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Department Press Briefing – September 26, 2022

1:52 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: We saw many of you last week in New York. Speaking of last week in New York, the world came together last week to spotlight and – in nearly all cases – reaffirm the principles at the core of the UN Charter. President Biden cited one of his predecessors, President Truman, who heralded the charter as proof that nations can, quote “state their differences, can face them, and then can find common ground on which to stand.”

And last week we witnessed a tremendous amount of common ground among the UN’s member- states regarding Russia’s illegal, unjustified invasion of Ukraine. Country after country – in both the Security Council and General Assembly – condemned Russia’s war and called for an end to the invasion.

They did so because not only is the Kremlin’s war an assault on Ukraine, but it is also a stark affront to the principles at the heart of the UN Charter: sovereignty, the independence of states, the inviolability of national borders, the tenets of peace and security.

These are the principles that apply equally in Europe as they do anywhere – and everywhere – around the world.

The statements from world leaders in New York crystallized the stakes, but so too did the statements and actions that emanated from Moscow. President Putin did perhaps as much as anyone last week to further isolate Russia and bolster international resolve to stand with Ukraine.

His nuclear saber-rattling, the sham referenda, his partial mobilization, and the broad – and sometimes violent – crackdown on Russians exercising their universal rights were galvanizing, but almost certainly not in the way that President Putin intended.

These actions from President Putin signal very – signal very clearly that he knows he is losing. He’s on his back heels. And he’s making every attempt to intimidate those who would stand up to him. We – along with our allies and partners around the world – are not going to bow to intimidation.

So let me state once again: the so-called referenda Russia is holding right now in the sovereign Ukrainian regions of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk, and Donetsk are a total sham. The United States will never recognize seized Ukrainian territory as anything other than part of Ukraine. We stand by Ukraine’s sovereignty.

As you saw today, we are increasing our support to our Ukrainian partners. The Secretary announced an additional $457.5 million in civilian security assistance to enhance the efforts of Ukrainian law enforcement and criminal justice agencies to improve their operational capacity and save lives as they continue to help defend the Ukrainian people, their freedom, and their democracy from the Kremlin’s brutal war of aggression.

This new tranche of aid brings the total – brings the total the United States has committed to our Ukrainian law enforcement and criminal justice partners, since mid-December 2021, to more than $645 million. The provision of additional protective equipment, medical supplies, and armored vehicles to the National Police of Ukraine and the State Border Guard Service has significantly reduced casualties for Ukrainian civilians and their defenders.

In addition to continuing and expanding our direct assistance to Ukrainian law enforcement, a portion of this new assistance will also continue U.S. support for the Ukrainian government’s efforts to document, investigate, and prosecute atrocities perpetrated by Russia’s forces, drawing on our longstanding relationship with the Ukrainian criminal justice agencies.

The United States stands side by side with the Ukrainian people, and we remain committed to supporting a democratic, independent, and sovereign Ukraine.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Just on the additional aid, is it possible – you don’t have to do it here, but if someone’s got it – to break that down in terms of what goes to – I’m particularly interested in how much is going to go to the prosecutors and the – for the investigation, but it would be good to know if we could get – how much is going to go armored vehicles and how much is going to go to PPE and that kind of thing.

MR PRICE: Understood.

QUESTION: Is that possible to do?

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, which is not Ukraine specifically – and I know that your colleague at the White House was asked about this – but you’ve seen President Putin giving Russian citizenship to Edward Snowden. Back in 2013 when you guys – this building, the State Department during the Obama administration – revoked his passport, it was made clear by one of your predecessors that this did not affect his citizenship; that he was still, as far as the U.S. Government is concerned, an American citizen. And I just want to know if that is still – and I’m not asking about any kind of prosecution, so please don’t refer me to the Justice Department. Is it still the belief of the administration that he is a U.S. citizen?

MR PRICE: I’m not aware of any change in his citizenship status. I am —

QUESTION: Right.

MR PRICE: — familiar with the fact that he has in some ways denounced his American citizenship. I don’t know that he’s renounced it.

QUESTION: Right. Well, no, he hasn’t. And in fact, when he applied for citizenship, he said he wasn’t going to renounce it. But I just —

MR PRICE: And —

QUESTION: But there are ways in which the U.S. Government can revoke one’s citizenship. And as far as I know, he doesn’t meet any of the – or hasn’t met any of the criteria yet. One of the four is committing an act of treason, which I know you’ll refer to the Justice Department on. But I just want to make sure that as far as you’re concerned, he remains an American citizen, so he is now a dual U.S.-Russian citizen.

MR PRICE: Our position has not changed. Mr. Snowden should return to the United States, where he should face justice as any other American citizen would. Perhaps the only thing that has changed is that, as a result of his Russian citizenship, apparently now he may well be conscripted to fight in Russia’s war in Ukraine.

QUESTION: All right, last thing and this has to do specifically with your comments about President Putin and his – what he did last – the reaction to what he has recently announced last week at the UN as it – or during the UN as it relates to sovereignty and territorial integrity. And I just want to make sure that I understand correctly that your “one China” policy, right, means that Taiwan is part of China and that you respect Chinese territorial integrity and sovereignty over Taiwan.

MR PRICE: Matt, our “one China” policy has not changed. Our “one China” policy has not changed in the sum of 40 years.

QUESTION: Well, what does your “one China” policy say about Chinese territorial integrity for —

MR PRICE: Very, very basically, we don’t take a position on sovereignty. But our “one China” policy has not changed. That is a – that is a position we made very clear in public. It is a position that Secretary Blinken made very clear in private to Wang Yi when he met with him on Friday.

QUESTION: Does that mean that Taiwan is part of China? I mean, it’s one China, right?

MR PRICE: Again, Said, our one policy – our “one China” policy has not changed. We don’t take a position on s sovereignty. But the policy that has been at the crux of our approach to Taiwan since 1979 remains in effect today.

What we want to see continue, what we want to see preserved, is the status quo – precisely because the status quo since 1979, more than 40 years now, has undergirded peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. We want to see that continue. Unfortunately, I don’t believe the same could be said of the PRC, which has become only more coercive and intimidating in its actions and its maneuvers across the Taiwan Strait.

Andrea.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, can – if Vladimir Putin has conferred Russian citizenship on Edward Snowden today as they say, does that mean he automatically loses his American citizenship, whether or not he’s renounced it?

MR PRICE: I’m not aware of any change in his American citizenship status. I’m not aware that anything has happened yet when it comes to that. Mr. Snowden is apparently now a Russian citizen, and again, that makes him subject to any Russian decrees that may come down, including the one we heard about last week.

QUESTION: What are your bets on that? Let me ask you a China question —

QUESTION: One second. This is kind of interesting. Because if he is now – you say he’s now a Russian citizen, but he’s also an American citizen, right?

MR PRICE: Well, I didn’t say that. I said the – obviously, the Russians have put out a formal decree.

QUESTION: Yes, exactly.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: But, so apparently he is both, U.S. and Russian citizen. Now, when it comes to Iran – so U.S. – American – the Iranian Government does not treat U.S. dual-nationals as dual‑nationals, right? They treat them only as single, and you deplore that and you denounce it when they get arrested and charged under Iranian law. And yet here, you seem to be happy by the – or you seem to be enjoying the idea —

MR PRICE: There’s —

QUESTION: — that somehow now as a Russian citizen, Ed Snowden could – Edward Snowden could be conscripted.

MR PRICE: There’s no emotion attached to my voice, Matt. I am just saying that a Russian citizen – he would presumably be subject to Russian laws.

Andrea.

QUESTION: A related question on China. Can you tell us whether during the President’s – excuse me, the Secretary of State’s meeting with Wang Yi on Friday he brought up the issue of wrongfully detained American Kai Li who’s been detained for five years in China?

MR PRICE: In just about every single one of our engagements around the world at senior levels, we raise cases of American detainees, Americans who are wrongfully detained; when appropriate and applicable, Americans who are being held hostage around the world. We have consistently raised cases of Americans who are wrongfully detained in China or who are otherwise unable to freely depart the PRC. We will continue to do that until such cases are resolved.

QUESTION: Well, was it raised in this instance on Friday?

MR PRICE: I’m – it is something we consistently raise.

QUESTION: But that doesn’t – that doesn’t – can you take the question of whether it was raised on Friday?

MR PRICE: It is – we issued a readout of this. It’s something we consistently raise. But we’re not in a position to go beyond that readout.

QUESTION: What is the latest on Kai Li case, and do we have consular access?

MR PRICE: We’ll have to get back to you on the question of consular access. But these are cases that we regularly do discuss with our PRC counterparts. These are cases that the embassy in Beijing routinely works on, just in the same way that our embassies around the world work on behalf of American citizens who are wrongfully detained, but when it comes to all instances of Americans who are detained around the world to provide them appropriate consular support in line with the Vienna Convention on consular access.

QUESTION: One last China and Russia and Korea, okay, Chinese issues. There are reports that Russia is pushing to recruit Chinese Russian soldiers to fight Ukraine. If this is true, then China will engage in military cooperation with Russia. How would you assess this? Did you ever hear about this?

MR PRICE: Could you repeat the first part of the question?

QUESTION: Yeah. There are reports that Russia is pushing to China – I mean Chinese Russian soldiers to fight Ukraine – I mean, this – who are Chinese living in Russia (inaudible).

MR PRICE: Chinese nationals living in Russia who wouldn’t go fight in Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PRICE: I am not familiar with these reports. With – as I mentioned a moment ago, when it comes to the Secretary’s engagement with Wang Yi on Friday, there was a discussion of Russia and its illegal, unjustified invasion of Ukraine. This, of course, was also a topic of conversation at the UN. We heard from Wang Yi himself in the UN Security Council. Wang Yi, during that setting, made very clear that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be safeguarded, the purposes and principles of the UN Charter should be abided by, all parties concerned should exercise restraint and avoid words and deeds that aggravate confrontation.

So the test will be whether these words from the PRC are actually implemented. We have made clear, and the Secretary made clear again to his PRC counterpart on Friday, that we are watching very closely. We know that Russia has sought assistance from the PRC. We know early on in this conflict that Russia lodged a request for military assistance. We made that public at the time. We warned both publicly and privately at the time that the PRC would face consequences if it provided security assistance to Russia or if it assisted Russia, in a systematic way, evade sanctions.

We haven’t seen the PRC do either of those. We’re continuing to watch very closely. But again, our message to the PRC has been a simple one: China should not make Russia’s problems China’s problems.

QUESTION: But recently Xi Jinping, Chinese prime – I mean, President Xi Jinping and the Russian President Putin have a meeting together. You never know what they – they’re talking about, what kind of conversation they did. So how you going to trust China and Russia? That’s – their trust is very important.

MR PRICE: We’re not trusting, we’re verifying. We are looking at every single bit of information we have. We have seen nothing as of yet, at least, to indicate that the PRC is taking a different approach when it comes to security assistance, when it comes to efforts to systematically help Russia evade sanctions. But we’re continuing to watch. We know that conversations – including at high levels, as we saw in Samarkand the other week – between the PRC and Russia are ongoing.

What I will say is that if you look at President Putin’s words, if you look at President Xi’s words, if you read Wang Yi’s words, the very words I just referred to, you hear the PRC expressing a degree of unease with what Russia is doing in Ukraine. And that’s really no surprise. It’s no surprise because Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine is not only, as I said at the top, an assault on Ukraine, it is an assault, a brutal assault on the UN Charter, on the UN system, on every member state of the United Nations that subscribes to them.

So it’s no wonder that the PRC is expressing varying degrees of reservations. The real test, though, will be if those apparent reservations, this apparent discomfort with what Russia is doing in Ukraine, will actually contour what the PRC does in its approach.

QUESTION: One more quick. The South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said that yesterday in the event of dispute between China and Taiwan, the possibility of a North Korean provocation would increase. Does the United States wants South Korea to support U.S. defense to Taiwan?

MR PRICE: We have an ironclad alliance with our South Korean partners. It is an alliance that is built not only on shared interests in the Indo-Pacific but also on shared values. And one of the many reasons for our support for the people on Taiwan is the fact that we share values with the people on Taiwan. That is also true of our South Korean allies. So we have a shared interest, together with South Korea, together with our other allies in the region, in upholding a free and open Indo-Pacific. That’s something we routinely discuss and something we routinely act upon.

Yes, Guita.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR PRICE: Sure. Anything else on China?

QUESTION: Russia?

MR PRICE: Let’s – we’ll go to Iran, then we’ll come back to Russia.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you, Ned. Today was the tenth day of continuous protests in Iran. The Biden administration has sanctioned people and in today’s – it has issued the general license for providing technology to Iranian people for communication. But that hasn’t stopped the law enforcement from killing people, and their number is rising. What can the U.S. administration to stop the killing?

MR PRICE: Let me first start by saying that we, of course, condemn the violence, the brutality that is being exhibited by Iran’s security forces. The ongoing violent suppression of what are peaceful protests following Mahsa Amini’s death is appalling. We are aware that security forces have killed dozens of protesters. We believe it is incumbent upon the international community to speak out, to make clear where they stand when it comes to the exercise of what should be universal rights, rights that are – belong to the people of Iran as much as they do to people anywhere and everywhere across the globe. We’re closely following these developments. Iran’s leaders should be listening to the protesters, not firing on them. Unfortunately, this regime is one that has a long history of using violence against those who would peacefully exercise those universal rights.

The United States, whether it is protesters in Iran, whether it is protesters in Russia, whether it is peaceful protesters around the world, we support the rights of these individuals – these Iranians, in this case – to peacefully assemble and to express themselves without fear of violence or detention by security forces. We are going to continue to do a couple things. We, as you know, as you alluded to, are holding to account the so-called morality police, the entity that is responsible for Mahsa Amini’s death. We sanctioned seven other individuals who have been involved in Iran’s repression over the years. And we are doing what we can to enable the people of Iran to exercise those universal rights.

And you mentioned the general license that we issued on Friday. People – countries around the world have an interest in seeing to it that the people of Iran can communicate freely with one another, can communicate freely with the rest of the world. And we all have an interest in knowing about what’s going on inside of Iran, what the brave Iranian people are peacefully doing in response to the tragic death of Mahsa Amini.

QUESTION:  You mentioned the Biden administration urges the international community to speak out. Well, Germany has summoned – today summoned the Iranian ambassador to Berlin and apparently asked him not to suppress the people. But that’s not going to stop the law enforcement. And would – do you think maybe he’s recalling ambassadors from Iran? Would that be a more effective means of Iran’s isolation and maybe rethinking of their policy?

MR PRICE:  This is going to be a sovereign decision on the part of countries around the world. We have encouraged and we do encourage, we are encouraging, countries around the world to lend, of course, rhetorical support to these Iranians who are doing nothing more than exercising peacefully their universal rights. For our part, we have used our own authorities. We have granted a license using a Treasury Department authority. But different countries are going to have different approaches. What is less important to us is that these approaches are identical. What is more important to us is that these approaches are complementary, that they work together to support both the rights and the aspirations of the people of Iran.

QUESTION:  Can I follow up on Iran?

MR PRICE:  Well, Said, you’ve already asked. Let me go over here. Please.

QUESTION:  So not that I question how Mahsa Amini, or Jina Amini, as she was calling herself, died. We’ve spoken to her family members, that they’ve kind of confirmed how she died. But I’m just curious: How did you determine that she was killed by morality police? Because the Iranian Government is trying to float the idea that she died as a result of heart attack, this attack or that – not other issue.

MR PRICE:  There are certain facts of this case that don’t seem to be in dispute. Mahsa Amini was arrested. Mahsa Amini, of course, was alive at the time of her arrest. There is video of her after her arrest. And some time later, she was dead, after spending time in the custody of the so-called morality police. The facts don’t seem that complicated.

QUESTION:  And then on the General License D-2, there are – so the Starlink services that has kind of given a lot of hope to a lot of Iranians. But does the general license, does that also include hardware? Because the terminals and the dishes that requires to use some service like the Starlink, does that also include hardware for – to give to Iran?

MR PRICE:  So the short answer is yes. Both GLD-2, the general license we issued last week, but also GLD-1, the general license that we issued in 2014 under the Obama-Biden administration, includes some forms of hardware. Let me – this is not a simple issue, so let me give you a little bit more context.

GLD-2 expands authorizations for software services, but it does continue to authorize certain hardware, including residential consumer satellite terminals that were already authorized under GLD-1, the general license from 2014. General licenses are self-executing. What that means is that anyone who meets the criteria outlined in this general license can proceed with their activities without requesting additional permissions from the U.S. Government.

Now, some types of equipment, including some – including certain commercial uses and worked with – work with sanctioned entities, still require a specific license from Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, before they can be exported to Iran. But on Friday, OFAC also expanded its policy for issuing case-by-case specific licenses, and now OFAC will prioritize any request for a specific license pertaining to internet freedom in Iran.

So back to your question on Starlink. If SpaceX, in this case, were to determine that some activity aimed at Iranians requires a specific license – again, this would need to be a judgment that SpaceX and its lawyers would come to on their own – OFAC would welcome it and would prioritize it. By the same token, if SpaceX determines that its activity is already authorized – again, owing to the self-executing nature of these general licenses – OFAC would welcome any engagement, including if SpaceX or any other company were to have questions about the applicability of this general license or the 2014 general license to their envisioned activity.

QUESTION: And just quickly, to revisit her question, so more than 30 people have died on the hands of Iranian authorities. Will we see tougher reaction from the U.S. or just that first sanction on the Iranian morality police?

MR PRICE: We’re doing two things. As we were talking about in the context of this general license, we are taking steps that we can to facilitate the ability of the Iranian people to communicate with one another, to communicate with the rest of the world – essentially doing what we can to support the peaceful aspirations of the Iranian people for greater levels of freedom and for the respect of rights that are universal to them.

At the same time, we’re also going – we have held to account and we will continue to hold to account those Iranians who are responsible for acts of violence, for acts of repression against their own people. Of course, the sanctions that we issued on Thursday of last week, the sanctions against morality – so-called morality police and the seven other individuals, those are not the first human rights sanctions we’ve levied against Iran. They will not be the last human rights sanctions we levy against Iran.

Let me move around to people who have not asked questions. Kylie.

QUESTION: So Elon Musk has said in recent days that in order for Starlink to work in Iran, there would have to be a terminal in the country that would enable it to actually be activated, and he said that would require someone smuggling that terminal into the country, which would be challenging because the Iranian Government doesn’t want it there. Does the U.S. support someone smuggling that into the country if you are in a position right now where you are supporting bringing freedom of internet to the Iranians?

MR PRICE: We have – the Treasury Department through the general license has taken steps that, through its self-executing capacity, authorizes additional companies to provide software – in some cases hardware – that would be operational in Iran. Of course, we’re not going to speak to what would be required for any such hardware to get into Iran. It is our charge, it is our responsibility to see to it that there are no restrictions – U.S. Government restrictions – that would prevent relevant software and in some cases hardware from being operational inside of Iran.

QUESTION: But isn’t that action on behalf of Treasury a bit meaningless if they can’t actually get the hardware into the country?

MR PRICE: Again, it is our charge to see to it that the Iranian people have what they need to communicate with one another, to communicate with the rest of the world. Private companies are going to take steps that they deem appropriate, whether it’s the authorization, the use of software inside of Iran, or the provision of hardware to the people of Iran.

QUESTION: And just one more question. Are you encouraging allies of the United States to support this effort, allies that may have diplomats or diplomatic presence in Iran?

MR PRICE: We are supporting countries around the world to do what they can to support the aspirations of the Iranian people for greater freedom, greater respect for human rights.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that, just very briefly?

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: Our correspondent there an hour or so ago was telling me that there has been no evidence of any internet right now. It’s completely shut down. Have you seen any tangible evidence since Treasury’s announcement on Friday that there is more internet access for people?

MR PRICE: So I couldn’t speak to internet access broadly. What is true is that the Iranian Government has consistently since these protests began cut off or attempted to cut off internet access to large swaths of the Iranian people. By some accounts, the Iranian Government has cut off access for most of its 80 million citizens to prevent them and to prevent the rest of the world from watching the regime’s ongoing violent crackdown against peaceful protesters. And it’s clear from these actions that Iran’s leaders are, in essence, afraid of their own people. And so we are committed to ensuring that the Iranian people can exercise what is, again, a universal right, the universal right to freedom of expression, the universal right to freely access information via the internet, and that’s why we took this step on Friday.

There is reason to believe that companies are taking action pursuant to the general license that was issued on Thursday of last week. We do encourage companies that have questions as to whether their software or whether their capabilities are authorized under this general license to reach out to OFAC, and again, even if this general license doesn’t authorize the specific piece of software or hardware that a company may have in mind, OFAC, as a result of action we took last week, will prioritize a review of specific license. And that is for a very simple reason: We want to do everything we possibly can to support the Iranian people’s exercise of their universal right.

QUESTION: Ned, I – one on this issue. How do you expect this tragic incident to impact the talks, Vienna talks on going back to the deal or not going back to the deal? I mean, does the incident such as the – you, in this case – of going back so quickly or, let’s say, in a short period of time, considering that there’s so much, apparently, opposition to the government in Iran? How do you factor that into it?

MR PRICE: This does – this in no way changes our determination to see to it that Iran can – is permanently and verifiably barred from obtaining a nuclear weapon. It is, of course, a fact, as we’ve made clear, that these negotiations are not in a healthy place right now. We’ve made clear that while we have been sincere and steadfast in our efforts to see to it that Iran is once again permanently and verifiably barred from a nuclear weapon, we haven’t seen the Iranians make the decision, the Iranian Government make the decision that it would need to make if it were to commit to a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

But the simple fact remains that every single challenge we face with the Iranian Government would become more difficult, in some ways more intractable, if Iran were in the possession of a nuclear weapon. We think about that not only in terms of Iran’s ballistic missile program, not only in terms of its support for terrorist groups and proxies, not only in terms of its support in malign activity in cyberspace, but also for the types of human rights abuses that we’re talking about now. Every single challenge we face would become more difficult if Iran were to be in possession of one.

Yes.

QUESTION: The Iranian foreign minister said, I guess on Sunday, that U.S. is still reaching out, saying that we have goodwills, we have good faith, and we want to tailor a deal. Can you confirm that comment?

MR PRICE: Like I said a moment ago, we are determined – the President has a commitment to see to it that Iran can never and will never acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Have you sent any messages in the last 10 days?

MR PRICE: Look, we have made very clear to Iran that we have certain requirements, and we are not going to accept a bad deal. As you heard the Secretary say last night, Iran responded to the most recent proposal in such a way that did not put us in a position to close the deal but actually moved us backwards somewhat. I’m not aware of any further back-and-forth with the EU from Iran. As of now, based on Iran’s positions which it reaffirmed very publicly in New York this week, we don’t see a deal coming together anytime soon.

QUESTION: And do you see any urgency to change your policy towards Iran? There are so many different op-eds being published in recent days urging Biden to change its Iran policy at the moment with what is going on inside Iran. Do you see any urgency to change your policy towards Iran?

MR PRICE: Our policy when it comes to the protests that are ongoing inside Iran?

