretary’s frequent engagements with the foreign minister, others in this building working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the Office of the President. So we take all of those conversations that we’re having with Ukraine, that we’re having with allies and partners, and share that of course with colleagues across the Executive Branch to arrive at what is – what we’re in a position to provide and how we can provide it.

QUESTION: Just on —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: If she’s – are you done?

QUESTION: I was going to ask about corruption, but —

QUESTION: No, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: — you can finish on this.

MR PRICE: Is it the same topic, before we move on?

QUESTION: Yeah, on the Leopards, because we’re a little bit confused. I think Der Spiegel said that Germany will provide Leopards to Ukraine.

MR PRICE: I have seen various reports of this all citing anonymous German officials. I will let our German allies speak to any announcements that they are prepared to make when they are prepared to make it.

QUESTION: And also Bloomberg reported that they are going to announce tomorrow that they are allowing Poland to send in Leopard tanks.

MR PRICE: Again, all of the reports I’ve seen – feel free to correct me – point to anonymous sources and not German leaders who would need to be in a position to make any such announcement themselves.

Anything else on this?

QUESTION: May I follow up on this?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PRICE: Okay, Alex.

QUESTION: No new comments since yesterday doesn’t mean no progress since yesterday, right? (Laughter.) Just trying differently.

MR PRICE: It’s – I commend you for how you’ve gone about the question. (Laughter.)

We’ve – it’s fair to say that we’re always discussing these issues with allies and partners. Just because we’re in the same public place doesn’t necessarily mean that we haven’t made progress on any given issue. I’m not speaking particularly to this issue but across the board.

QUESTION: You know that Poland officially requested already from Germany. Do you welcome Poland’s step that Poland has taken, or what is your position on Polish side?

MR PRICE: Our position is that this is a question for our German allies, for our Polish allies. Just as when allies request permission from the United States to re-export U.S.-origin material, that’s a question for us and them. This is a question for, in this case, our German allies and our Polish allies.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, and last, your White House colleague just told us that – she has cited DOD officials – just told us that the tanks have never been off the table.

MR PRICE: That’s fair. We have not taken capabilities off the table. Again, this is a conversation based on what our Ukrainian partners need, when they need it, where they need it.

Yes, in the – yeah.

QUESTION: The New York Times earlier reported a story that Ukraine has suspended 10 of its military officials for some sort of corruption. Is the U.S. making sure that all the aid that has been given and billions of dollars is going to the right people and they’re not building themselves some things?

MR PRICE: We absolutely are. We take extraordinarily seriously our responsibility to ensure appropriate oversight of all forms of U.S. assistance that we are delivering to Ukraine. We’re actively engaged with the Government of Ukraine to ensure accountability. There are challenges associated with the current environment in which our Ukrainian partners are in the midst of a brutal attack by the Russian Federation. But we take this commitment seriously nonetheless, and we’re still able to take steps to ensure that accountability.

We have teams in Kyiv, we have teams back here in Washington, who are working literally around the clock to support our Ukrainian partners. And a key focus is to ensure safeguards, both for the accountability of weaponry as well as adherence to the laws of war, are built into all assistance efforts as we help Ukraine defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity against this ongoing aggression.

We’ll continue to work to ensure the assistance we provide is subject to that oversight – the security assistance, the humanitarian assistance, the economic assistance – and when it comes to that security assistance to ensure that everything we provide is in compliance with our Leahy Laws, international humanitarian law, and other applicable requirements, and of course consistent with respect for human rights and democratic values that we share with our Ukrainian partners. This is a robust system of oversight and accountability. We thank Congress for providing us with additional resources to see to it that we’re able to conduct this oversight, and this is a conversation that we are regularly engaged in with our Congressional overseers as well.

When it comes to the actions that we’ve heard about from our Ukrainian partners in recent hours, this stems from a desire we’ve heard very clearly from the people of Ukraine over the course of many years now, going back to 2014; it was certainly a key element of President Zelenskyy’s platform when he was running for his current office in 2019. The Ukrainian people have been very clear about their desire for good governance and transparency.

And in this case, we welcome quick and decisive actions by President Zelenskyy as well as vigilance by Ukrainian civil society and media to counter corruption, to ensure effective monitoring and accountability of public procurement, and to hold those in positions of public trust to account when they fail to meet the obligations and the responsibilities that are entrusted to them.

Just as the people of Ukraine want to see good governance, want to see anti-corruption, want to see the rule of law, we support all of these things, as well as Ukraine’s commitment to transparency and accountability, and we saw an example of that in recent hours. We’ll continue to stand with Ukraine as it works to implement these important anti-corruption reforms.

QUESTION: Same topic, one question?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Russian Ambassador in D.C. Anatoly Antonov met with the new chief of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Moscow Lynne Tracy here at his residence. Do you have any readout on what kind of discussions —

MR PRICE: We – this is not the type of a meeting that we would typically formally read out, but I can confirm that Ambassador Tracy did meet with Russian Ambassador Antonov. This was an opportunity for her to have a discussion with her counterpart here in D.C. As you know, Ambassador Tracy was confirmed – overwhelming confirmed – by the Senate on a bipartisan basis late last year. We expect Ambassador Tracy will be departing for the Russian Federation, where she will present her credentials in the coming days. We expect her to be in place later this month. She’s currently in the process of having consultations with desks and individuals here in Washington, and in this case she had an opportunity to have a discussion with Ambassador Antonov.

QUESTION: Ned, this meeting suggests that they’re all, like – diplomatic channels are on with Russia and that you are – you’re being engaging with Russia. Obviously, the Ukraine is the most important thing to discuss with them. So what you see that – what kind of demands Russia have to stop this war? I mean, obviously, they are saying something. They want this, and you can – they can stop this war. I mean, what kind of demands they are making to stop this whatever’s happening in Ukraine?

MR PRICE: Well, let me say this. I’m not going to speak to what Ambassador Tracy discussed with Ambassador Antonov, but I can pretty clear about what she didn’t discuss: didn’t discuss any form of a negotiated settlement over Russia’s brutal war with Ukraine. That’s not for us to do. It is not for us to do in Washington. It is for our Ukrainian partners to do with, as appropriate, our support. And we stand ready to support them, if and when the time comes for meaningful dialogue and diplomacy. We know that our Ukrainian partners are for that. We’ve heard a pretty well articulated vision for a just and durable peace that President Zelenskyy presented to the world last November and has since rearticulated, as have other members of his government.

Setting that issue aside, because it’s not an issue for us to discuss with Russia, we have been clear about a desire to maintain open channels of communication with Russia. We have an embassy in Moscow. It’s under duress because of the pressure and the limitations that the Kremlin has imposed on it. But because – I mentioned Ambassador Antonov a moment ago – the Russians have an embassy here, we have the ability to pick up a phone in – when that is warranted and appropriate, as Secretary Blinken has done, as Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, has done, as the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and others have done.

So there are open channels of communication. We use these channels to convey where we are on issues that are of the upmost priority to us. In our case, it’s been on wrongfully detained American citizens; it has been on the costs and consequences of potential Russian escalation – at worst the use of a nuclear weapon, other weapons of mass destruction – but other issues that are of primary bilateral importance to the United States.

Anything else on this?

QUESTION: Just more on the corruption?

MR PRICE: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Going back to the question about the resignation of the deputy defense minister in Ukraine, does the U.S. – was any U.S. support to the armed forces of Ukraine meddled with by this deputy defense minister or anyone in his office?

MR PRICE: We are not aware that any U.S. assistance was involved in what we’ve heard about in recent hours.

QUESTION: And are you undertaking a review to make sure that that was the case?

MR PRICE: We are always engaged in rigorous oversight and accountability. As of right now, we are certainly not aware that any U.S. assistance was involved in the allegations that we’ve heard about from our Ukrainian partners. But this is an ongoing effort. Day in, day out, teams in Kyiv, teams back here are working to ensure that our support, the tremendous amount of support that we’re providing – security assistance, humanitarian assistance, economic assistance – it is going to its intended objectives.

Anything else on Russia, Ukraine before we move on?

QUESTION: On Russia.

MR PRICE: Let me — yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: NATO. Finland’s foreign minister has suggested that Finland might try and join NATO alone, and then he backtracked later in comments to Reuters, I believe. It’s that something that – Finland joining NATO alone – is that something that the U.S. would support? Do you have any comment on that? Is that a bad idea?

MR PRICE: What we would support is Finland and NATO – excuse me – Finland and Sweden joining NATO at the earliest opportunity. I spoke at some lengths to this yesterday. They are ready. These are countries with advanced militaries, militaries that have exercised with the United States and those of other NATO Allies. These are advanced democracies, countries —

QUESTION: And them joining separately?

MR PRICE: Again, we’re not going to comment on a hypothetical. What we believe is that Finland and Sweden are ready to join the Alliance. It’s not only the view of the Executive Branch; it’s the view of the Legislative Branch as well. You saw that in the swift accession process and the Senate’s ratification of the treaty last year. This is a point we’ve made very clearly, repeatedly, in public, in private, to all of our partners, including to our Turkish allies in this case, and it’s a point that we’ll continue to make.

QUESTION: Here.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) statement —

QUESTION: The question is whether you think that they should join together or whether one could join before another one really. There are —

MR PRICE: The discussion —

QUESTION: And it’s not a hypothetical. It’s —

MR PRICE: Well, it is a hypothetical, because as your colleague mentioned, it —

QUESTION: It’s a hypothetical if they’ll ever get in in the first place. But the question is whether the U.S. thinks that they should go in together or whether Finland —

MR PRICE: This has always been —

QUESTION: — and/or Sweden should go in first.

MR PRICE: This has always been a conversation about Finland and Sweden – and – joining NATO.

QUESTION: That – fine, Ned. It’s just what —

MR PRICE: That is precisely – that is —

QUESTION: It’s what the administration thinks is the best – is best for the Alliance, right? Is it – do you guys think that it’ll be better for them to join together or do you have no objection to the idea of Finland going first?

MR PRICE: Of course we want to see Finland and Sweden join the Alliance. This has always been a discussion about Finland and Sweden, two countries —

QUESTION: Ned, that is not the question.

MR PRICE: — moving from an Alliance of 28 to an Alliance of 30[1]. That’s what we want to see happen, yes.

QUESTION: All right. Well, no. So you don’t have anything to say about the idea that one could join before the other?

MR PRICE: It’s just a question that we’re not entertaining. We want to see Finland and Sweden join the Alliance. This has always been —

QUESTION: Well, you might not be entertaining it, but other people are.

MR PRICE: I’m actually not aware that they are. There was a insinuation that was quickly taken off the table. So I’m just not aware that that is a live question right now. We want to see both countries —

QUESTION: All right. So your idea is that they will both join – or your preference is that they both join together?

MR PRICE: Of course.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Change topic?

QUESTION: Can I just —

MR PRICE: Okay. Let me – same topic? Same topic?

QUESTION: But the – Türkiye has indefinitely delayed conversations, that trilateral conversations today, so do you – are you in touch with your – with the Turkish officials about this issue right now?

MR PRICE: I’ve seen statements, including statements from the Swedish prime minister, that the latest consultations – the next rounds of consultations I should say – haven’t been canceled. They have been postponed. It’s an opportunity for Finland and Sweden and Türkiye to take stock of where they are. We obviously want to see those consultations continue and we want to see those consultations culminate in Finland and Sweden joining the Alliance, bringing an Alliance of 28, an Alliance that is more purposeful, more united than at any time during the Cold War – bringing that Alliance to 30.

QUESTION: I have another question on this issue, because this all started with this Quran burning thing in Sweden, in Stockholm. And you said yesterday maybe a private individual, a provocateur might be behind this. Do you – are you reflecting these allegations that maybe Moscow has a hand in this incident?

MR PRICE: I wasn’t attempting to suggest that. What I was suggesting – and we’ve seen similar suggestions from our Swedish partners on this – is the fact that individuals who are taking part in these activities may, in some cases, not want to see Sweden join NATO, may want to disrupt the Transatlantic Alliance. The fact is that there are individuals who are taking advantage of the robust, established, deep-seated democratic principles that Sweden holds dear – in this case, Sweden holds dear – to engage in an activity that is vile, is repugnant, is reprehensible.

I’m not speaking to the motives, the particular motives at play in the latest incident, but just as you’ve heard from our Swedish partners, there is of course the concern that provocateurs, those who may not want to see Sweden join NATO, are engaging in some of these activities, and may want to see disruption in the transatlantic community or in the Atlantic community, the Euroatlantic community.

Yes, still on NATO?

QUESTION: Just one, a quick one on Sweden.

MR PRICE: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: So I brought the trilateral memorandum that Sweden and Finland have signed with the presence of the United States President as well, Joe Biden, back in June 2022. So after (inaudible) – I’m not going to read out the whole thing, but —

MR PRICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: — Sweden commits to prevent activities of the PKK and all other terrorist organizations and their extensions, as well as activities by individuals in affiliated groups as well. So what you’re looking at, coming from developments from Stockholm, that the PKK are running wild and they’re sabotaging, clearly, because they’re saying no to NATO. And these are hurting Sweden’s chances. And Sweden’s chances are hurting Finland’s chances. And Finland even came out today saying that we might even try our chances separately.

So can the United States, can you give a message to Ankara from here, right here, right now, that Sweden, including Article 5, has completed and fulfilled all the tasks in that trilateral memorandum? Because the – Ankara is saying that that’s not the case, that’s far from being the case.

MR PRICE: You referred to it as a trilateral memorandum. It is a trilateral memorandum; it is a trilateral memorandum between Türkiye, Finland, and Sweden. These are ultimately questions that will need to be resolved between Türkiye, Finland, and Sweden. We were proud to be there present for the signing of this memorandum, but ultimately we are not a party to it.

What I can say is that Finland and Sweden have already taken concrete steps to fulfill the commitments they made under the trilateral memorandum with Türkiye that, as you mention, they signed on the margins of the NATO summit in Madrid, including substantially strengthening their bilateral cooperation with Türkiye on key security concerns.

But just as you’ve heard from our Swedish, our Finnish partners, there are ongoing discussions between Türkiye, Finland, Sweden. The NATO secretary general has at times been engaged in this as well. These are questions for those three countries. This is not a bilateral issue between the United States and Türkiye, or the United States and any other country. These are ultimately questions that will have to be adjudicated between those three countries.

QUESTION: The question was – because you obviously keep saying from the podium that Sweden is ready to join NATO, because that is interpreted and translated as a statement that, okay, they’ve done it all; they completed all the tasks in that memorandum. Because that’s why I’m saying, can you say to Ankara right here, right now, that they completed – including Article 5, that they prevented all PKK activities and they’ve been eradicated from the face of the Earth, especially on Swedish soil?

MR PRICE: What I can point to is the concrete steps that Finland and Sweden have taken. When we say that Finland and Sweden are ready to join NATO, it’s a reference to the rigorous membership requirements that apply to any aspirant country. You can take a look at the North Atlantic charter for more information on precisely what aspirant countries must fulfill if they are deemed to be ready to join NATO. In our assessment, Finland and Sweden have fulfilled those requirements; they are ready to join NATO.

But one of the great strengths of NATO is that we act as an alliance. We act by consensus, by unified consensus. And so ultimately this is a question that Türkiye will need to determine for itself when it comes to the requirements that it believes Finland and Sweden need to fulfill. We believe Finland and Sweden are ready to be members. We are supporting their candidacies. We are supporting their desire to join the world’s strongest defensive alliance.

Okay, anything else on NATO?

QUESTION: On Sweden?

MR PRICE: On NATO?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PRICE: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: So just to be clear, are you not trying to – are you not going to try to convince Türkiye to drop its objections? Because you make it seem like it’s purely a trilateral issue, or bilateral issue. So are you just staying hands-off?

And if I may go back to the tanks issue, do you still maintain that there is – the provision of German Leopards is not related or contingent on the Abrams, that there’s no deal between the countries on tanks?

MR PRICE: So on your first question, which was —

QUESTION: Are you going to try to convince —

MR PRICE: Oh, right, yes. You made the distinction – you said we were – asked if we were “hands-off.” I think there’s a difference between not making this or seeking to make this a bilateral issue – because it is not a bilateral issue – versus being entirely hands-off. We have been very clear in public, we’ve been very clear in private about our views on the question of Finland and Sweden’s candidacies for NATO membership. I’ve been very clear today. We believe they are ready, we believe they should be added to the world’s strongest defensive alliance at the earliest possible opportunity.

When it comes to the Leopards, look, this is a question for Germany. We’re not going to get ahead of any potential announcements Germany might make. We are – just as I was alluding to a moment ago in the context of NATO, we seek to engage in good-faith coordination, consultation not only with Ukraine, but all of the countries that are contributing much-needed security assistance to Germany to see to it that we’re providing as much as we can, as swiftly as we can, and as effectively as we can.

If there are steps that we can take to see to it that Ukraine acquires quantities or capabilities that it needs, we’ve demonstrated before that we’re prepared to do that. You’ve seen us do this when it comes to the S-300 early on in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. We facilitated Slovakia’s passage of the S-300 system to Ukraine; we in turn backfilled it. We’ve been able to do the same with other capabilities. We’re always having conversations with our allies and partners about what more we can do, in many cases together, to get our Ukrainian partners what they need.

Anything else on this, on Finland? Yeah.

QUESTION: On Sweden. The prime minister said today that he wants to get back to a functioning dialogue on NATO membership. I know you said you don’t want to make this a bilateral issue, but what can the U.S. do to help Finland and Sweden return to a functioning dialogue?

MR PRICE: Well, ultimately the question of the pace, the tenor, the content of these talks are going to have to be a question for Finland, Sweden, and Türkiye. We can continue to voice our support for their candidacies. We can continue to engage in public and in private with Türkiye and with other relevant countries to make very clear that we believe these two countries are ready, that they are prepared, and that they should be admitted to the Alliance at the first possible opportunity.

But again, this is not a bilateral issue between the United States and Türkiye, as much as some might like to turn it into one. We are cognizant of the fact that this is a decision that Türkiye will have to make in dialogue, in discussion with Finland and Sweden and, as appropriate, with Secretary General Stoltenberg.

Okay.

QUESTION: Ned, last question on that. Will you – sir, will you condemn the burning of Quran or do you think this is a matter of freedom of speech?

MR PRICE: So we can do two things at once. We can make very clear that an action like this is reprehensible, it’s disgusting, it’s vile, it’s repugnant, even as we uphold the principles that allow something like this to be able to happen. The fact is – and I mentioned this yesterday – in our own democracy, we have seen actions that we might term lawful but awful. I think this would fall within that category. I want to be very clear that no one in this administration is voicing any degree of support whatsoever for this vile action that took place. Quite the contrary. But we’re also very quick to add that Sweden is a vibrant democracy, and the reason something like this could happen in a country like Sweden is precisely because of its democratic character, precisely because Sweden upholds freedom of expression, freedom of assembly. And when you provide people those freedoms, when you safeguard those freedoms, sometimes they make terrible decisions; they do awful things.

QUESTION: Ned?

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: If you would. But let me comment on this burning of the Quran. Do you believe that your condemnation would deter any lunatic from burning the Quran?

MR PRICE: I – if only – if only our condemnation would have that effect, Said?

QUESTION: Now I’m going to move to the Palestinian —

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: — issue. I don’t think the condemnation would deter some crazy guy from doing that. But let me ask you about a couple of things on the Palestinian issue. I asked you yesterday on the Human Rights Watch report. I wonder if you had had a – if you’ve had a chance to take a look at it, and what is your comment?

MR PRICE: I have. This report pertains to the COGAT procedures – the COGAT procedures that went into effect in October of last year. These are procedures that impact the entry, study, work, and/or the residency of potentially thousands of people to and in the West Bank. As you know, Said, because we’ve talked about this, we reviewed the pilot procedures published by Israel’s COGAT in September. We have noted the improvements in some of the regulations from the original draft that was published in February of last year. We remain concerned, however, about the adverse impact many procedures could have on Palestinian civil society, on tourism, investment, and academic and health care institutions, as well as on U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals by restricting and unduly burdening travel and family unification.

We expect that Israeli authorities will work to ensure both enhanced transparency in the West Bank entry process and the fair treatment of all U.S. citizens and all other foreign nationals traveling to Israel and the West Bank.

We, along with other stakeholders, will closely monitor and continue to engage the Government of Israel on the implementation of these guidelines during the trial period. We’ll continue to engage with Israel and the PA to ensure that civil society and humanitarian organizations based in the West Bank and Gaza as well as Israel have the space to carry out their important work. This was really at the center of the Human Rights Watch report that you mentioned.

We strongly believe that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible, responsive, and democratic governance around the world.

QUESTION: And a couple more issues on the plans in – the Arab press and the Israeli press are both reporting that Israel is planning a – like a – to accelerate the demolishing of – the demolition of Palestinian homes in Area C and in other areas. Do you have a comment on that?

MR PRICE: Our comment on this is – remains the fact that we believe it’s critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-step – two-state solution. This includes the annexation of territory, settlement activity, and demolitions.

QUESTION: And finally, on UNRWA. UNRWA is urging or appealing to you and to the Europeans and to the Arab donors and so on because it’s in dire need for about $1.3 billion. Are you – I know that the United States have accelerated its donations to UNRWA, but have you this year, this —

MR PRICE: What was your question?

QUESTION: Are there any plans to sort of increase the fund that —

MR PRICE: So you’re correct. Not only have we accelerated our funding of the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people, but we in fact resumed it under this administration as part of our early efforts to re-engage with the Palestinian Authority but also with, importantly, the Palestinian people.

UNRWA is one vehicle through which we’ve done that. We’ve provided hundreds of millions of dollars for the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people through UNRWA, and I do expect we’ll be in a position to continue to do that with additional announcements going forward.

QUESTION: Ned, on the — I guess, do you have any comments on the Israeli-Jordanian summit, and did the U.S. play any role to decrease the tension between the two personalities?

MR PRICE: Between the two personalities?

QUESTION: Yeah. Between the king and the prime minister.

MR PRICE: We of course are aware of the visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu to Jordan. It is something that we welcome. We have spoken of our firm belief, the fact that we stand firmly for preservation of the historic status quo with respect to the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, and we’ve affirmed the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s special role as Custodian of Muslim Holy Sites in Jerusalem. We’ve consistently underscored the need to preserve that historic status quo at Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount, as you’ve heard recently from the Secretary as well.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Briefly, the shootings that we’ve had in the United States. The Chinese foreign ministry today asked its citizens to exercise greater precautions in the United States because Asian and Asian Americans have been targeted or have been involved quite a bit in these shootings. Does the U.S. have any – any take on that, whether it’s appropriate for China to be encouraging greater caution in the United States?

MR PRICE: I’m not going to weigh in on what would, in effect, be a consular message from the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We of course follow our own guidelines and protocols when it comes to the consular messages and the security alerts that we issue to our citizens around the world, and we appreciate the space that countries around the world provide for us to do so.

I am also hesitant to comment on these particular incidents. Of course there are active law enforcement investigations to determine the motives behind the killers, the shooters in each of these cases, so I’m just not going to wade into that.

Yes, in the back. Yeah, Guita.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Special Envoy Rob Malley has said that the U.S. has been pushing China not to buy oil from Iran. Would you shed some light on that, please, and what the Chinese response may have been?

MR PRICE: Sure, Guita. So we have been clear and consistent about the need for countries around the world to enforce sanctions that are on the books and, as appropriate, to increase pressure on the Iranian regime in response to its intransigence. We are regularly and robustly engaged with the day-to-day business of enforcing our sanctions, including with regular and effective communications with allies and partners about those attempting to evade our sanctions.

As Iran’s largest oil customer, the PRC remains a top focus for our sanctions enforcement. We regularly engage with the PRC and other countries to discourage them from taking steps vis-à-vis Iran that – from taking steps vis-à-vis Iran that have the potential to undermine U.S. sanctions. We don’t preview potential sanctions actions, but we continue to monitor Iran’s oil exports and to engage Iran’s trading partners about the possibility of exposure to U.S. sanctions.

And that possibility of exposure is not just an academic question or a hypothetical. We, during the course of this administration, have levied multiple tranches of designations targeting Iran’s illicit petroleum and petrochemical trade over the past year or so. Some of these have included PRC-based entities or actors. In September of last year, for example, we sanctioned two PRC-based entities for operating crude oil storage facilities for Iranian petroleum products and a shipping company that had transported Iranian petroleum products, along with affiliated entities in other countries. In June of last year, 2022, we sanctioned a network of Iranian petrochemical producers and front companies in the PRC, UAE, and Iran.

These are just two examples of the accountability steps we’ve taken – those who would seek to circumvent U.S. and in some cases international sanctions imposed as a result of Iran’s own behavior. Iran’s nuclear program, Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and well beyond – it’s of course clear they are not in our interest, but they are also not in the interest of the PRC or any other country around the world.

And so we think it’s important that we work together even when we have profound differences across multiple fronts, as is the case with the PRC, that we work together to see to it that sanctions are very clearly and rigorously enforced.

QUESTION: One more question, please. Okay, since these suppressions in Iran of the demonstrators, you’ve been saying, everybody at the State Department has been saying, that the focus is not on JCPOA but supporting the demonstrators and those seeking their fundamental rights. It seems like Senator Ted Cruz is not accepting, does – is not believing you, the State Department on this, and says that the Biden administration is obsessed with reviving the JCPOA. Any comments?

MR PRICE: I don’t know how we could possibly be much clearer in terms of where we are now, and in this case where we are not. I’ll repeat it: the JCPOA has not been on the agenda for months. What has been on the agenda is our support to the brave Iranians who are taking to the streets to – and in doing so, expressing their universal rights. What has been on the agenda is seeking to condemn and counter Iran provision of security assistance to Russia, security assistance that in turn has targeted civilians in Ukraine. And what has been on the agenda are efforts that we continue to undertake to see to it that our wrongfully detained citizens are released.

The JCPOA has not been on the agenda because the Iranians have consistently turned their back on a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. They did so last September when an agreement was essentially on the table, when the other participants in the P5+1 had essentially agreed to it, and all it would have taken was an Iranian determination to move forward with it. They chose not to; they chose to renege on commitments. This was a pattern that we’d seen from Iran. So even while we believe that a diplomatic solution to the challenges posed by Iran’s nuclear program is by far the most preferable option, a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA has just not been on the table. It’s not something we’re seeking.

QUESTION: You mentioned the detainees, Ned – sorry – any updates on that?

MR PRICE: The only update I have is that it is an issue that we are prioritizing in everything we do. We have means by which to convey messages to the Iranian regime. We have made very clear to them since the earliest days of this administration the priority we attach to the safety and security of these Americans and the fact that these Americans should be released. These Americans are being held as political pawns. This is an abhorrent practice. It’s a practice that Iran has long engaged in. It’s a practice that we seek to put an end to with these American citizens.

Yes.

QUESTION: President Biden and the Vice President both had raised voice for the people of Kashmir when they were running in elections. And today, Rahul Gandhi of congress has also said that if his party comes into power the autonomy issue and the self-determination issue for Kashmir will be his first priority. And of course, Pakistan and India, this is one of the major issue. Is there going to be a time when we will see a just resolution to this issue, or is this issue going to continue to linger on?

MR PRICE: This is a question for India and Pakistan. We had an opportunity to speak about this yesterday, made clear that we support constructive engagement between our two partners – in this case India and Pakistan. But ultimately, the character, the tenor, the details of that engagement is a question for them.

QUESTION: On Pakistan —

QUESTION: One more —

MR PRICE: One more, sure. Go ahead, Shaun.

QUESTION: On the – Russia and Pakistan. A few days ago, Russia said that it’s nearing a deal to sell oil to Pakistan, which of course traditionally hasn’t been a major importer of Russian oil but has some very serious economic problems. Does the United States have a stance on that – on this? Has there been any dialogue with Pakistan about whether to move forward or not?

MR PRICE: Well, our approach to this is – has been laid out in the price cap mechanism that we worked out with other countries around the world, including the G7. And the virtue of the price cap is that it allows energy markets to continue to be resourced while depriving Moscow of the revenue it would need to continue to propagate and fuel its brutal war against Ukraine.

We have made the point that we have very intentionally not sanctioned Russian oil. Instead, it’s now subject to the price cap. So we have encouraged countries to take advantage of that, even those countries that have not formally signed on to the price cap, so that they can acquire oil in some cases at a steep discount from what they would otherwise acquire from, in this case, Russia.

We have been very clear that now is not the time to increase economic activity with Russia. But we understand the imperative of keeping global energy markets well resourced, well supplied, and the price cap, we believe, provides a mechanism to do that.

QUESTION: One on China?

MR PRICE: Let me move around. Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I want to ask regarding Ms. Julie Turner, nominee for special envoy on North Korea human rights issues. Can you add some more details about her career and competence as a diplomat? And also what’s the reason for nominating her two years after the inauguration of Biden administration?

MR PRICE: Sure. So first, let me just say that we congratulate Julie Turner on her nomination as the U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights issues, and we look forward to the Senate confirming her, we hope, swiftly. She is uniquely qualified for this position, having worked for nearly two decades on North Korean human rights and other regional issues in the State Department and at the National Security Council staff. There are few people with the depth of knowledge, experience, and relationships that she brings to bear on North Korean human rights issues.

This administration, as you know, is committed to placing human rights at the center of our foreign policy. And for decades the United States has championed efforts to improve respect for human rights and dignity of North Koreans and we’ll continue to promote accountability for the DPRK Government, for its egregious human rights records, including through the appointment of the special envoy for North Korean human rights.

Even has this position has been vacant – and of course, it’s a position that wasn’t filled by the previous administration, so it’s been some time since we’ve had a Senate-confirmed individual in this position – State Department officials at all levels, from the Secretary on down, have been actively engaged on issues of North Korean human rights. This engagement has included working with the international community to raise awareness of these issues and introducing resolutions in multilateral bodies, documenting violations and abuses through our annually Congressionally mandated reports, and supporting efforts to increase the flow of information into, out of, and through the DPRK.

Julie Turner’s appointment reflects our priority in addressing the DPRK’s deplorable human rights situation.

Kylie.

QUESTION: Just a quick one on that.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: So by nominating her, the administration doesn’t plan to elevate its focus on North Korea human rights abuses?

MR PRICE: She will be the special envoy for North Korea human rights issues, of course. She will fulfill a position that, as I mentioned before, was vacant for the entirety of the last administration, hasn’t had a Senate-confirmed individual in place for a number of years now. I would add, however, that even in the absence of a Senate-confirmed individual in this role, it’s been a focus of ours. We are very pleased to see Julie Turner’s nomination and, again, we hope that she is swiftly confirmed by the Senate so she can be in place formally in this role before long.

QUESTION: And if I could just ask one quick question about the letter from Congressman McCaul to the Secretary yesterday. A lot of questions related to the documents found in the President’s former office in the Penn Biden Center. I’m wondering if you have any update for us as to if the department knows if any of those documents are State Department documents, because that’s one the questions in this letter. And if you don’t yet know that, if you expect that you’ll be getting any update from the IC or from DOJ on the content of those documents.

MR PRICE: So first, on the letter we received yesterday, let me just add that we’ve had productive, constructive engagement with the 117th Congress, with the last Congress. We had thousands of engagements on that Congress’s priorities and importantly on the priorities that matter most to the American people. This is what we certainly hope and expect to have with this Congress, with the 118th Congress.

Chairman McCaul, as you know, was in the building earlier this month. It was, from our vantage point, a very useful, constructive meeting. In the aftermath of that meeting, we’ve received multiple letters from his committee, and we’ve made initial responses to several of those letters. We’ve done so quickly. We’re actively engaged with the committee on multiple fronts, wanting to be responsive to their interests.

Regarding the letter that was transmitted yesterday, we’re going to coordinate with the Executive Branch and consult with the committee, as is standard in all of these cases. These are discussions that we’ll have internally and that we’ll have with the committee going forward.

On the question of the documents themselves, I’m just not in a position to go beyond what you’ve heard from me before, and now from the Secretary before. He – just as the President was, he was surprised that there were any government records found in the Penn Biden Center. Obviously, there’s an ongoing DOJ review. We’re going to let that review play out.

QUESTION: And just one more question. There’s a lot of questions in this letter. Some of them pertain to the Secretary’s life before he was the Secretary of State. So is there a plan for a personal lawyer for the Secretary to be responding to some of those?

MR PRICE: These are precisely the kinds of questions that we are going to discuss internally and then we’re also going to discuss with the committee. We’re going to have those discussions before we say anything publicly on that front.

Yeah, Dylan?

QUESTION: Yes. You said twice in the last week or so that China is no longer a major source of fentanyl coming into the United States. Joe Biden, President Biden’s, top official working on the overdose crisis through said just this past weekend that it’s still a major source of a components of fentanyl flowing into the United States. I know you’ve mentioned those when you were talking about the subject, but isn’t that a bit of a distinction without a difference to say – to commend China for restricting the flow of fentanyl itself when it’s still distributing all the components needed to make fentanyl, is still a major source of that?

MR PRICE: I think it’s a distinction that I laid out very clearly yesterday, when I was last asked about this. Made the point that the PRC scheduled fentanyl and related substances as a class in 2019, but we continue to see the PRC-origin precursor chemicals used in illicit fentanyl production. Don’t want to discount – and in fact, I pointed out earlier this week, yesterday I believe it was – that we have a concerted focus on fentanyl at this department because it is a leading killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 49. The Secretary is determined to see to it that we are doing everything that we can from the equities of this department to be responsive to addressing this challenge, working with countries around the world, working with our partners in the Executive Branch to see to it that there’s no stern – stone unturned. And when we travel around the world, this is an issue that he routinely raises.

When it comes to the PRC, of course it’s a complex, multifaceted relationship. One of those facets is the potential for deeper cooperation in some areas. We would like to see that. We would like to see greater cooperation between the United States and the PRC on fentanyl, specifically on these precursor elements that, as you alluded to, do still make their way to third countries and ultimately form the basis of so much of the fentanyl that arrives in the United States and kills our citizens.

This is not a challenge that affects Americans alone – far from it. That’s why it is incumbent on countries like ours – in this case, the United States and the PRC – to work together where we can – and we believe we can, in this case – to take on a challenge that is such a threat to our citizens and citizens of the world. This is precisely what the rest of the world, what the international community expects of the United States and the PRC, to do everything we possibly can to tackle a challenge like this.

QUESTION: You did say yesterday also that there hasn’t been much engagement on this issue in recent months. And now you’re saying that it’s a top priority, of course, and that the Secretary mentions it often. So does that mean that the PRC are the ones that are holding up that engagement, are the ones not engaging on the issue?

MR PRICE: I didn’t intend to suggest – and I don’t think I did – that there hasn’t been a priority in this building. The point I made is that engagement on these issues has been limited in recent months. We’re actively seeking to engage the PRC to accelerate the engagement on this particular issue with them in that bilateral relationship.

Shannon.

QUESTION: Thanks. Also on China and the allegations that the U.S. has communicated with China, that state-owned companies are supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine through non-lethal and economic means, the White House said today that it’s not clear whether the Chinese Government knows about this activity. I wanted to ask how much of the onus is on the Chinese Government that – given these are state-owned companies to monitor their activity and know what they’re doing? And could they still face repercussions?

MR PRICE: So let me make the point that this is something that we have been closely monitoring since even before Russia’s – the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine in February of last year. We’ve been very clear with the PRC of the implications of providing materiel to support Russia’s war against Ukraine.

I’m not in a position to confirm some of the accounts you’ve read, but we would be concerned if we were to see not only the PRC itself engaging in this, but Chinese companies, PRC companies doing this. Obviously there is close synergy, cooperation, coordination between the PRC Government and companies operating in and out of the PRC. And in all of our conversations, we have emphasized to our PRC counterparts the importance of – that we attach to this and to the need to – our ongoing monitoring of this. I suspect it’s something that we’ll discuss in the coming days, when the Secretary has an opportunity to travel to Beijing.

Let me take a couple more questions. Yes. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. There was an incident today in Ankara, Türkiye. A Voice of America reporter was harassed by the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party today. And one of the members he also said on Twitter that her permanent duty on – in foreign media outlet VOA, which is a prominent propaganda tool for the U.S., are revealing of her true intention. Do you have any reaction or comment to this?

MR PRICE: I’m not immediately familiar with this incident, so I would need to look into it. What I can say is, as a general matter, is that we support freedom of the press, the ability of journalists and reporters to conduct their indispensable work free of harassment, free of threats, free of violence around the world. It’s a principle that applies to countries around the world. So we’ll have to look into that.

QUESTION: I have a follow up on that.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: This is not the first time VOA reporters, especially in Türkiye, are being harassed. And VOA Turkish website is still blocked in Türkiye since I believe June 2022. Is there an ongoing conversation between Ankara and Washington about this U.S. public broadcaster position in Türkiye?

MR PRICE: What I can say is that in our engagements with our Turkish allies we raise issues that are of mutual concerns, issues that are a concern to us as well. We talk quite a bit about security issues, about diplomatic issues, economic issues, but also issues of human rights and civil liberties. Those are a staple of our conversations with our Turkish allies. We emphasize the universality of universal rights. One of those universal rights is the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, in this case freedom of the press as fundamentally important.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Follow-up on North Korea. When it come to the North Korean issue, I think Ambassador Sung Kim is still concurrently serving as special representative for the DPRK. If you are seriously looking for the diplomatic path with DPRK, why don’t you guys just appoint a full-time special representative for DPRK?

MR PRICE: When it comes to Sung Kim, who is serving concurrently as our special envoy to the DPRK and as our bilateral ambassador to Indonesia, he is an extraordinary talent. There is – there’s few people, if anyone, who has his level and depth of knowledge when it comes to the issues that are at play with the DPRK. He’s been involved with this for many years. We want to make sure that we’re leveraging that experience, that knowledge, that expertise as well.

Now, there’s a very practical issue at play. We’ve made very clear that we seek to engage directly with the DPRK to see if we can arrive at practical, pragmatic steps we can take towards what is our ultimate objective of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The DPRK, unfortunately, has demonstrated no interest or willingness or ability to engage with us on these questions. So it may be a different story were there active diplomacy ongoing with the DPRK, were there active dialogue ongoing.

In the absence of that, Sung Kim has been very focused on working with our Japanese allies, on our South Korean allies, other allies in the Indo-Pacific, other allies and partners around the world. That is a significant amount of work, and if we are to arrive at a position where it does make sense to have an individual singularly focused as special envoy for the DPRK, we can cross that bridge, but right now Sung Kim has been doing a really tremendous job as our ambassador and as our special envoy.

Take – yes, go ahead. Final question or so.

QUESTION: Thank you. Reportedly, House Speaker McCarthy has planned to visit Taiwan in the spring this year. So as we remember, last year after Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, China conducted a large-scale military exercises along Taiwan. So my question is: What would be the State Department position on Speaker McCarthy’s potential trip to Taiwan?

MR PRICE: I’m not aware that the Speaker’s office has announced any planned travel; would have to refer you to the Speaker’s office. Of course, Congress – and we made this point last summer as well – is a co-equal, independent branch of government. They are going to make their own decisions when it comes to every issue under the sun, and that includes potential travel.

Now, what concerned us last summer and what has concerned us throughout this administration with Beijing’s approach to cross-strait issues is the apparent desire on the part of the PRC to undermine the longstanding status quo that has really held up decades of stability, peace across the Taiwan Strait. We do not want to see that eroded. Our concern is that in the aftermath of Speaker Pelosi’s visit, the PRC used that as a pretext to accelerate what it had already been doing, trying to create a new normal, trying to undermine the status quo that, far from undermining, we seek to preserve.

That continues to be our concern going forward. Just as we discuss issues of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in meeting with our PRC officials, we also discuss cross-strait issues, and in all of those discussions we emphasize the priority the international community attaches to peace and stability across the strait and to upholding rather than diluting the status quo that has really been at the crux of that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. Follow-up question to the North Korean human rights ambassador. Why the – was the ambassador post appointed at this time after being vacant for six years? Dialogue with North Korea remained disconnected. What message does it send to North Korea? What do you think?

MR PRICE: Well, I can’t comment on those six years. Of course, four of those years were in the last administration, when the position went unfilled for the entire time. What I can say is that this administration has prioritized and put human rights at the center of our foreign policy, and that includes in the context of the DPRK. Secretary Blinken, senior officials in our Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, in our Bureau of Democracy, Rights, and Labor as well, have worked fervently to do everything we can to raise awareness, to work with allies and partners, to shine a spotlight on the human rights abuses that are ongoing in the DPRK. We’re very pleased now that we have a nominee who will be able to do this day in, day out upon her confirmation by the Senate, and we urge the Senate to act swiftly on that.

Quick —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Let me follow up on Secretary’s recent calls to South Caucasus. He urged Azerbaijan’s Aliyev to redouble his efforts on peace negotiations, and he also welcomed Pashinyan’s – Prime Minister Pashinyan’s – commitment. Is it your impression that the ball is on Azerbaijani side? And in that case, may I get your reaction to – actually, the Secretary’s take on how he envisions the process moving forward? What is his conclusion?

MR PRICE: Well, we don’t go into it with a conclusion. We go into it hoping to see direct dialogue – direct dialogue leading to a resolution of the issues that have long divided Armenia and Azerbaijan – and through that dialogue, hopefully reaching a lasting peace. We’re continuing to engage in direct discussions with Armenia and Azerbaijan. We’re doing that bilaterally; we’re doing that with partners; we’re doing that through multilateral institutions. We’ve had an occasion to do that trilaterally a couple times last year as well. We are going to do what is most effective to bring about a resolution to these very thorny issues.

QUESTION: But does the Secretary have clear understanding of where the negotiation process is stalled at this point?

MR PRICE: We have a good sense of the state of play. We have various concerns. Let me just state, on the topic of those concerns, our concerns regarding the Lachin corridor. We are concerned that the situation there is worsening; the worsening humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh has been a focus of not only the Secretary but others in this building. Ongoing obstruction of normal commercial and private travel along the Lachin corridor is causing shortages of food, fuel, and medicine for the residents who depend on the corridor for those very basic supplies. Periodic disruptions to natural gas and other basic utilities exacerbate the worsening humanitarian situation. We call for the full restoration of free movement through the corridor, including commercial and private travel. We believe we need a solution to this impasse that will ensure the safety and well-being of the population living in the area, and we believe the way forward is, as I said before, through negotiations. We remain committed to supporting a lasting peace.

Yes, Julie.

QUESTION: He also raised human rights —

MR PRICE: I need to move on, Alex.

QUESTION: Just very —

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, I need to move on. Yes, go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah, I wanted to go back to the meeting that was hosted this – co-hosted this morning between the Secretary and foreign minister – the Japanese foreign minister on the energy sector in Ukraine. There are a lot of other issues that are going on in Ukraine. There’s no water. A lot of other utilities are damaged as well as the energy infrastructure. Are there plans also to include some – try to address some of that within the international community, within this cohort of G7 that came together this morning?

MR PRICE: So the basic answer is yes. I would add, though, that some of the challenges that you alluded to – water, for example – is a consequence of Russia’s targeting of energy infrastructure. If you don’t have energy, you can’t purify, you can’t dispense, you can’t see to it that water is distributed to the civilian population that so needs it. And so really, many of the humanitarian predicaments that our Ukrainian partners face, the root of that is what Russia has sought to do to the civilian energy infrastructure.

Participants today had an opportunity to hear directly from Foreign Minister Kuleba of their needs. Among the needs that he put forward was a call for additional air-defense assets. Those air-defense assets of course can protect electricity and energy infrastructure just as they can protect other forms of critical infrastructure, including water, as you alluded to.

Other participants laid out what they are in the process of providing. Secretary Blinken noted what we already had announced – the fact that we’ve had two planeloads travel to Ukraine in recent weeks; the fact that we expect additional supplies to arrive in the coming days. And he really put an emphasis on how we can continue to leverage this group of foreign ministers, the G7 plus a number of other countries, to in the first instance keep this group going, providing Ukraine what we have and what we can in the form of assistance for their energy infrastructure, but also as we effect the shift from emergency response to long-term reconstruction.

We have demonstrated an ability to help our Ukrainian partners with that emergency response, and the resilience that we’ve seen from our Ukrainian partners turning the lights back on, being in a position to turn those lights back on within hours or even minutes of these deadly strikes I think speaks to not only the Ukrainian resourcefulness but also the determination of countries around the world to provide that. But we’re also thinking about the longer term, how we can make Ukraine’s – help Ukraine’s energy infrastructure to be stronger, more resilient, green; how we can see to it that it is integrated with that of Europe as well.

QUESTION: And then can I – can I have a follow-up on – also on Ukraine? The designation of the Wagner Group as its power within the military, or the Russian military organization, rises – how – could you speak for a few minutes about how – or for a second about how you think – what you think the impact of that will be? Will that be helpful, and how soon?

MR PRICE: Sure. So I will limit my comments today because we spoke to it yesterday at some length, and I expect we’ll have more to say later this week. But suffice to say we have a number of authorities that we’ve already levied against the Wagner Group to attempt to counter some of its nefarious activities around the world. It is a primary export of chaos, of instability, of violence. We see that in Ukraine, but we also see that in other parts of the world, including in Africa.

The announcement that you heard that we would label the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organization provides us with another tool. It will leave senior officials and employees of the Wagner Group susceptible to visa bans. For example, it will allow our law enforcement entities to work with law enforcement counterparts around the world to counter the Wagner Group’s activities from that angle.

But again, we are going to use every appropriate and relevant authority we have to try to counter, to try to neutralize what this group is attempting to do around the world.

Thanks very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:43 p.m.)


1. an Alliance of 32 upon Sweden and Finland’s accession

Department Press Briefing – January 23, 2023

2:10 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Happy Monday. Good afternoon to everyone. It’s quite a full briefing room. I was joking with my colleague that I have a hard out today at 5:00 p.m. – (laughter) – so we’ll make good use of our time. Just one announcement at the top, and then we’ll turn to your questions.

The United States took further action today, concurrently with the United Kingdom and the European Union, to promote accountability for the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses by imposing sanctions on 10 additional Iranian individuals, including Iran’s deputy minister of intelligence and key commanders in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as one additional Iranian entity.

Today’s action is the latest of numerous tranches of sanctions made in close consultation with our allies and partners and aimed at Iranian individuals and entities connected to Iranian authorities’ cruel and violent crackdown against peaceful protesters. In addition, we applaud our allies and partners, including the United Kingdom, members of the European Union, Canada, Australia, and others, who also continue to sanction Iranian authorities and entities involved and complicit in human rights abuses and in Iran’s supply of weapons to Russia for use in the Kremlin’s brutal war against Ukraine. Today, we are united with our allies and partners in the need to confront Iran’s leadership for its human rights abuses and destabilizing activities, which should alarm the entire world.

With that, we’ll turn to your questions.

QUESTION: I was late so I will allow others to —

MR PRICE: That’s very magnanimous of you.

QUESTION: Could I?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Nothing? I’ve always said that about you, Matt. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I think people may want to start elsewhere, but can I start in Ethiopia?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The withdrawal of Eritrean troops. There was the call over the weekend with Prime Minister Abiy. To what extent is this verified that this is a withdrawal? Do you expect it to be permanent, expect it as in do you acknowledge that it’s permanent?

MR PRICE: This was a subject of the call with the prime minister over the weekend. As you know, they had an opportunity to speak on January 21st. They spoke of numerous elements, but that included the ongoing withdrawal of Eritrean troops from northern Ethiopia. The Secretary welcomed this development, noting that it was a key to securing a sustainable peace in northern Ethiopia, and he urged access for international human rights monitors. The Secretary also affirmed the commitment of the United States to support the AU-led peace process in northern Ethiopia. They also discussed the need to bring an end to ongoing instability in the Oromia region of Ethiopia.

We do applaud the continued steady progress towards implementing the key elements of the cessation of hostilities agreement that was reached a number of months ago as well as the positive role of the AU’s Joint Monitoring Verification and Compliance team.

When it comes to Eritrea, as I mentioned before, Shaun, we are aware that Eritrean forces are beginning to withdraw from Ethiopia. We reiterate the call that you’ve heard consistently from us, including the call that was included in the communique that emanated from the talks in South Africa, for the withdrawal of all foreign forces. We reiterate the call for the complete withdrawal in line with that November 12th Nairobi agreement as well.

The departure of Eritrean and other forces is crucial, as I said before, to achieving lasting peace, securing full humanitarian access, and ensuring the territorial integrity of Ethiopia. Even as we continue to see positive signs, including the ongoing withdrawal of Eritrean forces, we are concerned by reports that Eritrean forces have committed human rights abuses against civilians, and we continue – and continue to impede the delivery of much-needed humanitarian assistance. We call on the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea to investigate these reports and to hold those responsible to account. We also call on the Government of Ethiopia to fulfill its commitment to grant full access to international human rights monitors.

QUESTION: Sure, just to follow up on a couple of these. The abuses that you’re talking about, you’re talking about in the past, not currently?

MR PRICE: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Prior to the withdrawal?

MR PRICE: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Two things. As far as you know, has there been any contact with the Eritreans? Obviously the U.S. has a difficult relationship there, and of course there are sanctions that are imposed on Eritrea in the course of the war. Will those – not today, I’m sure, but will those – will those be lifted in some sense for this?

MR PRICE: In terms of our – any dialogue with Eritrea, we of course do have an embassy in Asmara. It is a relationship that is, to put it lightly, strained. Of course we have the means by which to convey messages to counterparts in Asmara, sometimes delivering those messages publicly as the most effective means by which to do that, but we do have an embassy there.

When it comes to the sanctions that are on Eritrean officials, you are right that there are a number of accountability mechanisms that – some of which were devised and announced in the course of this civil war in Ethiopia that we hope is finally coming to an end. One of those was the executive order that this administration devised and President Biden announced some number of months ago. Eritrean forces have been subject to its provisions because of their activity during the course of this conflict.

If this continues, if we continue to see positive momentum, we of course will take that into account. We will take into account everything we see – the good, the bad – as we evaluate the next steps and determine whether any additional accountability measures are warranted or, to the contrary, if certain sanctions that are in place no longer have a basis in that executive order.

Yeah, Humeyra.

QUESTION: Ned, can we talk a little bit about this whole saga around the tanks in Europe? And there seems to be a lot of back and forth and even, like, almost a dispute about Germany doesn’t want to send the tanks independently, you guys are saying it’s their sovereign decision, but they want – they seem to want the shield of allies. So what can the administration do to support that process? And the administration has made an effort to keep NATO unified, and this seems to be a bit of an emerging clash. How does the Biden administration feel about this in Europe?

MR PRICE: First, let me take the second part of your question first. At virtually every step of Russia’s war against Ukraine, we’ve heard these prognostications or predictions that the transatlantic unity that we’ve marshaled and maintained is fraying at the seams, it’s coming apart. In fact, we heard that even before the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th. At every step of the way, those predictions have proved to be premature and just flat out wrong. You – let me just give you one example: Look at what came out of the latest convening of the Defense Contact Group that Secretary of Defense Austin and Chairman Milley attended last week.

And you saw announcements – new announcements from any number of allies and partners that speak to the tremendous amount of not only unity but determination from countries around the world to continue to stick with it. France and Germany and the UK, they’ve all donated air-defense systems to Ukraine. That includes from Germany a Patriot battery. The Netherlands is donating a Patriot – Patriot missiles and launchers and training. Canada has procured a NASAM system and associated munitions for Ukraine. The UK of course announced the provision of Challenger 2 tanks for Ukraine. Sweden announced it’s donating CV90 infantry fighting vehicles and additional donations soon of ARCHER Howitzers. Denmark, Latvia, other countries all announced new provision of support to Ukraine in the context of the Defense Contact Group, and that was just last week. Oh, and I should be – I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that we also announced $2.5 billion of our own —

QUESTION: Yeah, but all of the –

MR PRICE: — of our own security assistance.

QUESTION: All of that lacks —

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: All of that lacks tanks, and that’s the urgent request from the Ukrainians. So like great cooperation and agreement on all of those, but they say this is the most urgent one —

MR PRICE: So tanks —

QUESTION: — and you guys seem to have lacked —

MR PRICE: Tanks. We have taken steps over the course of many months, including over the summer, to see to it that partners are in a position to provide tanks to Ukraine. Ukraine has tanks. I don’t want to leave you with the misimpression that Ukraine doesn’t have tanks. Ukraine has hundreds of tanks, so point A.

When it comes to any —

QUESTION: Are you saying their request is irrational or —

MR PRICE: When it —

QUESTION: — unnecessary?

MR PRICE: When it comes to any particular capability – you’ve heard us say this before and you actually summed it up – this is a sovereign decision on the part of each country to decide what types of security assistance to provide, what they’re in a position to provide. We applaud all of our allies and partners for what they have done so far, and I just recounted some of that that we’ve heard over the past 72 hours or so. We’ve previously, when it comes to Germany, applauded its announcements that they’ll send Ukraine infantry fighting vehicles, MLRS systems, air-defense capabilities including the IRS-T air-defense system, and as I mentioned before a Patriot missile battery. We also applaud the decision by the UK, as I mentioned before, to send these Challenger tanks to Ukraine.

We will continue to do our part to provide Ukraine with what it needs. I mentioned our latest provision of security assistance that we announced on Thursday and Friday. That was the 30th drawdown of so‑called Presidential Drawdown Authority. Thirty times now we have announced hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars’ worth of security assistance to Ukraine. And on Friday, we announced that we’ll provide more than 500 armored vehicles to Ukraine in addition to the Bradley Fighting Vehicles that we’ve previously announced.

QUESTION: But what role —

MR PRICE: I see you —

QUESTION: — do you play in the —

MR PRICE: I see you having a follow-up question. I suspected you would go there.

Our role there will be to continue to speak with our Ukrainian partners, to speak with our allies, including in the context of NATO, including in the context of the Defense Contact Group, to determine the needs of the Ukrainian fighters and also what members of this coalition of some 50 countries are in a position to provide.

We are not going to be prescriptive. The only thing that we’re continuing to prescribe is that President Putin’s aggression will be – continue to be a strategic failure. We are going to provide Ukraine with what it needs to take on the battle that it’s facing at any given moment. We can say that until we’re blue in the face, but more importantly, we can continue to demonstrate that. And I think you see that with the success that our Ukrainian partners have had on the battlefield, including with the security assistance that we have provided and some 50 other countries around the world have provided.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: In the meantime, Ned – Ned —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: In the back, yes. Yes, please.

QUESTION: In the meantime, on this issue. Ned —

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I have follow-up, obviously, to the tank question. What impact does Germany’s hesitation have on the German-American relationship when it comes to not sending tanks now, question number one? And Poland says that they want to send Leopards to Ukraine without the permit of Germany. Would Secretary Blinken support that decision?

MR PRICE: These are questions for Germany. These are questions for Poland. In some cases, these are questions that our German allies will need to discuss with our shared allies. And my impression, having seen headlines that are just emerging, is that we may be hearing more from our German allies in the coming hours and the coming days.

But I will say Germany is a stalwart ally across the board, including in the context of the security assistance that it has provided to Ukraine. I’ve already mentioned some of the systems that Germany has provided – the IRIS-T system, the MLRS systems, the Patriot missile battery; not to mention everything else that Germany has spoken to over the past 11 months or so.

If you had mentioned these systems and the amount of security assistance that Germany has to date provided on February 23rd of last year, I think there would have been a lot of people around the world who may not have believed you. Germany has stepped up. Germany has stepped up in a big way. It has provided quantity, but it has also provided capabilities that our Ukrainian partners need. There is no doubt in our mind that Germany is a reliable ally on this front and on every front.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: A follow-up, please?

MR PRICE: Is it on this? Is it on this?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. On this issue. In the meantime, you are really pressuring Germany to send the Leopard tanks. Right?

MR PRICE: Said —

QUESTION: Why not send the A1M1 Abrams?

MR PRICE: Said, I just went to some length to say that —

QUESTION: No, no. I’m just saying.

MR PRICE: — to say that it is a sovereign decision of each country.

QUESTION: I understand. But there is a lot of pressure to send the Leopard tank. Why not send the A1M1 Abrams tank? I mean, why not? It’s the best tank in the world, admittedly. Right?

MR PRICE: Said, this is something that our colleagues at the Department of Defense have spoken to. I don’t want to compare apples and oranges, and I think the comparison of these two systems as apples and oranges may understate the differences that we’re talking about here. Let me just say that we are in direct, regular communication with our Ukrainian partners. We’ll continue to provide them with what they need to defend themselves, given the nature of the battle that they are confronting at any given moment.

Now, the other point I should make, and I made this to Humeyra, is that we’ve already helped our Ukrainian partners to obtain tanks. We have worked with them to obtain former Soviet-made and Russian-made tanks that they’re already trained on, they know how to use, they can put to use right away, they can repair them, they can keep them operational, and most importantly, they can be effective with them.

We also announced, as I said before, on Friday an assistance package that included 500 additional armed vehicles in addition to the Bradley Fighting Vehicles that we announced for the first time a couple weeks ago.

QUESTION: Although – although – just a quick follow-up.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Although – I understand. Although – but we have not really seen any great tank battles in this war. We have seen that these tanks are being used as artillery. I mean, what – maybe you can supplement that, send them some fancy artillery or something.

MR PRICE: You’re basically describing what we’re already doing. Yes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Follow-up? Go ahead. Okay.

QUESTION: Same topic.

QUESTION: Okay. So TVN Warner Bros. Discovery from Poland, so it’s obviously a question about Poland’s role here. So Poland wants to build, and it’s a quote from the prime minister, at least a small coalition of countries that would send Leopards to Ukraine. Would you diplomatically help build such a coalition so that Poland and other countries in the region could send those Leopards to Ukraine?

MR PRICE: We have marshaled, built, led a coalition of countries, of 50 countries, that for – over the course of the better part of a year has provided billions and billions of dollars’ worth of security assistance to Ukraine. And we keep talking about security assistance because that’s where the questions are coming. But I would be remiss not to mention the economic assistance, the humanitarian assistance that countries around the world have also provided. I don’t want to suggest that security assistance is the only form of assistance our Ukrainian partners need. They need all of it, and they need it from as many countries as are positioned to provide it.

So to answer your question, there is an extant coalition. The United States has helped to put this together, helped to lead it. We’ll continue to do that.

QUESTION: How about Leopard coalition to provide tanks?

MR PRICE: Let me just make a quick point. We don’t have Leopard tanks, as I think you know. This is a question for countries in Europe that do have them.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Any – okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: So, Ned, to understand your position on this. We aren’t questioning about the unity. That’s clear. That part has been established, and thank you for that. The question’s about the leadership. Germany says the U.S. needs to lead by providing with one single Abrams so we can release all the Leopards. So are you waiting to —

MR PRICE: Alex, I think – I think oftentimes people in this room put words into my mouth. I think you might be putting words into the mouths of German officials. I’m not sure I’ve heard that from our German allies.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Change topic —

QUESTION: The Polish —

MR PRICE: Are you asking a question on this?

QUESTION: No, no.

MR PRICE: Okay. Let’s try and move on in a couple (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Anything else on this, Kylie?

QUESTION: Today the Polish prime – or maybe yesterday – but today or yesterday the Polish prime minister made a remark saying that they’re going to try and put together a coalition of European countries that would like to send these Leopard tanks, and essentially made the argument that they might do it without getting the approval of Germany. Would the U.S. support those countries in doing that if Germany doesn’t give them the green light?

MR PRICE: This is not a question for us. This is a question for our German allies. This is a question for our allies that have these systems.

QUESTION: But could it be harmful to the NATO coalition if they did that?

MR PRICE: Again, an indispensable element of the effectiveness that our Ukrainian partners have had has been the unity, the consensus, the unanimity that we’ve seen within this broad coalition, whether it’s within NATO, whether it’s within this grouping of some 50-odd countries that are providing security assistance to Ukraine. Of course we put a premium on maintaining that consensus and that cooperation and that close coordination, but that’s not a question for us, that’s a question for our allies and partners with these particular systems.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Sorry, did you just say that just say that you guys would actually prefer unanimity or you would want unanimity?

MR PRICE: We – of course, it has been indispensable to the success – and I’m not speaking to the provision of a system; I’m speaking –

QUESTION: And it would be indispensable on this occasion as well?

MR PRICE: I am speaking in terms of the indispensability of the consensus, the coordination, the consultation that we have achieved and maintained with partners around the world in support of Ukraine. That’s my point.

QUESTION: Russia?

QUESTION: Just on – Ned, one – yes, on this subject.

MR PRICE: Anything – we’ll take one more question on this. You seem particularly – here, yeah.

QUESTION: Yes, sir. A little bit on the peace side of these tanks, because I know Putin has been talking about if these tanks were to be given, nuclear war could have started. So let’s – if you could change the subject a little bit to the peace side of it, is it true that Ukraine has asked China to help out in this issue, and maybe bring about some peaceful result to this whole thing? Or no?

MR PRICE: That’s a better question for our Ukrainian partners. I can say that we are looking to all countries around the world that have relations with Russia, including a relationship with Russia that we certainly don’t have and many of our closest partners in NATO and in the broader international community don’t have, to use their voice, to use their pull, to use their leverage to encourage President Putin to put an end to this brutal war. China is a country that, perhaps more so than any other country, has leverage with Russia – political leverage, economic leverage – that we would like to see the PRC use to bring about an end to needless bloodshed, an end to civilian harm, suffering, destruction; and, by the way, to hold up the very principles that the PRC over the course of many decades now has at least maintained that they hold dear.

Whether it’s in the United Nations system, whether it’s in any number of international fora, we’ve heard from the PRC over the course of decades an emphasis on state sovereignty, an emphasis on the rules-based international order, an emphasis on the UN Charter. By tacitly – and in some cases explicitly – supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they are eroding their standing on all of those issues. They are taking actions that counteract everything they have said that they believe in.

QUESTION: And Ned, one question on India. India.

MR PRICE: We’ll come back.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Go ahead, Russia. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have Russia and North Korea together. The head of Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group sent a message of action to the White House refuting the arms deal between North Korea and the Wagner Group announced by the White House last week, and they asked what the crime was. What is the State Department position on the objection of the Wagner Group?

MR PRICE: Well, I would note that this letter from Mr. Prigozhin to my colleague at the White House came precisely in the aftermath of the White House declassifying additional information regarding the Wagner Group’s activities inside Ukraine, the Wagner Group’s – the support that it is receiving from the DPRK, not to mention the – a broader discussion about the destabilizing influence that the Wagner Group is having, not only in Ukraine, but in other parts of the world, including in parts of Africa.

So we’ve gone to great lengths to explain our concerns with the Wagner Group. We have declassified information, we have declassified imagery, we’ve spoken to our concerns in the Ukrainian context and the broader context, and I think I’ll let those comments speak for themselves.

QUESTION: Regarding UN Security Council sanctions, if China and Russia oppose sanctions against the Wagner Group, will the U.S. pursue its own sanctions?

MR PRICE: Yes, and we are. What the White House noted last week is that we are imposing additional designations, using additional authorities to pursue the Wagner Group. This is a group that for quite some time has been subject to U.S. sanctions. We imposed further sanctions in March of 2022 related to Mr. Prigozhin’s funding of the Internet Research Agency, which he uses to propagate his global influence operations.

So we are going to use every appropriate tool to pursue the Wagner Group, to attempt to counter its destabilizing actions, its destabilizing influence – again in the Ukrainian context and more broadly as well.

QUESTION: And then will you engage in diplomatic cooperation with South Korea on these matters, these issues?

MR PRICE: On this particular issue?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PRICE: It is fair to say that, of course, we have the closest of relations with our South Korean ally. There is a nexus to the DPRK in this case, given the provision of arms and other military wares from the DPRK to Wagner entities for use in Ukraine. We routinely discuss with our partners in the ROK the broad array of threats and challenges we face from the DPRK, most frequently the challenge we face from its nuclear weapons program, its ballistic missile program. But we’ve spoken, too, to its activities in the cyber realm, to money laundering, to criminal activities, and yes, to its support for what Russia is perpetrating on the people of Ukraine.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on —

MR PRICE: I need to move around to – yes – to get everyone.

QUESTION: How do you respond to Erdogan? He said today that Sweden cannot count anymore on Türkiye to join NATO.

MR PRICE: Well, you know our position on Finland and Sweden and their NATO accession. You’ve heard this from the administration, you’ve heard this from members of Congress. We strongly support their NATO candidacies. Finland and Sweden are ready to join the Alliance. They are ready to join the Alliance because of their military capabilities, the longstanding security partnership that we have with Finland and Sweden that now goes back decades. We exercise together, we cooperate together, we share information together. But they’re also ready to join the alliance because these are highly developed democracies.

When it comes to what we’ve seen in recent days, we support freedom of association, the right of peaceful assembly as elements of any democracy. But just as the Swedish prime minister said, burning books that are holy to many is a deeply disrespectful act, and he made the point that what is legal is not necessarily appropriate. We have a saying in this country – something can be lawful but awful. I think in this case what we’ve seen in the context of Sweden falls into that category.

We are also cognizant of the fact that those who may be behind what has taken place in Sweden may be engaging in an intentional effort to try to weaken unity across the Atlantic and within and among our European allies and partners. We feel that Finland and Sweden are ready to be NATO Allies. We have voiced that consistently, but ultimately, this is a decision and a consensus that Finland and Sweden are going to have to reach with Türkiye.

QUESTION: On the same subject?

QUESTION: And on Russia – sorry.

MR PRICE: Let’s stay on the same subject and come back. Sure.

QUESTION: So the United States, we all know, that says that it fights extremism in all its forms around the world. And that might be true, but the – from so many Muslim countries and international organizations alike, even the United Nations, have come out condemning this extremist behavior. So does the United States condemn this behavior? Because it is going to send a pretty clear signal to the whole world – wider Muslim world – that if there’s no condemnation from the United States, it’s kind of a clear-cut message that the reaction might be a little bit softer than expected.

MR PRICE: So a couple things. As I said before, we support freedom of association and the right of peaceful assembly as elements in any democracy, and one of the reasons Finland and Sweden are ready to join NATO is because they are advanced democracies. We have had our own challenges along these lines in this country. There was a famous incident not so long ago in this country that would fall in the – under the same terms, something that may be legal but that is profoundly disrespectful; that is profoundly, we might think, inappropriate, profoundly incendiary – something that is lawful but in this case awful. It is up to Sweden, it is up to Finland to interpret and to enforce their own laws, just as it is up to us in this country to interpret and enforce our own laws when we’re confronted with something that a provocateur might wish to take on.

QUESTION: So in that scenario, then, what’s keeping the United States from condemning this act? Because I’m not trying to extract some kind of a statement from you, but what’s the thought process at the State Department to condemn this or not, because even the United Nations have come out and condemned it?

MR PRICE: Well, again, no one here is defending what happened. And in fact, you’ve heard the very same thing from senior Swedish authorities. We are cognizant, though, that within democracies there is freedom of association, there is freedom of expression. Within that freedom, that gives people the right to undertake actions that may be disrespectful, they may be repugnant, that may be disgusting. I think all of those descriptors apply to what we’ve seen here. It’s what we’ve heard from our Swedish partners as well.

QUESTION: Ned, just to follow up on that.

QUESTION: Follow-up, please.

QUESTION: What is the U.S. assessment on Erdogan’s specific comments, though? Like, do you think – is the U.S. assessment that he is closing the door, or he’s just very angry with what happened over the weekend and this is a temporary thing?

MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to interpret President Erdogan’s comments from here.

QUESTION: It’s not interpretation. What do you guys understand? Like, what is your take?

MR PRICE: Well, you’re asking me – you are asking me to interpret his comments.

QUESTION: Well, the – Washington would have an assessment on this. Like, is he closing the door on this or is he —

MR PRICE: Our assessment – our assessment is that Finland and Sweden are ready to join the Alliance. We’ve made that very clear in public; we’ve made that very clear in private. Our Congress has made that very clear as well.

QUESTION: Change subject?

MR PRICE: Yes, Nike.

QUESTION: Ned, do you have anything for the Asian community regarding the tragic Monterey Park shootings over the weekend?

MR PRICE: Of course, we all woke – awoke to the heartbreaking news on Sunday morning, the terrible shooting that took place in Monterey Park. Our – just as you heard from President Biden, from the First Lady, our thoughts are with all of those who were killed in this horrific attack, all of those who were wounded in this shooting, those who are still recovering and fighting for their lives.

This is an attack, of course, that has been felt across this country. We know that this is an attack that has, of course, been especially devastating for the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander community as well. Our thoughts are with the entire community, and obviously our law enforcement partners are pursuing this matter aggressively.

QUESTION: Can I also ask about U.S.-China cooperation on (inaudible) to fight narcotics? When was the last time the two countries talked or had meeting to talk about combating narcotic (inaudible) including the illicit fentanyl? And do you expect that to be on the agenda for Secretary Blinken’s travel to Beijing?

MR PRICE: When it comes to the agenda for his upcoming travel, I’m going to avoid getting into any detail at this point. I suspect we’ll have plenty of opportunities to speak to all of you ahead of his travel to the PRC next month. Suffice to say, the Secretary will seek to engage substantively and constructively when it comes to those areas of competition, those areas that have the potential to be conflictual, to see to it that we can prevent competition from veering into conflict, but also those areas where we would like to see cooperation or, in some cases, deeper cooperation.

On that third category, we have a long history of successful cooperation with the PRC on counternarcotics. It is a threat that is felt acutely in both of our countries, and it’s also a threat that neither of our countries can address alone. Engagement on this issue has been limited in recent months, but we are seeking to re-engage the PRC on this issue precisely because it is within that bucket of issues where we feel that we have a responsibility as two great countries to tackle this and to tackle one of the core challenges that we feel acutely here.

I made this point the other – the other day, but fentanyl is the leading killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 49. It’s precisely why Secretary Blinken in any number of engagements with his senior team raises the challenge of fentanyl, the need on the part of the State Department to see to it that we’re doing everything we can through our bilateral relations, through international bodies, cooperation with the DEA and other departments and agencies in this government, to see to it that we’re doing everything to address it.