QUESTION: Protests and also the nuclear.

MR PRICE: Well, these are, of course, separate issues. When it comes to —

QUESTION: Maybe not for Iranian people.

MR PRICE: When it comes to the Iranian people and when it comes to the protests, of course we’re taking action and we have taken action in response to the peaceful protests. We’ve talked – we’ve already spoken to two of those steps, the issuance of the general license and the levying of sanctions against the so-called morality police and the seven individuals. We are going to continue to take steps both on that path towards accountability and to continue to look at steps that would facilitate the Iranian people exercising what are universal rights.

Right now, when it comes to the nuclear path, there doesn’t seem to be a near-term path ahead for us. We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best option to see to it that Iran is never in possession of a nuclear weapon. And we are going to pursue the path of a potential mutual return to the JCPOA for as long as it’s in our national interest but only for as long as it’s in our national interest.

QUESTION: But Ned, I think the point is – is that if you go ahead and get a deal, you’re going to be giving or Iran is going to be getting hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars, in both sanctions relief plus oil revenue. It’s not like they’re going to be using that money to plant flowers around downtown Tehran. Some of that money is going to be – go to further repress the Iranian people, the kind of things that you’re seeing right now. So I guess the question is – her – or another way to phrase that question is, are you okay with that? Are you okay with giving them that massive amount of sanctions relief and allowing them to sell their oil on the open market when you know that some of that money is going to be used to commit human rights abuses?

MR PRICE: Two things, Matt. If – and this is a big if right now – if there is a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, it would remove what would be the most dangerous elements of an Iranian regime into – for perpetuity.

QUESTION: I get that, but you keep saying if. But you also at the same time say that you still believe it is in the U.S. national interest to get a deal.

MR PRICE: As of —

QUESTION: As of today, right?

MR PRICE: As of right now.

QUESTION: So that – that suggests the administration is okay with getting a deal even if it gives them billions potentially of – billions of dollars that they can use to further repress their own people.

MR PRICE: So the first point was the big if associated with a mutual return to compliance, but we remain committed and President Biden has personally made a commitment that Iran will never possess a nuclear weapon. We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve that. If we find ourselves in a position to return to the JCPOA, that does not remove from our arsenal a single tool when it comes to holding Iran accountable for the types of things that we’re talking about now.

QUESTION: But it gives them hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in cash.

MR PRICE: And we would – the sanctions relief, the limited sanctions relief that would come with a mutual return to compliance on Iran’s nuclear program, of course, would be accompanied by the same set of policy options that we have today to take action to hold accountable actors and entities who engage in the very human rights abuses that we’re seeing in the absence of a nuclear deal.

QUESTION: So you’re suggesting that there could be a net zero for Iran if they – if you agree to a deal that you would give them this relief and then take it all back again under the – under the human rights rubric?

MR PRICE: We’re talking about a hypothetical. We’re talking about a hypothetical that —

QUESTION: Or their support for terrorism rubric?

MR PRICE: — is under the umbrella of another hypothetical, so I’m – I’m loathe to continue too far down this path.

QUESTION: Well, but it just seems like you’re willing to make that tradeoff, that you’re willing to give in exchange for a deal, which may or may not work for however long it would last for, but in exchange for that you’re willing to give them all this money, which you know they will use at least some of to further repress these people, to further support their proxies in Yemen and Syria and elsewhere. That’s correct?

MR PRICE: Matt, what is correct is that we have a commitment that Iran will never be in a position to acquire a nuclear weapon. We are going to abide by – we are going to see that commitment carried out. Our preference, our strong preference of course, is to do that diplomatically. If there’s not a deal, we have tools on the table to respond to Iran’s repression. That, by the way, is taking place in a context that is in the absence of a deal. And if there is a deal, if Iran changes course and agrees to the terms that the United States and our European allies are comfortable with, that won’t remove a single tool that we have to respond to Iran’s repression, to respond to its corporate proxies, to respond for its support for terrorist groups.

The simple point is the one I’ve already made. If Iran is in possession of a nuclear weapon or is not permanently and verifiably barred from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon, Iran would and potentially could benefit from a sense of impunity that would come with that – come with that to act even more boldly on – both at home and on the world stage. It is not like Iran is a benevolent actor in the absence of a deal, and there are many data points to suggest that from the period at which the last administration left the JCPOA, at a time when Iran was complying with it, through the period of so-called maximum pressure, Iran’s behavior in the region, its actions against our partners, the potential targeting even of American facilities and personnel – it didn’t become more docile. It became more aggressive, and for our interests it became deadlier.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) – the suppression of people was always there, with JCPOA or without JCPOA. The suppression of people inside Iran was always there. It doesn’t matter if you had a nuclear deal or not.

I want to ask you this, and I want you to please be very clear. Which one is more within your national interest – supporting Iranian people, to be more precise brave Iranian women, or reaching a nuclear deal with Iran? Which one is within your national interest more?

MR PRICE: Both are a national interest of ours. These are core to our interests and to our values. So of course, we are committed, President Biden is committed, to seeing to it that Iran is never in possession of a nuclear weapon. The JCPOA is one diplomatic means by which to achieve that. But we’re also committed to the idea that human rights are at the center of our foreign policy, and you’ve seen us illustrate that. You’ve seen us live up to that even in recent days when it comes to Iran – taking action against the so-called morality police, against individuals, providing the general license, the other steps that we have taken to support the universal rights of the Iranian people. And these are steps that we’ve taken around the world to support the peaceful exercise of universal rights in countries around the world.

Yes, Alex.

QUESTION: I think what we are trying to figure out here is that when you speak to any Iranian activist, they will tell you hey, each time we go out to streets to challenge our leadership, the U.S. supports us, but then U.S. turns behind our back and starts talking to the very regime that actually we question its legitimacy – so that you can’t have both when Iranian people are out there and trying to overthrow the regime.

MR PRICE: Well, to be very clear, the protests that we’re seeing aren’t about the United States. They’re not about us. These protests are about the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people to exercise peacefully the rights that are as much theirs as they are anywhere else. We think all people’s basic rights should be respected. Of course that includes inside Iran. We think that all people should be able to peacefully protest when their basic and universal rights are violated. That includes Iran. We are helping people around the world, including in Iran, access personal telecommunications technology. This, of course, is not a regime change policy. If any government, including the government in Iran, thinks that this is or amounts to a regime change policy, it poses some pretty difficult questions to them about the nature of their regime and why they would fear their own people.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. So you just announced today, before this meeting – before this briefing – that the United States is designating Diana Kajmakovic, a state prosecutor in the Bosnia and Herzegovina – she’s in the state prosecutor’s office. What can you tell us about this case, and can you expect more sanctions in the other countries of the Western Balkans?

MR PRICE: So one of our goals when it comes to the Western Balkans is working with governments and working with people of the region to target and to take out and to root out corruption. And sanctions are one important tool to do that. We did announce and Treasury did announce sanctions this morning on a state prosecutor general who had engaged in acts of corruption. We provided information in that statement. Treasury may have additional information regarding the basis for that designation. And sanctions will remain an important tool – one important tool, not the only important tool, but one important tool – when it comes to the region and it comes to our goal, the goal that we share with governments and people in the region of rooting out corruption.

QUESTION: Just one more on the Western Balkans. I have interviewed last week the Prime Minister of Montenegro Dritan Abazović, and he called on U.S. to help Western Balkans against influence of Russia and China in the region. So what has been your assessment of those influences in the Western Balkans, and what specifically – which steps can you take in order to counter that influence?

MR PRICE: Well, it’s no question that the Western Balkans is a dynamic region that is attractive to countries around the world. Of course, it’s attractive for different reasons to both the PRC and Russia. We believe – and this is the point that we’ve made both publicly and in our private engagements with countries in the Western Balkans – that our shared interests and our shared values form the predicate for a relationship that in many ways is unique and distinct from the visions of a relationship that Russia or the PRC would have for the region. So whether it is development, whether it is security, whether it’s economics, whether it is humanitarian assistance, we have made very clear our desire to be a partner to the countries of the Western Balkans and to have both implicitly – and in some cases, explicitly – also been very clear about what – the partnership that we bring is distinct from the relationship that countries like the two you mentioned would seek to have in the region.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. Switch topics very quickly: We heard the President last week, the President of the United States, President Biden, call for a two-state solution. We heard the Israeli prime minister call for the two-state solution and so on. So what is the holdup? I mean, why can’t we – I’m not getting any younger, so what is the holdup? Why can we get this process going, perhaps by maybe U.S. sponsoring some sort of a negotiation between the two?

MR PRICE: Said, in some ways, if only there were a holdup. This is not something that can be dictated by any one country, by any one entity, not by the United States, not by anyone else. The conditions have to be right for Israelis and Palestinians to sit together and to make progress on the very complex and controversial issues that are at the core of a two-state solution. So just as you and I have discussed many times, it is our charge in the intervening period to try to set the stage, to try to set the conditions, the conditions for when making actual progress would be in the offing.

We have re-engaged with the Palestinian Authority, we have re-engaged with the Palestinian people just within recent days. We have announced additional funding for UNRWA. The United States is now once again engaged in the region. We’re of course also deeply engaged with our Israeli partners as well. But you’ve heard us say many times that the time isn’t right, doesn’t appear to be right for the parties to actually make progress.

QUESTION: But – I mean, this is the point. Why isn’t it right? I mean, no issue has been so negotiated over so many decades with every little detail, and basically everybody knows what the outcome ought to look like. You all agree there is a territory occupied. I mean, you began by saying country after country condemned the Russian occupation of parts of Ukraine, and so on. Well, country after country has condemned the Israeli occupation of parts of Syria, parts of the Palestinian territories, and parts of Lebanon and so on. So everybody really knows what’s going on. I mean, what is the hold-up? Why can’t we get this – instead of kicking the can down the road, take the initiative and say, well, this is it? Or for the United States perhaps to say, this is how I envision this two-state solution ought to look like.

MR PRICE: Said, I don’t think any of us are under any illusions that the United States taking this matter into our own hands in a unilateral way and presenting it as a fait accompli or something along those lines would be – would in any way further the cause of a two-state solution, would further the cause for peace – lasting, negotiated peace – between Israelis and Palestinians. We want to see a two-state solution. Equally, we don’t want to do anything that would aggravate tensions that would make achieving a two-state solution all the more difficult.

So in this intervening period, it’s our task to do what we can to little by little fulfill what is our overriding policy goal, to see to it that Israelis and Palestinians enjoy equal measures of security, of stability, of prosperity, of opportunity, and of dignity. And that’s something that can’t take place overnight, but it is something that we have worked on since the earliest days of this administration and it’s something that we’ll continue to work on going forward.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Yeah. And to follow up on Iran. So you said that the protests in Iran are not about us and it’s not related to JCPOA, but now the United States is part of the protests because you have sanctioned several officials and institutions; also, a U.S. company is providing Starlink and you encouraged U.S. companies to provide hardware, software to the area for communications. So can you promise the people of Iran who are on streets now that even if you reach an agreement with Iran on JCPOA, you will continue your support to these people and you will continue to sanction Iranian institution and officials?

MR PRICE: Absolutely, 100 percent. These protests are not about us, as I said before. They are about the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people. The Iranian people know these are not about us. They know that they are peacefully taking to the streets because they saw what happened to Mahsa Amini. They have seen years, they have seen decades of mismanagement, of corruption, of repression, of human rights abuses.

No one would like this – like these protests to be about us more than the Iranian regime. What frightens, I think, the Iranian regime more than anything is the knowledge that these are the organic expressions of the legitimate aspirations of their own people. Only the Iranian regime can fully satisfy their aspirations, but we will continue to do everything we can to support the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people to exercise rights that are as universal to them as they are to people anywhere and everywhere.

QUESTION: And a separate topic, sorry.

MR PRICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Greece has recently deployed tens of armored vehicles and tanks to the islands of non-military status just close to Turkish mainland. And are you – aren’t you concerned that these tensions or escalations provoked by Greece is actually mounting?

MR PRICE: Our basic premise is that at a time when Russia has once again invaded a sovereign state and the transatlantic community and the international community is standing with the people of Ukraine and against Russian aggression, now is not the time for statements or any actions that could raise tensions between NATO Allies. We continue to encourage our NATO Allies to work together to maintain peace and security in the region and to resolve any differences they may have diplomatically.

QUESTION: But on this, can you tell us if these islands are – belong to Greece or to Turkey?

MR PRICE: Again, it is – we are encouraging our NATO Allies to resolve any disagreements they may have diplomatically. We think —

QUESTION: But what is the U.S. position on this?

MR PRICE: We think we should remain focused on what is a collective threat to all of us, and that’s Russia’s aggression.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have a question about Ethiopia. First one is millions of Ethiopians believe that the Biden administration blocks the economic opportunity for many Ethiopian workers when the Biden administration decided to terminate the African Opportunity Act – which is known as AGOA – trade preference program for Ethiopia. The suspension of Ethiopia from AGOA harms many hardworking Ethiopians. If the United States supports Ethiopians with economic opportunity, which Secretary Blinken said many times, does the U.S. administration plans to reinstate Ethiopia’s eligibility to AGOA?

MR PRICE: So AGOA, or the African Growth and Opportunity Act, as the name suggests, is a piece of legislation. It is – because it is legislation, it is written into law the criteria under which any country is eligible for AGOA and the requirements that any country – in this case in Africa – must meet in order to remain a part of AGOA. We did determine late last year that Ethiopia, given the statutory language written into law passed by Congress, was no longer – was not eligible for AGOA, but of course we want to see to it that the conditions that led to that suspension are reversed. We would love to be able to re-engage with Ethiopia under AGOA knowing the tremendous economic opportunity that it has brought not only to Ethiopia in the past but to other parts of the continent as well.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up question: As you know, you have been talk many times about the conflict in Ethiopia. When the Ethiopian military entered the Tigray region, the State Department repeatedly demanded that the Ethiopian Government withdraw its troops from the Tigray region. But when the TPLF forces entered Amhara and Afar region, the State Department – instead of demanding the TPLF to withdraw its forces from Amhara and Afar region, the State Department demanded that both parties need to find a peaceful solution. And once again most Ethiopians believe that the United States supports TPLF and ask why does the United States support TPLF. What is your response to the Ethiopian people who say that the United States supports TPLF?

MR PRICE: We support the cause of peace. We support stability and security for the people of Ethiopia. Our message has been a simple one. We’ve called on the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray regional authorities to immediately halt their military offensives and to pursue a negotiated settlement through peace talks under the auspices of the African Union. We have worked very closely with the African Union, with other partners on the continent to engage in that process of diplomacy.

We’ve also been very clear with Eritrea and Eritrean authorities that they must withdraw to their borders immediately and for Eritrea and others to cease fueling the conflict. We’re deeply concerned by the human rights abuses that this conflict has brought about. We know, again alluding to your question, the opportunity that – for the people of Ethiopia that would come with and for a while that did come with a negotiated truce and a negotiated ceasefire are tremendous. We are doing everything we can to see to it that the African Union through its diplomatic efforts is successful in bringing a halt to the violence, which in turn would allow humanitarian access to parts of northern Ethiopia and once again bring levels of opportunity for all of the people of Ethiopia.

Yes.

QUESTION: Is there a draft agreement ready to be delivered this week to Israel and Lebanon on the maritime border?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any updates to offer you on our diplomacy when it comes to Israel and Lebanon on the maritime border. You know that the Secretary met with Prime Minister Mikati of Lebanon last week. Amos Hochstein was also in New York last week, where he held engagements with Israeli and Lebanese officials. We’ve stressed in all of our engagements the need to conclude a maritime agreement to ensure stability and to help support Lebanon’s economy. We are working as diligently as we can to narrow the divide and to continue the progress that we’ve seen in recent weeks.

Move – yeah, Simon.

QUESTION: Yeah, since the Secretary is meeting the foreign minister of Pakistan today, a couple of questions about that. In the aftermath of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, the Secretary was in Congress, and he was asked about U.S. relations with Pakistan and particularly the question of whether Pakistan offered support to the Taliban during the – obviously the 20-year war there. And the Secretary said that’s something we’re looking at. We’re – in the coming days, weeks, and months, I think he said, we’re going to look at that and look at the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. So I wonder whatever came of that sort of review within the State Department or within the administration on whether Pakistan was aiding the Taliban and what response you’ve had to that in terms of your relationship.

And just additional to that, since the Secretary is also meeting foreign minister of India later, Foreign Minister Jaishankar said in a speech yesterday – was – well, it was very critical of the U.S. money to the F-16 program in Pakistan and raising the same – similar questions, I guess, over what benefit the U.S. has had – what are the merits of its relationship with Pakistan? So I wonder if you could respond to that as well.

MR PRICE: It would be difficult for me to attempt to summarize 20 years of U.S.-Pakistani relationships – relations between 2001 and 2021. I suppose what I would say broadly, of course, is that Pakistan was not a monolith during that time. We saw different governments, and we saw with the passage of years different approaches to the Taliban and to Afghanistan at the time.

Now, we recognize this government – which, by the way, came into office following the fall of the government in Kabul last year – but we recognize and one of the many reasons we’re meeting with Pakistan is because of the shared security interests that we do have. It is neither in our interests nor in Pakistan’s interest to see instability, to see violence in Afghanistan. So as the Secretary meets with Foreign Minister Zardari today, I would imagine that security and shared security interests will be high on the agenda, as will humanitarian concerns.

And, of course, the United States has been intently focused on the devastation that has resulted and the loss of life that has been – that has resulted from the torrential floods that have devasted large areas of Pakistan. We have provided tens of millions of dollars in relief for these floods. The Secretary today will have additional details on further U.S. assistance for the Pakistani people in light of this humanitarian emergency that Pakistanis are facing.

Remind me of the second part of your question?

QUESTION: And Foreign Minister Jaishankar’s comments basically calling on the U.S. to review its relationship with Pakistan and criticizing the fact that you recently authorized funds, I think $450 million, for the F-16 program.

MR PRICE: Well, we don’t view our relationship with Pakistan, and on the other hand we don’t view our relationship with India as in relation to one another. These are both partners of ours with different points of emphasis in each, and we look to both as partners because we do have in many cases shared values, we do have in many cases shared interests. And the relationship we have with India stands on its own; the relationship we have with Pakistan stands on its own. We also want to do everything we can to see to it that these neighbors have relations with one another that are as constructive as can be possible. And so that’s another point of emphasis. (Inaudible).

QUESTION: Specifically, on – yes, I get your point on there being a new government. But it’s the Pakistani military, the establishment there, was sort of what the Secretary was being asked about last year. So was there a review of – and specifically, I guess, not just over the 20 years but in the – in the last phase of the war, did Pakistan aid the Taliban in a way that allowed them to come into Kabul? Was that something that was reviewed? Was there a conclusion? Did it have any impact on the relations?

MR PRICE: When it comes to security partners of ours, we’re always taking a close look at their actions, at their activities. I’m not in a position to detail for you precisely what we found, but the bottom line, as I believe the Secretary said at the time and it remains true now, is that it was not in Pakistan’s interest to see instability and violence in Afghanistan. It is not in Pakistan’s interest to see instability and violence in Afghanistan.

The support for the people of Afghanistan is something we discuss regularly with our Pakistani partners – our efforts to improve the lives and livelihoods, the humanitarian conditions of the Afghan people, and to see to it that the Taliban live up to the commitments that they have made.

And of course, Pakistan is implicated in many of these same commitments – the counterterrorism commitments, commitments to safe passage, commitments to the citizens of Afghanistan. The unwillingness or the inability on the part of the Taliban to live up to these commitments would have significant implications for Pakistan as well, and so for that reason we do share a number of interests with Pakistan regarding its neighbor.

Yes.

QUESTION: Hi.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I have a question on – about the last election in Italy, in our country yesterday. What do you expect from the next Italian government after this election, and do you share the alarm for democracy in Italy after this election?

MR PRICE: Well, the next Italian government hasn’t been formed, so it is not my place to speak to any future government in Italy. But of course, Italy and the United States are close allies, we’re partners, we’re friends. Last year, if I recall, we celebrated 160 years of diplomatic relations. Secretary Blinken’s Italian counterpart was the first in-person bilateral engagement we had here at the department. He and Secretary Blinken wrote an op-ed together on the occasion of our 160 years of diplomatic relations heralding our commitment over the course of decades for human rights and the values that we share in the world.

The fact is that we stand ready and eager to work with any Italian government that emerges from the electoral process to advance our many shared goals and interests. And when it comes to that cooperation, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say a word about outgoing Prime Minister Draghi. We thank him for his strong, for his visionary leadership through a critical time in Italian, in European, in world history – again, as well as his dedication to the values that our countries have shared for decades now.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Okay, okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks much. Ned, on Armenia-Azerbaijan, you were in the room when the Secretary met with foreign ministers last week. What was your sense in the room? Are the sides genuinely interested in peacemaking process?

MR PRICE: I will let the two sides speak to their attitudes. It was important for us and for the Secretary in particular to bring the two sides together. Of course, the Secretary had had conversations with the two leaders, but this was the first face-to-face meeting that the two foreign ministers had since the latest outbreak of violence.

The Secretary noted to both leaders the importance of maintaining the ceasefire, of maintaining the calm, said – noted that we’re dedicated to a sustainable ceasefire and to a peaceful resolution. We made clear to both foreign ministers that the United States stands ready to support – to support this bilaterally, multilaterally, together with partners. This includes our support for efforts by EU Council President Charles Michel bring the leaders together.

They during the course of that meeting discussed the best path forward, and the Secretary suggested the sides share ideas for how to meaningfully advance the peace process before the end of the month.

Our message has been consistent for some time. We call on Azerbaijan to return troops to their initial positions. We urge disengagement of military forces and work to resolve all outstanding issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan through peaceful negotiations. The use of force is not an acceptable path. We’ve made that clear privately. We’ve also made that clear publicly, and we’re glad that our continued engagement, including at high levels, including last week in New York, with both countries has helped to halt the hostilities, and we’ll continue to engage and encourage the work needed to reach a lasting peace because there can be and there is no military solution to this conflict.

QUESTION: The Secretary urged them to meet again before the end of the month. Do you have any particular venue and date in your mind?

MR PRICE: This will be up to the two countries to decide, but we do think that continued engagement directly between Armenia and Azerbaijan is not only in their interests, it’s in the interests of the region and beyond. We have offered to be of assistance, again, bilaterally, trilaterally, multilaterally, and of course the EU is playing an important role as well.

QUESTION: The Azeri president’s advisor is in town, and in fact he met with Assistant Secretary Donfried this morning. Do you have any readout, or is it part of the process that you guys are putting together?

MR PRICE: We are in regular contact with both Armenian and Azeri officials. That will continue.

QUESTION: The experts say that the U.S. suggests – urging or encouraging the sides meeting again suggests that U.S. now has no plan to move the process forward. Do you have —

MR PRICE: Again, as we’ve discussed in other contexts, the United States is not and cannot be in a position to submit a plan as a fait accompli. Our task is to bring the sides together, to facilitate dialogue, to help the sides together work through differences, to work through disagreements peacefully and diplomatically. That’s what last week was about. That’s what our continued engagement is about.