When it comes to the PRC, since the PRC scheduled fentanyl and related substances as a class in 2019, the PRC is no longer a major source of fentanyl flowing to the United States. But we continue to see PRC-origin precursor chemicals being used in illicit fentanyl production. Though its past action has helped counter illicit synthetic drug flows, we do hope to see additional action from the PRC – meaningful, concrete action – to curb the diversion of precursor chemicals and equipment used by criminals to manufacture fentanyl and other synthetic drugs. This is a challenge not only within our own two countries, but around the world. Countries around the world expect us to work cooperatively to address it.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Last week Secretary Blinken spoke with President Lourenço, and on the call he highlight the efforts of President Lourenço to bring peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Can you elaborate a little more on this call and can you give us a view of the State Department on the effort that Angola is making to bring peace to the DRC? And what can the U.S. do to help?

MR PRICE: Sure. I appreciate the question. The two did have an opportunity to speak on January 19th, late last week. We issued a readout in the aftermath of that call. But it was an important moment for Secretary Blinken to speak to President Lourenço about a couple of things.

Number one was Angola’s constructive engagement through the Luanda process – Luanda process to engage with authorities from the DRC, authorities from Rwanda, to try to bring about an end to this conflict, this needless violence in the eastern DRC. When we were in the DRC and Rwanda over the summer, the Secretary spoke in very complimentary terms with high praise about the role that we’ve seen Angola and other countries play to try and address the disagreements between the DRC and Rwanda and to bring about an end to the bloodshed that has cost far too many lives.

We also have a burgeoning economic partnership with Angola. It was a topic of conversation between the two leaders. The Secretary raised the upcoming visit of Amos Hochstein, who is the special presidential coordinator for the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, something that we are very bullish on as an opportunity to bring additional economic prosperity, partnership to countries and places around the world where the United States has not always been the partner of first resort when it comes to infrastructure, when it comes to investment projects. And we hope to see that change.

They also discussed some follow-up matters from the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. We were very happy to welcome the Angolan delegation to Washington in December, and I suspect that we’ll continue to see follow-up from other senior officials in this department to their Angolan counterparts in the weeks and months ahead.

QUESTION: And can you tell us if there is any upcoming visit from U.S. officials to Angola?

MR PRICE: What I can say —

QUESTION: Obviously the coordinator for —

MR PRICE: Yes. What I can say – you heard this from President Biden at the conclusion of the U.S. Africa-Leaders Summit that individuals from across this administration – senior individuals from across this administration are going to be spending quite a bit of time on the continent over this year – this coming year.

QUESTION: So Angola is one of the countries?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any travel to announce today, but whether it’s Secretary Blinken, whether it is our Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield who just announced an additional trip to the African continent today, the First Lady, the President himself, others – I suspect you will see a number of senior officials from this administration in Africa in the coming months.

QUESTION: Can I just get your comment real quick?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: There was an attack today in the east of the DRC claimed by ISIS. Is – just briefly, do you have any reaction to that? How much of a concern is there that there could be more ISIS violence there?

MR PRICE: We’ve unfortunately seen ISIS claim a number of attacks in the DRC. Last week, ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Protestant church in the eastern Congolese town of Kasindi, killed more than a dozen people, it injured dozens more – some 60 people. We have consistently condemned ISIS-DRC for the cowardly attacks, bombings that they’ve carried out against the civilian population in this part of the DRC. The fact that they would attack a church makes what they have done especially dastardly and contemptible. Our thoughts are with the victims, with their loved ones. Those responsible for this must be held to account.

QUESTION: And just very briefly on DRC, the – there’s a weekend statement – the Secretary’s call with Foreign Minister Al Thani of Qatar, and it mentions – actually, they talked about DRC. Can you be more specific what the Qatari role there that they’re looking from them?

MR PRICE: There’s not much additional I can add on this, but of course our Qatari partners have been useful bridge builders across any number of challenging issues. They have helped us indispensably when it comes to Afghanistan. They’ve been a force to help create and reinforce regional stability and integration in the Middle East, but they’ve also played a role that is much further afield, including in the context of the conflict in eastern DRC.

Yes.

QUESTION: On the Taliban?

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, follow up so —

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The United Nations human rights representative for Afghanistan released a report today that shows a new high level of human rights violations by the Taliban in many levels. They torture women, human rights activists, and so on and so forth. So may I ask you, which kind of action the United States would take to keep the Taliban accountable? So far we have seen that the Taliban asked many things from the United States, and they got it – many of them. They got money and also they are flexible, some sort of. But they haven’t given anything so far. Especially, the United States asked for including women’s right; they banned women from universities, and they are torturing journalists and human rights activists. So the people are asking this question that which kind of action the United States would take to keep them accountable?

MR PRICE: Sure. I just want to be very clear on the premise of your question. It is certainly not the case that we have provided the Taliban with any support whatsoever. And in fact, we have gone to great lengths to continue to be the world’s leading humanitarian provider to the people of Afghanistan in a way that doesn’t flow through the coffers of the Taliban. We’ve provided about $1.1 billion worth of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, not to the Taliban, not to any entity purporting to represent or to serve as the Government of Afghanistan for that very reason.

When it comes to the trust fund that we established, we established a trust fund so – precisely so that this funding would not be able to be diverted to the Taliban and to use for their own ends. The trust fund – the $3.5 billion in the so-called Afghan Fund that we established is for broader macroeconomic stability, again, for the people of Afghanistan but certainly not to support the Taliban in any way. Much to the contrary, we’ve been reviewing our approach and engagement with the Taliban in the context of many of the human rights violations, the draconian edicts, the repugnant actions that we’ve seen from the Taliban in recent weeks and in recent months. I’m just not in a position to detail where we are in that process, but I can tell you we are actively evaluating with allies and partners the appropriate next steps.

We’ve been clear that there will be costs for the Taliban for these actions. Absolutely everything remains on the table. And we’re looking at a range of options that will allow us to maintain our position as – principled position as the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan – again, that’s funding that goes directly to the Afghan people – while also doing everything we can to prevent the humanitarian situation from deteriorating even further. These responses take some time. They involve significant coordination with our allies, with international partners, and Afghan women themselves. We have been in touch with senior UN officials as well. There have been delegations from the UN to Afghanistan to investigate the situation and to be a constructive force vis-à-vis what we’ve seen from the Taliban. But the human – humanitarian and human rights communities, there’s no question, are facing extremely difficult options as they strive to help those in dire need while also remaining neutral, impartial, and independent in their provision of support to the Afghan people. Because, as a result of these edicts, men are not allowed to enter women-headed households, NGOs cannot reach most of the most vulnerable inside of Afghanistan, including in women-run households and mothers who must maintain adequate nutrition for their newborn babies without female workers present.

As of earlier this month, about 83 percent of organizations operating in Afghanistan have suspended or reduced their operations because they came to the conclusion that they could not do their work under these new edicts. This is unacceptable to us, but more importantly to the international community, because it imperils some 28 million Afghans who need this humanitarian assistance to survive, and especially women and children, those who are especially vulnerable. So we’re firmly committed to helping alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people. And as I mentioned before, we’ve been the world’s leading humanitarian provider – $1.1 billion in assistance since August of 2021to provide critical aid. And I have no doubt that we’ll continue to do everything we can to support the weighty humanitarian needs of the Afghan people.

QUESTION: Yeah. The concern is that the Taliban are getting that money, because there is not any clear strategy to give that money to ordinary people and vulnerable people. So the concern is and there are reports that Taliban are obviously using that money for their own benefits.

MR PRICE: This money is not flowing to or through the Taliban. It is being administered by NGO partners on the ground – or I should say it has been administered by NGO partners on the ground, and I say “has” because of the challenge we’re facing now, these draconian edicts on the part of the Taliban, including an edict propagated on Christmas Eve of last year that NGOs couldn’t work with women, had to work with men. Of course that is an unsustainable obligation, restriction on the part of many international NGOs, and we’ve seen many international NGOs come to the conclusion that they’re just not in a position to continue providing this aid to the Afghan people. We’re going to do what we can to see to it that these edicts are reversed using the leverage that we have to seek to accomplish that, but also to do everything we can to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people in the context of these restrictions and edicts.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News, Pakistan. This is about press freedom again. Our director of news – of ARY News, Ammad Yousaf, is facing criminal charges for just doing his job. He’s also being dragged for extradition case, which can get him a death sentence. And we talked about this press freedom many times. Your thoughts on that, please?

MR PRICE: We have discussed it many times, and each time you’ve heard of the emphasis we place on press freedom around the world. Free press and informed citizenry are key for any nation and its democratic identity, its democratic future, the democratic aspirations of its own people. We routinely raise our concerns about press freedom to governments, to stakeholders all around the world. When it comes to this particular case, would need to refer you to the Government of Pakistan.

QUESTION: Sir, Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has called for the peace talks with India. He says that he’s ready to talk about all the burning issues, including Kashmir, but India rejected that offer. They say this is not, like, the right time to talk about these issues. What are your comments on that? Because you always talk about the peace and stability in the region.

MR PRICE: We have – you’re right, we’ve long called for regional stability in South Asia. That’s certainly what we want to see. We want to see it advanced. When it comes to our partnership – our partnerships with India and Pakistan, these are relationships that stand on their own. We do not see these relationships as zero-sum. They stand on their own. We have long called for regional stability in South Asia, but the pace, the scope, the character of any dialogue between India and Pakistan is a matter for those two countries, India and Pakistan.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) with respect to today’s Quran burning incident in Sweden. Ned, you used so many words, so many terrible words – like repugnant, disrespectful, disgusting – but for condemning it. What take you from saying that you condemn this act of hatred? And even Russians came out condemning it.

MR PRICE: I’m certainly not refraining from condemning this particular action. As I said before, it’s repugnant. It is something that is vile. Of course countries around the world have – and what we also seek to uphold are the very democratic principles that we’re talking about here: the right to freedom of assembly, the right to freedom of expression. I was making the point that we’ve had at least one high-profile similar incident in this country that was equally repugnant and vile, and that we spoke out against at the time just as we’re doing so in the context of what has happened in Sweden, just as our Swedish partners have done.

QUESTION: Yes, but at the end of the day, currently, the Turkish public and of course the entire Muslim world is outraged by this act done under the protection of police, Swedish police, and then it has a political pressure on the Turkish leadership with respect to the Swedish bid for NATO. So do you think that just calling it, yes, some repugnant, disrespectful, and disgusting action happened under the auspices of freedom of speech would help in any way to resolve the current deadlock between Türkiye and Sweden with respect to Swedish membership to NATO?

MR PRICE: Our Swedish partners have spoken to this. They have spoken out forcefully against it. The fact of the matter is this was, as I understand it, a private individual, a provocateur, someone who may have deliberately sought to put distance between two close partners of ours, Türkiye and Sweden, who may have deliberately sought to have an impact on the ongoing discussion regarding the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO. This of course was not an act of the Swedish Government. This is something that our Swedish partners have rightfully spoken out against, just as we spoke out against a similar vile act that took place about a decade ago in a previous administration here. It doesn’t – because something happens in a democracy does not mean that the government supports it. It is a reflection of the values and principles that we hold dear, including freedom of association, freedom of expression. Something, again, can be lawful and awful at the same time. It’s precisely why Sweden has spoken out against it in this case as we’ve spoken out against similar examples in the past.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Yes, Ned. Last week I had asked you about Narendra Modi and how the U.S. has compromised on some of its values. And the BBC just released a documentary on Modi on how he had butchered, and the report was just released. It was a government report. BBC just released it. It was made by a former secretary in which he has even mentioned higher number of deaths, higher numbers of women raped, and it was just done right under the nose of Narendra Modi. I don’t – I have never challenged the strategic interest of the U.S. with India, but I regret the fact that since last eight years that I have been covering the State Department I have not seen once an senior official standing here at your seat condemning Narendra Modi himself individually – not just as a prime minister but individually his acts. And I’m sure the U.S. officials were aware of it as well.

MR PRICE: I am not aware of this documentary that you point to, but I – what I will say broadly is that there are a number of elements that undergird the global strategic partnership that we have with our Indian partners. There are close political ties, there are economic ties, there are exceptionally deep people-to-people ties between the United States and India. But one of those additional elements are the values that we share, the values that are common to American democracy and to Indian democracy.

India, of course, is the world’s largest democracy. It’s a vibrant democracy. And again, we look to everything that ties us together, and we look to reinforce all of those elements that tie us together.

QUESTION: So my godfather is an Indian as well, by the way, so I have all the respect for India. Don’t get me wrong or anything. But I just regret the fact that how is it possible that State Department officials who were posted there at that time did not know that this individual, who was a former chief minister, he is – it happened right under his nose. Two thousand people were burned alive.

MR PRICE: Again, I’m not familiar with the documentary you’re referring to. I am very familiar with the shared values that connect the United States and India as two thriving, vibrant democracies. When we have concerns about actions that are taken in India, we’ve voiced those. We’ve had an occasion to do that. But we want first and foremost to reinforce those values that are at the heart of our relationship.

QUESTION: One follow-up. But does – do you think that such foreign policy has affected President Biden’s Indian voters here in the U.S., though?

MR PRICE: We don’t think about it through those terms. I don’t think about domestic politics, and neither does anyone in this building.

Yes.

QUESTION: On China, one on China. What is your assessment of the COVID situation in China? Do you have any – because the figures that are coming from inside China are not – said to be not very reliable. Do you have any estimate how many people have died, how many people have been impacted by COVID-19? And has it impacted its aggressive behavior against its neighbors?

MR PRICE: One, I wouldn’t want to even speak to the toll of COVID inside the PRC. That’s a better question for the WHO, for global health authorities, including those like the WHO, who have had an opportunity to sit down with PRC authorities to look at the data.

The point that we have routinely made is that we wish to see transparency from the PRC. We wish to see transparency towards the WHO so that the broader international community can be best prepared to detect and prevent the spread of any new variants that may be circulating and could have the potential to emerge. It’s not just a point we have made, but it’s a point that the WHO has made as well.

QUESTION: Has China asked for any help and assistance from the U.S. in terms of any supplies, medical supplies or vaccinations?

MR PRICE: The United States is the world’s leading provider of vaccines to countries around the world, 600-plus million vaccines without any political strings attached that we have provided over the course of nearly the past two years. We have been very public about the fact that we’re willing to provide vaccines to any country that would seek it that’s in need of them. That includes the PRC. The PRC has publicly said that they appreciate the offer of vaccines but they’re not in need of them at the moment.

QUESTION: I have one more question on Pakistan. There is a massive national grid collapse inside Pakistan. The federal minister has said that even the emergency services are being shut down, like hospitals. I know U.S. has played a big role in Pakistan’s power electricity generation. Is U.S. sending someone over there to look into it for a long-term solution to the collapse of the power grids?

MR PRICE: Of course I’ve seen what has transpired in Pakistan. Our thoughts are with all those who’ve been affected by the outages. The United States of course, as you mentioned, has assisted our Pakistani partners across any number of challenges. We are prepared to do so in this case if there is something that we’re able to provide. But I’m not aware of any particular requests.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Real quick here.

MR PRICE: Let me move around to others who haven’t gotten a question.

QUESTION: Yeah, very quickly on the Palestine-Israeli issue. Human Rights Watch issued a report today saying that the new Israeli measures regarding the entry of foreigners into the West Bank threatened to exacerbate the separation of Palestinians from the local civil society. Do you have any comment on that? Because they are not allowed – they can go into Israel, but apparently they’re not allowed to go into West Bank towns and villages.

MR PRICE: Said, I haven’t seen that particular report. If we do have a comment, we can get back to you.

QUESTION: Can you look into it? And one other question. Israel, regarding Israel. Today the United States and Israel launched one of the biggest exercises that they have ever held. It’s called Juniper Oak, and it combines all forces together. Does that mean that diplomacy with Iran has – has slid off the table?

MR PRICE: No, it means that our security commitment to Israel is ironclad. And exercises, including military exercises, with our Israeli partners are something that we’ve done routinely in the past. I would need to refer you to DOD to speak to this. But it is a reflection of the vibrant security cooperation and commitment we have to our Israeli partners.

QUESTION: Yeah, but they made no secret of the fact that it actually resembles now perhaps an attack on Iran or anything like this.

MR PRICE: Again, Said, we are —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: We work day in, day out with our Israeli partners to be prepared to confront any number of challenges. But what you’re referring to is a reflection of that ironclad security commitment that we’ve long had.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about there have been ongoing protests in Israel about what’s viewed as stacking or diluting the power of the supreme court? Does the U.S. have anything to say about that and whether this shows respect for judicial independence in the way that the United States would see as consistent with democracy?

MR PRICE: Well, as a matter – in terms of our approach, we support policies that advance Israel’s security and regional integration, support a two-state solution, and lead to equal measures of security, prosperity, and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians. We strongly support freedom of assembly. This includes peaceful protest – countries around the world. Of course that includes inside of Israel as well. We look forward to working with Israel to advance the interests and values that have been at the heart of our relationship for decades, and that includes the equal administration of justice to all of those who live in Israel.

Let me move to people who haven’t – yes, in the back.

QUESTION: On China and human rights, that we have American families, like, who have family members that detained in China. Is that – like, they are calling for negotiations or even prisoner exchange. Is that something the U.S. would consider with the PRC?

MR PRICE: We have no higher priority than the safety and security of Americans overseas. Of course you’ve heard the priority we attach to individuals who are wrongfully detained, who are subject to coercive exit bans. In any country where this is the case, we raise that with local authorities. We raise it when we travel to such countries. We routinely raise it when we have discussions with authorities from those countries as well. That is the case with – in the context of the PRC. It’s been a discussion with our PRC and the – with our PRC counterparts in the past. I suspect it will be, and I know it will be, a topic of discussion in the future as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Today’s sanctions against the Islamic Republic, along with the UK sanctions and EU sanctions, showed a very remarkable unity. But on the same day, today, we have a comment from Josep Borrell about listing IRGC as a terrorist group. So he said that this cannot be decided without a court, a court decision first, and then EU is going to proceed with that. And then he said something interesting. He said, “You cannot say, ‘I consider you a terrorist because I don’t like you.’” This is what he said, quote unquote. And also, Islamic Republic foreign minister said that he has assurance from Borrell that IRGC is not going to listed as a terror organization. Do you have any comment on this development?

MR PRICE: We’ve heard a number of statements from the Iranian foreign minister that are dubious if not outright lies, so I would just keep that broader context in mind when you point to statements from the Iranian foreign minister.

When it comes to our European allies, we welcome Europe’s strong and principled approach to the IRGC. As you know, the IRGC remains designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization, and a specially designated global terrorist. We’ve also sanctioned many IRGC leaders individually for their involvement in terrorism and human rights abuses. You mentioned the latest tranche of human rights sanctions that we announced in conjunction with many of our closest partners earlier today.

We applaud the EU’s recent designations of IRGC officials and entities for their involvement in providing drones to Russia which are being used to fuel Russia’s unconscionable attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. Our European allies recognize the threat, the challenges posed by the IRGC and Iran more broadly. We have enjoyed exceptionally close cooperation and coordination with Europe on confronting these challenges.

QUESTION: And Ned, his hesitation, Borrell’s refraining from this, which is very the opposite of what we are hearing from other, let’s say, parliament members like Germany’s member at the parliament, European Parliament, do you think this hesitation is coming from a hope that he has? I cannot help but wonder – maybe Borrell is still hopeful that JCPOA is going to be revived. Can be this a sign of that, or —

MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to the high representative’s comments – in fact, I would refer you to the EU on his comments – and these are questions for our European allies. But what is not a question is the JCPOA. We’ve been very clear that the JCPOA is not on the agenda, has not been on the agenda for months. Iran has consistently turned its back on opportunities to pursue mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. And as a result of what Iran is doing around the world and to its own people, we have focused on sending very clear messages to Iran: Stop killing your people, stop providing drones to Russia for use in Ukraine, and release the Americans that you are wrongfully detaining.

Yeah, Shannon.

QUESTION: Same topic. Can you say if the U.S. has given the European Union any consult on whether to designate the IRGC? And can you say just would the U.S. welcome – while it’s in the hands of the EU, would the U.S. welcome such a designation?

MR PRICE: This is a question for the European Union. But what I can tell you is that we routinely discuss the challenges and threats posed by the IRGC with allies and partners around the world. And of course, that includes with our European allies bilaterally, but also with the EU as a whole. There is no illusion in Europe about the challenges or threats that the IRGC poses. We’re always looking for ways that we can work with our European allies to counter the malicious activity of the IRGC, other Iranian proxy groups, other groups that Iran has supported. And we have applauded the recent designations that we’ve seen from our European allies of IRGC officials and entities for their involvement in some of what we’ve already discussed: Iran’s provision of drones to Russia, and as a result of the human rights abuses that we’ve seen in Iran.

Yes, Elizabeth.

QUESTION: If I could follow up on that – on today’s human rights sanctions, do you have any indications that the designations of Iranian officials are having an impact internally, including on the security force’s behavior?

MR PRICE: It is always difficult to delve into a hypothetical or a counterfactual like that. We want to send – and I think we are sending – a very clear message to the Iranian regime – two messages, really: that the world is watching, and the world is prepared to take action in response to the violence that Iranian officials are perpetrating against their own people. This is not the first round of sanctions that we have announced against Iranian officials in response to the protests that we’ve seen in Iran since late last year. If Iran continues to engage in these human rights abuses, we will continue to apply even more pressure on Iran. But of course, this is about human rights.

We have other concerns with this regime, and we are going to use every relevant and appropriate authority to hold it account on the various fronts, from human rights to its provision of UAV technology to Russia, to the challenges that are posed by its nuclear program, to its support for terrorist groups and proxies as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible), BOL News, Pakistan. Former prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, has said he wanted to establish good relations with United States of America. As we know, many thing happened in the past. If he get elected as the prime minister of Pakistan, what – would you open the door for talk to him and his party?

MR PRICE: We are, of course, open to and would work with any elected government in Pakistan. Pakistan is a partner of ours; we share a number of interests. We have demonstrated our desire to see constructive relations with Pakistan over the course of successive governments. As we have said in different contexts, we judge governments by the policies they pursue. It would ultimately be a question of the type of policy that any future government of Pakistan might pursue.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. A quick follow-up on Wagner, and I also have another question on the Secretary’s call to Azerbaijan. I’m having trouble understanding the administration’s strategy on, first of all, going with the TCO designation instead of FTO, which we discussed last week, Foreign Terrorist Organization. And if the intention here is to go after their business, why announcing your intention on Friday and not taking action until this week? Aren’t you galloping against the time (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: So a couple things on that, Alex. One, as I said before, we’re reaching for every appropriate and effective authority when it comes to countering the activity that the Wagner Group is engaged in. These authorities are not authorities that we’ve created ourselves. Oftentimes they are legislated, they are written into law with various requirements that any particular group would have to meet, whether that’s the transnational criminal organization authority, whether that’s a state sponsor authority, whether that is any authority that we’ve attached to terrorist organizations, criminal organizations, or otherwise.

When it comes to what we announced about our forthcoming plans for the Wagner Group, the activity that we’ve seen on the part of the Wagner Group allows us to meet that threshold that is established under the transnational criminal organization authority. It is engaging in activity out of a pursuit of in some ways a profit, in some ways prestige; it is employing officials who are criminals; in some cases, its subordinates include those who have been released from prison, where they have been serving long sentences for the – for committing violent crimes.

So we look to the authority and the requirements that we have to meet. In this case, we’re confident that we’re able to meet it, in the case of Wagner’s status as a transnational criminal organization. It provides us another tool to hold the Wagner Group, its other senior officials, and its employees to account. We’ll have more to say on a broader set of actions that we’re taking later this week. I don’t want to get ahead of that, but we are confident that this is an appropriate step given what we’ve seen from the Wagner Group.

QUESTION: Thank you. My next topic (inaudible).

MR PRICE: I need to move on, Alex. Yes.

QUESTION: One question on Lebanon and the other on Russia. On Lebanon, today the judge investigating Beirut blast resumed his work, and he made charges against senior officials. Some of them are your allies and have been in the States before, a few months ago. Do you have any comment on that?

And my second question is on Russia downgrading relation – diplomatic relation – with Estonia. Do you expect similar behavior from the Russia – from Putin against other NATO members?

MR PRICE: If you’re referring to the decision on the part of Baltic states to downgrade their relations with Moscow, these are sovereign decisions on the part of our partners. We would defer to them as to determine the level of diplomatic representation, if any, that is appropriate with Russia.

When it comes to Lebanon, we in the international community have made it clear since the explosion that we support swift – that we support and urge Lebanese authorities to complete a swift and transparent investigation into the horrific explosion at the Port of Beirut. The victims of this explosion in August of 2020 deserve justice. Those responsible must be held accountable.

Yes – yeah.

QUESTION: Yes, I have a question on – I see the statement that you continue the talks with Türkiye on the F-35 program, and I’m wondering if something changed, because the last we knew was that Türkiye is under CAATSA sanctions for buying the Russians – the Russian system S-400. Why do you talk —

MR PRICE: That’s right. Nothing has changed in terms of Türkiye’s eligibility for the F-35 program. DOD did issue a statement. This is a discussion regarding how to wind down elements of that program.

All right. Thank you all very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:23 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – January 19, 2023

2:05 p.m. EST

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Thursday. So as you can see, we have a special guest joining us today to talk about our new Welcome Corps program that we launched this morning. So with me I have Assistant Secretary Julieta Noyes from our Bureau of Populations, Refugee, and Migration. She has some thoughts she’d like to share with you at the top and then has time for a couple of questions, and then we will continue on with the rest of the briefing.

So Assistant Secretary —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Thanks, Vedant.

MR PATEL: — the floor is yours.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Thanks, Vedant. Hey, everybody.

QUESTION: Hello.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: It’s great to be here. I am here today to share an exciting development in the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, through which the United States has long welcomed newcomers in search of safety and freedom.

We’re launching the Welcome Corps, a private sponsorship initiative that will create new opportunities for private Americans to directly sponsor refugees from around the world who are here fleeing conflict, fleeing persecution, and to help these refugees settle in their communities. The Welcome Corps invites Americans to do what we do best – welcoming newcomers, being good guides, neighbors, and friends.

Welcoming refugees reflects our values as a nation, and local communities have long been at the heart of our resettlement program. Just in the past year, individual Americans and community groups around the country have opened their arms to Afghans, Ukrainians, and refugees from around the world fleeing conflict and persecution.

The Welcome Corps is the boldest innovation in the U.S. refugee resettlement in four decades, and it reflects the Biden administration’s commitment to expand community engagement as we rebuild our refugee program. It’s designed to strengthen and expand our country’s capacity to resettle refugees by harnessing the energy of private sponsors from all walks of life – including community volunteers, faith and civic groups, veterans, diaspora communities, businesses, colleges, universities, and more.

Private sponsors will help refugees find housing and employment, enroll their kids in school, enroll the adults in English classes, and connect with other essential services, including those that are funded by federal programs.

The Welcome Corps is distinct from other sponsorship programs, like Uniting for Ukraine, in that private sponsors will support refugees who are being permanently resettled in the United States and help them integrate as thriving members of their new communities.

Private sponsors in the Welcome Corps will receive training and support from resettlement experts and become part of a nationwide community of people engaged in this work.

We’re launching the Welcome Corps in two phases. In the first phase, groups of five or more Americans or legal permanent residents can apply to form a private sponsor group. When certified, they will be matched with a refugee who is already approved for resettlement in the United States.

In the second phase, which will launch around the middle of this year, groups can identify and refer to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program the refugees they would like to sponsor. If approved and certified, they will then sponsor the resettlement of these specific refugees.

Our goal in 2023 is to mobilize 10,000 Americans to step forward as private sponsors, and help resettle at least 5,000 refugees. Time and again, we’ve seen the generosity and the welcoming spirit of the American people. If more than 10,000 sponsors join the Welcome Corps this year, we will make every effort to pair them with refugees in need.

We at the State Department are excited to launch the Welcome Corps as part of our broader effort to rebuild, expand, and modernize the refugee resettlement program. We look forward to engaging with individuals and communities around the world who wish to participate.

And I would just say something on a personal level. My own parents arrived in this country as refugees, before the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program was created. And the people who helped them were ordinary, everyday Americans., and they still tell stories about how they were welcomed to this country. So, I see this as an offshoot of the historic traditions in our countries of welcoming newcomers.

Anyway, for more information on the Welcome Corps, I invite Americans who wish to be involved in this fulfilling effort to visit our new website welcomecorps.org to learn more about how to join this program.

And with that, I am happy to answer any questions.

MR PATEL: Thanks. Matt, do you want to kick us off?

QUESTION: Great, thanks. Thank you, Assistant Secretary. I have two – one extremely brief. Why is it groups of five or more? I mean, why can’t an individual – and I can think of several off the top of my head who are fabulously wealthy – who might be able to do this just on their own. So why is it limited to groups of five or more?

And then secondly, much more broadly, this administration has tried to make up for the reduction in admissions from the previous administration, but it has not yet come even close. And the first – for the first quarter of this fiscal year, the numbers are quite low. Why is that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Okay. So to go to your first question, why five or more, and you mentioned that wealthy people could do it.

QUESTION: Well, even moderately wealthy people can —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Because it’s not about money, Matt. It’s about commitment. It’s about the community. It’s about bringing people together and forming a group so that the refugees have more than one person that they can refer to and can work with. And it’s our view – it’s a lot of work involved in sponsoring a refugee – finding schools, helping them find affordable housing, getting their kids signed up for school, helping them find jobs, showing them where the pharmacy is, what bus to take. It’s a lot more than what the average American can do, and so we think that providing a group of five or more Americans is more likely to be successful, and it gives more resources to the incoming refugees – and creates greater connections with the community.

In terms of the numbers, you’re right; we are still working to build the numbers up in order to get to the President’s ambitious targets of 125,000 refugees admitted per year. We are doing that in a variety of ways. The launch of the Welcome Corps is one initiative, but we’re doing a lot of work with our traditional resettlement agency partners to try and speed up processing while maintaining the integrity and the security of the program and not in any way changing the requirements. Refugees are the most vetted individuals to enter this country.

So, we’re speeding up the processing. We are amplifying, expanding the ways that people can be referred for refugee resettlement in the United States – Welcome Corps and maybe the private individuals nominating refugees to come in this way, but we’re also expanding NGO referrals. We are asking our partners at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to expand the number of referrals they send us.

We’re also looking to clear out our backlog of cases. We are doing hiring. Our resettlement agency partners are doing hiring. So, there’s a lot of work going on.

While the numbers of people admitted, of refugees admitted in the first quarter, were not where we could like them to be, admissions of refugees is actually a lagging indicator. In the first quarter of this fiscal year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service conducted over 20,000 interviews of refugees overseas. We expect that those people should be hitting our country within the next few months, and we expect and I am confident that you will see an increase in the number of refugees arriving in the months ahead.

MR PATEL: And Said, you had your hand up.

QUESTION: Thank you, thank you for doing this. Along the same lines but particular to Syrian refugees. And can you give us the status of Syrian refugees, figures and numbers? It went from a high of 16,000 in 2016 to as low as 4,000 during the past administration. And in 2020, I think this – last year was maybe 4,000 refugees. How are they admitted? Do they have to go through a third country? Can they leave directly from Syria, from embattled areas in Syria and so on?

And related to it, you opposed the re-allowing of Syrian refugees now back into Syria, or the United States —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Oh, the involuntary return.

QUESTION: Yeah, did not agree to it because they say conditions are not – are not ripe for them to return. So give us your take on that. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: So it’s a great question and it’s one that’s close to my heart. In November I visited Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan that hosts tens of thousands of Syrians. Look, the situation in Syria is terrible, and we don’t believe that conditions are right in Syria for people to be able to return safely, voluntarily, with dignity, and sustainably. It’s just not – it’s just not safe for people to return, and people – Syrians who have left the country don’t want to return voluntarily to Syria.

So, we’re looking for new solutions for them and working with our partners around the world, because this isn’t an effort that just the United States is undertaking. Other countries also are resettling refugees. So we are looking for avenues to find more durable solutions for these refugees, whether it is helping them to integrate in the countries where they have fled in search of safety, providing programs and assistance to them where they currently are. But then for those people who are the most vulnerable and face the greatest danger if they were to return to their own country, we’re looking for solutions like resettlement.

And we are confident that with all of the changes and all of the growth that we’re making to the refugee admissions program – whether it’s the Welcome Corps or the other initiatives that I talked about, we will be creating the conditions to bring refugees from vulnerable situations all over the world, whether it’s Syrians or Rohingya who are currently in Bangladesh or other people who need to flee to safety and to find solutions for them – again, working with our partners around the world, because this isn’t a burden or a responsibility that the United States is taking on alone.

But thanks for that question.

MR PATEL: Camilla, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. You probably saw that the rates of irregular border crossing in Europe reached an all-time high since 2016 last year. The – is there other programs or is there coordination with the EU for any refugees who would want – who could come to a European country but who could come to America instead, particularly in countries in Europe that are inundated with refugees? Is there more coordination to get more of them to come to the States through this particular program? And I’m sure that you can talk about the other programs as well, but more specifically this one.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: We talk regularly with our partners in Europe and around the world with like-minded countries around the world to try and coordinate to find solutions to work together. It’s our view and the view of our partners – and I do talk regularly with the EU and with partners over there – it’s our view that this is a responsibility that democracies and that countries that love freedom and uphold human rights need to all work together. I mean, we faced a terrible milestone this past year when the UN High Commissioner for Refugees announced that more than 100 million people are now forcibly displaced around the world. That’s over 1 percent of the world’s population. There has never been a higher number of forcibly displaced people.

So, we need to pursue all kinds of durable solutions, whether it is creating the conditions so that people can return to their home countries safely, voluntarily, with dignity – and that’s always the preferred solution, for people to be able to go home, but only when it’s safe – but also looking for initiatives and providing support and assistance to help people integrate where they happen to be. The resettlement solution is the most dramatic; it is also by far the smallest. Less than 1 percent of refugees around the world ultimately are resettled to third countries, and that – we really only use that solution for the most vulnerable: people who are fleeing religious persecution or human trafficking or who have been victims of torture.

So, it really is kind of the in extremis solution but it is one that that we take happily and voluntarily in the United States and that many of our partners do as well. So we’re working on all of those solutions at the same time, but I’m really happy that today we’re announcing the Welcome Corps as part of our solution for – and part of our means of bringing about resettlement here in the United States and tapping into Americans who have such a long, long history, as a nation of immigrants, of welcoming newcomers and making things better. And again, my own family history is proof of that.

MR PATEL: Thank you so much, Assistant Secretary. Appreciate it.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Thank you, Vedant. Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: We’ll work — I’ll get to you when we work the room. Thank you.

QUESTION: No, I want to know are there any protections for Americans? You are selling access to the United States.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: We’re not selling access, and there are protections.

QUESTION: Yes, you are. The second – in the second aspect, you say private families —

MR PATEL: I will call on you when we work the room and I work through the briefing.

QUESTION: No, it won’t matter. You’re not going to have the answer. But I have what I need. Thank you.

MR PATEL: Matt, if you want to kick us off, you’re welcome anytime.

QUESTION: Yeah, so – yeah. Do you – just – I’m wondering if you’ve managed to find anything out about this report or this FSB claim that they’ve arrested an American citizen in Russia for espionage.