Final question in the back.

QUESTION: Yes. Can you take a question – and you can answer me later or tomorrow – about the Greek islands? Because I see a note here from your press office saying, quote: the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and protected. Greece has sovereignty over these islands; it’s not a question. Can you take my question and answer me tomorrow?

MR PRICE: I’ll see if we have any more details to provide you then.

QUESTION: Please.

MR PRICE: All right.

QUESTION: Ned, can I have last question, please? Thank you. On North Korea. As you know, North Korea fired ballistic missiles into the east sea yesterday. Can you presume that there is a possibility of North Korea’s further provocation, such as (inaudible) or seventh nuclear test?

MR PRICE: We’ve spoken of North Korea’s pattern of provocations in recent months. We’ve warned repeatedly that North Korea could well conduct another nuclear test, its seventh nuclear test, with no warning. We’ve seen North Korea test ICBMs, shorter-range systems as well. None of these provocations have or will change our essential orientation – that is, our stalwart commitment to the defense of the ROK and Japan, our treaty allies. Of course, the Vice President is in the region now to represent the United States at the funeral of Prime Minister Abe. She’ll travel to the ROK as well to show our support for our treaty allies.

We have made clear together with our allies in the region that we are prepared for meaningful dialogue, meaningful diplomacy to help advance the prospects for a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. This offer of dialogue and diplomacy has, at least so far, been met only with additional provocations. North Korea tends to go through – the DPRK tends to go through periods of provocation, periods of engagement. It’s very clear that we’re in a period of provocation now. We are going to continue to work with our treaty allies to enhance their defense and their deterrence and to be ready if and when North Korea – the DPRK, excuse me – is ready to engage in diplomacy.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

Department Press Briefing – September 15, 2022

2:12 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: What a crowd? I’m wondering who the headliner is today. We’ll come to the crowd – nothing, nothing?

QUESTION: No, no, it’s too easy. That was like such a – like a (laughter) – it was such a softball.

MR PRICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: I’m sure that – yeah.

MR PRICE: Well, I’ll come to that in just a moment. We have a few things at the top before we get to your questions, but as you can see, we have quite a room before us today.

Sixteen journalists from various countries around the world are observing this briefing today as part of our International Visitor Leadership Program or IVLP, the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program for current and emerging foreign leaders. The goal of the IVLP is to advance U.S. foreign policy objectives by providing firsthand knowledge about U.S. society, culture, politics to participants as they cultivate professional relationships. The group here with us today will travel here from Washington to Tampa, Florida; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Phoenix, Arizona, where they will examine the history, the structure, and the function of new and traditional broadcasting in the United States and challenges and opportunities posed by social media. I look forward to chatting with the group after the briefing.

Next, today, we commemorate the International Day of Democracy and underscore our commitment to democracy at home and abroad as we strive for a more inclusive, prosperous, and peaceful world.

By placing human rights at the heart of our foreign policy, the United States advances fundamental freedoms globally. We know respect for human rights and dignity is essential to lasting peace, to development and sustained prosperity. This respect is grounded in our own experience as a democracy – imperfect, but continuously pushing for a more just and equitable United States.

Our words must be matched by actions to ensure that democracies deliver for their citizens. That is why the United States is working with partner governments, civil society, and the private sector in what we call a “Year of Action” to fulfill pledges made at the Summit for Democracy held last December. During the second Summit for Democracy next year, we’ll take stock of our progress in meeting commitments that strengthen democratic institutions.

On this International Day of Democracy, and every day, we stand in solidarity with people across the globe who are putting democratic principles into practice to realize a brighter future for all.

Next, we are thrilled to celebrate two years since the signing of the Abraham Accords and normalization agreements. These steps were transformed – were – excuse me – were transformational for their signatories: Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco. These agreements led to new forms of cooperation and regional integration. This administration is committed to advancing and expanding upon these agreements between Israel and Arab and Muslim-majority countries to enhance regional security, prosperity, and peace.

The United States looks forward to helping strengthen and deepen these partnerships in the years to come, and we are laser-focused on advancing integration in the region and widening the circle of peace with Israel and other partners. This is one of our highest priorities as increasing economic and cultural integration and further developing organic people-to-people ties will help define regional solutions to the region’s shared challenges of promoting stability, development, and prosperity. At the same time, these efforts are not a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace and we simultaneously continue our work in furtherance of a two-state solution.

And finally – and I believe this will be accompanied by graphics behind me – but the ramifications of President Putin’s unconscionable war against Ukraine reverberate far outside Europe, and they now threaten the health and well-being of tens of millions of people worldwide. This include – and this includes the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Today the State Department-supported Conflict Observatory released a detailed assessment of the devastating impact of Russia’s war on food storage sites in Ukraine. An estimated one in six of Ukraine crop storage facilities have been affected. This means seizure by Russia’s forces and proxies or that facilities have been destroyed, damaged, or degraded to the point of compromising their contents. Recent progress on global food security, such as the United Nations and Turkey-mediated Black Sea Grain Initiative, faces risks if agricultural infrastructure within Ukraine continue to incur damage.

The report also notes the intentional destruction of such facilities may constitute a war crime and a violation of the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Convention of 1949. We call for further investigation through appropriate mechanisms into these reports.

Let me add that today the Department designated 22 of Russia’s proxy officials, including five who have overseen the seizure or the theft of hundreds of thousands of tons of Ukrainian grain. Their actions also exacerbate global food insecurity.

In only half a year, Ukraine has become the scene of the world’s worst mass-scale violence that Europe has seen in eight decades. The United States will continue our unwavering support for Ukraine as it defends its freedom – for the sake of its own people, and on behalf of people across the globe who rely on harvests from Ukraine’s farmlands.

So with that.

QUESTION: Can you go back to that map?

MR PRICE: I believe we can. There we go. Yes.

QUESTION: All right. So do they – there are no crops grown in Crimea, or are you conceding that Crimea is no longer part of Ukraine?

MR PRICE: This was a report that was put together by the Yale Conflict Observatory. It was ‑-

QUESTION: So your understanding is they don’t grow anything, not even like beans?

MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to —

QUESTION: Not even beans?

MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to agriculture —

QUESTION: Tomatoes?

MR PRICE: — agriculture in Crimea. I can speak to our —

QUESTION: But why isn’t it —

MR PRICE: I can speak to —

QUESTION: Is it —

MR PRICE: — our department’s position on Crimea.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: Crimea is Ukraine.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: I can speak to that.

QUESTION: All right. And secondly on this and on the sanctions, there are a couple, including the big one in there, the GRU and the sanctions, as you well know is already under sanctions. Do you know or can you find out how many of the people and other entities that were targeted today are already under sanctions, or is the GRU the only one of this group? Because there were a lot of, like, high-tech companies that possibly – and I didn’t have time to go cross-reference this, but I think some of them may have been sanctioned before. Is there a way to find that out?

MR PRICE: We can determine if there’s any more we can share there.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: I will just make the broader point that oftentimes, and especially in cases like Russia where we have really amassed profound costs and consequences on the Russian Federation, there are overlapping authorities, authorities that are designated for different malign activities that we often do levy on the same targets, so it’s not surprising that same targets are —

QUESTION: No, no, that’s fine.

MR PRICE: — that same targets are sanctioned more than once.

QUESTION: I’m just trying to get an idea of how many of these people or entities are going to wake up in the morning or go to sleep at night with new – with penalties on them that didn’t exist before. That’s the question there.

Secondly on the Abraham Accords, you’re thrilled to celebrate the —

MR PRICE: We have —

QUESTION: And yet for the first four months of the administration you refused to use the name? (Laughter.)

MR PRICE: Matt, I think this goes back to some of our earliest interactions.

QUESTION: Indeed.

MR PRICE: But Matt, I think we —

QUESTION: I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but —

MR PRICE: We like to be precise with our language.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: The common umbrella, the general umbrella, of course, is Abraham agreements, Abraham accords. These are all normalization agreements. Sometimes the shorthand is Abraham Accords. The fact is that Morocco, while it has a normalization agreement, it’s not – it is not a member of the Abraham Accords. So whether it is the countries that have officially signed the Abraham Accords or the countries that have signed normalization agreements, we welcome every single effort of countries around the world, including Israel’s Arab and Muslim majority neighbors, to strengthen ties and ultimately to normalize relations.

QUESTION: Okay. And then lastly, as you pointed out, today is the Day of Democracy or the whatever it is. I’m wondering if you have anything to say about Hungary in that light since it is a member of the EU, it is a member of NATO, and yet today the EU Parliament adopted a resolution that says that Hungary is no longer a democracy. Do you agree with that sentiment and will Hungary be invited to the next Summit for Democracy?

MR PRICE: Well, it is far too early for me to speak about potential invitees to the next Summit for Democracy. I’d also defer to the EU regarding their characterization of Hungary and its political system. We characterize Hungary as a partner. We characterize Hungary as an ally. We characterize Hungary as a NATO ally. We have also made clear our firm belief that what unites us as partners, what unites us as allies, transcend interests. They also include values, and it is our shared values that for decades now have formed as a base for the relationship we have with our allies and partners across Europe. That is what we look back to, that is what we look to, when we note the strength of our relationship. We always want to see those values presented front and center.

Nike.

QUESTION: Could I follow up on the Abraham Accords? Of course, I think it’s just a thorny term because nobody named Abraham sponsored these accords. I don’t know how they came up with the name, just trying to thrust some biblical thing into it. I don’t know. But during the same period —

MR PRICE: I think it’s a reference to Abraham as the father of all three monotheistic religions.

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, that just comes out of the blue. We understand the Camp David Accord they were held in Camp David. But anyway, that’s not the issue.

During that time, during that time in the same two-year period, there has been like at least two major wars that Israel has waged on the Palestinians in Gaza. Anyway, so these accords that were touted as something that should bring peace and prosperity for all certainly have not been anywhere near that objective for the Palestinians. That’s one. And I don’t want to discuss that too much, but also, I mean, you talk about anniversaries —

MR PRICE: Well, since you raised it, can I —

QUESTION: Yeah, but —

MR PRICE: — take the opportunity to answer a question that may not have been there?

QUESTION: Please, go ahead. I have another one. Go ahead.

MR PRICE: So Said, the Abraham Accords and the broader set of normalization agreements for us are such a priority because there is no question that they have the potential to bring additional security, additional prosperity, additional opportunity to Israelis and to its neighbors. But just as I said at the end of that statement, there is also no question that these agreements cannot be substitutes for Israeli-Palestinian peace. When Secretary Blinken traveled to the Negev in March, where we met with the other signatories of the Abraham Accords and normalization agreements, including in this case Egypt, there was a recognition on the part of those ministers present that we needed to continue to work on issues between Israelis and Palestinians. This is something that then foreign minister and alternate prime minster, now Prime Minister Lapid, recognized at the time as well.

So this has not gone overlooked. Just about every time I speak to the Abraham Accord and to normalization agreements, I make the point that just as we work to build and to lengthen that bridge between Israel and its neighbors, we are not going to do that at the expense of Israeli-Palestinian peace. In fact, we are going to leverage, to the best of our ability, these relationships to seek to further that.

QUESTION: Just to note that tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila Massacre. That’s another anniversary that should be noted, for which no one was ever held responsible. In fact, the person who probably oversaw the whole thing went on to become Israel’s prime minister and so on. My question to you would be about the freedom and democracy, that from which you began. I mean, I saw the statement; very impressive. What you said is very impressive. Yet you guys can’t even determine whether human rights organizations, Palestinian human rights organizations, should be treated as such and should not be just closed by decision for political reasons.

MR PRICE: Said, whether the context is Israel, whether the context is Gaza, whether the context is the West Bank, whether the context is any other entity or country around the world, we have spoken of the indispensable role of civil society and human rights organizations. That is absolutely true.

Now, you are raising specific cases. When the Israeli Government designated these organizations and took action against them, we expressed our concern. And we noted, owing to the statement I just made about the indispensability and the value of these organizations, the high bar that must be met before any such action is undertaken. Our Israeli partners informed us that very day, as I recall – and I in turn told you – that they had pledged to provide additional information. In recent days – last week, in fact – they have provided us with additional information. We are evaluating that information. Not going to speak to that analytic process as it’s ongoing, but we are taking a close look at what they provided us.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Ned, can you give us an update on the state of negotiations with Russia to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan since now we know that the President is going to meet with their families at the White House tomorrow?

MR PRICE: Well, there’s not much I can tell you that I think most of you in this room already know. We have —

QUESTION: Don’t already know.

MR PRICE: Excuse – don’t already know. It would be much more interesting were the – were that formulation true. We have a couple of imperatives here. Number one is to do everything we can to see the release, as soon as we can, of Brittney Griner and of Paul Whelan. Consistent with that first imperative, we have a second imperative. That is to be judicious in the level and the number of details we share.

We took the extraordinary step – Secretary Blinken did, in fact, here in this room several weeks ago now, a couple months ago now I suppose it was – of sharing with you the fact that we had shared what we call a substantial proposal with the Russian Federation. We have since, both publicly but also privately, urged the Russian Federation to act on this substantial proposal. Without going into details, I can tell you there have been discussions with the Russian Government regarding this. Owing to that second imperative, not to say anything that could jeopardize our ability to secure the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner as quickly as we can, I’m just not in a position to speak to it with any greater detail.

QUESTION: Are you able to talk at all what the main sticking point is? I understand that these are private discussions, but are you able to say anything about why they’re taking as long as they’re taking? And is it fair to characterize at this point that they’re stalled? You said two months ago you guys have put forward the proposal and, as I understand, to this date, to this moment, that you haven’t received a positive response from the Russians.

MR PRICE: Why this process is taking so long is a better question for Moscow than it is for us. It’s a better question for Moscow because, as I said, we took the initiative to put a substantial proposal on the table. We have taken the initiative at every step of the way, knowing that we want to do everything we can to accelerate this process. I wouldn’t characterize this process as stalled. It certainly hasn’t moved with the speed we would like. The fact that Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan still remain separated from their families in detention in Russia is a testament to that.

QUESTION: My final one on this. Given the state of these talks, which you guys have full visibility on, what is your expectation that President Biden could tell to these families? Is he in a position to make any assurances that they’re going to see their loved ones any time soon?

MR PRICE: He – and I will let the White House speak to this, but I have every reason to believe that President Biden will tell these families of the utmost priority we attach to doing absolutely everything we can to see the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner as soon as we can. These are two individuals whom we determine to be wrongfully detained. They should not be behind bars; they should not be separated from their families. We are doing everything we can to correct that. That will be the message that’s shared.

Nike.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can I please ask about China and Russia? Do you have any —

QUESTION: Can I follow up on the (inaudible)?

QUESTION: Can we stay on Russia?

MR PRICE: We’ll do one follow up on this. We have a lot of people here today, so I’ll try and move around a bit, but —

QUESTION: The last time Secretary Blinken spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov was on this topic about the detainee issue. Given that Lavrov will be in New York next week for UNGA, will Blinken meet with him there to discuss this matter, or any matters?

MR PRICE:  The Secretary has a busy schedule that’s shaping up for next week in New York City. We’ll in a position to detail a bit more of that tomorrow. I – what I can say is that we will take every step that we feel would be – would help move the process forward. If a senior-level intervention with a senior Russian official would help us take one step closer to seeing the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, we wouldn’t hesitate to do that. That’s precisely why Secretary Blinken picked up the phone just a couple months ago now to raise this specific issue, among two other concerns, with Foreign Minister Lavrov at the time.

Secretary Blinken has been acutely and intensely focused on these cases. He has spoken to Cherelle Griner repeatedly. He has spoken to Elizabeth Whelan repeatedly. He is regularly updated on the state of these efforts to release Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, but also every other American who is held hostage or otherwise wrongfully detained overseas.

QUESTION:  Is the feeling, though, that a Blinken meeting with Lavrov next week would help move the ball forward?

MR PRICE:  I’m just not in a position to speak to that now. We are prepared to take any step that we think has the potential to move the ball forward.

QUESTION:  I just want a clarification on this one. Is this issue precondition for potential interaction between the Secretary and the minister?

MR PRICE:  I’m not sure I understand your question.

QUESTION:  Like are you putting this issue as – this topic as a precondition for potential handshake or interaction or any kind of —

MR PRICE:  I would expect that any interaction we might have with Foreign Minister Lavrov, whether it’s in the coming days, coming weeks, or coming months will feature our detained Americans, assuming we have not been in a position to see them released before then.

Yes.

QUESTION:  But do you have a new – anything new to say to the families of our hostages, as the “Bring our Families Home” campaign? Many of them have been vying to meet with the President as well. Is there anything new, other than what has been previously said that you – any message would you give them in light of the meeting tomorrow?

MR PRICE:  Every single one of these cases is unique. Every single one of these cases is different. I think you all recall – it was just a couple months ago now – the President signed a new executive order that provides us with additional tools, not only to hold accountable those countries who would engage in this heinous practice, but new tools that allow us in some ways to be more effective in communicating and maintaining the relationship with the families. It’s important for us because we know in all of these cases, no one knows the unique circumstances of each individual better than their families.

And so it’s important for us that we’re in a position to speak with them. It’s important for us that we’re in a position to meet with them. Secretary Blinken often is on the phone with families. He’s had an opportunity to speak on multiple occasions now to all of the families at once, but typically this is done on a family-by-family basis. The same is true of the National Security Advisor. The same is true of the President, who has spoken to a number of these families now and I know is closely, closely tracking the details of all of these cases.

Nike.

QUESTION:  Yeah. Ned, what is the U.S. take on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting with the Russian President Putin? Is there more reason to cause concern? And it still the U.S. assessment that China is not providing military and material assistance to Russia? Thank you.

MR PRICE:  Well, I’ll start with the second part first. That still is our assessment. We made clear months ago now of information that was available to us suggesting that the Russian Federation was seeking assistance, military assistance, from the PRC for its war against Ukraine. We made very clear to the PRC, both in public but also at the highest levels – the highest levels – that we would be watching very closely, and any PRC effort to provide military assistance to Russia or to help Russia, on a systemic basis, circumvent the sanctions that have been put in place would incur significant costs. And we have not seen any change on the part of the PRC.

Look, when it comes to President Xi’s engagement today with President Putin, I will ultimately let those two presidents and those two governments speak to what was discussed. I’ve seen some initial statements emanate from this meeting. I imagine we’ll see more in the coming hours. I suppose, at this early hour, what is striking is President Putin’s apparent admission, at least as stated in the media, that President Xi has concerns about Russia’s war against Ukraine. It’s not surprising that the PRC apparently has such concerns. It is somewhat curious that President Putin would be the one to admit it to admit it so openly.

I say it’s not surprising because what – we’ve seen the PRC resort to verbal and in many ways geopolitical gymnastics over recent months, trying to avoid criticizing Russia’s war against Ukraine, at least trying to avoid criticizing it openly. After all, it’s – this is a war that is not – is a blatant assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty, but it is also at odds with everything the PRC has purported to believe in over the course of decades now. It is a constant refrain that we’ve heard from the PRC bilaterally, that we’ve heard from the PRC in multilateral settings, that we’ve heard from the PRC in the UN system, this principle, this – what should be an inviolable principle of state sovereignty, has been under assault by Russia since February 24th, and in many ways for the eight years before that.

It’s also not surprising that these two countries are coming together. We’ve said that President Putin, it’s very clear, is looking for every conceivable lifeline he can find. He is turning to countries like the DPRK, he is turning to countries like Iran in the process. And when it comes to Russia and the PRC, it’s true that they share a vision for the world. They share a vision for the world that is starkly at odds with the vision that’s at the center of the international system, the vision that has been at the center of the international system for the past eight decades. It is the vision that is at the heart of the UN system and the UN Charter, for that matter.

So we’ve seen this relationship deepen not over the course of days, weeks, or months but over the course of years. Of course, we’ve seen this relationship move even more closely together. We have made very clear our concern about this deepening relationship and the concern that every country around the world should have about this relationship.

Yes, Janne.

QUESTION: Can I follow up? You mentioned that Putin is turning to DPRK and Iran for help. Do you have any information to confirm the expectation that Putin is asking Xi Jinping for support in person given that Russia is facing all the —

MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to what President Putin asked of President Xi today. That would be something to pose to President Putin.

Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you. A follow-up on China issues. President Xi Jinping and President Putin met at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit yesterday. They created the (inaudible) for the (inaudible) trade and economic cooperation. And China is not cooperation in the Russia sanctions. How do you think this would affect Russia’s sanctions?

MR PRICE: Sorry, repeat the end of that? How does – I didn’t catch the end of the question.

QUESTION: How do you think this will affect Russia’s sanctions, because China not cooperating with Russia sanctions?

MR PRICE: Well, as I just said to your colleague, it’s very clear that Russia is looking for every conceivable lifeline. The fact that dozens of countries around the world have come together not only to impose sanctions and massive financial penalties, but also to mount export controls – export controls that have systematically starved Russia of the key inputs it needs for its industrial base, for its defense base, for its energy production, and for its technological base, and the fact that Russia is now turning to countries like Iran and the DPRK I think speaks to the difficulty Russia is finding in indigenously producing what it needs for – to prosecute its brutal war of aggression against Ukraine.

I would leave it to the PRC to speak to the approach that they are taking towards this conflict, towards this war. As I said just a moment ago, they have had to go to extraordinary lengths to even attempt to explain how this brutal war of territorial conquest and aggression would not be automatically at odds with the vision of the world that they have put forward over the course of decades and the emphasis that they have placed on the principle – the emphasis they have placed on the principle of sovereignty over the course of decades.

QUESTION: But China – look, China is ignoring Russia’s purchase of North Korea’s weapons. Do you think that China is responsible for this? Why they ignoring? I mean, Russia and North Korea weapons trading for China is ignoring about this.

MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to what the PRC’s position is on Russia’s purchase of millions of rounds from the DPRK. I would leave that to the PRC to characterize their position.

Yes.

QUESTION: Just follow-up. While you are expressing concerns over Russians seeking for help, do you actually have any sign that China is providing assistance to Russia?

MR PRICE: We have information, we had information that we made public a number of months ago now, that Russia was seeking security assistance from the PRC. As I said a moment ago to Nike, we made that public. We also made very public the fact that we would be watching very closely and that the PRC would incur significant costs if it provided military assistance to Russia in its war or if it aided Russia in a systematic way evade the sanctions that the international community had imposed on it. We have not seen the PRC do either of those things.

QUESTION: And what is your impression, your take on this Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit which Mr. President Putin attended?

MR PRICE: We are not a member of this organization. We’ll leave it to members and others to characterize it.

QUESTION: And I just have a quick one on Taiwan. Yesterday, the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee just passed the Taiwan Policy Act. What is your reaction to that? Are you concerned this would be – this would further damage the U.S.-China relation?

MR PRICE: Well, as we always or often do, our legislative teams here and members of the administration are in close touch with members of Congress. We’ll communicate to – we’ll continue to communicate directly and privately with members and their staffs about this legislation like we do with draft legislation really across the board. For our part, the Biden administration, we have deepened our partnership with Taiwan. We’ll continue to do so with effective diplomatic, economic, and military support. And we appreciate the strong bipartisan support for Taiwan that we’re seeing in Congress and that we’re seeing across the country.