MR PATEL: So a couple of things, Matt. We have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas. We are aware of these unconfirmed reports of an investigation regarding a U.S. citizen – unconfirmed – unconfirmed reports of an investigation regarding a U.S. citizen in Russia.

Generally, the Russian Federation does not abide by its obligations to provide timely notification of the detention of U.S. citizens in Russia. Russian authorities also don’t regularly inform the embassy of the trials, sentencings, or movement of U.S. citizens. We’re looking into this matter and we’ll continue to monitor. The Embassy in Moscow continues to engage with Russian authorities to ensure timely consular notifications and access to all U.S. citizens.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, apart from whether or not there has been an espionage investigation, are you aware of any additional Americans having been detained for any reason in Russia by the Russians?

MR PATEL: I’m not —

QUESTION: Apart from this —

MR PATEL: I am not, but as you know, this is a number that fluctuates. And I will see if we have a more specific update for you. But I am not aware.

QUESTION: Can we stay on the subject of —

MR PATEL: Sure. Yeah, we can stay in the region. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. It’s funny you should mention timely notifications. The Russian national Anatoly Legkodymov was arrested yesterday in Miami, and the Russian embassy is saying that you didn’t guys follow an appropriate consular notification in his case. Why is that?

MR PATEL: I’m not aware of that specific case. I would obviously refer you to local authorities in Miami as well on the specifics surrounding that, but I’m happy to check to see if there’s specific —

QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t have anything?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any updates for you on that right now, but I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: Okay. And one additional thing. Do you have any updates that you can publicly share on a potential swap, prisoner swap, between the United States and Russia? Anything new on that subject matter?

MR PATEL: Are you talking about as it relates to a specific case, or just generally?

QUESTION: No, no – I’m talking about – I’m referring to cases like that have been mentioned in the past. I’m not talking about Legkodymov or the case that Matt has referred to. I’m talking about past cases.

MR PATEL: Look, as it relates to wrongful detainees, wrongful detainee American citizens – not just in Russia, but in other countries also – this is a top priority for this Secretary and this President, and it’s something that this department continues to be deeply engaged on. Of course, we’re not going to offer specifics as it relates to those engagements, but this continues to be a top priority, and I don’t have any updates to offer.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Said, you’ve had your hand up.

QUESTION: Yes. Can I switch topics?

MR PATEL: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. I want to go to the Palestinian issue.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Yedoith, the Israeli newspaper Yedoith, said that Ambassador Nides is going to announce or announced that the visa waiver for the Israelis is tied to how Israel treats and receives Palestinian Americans. Do you have any comment on that? Can you confirm that’s – what he’s saying, that’s what he’s telling the Israelis?

MR PATEL: Said, I don’t have any announcement to preview or to get ahead of. But what I would reiterate – and I think you saw the ambassador speak to this – is that we, of course, support steps in our bilateral relationship with Israel that would be beneficial for U.S. and Israeli citizens. One such step would be working together toward Israel fulfilling the requirements of the Visa Waiver Program. Secretary Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with Secretary Blinken, may designate countries for participation in the Visa Waiver Program if the country meets the established criteria.

At this time, Israel does not meet all of the Visa Waiver Program eligibility requirements. The U.S. Government is continuing to work with Israel towards fulfilling those requirements, such as, for example, extending reciprocal privileges to all U.S. citizens and nationals, including Palestinian Americans and Arab Americans to travel to and through Israel. And this includes Americans on the Palestinian population registry as well.

QUESTION: And related to that, so just to clarify, you’re saying that it is conditioned, really, to allowing Palestinian Americans to travel to the West Bank through Tel Aviv, for instance, through Ben Gurion Airport, right?

MR PATEL: The reciprocal issue that I mentioned continues to be one of the issues that still needs fulfillment, as it requires to – as it relates to the Visa Waiver Program eligibility.

QUESTION: Okay. Another thing. Palestinian Authority President Abbas told the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan – so that’s what the Palestinians are saying – that he’s calling on the Biden administration to pressure Israel to quit its aggressive policies in the last few months – over the last couple of months, and so on. Have you received, like, an official request from the Palestinians that you ought to be doing that, or are you having that as part of your policy from here on forward?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific diplomatic engagements to read out to you, Said. But our colleagues at the White House and the NSC just put out a readout on National Security Advisor Sullivan’s travels, and just to reiterate some of the things they – that they underscored is that – underscoring the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security, as well as discussing the challenges and opportunities facing the region, including the threat posed by Iran, and progress and deepening normalization between Israel and other Arab countries. But I don’t have any other updates to offer.

QUESTION: Quick follow-up on this?

MR PATEL: Go ahead. Stay in the region?

QUESTION: Yeah, they also discussed Ukraine, and the increase in defense partnership between Russia and Iran and its implications for security in the Middle East. Can you explain the most implications that the U.S. fear it would impact the region in light of this increase in cooperation between Iran and Russia, please?

MR PATEL: Well, this is a position that we have long held, that Iran’s destabilizing actions – most recently we’ve seen those precipitate as the provision of UAVs and other kinds of security assistance to Russia for use in Ukraine – is deeply destabilizing. It’s troubling not just for the world but also has immediate impacts on Israel and Israel’s neighbors, as well as other countries in the region as well.

Guita, go.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On – on Iran. But go ahead.

MR PATEL: Oh, sorry. Let me go to Guita and then I’ll come to you, Michel. Sorry. Go ahead, Guita.

QUESTION: Thank you. Speaking of the – Iran’s destabilizing activities, I want to go back to yesterday’s subject. The EU Parliament yesterday approved and today issued a resolution for the – to sanction human rights abusers in Iran in general, and also the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group – and I want to focus on this. Does the State Department think it’s a good idea for the EU to also designate the IRGC, just like the U.S. has?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things to that, Guita. First, we are aware of the European Parliament’s resolution. The United States position on the IRGC has been quite clear. It is an entity that is subject to perhaps the most U.S. sanctions of any entity on the planet. We have also specifically sanctioned many IRGC leaders individually for their involvement in terrorism and human rights abuses. Ultimately though, Guita, it is up to each country – or in this case, up to the EU, EU blocs of countries – to determine what is applicable under their governing systems and their legal systems, and what is in their best interests.

As you know, we’ve applauded the EU’s recent designations of IRGC officials and entities for their involvement in the provision of drones to Russia, which are being used to fuel Russia’s infringement on Ukrainian sovereignty and used – being used to attack Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. But beyond that, I don’t have anything additional to offer.

QUESTION: Well, it’s clearly – it is – yes, it’s – it depends on their laws and regulations and everything. It’s their decision. But the NSC tells us that the White House supports the designation and even encourages the EU to use all the authorities that they may have to designate the IRGC. So, does the State Department think differently from the NSC?

MR PATEL: I would have to refer you to our White House and NSC colleagues to clarify any comment that they gave you. But I would reiterate just what I said, which is that the United States position on the IRGC is quite clear. We have taken a number of steps, and have – as I said, it is an organization that is subject to perhaps some of the most U.S. sanctions. And ultimately, it is up to the EU bloc of countries to determine what kind of apparatus is most applicable or makes the most sense for the system that they have and what is in their best interest.

Michel.

QUESTION: Vedant, you continuously say that you consult with allies and partners on everything. It can’t be that this subject is an exception. What does the State Department, what has the State Department advised or talked about to the EU?

MR PATEL: We, of course, consult with our allies and partners on a number of issues, including – of course, our united approach when it comes to the Iranian regime’s malign and destabilizing activities. Of course, a lot of those discussions are private and will remain private, but again, the United States position on the IRGC is quite clear.

Michel, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on this, how do you see the impact of this possible designation on reviving the nuclear deal given the role of the Europeans through the negotiations?

MR PATEL: We have been clear for quite some time that the JCPOA is not on the agenda, and it is not on the agenda largely because the Iranians killed any possibility of it being on the agenda.

Michel.

QUESTION: He did ask my question, but I have another question on the Arab summit in Abu Dhabi.

MR PATEL: Okay, sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the summit, and do you know why Saudi Arabia and Kuwait didn’t attend?

MR PATEL: I would let other countries speak to their own multilateral and bilateral engagements and participation at any summit. We’re aware of the reports of a meeting in Abu Dhabi between several regional states, but obviously the United States was not a participant. But don’t have anything additional to offer beyond that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: In the back, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Venezuela, about – it is true that this administration is considering withdrawing the $15 million reward that was issued for the capture of Nicolas Maduro?

MR PATEL: I am not aware or am not here to offer any new change in policy. Our sanctions policy on Venezuela remains unchanged. We will continue to implement and enforce our Venezuela sanctions in support of a return to democracy in Venezuela.

QUESTION: On Colombia, really quick, on the extradition of the brother of Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba to the United States. The senator says that neither she or – nor her brother have anything to do with drug trafficking, that this is just political persecution, she said. I would like to know, what do you think about these arguments?

MR PATEL: I am not aware of this specific request. I will let our Department of Justice colleagues speak specifically about any extradition requests that have come in specifically. But broadly speaking, of course we have an important working relationship with Colombia. The Secretary had the opportunity to visit the region – I believe it was in the late fall of last year – and we look forward to continuing engagements with them.

QUESTION: I have a last one on Cuba. Since United States is having contact with the Cuban regime, is this administration thinking in withdraw Cuba from the list of countries supporting terrorism?

MR PATEL: I have no change in policy to announce. I addressed this a little bit last week; the engagements that you’re referring to were specifically related to some security dialogues, regional security dialogues. I don’t have any other updates to offer beyond that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Leon, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to stay in the same region.

MR PATEL: Of course.

QUESTION: A little bit farther – Peru. I wonder if you have any concerns with the developments in Peru now with the demonstrations ongoing. There’s another big one for today. There were more deaths also this morning, two more. The situation doesn’t seem to be getting really any better. What is your position on that for the United States?

MR PATEL: Of course we remain concerned about the violent demonstrations. We also recognize the right of peaceful assembly, but most importantly we call for calm dialogue and for all parties to exercise restraint and nonviolence. We also welcome the Peruvian Government’s stated efforts to dialogue peacefully with the relevant actors and groups around the country. We also support the Peruvian Government’s efforts and commitment to investigate all deaths related to the protests.

Specifically. also, Leon, since you’ve asked the question, I want to also make sure that folks know that the U.S. embassy in Lima is in direct contact with a small number of U.S. citizens who do not wish to leave and are sheltering in place. And the Travel Advisory for Peru is at Level 3, which is “reconsider travel.” And we continue to recommend that U.S. citizens reconsider all travel to Peru at this time.

Go ahead. Actually, before I go to you, anything else in the region before we move around? Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. If you remember, I asked you last week about the sanctions on the CAATSA against Türkiye, and if a country like Türkiye was under sanctions, I ask if this country can buy the F-16. Because if I remember well, you sanctioned them and you cancelled the contract for F-35. Correct? So what changed and you want to give to Türkiye the F-16s? And also, tell us if Türkiye is still under sanctions.

MR PATEL: Specifically, I believe I answered your question last week, but to reiterate —

QUESTION: No, no, you took my question and they sent me an answer from your office.

MR PATEL: Understood. So, specifically on – as it relates to CAATSA, of course we make those assessments and any provisions of sales are made on a case-by-case basis. I don’t have any other specifics to offer right now.

But on F-16s, President Biden said last June, as a general matter, that we should sell Türkiye F-16 jets and modernize their fleet as well. However, when it comes to specific arms transfers, we decline to comment until there is a formal notification process with Congress. Broadly speaking, though, the U.S. strongly values its partnerships with our NATO Ally Türkiye, and the U.S. and Türkiye have longstanding and deep bilateral defense ties, and Türkiye’s continued NATO interoperability remains a priority for this administration.

QUESTION: I – can I follow up, please?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Because your people sent me an answer, and I thank you for that; also, they sent an answer to my colleagues. In your answer, you say that the sale of F-16s to Türkiye is not prohibited by these CAATSA sanctions provided Türkiye’s Presidency of Defense – it’s a company called SSB – is not a party to the transaction. You need to explain to us what is going on, because I think the Turks, they will change the name of the company to buy the F-16s, and as you understand, this is a fraud.

MR PATEL: So I’m just not going to get ahead of the process or —

QUESTION: Can you take the question, at least, because it’s very serious?

MR PATEL: — get into hypotheticals. As I’ve said, I would reiterate what Ned, the Secretary, what President Biden have said previously, which is that we should sell Türkiye the F-16 jets and modernize their fleet as well. However, when it comes to specific arms transfers, I’m just not going to get ahead of that process until formal notifications have happened to Congress.

Said.

QUESTION: Just on this point, the foreign minister, the Turkish foreign minister, said – I think today or late last night – that the F-16 sale is completely independent of whatever plans they have for northern Syria; whether they invade or not invade northern Syria, it should be independent of any NATO admission to Sweden and Finland – and so on. Is that your understanding of this deal, or is this deal conditioned on, let’s say, Türkiye refraining from attacking Syria and going along with the admission of Sweden and Finland to NATO?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m not going to offer parallels or connections here. As it relates to the F-16s, we’ve been quite clear, but – and as it relates to incursions into Syria, we’ve also been quite clear. Ned spoke about this as recently as yesterday, in which – of course, we are very sensitive and want to make sure that any actions that happen in Syria do not degrade the important work that has happened over the recent years to degrade ISIS and their operability in the region.

I’m going to work the room a little bit because I already called on you. Dylan, in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah, a question about the Welcome Corps.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Hoping – I was hoping to ask the assistant secretary, but maybe you can answer as well. There’s a handful of organizations – about half a dozen – that the Welcome Corps is working with – NGOs and nonprofits that it’s working with to carry out the new policy and this new program. One of them is called the Church World Service. It’s a nonprofit that has advocated for things like abolishing ICE, it’s campaigned to defund the Border Patrol – various policies and priorities that the administration has said it stands against, it opposes. So, I’m just curious kind of what was the vetting process for the organizations that State is partnering with for this new program, and if you have any idea why this particular organization was chosen when there are others that were presumably available.

MR PATEL: Well, Dylan, the assessment on the – to take a little bit of a step back, the department is working with a consortium of nonprofit organizations with expertise in welcoming, resettling, and integrating refugees into U.S. communities to support the Welcome Corps program. This consortium that I just mentioned will manage and oversee a process for vetting and certifying these private sponsors that want to welcome refugees. And it is specifically that metric that I just offered – expertise in welcoming, resettling, and integrating refugees – that I’m sure the assessment was made of who would be part of that consortium. And specifically, it is a reflection of that metric alone, and not some sort of linkage to any policy position, the ones that you described or otherwise.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Sorry, I just want to take another stab at the potential prisoner swap issue.

MR PATEL: I answered your question.

QUESTION: No, no, no, I know. It’s a bit different.

MR PATEL: Okay.

QUESTION: As you know, U.S. citizen Taylor Dudley was released by Russia several days ago. He returned here, as far as I understand, as a result of Bill Richardson – Bill Richardson’s effort, not as a result of a government-to-government negotiations. That’s my take; I might be wrong.

I wanted to know if this case changes – in any way, your thinking about the prisoner exchange issue. Do you think tri-actor, something like that, might be the preferable way to do this, judging by what Governor Richardson had been able to do, or not?

MR PATEL: So when it comes to the release of American citizens who are wrongfully detained, whether it be in the case of Trevor Reed, whether it be in the case of Brittney Griner, whether it be in the still-unresolved case that we continue to be fighting for regularly when it comes to Paul Whelan, there are channels that exist, there are channels that have been laid out by the two presidents, President Biden and President Putin, to have these discussions that are ongoing. And we continue to believe that those channels are the best avenues for these decisions and these things to come to a conclusion, as we have seen in the case of Trevor Reed and Brittney Griner as well.

QUESTION: Is that —

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

QUESTION: Sure.

QUESTION: Thank you. You spoke somewhat generally earlier when you said that the U.S. embassy in Moscow is engaging with Russian authorities regarding all U.S. citizens. I just wondered if you could say any more about this specific alleged case, about what the embassy, what the State Department is doing. Has the embassy reached out to – officially to try to confirm details about this individual, to request access if they are indeed in custody?

MR PATEL: You’re talking about the case that Matt raised at the beginning?

QUESTION: Yes, yes, off the top.

MR PATEL: Yeah. Sure, sure.

QUESTION: And what other efforts are ongoing and what sort of reception has the State Department and the embassy gotten.

MR PATEL: So again, we are aware of these unconfirmed reports that an investigation regarding a U.S. citizen in Russia is taking place, but we continue to try and get as much information as we can. And I unfortunately don’t have additional specifics beyond that. But to reiterate, the U.S. embassy in Moscow is engaging with Russian authorities to ensure timely notifications, and to ensure access to all citizens – and broadly we are looking into this matter and will closely monitor the situation and get as much information as we can.

QUESTION: Have the Russian authorities responded at all at this point?

MR PATEL: I’m just not in a place to offer the specific tit-for-tat engagements, but this is something that we’re monitoring closely and we are engaging directly with the Russian authorities on this.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Camilla.

QUESTION: Just on Afghanistan, 78 people have been reported dead due to conditions, harsh winter conditions in Afghanistan. Do you have any update on the talks between this department and the Taliban at all, anything that’s – whether these talks are still ongoing? That’s my question.

MR PATEL: So, I hadn’t seen that report, but I will see if we have any updates to offer on that. I will note we have over the past – since the Taliban takeover in August of 2021 provided more than 1.1 billion in U.S. humanitarian assistance. I will see if there’s a specific breakout for that as it relates to weatherization or for things that could help with the extreme cold or anything like that.

But broadly speaking, Camilla, I don’t have any updates to offer, but you saw the Secretary speak to this not just in his end-of-the-year press conference, but also – I believe, earlier this week as well. The Taliban’s policies towards women and girls are an affront to human rights, and as long as the Taliban repress women and girls, the Taliban’s relations with the international community are going to suffer. We’ve been quite clear, the Secretary’s been quite clear, to earn legitimacy and credibility, actions are going to need to speak loudly and they will need to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms to all Afghans, not just occasionally.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: I want to ask about Vietnam.

MR PATEL: Ask about —

QUESTION: Vietnam.

MR PATEL: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. A few days ago, Vietnam President Nguyen Xuan Phuc resigned in the middle of his term, which was reported to be surprising and unprecedented in its political history. Do you think it could have any diplomatic impact on U.S.-Vietnam bilateral relationship or Indo-Pacific region?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things on that. So we are aware of the reports of President Phuc’s resignation, and to state broadly, Vietnam is a valued partner of the United States and we look forward to celebrating the 10th anniversary of our comprehensive partnership later in 2023. We are confident that the positive momentum in our bilateral relationship will continue following a robust series of senior-level engagements in this past year, which included President Biden meeting with Prime Minister Minh Chinh at the U.S.-ASEAN Summit in D.C. in May, as well as at the summit in Phnom Penh in November.

I would reiterate again that the U.S.-Vietnam partnership has never been stronger, and we have moved from a history of conflict and division to comprehensive partnership that spans political, security, economic, and people-to-people ties as well.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Vedant, I just want to ask what the U.S. thinks about Medvedev’s rhetoric and comments, the latest being, “The defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war may trigger a nuclear war.” And we’ve heard, like, this kind of really apocalyptic rhetoric from him repeatedly. Does the U.S. think he does speak for Putin, or, like, what is the U.S. assessment on —

MR PATEL: Well, I’m not going to parse who speaks for who in the Russian Federation. But to echo what you said, Humeyra, this is not the first time that we’ve seen such kind of rhetoric from Russia broadly. And candidly, we think provocative rhetoric regarding nuclear weapons is not only dangerous, it is reckless. It adds to the risk of miscalculation and, candidly, it should be avoided – and we will not indulge on it. A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

Go ahead, Camilla.

QUESTION: In a similar vein, do you have – do you want to comment at all on the Iranian foreign minister’s comment that Iran does not see Crimea as a Russian territory, that they see Crimea and other annexed territories in Ukraine as Ukrainian? Do you welcome that comment from Iran?

MR PATEL: Well, this is another situation when it comes to the Iranian regime that actions should speak louder than words. We would agree that Crimea is Ukraine, and all the other annexed territories are Ukraine, also. But what we would not agree with is the deadly provision of UAVs that Iran has done to Russia so that Russia can carry out strikes on Ukrainian civilian and energy infrastructure in the middle of winter, all for their war that is illegal, unjust, and a clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Okay. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:48 p.m.)

 

Department Press Briefing – January 18, 2023

2:18 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

MR PRICE: Welcome. Welcome to our visitors as well. A couple items before we get started. First we are deeply saddened to hear of the tragic Yeti Airlines crash over the weekend, which killed 72 people, including two U.S. citizens and two lawful permanent residents.

Our thoughts are with the families of those on board.

The United States stands ready to support Nepal in any way we can at this difficult hour.

Similarly, I believe many of you will have heard the Secretary offer his own condolences in response to the tragic helicopter crash that took place earlier today in Ukraine, as did President Biden. We were saddened – deeply saddened to learn of the passing this morning of so many of those aboard, including some of our key partners: Minister of Internal Affairs Denis Monastyrsky, First Deputy Minister of Interior Yevheniy Yenin, Minister of Interior State Secretary Yuriy Lubkovychis, and the parents and children who were also killed in that devastating crash. We have offered our full support, full assistance to Ukraine, and of course our thoughts are with them as well in this difficult hour.

With that, happy to start where you would like.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you.

MR PRICE: Sure, Said.

QUESTION: I want to start with the Palestinian issue.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Can you comment on the embassy issue in Jerusalem? It is alleged that it is being built on land that was confiscated from the Palestinians. There was a big op-ed yesterday in The New York Times. I wonder if you saw it.

MR PRICE: I did see it, and I appreciate the opportunity to comment on it – primarily because there has been some misinformation or some misimpressions about our plans. To be very clear, we have not decided on which site to pursue. A number of factors, including the history of the various sites that are in contention will be part of that very site selection process. We are committed, as you know, Said, to keeping the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. The United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Jerusalem itself, of course, is a final status issue to be resolved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and we’re currently considering two options for our future embassy facility in Jerusalem. One is the Allenby site and the second is the Arnona site. But again no decision has been made on site selection. In accordance with Israeli law, we started the process to amend the town plan for both potential locations. The public comment period for the Allenby site remains open. We also expect to advance the plan for the Arnona site shortly, with a separate comment period to open soon.

The reason there is a comment period is so that we can garner a fuller sense of public reaction, public response to sites that may be in contention. The public comment periods will allow the public to voice any objections to the proposed zoning changes before the district committee asks for any adjustments to those proposed zoning changes. Construction, location, and a range of other factors, including – as I said before – the history of these very sites will be part of that ultimate site selection.

QUESTION: So let me ask you, in retrospect – I mean, this has been since 2017 when the former administration recognized Jerusalem as capital. No one really has followed through, none of your allies – not the British, not the Germans – nobody did. Was it a mistake, perhaps, maybe you can nullify this and go back to Tel Aviv until the Jerusalem issue is resolved? I mean, there is an international status for Jerusalem that you could – that you have followed for a very long time – for decades – but you could redo the same thing.

MR PRICE: Said, Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. The last administration recognized that; this administration recognizes that. But what has not changed is the fact of the status of Jerusalem as a final status issue. This issue – the final status of the Holy City – is to be determined between and by the parties themselves, Israelis and Palestinians.

QUESTION: One more —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: One more question on this issue. This year has been very bloody for the Palestinians, as has the last year. More than 14 or 15 Palestinians – many of them kids, teenagers, and so on – have been killed. Are you concerned that maybe the Israeli occupation army has been too trigger happy, that they shoot and then find out what was – what’s going on? And would you call on them perhaps to pull back from this shoot first policy?

MR PRICE: Said, you made reference to the tragic loss of life that we’ve seen on the part of Palestinians and Israelis over the course of the latter part of last year and then this year. Today, of course, is the 18th of January. We’re only 18 days into this month, and already, since the beginning of this year alone, 15 Palestinians have been killed. Several Israelis have been injured in the West Bank. We are deeply concerned by the situation in the West Bank. The preceding period has seen a sharp and alarming increase in Palestinian and Israeli deaths and injuries, including many children among them.

We continue to emphasize to both parties, Israelis and Palestinians, that we want to see a de-escalation of tensions. We want to see constructive engagement. We continue to emphasize to both Israelis and Palestinians that they both equally deserve to have equal measures of security, stability, justice, dignity, and democracy. It is alarming to see the pace of violence, the rate of deaths, of injuries. It is also incumbent on the parties to take steps themselves to see a diminution in the tensions that have spiked in recent weeks and months.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Jerusalem?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: As you know, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Brett McGurk are in Israel now. They expect also to meet with President Abbas. You know that, right?

MR PRICE: I am aware.

QUESTION: You look a bit surprised. (Laughter.)

MR PRICE: I am aware. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. So basically, John Kirby told me today that the purpose of the visit was to emphasize the U.S. position vis-à-vis the two-state solution, and also to encourage the parties, as you said, to not to undermine that prospect. So is the U. S. current policy – is to keep the status quo in the Palestinian areas or not to be involved in any peace prospect, not to encourage the Israelis and Palestinians to get into any peace process or negotiation considering the – Netanyahu may have government being right wing – I mean, are there ways like basically we will be happy just to keep things as they are and not to initiate anything new?

MR PRICE: Our policy is fundamentally a pragmatic one. At the present moment – and this goes back to Said’s question – we recognize the deeply concerning trends that have taken place and, in some ways, accelerated in recent months, but also over the course of several years now. Those are the very trends that, over the course of last year and then earlier this year, have led to extraordinarily high, far too high numbers of deaths and injuries, both on the part of Palestinians and Israelis.

So task number one, as we see it, is to do what we can to help de-escalate tensions, to see to it that this alarming rate of violence is diminished, that tensions are eased, and to encourage both sides to refrain from steps that only further exacerbate tensions. Our first priority at the present moment is doing just that, is seeing if we can be a constructive voice, a constructive partner in helping the two sides de-escalate and put an end to this cycle of violence.

Now, of course our longer-term approach continues to be support for a negotiated two-state solution, a negotiated two-state solution that will bring into existence what we ultimately hope to see: Israelis and Palestinians living side by side equally, enjoying equal measures of stability, of security, of democracy, of dignity, of prosperity as well. Now, of course, this is a moment in some ways of triage. Our end goal is one that is quite far off. We recognize that at the moment. No one at the moment is speaking to the possibility of near-term constructive dialogue culminating anytime soon in a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. We acknowledge that; we appreciate that. That’s why our approach is practical, it’s pragmatic, it is focused on what Palestinians need at the moment and what Israelis need at the moment.

In delivering that, what we are trying to do is to set the stage so that the parties can, over the longer term, make progress towards what remains our goal, what has remained the goal of Israelis and Palestinians over successive decades, and that is a two-state solution to this longstanding conflict.

QUESTION: I want to ask you about Yemen unless somebody want to ask about Israel.

MR PRICE: Anything else on Israel?

QUESTION: Just one more on this Israel-related trip. Are you in a position to confirm the media reports that the U.S. has moved munitions stored in Israel to Ukraine for use in Ukraine? If so, can you speak to the significance of that, and also what other steps do you expect from Israel given the fact that there’s a negotiation going on?

MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to speak to that report. I would refer you to DOD if they’re in a position to speak to those types of tactical movements. That’s not something we would speak to from here. I suspect it’s also not something that our partners throughout the government would speak to in any detail as well.

QUESTION: May I ask (inaudible) topic, if possible – housekeeping —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Housekeeping first, you started the briefing by welcoming our guests. When it comes to foreign leaders’ trips to this building, the recent practice has been on the part – the trips from – not the countries like (inaudible) countries, but allies and partners, the practice has been the Secretary would put together a press conference along with the guest leader. The fact that there is no press conference featuring the today’s dialogue, how do you want us to read that? Is it a reflection of the nature of the trip or the nature of the relationship between Türkiye and the U.S. or the nature of the state of press freedom in Türkiye.

MR PRICE: I certainly wouldn’t read much into it. This is a discussion we have with our guests. It is also a factor of the Secretary’s schedule, of the schedule of the visiting dignitary. Of course, you’re asking this one day after Secretary Blinken spent 45 minutes to an hour in front of all of you with Foreign Secretary Cleverly, and we were in a position —

QUESTION: No, no, hold on – let’s say you started 45 minutes to an hour late.

MR PRICE: Thank you, Matt.

QUESTION: I’m not sure that they actually spent 45 minutes to an hour in front of —

MR PRICE: I wasn’t – I wasn’t counting the time, but it was about 45 minutes, if I recall – rough estimate, at least. So as you know, with some visiting dignitaries, we are in a position to have a joint press avail with some scheduling constraints; preferences on the part of our guests or other considerations preclude that.

QUESTION: I mean – and there’s no other reason why Turkish foreign minister would be deprived of the State Department podium, right?

MR PRICE: You all heard from Foreign Minister Cavusoglu today. You all heard from Secretary Blinken today as well. These are questions that we coordinate with our visiting guests.

QUESTION: May I move to South Caucasus, if possible?

MR PRICE: Let – let me —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) something about Türkiye?

MR PRICE: Yeah, sure. Türkiye?

QUESTION: Yeah, so – specifically on Türkiye. The foreign – Turkish foreign minister said he expected the United States to approve the sale of F-16s – he said that to the Secretary, obviously. What will be the message of the Secretary, given that the U.S. Government officially supports this deal, but there’s strong opposition in Congress? So what are your expectations the Secretary will tell the Turkish foreign minister on this issue?

MR PRICE: Well, I expect our Turkish allies will be hearing – because the meeting is ongoing now – a similar message to what they have heard, President Erdogan has heard directly from President Biden, and what all of you have heard, because President Biden said this publicly in June in Madrid. When it comes to the F-16s, President Biden said that as a general matter, he believes that we should sell Türkiye the F-16 jets and modernize their existing fleet as well.

As you know, there is a process for these types of sales, these types of transfers. This is a process that involves Congress, of course, and we would decline to comment on the particulars of that process until and unless there is any formal notification to Congress. We are not in a position to do that yet; our position has not changed. It is also fair to say – and I don’t think I’m betraying any secrets, because our partners on the Hill have been quite vocal about this as well – is that there are strong opinions on the Hill.

So we will continue to engage with our Turkish partners. We will, as appropriate, engage with our partners on the Hill. We want to see to it that Türkiye, as a NATO Ally, has what it needs to be – continue to be a valued member of that Alliance and to address the very real security concerns that Türkiye itself faces.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, please. Senator Menendez said that he is going to block the transfer of F-16s to Türkiye, and he said till Ankara, as he said, improves its human rights record and cease threatening U.S. regional allies like Greece and Cyprus. He said that Erdogan is undermining international law, and Türkiye is not a good ally. I don’t know if you agree with the senator, but I wanted to hear your comment, please.

MR PRICE: Well, Congress has a key role to play when it comes to these decisions. This is a process that we respect. It has been a priority of this Secretary to engage with Congress not only, as he likes to say, on landing, but also at the takeoff; that is to say, at every step of the process, to have iterative engagement with our congressional overseers, but also the authorizers and approvers, including those who sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

We have a very constructive relationship with Türkiye. We are grateful for the role that Türkiye has played in helping to address many of the most pressing challenges of our time, and that includes, of course, Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that without Türkiye’s constructive role, we would not have the Black Sea Grain Initiative, certainly not the grain initiative that is functioning at the scope and scale that it is now. We’ve consistently said that we are grateful for Türkiye’s role in that. We’re also appreciative of the fact that President Erdogan and his government has used their somewhat unique position to seek to address Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Now, it is not for any lack of trying on Ankara’s part that those efforts have not diminished or put an end to this war. That is a function of President Putin – his determination to continue this brutal war despite the costs that it’s inflicting on his own people.

Now, as allies, where and when we have disagreements, we can be candid about those disagreements, and we’ll speak clearly when it comes to shared values and shared interests. We’ve said this many times before: We remain deeply concerned by the continued judicial harassment of civil society, media, political and business leaders in Türkiye, including through prolonged pretrial detention, overly broad claims of support for terrorism, and criminal insult cases.

The people of Türkiye, like people everywhere, deserve to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms without fear of retribution. The right to exercise freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association is enshrined in Türkiye’s constitution, and in its international law obligations, and in its OSCE commitments.

We urge Türkiye to respect and ensure freedom of expression, these very fair pretrial guarantees, fair trial guarantees, judicial independence, and other human rights and fundamental freedoms. And we urge the government to cease prosecutions, these prosecutions, and to respect the rights and freedoms of all Turkish citizens. Our Turkish allies know where we stand on this; the message we convey in private is precisely the message we’ve consistently conveyed in public.

QUESTION: Another question, please. You said that you are happy, of course, with the role that Türkiye has played with the Ukraine. But are you happy with the role that Türkiye is playing in northern Syria? I mean, Mr. Kalin said two days ago that they are going to invade.

MR PRICE: And this is an area where we’ve also been in a position to have candid conversations with our ally, precisely because we are allies. And when you’re friends, let alone when you’re allies, you have the ability to sit down together and to be frank with one another, and we’ve done that. But we’ve also recognized that Türkiye faces legitimate threats to its own security. Türkiye has endured more terrorist attacks on its soil than any other NATO Ally. This goes back to the point I was making before about our desire to see Türkiye continue to be an important, constructive NATO Ally with the means by which to participate meaningfully in that Alliance, as Türkiye has.

When it comes to Syria, we’ve been clear publicly – also privately – that we don’t want to see any unilateral actions that have the potential to set back the tremendous progress that the international community has achieved in the effort to counter ISIS, counter Daesh, over the past several years. The so-called territorial caliphate of ISIS has been virtually destroyed. It has been virtually destroyed because of the stalwart coordination and cooperation on the part of dozens of countries who are part of the global coalition to counter ISIS or Daesh.

We are concerned that any unilateral moves have the potential to set that back and have the potential to set back the prospects for a political resolution to the longstanding – 12 years now – conflict in Syria in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

QUESTION: Sorry. At the very beginning of your – you said you are grateful for the – I think this is a quote – “grateful for the role that Türkiye has played in helping to address many of the most pressing challenges of our time.” You named one, which was the Black Sea initiative. But then after that, you listed a whole bunch of problems that you have with Türkiye, including the human rights situation, Syria just now. You didn’t mention but it’s clear that there are differences over NATO expansion as well. So can you name – I mean, you only named one. So when you say “many of the most pressing challenges of our time,” I’d like to give you the opportunity to identify another —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: — other than the Black Sea initiative.

MR PRICE: So embedded in what I said were two high-profile priorities of ours. Number one is Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and I believe I mentioned this, but Türkiye has played a very helpful, meaningfully helpful role in seeking to put an end to this conflict, or at the very least diminish the violence. They have —

QUESTION: Well – okay. But whatever they’ve done, as laudable as it might be, it doesn’t seem to have worked.

MR PRICE: And again, that is – that is not – that is not for lack of trying on the part of Ankara. That is —

QUESTION: Okay. So you’re – so you’re giving them credit for trying to push the Russians to stop —

MR PRICE: Of course.

QUESTION: – their aggression against Ukraine. And you’ve got – okay. So that’s two.