QUESTION: Ned, can I —

MR PRICE: Let me move around because we have many – many people. Yes. Yes. Please. I just took the question on the Taiwan Policy Act.

QUESTION: No, quickly, because you have said that U.S. bipartisan “one China” policy is guided by Six Assurances, the Taiwan Relations Act, and Joint Communique. Among the Six Assurances is – I can quote – “The United States will not formally recognize Chinese soveriegnty over Taiwan” end of quote, and quote, “The United States will not set a date for termination of arms sale to Taiwan,” end of quote. Is there a reason – is there a need for Chinese Government to be concerned about Taiwan Policy Act?

MR PRICE: Nothing is changing about our approach to Taiwan. It is guided by our “one China” policy, the Three Joint Communiques, the Six Assurances, and the Taiwan Relations Act.

Yes.

QUESTION: I’d like to ask about Egypt’s FMF, and specifically the administration’s decision to certify that Egypt was making clear and consistent progress on the release of prisoners, and on due process. I know you’ll cite the 500 releases this year, but given that that’s out of 60,000 or so political prisoners, how is that the progress – the clear and consistent progress when during that same time period NGOs say more political prisoners were arrested than were released?

MR PRICE: So this is a complicated issue, and so I want to make sure that we clearly state the background to this decision. First, it’s important to say that the Biden administration has taken an approach regarding Egypt that reflects the full range of our national interests, and of course that includes human rights. Egypt is a strategic partner of ours with whom we cooperate to promote a range of shared interests. In doing so, we also raise very serious concerns about human rights and fundamental freedoms in Egypt. Because our bilateral relationship with Egypt is an important one, we have made clear at every opportunity – and we have had a number – that our relationship is fundamentally strengthened when there is progress on human rights. In that context – and you alluded to this – the Secretary yesterday made several decisions related to Fiscal Year 2021 U.S. military assistance through what is called Foreign Military Financing, or FMF – these funds for Egypt.

And as background, when it comes to those funds, $300 million of the total $1.3 billion originally planned for Egypt in the FY21 FMF funds are subject, per Congress, to human rights related conditions. Within that $300 million, there are essentially two baskets of funds: there is $225 million that is subject to a broad range of human rights conditions, and the remaining 75 million is conditioned specifically on demonstrating clear and consistent progress on releasing political detainees and providing detainees with due process, as you referenced in your question.

To the Secretary’s decisions, the Secretary did not certify to Congress that Egypt met the human rights related conditions for that bigger pot of money, the 225 million portion of this $300 million total. The Secretary did not use his national interest waiver for these funds, and he directed the department to redirect $130 million from these FMF funds originally planned for Egypt – and that’s the maximum amount that could be reprogrammed – to other U.S. national security priorities and countries in consultation with Congress. We did have an opportunity to communicate this decision directly to Congress and to our Egyptian partners yesterday.

Now, the remaining $95 million will be provided to Egypt under a statutory exception for border security, nonproliferation, and counterterrorism programs. For the $75 million in FMF funding that is subject to conditions related to what you raised – political prisoners and due process – the Secretary did determine that Egypt is making clear and consistent progress on this issue, and that’s why he directed the department to notify Congress of our intent to provide these funds to Egypt.

We believe that this approach reflects our concerns about human rights and fundamental freedoms in Egypt, while at the same time also seeking to sustain and to advance engagement and dialogue in human rights – that same engagement and dialogue on human rights we have had with Egypt over the last 20 months.

When it comes to the issue of due process and political detention, there is no question that politically motivated arrests in Egypt are a major challenge, and that’s highlighted in our annual Human Rights Report, including our most recent Human Rights Report.

The Secretary did make the determination that Egypt has made clear and consistent progress both through what you referenced, unprecedented numbers of releases, hundreds of prisoners this year; the establishment of the presidential pardon committee; and the efforts to set up a national political dialogue that is expected to address some of these very issues. That includes pre-trial detention reform, among other social, political, and economic issues.

So this is a conversation we will continue to have with our Egyptian partners. We will continue to take advantage of every opportunity from the senior-most levels to the working levels to underscore both the value we place on this relationship, and the notion that seeing continued improvement in the human rights situation will only strengthen the foundation of that bilateral relationship.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to the SCO summit with respect to Putin and Iran? President Putin met with the Iranian president and used the meeting to address the nuclear deal. He mocked the United States and told President Raisi that the U.S. “are masters of their own word. They do as they please: first they make promises, [and] then they break promises.” Do you have any response to those comments?

MR PRICE: I don’t have a response to those comments other than to say that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA would not only be in the interests of the United States and our European partners, the E3 in this context. Ensuring permanently and verifiably that Iran would not be in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon would also be in the interests of two of the participants in this meeting you referenced, Russia and China as well.

QUESTION: Ned, on this?

QUESTION: Iran, on Iran.

MR PRICE: On Iran?

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. Two questions. So yesterday EU’s Borrell said that the negotiation had reached a stalemate, and today Benny Gantz of Israel says that the JCPOA is in ER room. I wanted your assessment on what is characterization that the Department of State has on the status of this negotiation. And now since those are painting a gloomy picture, what will happen to the fate of the U.S. Iranians held in Iran?

MR PRICE: I’ll leave it –

QUESTION: And if I may, yesterday also the board of governors of the IAEA said – they issued a statement which U.S. was party, and they again said that they are – they have a profound concern. Is there a time limit that the U.S. will refer Iran’s case of not answering IAEA’s questions to the United Nations Security Council, or they keep on going? Thanks.

MR PRICE: So to your questions, I will leave it to all of you to determine the metaphor that best fits the moment with the JCPOA. What I can offer is our assessment, and there is only one reason that we have not yet reached an understanding on a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, and that is because Tehran has not yet accepted the reasonable basis presented by the EU as coordinator of the JCPOA talks. As we’ve said repeatedly, gaps remain between the United States and Iran, or between Iran and the rest of the P5+1 in many ways. And it’s clear from Iran’s response that these gaps still remain. Iran’s response did not put us in a position to close a deal, but we continue to contend that it’s not too late to conclude a deal. As long as we believe that pursuing a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is in the interests of the United States and in our national security interests, we will continue to do that.

When it comes to the wrongful detainees in Iran, this has been a priority of this administration since day one. And we have always been extraordinarily careful as long as there has been a process underway in Vienna or anywhere else regarding a potential mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA not to link these two things. And we have not linked them precisely because we always imagined we could be in this position where the JCPOA is a very uncertain proposition. We don’t want to tie the fates of detained Americans, Americans who in some cases have spent hundreds of days – years – behind bars away from their families – we don’t want to tie their fates to what could well remain an uncertain or even impossible proposition. So we have always treated these on a separate track. That is why even in the absence of a JCPOA, at least at this moment, we are continuing to do everything we can to see the release of these American detainees at the first possible opportunity.

When it comes to Iran and the concerns that the IAEA has expressed, we too have expressed those very same concerns. We have the utmost confidence in the IAEA, we have the utmost confidence in IAEA Director General Grossi, and we’ll continue to consult closely with our partners at the IAEA regarding the most appropriate response to Iran’s continued refusal to satisfy the questions that the IAEA has put forward.

QUESTION: Ned on this, what is the next step regarding the JCPOA?

MR PRICE: Again, I mentioned the other day we have responded to – and we responded last week to – the most recent submission that Iran put forward to the EU as the coordinator for these talks. Our – the basic fact is – and I said this already – there’s only one reason why we have yet to reach an understanding. It’s because Tehran has not accepted the very reasonable basis presented by the EU as coordinator for this process.

Let me move around. Yes. Sure.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. Last night Secretary Blinken called Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi just a couple of hours after the review on Russian funds. Can I ask you who reached out to whom? And also, is Italy in the – one of the country – in the list of the country who received funds from Russia? And also do the U.S. – I mean the administration – know that in a week, little more than a week in Italy there are some – the elections, so is a very delicate moment in the country, and maybe – I don’t know – Secretary Blinken talked about it with the prime minister. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Just as a matter of course we don’t speak, typically, to who reaches out to whom with these calls. We did, however, issue a readout, and that readout spoke to the issues that were discussed on that call, including the close partnership and alliance we have with Italy on a number of shared interests. That includes the costs that we are together mounting on Russia for its war of aggression against Ukraine. That includes the concerns, the shared concerns, we have about President Putin’s weaponization of energy and the efforts that we are undertaking together as allies and as partners to help our European allies with the energy supplies that they will need in the coming weeks and the coming months. They had a number of other issues that were discussed, and the Secretary made the point that the United States as an ally of Italy stands ready and eager to work with any government, any Italian government that emerges from the electoral process that will take place in the coming days.

When it comes to Russia’s interference in elections around the world, we didn’t release information this week in order to put a spotlight on any particular country. In fact, we have not spoken to Russia’s efforts in particular context. That was not the point of these efforts. The point was to put a spotlight on what is very much a global threat and a universal challenge that countries around the world – continents around the world – face from the threat of Russia’s meddling and interference in democratic exercises around the world.

Nazira.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have three questions at present. But one is Taliban sharing the video (inaudible) hostages being held in Panjshir and then shooting them, and they share on the social media, which is – reaction is so negative for the Afghan people. Any comment about that? What is the international law said about it?

And number two, I don’t know what is the relationship between U.S. and Pakistan, because Taliban claims that United State used a drone attack to Afghanistan with the cooperation with the Pakistan.

And the third question, there is two conference. One is in Bukhara, Samarkand, Shanghai conference about Afghanistan, and the next one is Vienna regarding Afghanistan. Does the State Department has any comment? It’s going to be useful for Afghanistan, especially for women situation?

MR PRICE: Thank you. When it comes to —

QUESTION: Panjshir first.

MR PRICE: When it comes to Panjshir, I’m not immediately familiar with the video that you’re referring to, but we have seen any number of atrocities committed in Afghanistan in recent months. And, of course, violence against civilians is an atrocity; in some cases it could constitute even worse. We are paying very close attention to the human rights situation in Afghanistan. We have made no secret about our concerns for the fact that the Taliban is not living up to the commitments they have made to the United States, to the international community, but most importantly, the commitments that they have made to the people of Afghanistan.

To address your third question on this, that is why in every forum, we and our partners around the world take advantage of opportunities to be very explicit and candid with the Taliban about those concerns, about the implications of the Taliban’s continued unwillingness or inability to live up to the commitments that it has made to the Afghan people. We’ve been very clear with the Taliban in every single engagement of ours, and I know and I’m confident that our partners around the world have been clear in every single engagement they have had of the costs for the Taliban’s continued intransigence when it comes to the human rights of the Afghan people. And that means all of the people of Afghanistan, including its women, of course; its girls, of course; its minorities – religious, ethnic, and otherwise.

When it comes to the commitment President Biden made to seeing to it that Afghanistan could never again become a launchpad for attacks targeting the United States or our partners, that is a commitment that we are positioned to carry out. We don’t speak to specific tactics, but I think our actions speak for themselves. And the fact that we were able to take a precise, targeted operation against Ayman al-Zawahiri, the now deceased leader of al-Qaida, speaks to the commitment we have using the tools that are at our disposal to follow through with that pledge.

Alex.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. A couple things on Russia. One is on IAEA resolution just was passed. Actually, they call Russia to leave the power plant, which is something you were calling as well. But my question is the fact that only two countries voted against it, Russia and China. Can I get your reaction to that?

Secondly, in reaction to your Russian counterparts today’s comment on your supplying longer level missiles will cross a redline, are you planning to supply longer range HIMARS or not? Just to clarify that.

And lastly on South Caucasus, there are reports that the ceasefire was achieved between the two sides, Azerbaijan and Armenia. There are also reports that Speaker Pelosi will be visiting the region; she’ll be in Armenia this weekend. I know you don’t comment on the Speaker’s schedule, but is the administration planning to seize the opportunity to – this is the highest level trip to region for years, from my understanding – to push forward the peace that is very much near right now? Thank you.

MR PRICE: So on ZNPP, this is something that we’ve discussed with our Ukrainian partners, with our European partners. It was a topic of discussion between President Zelenskyy, Foreign Minister Kuleba, and Secretary Blinken in Kyiv last Thursday. We continue to be concerned for a number of reasons. The electricity that the plant produces when it is fully operational belongs to Ukraine. This is Ukrainian territory; it is a Ukrainian plant. Any attempt to – and any combat operations, Russia’s combat operations around this plant, pose a profound danger to a nuclear installation. Combat should not be performed around nuclear installations and nuclear facilities. That is a message we have made resoundingly clear to the Russians. It is a message that the IAEA has also issued as well.

We strongly support calls for demilitarization of the area surrounding the ZNPP, including the removal of Russia’s forces from the plants and the immediate withdrawal – and their immediate withdrawal from Russia’s* territory. This – a version of this has been put forward by the IAEA as well. They have concerns about the potential for continued combat and dangerous operations around this nuclear facility, and their nuclear safety and security protection zone intends to achieve a similar objective to the concept of a demilitarized area around the ZNPP. And that’s something we continue to discuss very closely with the IAEA, but of course with Ukraine in the first instance.

On systems for Ukraine, I don’t have a response to what we heard from the Russian Federation today. What I would underscore is that everything we have provided for our Ukrainian partners has had one purpose and only one purpose, and that is to enable to defend their country, to defend their territory, to defend their freedom, to defend their democracy against invading Russian aggressors. This is about equipping our Ukrainian partners with what they need to preserve their sovereignty, their independence, and their territorial integrity as well.

With – when it comes to Armenia and Azerbaijan, we welcome continued adherence to the ceasefire. We’re continuing to urge the parties to engage in the peace process. We urge that a cessation of hostilities be maintained, and we urge the disengagement of military forces and work to resolve all outstanding issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan through peaceful negotiations. Use of force is never an acceptable path, and we are glad that the continued engagement at high levels in Armenia and Azerbaijan has helped the sides reach a ceasefire. We continue to engage and encourage the work needed to reach a lasting peace. Again, there can be no military solution to this.

Ambassador Reeker, our senior advisor has been in the region. He’s now in Vienna meeting with likeminded partners in the OSCE. Assistant Secretary Donfried has been in contact with her foreign minister counterparts in the region. Ambassador Reeker has spoken with President Aliyev. The Secretary, of course, has had an opportunity a couple days ago now to speak to both leaders. I would expect that he will have an opportunity to speak to the leaders again. He has been personally focused on this and will remain engaged going forward.

Shaun.

QUESTION: Do you view the Speaker’s upcoming trip as part of process?

MR PRICE:  I would defer to the speaker to speak to any travel she may have.

Shaun.

QUESTION:  I want to ask something else. But is there a reason why Phil Reeker didn’t go to Armenia? He was in Azerbaijan, then he went to Vienna.

MR PRICE:  He’s been in contact with authorities from both countries. We are pleased to see that the cessation of hostilities has continued to stick, and he’ll continue to meet with the OSCE and our like-minded partners in Vienna to further this.

QUESTION:  Separately, Ethiopia. Could you say if Mike Hammer is still in the region, what he’s doing diplomatically, and how do you see things right now? The Ethiopian Government had a statement about the TPLF accepting African Union mediation. Do you think that’s a positive step? How do you see things on the ground right now?

MR PRICE:  Well, Special Envoy Hammer is still in the region. He’s wrapping up two weeks in the region. He’s remained actively engaged with the Government of Ethiopia, with the Tigray regional authorities, with the African Union, and with international partners to seek to advance an important effort to bring about peace. He met on September 12th with the AU’s high representative, Mr. Obasanjo. He met on the 13th with UN Special Representative to the Secretary-General Hanna Tetteh. And Assistant Secretary Phee, for her part, was this week attending the inauguration of President Ruto in Kenya, and she engaged in discussions regarding the ongoing violence in Ethiopia.

More broadly, we are increasingly concerned by the growing military activity in Northern Ethiopia. We strongly condemn the resumption of hostilities. There is no military solution to this conflict. These actions are inconsistent with the Government of Ethiopia and Tigrayan regional authorities’ stated willingness to go to talks. And we call on both the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray regional authorities to halt immediately their military offensives and to pursue a negotiated settlement through peace talks under the auspices of the African Union.

We commend and support the AU’s diplomatic efforts to start talks as soon as possible. We welcome the ongoing commitment in AU-led peace talks by both parties, the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray regional authorities. And in coordination with international partners, we have reiterated our readiness to actively support this AU-led peace process.

We also call on Eritrea to withdraw to its borders and for Eritrea and others to cease fueling this conflict. These actions are increasing tensions throughout the region. They are worsening the humanitarian situation at a time of pronounced drought and food insecurity. We continue to stand with the people of Ethiopia and will continue to be the largest donor of humanitarian aid and assistance to the Ethiopian people.

QUESTION:  Quick question, Ned.

MR PRICE:  Anyone who hasn’t asked? Yes.

QUESTION:  Combining a few issues together here – number one, UN General Assembly next week. Is there any plans for any initiatives, any meetings on the sidelines, regarding the Abraham Accords countries? And secondly, based on the context of past statements from the State Department regarding the host agreement, it seems as if the Iranian president is going to be walking around fairly unencumbered at Turtle Bay next week. Is there any circumstance in which the State Department would deny a diplomatic visa, keeping in mind the home – or the host agreement?

MR PRICE:  So on your second question, we do take seriously our obligation, and it is an obligation, as the host country of the UN under the UN Headquarters Agreement. As the host country, we have provided guidance to all member states when it comes to timelines for visa applications. We are generally obligated to grant visas to diplomats who are traveling —

QUESTION:  Generally. But —

MR PRICE:  — who are traveling to the United States for the UN. Visa records are confidential. We can’t comment on individual cases. But we are obligated to take the commitments we have as the UN host country extraordinarily seriously.

When it comes to the Abraham Accords, we have and will continue to take advantage of every opportunity to seek to advance the Abraham Accords and broader normalization agreements. There is a process that is ongoing that started with the Negev Summit in March. Senior officials have been involved in that with their respective counterparts. We’ll have more updates on that process. But I would expect that we’ll continue to have conversations in the coming days and weeks – not only with Israel and the current signatories to the Abraham Accords and other normalization agreements, but other countries who may be prepared in the coming period to see their relations normalized with Israel and to —

QUESTION:  Anything specific at the UNGA, though?

MR PRICE:  I couldn’t speak to anything on the sidelines of next week’s UN. We will have an opportunity to speak more to the Secretary’s schedule in the coming days.

QUESTION:  Ned, can I have on question, very quickly, on –

QUESTION:  One quick one on the General Assembly.

MR PRICE:  One more UN, yeah.

QUESTION:  At the UN General Assembly next week, do you think the North Korean foreign minister will be attending this meeting?

MR PRICE:  That’s a better question for the DPRK.

QUESTION:  And one question. The Israeli authorities ordered the expulsion of 15 Palestinian families near Jerusalem. I wonder if you are aware of this matter and if you have any comment on it.

MR PRICE:  Sorry? Oh. We – again, we are aware of this. We have urged all sides to avoid actions that could escalate tension. That certainly includes evictions.

QUESTION: But I mean, you keep saying both sides. The Israelis are not expelling anyone – I mean the Palestinians. It’s the Israelis who are expelling Palestinians. Why can’t you say directly to the Israelis that you will not look very kindly on their effort to expel Palestinians?

MR PRICE: Said, we have a relationship with Israel that – whose strength allows us to have conversation across a range of issues. We are in a position to have candid and frank discussions with our Israeli partners when it’s appropriate. I can assure you that we do. That is a hallmark of the relationships around the world where we do have such close ties.

QUESTION: I have two questions, one on Sudan and other one on Qatar-Egypt. The U.S. embassy in Sudan welcomed the draft transitional constitution prepared by the Sudanese Bar Association. To what extent do you consider this draft as a base for a political solution in Sudan? And how will the U.S. support it?

And second, how do you view the visit that President Sisi made to Qatar?

MR PRICE: When it comes to the Sudanese Bar Association initiative, we do view this as a serious initiative. We commend the SBA’s initiative’s inclusion of a broad spectrum of Sudanese stakeholders and careful expert technical review, and we’re encouraged by the initial signs of support from diverse Sudanese actors since the release. We must – work must continue to ensure any agreement is acceptable to a clear majority of political and social forces, and no political agreement can be credible or sustainable if it’s not inclusive or does not enjoy a wide base of popular support. No single actor, no single group or coalition should have a monopoly on the political process, and to move forward, we believe that Sudan and the Sudanese people must be in a position to come together.

When it comes to the visit of President Sisi to Qatar, we welcome the visit and the recent meeting with the emir of Qatar. Both Egypt and Qatar are essential partners of the United States. Both have played an active role in facilitating peace in the region, and we support closer diplomatic, economic, and people-to-people ties between the two countries. Beyond that, I would need to refer you to those two countries.

Very final quick question, yes.

QUESTION: Final question on the U.S. and South Korea will hold the Extended Deterrence Strategy Consultation Group meeting tomorrow. What will be specifically discussed at the 2+2 meeting tomorrow?

MR PRICE: We will have more on this meeting to provide you tomorrow, but this is a meeting that will be led by our Under Secretary Bonnie Jenkins, our under secretary of our T family bureaus. They’ll be in a position to discuss our collective goal to ensure that the U.S.-ROK Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group is a substantive and sustainable forum where we can discuss all aspects of our cooperation and coordination. That includes diplomatic, economic, informational, and military, and how they contribute to deterring threats to the alliance. We’ll discuss threats from the DPRK and expanding cooperation against all avenues of potential aggression, and we’ll also discuss how the United States and our ROK allies can cooperate with regional partners to address our many shared security challenges.

We will hold this meeting tomorrow. As I said before, it will be led by Bonnie Jenkins. It will also include the Department of Defense, specifically Dr. Colin Kahl, who’s the under secretary of defense for policy. And it provides an opportunity for our government to discuss peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific more broadly.

Thank you all very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:16 p.m.)

# # #

 

Department Press Briefing – September 14, 2022

2:18 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR PRICE: Good to see everyone. Just one thing at the top today.

As we’ve stated for recent weeks and months, we’ve been working with foreign counterparts to support the establishment of an international financing mechanism that will facilitate the use of certain Afghan central bank reserves for the benefit of the people of Afghanistan without benefitting the Taliban.

Today, the Department of State and the Department of the Treasury, in coordination with international partners including the Government of Switzerland and Afghan economic experts, announced the establishment of a fund to benefit the people of Afghanistan, or the “Afghan Fund.”

In February, President Biden set a policy of enabling $3.5 billion worth of Afghan central bank reserves to be used for the benefit of the people of Afghanistan while keeping them out of the hands of the Taliban.

With the Afghan Fund, the United States and our partners are following through with that commitment with a concrete step toward ensuring that these additional resources will contribute to helping relieve hardship and suffering in Afghanistan.

In particular, we would like to thank the Swiss Government for its partnership to ensure this effort would be possible.

This fund will protect and preserve the Afghan central bank reserves, while making targeted disbursements to help stabilize Afghanistan’s economy and, ultimately, support its people and work to alleviate the worst effects of the humanitarian crisis.

The Afghan Fund will maintain its account with the Bank for International Settlements – or BIS – based in Switzerland. An external auditor will monitor and audit the Afghan Fund as required by Swiss law. The Taliban are not a part of this financing mechanism and resources disbursed will be for the benefit of the Afghan people, with clear safeguards and auditing in place to protect against diversion or misuse.

In addition to our leadership to facilitate the establishment of this fund, the United States continues to be the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people. This effort has proceeded along multiple tracks, including working with the World Bank and Asian Development Bank to make available more than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance and support for the basic needs in addition to over $814 million in U.S. humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people.

With these measures, we will help the people of Afghanistan as the economy of Afghanistan faces serious structural issues that no amount of external support can resolve on its own. And the U.S. has made clear to the Taliban that the onus is on them to make key reforms which we have outlined repeatedly.

With that, turn your questions.

QUESTION: Right. Thanks, Ned. I just have, like, 17 really brief – I’m kidding. (Laughter.)

MR PRICE: I would believe you if you told me that.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: (Laughter.) I don’t; I’m kidding. I didn’t have any, but now just because of your opening statement, I – so when is the soonest that this money could actually get to people or to organizations that could help people in Afghanistan?

MR PRICE: So a couple things on that, Matt. The establishment of the Afghan Fund was recently finalized; it was announced publicly today early this morning. We are working with our partners, including at the Treasury and our international partners as well, to disburse these funds to the Afghan Fund as soon as possible. We’re working with great alacrity.

QUESTION: Oh no, I – from the Afghan fund at the BIS, when is the soonest that any of this money might be able to actually make its way to help the people of —

MR PRICE: So there are a couple steps that would need to take place before that. One, we need to disburse the funds that are currently located in the United States to the Afghan Fund that’s based in Switzerland. That will take a little bit of time. We’re, of course, working as quickly as we can to do that.

But the other key point is that the Afghan Fund is explicitly not intended to make humanitarian disbursements. The Afghan Fund itself is to facilitate macroeconomic stability inside Afghanistan. So we will remain the largest humanitarian donor for the Afghan people. As I said before, we’ve already provided over $814 million. We’ve worked with international partners to facilitate the provision of over $1 billion, additional dollars, to the Afghan people. This is not what that fund is for. This fund is to provide macroeconomic stability in Afghanistan that will enhance the effectiveness of humanitarian assistance from the United States and other donors.

QUESTION: Okay, that’s fine, but how long is it going to take for the money, the 3.5 billion, which you guys have right now, to get to the BIS? And then how long is it going to take for it to get from the BIS to any group, whoever it is, that would actually help Afghanistan?

MR PRICE: So the answer to your first question is as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Well, okay, but what is that, a week?

MR PRICE: I’m —

QUESTION: Is that a day?

MR PRICE: I’m just not in a position to put an exact timeframe on it, but as soon as possible. The answer to your second question is largely dependent on needs and what the independent – what the trustees of the Afghan Fund, working closely with the independent auditors, assess are the macroeconomic needs of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: But Ned – that’s fine. But how soon could – once this board of governors or whatever it’s called decides that something is a worthy project, how long does it take to get from the BIS to Afghanistan? Like an hour? Less? Is it instantaneous transfer?

MR PRICE: Well, wiring money is a pretty instantaneous process. But of course, there will be —

QUESTION: Well, tell my banker that, but —

MR PRICE: I’m sorry to hear that. (Laughter.) Of course there will be deliberation on the part of the trustees to see to it that the targeted disbursements to —

QUESTION: No, I get it, but what’s —

MR PRICE: — to a vetted list of entities is appropriate and in the macroeconomic interests of the Afghan economy.

QUESTION: All right. And then last thing from me. The – you said that the President had set a policy of putting aside 3.5 billion, but that’s only half of the amount that is being held by you guys. And that other 3.5 billion, have the plans changed for that?

MR PRICE: That other 3.5 billion remains subject to litigation, and so we’re going to let that litigation proceed.

QUESTION: So they – so the Afghans can’t expect to see that, whether it’s the – not the Taliban, but whoever, the people in Afghanistan can’t expect to ever see that?

MR PRICE: First, the additional 3.5 billion is subject to litigation, so it’s not on us to get ahead of that litigation.

QUESTION: Could I just ask one thing to follow up on that?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Just for our understanding, will you guys, will this new fund be making announcement when this money is actually transferred to these economic efforts in Afghanistan? Like, will we be able to track this as it goes?

MR PRICE: We do have a U.S. representative as a trustee on the Afghan Fund, but this will be a decision on the part of the Afghan Fund. We’re not in a position to – we won’t be in a position to speak for the fund, because while we will have a representative, it is its own entity.

QUESTION: Will the fund itself make announcements about where it’s putting this money?

MR PRICE: I would need to defer to the fund to speak to that.

QUESTION: And do you have a prioritization for where in the economy this money should go, or is that still up to the board to make those decisions?

MR PRICE: Well, it will be up to the board to make those decisions. These are trustees from the United States, from the Government of Switzerland – there are two independent Afghan trustees as well. They in turn will make those decisions. There is a vetted list of sources for disbursement. But just to give you a flavor for what these sorts of macroeconomic infusions could look like, for example, to make payments for critical imports like electricity, that is something that could – we could envision the fund doing. To pay arrears at international financial institutions, the types of activities that are separate and apart from the day-to-day welfare that our humanitarian assistance and the humanitarian assistance of the international community is designed for. This has a very specific purpose that is separate from that.

Yes.

QUESTION: The – your representative for Afghanistan, Tom West, was having talks with the Taliban in Uzbekistan shortly before al-Qaida’s leader was killed in Kabul. Among the topics that were being discussed were the 3.5 billion. Can you detail any updates on any engagement with the Taliban since then, and whether they were in any way part of any discussions after those discussions and after the death of Zawahiri about this – these funds? Or how do you foresee engagement continuing with the Taliban?

MR PRICE: Well, these reserves have been a topic of discussion with the Taliban for months now, really going back to our earliest engagements with the Taliban. We have repeatedly made clear to them our concerns with potentially recapitalizing the Afghan central bank absent very specific reforms. We made clear – Tom West and others have made clear – to the Taliban that there are a number of steps that we would need to see before we could contemplate a recapitalization of the Afghan central bank.

For example, demonstrating its independence from political influence and interference, demonstrating it has instituted adequate anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism controls, complete a third-party needs assessment, and onboard a reputable third-party monitor. Those steps have not taken place yet. We’ve made very clear to the Taliban those are the kinds of steps that would need to occur before we could consider recapitalization.

But more broadly, our engagement with the Taliban has been predicated on U.S. interests and the interests of the Afghan people and the broader international community. And so that’s why in every engagement with them – and there, to my knowledge, has not been a senior-level engagement since the one you reference, since the one a couple months ago when Tom West met with Taliban representatives – we have emphasized the importance of human rights, the rights of all Afghans, including women and girls, minorities, religious minorities, ethnic minorities, the ability of the people of Afghanistan to freely depart the country should they so choose. The counterterrorism commitments that the Taliban has subscribed to – subscribed to publicly in its public commitments, but also the counterterrorism commitments that it put forward in the U.S.-Taliban agreement of 2020, commitments that clearly were not honored in the instance of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the now late al-Qaida leader living in Kabul.

And we’ve also made clear consistently the priority we attach to the safe return of Mark Frerichs. We have made clear to the Taliban that there cannot be any improvement in our relationship while the Taliban continues to retain control or to have control over a U.S. citizen who remains a hostage.

Nazira.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Price. As you mention about Afghanistan, still school is closed. Some primaries in Afghanistan opened and they reclosed. I don’t know how many group of Taliban they have power and control in Afghanistan. Even a week ago, girl in Afghanistan was crying because they open two months ago; they reclosed. That’s big consideration, and Afghan people has a high expectation from the United States. They said you are superpower. Why you don’t bring pressure on the so many terrorist group in Afghanistan? And it’s not fair to girl, cry every day. I’m crying here. Girl in Afghanistan – time goes fast. They lost their opportunity. Any option?

And also, the second question: Panjshir Province is a bad situation. Resistance group fighting with the Taliban, and hundred people get hostage by the Taliban. I don’t know United States know about it, support resistance or not? Resistance —

MR PRICE:  In many ways, Nazira, you are right. It is not fair. It is a profound injustice what the Taliban are doing, what the Taliban have done to Afghanistan’s women and girls. It is just a simple fact that no society can succeed, let alone thrive, if half or more of its population is systemically deprived of an education and, in turn, deprived of the opportunity that comes with secondary education. That is precisely what the Taliban has been doing. We are using the channels and the tools at our disposal to make very clear where the United States stands, where the international community stands, but also what the people of Afghanistan deserve and expect of those who purport to be their leaders.

Tom West, our special representative for Afghanistan, Rina Amiri, our special envoy for the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, they have made this point directly to the Taliban. They spoke to the so-called foreign minister, Mr. Muttaqi, in May, to make this point. Tom West in his face-to-face engagements with the Taliban have made this very similar point. And we are using every tool at our disposal to make clear that this is unacceptable.

The international community has certain sources of leverage. There are things that the Taliban wants and there are things that the Taliban has not gotten. We spoke to one of those today. The Taliban has desired a recapitalization of the Afghan central bank. The fact that the Taliban has not provided any solace or reassurance that funds would not be diverted for nefarious or otherwise malign purposes led us to the announcement that we made today, the establishment of an independent fund that puts this $3.5 billion in Afghan reserves out of reach of the Taliban itself even as that funding is – will be used to support the macroeconomic stability of the Afghan people.

They want sanctions relief. It’s very clear that the Taliban want to engage in broader economic activity with the international community. They want to be able to travel freely. The international community has made clear that while the Taliban systemically deprives half or more – in some cases much more – of its population of fundamental rights, that there will be no such sanctions relief.

They want better relations with the United States. They want better relations with the international community. They have called for the international community to reopen diplomatic outposts, to reopen embassies in Afghanistan. For our part, for the part of our partners and allies, we have made very clear that we are not looking at recognition. We are looking at where – in our interests, only practical engagement, practical engagement that we hope will push the Taliban in the right direction, and will continue to engage with them on that basis until we see improvements in those areas that we care most about.

QUESTION:  Sorry, Ned. You mentioned that – what this – you gave two examples of what this money might go to. One was electricity – paying – and the other one was paying arrears to international financial institutions.

MR PRICE:  That’s right. That’s right.

QUESTION:  Obviously, electricity is something that all Afghans, not just the Taliban, use or would want to use. But how is paying arrears to international financial institutions not benefiting the Taliban, remembering, of course, that money is fungible? So if they’re not having to use their own money for this, they’re putting that – whatever money they have to whatever they want to go.

And then secondly, what is the evidence that the Taliban wants better relations with the United States or the West? What is the evidence that they want to travel freely? They seem to be able to travel to Doha and then from there to go beyond.

MR PRICE:  They’re able to —

QUESTION:  What’s your evidence for this?

MR PRICE:  They’re able to travel to Doha only because of a travel ban exemption, a travel ban exemption that is still —

QUESTION:  Yeah. But what’s your evidence that they want to go to Australia or to Brazil? What’s the evidence for that?

MR PRICE:  Matt, these are individuals, some of whom have lived in Doha for quite some time or spent a significant amount of time there. They have made clear that —

QUESTION:  Yeah, and they – and they’re the ones that can afford to go to Doha. But the normal – the average Afghan person cannot fly – can’t —

MR PRICE:  We’re not – we’re not talking about the average Afghan person. We’re talking about senior Taliban officials. We’re talking about the restrictions that are placed on senior Taliban officials.

QUESTION: Well, what is the evidence that they want to —

MR PRICE: Of course, we’re differentiating between the Taliban and the Afghan people. We’re supporting the Afghan people.

QUESTION: What’s the evidence that they want to go anywhere other than New York for UNGA?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: What’s the evidence that they want to go anywhere other than New York for the UN General Assembly?

MR PRICE: They want to be able – they have made very clear in their public statements, but also in their private statements as well – they want to be seen as any other government around the world. What is very clear is that they are not any other government around the world. We have not recognized – that is not something that is on the table. But they want the benefits and the advantages that every other sovereign government around the world accrues.

When it come to the fungibility of money, this fund is for Afghanistan’s macroeconomic stability. Afghanistan’s macroeconomic stability is in the interests of the people of Afghanistan. It’s in the interests of the broader region. It’s in the interests of the international community. What is important is that the Taliban does not have access to these funds. The Taliban will not be able to pull the levers of these funds, to direct these funds to specific entities.

QUESTION: And I’m sorry to interrupt you, but look, the whole idea – you started off by saying you’re going to address the question of fungibility. The point is that they don’t need access to these funds directly. If you’re going to pay their debts to the IMF and the World Bank and whoever else, then they don’t —

MR PRICE: These —

QUESTION: It never – they don’t ever need to touch it.

MR PRICE: These are debts —

QUESTION: But they still benefit from it.

MR PRICE: These are debts – electricity payments, arrears – that would otherwise go unpaid and that would plunge Afghanistan into even greater levels of macroeconomic instability. That would not benefit the people of Afghanistan. Ultimately —

QUESTION: But isn’t —

MR PRICE: Ultimately – ultimately, we’re doing what is in the best interests of the people of Afghanistan, putting in place the safeguards to see to it and the auditing structures to see to it that these funds are used as they were intended.

Anything else on Afghanistan? Sure.

QUESTION: One more on Afghanistan while we’re still here. According to some congressional sources, the State Department has told Congress that there are more than 120,000 Afghan SIV applicants who are still in Afghanistan and that approximately 11,000 of them have chief-of-mission approval. Can you just bring us up to date as to – I mean, you say you’re supporting the Afghan people, but clearly these are Afghans who want to leave the country. So what is the status of those flights out of the country right now for those folks?

MR PRICE: Sure. So let me just give you an update. As you know, revamping and revitalizing the SIV program was an early priority of this administration. When we took office in January of 2021, there had not been a single interview, SIV interview, conducted in Kabul since March of the previous year – nearly a year without interviews. Some of that was as the result of COVID; some of that was the result of what appears to have been, unfortunately, intentional neglect of a program that would bring and that has brought thousands of our partners who have helped the U.S. military and the U.S. Government over the course of 20 years to the United States and to safety.

As a result of the steps we’ve taken internally as a result of the coordination that we’ve done with the other departments and agencies that have a role in this program, we have significantly shortened the processing time. We have taken that processing time and, by some estimates, reduced it by about one-tenth. We have shaved months and months off the time it takes to process an individual through the chief-of-mission stage.

As of essentially August 1st, in part because of some of these steps that we’ve taken, we’ve issued approximately 15,000 SIVs to principal applicants and their eligible family members since the start of the Biden administration.

Now, when it comes to the current backlog, as of August of this year there were approximately 17,000 principal applicants who have submitted all of the documents that are required for chief-of-mission approval. These applicants are either being reviewed for chief-of-mission approval or have received chief-of-mission approval and are awaiting further processing steps. These figures are published regularly on our website, quarterly, when it comes to the backlog.

Now, there are larger numbers out there. Some of those numbers are woefully inaccurate and just wrong. There are – there is a larger universe of Afghans who may wish to apply for this program, of Afghans who have completed one or more of the steps to – towards that chief-of-mission approval. But the number of Afghans who have submitted all of the documents required for this stage is 17,000.

QUESTION: And how many flights are going out a week?

MR PRICE: Flights are going out regularly. These are flights that we have maintained since shortly after the U.S. military withdrawal from Kabul late last year that over the course of nearly a year now, or just about a year, have taken more than 800 Americans, U.S. citizens; if I recall, more than 600 lawful permanent residents; but also thousands upon thousands of our Afghan allies on these flights as well.

QUESTION: And just to be clear, when you say 17,000 principal applicants —

MR PRICE: That’s right.

QUESTION: — that means an applicant, but it doesn’t include their family members who may be applying with them? Is that right?

MR PRICE: Well, under the law, as it was drafted by Congress, there are certain family members, close family members, who are eligible for the SIV program when there’s a principal applicant. So yes, those are principal applicants.

QUESTION: Yeah, right. Thank you.

QUESTION: And the 17 doesn’t include the 15 that were already granted, right?

MR PRICE: That’s correct, yeah, that’s correct.

Simon.

QUESTION: On Russia, Congress – some members of Congress are introducing a bill that would force the administration to declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism. Obviously, I don’t want to ask you a hypothetical, but the – the administration, you’ve said that the administration doesn’t support or doesn’t agree that the Russia should be – should get this designation. So I wonder if you could say whether – what is the sort of – the reason that you don’t support that? Is it because Russia doesn’t legally pass the test of state sponsor of terrorism, or are there other reasons? Is it because it’s not in the national security interests of the U.S.?

MR PRICE: So we have taken this question a number of times. Let me see if I can recap our approach to this particular step. We’ve always said we are going to do what is effective in holding Russia to account for its brutal invasion of Ukraine, and we have made good on that pledge. Since the earliest hours after February 24th, we have launched with ourselves and with partners around the world a series of rounds of sanctions aiming not only at President Putin and his lieutenants in the Kremlin, but also the cronies and others who enable them. We are going to continue to do that. And we have had even in recent days continued discussions with Congress about steps that would be appropriate and, importantly, effective for use as we continue to increase the costs on the Russian Federation for its brutal invasion.

A couple things, though. The SST statute, the state sponsor of terrorism statute, of course, as a statute, as a law, it was written by Congress, drafted by Congress. It is our charge, as is always the case, to examine the facts and to apply that to the law that was drafted by Congress. We have an obligation to always follow the law. We are going to do that whether it’s this statute or any other statute. So one thing, there’s a statutory definition.

But there’s also the unintended consequences that could come with designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. We believe that there are more targeted approaches that we could take that would hold the Russian economy and the Russian Government to account, to continue to impose those massive costs and consequences, without incurring those unintended consequences. We have heard from humanitarian organizations, we have heard from NGOs of their sincere and profound concerns that designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism would hinder their ability to deliver humanitarian assistance inside Ukraine, leaving aside what they could do inside Russia, what they would want to do inside Russia.

They have concerns that taking this step would hinder their ability to help the people of Ukraine, and that is something that we take very seriously. We also take very seriously the need to see food continue to leave from Ukrainian ports, to travel by Ukrainian rail. And we are mindful of the implications, intended or not, of potentially labeling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism – the implications it would have on the ability of the international community to take part in transactions would see food, whether it ultimately starts in Russia or ultimately takes root literally in Ukraine from getting to the region and well beyond.

So to sum it up, there are steps that we have taken and there are steps that we are discussing with Congress that we could take that would have effects that are analogous to those envisioned by the SST without those unintended consequences. But if you take a step back and you look at all that we have mounted on Russia, on President Putin, on the Kremlin since February 24th, you see a really stunning toll. You see a GDP that is in freefall – estimates range of a decline between six and 15 percent. About a thousand multinational companies have left, fled the Russian marketplace. We’ve seen inflation on the rise; we’ve seen the stock market tumble. We’ve seen the Russian Government have to go to extraordinary lengths to artificially prop up the value of the ruble.

And final point: All of the costs that have been imposed on the Russian economy, these are costs that will be compounded over time as the sanctions, coupled with the export controls, systematically deprive Russia of the inputs that it will need for its technological base, for its military base, for its defense base, for its energy production base. We will see the effects of these tools grow and grow over time. You already see Russia’s automotive industry struggling. You already see Russia turning to countries like North Korea, turning to North Korea and Iran to fulfill what it feels it needs on – to wage this war against Ukraine. That is all a result of the measures we’ve taken.

QUESTION: But what you’re saying to Congress is we’re discussing – you’re discussing with Congress analogous measures, but you shouldn’t do this, we don’t want to see this bill?

MR PRICE: We’ve – the President was asked about this recently. He voiced very clearly our approach to this particular authority. Again, these authorities are drafted by Congress. We have to marry the facts to the law. We also have to take into account the consequences, both intended and unintended, and that has led us to the approach we’ve taken here.

But yes, we are engaging with Congress on tools that would continue to have analogous implications for the Russian economy, for the Russian Government, that would not have those unintended consequences.

QUESTION: And separately, there’s a conversation today between Secretary-General Guterres and Putin, President Putin, discussing a possible deal on ammonia. This is all related to grain, the grain deal, I guess. Do you have any response to that (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: We’ll leave this to the UN to speak to. What I can say is that in the massive set of costs and consequences that we’ve imposed on Russia, we’ve been very careful at every turn to install humanitarian carve-outs for Russian food and fertilizer. So insofar as our sanctions, insofar as international sanctions are concerned, there is no limitation, there is no prohibition on the Russian export, on the Russian sale of food and fertilizer. That’s very intentional.

That also gets back to one of the points I was making previously about some of the potential unintended consequences of a designation like the SST. We need to see the world continue to receive food, to receive fertilizer. The grain deal that was instituted a number of weeks ago with Turkey, with the UN, with Ukraine, and also with Russia has been an instrumental part of that – more than 2.7 million metric tons in about 120 voyages that have left from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports in recent weeks. We want to see food continue to flow. We are not going to do anything to hinder that in any way.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Staying on Russia.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: It’s been reported that ex-Governor Richardson is in Moscow this week, presumably to try and help or release the U.S. prisoners there. Do you have any details of that trip? Would – do you support it? Do you condemn it? Do you think it would be helpful? What can you say to that? And have you, the State Department itself, been in contact with the ex-governor?

MR PRICE: We have been in contact with the Richardson Center. We’re not going to comment on the governor’s travel or the governor’s activity. What we have said is that we have been engaged directly with the Russian Government through the appropriate channels to do everything we can to bring home Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. When President Biden met President Putin in Geneva in June of 2021, they discussed this very issue. They established an appropriate channel that these issues would be worked through. That is the channel that we have been using this time.

Through that channel, as the Secretary said standing here a couple months ago now, we made a significant offer to the Russians. We have followed up on that proposal repeatedly. Those discussions are ongoing.

Our concern is that private citizens attempting to broker a deal do not and cannot speak for the U.S. Government. And we have urged, warned private citizens not to travel to Russia owing to the dangers that they would face. And of course, those dangers are pronounced given that we’re talking about the case of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.

Our concern is that anything other than negotiating further through the established channel is likely to hinder the efforts that we have undertaken to see the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.

QUESTION: On Russia?

QUESTION: Same topic, Ned.

MR PRICE: Same topic?

QUESTION: Same topic.

MR PRICE: Same topic.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Ned, war crimes investigation (inaudible) continues to expand in Ukraine because they found an access to new territory, new facts. The defense minister just posted a picture which they believe to be torture chamber, where they torture Ukrainian prisoners. Also new bodies were found in Kharkiv. How much does it reflect on your end? I know you have several State Department bureaus are working on this at the same time. And are you prepared to call what Russia is doing in Ukraine war crime?

MR PRICE: We – we have already called it a war crime. We have said very clearly that Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine. We came to that assessment after evaluation just a few weeks into the – Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Their —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) believe that this is – this also is a sign of genocide that the Russian Government has been committing?