MR PRICE: And dealing with the implications of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, food insecurity being one of them. That’s embedded in the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

QUESTION: Okay, but that’s – that’s the second one. So there’s two. But you said “many of the most pressing challenges of our time.” So give me another example.

MR PRICE: Another example, Matt, is terrorism and the joint efforts that we’ve —

QUESTION: You just went after them about Syria, which —

MR PRICE: — that Türkiye has taken, including the steps that we announced together just a couple weeks ago now to go after a network of ISIS facilitators.

QUESTION: That was, like, four people.

MR PRICE: Yes, Matt. But Türkiye has been a valued member of this coalition. Its efforts have been —

QUESTION: Okay. I’m not saying that they’re not doing any of this. I’d just like to have another example. When you say “many,” does “many” mean two?

MR PRICE: Many ways —

QUESTION: Does it mean – does it mean three? Okay. So you’ve got Black Sea and then they attempt to get the Russians – not successfully, but they attempt to get the Russians to ease up in Ukraine. You don’t like what they’re doing or what they’re threatening to do in Syria. On terrorism, yeah, okay, so you have one joint statement over the course of the last year about sanctions. I’m just wondering where the “many of the most pressing challenges” are, and I’m not – again, I’m not saying the Turks aren’t doing anything about this, but I’d just like you – I’d like to give you the opportunity to explain what those are.

MR PRICE: And I think we’ve just gone through a number of them, not to mention Türkiye’s role in NATO over the course of several —

QUESTION: Türkiye’s role in NATO – they’re stopping —

MR PRICE: Over the – over the – over the course —

QUESTION: They are the main obstacle to NATO doing what it wants to do right now in expansion.

MR PRICE: Over the course of several decades.

QUESTION: Can you explain that deal —

MR PRICE: Yes. Let me move around to someone who hasn’t had a question yet.

Janne?

QUESTION: On the Turks —

QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you. Let’s do a – different issues, please. Thank you. Yeah, I have two questions for the North Korea. North Korea refuted the message from the UN Security Council that it should return to denuclearization negotiations. At the same time, the North Korean foreign ministry announced that their status as a nuclear power was a stark reality. Do you think North Korea declared itself a nuclear state? How do you see this?

MR PRICE: Well, it doesn’t change our overarching goal, and that remains the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Of course, the DPRK has demonstrated its capabilities when it comes to its illegal nuclear weapons program, when it comes to its ballistic missile program. We continue to be concerned that the DPRK may make additional provocations, and “provocations” is probably too euphemistic of a term for it. Each and every one of the DPRK’s ballistic missile launches – certainly each and every one of the DPRK’s six tests of its nuclear weapons – pose a profound and, in some cases, grave threat to international peace and security, certainly to the security and to the peace of the Indo-Pacific region.

So despite the comments that we’ve heard from the DPRK, despite the provocations that we’ve seen from the DPRK and that we may yet see, our approach will remain steadfast. It’s an approach that we honed early on in this administration, but just as importantly if not more importantly, it’s an approach that we’ve adopted jointly with our treaty allies – in this case, Japan and the ROK.

We are committed to the security of our treaty allies. We will take steps as appropriate in response to any additional provocations by the DPRK, and we’ll continue to work with partners and allies around the world to see to it that the DPRK is held accountable for its unlawful programs – its ballistic missile program, its nuclear weapons program – and to do everything we can to see to it that especially members of the UN Security Council uphold the commitments that they’ve made – the binding commitments that they’ve made in successive UN Security Council resolutions – to impose cause and – costs and consequences on the DPRK for these illegal acts.

QUESTION: The last one – this is very serious issues; maybe you (inaudible). Recently, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has purged many North Korean officials who led the dialogue between the United States and North Korea in the past, including the North Korean foreign minister and the highest-ranking officials. How do you see the future prospect for dialogue between the United States and North Korea?

MR PRICE: I’ve seen those reports; I’m not in a position to confirm them. But the latter part of your question is really a better question for the DPRK, because we have a vision for what could be if only the DPRK would agree to engage in the pragmatic, practical discussion and dialogue that we’ve put on the table for months and months now. We have made no secret of the fact we wish to engage with the DPRK on the basis of the ultimate denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula to discuss how we might – again, with practical, pragmatic steps – advance that vision that we’ve put forward that would be in the interests of the United States, of our partners and allies, of the broader region, and, we think, in the interests of the DPRK itself.

Of course, the DPRK has to date shunned those offers. It has responded to our repeated statements that we harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK, to our repeated offers to engage in dialogue, with only more provocations and more threats. That is a dynamic that we are using various tools at our disposal to seek to change. It’s a dynamic that we would like to see changed.

QUESTION: The last one – China. And China said that there are limits to – persuading North Korea. Would Secretary Blinken discuss these issues during the – his visit to China this time?

MR PRICE: I am certain that the challenge that the DPRK poses to the Indo-Pacific region and beyond will be on the agenda when Secretary Blinken travels to Beijing.

Yes.

QUESTION: A China question?

MR PRICE: Okay, one more —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: China? China?

MR PRICE: China, and then I’ll come back.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Last week we heard a lot about what the U.S. and Mexico can do to stop fentanyl to arrive to the Western Hemisphere. But we didn’t hear that much about what the U.S. and Mexico are doing to press China on the illegal exportation of precursor chemicals to produce fentanyl. Can you describe what’s the current status of any dialogue between the U.S. and China on precisely this issue, the illegal exportation of fentanyl precursors?

MR PRICE: Sure. Let me start by saying that this is a priority of Secretary Blinken. He consistently brings up to his senior team the threat that fentanyl poses to the international community but, in very real terms, poses to the American people. It is the leading killer of Americans between the age – ages of 18 to 49. It presents a clear and present danger to our people but, to your question, to people around the world. This is the very definition of a transnational challenge because it is a drug whose precursors originate in various places around the world. its manufacturing takes place in very places – various places around the world, and it kills far too many people around the world as well.

That is why he has directed his team to do everything we can, often in concert with our partners in the U.S. Government – whether that’s the DEA, whether that’s customs – the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border enforcement[1], whether that is other partners as well – to address the challenge that fentanyl poses.

When it comes to the PRC, since the PRC scheduled fentanyl and related substances as a – as a class in 2019, the PRC is no longer a major source of fentanyl flowing into the United States. We continue to see PRC-origin precursor chemicals being used in illicit fentanyl production. Though its past action has helped to counter illicit synthetic drugs, we continue to urge the PRC to take additional meaningful concrete action to curb the diversion of precursor chemicals and equipment used by criminals to manufacture fentanyl and other synthetic drugs.

We are committed to working with the PRC. We often talk about the areas in which the United States and the PRC can work together constructively to deepen that collaboration to the betterment of our two peoples but also to the betterment of people around the world. This is very much one of those areas. It is a challenge for the Chinese people, it is a challenge for the American people, and we hope that we can continue to collaborate effectively and constructively with the PRC to take on this challenge.

Yes, Ian.

QUESTION: Over the last week there’s been a little bit more data sharing from China on COVID after a back and forth with the WHO. Is the U.S. satisfied with the level of transparency in recent days from China on COVID, or would you like to see more transparency over data on illnesses and infections and deaths?

MR PRICE: So this is really a better question for the WHO. The WHO is in the best position to judge the level of transparency that the PRC is exhibiting. They’ve made various statements. There was a session between WHO officials and PRC officials early this year. In the aftermath of that session, the WHO issued a public statement. Over the weekend, I believe it was, the PRC provided additional data, and that was welcomed by the WHO. We continue to urge transparency on COVID-19 data, including from the PRC. Our position is the position of scientists; public health experts around the world that without this data, it will be difficult for public health officials to ensure they will be prepared to reduce the spread and identify any new potential variants.

So we continue to urge the PRC to be fully transparent. The measures that we put in place, the measures that we announced just before the new year and put into place earlier this year, the pre‑departure testing for individuals traveling from the PRC to the United States also made this point. Those measures are based on both the prevalence of COVID in the PRC, but also what we were seeing at the time – or namely what we were not seeing at the time – the lack of transparent data distribution from the PRC, principally to the WHO, including the genomic sequencing so that the WHO could have an early warning should any new variants develop and be spreading beyond the PRC’s borders.

QUESTION: And has that lack of data colored any of the discussions between the U.S. and China in the leadup to the – to Blinken’s visit in February? Has it —

MR PRICE: If by colored, do you mean has it derailed, has it disrupted the planning? I’ll say that Secretary Blinken fully expects to travel to Beijing next month. That is something that we are still planning for on a daily basis, including – we’re working closely with our counterparts in the PRC to see to it that this trip is constructive, it is productive, that it’s substantive as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: European Parliament is calling on European Union to blacklist Iran’s IRGC. On Thursday European Parliament is expected to pass another resolution which includes a call to declare the IRGC a terrorist organization. Do you have any comment on that? Do you have a word of encouragement – because four years ago, U.S. decided to put IRGC on FTO, and four years later European countries seems to reach the same point as U.S. was four years ago.

MR PRICE: On questions like this, we tend not to be prescriptive just because each country, or in this case each bloc of countries, have their own authorities, they have their own evidentiary requirements and evidentiary basis for determining whether a particular group – in this case the IRGC – would qualify under their own legislation, be it domestic or be it continent-wide in this case.

What – where we do see eye to eye with our European partners is a recognition that Iran is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. There is no more nefarious exporter of international terrorism than Iran. There is no disagreement between the United States and our European allies on this. We’re also clear-eyed about the need to cooperate to counter the threats that are posed by the IRGC over the past – well, certainly in recent years. Europe, the United States, countries around the world and regions around the world have seen all too vivid demonstrations of the lethality of the IRGC, of its repugnant willingness to take innocent lives in its operations. So we’re committed to continuing to work with the EU and with other allies and partners on this very challenge.

Guita.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. In reaction to this development in the European Union parliament, a member of the Iranian parliament has said that if the EU does designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization, the Islamic Republic would designate Britain, Germany, France, and the EU also as terrorists. And he continued to say, and I quote, that “the defenders of Iran know how to deal with terrorists,” unquote. Any comments? Do you think this is clearly a threat and it should be – should it be taken seriously?

MR PRICE: We don’t respond to threats. We condemn them. What we do respond to is any threat to American citizens, threat to our partners. Countries around the world, including Iran, know full well that we take such – any such real threats seriously, and we’re prepared to respond and respond decisively if appropriate. Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: Related, kind of.

MR PRICE: Okay. We’ll see how related or kind of that is.

QUESTION: Yemen, Yemen. So yesterday the White House issued a statement – and then – I think it’s a year anniversary of the Houthis’ attack on UAE, and they said basically that this is a heinous terrorist attack. So if this is the case – if you describe the Houthis as a terrorist organization, why are they not on the FTO till now? I mean, what is this deliberation as we speak?

MR PRICE: So when it comes to the Houthis, you are right that we did condemn the terrorist attack that the Houthis perpetrated against our Emirati partners one year ago yesterday. President Biden issued a statement. Secretary Blinken issued a statement. In both of those statements, we reiterated our commitment to working with our Emirati partners to help them, help them defend against such cross-border attacks.

We do that in a variety of ways. We’re committed to continuing to do that going forward, just as we’re committed to our much broader partnership with the UAE. It’s a partnership that has realized but also has far more potential to bring about a region that is more stable, is more integrated, and more prosperous as well. And we’re committed to working with President MBZ and Foreign Minister ABZ in an effort to promote that vision.

When it comes to the Houthis, we are under no illusions about the Houthis, the challenge they pose, and the threat that they have the potential to pose as well. What you’ve seen over the course of this administration is a focus on putting an end to the civil war in Yemen, a civil war that the Houthis have at key moments only sought to propagate and extend. Over the past year or so, we have achieved a great deal of success. Levels of violence are greatly diminished. There was a cessation of hostilities that was formally in place.

Even as that cessation of hostilities has at least formally expired, the level of violence have remained quite low. That is good for the people of Yemen. It is also good for our partners in the region as they have endured fewer of these repugnant cross-border attacks that have targeted the UAE, have targeted Saudi Arabia, and others as well.

There are ways that we have to hold the Houthis to account. They – we have taken action against specific Houthi leaders. The group as a whole is designated under various authorities, but we made very clear that when the last administration in the final hour – almost literally – labeled the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, that came with a series of consequences – some perhaps intended; many perhaps unintended. Among those unintended consequences were profound costs on the people of Yemen.

We heard loud and clear from humanitarian actors, NGOs who were operating on the ground that the FTOs, that the – the fact that the Houthis had been labeled an FTO precluded them from providing, or at least limited their ability to provide, lifesaving humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen. So we made a determination early in this administration that we could do two things at once: We could hold the Houthis to account with various authorities, including authorities attached to individual Houthi leaders, while removing the roadblocks that had stymied the provision, or potentially in some cases stymied the provision, of humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen.

I think our approach to the Houthis, our approach to investing so much in diplomacy with Special Envoy Tim Lenderking leading the charge under the direction of Secretary Blinken, has proved its effectiveness. We have seen a period of stability and diminution of tensions that we have not seen in some eight years, since the start of this conflict in 2014. It is our hope to build on the progress that we’ve achieved, even as we continue to partner with our partners and allies in the region, including the Emiratis, including the Saudis, to see to it they have what they need to defend themselves.

Let me move to someone who hasn’t had a question. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. I just wanted to go back to Türkiye really quickly.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Specifically – pardon me – Senator Menendez. As you know – as you know, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, he can basically block this F-16 sale as long as he wants. So if the Biden administration is committed to getting this sale done, it will have to persuade him to get on board with it. So what’s the State Department’s game plan to get Senator Menendez to lift his opposition to the sale?

MR PRICE: Sure. As you know, we don’t often detail our private diplomacy. The same principle applies to our private conversations with our congressional partners, so I don’t want to go too far down this road. What I will say is that we have conveyed to our partners on the Hill our support for the provision of F-16s and for enabling Türkiye to maintain its existing fleet of F‑16s. Again, our partners on the Hill – at least several of them – have made no secret about their opposition to this. They have pointed to various elements. These are questions that will – are better addressed for our congressional partners.

We are going to continue to work with the Turks on priorities of ours. Again, that is the war in Ukraine, the constructive role that Türkiye has played. It is its unique role as a bridge between East and West, in this case using its good offices, or at least its voice, to encourage Russia to end this brutal war against the people of Ukraine. We’re going to continue to work on food security, we’re going to continue to work on our shared counterterrorism agenda, even as we continue to encourage Türkiye, Finland, Sweden to find a way to achieve what we would all like to see, and that is the quick accession of Finland and Sweden as NATO’s newest Allies.

There is strong support within the Alliance, but, to the point of your question, there is strong support within the U.S. Congress for Finland and Sweden to be – to become NATO’s newest members. When the treaty was put before the Senate last year, it was approved in near record time on an overwhelming and bipartisan basis. Congress has made no secret of its support. Of course, we share the enthusiasm that we’ve heard from our Hill partners when it comes to Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership. And we’re going to continue to encourage Finland, Sweden, Türkiye to engage in constructive dialogue to see this through just as quickly as can be managed.

Let me – Kylie. Kylie.

QUESTION: Could I just ask one question for a minute?

MR PRICE: Kylie, go ahead. Kylie.

QUESTION: There’s a few articles out right now about targeting in Crimea, the Crimean Peninsula. I’m just wondering: Over the course of the last year, has the U.S. ever put limits on where Ukraine can or cannot use their weapons? Have they been allowed to use those weapons to attack Russians in the Crimean Peninsula or in Crimea?

MR PRICE: To the first part of your question, we are providing Ukraine with the security assistance, the weapons and supplies it needs to defend its territory, to defend its territory against this Russian aggression, against these Russian invaders.

QUESTION: Including Crimea?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Including Crimea?

MR PRICE: Crimea is Ukraine. We are, of course, not making targeting decisions on behalf of our Ukrainian partners. These decisions are up to them. But as you know, the United States and countries around the world have never recognized Russia’s purported annexation of parts of eastern Ukraine or its purported annexation of Crimea. Crimea is Ukraine. That is not going to change. We have provided our Ukrainian partners with precisely what they need to take on the threat where it is raging most violently. Right now that is in the east, it’s in the Donbas. This has been the case for some time.

But as you track the provision of U.S. security assistance from well before February 24th, as we saw the potential storm clouds approaching to the start of Russia’s war on February 24th, you see the evolution, going from the battle of Kyiv, where Stingers and Javelins were in need and requested by our Ukrainian partners, to what we’ve provided in recent weeks and months: HIMARS, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, long-range artillery, the longer-range systems that Ukraine needs to take on Russian positions on sovereign Ukrainian soil.

Now, what we have not done, we have neither encouraged nor enabled our Ukrainian partners to strike beyond their borders. Everything we are providing to Ukraine is for a singular purpose, and that’s for its self-defense.

QUESTION: And just one quick question. You said the advice of the U.S. is – would be to take on the threat where it’s raging most violently, and right now that’s in the east and in the Donbas. So if they are using the weaponry to go after targets in Crimea or the Crimean Peninsula, is that supported by the U.S.? Is that a move that you see as the most productive use of the weaponry that they have at their dispense right now?

MR PRICE: So we are not calling the shots when it comes to targeting. We are – and when I say “we,” in this case it’s our Department of Defense counterparts – they are in constant conversation with our Ukrainian partners about the dynamics, about the systems that would be appropriate for the threat that Ukraine is facing at each moment during the course of this invasion. But ultimately, it is up to our Ukrainian partners to determine how – how best, where – to use these weapons and supplies to defend their sovereign territory.

QUESTION: And if that – and if they believe they’re best used targeting the Crimean Peninsula, then you support that?

MR PRICE: Again, it is – we are not calling the shots. These are questions – just as the ultimate question of negotiations, what that looks like, what the Ukrainians are vying for in the course of any future negotiations, these are questions for our Ukrainian partners.

QUESTION: Can you clarify something on (inaudible)…

MR PRICE: Yes. Let me move to people who have not had a question.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Yesterday – two days ago, Peskov, Kremlin spokesperson, didn’t rule out a meeting between CIA Burns – Director Burns and any Russian officials. Do we expect something in the near future, such a meeting?

MR PRICE: Even if we had something to say there, that is not a question I would wade into. Now, of course the Russians consistently like to allude to potential engagement with the United States, just as they do with other close allies of ours. Our longstanding position since the start of Russia’s aggression is that it can’t be business as usual.

If there are discreet elements that we need to convey to our Russian partners, elements that are profoundly in our national security interest, we have channels to be able to do so. Secretary Blinken has picked up the phone to Foreign Minister Lavrov when it came to Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, the detained AMCITs at the time. We’ve conveyed in no uncertain terms the consequences of annexation. Secretary Blinken did that as well. We’ve also conveyed in no uncertain terms the costs and consequences that would come with the use of a chemical weapon or a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Next Monday there is a meeting on Lebanon between the Saudis, the Qataris, and the French, and the U.S. Would Assistant Secretary Leaf attend this meeting? And also, what’s your position on the presidential election in Lebanon? I mean, do you support an agreement ahead of the election or do you want a president to be elected ahead of an agreement?

MR PRICE: To the second part of your question, this is a question for the Lebanese parliament. It’s a question for the Lebanese parliament to determine the next president in accordance with the demands of the Lebanese people, who continue to face a number of crises. We call on Lebanese – Lebanon’s leaders to quickly select a president and to subsequently form a government. The Lebanese people deserve political leadership willing to put the interests of the country first and a government able to implement long-overdue reforms critical to unlocking crucial international support.

QUESTION: What’s the date on that guidance?

MR PRICE: We’ve been saying this for —

QUESTION: For about – what, about like 10 years?

MR PRICE: Well, not quite that long. But as to any engagements next week, if we have details to share in advance, we’ll do that.

QUESTION: Just one more question, please, on Saudi Arabia.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday in an interview with Bloomberg, Saudi finance minister said – hinted that the Saudis are open to discussion – discussions about the trade in currencies other than the U.S. dollar. Do you have any comment on that?

MR PRICE: I do not. I do not.

QUESTION: Can you clarify something on Türkiye? You said that Türkiye faces real threat of terrorism, and you understand that. But you don’t see eye to eye with them, because they consider the YPG to be a terrorist organization and the flipside of the PKK. You don’t see eye to eye on that, do you?

MR PRICE: Said, we’ve been clear that with our allies, we may not always see eye to eye. We have disagreements with our Turkish allies. That doesn’t diminish the alliance between our two countries. That doesn’t diminish the fact that we share interests, and as partners, as an alliance, there are fundamental values that we want to see protected as well.

QUESTION: But you’re on opposite sides. I mean, you support the YPG, and they are your allies and so on, and Türkiye is going to attack them, maybe any time. So what will your position be if this happens?

MR PRICE: Our position will be precisely what I spent probably five minutes describing earlier in this briefing.

QUESTION: And my question is on South Caucasus. But before we get there, just to clarify, you – in answer to the question on Crimea, you said you never encouraged them to take the shot. On the reverse side, you will also not discourage them from retaking Crimea, right? You will not do or act in any way that would discourage Ukraine from doing what it —

MR PRICE: These ultimately are questions for our Ukrainian partners.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. And South Caucasus.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: I need to move on to people that have not had a question yet.

QUESTION: Different topic —

MR PRICE: I need to move on.

Yes, go ahead, go ahead.

QUESTION: Are you still in agreement with Türkiye over normalization with Syria? I’m sure this topic was on the table today up on the seventh floor. Are you still opposing Türkiye normalizing with Syria?

MR PRICE: I will allow our Turkish allies to note their approach to the Assad regime in Syria. Our approach to the Assad regime has not changed. We believe that now is not the time for normalization, now is not the time for countries to seek improvements in relations with the Syrian regime. One need only look at the track record of the regime over the past 12 years, the violence and brutality that the Assad regime has inflicted on its own people. We continue to believe in the utility of pursuing the goals and metrics enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

QUESTION: And Foreign Minister [Cavusoglu] was told that today?

MR PRICE: The meeting is still going on, so I’m just not in a position to speak to it.

Abbie.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Are you aware of the death of an American in Rosarito Beach, Mexico?

MR PRICE: Yes. Let me just pull this up. I can confirm the death of a U.S. Citizen in Baja California in Mexico. We stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. Out of respect for the privacy of the family, I just wouldn’t be in a position to comment any further.

QUESTION: Is there any investigation into his death, or is there any reason for suspicion of foul play?

MR PRICE: When a U.S. citizen dies in a foreign country, local authorities are responsible for determining the cause of death, issuing a death certificate, among other steps. We’ll support any Mexican investigation, we’ll continue to monitor it closely, but would refer you to Mexican authorities for details of their investigation.

Yes.

QUESTION: I have a question for the U.S.-Japan. Following up on U.S.-Japan summit meeting, seems like it is necessary continue discuss specific measures such as countering, like, export of, like, a semiconductor. What is current outlook on that meeting? And how soon we can expect a U.S.-Japan economic version of the 2+2? In near future?

MR PRICE: Sorry, I didn’t – I missed the first part of your question. Was this in relation to the prime minister’s visit, or this was in relation to the Dutch prime minister’s visit?

QUESTION: The U.S.-Japan economic version 2+2 meeting.

MR PRICE: I don’t have any additional 2+2 meeting to announce. Of course, we had a meeting, what, I guess it was last week now, of the bilateral consultative committee with Japan, brought together our Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense with their Japanese counterparts. But I just don’t have any additional meetings to announce at this stage.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Pakistan has less than $5 billion left in its FOREX reserves. Is the U.S. paying any attention to or is planning to give maybe, like, some sort of debt relief to the country, or not?

MR PRICE: So this is a challenge that we are attuned to. I know that Pakistan has been working with the IMF, with international financial institutions. We want to see Pakistan in a economically sustainable position. Those conversations, as I understand it, are ongoing. We are supportive where we can be of our Pakistani partners, but ultimately these are conversations between Pakistan and international financial institutions.

QUESTION: But in this critical time, does the U.S. – on government-to-government level, are you guys giving any, like, suggestions for Pakistan to take some immediate steps which could improve the economy?

MR PRICE: These conversations with our Pakistani partners often do entail technical issues. Oftentimes these are addressed between the Department of the Treasury and our Pakistani partners. But Pakistan’s macroeconomic stability is a topic of conversation between the Department of State and our counterparts, the White House, the Treasury Department, among others.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks. Yes.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on Secretary Blinken’s visit to PRC. According to a political report last weekend, the date is likely to be on February 5th and 6th. Can you confirm anything on that report, including a possible counterpart in PRC?

MR PRICE: Including a possible —

QUESTION: Counterpart.

MR PRICE: Counterpart.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PRICE: So I’m not in a position to confirm a date just yet. The Secretary has said for a number of weeks now that he will travel to the PRC early this year. Now that we are in early 2023, I would expect that the Secretary will have an opportunity to travel to Beijing next month. The details of that visit are still being worked out. And I would imagine if and when Secretary Blinken does travel to Beijing, he will have an opportunity to meet with several interlocutors to discuss the broad array of issues that form the basis of what is arguably the most consequential bilateral relationship in the world.

Final question. Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. The Secretary today spoke with Armenian prime minister. Did he have a chance to dial Baku as well?

MR PRICE: Did we have a – I’m sorry?

QUESTION: To call Azerbaijani officials?

MR PRICE: So the Secretary did have an opportunity today to speak to the leader of Armenia. I do expect that he will have an opportunity in the coming days to speak to President Aliyev.

QUESTION: According to your readout, they discussed the steps to restart bilateral talks with Azerbaijan. I was just wondering, are we in the process of putting together another round of meeting, or the Secretary is just trying to test the waters with the side to see if there’s any appetite for next round of dialogue?

MR PRICE: We’re going to do what is ultimately most helpful. And at the end of last year, there were a couple meetings that the Secretary chaired between his counterparts, a trilateral meeting between Armenia, Azerbaijan, with Secretary Blinken in the middle. We did that at Blair House. We did that in New York. Of course, we’ve seen setbacks when it comes to Nagorno-Karabakh of late. We want to see constructive dialogue put back on track. We stand ready to engage bilaterally. We stand ready to engage with and through partners, through the OSCE or, if and when appropriate, trilaterally, as we have done in the past.

QUESTION: The same format or different format —

MR PRICE: We are going to do what is most effective at the right time.

QUESTION: I know who is not going to be behind the table, which is Ambassador Reeker.

MR PRICE: Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: Who is going to be behind table from the sides? Like are you seeking presidential-level meetings or the foreign ministers?

MR PRICE: So, of course, Ambassador Reeker did retire from the Department of State after an illustrious 30-year career just last week. But there are a number of individuals in this department who are deeply invested in this process, not the least of whom is Secretary Blinken himself. This is a personal priority of his. But people like Toria Nuland, people like Karen Donfried, people like a number of the senior officials in our Bureau of European and Eurasian affairs, will remain deeply engaged in this.

QUESTION: But from the other side, ministers or the presidents are you looking for? Who is going to be behind the other side of the table?

MR PRICE: That is for them to decide.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:20 p.m.)

# # #

  1. Customs and Border Protection

Department Press Briefing – January 13, 2023

2:04 p.m. EST

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Friday the 13th to those that celebrate that.

QUESTION: Well, what do you have in store for us?

MR PATEL: So it’s a Friday the 13th in January, so I really don’t know what that actually is evocative of.

I have one brief thing at the top. So I want to address the possibly imminent execution of Iranian-British dual national Ali-Reza Akbari. The United States echoes the British Government’s strong call for Iran not to proceed with this execution and to release Mr. Akbari immediately. The charges against Ali-Reza Akbari and his sentencing to execution were politically motivated. His execution would be unconscionable.

We are greatly disturbed by the reports that Mr. Akbari was drugged, tortured while in custody, interrogated for thousands of hours, and forced to make false concessions[1].

More broadly, Iran’s practices of arbitrary and unjust detentions, forced confessions, and politically-motivated executions are completely unacceptable and must end.

With that, Matt, if you want to kick us off.

QUESTION: Sure, well, let’s just start with that. I mean, other than this public call, are you able to do anything about this?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific actions to preview, Matt, but as we’ve said previously, we have a number of tools at our disposal to hold the Iranian regime accountable. We have done so and taken action at various intervals over the past number of months, whether it be sanctions, whether it be designations of entities and individuals, doing so in robust in close coordination with our allies and partners.

QUESTION: But you would concede that those haven’t worked?

MR PATEL: Well, Matt, I – what I would say is that the actions that we have taken have had an effect. They’ve had an effect in the sense that —

QUESTION: Well, they haven’t stopped the repression or these executions.

MR PATEL: I’m not trying to make the case that they have done that, but they have had an impact in further isolating the Iranian regime and making them more of a pariah on the national stage.

QUESTION: Okay. And then I just have one other which is completely unrelated.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: And that is – and I realize you guys have been looking for this and you may not have an answer – but do you have any more details on this agreement that the Secretary is going to sign this afternoon between NASA and Japan?

MR PATEL: Sure, Matt, let me share what I do have.

QUESTION: You do?

MR PATEL: It is largely similar to what Ned said today – yesterday – in that today Secretary —

QUESTION: Well, okay. That was almost nothing, so —

MR PATEL: If you’ll allow me, Secretary Blinken and the Japanese foreign minister will sign an agreement at NASA this afternoon that will build on our decades of cooperation and exploration and the use of outer space. This agreement underscores the commitment of the U.S. and Japan to safe and responsible outer space activities in Earth’s orbit, on the moon, and beyond. The U.S. and Japan are two of the original signatories of the Artemis Accords demonstrating our outstanding commitment to sustainable and transparent outer space exploration.

Now, to your specific question yesterday on the signing of this and its potential impact on forthcoming Artemis missions and the makeup of a crew and so on and so forth, I will let our NASA colleagues speak to that. I just don’t have any information on that piece of it.

QUESTION: Okay. Okay, thank you.

MR PATEL: Great. Alex. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Happy Friday. Just before I dive into my questions, to follow up with what Matt asked and based on your response, you wouldn’t say that you have exhausted your options, right? I mean there are still tools in your toolkit, just you haven’t used them yet.

MR PATEL: There are always tools in our toolkit, and I certainly wasn’t trying to make the case that we have exhausted our options. We continue to have tools at our disposal to hold the Iranian regime accountable, and you’ve seen this administration take action from this department, from the Treasury Department, from other entities within the Executive Branch. We have done what we can to hold the Iranian regime accountable, and we’ll continue to do so through this government but also in close coordination with our allies and partners as well.

QUESTION: Is sanctioning the supreme leader for gross human rights violations on the table?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to – I’m not going to talk about what’s on or off the table. What I am going to say is that we have taken action, we continue to have tools at our disposal, and we’ll continue to do what we can and do it in close coordination with our allies and partners to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its egregious human rights violations, for its killing of its own people.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. Moving to Russia, the Secretary yesterday mentioned —

MR PATEL: Actually, can I – can we stay on the subject, and then I’ll come back to you.

Go ahead, Guita.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. The European Parliament – members of the European Parliament are more and more calling for the EU to designate the IRGC was a terrorist group. Britain, the UK, is also – agrees with this. In addition, a member of the UK Parliament today, for example, called even for more actions, like recalling ambassadors from – or at least the UK ambassador for Iran – to Iran, expelling Iranian diplomats, completely stopping the JCPOA talks, snapback, and similar actions in this line. Does the Biden administration agree with the above actions in downgrading diplomatic relations or is it of the camp that thinks at least one channel of communication needs to stay open?

MR PATEL: Well, let me say a couple of things, Guita. First and foremost, we have designated the IRGC, and that is because we continue to believe that the Iranian regime and largely through the IRGC it has taken part in malign and destabilizing activities, not just in the immediate region, but the world more broadly – activities that are harmful to not just the United States regional and national security but those of our allies and partners. I will leave it to other entities to speak to their own determinations and the own designations that they make within their own foreign policy.

Similarly, we’ll leave it to other countries to make their own determinations on their diplomatic relations with Iran and anything like that. But what I would say specifically to your question about the JCPOA, Guita, is that for some time – and this is not something new that I’ve said – the JCPOA is not on the agenda right now.

QUESTION: Yeah —

MR PATEL: Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have a couple questions. China has suspended visas to South Korea and Japan. On the other hand, there are reports that China and the United States will increase flights between the two countries. How do you view about China’s differences – different situations?

MR PATEL: Are you speaking in the context of COVID-19 or in public health?

QUESTION: Yes, COVID-19.

MR PATEL: Understood. So I will – I am not going to speak to the public health measures that another country takes. What I will say is that the United States has always made its decisions – and our colleagues at the CDC can speak to this more greatly – on – they have based their decisions in science. And as you saw in December, in late December, we issued a mandatory testing requirement for flights originating from the PRC.

I don’t have anything else to preview in terms of the increase of flights or anything like that, but what I will say, Janne, again is that our decision making has been rooted in the science, rooted in transmission, in the prevalence of various variants, and I will let the CDC speak to those.

QUESTION: So do you think the South Korean Government response to COVID-19 based on scientific grounds was justified?

MR PATEL: Again, I will let other countries speak to their own public health measures. My understanding of the South Korean effort was that it was a similar testing requirement much like the one that the United States imposed, but again, I will let other countries speak to their own public health measures.

QUESTION: Lastly – lastly, what is the State Department position on the South Korean wants their own nuclear armament?

MR PATEL: Well, I think you saw President Yoon speak to this earlier this week, Janne. To take a little bit of a step back, the United States and the Republic of Korea continue to pursue what we view as a shared objective, which is a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And the Yoon administration has been very clear that it is not pursuing a nuclear weapons program and that it is working closely with the United States through existing extended deterrence mechanisms, and in fact, it is the DPRK that is pursuing an unlawful nuclear arsenal, raising nuclear tensions in the region, and taking part in destabilizing actions. So the U.S. is going to continue to work with the ROK and we’ll continue to work together to strengthen these extended deterrence programs in the face of the DPRK’s destabilizing actions.

QUESTION: So yesterday Pentagon and White House saying they want to be denuclearization – complete denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. So is it same page —

MR PATEL: That continues to be our goal, and the Yoon administration has been very clear that it is not pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Going back to you, Alex. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. The Secretary yesterday met with Ambassador Tracy prior to her departure to Russia. Just wondering how does the Secretary envision her mandate, her role during the next couple of months and weeks. This is not the business as usual – or I should say diplomacy as usual – with Russia, right?

MR PATEL: Of course. Of course, and I spoke to this a little bit when Ambassador Tracy was confirmed by the Senate. Look, Alex, Russia is a country that we have bilateral relationships with, and I know that Ambassador Tracy for – once she gets to Moscow she looks forward to doing what she can to be an advocate for the issues that are important to the United States, and there are issues within the bilateral relationship that require the lines of communication to remain open. And we would like those lines of communications to remain open. That is equally true in quote/unquote “normal” times, but also true – and perhaps more important – in times of conflict like right now.

QUESTION: Ukraine has —

QUESTION: To confirm she’s getting there today, tomorrow —

MR PATEL: I don’t have a specific date. I don’t have a specific date, but I have – am sure she intends to get there very soon. I can check if we’ve got a specific, but I’m sure our embassy will be in touch on that also.

QUESTION: Staying on diplomacy, Ukraine has claimed that Russians are trying to reach out to European countries for some unfavorable deal on behalf of Ukraine. What is the confidence level that Russia will not succeed in undermining European, trans-Eurasian unity?