MR PRICE: Well, there is no question that Russia has committed – Russia’s forces have committed war crimes. Russia’s forces have committed atrocities. Russia’s forces have committed what appear to be crimes against humanity. Genocide, like other terms, carries its own definition. There are offices and individuals in this building, including our ambassador at large for Global Criminal Justice, whose primary task is to work with international partners culling through the evidence that has been collected in an effort to analyze, to preserve it, and to disseminate it so that we can support the global accountability mechanisms that are already in play.

The Ukrainian prosecutor – the office of the Ukrainian prosecutor general has an effort underway, has had an effort underway for some time. There have already been prosecutions that have been carried out under those auspices. The OSCE and its Moscow Mechanism is taking a very close look at reports of war crimes and atrocities committed by Russia’s forces, and the ICC has indicated an effort to take a close look at well – as well. We support all of these and any other accountability efforts that are likely to end in accountability for the Russian officials responsible for this.

QUESTION: Yes, and about the SST, what of the – what of the SST designation? What are the signs that you —

MR PRICE: We’ve covered this a little bit, so I’m going to try and move around. Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, so I mean – but I also want to follow up on Simon’s question just about the SST, because you cited potentially unintended consequences, but this administration previously lifted a SDGT off of a Yemeni terrorist group, the Houthis, but then you also – I know you guys haven’t, but the administration has mentioned that they’re considering or reconsidering designating group because of actions that they’ve taken following that move by the administration. So is the administration prepared to review – I mean, after today’s bipartisan legislation, which obviously go further than the non-binding resolution that passed calling on Russia – calling on the U.S. to designate Russia as an SST – I mean, if Russia continues or increases these war crimes or other actions inside Ukraine, is the administration prepared to reconsider that decision that it’s taken not to designate Russia?

MR PRICE: So a couple of things on this. You referenced the revocation of the FTO that was leveled against the Houthis. That’s obviously a very different authority than the state sponsor of —

QUESTION: Well, just because – I’m drawing the parallel because it was for humanitarian —

MR PRICE: Well, and you were making the point that I was making earlier. We made a decision very – very early on in this administration to take a targeted approach towards the Houthis, to designate and to hold accountable through appropriate authorities those Houthi leaders who were directly responsible for the cross-border attacks, for the terrorism, for the other offenses that had been a menace to the region. And that’s what we’ve done, but we lifted the FTO, again, after hearing from NGOs and humanitarian organizations that that specific designation would and had had unintended consequences for millions of Yemenis, which at the time was the site of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. So we are intensely attuned to the humanitarian implications of authorities, whether it’s FTO, SDGT, SST.

To your second question, we are always evaluating the facts when it comes to any authority, including the SST. That is our job – to marry the legislation as drafted by Congress with the facts, with the policy considerations. So we are always taking a close look, but right now we have taken the approach that I outlined to Simon precisely because of the consequences that we want to see for Russia and the unintended consequences we don’t want to see.

Yes, sir, in the back.

QUESTION: Hold on a second. Do you think that – granted the SST and the FTO are different – yeah, that’s right – are different animals. But are – is it your assessment that the humanitarian situation in Yemen improved after you lifted the FTO designation on the Houthis?

MR PRICE: It is absolutely our assessment that the humanitarian situation improved after lifting the FTO designation and working – importantly – with our Yemeni partners, with our Saudi partners, with other partners in the region to achieve a humanitarian ceasefire and a humanitarian truce that has allowed humanitarian aid to enter parts of Yemen that had not seen humanitarian assistance in more than seven years.

QUESTION: Okay. So the answer – I’m sorry, I know this is – and I know I’m annoying other people – the answer to my question is yes?

MR PRICE: Correct, yes.

QUESTION: Thanks

MR PRICE: Sir, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Yesterday the State Department released information about Russia actually spent $300 million for worldwide influence, spreading influence. Do you have any specifics, maybe, today? I am interested for Balkans countries. People over there are very eager to know who got Russia’s money, what politicians, what country, what political party, organization and everything. Western Balkans is very fragile area right now, as you know.

MR PRICE: I don’t have any specific information to offer, and that’s quite intentional. We undertook the exposure step we did yesterday in an effort to make the point of the universal threat – nearly universal threat – that countries around the world face from the potential and, in some cases, the very real possibility of Russian interference in their sovereign political affairs. We’ve talked about Russia’s very explicit and blatant attack on Ukrainian sovereignty in the context of Russia’s war against Ukraine. But around the world, including in this country, Russia and Russian actors have attempted to chip away at the sovereignty of peoples around the world by attempting to deprive from them their ability to make what should be a sovereign decision about who governs them, who leads them, who wins in their elections.

And that was the point of this. Our concern with Russia’s activity is certainly not in regard to any one country or any one region, but it is global in nature. And that’s why we wanted to put a spotlight on it.

QUESTION:  I suppose that you are very aware that Russia has big role in Western Balkans countries, big influence over there. They are very active. And people on – majority of population is actually very worried what will happen, how to stop that.

MR PRICE:  Well, and that is part of the reason, without speaking to any specific countries, why not only we took the public step we did yesterday, but perhaps even more importantly, we have engaged with countries around the world to share what we know about Russia’s meddling in electoral systems broadly, but also in specific cases. When we have – including intelligence information – regarding Russia’s interference, we’re often in a position to pass that classified information to government partners. We work with them to devise ways to thwart that interference. Sometimes that is in steps that are public, whether it’s through expulsions, whether it’s through the use of sanctions or other authorities. Sometimes that takes place in ways that are not public. But —

QUESTION:  How much is State Department worried about specifically Western Balkans countries and Russian influence? It’s a big problem over there. How you worry? What can you do to help those countries?

MR PRICE:  I’m just not going to speak to any specific country or region in this context. It is a universal concern.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION:  Thank you. My question is about the situation in the Caucasus. And I know that Secretary Blinken had been involved already in talks with Armenian and Azerbaijani officials. But the situation remains very intense, and the report suggests that the forces of Azerbaijan advanced and captured sovereign territories of the Republic of Armenia, and the humanitarian situation is very desperate. Do you have any updates on that?

MR PRICE:  Yes, you are correct that the situation continues to be very concerning. We are deeply concerned about continued attacks along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. We’ve seen continued attacks now for a second straight day. We are particularly disturbed by continued reports of civilians being harmed inside Armenia. As you know, Secretary Blinken, shortly after hostilities broke out earlier this week, had an opportunity overnight to speak to the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan. He conveyed our deep concern over military actions along their shared border, including reports of shelling inside Armenia. He urged President Aliyev to cease hostilities immediately, to disengage military forces, to pull forces back from the border, and to cease hostilities that could endanger civilians, and to work to resolve all outstanding issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan through peaceful negotiations.

We’ve made clear, in this context and before, to both leaders and at all levels that there can be no military solution to this dispute. And we’ve urged both sides to refrain from further military hostilities and to engage in dialogue and diplomacy. For our part, we do remain deeply engaged. Ambassador Reeker, who is our senior advisor for Caucasus negotiations, he is still in Baku. He met yesterday, on September 13th and Wednesday, today, with senior Azerbaijani leaders. Ambassador Reeker met with President Aliyev yesterday in Baku. Assistant Secretary Donfried of our Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs spoke earlier this afternoon with Foreign Minister Bayramov of Azerbaijan. And we remain committed to doing all we can to promote a peaceful and prosperous future for the South Caucasus.

QUESTION:  Very briefly on Turkey’s role. Erdoğan said they support Azerbaijan and there might be consequences, as he said, for Armenia, kind of blaming the victim. And Putin, president of Russia, and Erdoğan might discuss the situation in Armenia later this week. Have you had any talks with your Turkish counterparts considering Turkey’s growing role and kind of support to Azerbaijan, to one side of the conflict?

MR PRICE:  Secretary Blinken, Ambassador Reeker, Assistant Secretary Donfried, others in her bureau have had a number of conversations, including with Armenia and Azerbaijan, but with other concerned stakeholders and partners. Not in a position to detail all of those engagements, but as I said yesterday, we are going to remain deeply engaged in the diplomacy. We are prepared to do all we can on a bilateral basis, on a multilateral basis, to see to it that these hostilities come to an end and that tensions are de-escalated.

Shannon.

QUESTION:  Just a follow-up —

MR PRICE: Shannon.

QUESTION: A couple of questions on two – about two of the Americans wrongfully detained in Russia. On Richardson, I just wanted to know if you could put a fine point on your messaging in May, which is when he first became involved in Griner’s case. You said, we welcome all partnerships that are closely coordinated that might help us seek the safe release of detained Americans. Can you just say, firstly, what’s changed there?

MR PRICE:  Well, nothing has changed. We – again, there is an established channel in the case of Russia. It was a channel that was established by the two presidents. This was not something that we have imposed that the other side does not agree to. President Biden and President Putin agreed to discuss this very issue in this very specified channel when they met in June of 2021.

Of course, families are perfectly free to engage and to consult with outside voices, with outside entities. But again, we want to make sure that any outside effort is fully and transparently coordinated with us, and in this case we believe that any efforts that fall outside of that officially designated channel have the potential to complicate what is already an extraordinarily complicated challenge that we face – Russia’s practice of detaining Americans wrongfully, including in this case Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.

QUESTION: Special Envoy Carstens – sorry, a follow-up?

MR PRICE: Go ahead, yeah.

QUESTION: So he’s traveling to Vatican City today, you announced.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Can you just say more about that trip and —

MR PRICE: I – we did announce that he’s traveling to Vatican City, but as you know, with Ambassador Carstens, we often announce where he’s going without providing any context. But I can say he’s traveling to the Vatican to meet with Vatican officials regarding our efforts to see the safe return of Americans held against their will overseas. I —

QUESTION: Were you trying to suggest just then that Governor Richardson’s efforts are not fully and transparently coordinated with you guys?

MR PRICE: I – I think I was clear. I’ll leave it to you.

QUESTION: Well, no, you weren’t. I mean, you said that you want them to be coordinated, but you – but it sounded as though you were suggesting that he’s just out there operating on his own without any discussion. Is that what you were trying to imply?

MR PRICE: As I said, we have been in – we have been in contact with the Richardson Center. Not in a position to comment specifically on his travel, but what I could – what I can say is that this travel was not coordinated in advance with the embassy.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: With the embassy?

MR PRICE: With the embassy.

QUESTION: I’m going to change topics —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: — to the Palestinian issue very quickly. First, I want to note that the journalist I mentioned yesterday, Lama Ghosheh, was released, albeit encumbered with restrictions like a $15,000 fine and restricted to the home. And I sure hope that you played a role in that. I don’t know, but I trust that you may have. So I just wanted to note that she’s released for now.

Second, I want to ask you: Are you really concerned about the looming violence that is about to erupt in the West Bank, that is really erupting in the West Bank? And it’s all due to Israeli action, Israeli aggression, if you will, over the past so many months – of course, always; it’s in the history of the occupation – but we have seen an uptick since the interim prime minister took office back in June. We’ve seen it in Gaza. We’ve seen it everywhere. We’ve seen it yesterday in Jenin where two Palestinians and an Israeli soldier was killed. And I am wondering that these continued raids, nightly raids, should they stop to give – to give at least the Palestinian Authority that you claim to – to support and so on a chance of controlling things, lest it be completely – lest it lose all control?

MR PRICE: To your question, Said, we’re always concerned when we see escalated tensions, including and especially in a place like the West Bank, where violence there can have outsized implications for the broader region. We deplore the increased violence in the West Bank. We continue to urge Israeli and Palestinian officials to work cooperatively to lower tensions. Of course, Israel has every right to defend itself.

QUESTION: They’re attacking the Jenin camp. I mean, they’re not defending themselves. These are soldiers – they’re professional killers. They are there not to throw rose petals on the Palestinians or give them cookies.

MR PRICE: Said, we’re continuing both – we’re urging both Israelis and Palestinians to do what they can to lower tensions, to de-escalate tensions.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me just ask one more question that Matt raised yesterday about the organizations, the six organizations. Now, I’m sure you saw the reports in Axios and other places that a team of Israelis were here trying to convince you of their evidence and so on. And I know Matt asked about this. So what is your conclusion? Are you going to arrive at a conclusion anytime soon? Are you going to designate them as such? Are you going to go along with the Israelis? Are you going to say to them, no, these organizations are human rights organizations, this is the kind of work that they do?

MR PRICE: We discussed this at length yesterday, and what I said yesterday remains – remains operative today. We have had recent discussions, recent engagements with our Israeli partners. They have shared additional information regarding their rationale and their reasoning for designated – designating these Palestinian NGOs. But as I said yesterday, we’re continuing to evaluate that information. I wouldn’t want to prejudge or to prejudice that process from here.

Anyone who hasn’t asked? Leon?

QUESTION: Yeah, a question on North Korea, if I may. State Department usually likes to react and comment on whatever happens in the world, but unless I’m mistaken – and I may be – I haven’t seen a public reaction on the new North Korean law that declares the state – nuclear state – irreversible nuclear state. So I was wondering if that – if that’s on purpose that you’re keeping things quiet? What comment do you have with that new law? And especially since I think there’s a revival of the U.S.-South Korean deterrence strategy forum, or I’m not sure of the exact name, and that’s supposed to take place I think tomorrow or Friday, something like that. So could you give some comment?

MR PRICE: So I don’t know that it serves our collective interest to comment on every single one of the incendiary developments and provocations that emanate from the DPRK. What I can say to your question is that the challenges and the broader set of threats posed by the DPRK to the Indo-Pacific, specifically to our treaty allies Japan and the ROK, will be a key topic of the discussion that you reference. It’s a discussion on Friday of the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group between the Republic of Korea and the United States. I do expect that the DPRK’s new law and its implications for the Korean Peninsula will be a part of that discussion. But we’ll leave it there.

Yes.

QUESTION: One more. Why is the State Department being so tight-lipped about Advisor Hochstein’s travel to the Middle East? I mean, the U.S. has been heavily mediating for years now, and the embassy in Beirut released a small statement, but you guys haven’t made any official statements. I know you don’t comment on every single trip every diplomat makes but, I mean, this is something pretty significant.

MR PRICE: I suppose I would take issue with the idea that we’ve been tight-lipped. We —

QUESTION: About this most recent trip, excuse me. Correct.

MR PRICE: We, if I’m not mistaken, have spoken to it just about every briefing, and we often do announce his travel ahead of time. He was recently in Beirut, as we said; he has continued to be in contact from back here with Israeli and with Lebanese officials. He’s continuing that robust engagement to bring the maritime boundary discussions to a close. We continue to narrow the gaps between the parties and we believe a lasting compromise between the parties is possible. We welcome the consultative spirit that both parties have brought to this in an effort to reach a resolution.

I’d also add that shuttle diplomacy is just one component of the rigorous work that our team is undertaking to resolve this dispute. And Amos, Special Coordinator Hochstein, is in communication daily, as I said, with Israeli and Lebanese officials, including Lebanese Deputy Speaker of Parliament Bou Saab, and Ambassador Shea, our ambassador in Lebanon, also remains in touch with the speaker, with the prime minister, and their advisers as well.

We have long said that doing everything we can to help resolve this border dispute is a priority. We believe a deal has the potential to promote lasting stability and economic prosperity for both countries. As part of that, I am certain Special Advisor Hochstein will continue to travel to the region, but I am also certain he’ll remain engaged from back here.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a question on Cuba?

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: Very quick question. Former National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes just accused the Biden administration of gaslighting Cuba.

QUESTION: That’s quite a promotion.

QUESTION: Huh? Deputy, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: He wasn’t.

QUESTION: He wasn’t. Okay, all right. Well, former Obama administration official Ben Rhodes accused the Biden administration of gaslighting Cuba. You’re maintaining the same harsh sanctions, the same harsh rhetoric, you’re not opening up. Could you explain that?

MR PRICE: Well, I’ll say a couple things. When it comes to Cuba, our policy has been predicated on the interests of the Cuban people, on the aspirations for greater freedom, greater democracy on the part of the Cuban people. It is true that this administration’s policy is not identical to the policy of the Obama-Biden administration. But it is also true that since 2017, five, six years have gone by. The Cuban regime in some ways has become even more repressive. We saw a stark reminder of that more than a year ago in July of 2021, when peaceful protests expressing aspirations for a brighter future were met with crackdowns and arrests and incarcerations across the island. That’s just one example of the repression that we’ve continued to see on the part of the Cuban regime.

We have taken steps that seek to serve the interests of the Cuban people. We have worked to restart travel and flights between the United States and Cuba. We have worked on programs that can unify and reunify families – separated in some cases by a mere 90 miles between Florida and Cuba – to bring families back together. We have increased our staffing at our embassy in Havana, in large part to provide additional consular support to process visas for, in many cases, this family reunification. And we’ve taken other steps that we think work and help to serve those interests and aspirations of the Cuban people.

Last question, Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. On Karabakh. You mentioned some diplomatic efforts during the past 24 hours; thanks for details. Is there any room for the United States to step in as a facilitator for next meeting? I know that New York has been entertained during those phone calls. Have you heard from Armenia or Azerbaijan for next week, any hope for next meeting?

MR PRICE: We have had a number of conversations with senior officials in both countries. I wouldn’t want to detail the contents of those, but we have made clear to officials in both countries, to officials in the region, we have also made clear publicly that we are prepared to engage bilaterally as well as multilaterally, in any way that would be constructive to bring about an immediate end to this violence and more broadly a de-escalation of tensions going forward.

Thank you.

QUESTION: One more question on the UN, just because he asked about meetings next week. I know you guys haven’t detailed the schedule at all, but should we expect that the Secretary will seek a meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, or no?

MR PRICE: Again, our schedule is still coming together. What I can say at this point is that it is our firm belief that it cannot be business as usual with the Russian Federation. I am certain that the UN next week will provide an opportunity for Secretary Blinken and our counterparts around the world to speak not only to the principle of sovereignty that is really at the heart of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, but also some of the attendant implications that have had dire consequences around the world – rising food, commodity, energy prices around the world.

So we’ll have an opportunity to speak to Russia’s actions, but at the heart of our approach is a belief that it can’t be business as usual with Russia.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

Department Press Briefing – September 13, 2022

2:32 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Good to see everyone.

QUESTION: Welcome back.

MR PRICE: Thank you. It’s good to be back. I appreciate you welcoming me back after you’ve had the pleasure and luxury of hearing from Vedant for the past couple briefings. I do have one thing at the top, and then we’ll turn to your question.

Today the Secretary’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion is proud to announce the public release of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Strategic Plan. This strategic plan is part of the administration’s interagency effort aligned with President Biden’s Executive Order 14035 to promote DEIA in the federal workforce.

As Secretary Blinken has often said, bringing diversity of expertise and lived experience to the policymaking table is not just a nice to have; it is a national security imperative. This strategic plan is essential to building an equitable meritocracy where all employees can realize their full potential. Doing the work to implement milestones laid out in this plan will translate into a stronger, smarter, and more effective foreign policy, and we’ll have more to say on all of that in the weeks and months ahead.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you. Ned, it’s been a while. I’ll just start out – I have just three really brief ones, and then I’ll —

MR PRICE: Matt, your brief questions often turn out not – not to be brief.

QUESTION: They will be – will be really brief.

MR PRICE: But I will take your word for it.

QUESTION: So it’s been a while since I’ve asked you about this, but I just want your – so have we all forgotten about now – is the whole investigation into the swastika thing? Is that just done and no one has been found to be responsible for? Is that —

MR PRICE: Matt, this was an investigation that the Secretary directed as soon as this was brought to attention shortly after the swastika was discovered.

QUESTION: Right, I know. But is it over and done with?

MR PRICE: It’s never over. Of course we’re not closing the book on this. We are going to continue to do everything we can not only to identify who may have been responsible in this case, but perhaps just as importantly to do everything we can to put in place protections to see to it that something like this doesn’t happen again.

QUESTION: The reason that I bring it up is because you started with the diversity, inclusion, and —

MR PRICE: Understood.

QUESTION: — and it just jogged my memory about this.

MR PRICE: I understand.

QUESTION: But am I correct in thinking that no one has been found – no one has been —

MR PRICE: We have not released any public information about holding an individual accountable, but I can tell you this is an utmost priority.

QUESTION: All right.

MR PRICE: When this atrocious symbol was found, our Bureau of Diplomatic Security immediately set out on this path.

QUESTION: And then speaking of accountability, have you now closed the book on Israel’s investigation into the death of Shireen Abu Akleh? And have you – are you satisfied with the accountability or – well, quote/unquote accountability that Israel has come up with, which is what you demanded of them?

MR PRICE: Well, Vedant talked about this last week – or the week before – when the Israelis released their final report.

QUESTION: Right.

MR PRICE: We welcome the comprehensive review of the tragic events that led to the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. The Israeli investigation came to a similar conclusion as did the report produced by the U.S. security coordinator, finding a high likelihood that Ms. Abu Akleh was killed by a bullet that emanated from the IDF position.

We have always said as well it is important that countries around the world, including Israel, do everything they can to protect civilian life. And of course, reporters, journalists are civilians; they should never be targeted. The Israeli report similar to the USSC report found no indication of intentionality, and we’ve continued to discuss with Israel the importance of accountability, to see to it that policies and practices are put in place —

QUESTION: Since Vedant was asked about this two weeks ago or whatever – 10 days ago – I was one of the people who was asking him about it.

MR PRICE: I saw.

QUESTION: Has there been any – are you satisfied with the level of accountability that you’ve seen?

MR PRICE: We’re continuing to discuss this with our Israeli partners.

QUESTION: All right. And then lastly, also having to do with Israel, the NGO closures – you had said at the time when it happened that the Israelis were going to be presenting you with some additional evidence to back up – to demonstrate their case against these. Did you ever get that? Because you hadn’t the last time I asked about it.

MR PRICE: Our Israeli partners have in recent days provided us with additional information. They provided this information not only to the department but also to a range of our interagency partners. We are continuing to review this and that process is ongoing.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you be just a little bit more specific about recent days?

MR PRICE: Last week.

QUESTION: Okay. So it was not the day that you had thought or hoped. It was just last week?

MR PRICE: No, I – when I first mentioned this —

QUESTION: No, no, I understand.

MR PRICE: — I didn’t offer a day. I conveyed to you what the Israelis had conveyed to us, was that they would be forthcoming with additional information. They have provided additional information.

QUESTION: And you haven’t made any kind of judgment or —

MR PRICE: We’re continuing to review it.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks.

QUESTION: Ned, can I follow up?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: A little bit on Matt’s questioning.

MR PRICE: Of course.

QUESTION: Now, I know that Vedant tried to explain the meaning of accountability, but to be quite honest, I didn’t understand it. I don’t think anyone does – I mean, looking at social media, nobody seems to have endorsed your position on accountability in this particular case. In this particular case, what is accountability? How – what is the definition?

MR PRICE: So a couple facts are relevant here, Said; one of them is the fact that not only the U.S. security coordinator but in this case the Palestinian Authority and the IDF conducted its own thorough, comprehensive review into the tragic killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. Of course, coming to a conclusion as the IDF did, the USSC did with high probability in both cases – that, of course, is part of it. We, in order to understand what happened, need a comprehensive accounting of the circumstances and the events that lead to her tragic killing. The IDF report is part of that.

The other relevant fact here is what both the USSC report found and what the IDF found, and that was no indication of intentionality on the part of the IDF. So we’ve always been very clear that we’re not looking for criminal accountability, as it were, because both from the USSC findings and Israel’s own findings, this was not an intentional, targeted killing. This was the tragic result of a gunfight in the context of an Israeli raid in the West Bank.

So when we talk about accountability in this context, we have always put an emphasis on the importance of policies and procedures to do everything we can and to do everything that our partners can, in this case, to see to it that something like this can’t happen again. This is not unique to Israel. This is something we place a great emphasis on in our own country. Our Department of Defense recently released some updated information about the lengths to which they go to mitigate and prevent, to the extent possible, the eventuality of civilian harm or civilian deaths. This is what governments – what we encourage of governments around the world. This is what we do here in our own government. So we are continuing to have conversations with our Israeli partners about the imperative, the importance of protecting civilian life, including, of course, the life of reporters and journalists.

QUESTION: Yeah, just quick follow-ups on this. I mean, accountability for the layman means that if somebody does something wrong, then they have to pay a price. I mean, that’s what accountability is.

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: But I am no legal expert. I’m sure that you guys have legal foundations for your definitions.

MR PRICE: Well, again, Said, it is a relevant fact that both the IDF and the USSC, which took the findings of the Palestinian Authority’s investigation as well as what were then the preliminary findings of the IDF, and found no indication of intentionality. So there was no basis for that sort of criminal accountability, if you will. When we talk about accountability in this case, we want to see everything – steps put in place to see to it that the possibility that something like this could happen again is profoundly mitigated.

QUESTION: Okay. The Israelis arrested another Palestinian journalist, Lama Ghosheh. They have not levied any charges against her and so on, and they extended her administration detention. She’s done nothing. She’s reported on Sheikh Jarrah and so on. I wonder if you’re aware of this.

MR PRICE: We’re aware of the reports of the detention of Lama Ghosheh. We continue to support press freedoms and the protections of all journalists in carrying out their indispensable work around the world. That includes in Israel, that includes in Gaza, that includes in the West Bank.

QUESTION: Shouldn’t the Israelis either charge her with something or let her go? I mean, that’s what you would do here, right?

MR PRICE: Again, Said, we are – we’re familiar with this case. We in all contexts and in all countries have defended and championed the rights of journalists to carry out their legitimate and indispensable function.

QUESTION: I appreciate your indulgence. Just a couple more – and my colleagues, of course. I wanted to ask you on what Ambassador Nides said about Gaza the other day. I mean, he made it sound like Israel – there was no cost for that war. I mean, 49 Palestinians were killed and a lot of destruction has happened. Were his statements appropriate?

MR PRICE: In all of our statements, including in Ambassador Nides’s statements, we have expressed sincere condolences to all of those civilians who lost their lives, whether it was in the recent conflict in Gaza, whether it was in last year’s, where we saw many more Palestinian and Israelis killed in the crossfire, in the indiscriminate attacks that were emanating from Gaza, in Israel’s operations to target those positions. Of course, we offer condolences to all civilians who have been killed or injured in this conflict. It’s why we welcomed the agreement that brought an end to the brief flare-up in violence this summer. It’s why we welcomed an end to the hostilities last June after 11 days.

In both cases, we worked with not only the parties but our partners in the region to bring about a ceasefire, and in the aftermath of those ceasefires last year and again this year, to see to it that they are durable, not only for the sake of the agreement but also because they protect civilian life. They allow humanitarian aid to go in and they bring the promise of a better future for Israelis and, importantly, for Palestinians. Too often, Palestinians and for too long Palestinians in Gaza have been deprived of the possibility of opportunity, and it’s our goal to see to it that people in Gaza, their neighbors in Israel know that we place an emphasis on equality of prosperity, security, opportunity, and dignity for Palestinians and Israelis alike.

QUESTION: And lastly, today marks the 29th anniversary of the Oslo agreement, the Oslo Accords. Do you think that it has outlived its purpose? I mean, it has not brought two-state solution. It has not brought all the stuff that was promised in the agreement. All the – lots of stuff that was sponsored by the United States and spent a lot of time, money, and effort of the United States to make those goals meet their intended end, but they never did. So you think the time has come for all parties to drop the façade of the Oslo Accords and maybe go on and do something else?

MR PRICE: The Oslo Accords were an historic agreement. You are right that we haven’t achieved a negotiated two-state solution between the parties, but the Oslo Accords set out the framework under which Israelis and Palestinians have lived side by side for nearly three decades. It demonstrated, in a very visceral and real way, the possibility for peace – and Israeli leader shaking hands with a Palestinian leader, brokered by an American president, something that just a few years earlier might have been inconceivable.

It is precisely why we have continued to place an emphasis on the importance of normalization agreements in the region to bring and to build bridges between Israel and its neighbors in ways that, again, just a few years ago might have been inconceivable.

So the promise of Oslo is not yet fulfilled, but we are continuing to work with our partners – Israelis, Palestinians, partners in the region – to do all we can to support an eventual two-state solution to this protracted conflict.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on the Israel stuff, just to double-check, you guys have called for a review of rules of engagement in the occupied West Bank, and I believe Israelis have publicly rebuffed that, maybe not addressing U.S. Have you received any different response from them, signaling that they might look into this?

MR PRICE: So a couple things. One, I’m going to leave our communication with the IDF and with our Israeli partners to diplomatic channels. We’re just not going to detail the specifics of that engagement. Two, we have noted and underscored the imperative of accountability and the importance of accountability, but we haven’t been prescriptive. No one knows the IDF’s processes and procedures better than the IDF. And so it is not on us or any other country or entity to say precisely what the IDF or any military or security organization around the world should do.

It is incumbent on us to continue to underscore the importance that we place on mitigating civilian harm and taking steps, including policies and procedures, revised policies and procedures, that would mitigate the possibility of civilian harm. So these are conversations that we continue to have.

QUESTION: Israel says it’s – often that the West Bank security sweeps are necessary due to the absence of PA enforcement, Palestinian Authority. And then PA says it’s – it has been discredited and weakened by Israel. Which sequencing does the United States agree with?

MR PRICE: Look, I’m not going to get into the sequencing, but it is undeniably true that Israel faces a profound threat. It is a threat that emanates not only from Hamas in Gaza, but it is a threat that emanates from terrorist groups but also lone actors, including lone actors who have recently committed horrific acts of terrorism and violence, actors who emanated from the West Bank. So there is no denying the security threat that Israel faces.

There is also no denying the fact that relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have waxed and waned over the years. And when those relations are at a nadir, we do often find that the Palestinian Authority is less positioned to take on the security threats in places like the West Bank. And so we have placed an emphasis on doing what we can to be a constructive voice and to be a constructive actor to bring Israelis and Palestinians together, to work closely with our Israeli partners, to provide them precisely what they need for their defense, but also to work with our Palestinian counterparts and the Palestinian people to provide humanitarian support, to re-establish a relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, a relationship that was largely ruptured as of 18 months ago when we came into office.

We sincerely believe that through that work, through that relationship-building and capacity-building with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, that we can give and we can help offer a greater degree of opportunity to the people of Gaza, to the people of the West Bank, that will, over time, help to bend and break the cycle of violence. Of course, that hasn’t happened yet. It’s a long-term proposition. It will likely be a proposition that future administrations will have to contend with as well.

QUESTION: And do you see a possible escalation in the violence? And if so, what might it look like – another intifada, or more isolated attacks by armed Palestinian groups? You also said that PA would be less positioned–I mean, does that mean that you guys worry about its potential collapse?

MR PRICE: We are working every day to de-escalate tensions together with our Israeli partners, our Palestinian partners, and with partners in the region – countries like Egypt, countries like Qatar, other regional partners that have relationships, whether it’s with the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian people, or the Israeli Government. So our constant goal is to see to it that tensions remain at a low, to do everything we can to de-escalate before we see signs of conflict and signs of violence once again creep up.

Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. A different region – Armenia, Azerbaijan. I’ve seen the readouts —

MR PRICE: Anything else in the Middle East before we move on? Let me just finish up here.

QUESTION: Okay, sure.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Could we go to Egypt?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Does the administration this year plan to withhold 300 – the full 300 million in foreign military financing that Congress has conditioned? And when can we expect a decision on that?

MR PRICE: So these are conversations that we are having internally, that we will have with our congressional partners, our congressional overseers. Of course, we made clear last year our concerns on some accounts. We have continued to have a discussion with our Egyptian partners over the course of the last year, making abundantly clear that an improvement in – when it comes to human rights, when it comes to civil liberties, when it comes to specific cases, would ultimately lead to a stronger and more durable bilateral relationship between the United States and Egypt.

There is no question that Egypt is an indispensable partner. I’ve already said once the important role Egypt plays in the region, not only as a guarantor of the 1979 Camp David Accords but also serving as an important broker between Israelis and Palestinians, maintaining relationships with the Palestinian people that often work to our advantage when we are in times of enhanced tensions. So we’ll continue to work closely with our Egyptian partners, but we’ll also continue to have regular conversations with them about the importance of human rights.

QUESTION: Ned, just to follow up on that, does the State Department still contend, as it did last year, that 130 million is the maximum amount of Egypt’s military assistance that you can withhold? And if so, can you explain that legal rationale?

MR PRICE: Again, we’ll have more to say on this as we have discussions here within the building and with Congress. I don’t want to get ahead of where we are in that, so we’ll come to that later.

Yes, Alex – so anything else on the region before we move on? Okay.

QUESTION: Yes, Iran. Iran.

MR PRICE: We’ll do Iran and then we’ll come back. Sure.

QUESTION: Yes. The Secretary yesterday said that given the response from the Iranian, a possibility to have a deal is unlikely now. So can you elaborate a little bit? And I have a question on Lebanon, please.

MR PRICE: Sure. So on Iran, you heard the Secretary’s comments yesterday, and then he spoke to this on Friday from Brussels when he was standing next to Secretary General Stoltenberg. To recap the state of play, the European Union, High Representative Borrell, and his team tabled a proposal, a proposal that was largely based on the draft agreement that had been deliberated and negotiated painstakingly over the course of many months, an agreement that had largely been on the table since the spring of this year. That was tabled a number of weeks ago.

We’ve gone back and forth – through the EU as the intermediary – with Iran on that proposed text. We have provided feedback to the latest Iranian response, but we’re not going to detail that feedback publicly beyond what we have said. The most recent Iranian response did not, of course, put us in a position to close the deal. In fact, it was a step backwards in many ways. This is a negotiation. There are going to be back-and-forths. Some gaps have closed in recent weeks, but others clearly remain.

Our bottom line contention is this: it is not too late to conclude a deal. And as we’ve consistently said, as long as we believe that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA would be in America’s national security interest, that is a diplomatic objective we will continue to pursue.

QUESTION: And on Lebanon, the head of —

MR PRICE: Let’s finish out Iran, and then we’ll go back. Gitte.

QUESTION: Thanks. Special Envoy Rob Malley’s apparently – well, U.S. officials are going to be briefing House Foreign Affairs Committee members tomorrow on the status of the talks, and I’m assuming Special Envoy Rob Malley would be one of the officials. What is it that at this point you think the administration is – will be telling them to convince them to maybe – to give them – give more time or believe more in the talks?

MR PRICE: A couple of things on that. So unless we have an open hearing, we tend not to speak about private briefings for members of Congress or for their staffs. But I can tell you that individuals from this building, including Rob, have been up on the Hill a number of times briefing relevant committees on our efforts to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. We’ve had a number of briefings with Congress. I imagine those will continue in the days and weeks ahead. In all of those sessions, we have apprised members and their staffs regarding the status of those negotiations. We want to make sure that they are fully apprised of where we are in the course of that. We have kept them informed of our engagement with other countries in the region with our Israeli partners, with our Gulf partners, of course; our routine engagements with our E3 counterparts but also with the fuller set of the P5+1. So I imagine any future congressional engagements will do the same.

But as we’ve always said, the – a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA has always been an uncertain proposition. The unconstructive responses – response that we saw in recent days from the Iranians only underlines for us how uncertain of a proposition this is. And so just as we continue to believe that it’s not yet too late to conclude a deal, we also have not stopped in our contingency planning should concluding a deal prove impossible. And the only reason why concluding a deal would prove impossible would be if Iran proves unable or unwilling to agree to a mutual return to compliance. It is incumbent on Iran to come to these discussions in good faith, dropping extraneous demands, and if they have it, displaying that strength of purpose to achieve a mutual return to compliance. That is not something that we have seen consistently from Iran.

QUESTION: Ned, on this, is Robert Malley is still in charge of the Iranian file?

MR PRICE: Rob is our special envoy for Iran. He is still very much in charge of the team and our efforts here.

QUESTION: What about the reports that said that he’s not in charge anymore?

MR PRICE: There is nothing to those reports. I can tell you Rob is deeply engaged day to day on the substance of this. He is leading a team here at the department. He is regularly engaging with our counterparts at the White House, at the Treasury Department, at the Intelligence Community, and elsewhere regarding our efforts to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA and our contingency planning as well.

QUESTION: Is there anything – on Iran.

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Anything – just quickly – possible elevation of Iran’s status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to a full member? Anything on that?

MR PRICE: I would leave it to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

QUESTION: What – the summit that’s coming up in a couple days, what do you guys like to see come out of that summit?

MR PRICE: We, of course, are not participating in this, so it is not for us to speak to. I’m sure we will hear and read about the outcomes from the participating countries. Yes.

QUESTION: A follow-up on Iran —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: — and move to the South Caucasus. Iranian drones have been found in Ukraine. In fact, Russians had been using it. How much does it add up to Iran portfolio when you think about engaging —

MR PRICE: How much does it add up to —

QUESTION: To Iran story, Iran portfolio, when you think about engagement, or JCPOA, or other angles.

MR PRICE: Well, for us it is a reminder, a reminder of the likes of which we receive – I don’t want to be hyperbolic, but if not every day just about every day of the malign influence that Iran represents and that in many ways Iran exports throughout the region and in this case well beyond. We have no illusions about the nature of the Iranian regime. That is not a reason not to pursue a deal that would block permanently and verifiably an Iranian nuclear weapon. That is a reason to pursue such a deal that would permanently and verifiably prohibit Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Every single challenge we face from Iran’s ballistic missile program, to its support for proxies and terrorist groups, to its support for Russia in this case, to its malicious cyber programs – every single one of those challenges becomes all the more difficult if Iran has the perceived impunity that would come with a nuclear weapon. That’s why President Biden is committed that Iran will never obtain a nuclear weapon. We continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is the most effective means by which to achieve that, but that is a commitment that will remain at the center of our foreign policy, JCPOA or not.

QUESTION: And a change in subject, if I may. Azerbaijan-Armenia.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: I was hoping you would offer us something more than the readouts we have seen given the scope of diplomatic traffic. We had Secretary’s calls, assistant secretary’s calls to the ministers. We had Reeker – Ambassador Reeker met with both sides today, with Azerbaijani president. What is the (inaudible) assessment – first the reasoning, and secondly the timing – behind the latest clashes yesterday?

MR PRICE: Well, events are fast-moving. I would say broadly it’s unclear if there is one proximate cause and one proximate factor. Oftentimes that is not the case. It’s unlikely to be the case here. Of course, we’ve seen tensions simmering in the Caucasus for quite some time. It’s precisely why we have been concerned about the potential for violence and in more recent hours the reports of attacks along the Armenian-Azerbaijan border.

Secretary Blinken has been personally engaged on this. It is why we and he put out a statement last night just within hours of these escalation of tensions calling for an immediate cessation of violence. It’s why he picked up the phone in the wee hours. He was on the phone until after 1:00 a.m. Eastern with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan underscoring for them the importance of the core message that he issued in his statement, namely the imperative of an immediate cessation of these hostilities. He urged President Aliyev to cease hostilities immediately, to disengage military forces, and to work to resolve all outstanding issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan through peaceful negotiations.

That has been our contention all along: There is no military solution to this conflict. We urge restraint from any further military hostilities. We also encourage both governments to re‑establish – to let direct lines of communication across diplomatic as well as military channels, and to recommit to constructive dialogue and to that diplomatic process. We are going to remain actively engaged diplomatically with both of these governments. You mentioned this already, but Ambassador Reeker, who was recently named our senior adviser for Caucasus negotiations, was in Baku yesterday. He remains there. He met earlier today with senior Azerbaijani leaders, and we remain committed to promoting peaceful, a democratic and prosperous future for the South Caucasus region.

QUESTION: You mentioned a number of times during the past couple of months that the U.S. has been involved, U.S. was in fact in the room engaging. My question is: Did the diplomacy fail you or it was not given a chance?

MR PRICE: Well, diplomacy is still very much alive. And this is a simmering conflict and a simmering sort of tension that has been around for decades. And we have been focused on this since the earliest days of this administration. Of course, we inherited a South Caucasus region that had only recently emerged from a fairly intense flare-up of violence in 2020. With our successive senior advisers now, we have placed a high level of personnel overseeing the day‑to‑day activity of this file. Of course, Ambassador Reeker is someone who is well known to the department. He has been the acting assistant secretary in charge of our Bureau for European and Eurasian Affairs. He has held senior posts overseas as well. He is someone who knows this issue set as well as anyone.

Secretary Blinken has repeatedly engaged with Prime Minister Pashinyan and with President Aliyev, knowing that – knowing the importance, recognizing the importance of his personal diplomacy, of his personal time and attention on this topic. We have made very clear our willingness and we’ve demonstrated our willingness to engage bilaterally with the parties, but also multilaterally as appropriate, bringing in allies as well as other partners in the region to achieve a de-escalation of tensions and to set these countries towards a comprehensive settlement.

QUESTION: The Secretary also mentioned today that he was concerned that Russia could try to stir the pot or could use its influence in the region to help the sides to calm down, let’s say. Russia did in fact claim today that it tried to broker a ceasefire which didn’t work. As soon as the U.S. – Vedant, actually, here behind this podium – announced last week that Ambassador Reeker was going to go to region, Russia sent its own ambassador to meet with the sides. Are you coordinating with Russia, or there is zero coordination in these efforts? And how do you see Russia’s role at this point?

MR PRICE: We have called upon all countries in the region to use their influence constructively. And there is no question on a couple fronts. There is no question that an escalation of hostilities or outright violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan, there is no question that that would not be in Russia’s interests. It would not be in anyone’s interest. There is also no question that Russia has outsized influence with both Azerbaijan and Armenia. We have called on Russia and we do call on Russia to use that influence and to use that leverage in a way that helps to achieve a cessation of hostilities, and more broadly a de-escalation of those tensions.

The point the Secretary was referring to today was very much a reflection of the influence and leverage that Russia has. Russia could use that influence for ill; it could use that influence to help bring about what it is we all seek, and that’s an immediate end to this violence and a de‑escalation of tensions.

QUESTION: It could also be in Russia’s interests in – to divert attention from Ukraine given the latest developments in Ukraine. Isn’t that an option?

MR PRICE: I will leave it to Russia to speak to what’s in their interests, but it is hard for us to envision from here how another conflict on Russia’s borders would be in anyone’s interests, including the interests of those in Moscow.

Anything else? Yeah, Shaun.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Oh, go ahead, if —

QUESTION: Sorry about that. Are you in contact with Russia regarding Azerbaijan and Armenia, or the special envoy Reeker?

MR PRICE: Ambassador Reeker is engaged with the parties. He is engaged with Armenia. He is engaged with Azerbaijan. We’ve made very clear that we’re willing to engage bilaterally as well as multilaterally in any forum or format that helps to bring about a cessation of hostilities and, over time, a de-escalation of tensions. Not in a position to read out all of our diplomacy on this, but we have been very public, as I was just a moment ago, calling upon all stakeholders, including the Russians, to use the influence – the significant influence that they do have – in a way that is constructive.

QUESTION: Any forum or format, including the Minsk Group?

MR PRICE: In a —

QUESTION: In a Minsk?

MR PRICE: In a – that is hard to imagine.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) in Russia? In Belarus?

MR PRICE: I didn’t say any location, but —

QUESTION: No, but you said any format or forum, and that’s been the forum.

MR PRICE: Well, we are open to arrangements that would serve to bring about a de-escalation of tensions and a cessation of this violence.

QUESTION: Ned, just to clarify, you’ve offered but are Russians responding?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Are Russians responding to your —

MR PRICE: I will leave it to the Russians to speak to their diplomacy.

Shaun.

QUESTION: You mentioned – at the beginning of your statement mentioned the flare-up of violence again in recent hours. Do you have – is there one side that’s more to blame than the other for this? Is there a call on a particular side? The French just a few minutes ago seemed to be calling the Azerbaijanis to respect the ceasefire. Is there an assessment about which side needs to be pressured more (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: Well, as we said in the readout of the Secretary’s calls that took place overnight, he urged President Aliyev to cease hostilities immediately, to disengage military forces, and to work to resolve all outstanding issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan through negotiations that are peaceful and diplomacy that is constructive. We have seen significant evidence of Azerbaijani shelling inside Armenia and significant damage to Armenian infrastructure, but most important for us is that both of these parties commit to a cessation of hostilities and commit to a broader de-escalation.

Yes.

QUESTION: A follow-up on Azerbaijan and Armenia. We know that the tension was simmering because Armenians were conducting sporadic artillery attacks cross-border and in – and then Azerbaijanis responded to those sporadic artillery attacks. Now the tension is out of control. So, sir, the readouts that you mentioned, it says Secretary assured Prime Minister Pashinyan that United States will push for an immediate ceasefire, and but on the Azerbaijanis’ readout you say that Secretary Blinken urged President Aliyev to cease hostilities. Also, it looks that there is an apparent one-sided approach here. Do you think that United States could still contribute to peace if you keep this one-sided approach?

MR PRICE: Well, this goes back to Shaun’s question. Rather than assigning blame, we recognize that there is unlikely to be one proximate cause. What is most important for us is that the two parties commit to a cessation of hostilities and commit to the path of diplomacy to achieve a de-escalation of tensions over the longer term. The fact is that we have seen significant evidence of Azerbaijani shelling inside Armenia, significant damage to Armenian infrastructure, but right now our focus is on achieving that cessation of hostilities and that de-escalation of tensions.

QUESTION: And also, we heard that Armenia called on Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization to intervene the – in the conflict. Would United States – what’s the reaction from United States? Would United States endorse something like this?

MR PRICE: We have called on call countries in the region to use their influence in ways that are constructive to bringing about a cessation of hostilities and a de-escalation of tensions. Of course, it is hard to imagine how the introduction of foreign forces into one side of the conflict could serve those purposes, but again, our emphasis is on bringing about an end to this spike in violence.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Sanctioned RAB chief and current police chief of Bangladesh, Mr. Benazir Ahmed, visited New York over the Labor Day weekend in the name of UN police chiefs’ summit. He joined a public meeting organized by the ruling party’s supporters and tell them to encounter right activist and journalist. He claimed that the U.S. sanction on him managed by the $25 million cost. He also questioned about U.S. press freedom. I am wondering how he can join a public meeting in the Queens in NY in the name of UN summit. We have learned that he was allowed to join just only for UN meeting, not for any public meeting in the New York.