MR PATEL: Sorry, I don’t understand your question.

QUESTION: Russians are sending out their diplomats to European countries and trying to fish some sort of, like, unfavorable deal. That’s based on Ukrainian intelligence assessment. What is your confidence level that they will not succeed in undermining your unity?

MR PATEL: Well, we have been in lockstep with our allies and partners since the genesis of this in February of last year. Over the course and over the varying turns of this conflict, you have seen through the various multilateral fora and otherwise the United States and its allies and partners be in unison about Russia’s unjust, its barbaric, its unlawful infringement on Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. You have also seen our allies and partners, including those in Europe, play an – a vital role in supporting our Ukrainian partners through security assistance, through humanitarian assistance, through other measures, and I have no doubt that that will continue.

QUESTION: Thank you. My last one on this: May I get your assessment on what’s going on in eastern Ukraine during the past 24 hours and how much this was a subject to today’s phone call between the Secretary and his counterpart?

MR PATEL: I don’t have – and I assume you’re speaking about Soledar? Yes. I don’t have any additional – anything additional to offer about Secretary Blinken’s call with Foreign Minister Kuleba. But what I would say is that we’ve seen those same reports, just as we’ve seen the same reports from Russia and just as we’ve seen Ukrainian reports that refute – that say that the fighting continues.

Broadly speaking, though, Alex, I don’t want to get into specific battlefield assessments. But to widen the aperture, it is clear that Russia’s months-long campaign appears to have come at extreme and tremendous loss of personnel. Thousands of Russian unprepared and poorly equipped conscripts have been killed, and the Kremlin itself has acknowledged that its decision to attack Soledar has come at a high price. So we are going to continue to consult closely with our Ukrainian partners and assess the situation.

Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Switching topics?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay, the Palestinian issue. There was a report today in The Washington Times about the haunt – how Palestinian children are and haunted by the nightly raids by the Israeli occupation army. I wonder if you saw this.

MR PATEL: I’ve seen —

QUESTION: And if you have any comment on that.

MR PATEL: I saw the article, Said. And what I would – what I would say to that is I would point you back to what President Biden said last summer on his visit to Israel, and that he made quite clear that we continue to support a two-state solution. And the President noted that the two states living side by side remains the best way to ensure the future of equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

QUESTION: Well, this is great, but in the interim the Palestinian children continue to be targeted and haunted. I mean, since the beginning of the year, 10 Palestinians have been killed – 10 in the last 13 days, including one today – 13 – and dozens more injured. What can you do besides, I mean, talk about the two-state solution and so on? What can you do to provide protection for the Palestinians and Palestinian children? They are mainly — largely innocent.

MR PATEL: Said, we have been very vocal, not just from this briefing room but in the various other engagements that the Secretary and other senior officials have done from this department, about our continued support for a two-state solution and our opposition to policies that endanger its viability. This includes – and we have – continue to have a deep support for the equal administration of justice for all of those who live in Israel.

QUESTION: Well, your envoy to the Palestinians, Mr. Hady Amr, was just there like a day or two ago. What does he tell the Palestinians and the Israelis in this regard? What is the message? I mean, he was meeting with all – I don’t know if he met with any Israelis. But I mean, it – obviously that the Israelis greeted him with accelerated aggression against innocent Palestinians.

MR PATEL: Said, whenever we engage with both the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority, we continue to be very clear that we have a continued support for a two-state solution and opposition to policies that are going to endanger its viability. You have seen the Secretary speak to this; you have seen the President speak to this; it’s something Ned and I have been – have made quite clear as well.

QUESTION: If you would just bear with me.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: The Palestinians are warning that Israel’s extremist policies and your ambiguity towards these extremist policies just put the whole thing in peril. Are you ambiguous towards this government and its conduct thus far – the Israeli Government?

MR PATEL: We – I don’t believe we’ve been ambiguous at all, Said. As we’ve said repeatedly from the beginning, we look forward to working with Israel to advance the interests and values that have long been at the heart of our bilateral relationship. I will also point you back to what Secretary Blinken said in December, that our engagement and our judgment with the new Israeli Government will be rooted in the policies they pursue, not based on personalities. And again we have been clear, and I have just said now again that we’ve been very clear, about our continued support for a two-state solution and opposition to policies that endanger its viability.

QUESTION: And lastly, I know maybe this is not your area or doesn’t really fall under the auspices of the State Department, but Harvard nullified a fellowship for the former head of Human Rights Watch, Mr. Ken Roth, because he criticized Israel. You certainly would have a position if Harvard denied the fellowship for someone because he criticized China, the human rights violations in China and elsewhere. Do you have any comment on this?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m just not going to – I’m not aware of this. I’m just hearing of this now. And obviously Harvard is a private institution, so I just don’t have anything to offer there.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Do you have any comment on this report by The Wall Street Journal that the Biden administration is preparing to seek congressional approval, it says, for a 20 billion sale of new F-16 jet fighters to Türkiye along with a separate sale of next-generation F-35 warplanes to Greece? Any comment on this?

MR PATEL: As a matter of policy, the department is not going to comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until they’ve been formally notified to Congress. But what I would say is that Türkiye and Greece both are vital, vital NATO Allies and we have a history of, of course, supporting their security apparatuses. But I’m just not going to get ahead of the process here.

QUESTION: And what about —

QUESTION: Do you have sanctions against Türkiye under CAATSA? Do you still have sanctions against Türkiye? Can you check?

MR PATEL: I would have to double-check, and we can – we can come back to you.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up on this?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: The same article said that Türkiye foreign minister is expected to visit Washington next week. Do you have any announcement about that and a potential meeting?

MR PATEL: As I just said, Türkiye is a vital and important NATO Ally, and Ned referenced this yesterday. We will have more to offer on the schedule in the forthcoming days, but I just don’t have anything to preview at this moment.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Shannon, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Going off the announcement today that the government expects to begin taking extraordinary measures to avoid breaching the debt ceiling, I was wondering if you could address how defaulting on that might impact the State Department’s operations and also the roiling of the global economy in general. What kind of ripple effect would that cause?

MR PATEL: Well, on the impacts of the economy, I will let my colleagues at the White House and other agencies speak to that. We of course – what I would say broadly, and speaking more specifically about our engagements with Congress, is that we engage with them on a variety of issues. I don’t have a specific assessment to offer on these negotiations. But we engage with Congress on a number of issues. We’ve done so in the 117th Congress and we’ll look forward to doing so with this Congress as well.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Another topic, if I may. Just a couple days ago, and effigy of the Turkish president was hanged across the city hall in the Swedish capital. Even the Swedish prime minister said that it’s extremely serious and a sabotage of their NATO application. From the same podium yesterday, your colleague Ned Price said that Sweden is ready to join NATO. This is what the United States believes. But don’t you think that with the recent developments that Sweden has still some distance to cover when it comes to eliminating terrorism on its soil?

MR PATEL: Well, let me say a couple things, and I will echo what Ned said yesterday, is that of course Türkiye is facing a very complex security environment. And as we’ve said before, Türkiye is one of our NATO Allies that faces the most terrorist attacks. On this specific incident, I’m not familiar, so I’m going to – it obviously is deeply troubling. But what I would say is I would echo what Ned said, that we of course look forward to the accession of both Sweden and Finland to NATO, and we’re going to let that process continue to work its way out.

QUESTION: And I have a follow-up on that.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Because I want to learn what the United States believes at this moment because it sounds like, obviously, to the international audience that – as if Türkiye is blocking it for some kind of entertainment. But as you say, even the Swedish Government is acknowledging that they have not completed on their homework. What do you think on that? Because they still say that it’s extremely serious and there are terrorist activities on their soil, in their capital. What’s the United States position? Like, are they ready to join right now or do they still have some tasks to complete before they can join?

MR PATEL: Our assessment is that we would want Sweden and Finland to join NATO as soon as possible. But of course the United States is just one of the member nations, and this is a process that needs to be worked through, and we’ll let that process work itself out.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Cuba?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: There’s a high-level delegation that’s going to be visiting Cuba soon, U.S. delegation. Does that indicate that maybe relations with Cuba is becoming more normalized or we’re on the cusp of normalized relations with Cuba?

MR PATEL: Are you speaking about the law enforcement —

QUESTION: Law enforcement, international law and all that stuff.

MR PATEL: Yeah, sure, sure.

QUESTION: But I’m sure that they will probably discuss —

MR PATEL: Said, let me – if you’ll let me offer some broader thoughts. So to – for those that might be tracking, U.S. and Cuban officials will meet as part of the U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Dialogue in Havana next week to discuss topics of bilateral interest on international law enforcement matters, increased international law enforcement cooperation, and this is an opportunity to enable the U.S. to better protect U.S. citizens and bring transnational criminals to justice.

The Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security will co-chair the dialogue for the United States. And broadly speaking, Said, to your question, improved law enforcement coordination between the United States and Cuba is in the best interest in the United States and the Cuban people. And during the dialogue, the U.S. and Cuba will address topics of bilateral interest.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: I have human rights-related questions involving Azerbaijan and then Georgia as well. Both you and Ned recently addressed recent arrests of leading activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and politician Tofig Yagublu in Azerbaijan. We’re receiving conflicting reports, but mostly all of them are about their health situation, which is worsening. My question is: Ned yesterday was talking about new initiative, and he said we’re going to use every possible tool that we have to get both the prisoners out of jail. I know they are not subject to a new initiative. But Assistant Secretary Donfried called Azerbaijan two days ago. Did she raise these cases?

MR PATEL: This is an issue that we continue to be deeply engaged on and raise directly. The U.S. remains strongly committed to advancing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and we again in this case urge the government to respect its citizens’ rights, including the right to express views peacefully. I don’t have a specific call readout to offer for you, Alex, but as I said, this is something that we are paying very close attention to, and I will echo what Ned said when this was first raised, is that we are deeply troubled by these arrests and we urge authorities to release them expeditiously.

QUESTION: Thank you. And to Georgia, Ukraine upheld —

MR PATEL: I’ll come to you after, Leon.

Sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Former President Saakashvili – now Ukraine asked the Georgian Government to transfer him for medical treatment to Ukraine. Does the United States Government support this idea?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any update to offer on this since we last spoke about it. We continue to be deeply concerned and pay close attention to this situation, especially the state of his health.

QUESTION: Vedant, I just have —

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Leon.

QUESTION: I had a follow-up on the question on Cuba.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: So you said that this meeting on law enforcement issues is in the best interest of the United States. Would you consider that it would be now in the best interests of the United States to actually normalize relations with Cuba?

And then second, so there’s this meeting on law enforcement issues, criminality, transnational, etc., but the United States still has Cuba on the supporting terrorism list, on its list of supporting – states supporting terrorism. How do you justify having that meeting in Cuba while the country is still on your official list of sponsoring terrorism?

MR PATEL: Can you repeat the second part of your question, Leon? Sorry.

QUESTION: Basically how do you justify having this kind of meeting on specifically law enforcement issues in general while at the same time keeping the country on the terrorism list?

MR PATEL: Well, Leon, there continue to be, obviously, concerns and human rights concerns that exist. But I would say broadly, to widen the aperture a little bit, Leon, following the large-scale protests that we saw last summer, President Biden directed the department to act in two primary areas. The first was to promote accountability for human rights abuses, for which we have announced previously several rounds of sanctions targeting those individuals and entities with direct ties to human rights violations.

Specifically within the context of these – this dialogue, let me see if I have some more information for you. But as I said, engaging in these talks underscores our commitment to pursuing constructive discussions with the Government of Cuba where appropriate to advance U.S. interests.

Our belief is, is that establishing and increasing channels for law enforcement cooperation to better address transnational threats is not at the expense of the serious human rights concerns that we continue to have. And we’ve integrated these human rights concerns and protections into all of our interactions with the Cuban Government.

QUESTION: Vedant, isn’t the real answer that this administration does not agree with the previous administration’s determination to put Cuba back on the SSOT list, and that you’ve been looking for a way to take them off since —

MR PATEL: I don’t have any —

QUESTION: — coming into office —

MR PATEL: I don’t have any update to offer that —

QUESTION: — and therefore, that a law enforcement dialogue is not inappropriate, given what you believe is —

MR PATEL: Oh, a law enforcement dialogue is not inappropriate for a variety of reasons, including the ones that I just outlined.

QUESTION: Well, how many do you have with Iran? None.

MR PATEL: Those are slightly different circumstances.

QUESTION: How many do you – well, but in terms of the SSOT. Anyway, I want to just check to make sure that there are no updates on the special counsel, the documents, and Secretary Blinken, right? Nothing?

MR PATEL: I have no updates to offer beyond what Ned said yesterday.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up, if I may. As a general policy, do you sell weapons to any country that is under CAATSA sanctions?

MR PATEL: Sorry, can you repeat your question?

QUESTION: I’m asking that as a general policy – I’m not asking about Türkiye, okay – as a general policy, do you sell weapons – planes, boats anything – to any country that is under CAATSA sanctions?

MR PATEL: What I would say broadly – and I will check specifically if there is a specific framework or definition to offer – is that we of course support the security apparatuses of a number of countries. But broadly speaking, as it relates to this specific situation – I know you’re not asking that at this time, but you did previously – we’re just not going to get ahead of the process that we have in place as it relates to congressional notifications.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: All right. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Have a good weekend.

MR PATEL: Have a great weekend, everybody, a great long weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:36 p.m.)

# # #

1. …confession.

 

Department Press Briefing – January 12, 2023

2:24 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

MR PRICE: Remember on Monday when we started precisely at 2:00 p.m., and I said, “Remember this when we were a couple minutes late.”

QUESTION: Two minutes before.

MR PRICE: Two minutes before. Exactly. So this is where I’m going to ask for your forbearance and offer a reminder of better days.

Let’s start with this. The United States welcomes the January 11th announcement by the Government of Uganda and the World Health Organization of the end of the Ebola epidemic in Uganda. We commend the Ugandan Government and our international partners on reaching this milestone. We celebrate with the survivors just as we express our condolences for those lives lost.

We support the Government of Uganda’s response and – response and minimize outbreak spread. The U.S. Government mobilized a comprehensive interagency response to the Ebola outbreak through the U.S. Embassy in Kampala. The State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, and the Agency for International Development worked in coordination with the Government of Uganda and other key partners, such as the World Health Organization, to actively provide support in several areas vital to the response.

Every single outbreak reminds us that a health threat anywhere is a potential health threat to everyone in the world. The containment of this Ebola outbreak is just the most recent example of coordination and teamwork to keep all of us safe by preventing infectious disease threats from crossing borders.

Our work with countries around the world helps to not only prevent outbreaks and to detect them early but also to respond rapidly and effectively when they do occur. While we celebrate the end of this outbreak, we redouble our commitment to work with partners in Uganda and around the world to mitigate the risk of future disease outbreaks anywhere.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. I wasn’t actually going to ask about this, but since the Attorney General has just appointed a special counsel to look into the – these classified documents that apparently ended up at the Penn Biden Center and elsewhere, I’m just wondering if there’s been any contact. I realize it’s early days yet, or minutes, but has there been any contact, given the Secretary’s previous work there? Has there been any contact between the special counsel and this building?

MR PRICE: So, Matt, there’s not going to be much that I can say on a case like this for reasons that you well understand. You heard the President speak to this earlier in the week from Mexico City. Just as you heard from the President, the Secretary was surprised to learn that there were any government records taken to that office. As you know, as is now well known, there is a review of this matter, and so we’re going to let that review play out.

QUESTION: You mean to —

QUESTION: You say that the —

QUESTION: When you say that office, you mean the one that he was involved in, right?

MR PRICE: That’s correct. That’s correct.

QUESTION: And you said the Secretary was surprised to learn. When did he learn of that —

MR PRICE: I’m just not going to offer any additional detail. Just as the President was, he was surprised to learn that there were any government records taken to that location, had no knowledge of it at the time. But I am just not going to offer any additional detail.

QUESTION: But you can’t tell us when the Secretary learned that this was a matter being looked into by the White House?

MR PRICE: This matter is – this matter is under review, so we’re going to let that review proceed as it should.

QUESTION: And are there any State Department documents that are part of these documents that were found as part of —

MR PRICE: Of course that would not be anything I would know. It is not anything the Secretary would know. As we have heard from the White House, it is not something that the President knows. This is a matter that’s being investigated, being looked at by the Department of Justice. We’re going to let that proceed.

QUESTION: But certainly, if it has to do with work related to this department, you would hope to find that out, right?

MR PRICE: If there is a need for the Department of Justice to speak to the Department of State on an investigative matter, there are channels and procedures for them to do that. They are not channels or procedures that would involve me. They are not channels or procedures that would involve most people in this building. So if there is a need, there will be, as you would expect, full cooperation. But again, we’re going to let this review play out.

QUESTION: One more question, sorry. DOJ said that they – we have reported that they have interviewed officials as part of their investigation into this. Have they interviewed any State Department officials, as far as you know?

MR PRICE: Again, I am just not going to comment on this. This is a matter that is being pursued by the Department of Justice, and we’ll let them pursue it.

Nazira.

QUESTION: So thank you very much. I have three or four question. If you answer because today is my birthday, it will be my present.

MR PRICE: Yes, happy birthday. I heard that.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

Okay, number one. The day before yesterday was big attack – actually yesterday morning in the ministry of foreign affairs. More than 21 young diplomat has been killed, and today ISIS or Daesh took the responsibility. And yesterday, I was at the White House. I expected that they should say something, but she was silent and didn’t say anything. That’s why I come today to ask this question.

And number two, Zamir Kabulov, Putin representative, went to Kabul, discussed with the Taliban although they did not recognize Taliban, and he announced their support to Taliban.

And the third question. So many Afghan refugee call me from Abu Dhabi. They’re still waiting to come to the United States. Any comment to expedite their procedure to come to the United States?

MR PRICE: So, Nazira, on your first question, we condemn in the strongest terms the terrorist attack that took place in Kabul. We’ve seen the claim of responsibility from ISIS-K. This, if ISIS-K was indeed behind this, is just the latest horrific example of a brutal group taking out, perpetrating senseless violence on the people of Afghanistan.

We send our deepest condolences to the loved ones, to the family members, of those who were killed in this senseless attack. We stand against and condemn terrorism everywhere, and of course that is the case in Afghanistan as well.

When it comes to the Russian official that you mentioned, I would need to refer you to the Russian Government for any comment they might have on their approach to the Taliban. Our approach is well known; we have made no secret of the fact that the Taliban’s actions are inconsistent and at odds with what they have pledged to the international community, but more importantly what they have committed to the Afghan people.

We are always going to stand on the side of the Afghan people. We are going to continue to condemn the actions that they take that are inconsistent with the rights, with the liberties, with the freedoms, with the opportunities that should belong to the people of Afghanistan. And in doing so, we have any number of countries at our side. Just after the Taliban announced the restrictions on international NGOs, the United States, our fellow members of the so-called Group of Seven, other countries, issued a strong statement condemning this.

You have since heard other statements condemning this from countries around the world. Just today there was a strong statement from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a confederation of Muslim-majority countries that were vocal, were vociferous in their condemnation of what the Taliban is perpetrating on the women, the girls, the minorities, the people of Afghanistan.

We are going to continue to speak out with much of the rest of the world. We are going to continue to hold the Taliban to account for what they are perpetrating on the people of Afghanistan.

Yes, (inaudible).

QUESTION: Can I move on to Libya, if I may?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The CIA chief is or was in Libya today, and this comes a month after – more or less a month after the extradition of the Lockerbie suspect in the United States. The Tripoli government got a lot of backlash for that. What kind of reassurances, or was he there to give reassurances to that – to the Libyan Government?

And then second, still related to Libya, there are reports there’s a meeting of special envoys from France, Germany, the UK, and the U.S. of course, on how potentially to stage elections in Libya with the two factions have not agreed. Can you give us any details on this meeting and what your expectations are and if the U.S. is optimistic at all that there can be an agreement to have elections in Libya?

MR PRICE: First the easy question: I am just not going to comment on any purported travel on the part of the CIA director, would need to refer you to the CIA to speak to any potential travel the director may be undertaking.

On the second part of your question, the report that you mentioned is not accurate. The reports of a meeting in Washington scheduled for tomorrow is erroneous. We take part in periodic consultations with key international stakeholders on how best to support the special representative of the secretary-general, SRSG Bathily, in setting the stage for elections in Libya and supporting the people of Libya. We look forward to hosting a future discussion as we have in the past, but we haven’t confirmed any dates at this time.

We continue to be engaged with political leaders in Libya and international partners on that very way forward in Libya. That includes a political track to establish a timeframe for elections as quickly as possible. We strongly support the special representative of the secretary-general, the call for national consensus in Libya on establishing a clear timeline for elections. We believe there is no other way to secure stability and long-term peace.

We share the desire of all Libyans to see Libyan leaders adopt the necessary measures as quickly as possible to set that electoral process in motion.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Ned, what can you say about this U.S. Navy veteran who was released in Poland and former Governor Richardson was apparently instrumental in securing his release? Can you guys confirm and provide some details on what happened there?

MR PRICE: Unfortunately, there is little that I can say for reasons that you all know well, but I can make a few points.

First, we’re aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was deported after having been in Russian custody. I’m not in a position to discuss the particulars of this case due to privacy considerations that so often limit what we can say publicly. But as we always do, I want to emphasize that this department, the Department of State, has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas.

As a general matter, and when a U.S. citizen is deported from anywhere around the world – and of course this would include Russia – the department may provide assistance to help facilitate the return of that citizen to the United States. And as always, we stand ready to provide appropriate assistance to all U.S. citizens overseas.

To the second part of your question regarding the Richardson Center, I – of course, I would refer you there. We’re likewise aware of the Richardson Center’s travel, which they have announced, but not going to comment on their travel or activity in this case, again owing to those privacy considerations.

QUESTION: Staying – staying on this. Did you want to —

QUESTION: No, go for it. Yeah, go for it. I was going to —

QUESTION: Well, just on this. I mean, right, you’re aware of reports. The statement from Governor Richardson himself names two U.S. embassy employees – one from Warsaw and one from Russia.

MR PRICE: Matt —

QUESTION: Are you saying that —

MR PRICE: — I know this is —

QUESTION: Yeah, no. I think you need to go back to the lawyers in CA and say that this is getting to the point of absolute ridiculousness. You can either confirm that this guy has been turned over and that there was an embassy official there, or you can say that it’s not true. But saying that you don’t have a Privacy Act waiver to this when it has been announced by the governor himself and the names of a diplomat in Moscow and a diplomat in Warsaw are out there for everyone to see.

MR PRICE: So, Matt, I know this is a —

QUESTION: It is completely disingenuous for you to say that you’re aware of reports.

MR PRICE: Matt, it is not disingenuous. I know this is a bugaboo of yours. We are not going to find resolution to this longstanding irritant of yours today. What I can tell you, and what you seem to be disregarding, is the fact that Governor Richardson is a private citizen. Private citizens can say whatever they would like without any restriction imposed by pesky things like the Privacy Act waiver. The Privacy Act waiver applies to us; it does not apply to private citizens. It, in some cases, doesn’t even apply to other entities within the Executive Branch. So to say it is disingenuous, Matt – our attempt to stay within the bounds of the policies to which we are – to which we adhere, that I think is —

QUESTION: I don’t see how it impacts the Privacy Act at all for you to say, yes, we can confirm that an American citizen was deported and we took custody or we were part of a team that took custody of him or —

MR PRICE: And there are many cases in which we have said – made analogous statements like that, because we’ve been a position to do so, because of various Privacy Act waivers. When we don’t make statements like that, we’re not doing that because we want to be obtuse. We’re not doing that because we want to stonewall you. Believe me, my job would be a lot easier if I could share every single detail of this case. We’re doing it to be consistent with policies that apply to us.

QUESTION: I’m not even asking for any details. I’m not even asking for a confirmation of the name, but just to say you’re aware of reports that an American was deported. I mean, that’s – you’re aware of more than reports that an American was deported, and saying only that is disingenuous.

QUESTION: Are you able to – sort of are you able to talk at all about his ordeal, like these nine months, and like the kinds of conversations you guys have had with the Russians and when the State Department became aware of his detention by the Russians? Are you able to talk about any of that?

MR PRICE: Unfortunately, I am not. I can talk in generalities. Anytime we learn that an American citizen is incarcerated, is detained, is in the custody of a foreign government, we work to protect and to promote the interests of that individual. Oftentimes we do learn of such cases from interaction with the family. That is really what our Bureau of Consular Affairs – that is the bread and butter element of their job is to work with American citizens, to work with their representatives, to work with families to devise how we can best protect and to promote the interests of Americans overseas. That is the core priority of the work we do around the world. But we also want to respect the privacy of private American citizens, however frustrating that might be.

QUESTION: They posted pictures on Twitter, but sure.

QUESTION: I mean —

QUESTION: But Ned, the treatment between previous cases and this one – obviously different cases, of course, but very different. And your speech is not at all the same, right? You don’t have any problem with the Privacy Act regarding certain people that were freed recently, and in this case you do. So how do you explain that?

MR PRICE: That’s absolutely right, Leon, because there is something called the Privacy Act. There is something called the Privacy Act waiver. If we’re in a position to say more, we will; if we’re not, we can’t.

Yes.

QUESTION: On that, one more thing. I mean, outside groups are referring to this as a wrongful detention. Is that a characterization that the United States Government would use? Or is that a mischaracterization?

MR PRICE: We have been open and transparent because we have been in a position to do so regarding cases of wrongful detention inside of Russia. We had spoken of three cases. Two of those cases had been resolved with Trevor Reed and Brittney Griner now back in the United States, reunited with their loved ones. There is one case of wrongful detention in Russia at the moment, and that of course is the case of Paul Whelan. I say that with the very important caveat that we are always assessing the circumstances of the detention of each and every American around the world to determine if a particular case may meet the criteria that’s spelled out in policy, that’s spelled out in the Levinson Act to determine if those criteria are met. And when that determination is made, we will make the formal declaration that someone is wrongfully detained.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. May I stay in the region, on Ukraine? What’s your sense of the latest situation in Soledar, and also the fact that Wagner Group is increasingly becoming the face of the war? Is there any concern inside the administration that you might be too cautious or lagging behind in terms of designating Wagner Group?

MR PRICE: Sorry, any concern that we might be —

QUESTION: Behind – too cautious or lagging behind, because some other countries have already taken those steps.

MR PRICE: So first a couple of things. And you know we don’t tend to get into battlefield dynamics or tactical assessments from here. Some of this may be best directed to the Department of Defense. But a couple broad points.

Number one, the reason why the pitched battle over a town like Soledar – a town of some 10,000 residents, at least before the war – is making headlines is because of the possibility, and it’s not confirmed, but the possibility that the Russians are achieving or at least claiming incremental gains at heavy costs. And the fact that the Russians are in a position to at least claim incremental gains, despite these heavy costs, is not something that we’ve heard from Russian forces in quite some time. The Ukrainian forces, with their counteroffensive that started last year, have been extraordinarily effective at halting Russian advances, pushing Russian forces back, recapturing thousands of miles of – thousands of square miles of territory, and the fact that certain Russian elements are claiming they have made some incremental progress I think speaks to the lack of the Russian ability to make such claims in quite some time.

We have been clear in our own assessments that fighting remains intense in the Donbas; it remains intense in the east where this battle is – has been waged. We expect that to continue. There will continue to be incremental gains and losses, we expect, by both sides. But any incremental Russian gain, even one that comes at such heavy cost in terms of casualties and personnel and equipment, will never be able to change this tide of war. No tactical advance will be able to shift the strategic failure that President Putin and his forces have encountered from the earliest days of this war, and a strategic failure that has only intensified with the effective counteroffensive that Russia – excuse me, that Ukraine has mounted.

On the question of the Wagner Group, we’ve seen reports – and in fact, senior Wagner officials are making pronouncements from the front lines, which only underscore – underscores the heavy investment on the part of Wagner forces in the effort to make some incremental advances in the town of Soledar. Of course, we’ve been very vocal about – in condemning the involvement of Wagner, a group that has conscripted, or in some cases offered pardons to, hardened criminals, convicts, those convicted of violent crimes, who have been taken from Russian prisons and labor camps and who have offered quite literally their lives in order for the chance, however small that might be, to secure freedom at the risk – profound risk that they could lose their own life or risk significant injury.

We’ve seen reports of tens of thousands of Wagner forces active on the battlefield, but just as partial mobilizations, just as additional calls for regular Russian forces have not been able to change the tide of battle, there is no doubt in our mind that the introduction of Wagner forces, even tens of thousands of Wagner forces, that there is no doubt in our mind that these efforts will meet the same fate that other Russian efforts have met in the face of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

QUESTION: Is there any reason out there that prevents you from designating this group, even given the fact that this group is illegal even by Russian laws?

MR PRICE: And Wagner is designated under a number of authorities. Its leader, Mr. Prigozhin, is designated under a number of authorities. The point remains that we are looking for every appropriate and relevant authority we can to hold accountable those actors and entities that are responsible for this brutal war on the Ukrainian people. If there are additional authorities that would be permissible and appropriate and effective to wield against the Wagner Group or Prigozhin, we will evaluate that and we will implement those as we are able.

QUESTION: Just to get the record straight, the U.S. has not recognized Wagner Group as a terrorist organization; that’s what I mean.

MR PRICE: As a foreign terrorist organization, as an FTO?

QUESTION: Right.

MR PRICE: We have not.

QUESTION: We have not.

MR PRICE: But there are a number of authorities that we have already wielded against Wagner, and we’ll continue to look for other mechanisms to hold the group to account.

Yes, Cindy.

QUESTION: Hi. Can I turn to U.S.-Japan-China?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Would you agree with what Defense Secretary – excuse me – Austin said, that he doubts that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is imminent? We had a rear admiral naval intelligence official today saying that the stakes have gone up and the danger level is something we need to take very seriously.

MR PRICE: I think both things can certainly be true, and this was the point Secretary Austin was making yesterday. Of course, we don’t have any formal assessments to share, but both Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin spoke to the challenge that we’ve seen not over the course of recent months, but over the course of recent years: assertiveness on the part of the PRC, assertiveness that, in our estimation, is an attempt to undermine the longstanding cross-strait status quo – the very status quo that has maintained peace, security, stability across the Taiwan Strait for decades.

Just as the PRC is attempting to chip away at the status quo with these aggressive maneuvers, with these provocations, with these implicit threats against Taiwan, we, on the other hand – working hand-in-glove with our Japanese allies, with other allies in the Indo-Pacific – seek only to bolster the status quo, to maintain, to preserve the status quo and the peace and stability that it has brought to the Taiwan Strait over the course of decades now.

We oppose unilateral change in the status quo by either side. We will continue just as we have with calm, resolute steps to uphold peace and security, to – resolute steps to uphold peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Part and parcel of that is the U.S.-Japan alliance. It is the cornerstone of peace, of security, of prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. And of course, that includes in the region we’re talking about now.

The very steps that Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin referred to yesterday – the steps that will enhance our alliance, that will make it more effective, that will seek to adapt it to the challenges and the opportunities, for that matter, that we face now – those are crucial elements to our efforts to advance our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, and as part of that to maintain peace and stability and to maintain the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.

QUESTION: Could you also talk a little bit about how the closer cooperation directly affects the threat from North Korea?

MR PRICE: Well, of course the DPRK poses a threat to Americans on the peninsula, to our allies in the region – of course, to our treaty allies, Japan and the ROK – and potentially beyond. So it is a threat that we and our Japanese allies take seriously; it is a threat that we and our South Korean allies take seriously. It is a threat that trilaterally, as partners, the United States, Japan, and South Korea take extraordinarily seriously.

Yesterday, you’ve heard from Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin and their Japanese counterparts of our determination to maintain readiness, to maintain the effectiveness of our alliance, and to be in a position to deter and, as necessary, confront the threats that we face together as an alliance. One of those threats – perhaps the most challenging threat to regional peace and security we face at the moment – is that from the DPRK, namely its nuclear weapons program, its ballistic missile program as well.

We discussed these issues, alliance effectiveness and readiness, with our Japanese allies. We discussed them with our South Korean allies. But we are also very focused on the trilateral relationship because we know that, with the trilateral relationship, in some ways the sum is greater than its constituent parts. And we want to be prepared as allies – the United States, Japan, and South Korea – for the challenges, for the threats, and yes, for the opportunities as well that arise in the region.

President Biden I think demonstrated our commitment to trilateral cooperation in Cambodia late last year when, for the first time in some five years, brought together the leaders of Japan, of South Korea. Secretary Blinken has on several occasions now brought together his counterparts from the ROK and from Japan as well. Deputy Sherman has done that. Sung Kim, our special envoy for the DPRK, routinely does that. We see it as a critical element when it comes to our effort to confront the challenges to the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific that the DPRK poses.

Yes.

QUESTION: So a follow-up on this. Yesterday we heard Secretary Austin specifically mentioning Article V of the security treaty between the U.S. and Japan. Why he needed to express it, because historically the article is – had been there for decades? And what will – how will this statement implicate itself differently other than up-to-date the historical implications of that article?

MR PRICE: So Secretary Austin and Secretary Blinken were referring to Article V of the Japan-U.S. mutual defense treaty yesterday, specifically in the domain of space. The Secretary and foreign minister will sign a framework agreement tomorrow at NASA, in fact, on space cooperation between the United States and Japan. This agreement has been more than a decade in the making. It covers a range of civilian space coordination from research collaboration to working together to land the first woman and person of color on the moon.

And they also made reference to the fact for the first time that, as allies, we have decided that certain attacks in or from space may constitute – may invoke Article V. Those are issues that we will look at as allies on a case-by-case basis, but again, it’s all part and parcel of our effort to modernize the alliance, to ensure that the alliance is strong, effective, ready across all the domains – land, sea, air, cyberspace, outer space.

QUESTION: And also another question. We have seen that – defense minister of Russia, Shoigu, appointed Gerasimov to oversee the operations in Ukraine. What do you expect will be the implications of – do you expect an escalation after Gerasimov took over the command of the Russian military operation in Ukraine?

MR PRICE: That’s really a better question for the Russian Federation, what potential leadership changes may portend. From our perspective, I’m reminded of one of the definitions of insanity – namely, doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result. We’ve seen Russia appoint various commanders of its forces inside Ukraine numerous times now, each time reaching for someone more senior, more seasoned, purportedly more effective, only to find precisely the same result, only to find a Ukrainian wall of self-defense – able, committed, dedicated Ukrainian defenders that are determined to defend their country.

Russia may be trying to change the dynamic once again with a new commander of Russian forces inside Ukraine, but the broader dynamic, the underlying dynamic is not going to change. That very dynamic is one in which Ukrainians are fighting for their territory. They are fighting for their country; they’re fighting for their democracy; they’re fighting for their freedom. And Russian forces are fighting a war of territorial conquest. This is not their land; this does not belong to them. Russian forces in many cases know that as well as Ukrainians do. And so that underlying dynamic is not going to change, and we are confident that the broader dynamic of this conflict – Ukrainians demonstrating their effectiveness on their battlefield, defending their territory, defending their country – that’s not going to change either.

QUESTION: Hey, Ned, on the NASA agreement that they’re going to sign tomorrow, do you have any other or any additional details on what’s going to be in – what’s going to be in that? And then – and I apologize if I’m being obtuse or insensitive on this, but when you talk about landing the first woman and first person of color on the moon, are – and this is a deal with the Japanese – are you talking about a Japanese woman and a Japanese person of color? Or does it – does that – is it not that specific?

MR PRICE: So this is – these are in some cases better questions for NASA, and you will hear more about this at NASA tomorrow. The Secretary and others will deliver remarks there. I don’t want to get ahead of what they’ll have to say at NASA tomorrow.

Let me move around. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: We saw the Secretary met yesterday with Congressman McCaul, who will be the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. I’m wondering if you could just give us a readout of that meeting and the expectations that the Secretary has for working with Republicans who are in the majority now in the House.

MR PRICE: So there’s not much I’m in a position to say about that meeting yesterday, and really I should call it a day yesterday, because Chairman McCaul did have an opportunity to meet with a number of senior officials here in the building yesterday – of course, not only the Secretary, but others. He was able to tour various facilities, including our China House. He was able to receive briefings on topics that are of particular interest to the new Congress but also of particular priority to us and of interest to the American people.

The Secretary believes deeply in the imperative of iterative and consistent engagement with Congress, with both houses, on a bipartisan basis. We have demonstrated that in the 117th Congress. According to records that have been put together by our Bureau of Legislative Affairs, we had more engagements with the 117th Congress last year than we had in any other recorded time in State Department history.

Now, that is just one metric, and of course metrics alone don’t capture quality, they don’t capture other intangible aspects of it. But this Secretary is committed to engagement with this Congress. We deeply believe, truly believe, that our foreign policy will be more effective, it will convey more legitimacy when the Congress understands what it is that we are doing, why are we seeking to do it, and optimally if it has bipartisan support. Yesterday’s engagement with Chairman McCaul was the start of that engagement with the 118th Congress, but we expect a lot more to come.

QUESTION: And did you guys invite him or did he request the meetings? And then in terms of their investigation into the Afghanistan withdrawal, will this department be providing documents and interviews in a timely manner upon their request?

MR PRICE: So as to how the meeting came about, of course we were eager to host Chairman McCaul. I will leave it to him and his office to characterize his level of interest. But again, it was a truly constructive – at least from our vantage point – successful engagement with the chairman yesterday.

On the various topics and regions of oversight, we are going to continue with the approach that we have exercised with the prior Congress, with the 117th Congress, with the 118th Congress. Congress has important functions: authorization function, appropriation function, and an oversight function. We believe in the utility, in the necessity of each of those functions, and we look forward to continuing our engagement with this Congress on those areas that are of interest to them and that most importantly are of priority to the American people.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, the foreign minister – the Türkish foreign minister said today he will be meeting with his Syrian counterpart pretty soon in February. And as I understood, he will be visiting town, visiting Washington, in the next two days; is that right?

MR PRICE: We will likely have more details on this before too long. We regularly do have an opportunity to engage with our Türkish allies given the important work that we seek to accomplish together as NATO Allies, as stalwart partners across any number of challenges and opportunities. The Secretary often does have an opportunity to speak to Minister Çavuşoğlu. He sees him quite regularly at various gatherings, and I would expect they’ll have an opportunity to see one another before too long in person.

Yes.

QUESTION: You said repeatedly last week that you do not support normalization and you made everything – you made your position known by all – implicitly like Türkiye. Are you going to reconsider if the guy comes to Washington and make his case?

MR PRICE: So the position we’ve put forward when it comes to potential normalization with the Assad regime is not a position that is particular or unique to any single country. It applies across the board. We have made clear that we will not normalize and we do not support other countries normalizing with the Assad regime.

We have made that point repeatedly because we have not seen that this regime in Damascus has done anything that would merit normalization or merit improved relations. And we make that statement after 12 years of a brutal civil war in which the Syrian people have borne the brunt of that in many cases. In most cases, they have borne the toll of that war because of the very actions of the Assad regime.

We continue to support a Syrian-led political resolution in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254, and we remain firm. Anyone engaging with the regime should ask how that engagement is benefiting the Syrian people – again, a people that have borne the vicious brunt of what their own government has inflicted upon them – and how that engagement might contribute or, quite the opposite, to the fulfillment of UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

To the subtext of your question, I think it’s important that our messages are consistent. What we say in public is consistent with what we say in private; what we say in the abstract is consistent with what we say in specific circumstances. So again, if our partners, if our allies, ask us our thoughts on engagement with the regime, that will consistently be our answer.

QUESTION: So why this contrast between you and your allies? The UAE foreign minister visited last week Damascus, and the Türkish foreign minister – he will meet his counterpart. So how do you explain this contrast between you and your ally over Syria?

MR PRICE: I can only speak for the United States of America. This is our position. This is our belief. It is predicated on the interests and the values that we have and that, by the way, we do happen to share with many of our partners and many of our allies. It’s no secret that we sometimes do have disagreements with partners, with allies. When we do have those divergences of opinion, we talk about those. We use the predicate of deep and longstanding relations to share candid views, and this is one area where we have had some candid discussions with partners and with allies.

QUESTION: Ned, can I —

MR PRICE: Let me move around to people who haven’t – yes.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that?

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: If the administration is concerned by normalization, why hasn’t it made better use of the Caesar Act, which is designed at least in part to isolate the Syrian Government?

MR PRICE: We remain focused on putting pressure on the Assad regime and those around him by working with the international community to hold the brutal dictator and his regime to account for the atrocities that they have perpetrated on their own people. Some of these atrocities amount to war crimes. Some of these atrocities amount to crimes against humanity as well.

All of our sanctions, including under the Caesar Act, remain fully in force. They’re an important tool to press the case for accountability for the Assad regime. And just to the point I was making earlier, we are always looking for additional ways we can promote accountability through, in this case, the Caesar Act or other tools or authorities under or at our disposal.

If and when we find appropriate avenues to levy those consequences, we have not hesitated to do so and we will not hesitate to do so.

QUESTION: Since you are – you are in the region, do you have any comment on the Iranian foreign minister three days visit to Beirut starting today?

MR PRICE: I don’t. I would refer you to the Lebanese Government or the Iranian Government.

QUESTION: Second, on the presidential elections, is the U.S. playing any role with France or others to press the leaders there to elect a new president?

MR PRICE: This is a question that is best addressed to the Lebanese parliament. It is up to the Lebanese parliament to determine the next president in accordance with the Lebanese constitution and importantly the demands of the Lebanese people who continue to face multiple crises that are not of their own making. We call on Lebanon’s leaders to quickly select a president and to subsequently form a government. The Lebanese people deserve political leadership willing to put the interests of the country first and a government able to implement long-overdue reforms that are critical to unlocking crucial international support.

QUESTION: I have one more on Syria. Is the U.S. playing any role in the reconciliation between SDF and the Syrian opposition?

MR PRICE: Again, I wouldn’t want to weigh in on what would constitute a hypothetical, but broadly speaking we seek to promote an inclusive political dialogue that advances the will of the Syrian people and that’s in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

Let me – yes, I haven’t taken your question. Yes.

QUESTION: Islamic Republic of Iran is sending warships to Panama Canal. Do you have any reactions to that? Do you find it provocative?

MR PRICE: We are aware of this claim by Iran’s navy. We continue to monitor Iran’s attempts or at least its statements of its intent to develop a military presence in the Western Hemisphere.

QUESTION: And also one more about exporting arms to Russia. There are reports that Iran has delayed the delivery of arms to Russia, including ballistic missiles and launchers. Are you aware of these delays and these reports, and what’s your assessment?

MR PRICE: Our overarching assessment has not changed. Iran is and remains Russia’s most important source of security assistance. This is a burgeoning partnership between Russia and Iran that has deepened in recent months but even over the longer time horizon. We’ve released significant detail regarding the provision of UAV technology from Iran to Russia. We have also detailed our concerns that Russia may also seek ballistic missiles, ballistic missile technology, that Iran has.

We are watching very carefully. We continue to speak out against the provision of these wares, knowing that this technology, despite what we might hear from Tehran or from Moscow, is intended to do one thing: it is intended to kill Ukrainians; it is intended to inflict damage on the country of Ukraine, targeting in many cases civilian infrastructure.

Yes, I haven’t taken your question. Yes.

QUESTION: On the U.S.-Japan 2+2 meeting yesterday. At the joint press conference, Secretary Blinken said that they had first formal dialogue on extended deterrence in 2+2 format. Does it mean from now on U.S. and Japan will regularly discuss about extended deterrence not only in working-level meetings but also in ministerial level?

MR PRICE: We are committed to extended deterrence. It is a solemn commitment we have to our treaty allies in the Indo-Pacific. We are committed to it in the case of Japan. We are committed to it in the case of our ROK allies as well. There was a discussion of it yesterday, the critical role it plays in preserving peace and stability in the region, of reinforcing the rules-based international order. And I would expect there will be additional discussions of extended deterrence at multiple levels going forward with our Japanese allies.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on when you talk about the invocation of Article V, do you have anything to exemplify on what kind of attack could lead to the invocation? Could it be the attack on satellite operated by Japan in the space or in —

MR PRICE: So the understanding that was announced yesterday was an understanding with Japan on how attacks to, from, or through space could be covered by Article V of the Japan-U.S. mutual defense treaty. In the instance of such an attack, this will be a topic of consultation and discussion with our Japanese allies to determine the applicability under Article V of the U.S.-Japan mutual defense treaty and to respond appropriately.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ned, just want to ask about what’s been happening between Türkiye and Sweden over the past couple of days. And today specifically, Swedish ambassador was summoned after there was this demonstration with that puppet of Erdoğan being hanged by the city wall in Stockholm. So does this kind of – these kinds of developments, does this give you guys additional concern that the already delayed membership of Sweden and Finland will be further delayed? What is the timeline that you’re looking at right now?

MR PRICE: The timeline that we are looking is as soon as possible. And —

QUESTION: It’s not – I mean, sorry to interrupt you, but it’s just not realistic, and I think you guys know that as well. So I mean, are you more concerned over this latest incident – and let’s say you guys are now angling for after Türkiye’s elections?

MR PRICE: So as soon as possible is, in fact, realistic. That’s what we’re aiming for. Of course, we know the steps that have to be taken. This is an admission that can only take place with consensus on the part of the 30 current NATO Allies. But we’ve made the point consistently that Finland and Sweden are ready to be NATO allies. They are members of Partnership for Peace, other NATO structures. Their militaries already work seamlessly with our military. And we are – and we remain very confident that NATO will formally welcome Finland and Sweden at the first opportunity.

We believe that the time is right to finalize their accession process and to welcome them as full members, and we say that knowing that it will enhance their security as NATO allies, as well as that of the Euro-Atlantic region. And we say that not as a disinterested party. It’s very much in our national security interest as well. We are and will remain committed to their accession. You can see the strength of our support for their NATO membership in the overwhelmingly – in the overwhelming bipartisan vote that took place last year in the U.S. Senate just weeks after their application was first submitted.

In all of this, we’ve acknowledged the very legitimate security concerns on the part of Türkiye. We appreciate the tangible actions Finland and Sweden have already taken to address those concerns, as committed to under the trilateral memorandum of understanding that Türkiye signed on the margins of the NATO Summit in Madrid in June with Finland and Sweden, including substantially strengthening their bilateral cooperation with Türkiye on key security concerns.

QUESTION: When you say the time is now and as soon as possible, does that also mean that it is the U.S. assessment that Sweden and Finland has so far fulfilled what they need to do under that memorandum that’s signed in Madrid?

MR PRICE: That memorandum that was signed in Madrid was signed between Türkiye, Finland, and Sweden.

QUESTION: Sure. But the U.S. can have an assessment on whether or not the conditions there are fulfilled. You can have an assessment on that.

MR PRICE: And we very much appreciate the tangible actions that both countries have already taken to address those concerns. Ultimately, this was a roadmap for Türkiye, Finland, and Sweden to reach the point of accession, and this will be a question for those three countries, even as the United States continues to be very clear that we support their accession as soon as possible. They are ready to be NATO Allies, and we look forward to soon welcoming them as NATO Allies.

Yes, Dylan.

QUESTION: Yeah, back on Japan for one second. I want to go back to something the Secretary said a few weeks ago in this room, actually. He made a comment that if the U.S. were still in Afghanistan the way it was before, providing all the assistance it has to Ukraine would be, in his words, “much more complicated.” So in meetings like yesterday’s with your Japanese allies, how are you explaining, given that sentiment, that the U.S. can handle issues like Ukraine at the same time as a potential conflict over Taiwan or other Chinese aggression in the region.

MR PRICE: The Secretary was making the broad point, as we do firmly believe, that the investment that the American people, that the United States, and, as was predominately the case, the U.S. military made in Afghanistan over the course of 20 years was a significant drain on national resources. And you can measure those resources in any number of ways. You can measure it in the thousands of lives lost, the tens of thousands who were injured over the course of that 20-year military engagement. You can measure it in terms of the hundreds of billions of dollars that the United States expended in Afghanistan over the years. You can measure it in terms of what NATO committed and what NATO ultimately sacrificed in the course of that 20-year mission in Afghanistan.

So the point is that these are not typically either/or decisions. The point is that NATO now is more – is better resourced, it is stronger, it is more purposeful than it has been since any time since the end of the Cold War. The transatlantic community is more resolute, more determined, more united than at any time since the end of the Cold War. The resources that the U.S. military, the resources in terms of personnel and funding that NATO and ISAF were expending on Afghanistan – those are now able to be redirected to the challenges and the opportunities that we face today.

We say all of that knowing that the totality of our mission, of course, never ended in Afghanistan. We have a commitment to those with whom we served over the course of that 20-year engagement with Afghanistan, in Afghanistan. We have a broader commitment to the Afghan people. We can continue to do everything that we can to protect and to promote their interests, to mitigate the dire humanitarian circumstances that have been inflicted upon them, just as we are better able to take on the challenge that Russia presents and challenges – but also opportunities – that have emerged, that may emerge, whether that’s in Europe, whether that’s in the Indo-Pacific, whether that’s anywhere in between.

QUESTION: So you’re telling Japan, for instance, that the resource drain of having a few thousand troops in Afghanistan would be prohibitive, potentially, to aiding Ukraine as much as you would like, but the resource drain of a conflict in Taiwan or something like that is not?

MR PRICE: That’s not our message. We can take apart the – each element of that argument, but Dylan, what we were talking about was really a binary option when it came to Afghanistan: an open-ended, accelerated military engagement in Afghanistan that would not have constituted 2,500 troops. The point that you heard from this administration and from outside experts was the fact that the status quo in Afghanistan, as this administration inherited it in January of 2021, with the fewest number of troops in Afghanistan since the earliest days of the war, was not sustainable. The question was withdrawal or deeper engagement – and by deeper engagement, more forces, more potentially American blood, more American treasure.

President Biden, as three successors – excuse me, three predecessors – before him had, came to the determination that it was time for American forces to withdraw militarily from Afghanistan. President Biden uniquely was in a position to follow through with that commitment. So again, this is not a question of either-or. The United States of America, the American military, is capable of doing extraordinary feats, taking on extraordinary missions, oftentimes simultaneously – plan for that, exercise for that, develop all sorts of contingencies for that.

But if the question was should we subject hundreds or thousands more American forces and millions or billions of additional American dollars each and every year to Afghanistan, a theater where our – the goals the United States went in with and the goals the international community went in with in October of 2001, where those goals had been met – again, due in no small part to the U.S. military, to our diplomatic engagement, to our government, to our partners within the U.S. Government, but also to our partners in NATO and partners around the world – if the question was do we deepen that investment or do we finally affect that withdrawal after having completed the mission that the international community went in to pursue, President Biden made the determination – the right determination, we are confident – that it was time finally to end that mission.

Yes, Alex.

QUESTION: And the (inaudible) initiative Without Just Cause, I’m just trying to figure out how is it going to differ from what recently that you have already been doing. According to the readout, the initiative will include diplomatic engagement and public diplomacy. I’m just wondering if naming and shaming or quote/unquote “engagement” will be prioritized. And who’s going to run the show – DRL, or?

MR PRICE: So the answer to your first question is a little bit of both. This is an effort to shine a bright light, to shine a spotlight on a challenge that we face around the world of political prisoners, people who are held without just cause, people who are held because of their beliefs, because of their protected activities, because in the eyes of a government or a regime they pose a threat. To us that’s unacceptable, and the Without Just Cause campaign is one tactic.

The individuals who are highlighted as part of that campaign, of course and unfortunately, are not the totality of political prisoners around the world. Those number in the thousands. What we’re talking about here is a small microcosm of the challenge of political prisoners. That is an effort that DRL in this case is running to put a spotlight on that, to raise public awareness, and to emphasize to countries around the world that this is a challenge that the United States will do everything we can to address and, on a case-by-case basis, resolve.

QUESTION: Giving a timeline until, let’s say, next year you want those individuals to be released?

MR PRICE: We want those individuals to be released today. We want those individuals to be released tomorrow. We are going to continue working, as we consistently have, to see all of those individuals, but political prisoners around the world, to see to it that they are not held without just cause.

QUESTION: Thank you. And lastly, a separate topic. Armenia has refused to host Russia-led military drills. Previously, also we heard Armenian officials were talking about how Russia is trying to lure them into Belarus-Russia coalition. Is it what your impression that Russia is trying to do in the South Caucasus? I’ve heard similar arguments in Azerbaijan as well.

MR PRICE: I would refer you to the Government of Armenia to speak to their position on this.

QUESTION: Ned, do you guys have any reaction or response to this Oxfam report that came out yesterday about the U.S. and UK weapons being used by the Saudis to – well, killing civilians in Yemen?

MR PRICE: Yes. Yeah. So on that report, Oxfam’s recent report covered a period predating the UN-mediated truce in Yemen that began in April of last year, and for which the major elements remain in place. The dramatic reduction of violence since April of last year, enabled by U.S. diplomacy, has saved countless lives and helped avert a famine. International humanitarian law, including rules related to the protection of civilians, must always be respected in armed conflict. We will continue to support improvements to our partners’ abilities to mitigate and respond to civilian harm, including through pressing for accountability when that is appropriate.

The United States is committed to seeking a mandate in the UN Human Rights Council to advance accountability, justice, and redress for the human rights abuses and violations that have occurred during the conflict in Yemen.

QUESTION: So you don’t think that this has continued on after the truce began?

MR PRICE: Well, the simple fact is that with the introduction of the truce in April of 2022, there was a dramatic reduction in violence. Much of the activity that is cited in the report – activity that according to this report is alleged to have resulted in some cases in civilian harm – much of that activity either was reduced or came to an end entirely.

Yes, final question.

QUESTION: Thanks. So on Assad, normalizing relations with Assad, we have – you mentioned values, sanctions, actions of the United States. Could you tell us to any of this over the course of 11 years have changed Assad’s course of action in a minimal way even?

MR PRICE: So counterfactuals are always impossible to entertain. I won’t try to entertain this one except to make the broad point that Assad has perpetrated atrocities against his own people. He has – his forces have conducted crimes against humanity. They have conducted war crimes as well. We of course don’t know what the Assad regime might have done would it not have been for the accountability measures that have been imposed on him. We do not know what the Assad regime might have done had it not been for the actions on the part of the United States and countries around the world to confiscate and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles in the aftermath of 2014. All of that is unknowable.

What we know is that we are going to continue to promote accountability for the Assad regime. We are going to continue to discourage partners around the world from normalizing or improving relations with the Assad regime. And we’re going to continue espousing the principles that are at the heart of UN Security Council Resolution 2254. We continue to believe that it forms the most appropriate basis for bringing the civil war to an end in a way that is durable, in a way that respects and promotes the aspirations of the Syrian people.

QUESTION: But the question – the question is it doesn’t – none of this changed the course of the war, and United States is not for – does not have a policy of regime change in Syria. Atrocities continue. People are suffering. What is the way out?

MR PRICE: The way out, as we see it, is through UN Security Council Resolution 2254. I don’t want to give you the impression that anyone is complacent or anyone is satisfied with the course of the past 12 years of the civil war in Syria. Quite the opposite. It is an absolute tragedy, it is a manmade tragedy, a tragedy that’s been inflicted on the people of Syria by Bashar al-Assad, by his regime.

Now, I can’t speak to what might have transpired had the United States and the international community not taken the steps we have to hold the Assad regime to account. But what I can say is we will continue to take steps to promote that vision that’s put forward in UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:29 p.m.)

# # #

Department Press Briefing – January 9, 2023

2:00 p.m. EST

MR PRICE:  Good afternoon, everyone.

QUESTION:  Good afternoon.

MR PRICE:  Happy Monday.  Hope everyone had a nice weekend.  I’ll take the prerogative of pointing out we are starting precisely on time.

QUESTION:  Oh, wow!

MR PRICE:  We will try and keep that up.  So remember this next time we’re a few minutes late.

QUESTION:  Two minutes early.

MR PRICE:  Two minutes early, even.

QUESTION:  Put it in the record books.

MR PRICE:  Right.  Even – some of your colleagues haven’t even made it in the room yet. (Laughter.)

I have a few things and then we’ll turn to questions.  First, today and tomorrow, a large delegation of senior officials from the U.S. Government are attending the first meeting of the Negev Forum working groups in Abu Dhabi, joining representatives from the Governments of Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates in an effort to advance initiatives to encourage regional integration and cooperation.

These meetings follow the March 2022 Negev Summit held in Sde Boker, Israel, which launched the Negev Forum, as well as the June 2022 steering committee meeting in Bahrain, where the six topical working groups – focused on regional security; clean energy; food and water security; health; tourism; and education and coexistence – were set up.

The working groups seek to advance coordinated initiatives to encourage regional integration, cooperation, and development to promote security, peace, and economic prosperity for the benefit of the people of the region, including initiatives that could strengthen the Palestinian economy and improve the quality of life of Palestinians.

The Negev forum is one of a series of initiatives to promote integration in the region as a foundation for an increasingly more secure and prosperous region.  These initiatives include the expanding bilateral relations between Abraham Accord signatories, the I2U2 with Israel, India, United Arab Emirates and the United States, which is developing clean technology and food security initiatives following the President’s visit to the region last year, and security initiatives and joint exercises under the auspices of Central Command.

More than two years after the anniversary of the Abraham Accords and other agreements, we continue to see numerous benefits throughout the Middle East, including regional – including increasing economic relationships; more robust people-to-people ties; growth in tourism; direct flights; cultural, research, and academic exchanges; and better coordination on a range of other issues.

The Biden administration remains focused on strengthening and expanding these opportunities whenever possible.

Next, since last year’s devastating floods in Pakistan, the U.S. Government has worked closely with Pakistan to provide funding assistance for flood response, food security, disaster preparedness, and capacity-building efforts.

I am pleased to share that today the United States announced an additional $100 million of recovery and reconstruction funding, bringing our total contribution to over $200 million.

The new $100 million in funding will be used for flood protection and governance, disease surveillance, economic growth and clean energy, climate-smart agriculture, food security, and infrastructure reconstruction.  The funding also includes humanitarian assistance to support flood relief and recovery efforts in refugee-hosting areas.

Our flood-related assistance complements our broader efforts to form a U.S.-Pakistan Green Alliance that looks at the range of climate and resilience issues central to Pakistan’s reconstruction.  Pakistan’s recovery and reconstruction will be a continuing process in the months and years ahead, and we will continue to support Pakistan in its efforts to build a more climate-resilient future for its people.

And finally, on January 12th the United States Government, in partnership with the Government of Japan, will sponsor the fifth Indo-Pacific Business Forum, or IPBF.

The IPBF is an opportunity to discuss shared ambitions for the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, as well as our respective priorities for the United States’ APEC host year and Japan’s G7 presidency in 2023.  The IPBF will also showcase high-impact private sector investment and government efforts to support market competition, job growth, and high-standard development for greater prosperity and economic inclusion in the Indo-Pacific.

This hybrid event will feature an in-person program in Tokyo and a virtual component timed to allow for meaningful participation from across the Indo-Pacific region.  For further information on the IPBF and how you can register, we encourage you to visit our website, www.indopacificbusinessforum.com.

With that plug, I turn it over to your questions.

QUESTION:  Right.  Thanks, Ned.  I’ll be very brief since I was late.  I apologize.  But you guys have a number —

MR PRICE:  Sorry, go on.

QUESTION:  You guys have a number of initiatives out there about – that deal with war crimes, or potential war crimes, or investigating potential war crimes in Ukraine.  And I’m just wondering – Jake’s comments this morning in Mexico City about looking at – or saying that Iran might be complicit in any such war crimes is something that is being looked at.  So I’m just wondering, is this an active area of investigation from – at least from the elements that you guys are involved in?

MR PRICE:  So, Matt, you were right that there are a number of elements.  And we are discussing – and when I say “we,” I mean primarily here at the State Department, Beth Van Schaack, our Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice and her team, and others – are discussing with other countries, with other entities, other venues, vehicles, and fora, that may be appropriate to help adjudicate the question of war crimes.  We’ve talked about some of the initiatives that are already underway: first and foremost, the cooperation we have and the support we’re lending to the Prosecutor General of Ukraine and to that entity, knowing that the Prosecutor General, of course, has jurisdiction, has immense interest in pursuing these crimes, but also what the OSCE is doing, what the Human Rights Council has set up with the support of Secretary Blinken and the United States, and other initiatives that have been put forward by other countries and entities as well.

We’ve also made the point that we are not looking merely at those responsible for pulling the trigger or for pressing the button, as it were.  We are prepared in accordance with international humanitarian law to go all the way up the ladder to see to it who precisely is responsible for issuing these orders and not only for taking these actions.

If in the course of that work we are in a position to determine that the Iranian Government as a whole or that senior Iranian officials are complicit or responsible for war crimes, we will work to hold them to account as well.  We’ve made no secret of the fact that Iran is providing Russia with much-needed security assistance.  And security assistance is almost euphemistic in this sense because this is, more to the point, the provision of lethal equipment that Russia is using every single day to target civilian infrastructure, to target energy infrastructure, to potentially even target civilians themselves.

We made the determination early on in Russia’s war against Ukraine that Russia’s forces have committed war crimes.  We have continued to document evidence of war crimes, and if that evidence points to another state, points to other foreign actors involved in these war crimes, we’ll work to hold them to account as well.

QUESTION:  Okay.  But you – like as you just said, you have already made that determination with Russia.

MR PRICE:  That’s right.  That’s right.

QUESTION:  You have not yet made it –

MR PRICE:  We have not made a formal determination when it comes to other states or state actors.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Can I follow up on that one?

MR PRICE:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Unlike Russia, Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism designated by the United States Government.  Does it change how you have – if once you make a determination, how you approach the war crimes investigation, and also accountability?  Will folks in the United States be able to go after Iranian leaders by using the U.S. laws and by also – also using by fact – using the fact that Iran is a sponsor – state sponsor of terrorism within the U.S. legal system?

MR PRICE:  There are certain differences between the state sponsor of terrorism designation that Iran carries and other designations that are attached to Russian entities, to Russian actors.  But the designation of a state sponsor of terrorism doesn’t allow us – or I should say the fact that Russia is not a designated state sponsor of terrorism does not deprive us of any tools that we can appropriately and as warranted yield against – wield against the Russian Government.  We have a number of authorities that we have used to hold Russia to account.  We’ve imposed biting sanctions, biting export controls, other economic and financial measures.  You can see the effectiveness of those measures, the compounding effectiveness of those measures across many different metrics that you look at – even the metrics that the Russian Government, the central bank, the Russian finance ministry has itself issued.  You see that in the slowing economic growth, in the economic downturn, but also in the mere fact that Russia is being forced to turn to states with whom it typically has not partnered on security assistance, Iran being one of them, the DPRK being another as well.

So we are wielding every appropriate authority.  We’re also working with Congress, working with Congress to attempt to find a way to hold Russia accountable for its aggression in such a way that allows us to impose costs without having to grapple with the unintended implications that the state sponsor of terrorism designation carries.

QUESTION:  You have already sanctioned seven Iranian industry leaders?  Just last Friday, the leaders of the factory, a drone factory and also missiles programs, there’s a – it doesn’t involve the missiles program.  What’s the next step in this case?  Is the Iranian supreme leader a potential subject to, let’s say, U.S. sanctions once you determine Iran’s involvement in this process?

MR PRICE:  Well, these sanctions are pursuant to various executive orders.  These executive orders are – spell out precisely the criteria that we look at when we determine if a foreign actor is a potential target for any given executive order.  So we’re not taking anything off the table; we are going to do and take actions that intend to disrupt this pipeline of lethal supplies, lethal materials that have gone from Iran to Russia.  But we’ve also talked about this is a two-way street.  The relationship between Russia and Iran is one of a close security partner, a close military partner.  Iran has become Russia’s most important supplier of needed security assistance.  But Russia, too, has in turn started to provide Iran with security assistance that it needs.

So we are going to look at all relevant tools, all relevant authorities, all relevant laws that are on the books to hold to account those who are responsible for this.

Humeyra.

QUESTION:  Can we go to Brazil, and let me ask you –

QUESTION:  Can I follow Russia?  One more –

MR PRICE:  One more on Russia?

QUESTION:  Yes.  At the recent summit between Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, highlighted their military cooperation.  How do you think China and Russia military cooperation will affect the Ukraine and the Korean peninsula?

MR PRICE:  Well, I can speak to Ukraine, of course.  And we have made also no secret of the fact that we are watching very closely.  We are watching very closely the decisions that the PRC makes when it comes to any Russian requests for security assistance.  We know that Russia has been forced, as I’ve already said, to turn to other partners – Iran, the DPRK – for security assistance precisely because we are starving the Russian state of the inputs that it needs to prosecute its war against Ukraine most effectively.  And again, that is putting it euphemistically.

We are starving systematically the Russian Government of what it needs, what it thinks it needs, to fulfill what it deems as its mission to kill the Ukrainian people, to target Ukrainian infrastructure, to go after Ukrainian cities and towns – hitting in the process civilian targets, apartment buildings, residential buildings, schools, hospitals, nurseries.  Nothing, it seems, has been off limits to the Russian state and its pursuit of this brutal war.

So we’re watching very closely.  We’ve been very clear with the PRC, including in private, including when the two presidents met in Bali last November, about any costs that would befall the PRC should they decide to assist Russia in a systematic effort to evade U.S. sanctions or in the provision of security assistance that would then be used against the Ukrainian people in Ukraine.  So we’re watching very closely.

Humeyra.

QUESTION:  There are reports Brazil —

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) taking this meeting?

MR PRICE:  We’ll come back to China later.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yeah, just on this Brazil Bolsonaro visa, I understand you have proscriptions due to privacy and all that, but can you confirm that an A-1 visa would be valid for 30 days?  And would an A-1 visa assigned to any one head of state would automatically become waived if that person, that individual, is no longer a head of state?

MR PRICE:  Sure.  So I don’t want to try to guess at what your underlying question is, but let me just state out of an abundance of caution that I am, of course, not going to comment on the visa records of any individual.  Individual visa records, as you know, are confidential, and we wouldn’t speak to the status of any particular individual.

Leaving individuals aside and generally speaking, if someone entered the United States on an A visa, which is essentially a diplomatic visa for foreign diplomats or heads of state, an A visa holder – if an A visa holder is no longer engaged in official business on behalf of their government, it is incumbent on that visa holder to depart the U.S. or to request a change to another immigration status within 30 days.  That request for a change in visa status would be made to the Department of Homeland Security.

So it would be incumbent on the visa holder to take that action, either to depart the United States or to request that change in status.

QUESTION:  Have you – are you in a position to say whether the visa holder that we’re all talking about —

MR PRICE:  I’m not talking about a visa holder, no.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Okay, but are you able to say that you have received any requests of change of status?

MR PRICE:  I – you haven’t attached any names.  I wouldn’t comment on any individuals.  I’m not commenting on any individuals.  I am commenting on a class of visa.

QUESTION:  Could I attach a name to it?  (Laughter.)

The current president, Lula, said yesterday after what happened in Brasilia that he believes that former President Bolsonaro bears at least some responsibility based on his – his past comments.  Is that the same assessment of the United States?  And if so, is former President Bolsonaro somebody who would be welcomed in the United States?

MR PRICE:  President Lula has called for an investigation.  There, as I understand it, is an ongoing investigation in Brazil.  You heard from the President yesterday, you heard from the Secretary yesterday, you heard from Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, yesterday that we condemn this violence.  Violence is never appropriate; it’s never the answer.  Brazil’s democratic institutions have our full support.

As we always are, we are standing by for any request – requests for assistance from our Brazilian partners, from Brazilian authorities, whether those come through diplomatic channels, whether they come through law enforcement channels, and we will of course respond to those requests as appropriate.

The United States and Brazil – we are close partners.  We work together day to day on any number of matters and issues, and oftentimes those are matters of law enforcement.  We have well-honed processes in place to cooperate where requests are made for information or potentially for action on the part of Brazil to the United States.  In this case, we have not yet received any requests for information or for action.

QUESTION:  Leaving aside Bolsonaro personally, is there any concern that perhaps some of the – the plotting of this could have taken place in the United States in Florida?

MR PRICE:  This will be a question for the Brazilian investigation.  If it would be useful for Brazilian investigators to be in receipt of information from the United States Government, we would of course adjudicate those requests promptly, as we always do, and provide them with appropriate information.  But we haven’t received such a request.

QUESTION:  Just one more.  A little bit more broadly, you’ve often spoken and the President has often spoken about democracy being promoted around the world by the United States, so this is one of the major parts of the administration’s agenda.  Is there a bit of a concern at all that perhaps there is also another model in the United States, that being of January 6th, that of the violent overthrow of democratic institutions?  How much of a concern is that that that’s something that could also emanate from the United States?  And what can the State Department or the administration do to counter that?

MR PRICE:  Well, what the world saw emanate from the United States yesterday was immediate —

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE:  — swift condemnation of what happened, what was ongoing in Brazil at the time.  That was violence against Brazil’s democratic institutions.  What the world heard and saw from the United States yesterday was swift and immediate support for Brazil’s democratic institutions.  That message was loud and resoundingly clear.  Today, the world heard that from President Biden, from Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada, from President Lopez Obrador of Mexico as well in their joint statement.  So that is precisely what the world has been seeing and hearing from the United States over the past 24 hours.

Of course, we have consistently made the point, including in the aftermath of events in this country, that every democracy has its challenge.  It is a reflection of the strength of that democracy how it grapples with, how it responds to those challenges.

And speaking in the case of Brazil, we have seen remarkable resilience from Brazil’s democracy over the past 24 hours.  The violence was quelled within hours.  The institutions were cleared of violent protesters within hours.  A range of Brazil – Brazilian voices from across the political spectrum have condemned it.  President Lula addressed his people.  We have heard Brazilian politicians from all parties and all stripes condemn this violence as they well should.

Anything else on Brazil?  Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION:  At least four American legislators – they asked the federal government – U.S. federal government to not allow the presence of the Brazilian former President Bolsonaro here in the country.  From your perspective, can this fact generate a diplomatic incident between the two countries?

MR PRICE:  No, because we have excellent cooperation with our Brazilian partners.  As I said before, we on a daily basis work with our Brazilian partners through diplomatic channels, through law enforcement channels as well.  And if there is a law enforcement matter that needs to be adjudicated between the United States and Brazil, we have well-honed, well-practiced processes for doing so, and we’re prepared to do that.  But as I mentioned before, we haven’t received any specific requests just yet.

QUESTION:  Regarding the new ambassador that she is swearing in, in a couple of minutes,  from your perspective what is going to be her main mission once she arrives in Brasilia, taking in account everything that happened yesterday?

MR PRICE:  Well, the main objective for any ambassador at any U.S. embassy anywhere around the world is really twofold.  Number one, it is to provide steady leadership to our team – and we obviously have a very large mission in Brazil encompassing a number of facilities; but also this gets to the second charge, which is executing the President and the Secretary’s vision for that bilateral relationship.  We also have a broad bilateral relationship with Brazil.  It’s a pivotal time in terms of U.S.-Brazilian relations with the new government, with this government, eager to work with President Lula and his team.

I think you have seen that in the early engagement we had with President Lula, with senior U.S. officials traveling to Brazil to meet with then President-elect Lula, with the conversations that have taken place between President Biden and others and Secretary Blinken and their Brazilian counterparts.  There is a broad range of work that we want to accomplish, that we need to accomplish, with our Brazilian partners.  And when Ambassador Bagley arrives in Brazil, which I expect to be in the coming weeks, she’ll be well-positioned to help execute that vision.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR PRICE:  Anything else on Brazil?

QUESTION:  Just one more just on the general —

MR PRICE:  Sure.

QUESTION:  — general question.  So when you say that it’s incumbent upon the – this visa, A visa holder to leave the country or apply for a change in their immigration status, is that person precluded from getting another A visa because they’re no longer head of state or no longer have that diplomatic status?  What kind of change —

MR PRICE:  Generally speaking, an A visa is reserved for someone who is engaged in official business in the United States on behalf of their government.

QUESTION:  Right.

MR PRICE:  If that is no longer the case, it’s incumbent on that particular individual to solicit a change in their status to a different kind of visa, whether that person may be —

QUESTION:  Oh, okay.

MR PRICE:  — eligible for a tourist visa, a business visa, or what have you.

QUESTION:  Okay, but —

QUESTION:  By the way, is —

QUESTION:  But they can’t, based on having previously had an A visa, they can’t get another one as long as they are not the head of state?

MR PRICE:  Within 30 days of their official business ending, it’s —

QUESTION:  No, I get that.

MR PRICE:  Yes.

QUESTION:  I mean what kind of visa would one – a former – all right.  I’m the – I am the president of —

QUESTION:  Brazil.

QUESTION:  — Narnia.  (Laughter.)  And I come – and I come to the U.S., and I’m in Louisiana eating at Popeyes, and then I am unelected.  I am no longer the – what – I have an A visa.  I came in on an A visa.  What kind of visa can I get to extend my stay?

MR PRICE:  So, Matt, it’s really going to depend on the individual, as you know, because the visa process is unique to each individual.  It depends on that individual’s status, activities, what that individual is doing in the United States, what that individual may be doing in the United States.  But I think you know the categories of visas as well as others.  There are tourist visas.  There are business visas.  There are student visas.  So I couldn’t speak to a particular case, and I wouldn’t speak to a particular case, but —

QUESTION:  No, no, no.  But, so the whole – other than an A visa, I could try to get anything I wanted?

MR PRICE:  You could try to get any visa that is eligible for a foreign national.

QUESTION:  What happens —

QUESTION:  If the individual doesn’t do either of those, doesn’t leave the country and doesn’t apply?

QUESTION:  Within that 30-day period.

QUESTION:  Within that 30 days.

MR PRICE:  So if an – if an individual has no basis on which to be in the United States, an individual is subject to removal by the Department of Homeland Security.

Yes.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  I’m going to go where you started at the very top, about the Negev Forum that is being held.  I want to ask you – you talked about advancing peace and so on, and you tell me how this so-called Abraham Accord advanced peace in any way.  I mean, in the last three years we have seen Israel wage two major wars on Gaza; we see a war ongoing day in and day out in the West Bank.  Last year was the bloodiest year for the Palestinians since the second intifada.  And certainly the economic conditions for the Palestinians has worsened by a great deal.  So other than just these guys getting together and maybe having good meals and drinks and so on, what have they done to really advance peace?

MR PRICE:  Said, a couple of things.  First, the Negev process really kicked off in earnest last year, and just last year.  It was in March of last year when Secretary Blinken was in the Negev Desert, in Sde Boker, with his counterparts.  So this is a process that is relatively new.  It is part of the reason why we’re especially eager to have the opportunity to have these working groups constituted today and tomorrow in Abu Dhabi on the part of several dozen U.S. Government officials and their counterparts from these other countries.

But we’ve also been clear this process is not a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace.  We support the normalization of relations between Israel and its Arab and Muslim-majority neighbors and countries around the world, but it’s not a substitute.  We believe – and we’ve heard from participants in the Negev process as well – that normalization can and should be leveraged to advance progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track.  Secretary Blinken made this clear in March of last year when he was in the Negev.  He said that we have to be clear that these regional peace agreements are not a substitute for progress between Palestinians and Israelis.

He also noted in those same remarks how countries involved in the Abraham Accords and other normalization agreements, as well as those that have longstanding diplomatic relations with Israel, can support the Palestinian people, how they can support the Palestinian Authority in concrete ways and have a positive impact on the daily lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.  And I don’t have to tell you, Said, that there are several of these countries involved in the Negev process that are doing quite a lot for the Palestinian people; there are other countries that have normalized relations or have diplomatic relations with Israel who are doing quite a lot for the Palestinian people.  The United States is doing quite a lot for the Palestinian people on a basis of people-to-people ties.

But this is an ongoing conversation, and it’s a conversation that we believe can and really must support our goal of Palestinians and Israelis enjoying equal measures of freedom, of security, of stability, of democracy, and of dignity.

QUESTION:  Well, I mean, that – those are fine words, but in fact isn’t this process aiding and abetting Israel into deluding itself that its war is with everybody else except for the Palestinians, while in fact the war is with the Palestinians?  It’s not with the UAE, not with Morocco.  I mean, I can understand the transactional value of these accords and these agreements and so on, but in fact, for – to accomplish peace, it’s not there.  And we’ve seen – like Oman was that – was a country that was perceived as being probably the next place to normalize with Israel criminalizing any contacts with Israel.  And so even on that track they’re a failure.  So, I mean, one can go on and on in discussing these things, but in fact, you have not – there has been not one step taken by any of these governments to really pressure Israel into easing its treatment of the Palestinians or making life palatable or giving anything that resembles equal measures that you talk about.

MR PRICE:  Said, every time the United States of America engages with our Israeli partners in a substantive way, we discuss issues as they pertain to Israeli-Palestinian relations.  We discuss the need to improve day-to-day lives of Palestinian – Palestinian civilians.  We discuss ways we can make tangible advancements, tangible progress towards a negotiated two-state solution.  I don’t speak for other governments, but having been at the Negev last March, I can tell you that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a topic of discussion between other governments, the other participating governments, and Israel.  And I would suspect that in the talks that took place today and the talks that take place tomorrow in Abu Dhabi, there will be quite a bit of talk, including on the part of the United States but also on the part of these other Arab governments, of the need to see tangible progress, tangible improvements in the day-to-day conditions for the Palestinian people.  This is an opportunity to have those discussions, which itself is important.

QUESTION:  Lastly, Israel slapped sanctions on the PA because it’s turning to the ICJ.  I wonder if you have any comment on that.

MR PRICE:  We have been consistent in our own strong opposition to the request for an ICJ advisory opinion concerning Israel.  We’ve talked about that before, including last week.  We believe this action was counterproductive and will only take the parties further away from the objective of a negotiated two-state solution.  We are seeking both sides to take steps to move them closer to a negotiated two-state solution.

We’ve also been clear that Israelis and Palestinians alike, equally, deserve to live in safety, in security.  They deserve equal measures of freedom, of dignity, justice, and prosperity as well.  And we’ll continue to encourage all parties to refrain from unilateral actions that threaten the viability of a two-state solution and the path towards direct negotiations.

QUESTION:  So would you urge the Israelis to release the money that they held?

MR PRICE:  To – I’m sorry?

QUESTION:  To release the money that they held, some $40 million.

MR PRICE:  We – we have continued to make the point that unilateral actions that threaten the viability of a two-state solution, unilateral actions that only exacerbate tensions – those are not in the interests of a negotiated two-state solution.

QUESTION:  Well, you said, though, that the Palestinian move was counterproductive, but what about the Israeli move, not just on the money but also on the cancellation or the revocation of the travel permit.

MR PRICE:  Well, this is part of the reason why we’ve opposed the Palestinian move when it comes to the ICJ, knowing that it could potentially only serve to increase tensions.  That is exactly what has happened.

QUESTION:  So in other words, what you’re saying is that the Palestinians brought this on themselves?

MR PRICE:  Matt, I am not saying that.  I am not saying that.

QUESTION:  Well, I’m just curious as to why you say Palestinian move is counterproductive but you won’t say the Israeli move – the countermove was also —

MR PRICE:  This was a – this was a unilateral action that certainly doesn’t seem to move us closer to a negotiated two-state solution.  In fact, it seems to set us back.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Okay, so the ICJ referral was a unilateral move, but the Israeli response to it is not a unilateral move?  It is a – it is purely a response and therefore it’s okay?

MR PRICE:  I did not say that.  I think it’s fair to call it —

QUESTION:  I’m – I’m trying to figure this out.

MR PRICE:  I think it is fair to call it a unilateral response.

QUESTION:  So it – so you don’t like it?

MR PRICE:  It is fair to call it a unilateral response.  We wish – we discouraged publicly the Palestinians from moving forward with this ICJ opinion because we didn’t want to see tensions exacerbated.

QUESTION:  Yeah, okay, fine, but did you discourage the Israelis from taking punitive measures in response?

MR PRICE:  We have private —

QUESTION:  Or is it the Palestinians’ own fault that —

MR PRICE:  We have private discussions – we have private discussions with our Israeli partners as well.  It is clear that these steps have served to exacerbate tensions.  This is not in the interests of a long-term negotiated solution.

QUESTION:  Yeah, but which steps, though?  Just the Palestinian side or both?

MR PRICE:  We’re talking about both.  We are talking about both.

QUESTION:  All right.  Sure.

MR PRICE:  Yes.  Yeah.

QUESTION:  I want to ask you about Netanyahu’s statements, but before that, I want to follow up on the Negev Forum.  The fact that the Secretary of State is not attending since the forum is not held on the ministerial level, is this a downgrade of this forum?

MR PRICE:  Not at all.  This was never intended to be held at the ministerial level.  When the participants got together several months ago, they agreed that individuals at the sub-ministerial level would convene in Abu Dhabi.  We don’t have dates to announce yet, but I can assure you that Secretary Blinken will remain personally involved in the Negev process, in the Negev Forum process, and I would expect that before too long there will be a ministerial where Secretary Blinken himself will represent the United States.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So Prime Minister Netanyahu is sending his special envoy, as you call it, representative, who is, I believe, the Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer.  And he said that he want to formulate what he called a unified position between Israel and the United States vis-à-vis Iran.  Can you articulate to us where do you agree with the Israelis and where you differ?  Because even Jake Sullivan this morning in the gaggle, he was referring as we are different in the way that we execute things but not on the principle.

MR PRICE:  Sure.  At the strategic level, there is absolute consensus.  There is absolute unanimity with our Israeli partners.  We both wholeheartedly, fully are committed to the fact that Iran must never be able to acquire a nuclear weapon.  That is the commitment President Biden has.  That is the same commitment that we’ve heard from Prime Minister Netanyahu.  It is, by the way, the same commitment that we heard from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s predecessors.  So we are in lockstep when it comes to that strategic goal.

Now, there is no secret – and Jake alluded to that this morning – that when it comes to how we do that, there may be some tactical differences.  There are some tactical differences.  We’ve made no secret about that.  We have a relationship with Israel that is close enough that it allows us to have candid conversations, and when we disagree, we disagree.  We tell them what we think; they certainly don’t shy away from telling us what they think.  We believe that a diplomatic – maintaining that a diplomatic – that diplomacy, I should say, presents the most viable, durable, sustainable means by which to permanently and verifiably prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  That has always been our focus.

Now, it has not always been the focus of the Iranians, and, in fact, they have repeatedly turned their backs on a diplomatic deal in the form of what was on the table.  That was a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.  They did that most recently in September.  It hasn’t been on the agenda ever since.  We continue to believe that diplomacy presents the most attractive option, but we also agree with our Israeli partners that we shouldn’t take anything off the table.  We haven’t taken anything off the table.  And as we meet with our Israeli partners, one of the many issues we discuss is the most – the various means by which we can see to it that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION:  So when you say – sorry, can I just follow on this one?  You say that diplomacy is your preferred option.  Does that mean that you disagree with your own President when he says on a leaked tape that the track is dead and there’s no going back to diplomacy?

MR PRICE:  The President did not say diplomacy is dead, not at all.

QUESTION:  The negotiation in Vienna is dead, so —

MR PRICE:  The President was alluding to the fact, which should be clear to everyone in this room, that the Iranians swiftly killed – the Iranians killed the prospect for a swift return to compliance with the JCPOA.  A return to compliance with the JCPOA isn’t on the agenda.  It’s not on the agenda for primarily one reason; that’s because the Iranians turned their back on it, the Iranians reneged on commitments they had made.

In the absence of that being on the agenda, we are focused first and foremost at the moment on what we can do to support the brave Iranian people who are taking to the streets across Iran, but also what we can do to disrupt, to counter the support that the Iranian regime is providing to Russia, support that Russia is in turn turning around and using with deadly vengeance against the Ukrainian people.

QUESTION:  So if the Iranians come back tomorrow and said, “We’re willing to resume the talks,” then you will?

MR PRICE:  I don’t entertain hypotheticals.  I also don’t entertain scenarios that are just —

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) the process (inaudible) —

MR PRICE:  — that are just incredibly improbable.

QUESTION:  Sure, but you just (inaudible) —

MR PRICE:  Even if the Iranians did come back tomorrow, we have a track record here, unfortunately, a track record that suggests to us that the Iranian word is – isn’t worth the – choose your metaphor.  We of course have been down this road with them.  So we of course want to see this resolved peacefully; we want to see this resolved diplomatically.  But we are going to, in the absence of any real interest in diplomacy on the part of the Iranians, continue to keep our focus on supporting the Iranian people, keep our focus on countering Russia’s supportive security assistance to – excuse me, Iran’s support – Iran’s security assistance to Russia.

QUESTION:  Knowing that it was the United States that backtracked on its word, correct?  With the last JCPOA.

MR PRICE:  No, Said, that is not correct.

QUESTION:  It was not —

MR PRICE:  That is not correct.

QUESTION:  It was not the United States that pulled out of the deal?

MR PRICE:  You’re – I am referring to last September.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE:  You may be going further back.

QUESTION:  Yeah.

MR PRICE:  Look, we can relitigate this.  We have also made no secret of the fact that this administration considers the decision on the part of the last administration to withdraw from the JCPOA one of the greatest strategic blunders of American foreign policy in recent years.

Will.

QUESTION:  Just one more on the visa issue.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE:  Will, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Just one more on the visa issue.  Would it be out of the ordinary for a head of state, head of government to arrive in this country on something other than an A visa?

MR PRICE:  I would be hard pressed to think of a scenario in which a sitting head of state or a diplomat and would travel to the United States on a – something other than an A visa if that person were here in furtherance of official business.  As diplomats – I’ll use me; I assume I have a Privacy Act waiver for myself – if I were to take a vacation in a foreign country, I wouldn’t travel on my diplomatic visa.  I would use my tourist visa.  You could imagine a foreign diplomat or a foreign head of state coming to the United States purely for tourism purposes and not traveling on an A visa, but I couldn’t speak to any particular —

QUESTION:  Was that the case for Bolsonaro, or —

MR PRICE:  (Laughter.)  Go ahead.  Yes.

QUESTION:  I want – on Iran; I will also follow up on Brazil.  So you say that the Iranians have swiftly killed the prospects of a swift return to the JCPOA, and also you’ve said your preference is diplomacy.  And also you are saying that it’s incredibly improbable that the Iranians are going to return to the table.  So the question is:  How – can you convince us how the President is going to achieve his commitment that the Iranians will not acquire a nuclear weapon while the situation right now is like this, Iranians are out —

MR PRICE:  Well, history can be instructive.  It can be instructive in a case like this when we have a long history of pursuing this road with our partners and allies vis-à-vis Iran.  The reason we were able – in 2012, 2013, ultimately 2013 and 2014, with the JPOA, subsequently with the JCPOA – to arrive at a diplomatic arrangement was because we worked with allies and partners around the world to put significant economic pressure on Iran.  What ultimately brought Iran to the table was not a strategic change in mentality on the part of the regime.  It was, I think, a realization that they were under tremendous economic duress.  And rather than provide them with a strategic asset, their nuclear program at the time was a strategic liability.  It’s our goal to ensure that Iran continues to feel pressure until and unless it changes course.

Now, you can do that as the United States – the last administration attempted to do that with the strategy of maximum pressure.  That clearly didn’t work.  What history teaches us is that economic pressure is most effective when it’s brought to bear with other allies and partners.  And so that’s why we’ve put such a premium on working with our European allies and partners, particularly with the so-called E3, the France – the French, the Brits, and the Germans – in this case, but also bringing along other EU allies and partners, countries around the world to see to it that until and unless the Iranian regime changes its approach, it is going to feel the condemnation but, even more importantly, the economic and diplomatic pressure of the rest of the world.

QUESTION:  And then I have a – excuse me.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yeah, I have a follow-up on Brazil as well.

QUESTION:  I want to follow up on Iran, please.

QUESTION:  Okay, go ahead, please.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) in your approach towards Iran’s nuclear issues is the reason why we keep seeing Iranian regime is holding sham trials, executing its own citizens, because they don’t get strongest message from the West in terms of potential consequences.  You mentioned financial and other prices they might pay.  Can you give us an example of, let’s say, going after Iranian leaders and their children in here in the United States financially and by other tangible steps that you have been taking so far?

MR PRICE:  Alex, we’ve taken a number of tangible steps, and we’ve announced some of those steps even in recent months.  You already alluded to the actions we took last Friday against seven Iranian individuals for their support to Iranian UAV proliferation networks.  We’ve announced sanctions on Iranians’ – on Iran’s petrochemical industry.  We’ve announced sanctions on its oil production industry.  We have announced very tangible actions.

I haven’t seen a roller coaster in terms of this administration.  Our approach has been remarkably steady.  Our approach has been to work day in, day out with allies and partners to present a united front to Iran.

QUESTION:  But they did not prevent Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Mohammad Hosseini from being executed.  I mean, that’s clear not enough, Ned.

MR PRICE:  And Alex, there will be escalating costs for the Iranian regime.  We’re mixing apples and oranges just a bit here; we are talking about its nuclear program, but there are, of course, other hugely important challenges in the relationship, not the least of which is Iran’s treatment of its own citizens.  And this is something that has been put on display with the uprising of the Iranian people, the fact that so many of Iran’s citizens, including at the vanguard its women and girls, have taken to the streets.  And we have seen the disdain that the Iranian regime has for its own people, the brutality with which it has treated its own people.

You raised the most recent executions.  Look, we are appalled by Iran’s executions of Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Mohammad Hosseini, and the sentencing, I should add, of additional individuals to death for involvement in protests.  These two individuals were put to death following what can only be called sham trials, sham trials that were rushed, that lacked any fair trial guarantees.  We condemn these executions in the strongest terms.

But these executions are, in our estimation at least, a key component of Iranian authorities’ brutal effort – their brutal effort to suppress peaceful protests that began in September following the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the so-called morality police.  We’re deeply concerned that Iranian authorities may imminently execute other Iranians after sham trials that similarly lack fair trial guarantees, especially teenagers and youth, as part of their brutal crackdown.

The young people of Iran, it is clear, are bearing the brunt of this repression, of this brutality.  And we’re aware of reports that several young people have had their sentences upheld and, as I mentioned, may be at imminent risk of execution.  Rather than listen to the young people, to the women, to the girls of Iran, the regime is trying to silence them, and in some cases the regime is even killing them.

Anything else on Iran?  Or – yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Earlier on I was going to ask you my follow-up question.  So you tried to actually avoid questions about the ex-president of Brazil here.  I’m just trying to directly ask you:  Are you ready – you said you are going to cooperate with the investigators in Brazil.  Are you ready to cooperate to an extent to extradite the president of Brazil to the country if they need him there?

MR PRICE:  As I have said before, we are ready to respond swiftly and as appropriate to any requests from the Brazilian Government.  We have not yet received any such requests.

QUESTION:  And also one more, please.

MR PRICE:  Okay.

QUESTION:  I’m sorry.  So – my questions were broken down, but anyway.  Canada has announced that they have made an – reached an agreement with the United States about the F-35, 88 F-35s.  Do you have anything on that?  Could you —

MR PRICE:  I don’t, and typically we would not speak to any potential arms transfers until and unless we’ve notified them to Congress.

Yes.

QUESTION:  Going back to Iran again, and on executions.

MR PRICE:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Do you have anything other than statements, like are you pushing for any sort of international effort?  Because Canada today, they imposed five sanctions.  European countries are summoning Iranian diplomats.  Do you have anything other than statements?

MR PRICE:  Yes, absolutely.  It’s precisely why at the United Nations last year we pushed for the Commission of Inquiry.  We pushed for the commission so that it is not only the United States watching closely, as we always are; it is not only other countries, our European allies among them, watching closely, as they always are; but to see to it that the world’s preeminent body in many respects has a standing commission that is solely and exclusively trained on the brutality that the Iranian regime is perpetrating against its own citizens.  It was hugely important that we were able to create this entity.  It’s hugely important that this entity is able to fulfill its important mandate.  We are going to continue to help the Commission of Inquiry fulfill the mission that was set out for it, just as we continue to train the eyes of the UN, of our partners, on what’s happening to the Iranian people.

QUESTION:  And on JCPOA, you mentioned about working with allies, European allies.  One of the things you can do is to ask them to activate snapback mechanism.  That’s one way of working with allies.  And why you don’t do that?

MR PRICE:  This is a decision for our European partners.  This goes back to some of the questions we’ve talked about earlier – the historical antecedents that describe why we are not in the JCPOA, why we are not in a position ourselves to have a vote one way or another on snapback.  This is a question for the Europeans.

Yes.

QUESTION:  Going back to the virtual meeting between Russia President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, is it still the U.S. position that the China is not providing material assistance to Russia amid its war on Ukraine?  The reason I ask is I want to know if you have anything on reports that Russia An-124 military transport aircrafts’ frequent visit to China, including various cities like Zhengzhou, Shanghai, Guangzhou, et cetera.  Is there any indication that material assistance has been provided to Russia via – through these types of transports?

MR PRICE:  I don’t have a new assessment to offer.  It is still very much the position of the U.S. Government that we are, number one, watching very closely; number two, if we see the provision of security assistance to Russia for use in Ukraine to do what Russia has been doing to the people of Ukraine, to the state of Ukraine, to the Government of Ukraine, or if we see the PRC taking action to systemically assist Russia evade sanctions, of course there will be costs.

Yes.

QUESTION:  How closely is U.S. monitoring the An-124 military transports to China, back and forth?

MR PRICE:  We are – we are very closely watching all of this.

QUESTION:  And one final, generally speaking on U.S.-China relationship.  Like, what type of people-to-people exchange programs do you envision that could be resumed or achieved in 2023?

MR PRICE:  Well, I don’t have any programs to speak to today.  But when we talk about the bilateral relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, we typically refer to the government-to-government relationship; that’s what we call the most consequential bilateral relationship on the planet.  But it is a relationship that transcends governments.  It is a relationship that has a private sector, a business and economic element that is driven and led by the private sector.

But there’s also a vibrant people-to-people element, and there may be ways to make that people-to-people element even more vibrant, whether that is through exchanges, whether it’s through new programs, restarting defunct programs.  We’re going to look at all of that to see to it that we have a relationship that, first and foremost, is serving the interests of the United States, but a relationship that is also serving our people.  Ultimately, that’s what we seek to do.

Yeah.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Ned.  On the Under Secretary Fernandez visit to Seoul this week, will the Under Secretary Fernandez discuss the IRA issue during his visit?  Is there any optimistic solution to South Koreans’ electric vehicles subsidies?

MR PRICE:  So I imagine this will be a topic of conversation when Jose Fernandez is in Korea this week.  He’ll then be traveling to Tokyo to take part in the Indo-Pacific Business Forum, as I mentioned at the top.  Just as we’ve said with our European allies, this is a consequential piece of legislation.  It’s a complicated piece of legislation.  It’s a large piece of legislation.  And so we are prepared to work with our allies and partners, in this case, of course, with the ROK, to talk about implementation of this legislation and ways we can work to take into account those concerns.

QUESTION:  What is the U.S. position about the Hyundai Motor Company’s statement that it will reconsider investment in the United States if South Korea’s electric vehicles subsidy is not reserved?

MR PRICE:  I wouldn’t weigh in on the statement of a private company.  Obviously, our relationship with the ROK, it is extraordinarily multifaceted, and one of those facets is the private sector two-way investment.  By two-way, I mean American companies investing in South Korea, South Korean companies investing in the United States.  We want to make sure that two-way pipeline is as robust as we can accomplish, and that’s part of the reason why Under Secretary Fernandez is in Korea this week.

Yes.

QUESTION:  I have a question on Türkiye.  I heard you last week.  You spoke again highly of Türkiye as a very important ally of NATO and United States.  But Türkiye accuse both NATO and United States of cooperation with terrorists.  They mean the Kurds of Syria, I think.  Are the Syrian Kurds of the YPG – are your allies?  Or they are terrorists, as Türkiye says?

MR PRICE:  Well, there is no denying that Türkiye faces a complex security environment.  Türkiye has endured more terrorist attacks than any other NATO Ally.  We want to work with Türkiye to address its security concerns.  We believe that we can work with Türkiye to address those concerns while still prosecuting the shared challenge that we have in Syria, and that is to see to it that ISIS is not a position to reconstitute.

The Coalition to Defeat ISIS or Daesh has achieved significant gains in recent years.  We don’t want to see to it that those significant gains are put at risk or, worse, rolled back.  And so of course we’re going to continue to have close consultations with Türkiye on this.  We understand and appreciate their position, we recognize their position, and we need to continue our close coordination and cooperation with Türkiye on these very shared challenges.

QUESTION:  Yeah, but you cooperate at the same time with the YPG, correct?

MR PRICE:  Our Kurdish partners on the ground have been an important element in that campaign that I referenced to take on and to roll back and ultimately to eliminate Daesh.  Of course there are terrorist groups that pose a threat to Türkiye.  The PKK is one of them.  We have been clear about that.  We can work to address Türkiye’s legitimate security concerns without losing sight of what is ultimately our shared objective, and that is to see to it that ISIS is not in a position to regain strength or to reconstitute itself.

QUESTION:  So if I write that the Syrian Kurds are not terrorists and they are your allies, I am correct?

MR PRICE:  You’re painting with a very broad brush.  I am speaking to specific security concerns.  But I’ll tell who is an ally: Türkiye is an ally.  We look forward to continuing to work closely with Türkiye on shared concerns.

Yes.

QUESTION:  So you’re not ready for the pronunciation change?  (Laughter.)  That’s my question.

MR PRICE:  I suspected you might be going here.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Well, I’m just curious.

MR PRICE:  There, of course, is always in all of our policies built-in leeway when it comes to pronunciation.

QUESTION:  Right.

MR PRICE:  And of course, we always beg your —

QUESTION:  So Daesh and ISIS.

MR PRICE:  We always beg your forbearance when it comes to pronunciation.  I certainly do, given my own pronunciation.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MR PRICE:  But just as the Board on Geographic Names allowed for some leeway in certain circumstances where we can promote broader public understanding, I am going to stick with the previous pronunciation?

QUESTION:  Has anyone asked the Board of Geographic Names on a – about the Czechs?

MR PRICE:  You are welcome to as an enterprising journalist.

QUESTION:  Well, I’m just wondering if – because there’s been – we’ve been – a lot has been made about Swaziland to Eswatini.

MR PRICE:  Sure, sure.  And I —

QUESTION:  Macedonia, North Macedonia.

MR PRICE:  I am not aware of —

QUESTION:  What about Czechia?

MR PRICE:  I am not aware of a request that we’ve seen on —

QUESTION:  They are a NATO Ally.

MR PRICE:  I am not aware of a request we have received from our Czech allies to have their name formally – or the spelling of their name changed, but I would check in with them.

QUESTION:  Czech?

MR PRICE:  No pun intended.  (Laughter.)

Yes.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Well done.

QUESTION:  When last week you announced the largest PDA package for Ukraine, the Pentagon said that the purpose of this was to change the dynamic on the battlefield.  And I’m wondering, does it mean that you are concerned about the current dynamic, and do you feel that it’s going the wrong direction?

And a second one, if I may on – over several weeks now, we have official statements highlighting the growing role of the Wagner Group and Yevgeny Prigozhin becoming an alternative center of power in to the Russian military.  And I wonder if this is a source of concern for you, or maybe hope because it’s a sign of change?

MR PRICE:  Sure.  So on your first question, there are several dynamics at play in Ukraine.  One dynamic is the dynamic that you’ve heard from us, from our Ukrainian partners, and that is the dynamic under which they have demonstrated consistently their resilience but also their effectiveness on the battlefield, wresting back thousands upon thousands of square miles of territory that Russia had laid claim to, that Russia had forcibly taken at one point from Ukraine, that is now back where it belongs in Ukrainian hands.

But the broader dynamic is one in which there remain thousands upon thousands of Russian forces on sovereign Ukrainian territory with Russian assets regularly raining down firepower onto Ukraine’s towns, its cities, targeting civilian infrastructure.

So that is a dynamic of course that we would seek to change, a dynamic that the provision of this additional security assistance – some $3 billion when you take into account the Presidential Drawdown Authority and the Foreign Military Financing that we announced last Friday – will seek to change because it provides additional capabilities, new capabilities in this case, including armored fighting vehicles but also the type of air defense systems that our Ukrainian partners have used to such extraordinary effect to take on the threat from Iranian-produced UAVS, in some cases eliminating every single drone before it’s able to pose an imminent threat to Ukrainian citizens, but more broadly protecting Ukrainian infrastructure, protecting the Ukrainian people.  So our goal is to continue and we will continue to support our Ukrainian partners for as long as it takes.

On your second point – I wasn’t – it was on Prigozhin but —

QUESTION:  Yeah, and like how do you assess this?  You highlight that his well is drying, and like that his – he’s becoming an alternative center of power to the Russian military.  So I don’t know if you see it as a positive they opened or not.

MR PRICE:  Well, it certainly reeks of desperation.  It certainly suggests that the Russians are becoming increasingly – turning to increasingly drastic means to project force beyond Russia’s borders into Ukraine.  There are now tens of thousands of fighters associated not with the Russian military, but with the Wagner Group.  And if you look at the backgrounds of so many of these fighters, these are not highly trained infantry men, these are convicts.  In many cases these are individuals who have been accused and convicted of heinous crimes, violent crimes – murder, rape – who are now fighting in Ukraine because they’ve been promised pardon or leniency.  That itself is repugnant.  Human rights groups have condemned it as extralegal.  We have made the point that it reeks of desperation.  It’s not going to change the ultimate tide of battle.

A couple of final questions, Michael?

QUESTION:  Yeah, real quick, do you have any update on the Edwin Chiloba case in Kenya?  And has the U.S. offered any sort of assistance to the Kenyan authorities to investigate the murder?

MR PRICE:  Well, of course we commented on the death, the tragic death, apparent killing of Edwin Chiloba last week.  We’ve sent our condolences to his family, to his loved ones, but also to the LGBTQI+ community in Kenya during their time of mourning.  There were so many in that community in Kenya who benefited from his leadership, from his visibility, from his support.  Violence against LGBTQI+ persons or anyone, of course, is unacceptable.  But when violence stems from possible bias or stigma, it indirectly harms all members of the targeted community.

Ultimately, acts of intolerance – ultimate – the ultimate act of intolerance has no place in free and open societies.  We made the point last week that we urge and expect the Kenyans to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into his death.  And of course, if there’s anything we can do to assist, we stand ready to do that.

Yes, Camilla.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  Just quickly again on the diplomatic visa without mentioning any names, if someone came into the U.S. as a head of state on an A-1 visa and then was hospitalized and then their visa ran out – (laughter) – and then their visa ran out, would they be permitted to stay in hospital in the U.S. as long as they need?  And completely separately, do you have any comment on former President Bolsonaro being in hospital in Florida?

MR PRICE:  On your second question, I’m aware of the reports that he has been hospitalized.  Of course he’s a private citizen, so we wouldn’t comment on that from here.  And on your first question, I wouldn’t want to even weigh in.

Yes.

QUESTION:  Quick one last thing.  With all the events this week with Japanese prime minister in town, the case of Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis, who’s imprisoned in Japan – how front and center should we expect that be?  Has Secretary Blinken raised his case with his Japanese counterpart? Would you expect President Biden to raise this with Kishida?

MR PRICE:  We of course have a close relationship with our Japanese allies.  That close relationship will be on full display this week when Secretary Blinken meets with his counterpart, when – with Foreign Minister Hayashi; when later in the day he and Secretary Austin meet jointly with their counterparts in the context of the so-called 2+2; and then on Friday, of course, when President Biden meets with Prime Minister Kishida of Japan.

It’s a relationship that allows us to broach every issue.  Of course we are prepared to discuss this case.  It’s a tragic case for all involved.  We’re working to find a compassionate resolution to this case, but I wouldn’t want to go further than that in public.

QUESTION:  Has the Secretary raised this with his Japanese counterpart before today?  Because you’re saying we’re “prepared” to.

MR PRICE:  This case has been discussed with our Japanese allies.

Yes.

QUESTION:  On Azerbaijan, I was wondering if you have anything for me on the leading opposition figure Tofig Yagublu’s arrest, and also he is in jail and hunger strike along with several others, including Bakhtiyar Hajiyev.

MR PRICE:  So we’re deeply troubled by the arrest and detention of Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and Tofig Yagublu.  We urge the authorities to release them expeditiously.  We remain strongly committed to advancing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.  And again, we urge the government to expect[i] its citizens’ right, including the rights to express views peacefully.

Yeah, Shaun, final question.

QUESTION:  Just briefly —

MR PRICE:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Just one of the things you mentioned at the top, Pakistan and the assistance.  Pakistan at the donors conference today, the resilience conference in Geneva, said that this is time to relax IMF conditions, the restructuring package.  Does the U.S. have any stance on that and whether this aid is contingent on continued reforms in Pakistan?

MR PRICE:  This is ultimately a decision for the IMF, so would defer to them on that.  We of course want to see Pakistan continue down the path of reform.  We want to be a partner.  We will continue to be a Pakistan – a partner to Pakistan when it comes to all of their priorities, whether it’s security, whether it’s economic in this case, or humanitarian in the case of the provision of the additional funding for the flood relief today.

Thank you all very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:09 p.m.)


[i] Respect

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