MR PRICE: I’m not immediately familiar with the meeting he joined. I take from your question it was a public meeting, so it stands to reason that he would be able to attend in that capacity. I’m just not familiar with the details.

Yes.

QUESTION: Mr. Price, thank you. You state about the Azerbaijan and Armenian military tension. Unfortunately, I lost – I also lost my friends in the shooting yesterday. So Azerbaijan states that the news about the firing of civilians in Armenia is nonsense. By the way, Azerbaijan invests billions of dollars in territories freed from occupation, and also tying the country with – to world energy crisis. I think we should not forget the terror committed by Armenia against civilians in Ganja, Barda, Tartar in 2020. It’s a fact that Azerbaijan has been waiting for peace from Armenia for 30 years, because we just want (inaudible).

MR PRICE: I’m deeply sorry to hear about your personal loss. The loss that you’ve expressed is, of course, a loss that is being felt on a national level in both Armenia and Azerbaijan. It’s why we have placed such an emphasis on doing all we can, working with other stakeholders in the region, to bring about an end to this violence, to save additional lives, to see to it that civilians are not targeted and harmed – or worse yet – in any continuation of this violence. It is a priority of the Secretary, it’s a priority of the department, it’s a priority of this administration to work with the countries and the stakeholders not only to see an end to this flare-up of violence, but also to de-escalate these tensions more broadly.

Yes.

QUESTION: Different conflict, Ethiopia.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Unless you —

MR PRICE: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. After the invasion of Ukraine, a bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Congress by Senators Shaheen and Romney requesting the U.S. administration to develop a comprehensive strategy about the Black Sea region. I wonder if the administration has any strategy today about Black Sea region until this legislation passes. I will say that United States is supporting Romania, Bulgaria, its NATO Allies. But there are some – some partners like Georgia are very vulnerable in the region.

MR PRICE: Well, you’ve heard us speak to all of our partners in the Black Sea region, and of course, it’s a vital – a region of vital importance not only to the region, but also to the world. And we’ve talked about the vitality and the indispensability of this region to the broader international community in the context of the grain deal that Ukraine and Turkey and the UN as well as Russia have agreed to and implemented, given that countries along the Black Sea are – and especially Ukraine – it’s the breadbasket to the world. It is a region that is rich with energy. It’s a region that is otherwise rich with natural resources. It is a region that is rich with friendship for the United States.

And you mentioned several of our NATO Allies are in the region. We’ve spoken to our commitment to their defense, our commitment to working with them to achieve our shared interest, to protect our shared values. And that is, to your question, something that we’re also discussing with our partners on the Hill.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on —

QUESTION: Could I – can I just follow up on that?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: So what is the U.S. strategy in Black Sea actually? Because I don’t think you’ve answered that.

MR PRICE: It is – so I’m not sure this is the right forum to espouse fully our strategy to the Black Sea in toto. What I can say and what we’ve talked about here is the commitments we’ve made to our allies and to our partners in the Black Sea region, recognizing that it is a region that is of vital importance, not only to countries in that neighborhood but to well beyond. And to the gentleman’s question, we’ve had these conversations with Congress as well.

QUESTION: Does the Secretary have any plans to go to Bulgaria or Romania anytime soon, for example? He’s been to, I think – I can’t remember, maybe 25 countries since the beginning of the administration. And with Ukraine war, you would assume maybe the importance of Black Sea is heightened, but he hasn’t been to either of those —

MR PRICE: There are only so many days in the week and hours in the days that serve as a limiting function for our ability to travel everywhere we would like to go. But of course, there are a number of senior officials in this building and in this administration who have traveled to the region, and I have every expectation that the Secretary certainly would like to get out there and, at some point, at the right moment, will.

QUESTION: Right. Can I just quickly follow up on Ukraine, if the gentleman doesn’t mind? On – and Kirby was asked about this as well, but do you think the recent events on the ground in Ukraine, Ukraine’s gains, do you think that could help with some of the reluctance that Europe has in terms of sending weapons? And you might have seen Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba criticizing Germany today. I mean, do you think that that could help with Europeans to sort of be more willing to send weapons?

MR PRICE: So I would —

QUESTION: And is this something that U.S. is encouraging them to do?

MR PRICE: I’d make a couple points. First, Secretary Blinken, in his meeting with President Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister Kuleba and their team on Thursday in Kyiv, made this point privately but made it publicly as well. It’s early days, and it was earlier days when our Ukrainian partners briefed us on the progress that they had made as of late last week. We’ve seen them make additional and quite remarkable progress both in the north and in the south in the intervening days since we’ve left Ukraine.

This is a function of several factors. It is a function of the grit and the determination and bravery and courage of our Ukrainian partners, but a grit and bravery and determination that has been enabled in many key ways by the security assistance that the United States and our partners around the world have been in a position to provide. Since February 24th, since the start of this invasion, the United States alone has provided some $14.5 billion in security assistance. This is security assistance to meet the need in the moment, precisely what our Ukrainian partners have requested for the fight that they are in at any given juncture, for the battle of Kyiv in the earliest days, as the battle moved to the south and the east in the Donbas in more recent weeks and months.

The – this strategy, a strategy that we’ve implemented with our partners and allies, has proved itself. It proved itself when Ukraine decisively won the battle of Kyiv in the earliest days of this war. It’s a strategy that once again is proving itself by positioning our Ukrainian partners to be able to be effective on the battlefield.

But ultimately, it is our security assistance, it’s the security assistance of dozens of countries, some 50 countries around the world, including security assistance from our European allies that plays an important role. But ultimately, the decisive factor here is that our Ukrainian partners are always going to have a determination that the Russians never will. And Secretary Blinken referred to this last week; he referred to it earlier this week as well. The Ukrainians are fighting for their democracy. They’re fighting for their freedom; they’re fighting for their future; they’re fighting for their country. The Russians who have been deployed, in some cases conscripted, in some cases let out of jail, in some cases put in the employ of private military contractors inside Ukraine – they’re not fighting for those things. In many cases, they don’t know what they’re fighting for.

So as Ukraine mounts this counteroffensive, in some cases we have seen Russian defenses prove not all that resilient, and it speaks to the progress that our Ukrainian partners have made. We’ve always said this conflict, this war, Russia’s war against Ukraine, won’t be linear in terms of territorial gains. But we believe that we have put our Ukrainian partners on a path to help them mount an effective defense of their country. We saw that in the earliest days. We’ve seen that in the more recent days.

QUESTION: So don’t you think that Ukraine thinking that one of the most important European countries not committing to them in that sense is actually undermining that solidarity you talked about? This isn’t specific to Germany.

MR PRICE: European countries across the board, certainly our NATO allies, have provided important humanitarian assistance, but also economic assistance and security assistance. Our European allies have provided, when it comes to security assistance, supplies and systems that complement the billions of dollars’ worth of supplies and systems that we have provided our Ukrainian partners.

And I think the point here is that what we have provided, what Europe has provided, what countries around the world has – have provided, it hasn’t been static. It has evolved as the nature of the conflict has evolved. When the challenge was the potential for urban warfare in the earliest days, when Moscow thought it could decapitate the capital city, take the entire country by force, it was the sort of antiarmor, antitank systems that we provided in large numbers. As it moved to the south, to the east, where the battle is now, the longer-range antiaircraft systems, the artillery, the munitions, the armored vehicles, the radar, the Stingers, the other types of systems that the Ukrainians have used to such great effect to defend their homeland, to defend their country, that has been a key enabling force for that grit and that determination that our Ukrainian partners have been able to display.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this, Ned?

MR PRICE: Let’s move around, because I know not everyone has had a – Kylie, go ahead.

QUESTION: So there have been – there’s been documentation of Russian state media now including some diverging opinions about the war in Ukraine with some folks on the Russian side even suggesting that there should be peace negotiations. So I’m wondering from the Biden administration’s perspective if you guys see that a door opening to potential talks with Russia or if you’re waiting for the Kremlin to actually say that they want to engage in negotiations?

MR PRICE: Well, were it that easy. Were Russia a representative democracy, a democracy that were informed by the will of the people, that might be a different question. Unfortunately, President Putin and his cronies have done everything they can in the first instance to limit that information from reaching the Russian people to feed the Russian people a steady diet of lies and disinformation, in an effort to hide the true costs of this war.

As the war has ground on, as additional Russians have come home in body bags, have come home missing limbs, as stories of the abject brutality of this war return to Russia, it does seem we are starting to see more of a conversation within the Russian people. There have been high-profile instances of defiance. There has also been the sort of lower-level discussion and dialogue that you point to across Russia.

Unfortunately, this is a system that is ruled by and large by one individual. It is an individual surrounded not by democratically elected aides, but by individuals who have set up, in many ways, safeguards against popular opinion in some cases even reaching the inner most sanctum of the Kremlin.

So – and on top of that we’ve seen the Russian Government go to extraordinary lengths to try to limit and to crack down on the ability of these indications of objections or defiance from propagating. And in the earliest days of the war, tens of thousands of Russians were arrested for peacefully protesting, marching across dozens of cities across Russia. More recently, we have seen journalists, we have seen civil society advocates and activists, we have seen advocates all arrested for the so-called crime of speaking the truth, whether that is calling this a war, whether that is criticizing President Putin, criticizing the Kremlin. All of that has been criminalized in the most reprehensible way possible.

QUESTION: So do you think these diverging opinions that are now being expressed have any impact at all on paving the way for negotiations, or no?

MR PRICE: It’s hard to say. I think what we can say is what we see, and what we have seen and what we have not seen are pretty telling. Our Ukrainian partners have consistently said that this war will – must end through dialogue, through diplomacy. We agree. Of course, for the diplomacy and dialogue to occur, you need to have someone on the other side of the table. And we have seen no indications, our Ukrainian partners have seen no indications, our European allies and partners who have been in contact with senior Russian officials have seen no indications that the Russians are prepared to negotiate, prepared to engage in this dialogue.

So our task at the current moment is to continue to provide the sort of security assistance – defensive security assistance, that our Ukrainian partners need, because we do see a nexus between what happens on the battlefield and what ultimately happens on any negotiating table that is to emerge. We want our Ukrainian partners to be in the most advantageous position possible if and when a negotiating table emerges. With each day of an effective counteroffensive, with each reconquest, with each inch of territory that is either defended or retaken, that position will ultimately be strengthened on the negotiating table.

QUESTION: Expanding on that, when it comes to the new information that was provided by a senior U.S. official today about Russia covertly transferring over $300 million into foreign political parties, can you detail for us – our understanding, according to that official, is that this review was begun by the Intelligence Community this summer. So as Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, was their political meddling around the world consistent, or did you guys see a drop off as they begun that endeavor? Like is there any details you can provide us as to how those two are related at all?

MR PRICE: So this is information that ultimately originates with our Intelligence Community, so I’m loathe to go into greater detail from here. Of course, we’re always very careful not to characterize Intelligence Community assessments. But what I can say is that we’ve spoken from here, from the White House, from the Defense Department about Russia’s explicit assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty; its explicit assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty in the form of this brutal invasion and this brutal aggression that has been ongoing since February 24th, but also for the eight or so years prior to that since 2014.

But what Russia is doing around the world in terms of its election meddling is also an assault on sovereignty. It is an effort to chip away at the ability of people around the world to choose the government that they see best fit to represent them, to represent their interests, to represent their values. So part of our charge not only is to do that assessment and to collect and to do that analysis, but then to expose what we know, because in order to fight this, in many ways we have to put a spotlight on it.

And so by exposing Russia’s strategies and Russia’s tactics publicly, but then also discussing these tactics and strategies privately in diplomatic channels, in intelligence channels, with partners around the world, sharing practices for how we can put an end to Russia’s meddling, that is also something that we’re going about.

QUESTION: And can I just ask one final question on this? Because this obviously brings up concerns about Russia meddling in U.S. elections, the midterms, have or will U.S. officials clearly articulate to Russia that there will be costs if they meddle in the midterms that are coming up this fall?

MR PRICE: This was a very clear message and has been a very clear message from this administration. You may recall that this was a message that we underscored quite prominently when, in the first months of this administration, we mounted sanctions against the Russian Federation for their interference, for SolarWinds, for what they had done and what they continue to do to Mr. Navalny, for their use of chemical weapons. So this is a message that applies to all countries around the world. Any attempt to meddle in our democratic system will be met with strong and stiff consequences.

QUESTION: So there’s no need to directly reiterate that message as we get closer to the election (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: This is a message that is well known to our competitors, to our challengers, and to our adversaries around the world.

A couple final questions. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV, Pakistan. My question is about media freedom. Our news channel, the transmission of our news channel, ARY News, is banned in Pakistan like for the last 40 days, like it’s on and off now controlled by the government agency. Our head of news, Ammad Yousaf, was picked up in the middle of the night and tortured for dishonoring the opposition political parties’ comments. Secretary Blinken and you always spoke about the media freedom in Pakistan and around the globe. Would you like to say something about that?

MR PRICE: I believe we discussed this before, but we are – we continue to be concerned by significant restrictions on media outlets and civil society in Pakistan. I know that your outlet, ARY, has not been immune to this constricted space. We routinely raise our concerns about press freedom to all stakeholders around the world, including to our partners and our counterparts in Pakistan.

We’re concerned that media and content restrictions, as well as a lack of accountability for attacks against journalists, undermine the exercise of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. A free press and informed citizenry we believe are key to democratic societies around the world, key to our democratic future. That applies equally to Pakistan as it does to other countries around the world.

QUESTION: United States recently announced foreign military sales to Pakistan worth $450 million to upgrade F-16 jets. Would you like to share some details?

MR PRICE: Well, we did recently notify Congress of a proposed foreign military sale valued at $450 million, as you said, for maintenance and sustainment services for the Pakistani Air Force’s F-16 program. Pakistan is an important partner in a number of regards, an important counterterrorism partner. And as part of our longstanding policy, we provide life cycle maintenance and sustainment packages for U.S.-origin platforms.

Pakistan’s F-16 program, it’s an important part of the broader U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relationship, and this proposed sale will sustain Pakistan’s capability to meet current and future counterterrorism threats by maintaining the F-16 fleet. This is a fleet that allows Pakistan to support counterterrorism operations, and we expect Pakistan will take sustained action against all terrorist groups.

QUESTION: Sir, one last question. Like always, United States came forward to help Pakistan, giving millions of dollars in response to floods in Pakistan right now. Sir, can you say something about that?

MR PRICE: Happy to, and I know my colleague at the at the White House, John Kirby, just said something at the top of the White House press briefing as well. But we are deeply saddened by the devastation and by the loss of life throughout Pakistan that these historic floods have caused. We stand with the people of Pakistan at this difficult time.

As of September 12th, earlier this week, a total of nine U.S. Central Command flights delivered more than half of the 630 metric tons of relief supplies from USAID’s Dubai warehouse for the response to these massive floods. In total, CENTCOM will airlift more than 41,000 kitchen sets, 1,500 rolls of plastic sheeting, tens of thousands of plastic tarps, 8,700 shelter fixing kits – all in support of USAID’s flood relief.

In this fiscal year alone, we’ve provided more than $53 million in humanitarian assistance, including urgently needed support for food, nutrition, multipurpose cash, safe drinking water, nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, as well as shelter assistance. We’re going to continue to work very closely with our Pakistani partners to continue to assess the damage that has been wrought by these floods, and we’ll continue to provide assistance to our partners in this time of need.

Shannon, final question.

QUESTION: Briefly going back to that counteroffensive in Ukraine, I know you and others – much has been said about the value that material security assistance has played, about the fighters themselves. But I was wondering if you could speak specifically to intelligence sharing and the role you see that playing.

MR PRICE: Well, there’s only so much I can say about this, of course, for obvious reasons. But we’ve said all along that we will provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need to defend themselves. Oftentimes in that context we refer to security assistance, but we have provided them with information they need to defend their homeland, to defend their territory, to defend against Russia’s ongoing aggression. We have a close relationship with Ukraine in a number of ways – military-to-military, diplomacy, and other channels as well. And we’re going to continue to provide our Ukrainian partners with the tools they need to defend their freedom, to defend their homeland, to defend their country.

QUESTION: On this one last point, you know that know Senator Warner – sorry.

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Senator Warner has basically suggested that, I mean, it’s all due – I mean, this – these late successes by the Ukrainians, all due to U.S.-provided intelligence. Is that direct interference in the war?

MR PRICE: This is this is a result of Ukrainian determination.

QUESTION: I understand you’re saying militarily.

MR PRICE: This is —

QUESTION: He’s saying that it’s (inaudible).

MR PRICE: This is a result of what the Ukrainians are doing on the battlefield. This is principally a result of the determination that they have – that the Russians very clearly do not have because they can’t have it – to defend their homeland, to defend their freedom, to defend their democracy. We have – and our partners around the world have – played an enabling function. We’ve provided the type of defensive security assistance that our Ukrainian partners need to be effective. They have used that to great effect, but no one but the Ukrainians should be in a position to take credit for what they’re achieving.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) with this topic is that what you just told in your response to Humeyra, that last weekend’s events proved us right. It also proved Ukrainians right. They were telling all along that give us what we need, we’re gonna finish the job. But I think the key word you’re using is defend Ukraine. Is your – has last weekend’s events changed your objective at all from helping them to defend versus helping them win the war?

MR PRICE: Our objective has remained constant since the start of this aggression. It is to see a Ukraine that remains democratic, that remains sovereign, that remains independent, and that, going forward, is prosperous and has the means to defend itself against future aggression. That is the very definition of success that the President defined in his op-ed that he wrote on the topic several months ago now, and it’s really the predicate of our strategy to support our Ukrainian partners.

Thank you all very much.

Department Press Briefing – September 7, 2022

2:14 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: Good morning – well, good afternoon, everybody. Sorry. It’s not morning anymore. Apologies for being just a couple minutes tardy. I have two very brief things for you at the top, and then happy to dive right into your questions.

So, I want to bring Russia’s so-called “filtration” operations back to your attention ahead of the UN Security Council meeting this afternoon where Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield will deliver remarks on behalf of the United States.

“Filtration” is a dehumanizing word describing a massive campaign that the Kremlin has launched to imprison, forcibly deport, or disappear those Ukrainian citizens Moscow decides could be a potential threat to their control over Ukraine. The tactics Russia has used to collect information are invasive, and victims of filtration are given no choice but to submit or face dire consequences. Russia has systematically used the practice of forced deportations previously, and the fear and misery it evokes for people forced to live under the Kremlin’s control are hard to overstate.

We have newly downgraded information about how, over the course of this conflict, Russia has increasingly relied on infrastructure – including facilities, technology, and transportation – to accommodate hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens who have been and will be processed through these filtrations operations. Behind me is a map that DNI just made public earlier today, laying out some of these filtrations operations.

Russian forces and Russian proxies in Russian-controlled Ukraine are using dedicated information technology to support filtration operations, including online databases, tools, equipment to support the gathering of biometric data and facial recognition, and tracking and monitoring of Ukrainians’ cell phones.

The United States has information that officials from Russia’s presidential administration are overseeing and coordinating filtration operations.

We are further aware that the Russian presidential administration officials are providing lists of Ukrainians to be targeted for filtration, and receiving reports on the scope and progress of operations.

We assess that the Kremlin views filtration operations as a – crucial to their efforts to annex areas of Ukraine under their control.

And we demand that Russia halt its filtration operations immediately and allow the UN, independent observers, and humanitarian and human rights organizations access to these filtration sites.

We call on the global community to join us in condemning this practice and calling for humanitarian access to be granted.

One last thing. I know a few of you asked yesterday about Special Envoy Hammer’s travel to Ethiopia, so we just wanted to offer a brief update for you all on that. The U.S. continues to be deeply concerned about renewed fighting in Ethiopia. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer met in Addis Ababa September 5th through 6th with deputy prime minister, with the foreign minister, and the national security advisor to discuss the urgency of immediate cessation of hostilities and going to peace talks under the African Union’s auspices.

Special Envoy Hammer delivered the same message to the TPLF chairman, and we have condemned the TPLF offensive outside of Tigray, the Ethiopian Government’s airstrikes and ground offensive, and Eritrea’s re-entry into the conflict.

In the coming days, as part of the ongoing diplomatic effort, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Molly Phee, Special Envoy Hammer, and other U.S. diplomats will be consulting with the African Union as well as key actors in the region – the UN, the EU, and UK envoys. Our goal is to mobilize diplomatic efforts to press the government and the TPLF to halt immediately their military offensives and for Eritrea to withdraw to its borders. There is no military solution to this conflict. The only path forward is for the parties to pursue a negotiated settlement through peace talks.

The Ethiopian people have suffered tremendously from this conflict. As the largest donor, the U.S. is committed to continuing to provide its life-saving humanitarian assistance to those in need affected by the resumption of conflict. It is important to note that we remain concerned by the negative impact of conflict and drought in other regions of Ethiopia.

Let me restate again that the U.S. commitment to Ethiopia’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and our conviction that only through a lasting peace will the Ethiopian people have an opportunity to achieve the prosperity they desire and deserve.

So, with that, I’m happy to take your questions. Daphne, if you want to start.

QUESTION: Thank you. The – if I could start with the grain deal, is the State Department concerned about Putin’s comments saying he wanted to discuss the grain deal being reopened and accusing the West of deception? I have a follow-up as well.

MR PATEL: Sure. So, a couple of things. The Black Sea Grain Initiative is a humanitarian arrangement to bring desperately needed food to the world’s hungry populations. The U.S. did not offer, nor did it provide, any sanctions relief in exchange for Russia’s participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative. As a matter of fact, U.S. sanctions have always had clear exemptions for food and fertilizer, and our sanctions have never targeted humanitarian assistance. We want to see food and fertilizer reach global markets, and Russia must continue to live up to its commitments to the Black Grain Sea Initiative.[1]

And some of these other allegations that we’ve seen, that, one, global food prices are rising, just aren’t the case. In fact, global food prices have fallen, as a result of the Black Sea port arrangement. Additionally, I believe there were allegations that grain was not going to countries that needed it. That simply is not the case either. Because of this arrangement, grain has been able to reach global markets and gone to countries that need it desperately.

QUESTION: Okay. And UN and Russian officials met in Geneva today to discuss Russian complaints that Western sanctions were impeding the ability to export grain and fertilizer. Did the U.S. also meet with UN official Rebeca Grynspan in Geneva on the issue? And have you discussed this with the Russians, like what specific sanctions relief are they asking for?

MR PATEL: Yeah, I don’t have any additional specifics to readout on any potential meeting, but what I would reiterate, again, is that we did not provide or offer any sanctions relief in exchange for participation in this initiative. And as I’ve said, there has always been a clear exemption for food and fertilizer, and our sanctions never target humanitarian assistance.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Russia?

MR PATEL: Alex. Still on Russia-Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Staying on Putin, he made a number of statements today. Broadly speaking, do you see his statements as part of his war strategy – particularly when he was talking about lift the sanctions or else, that language. Do you see he is – do you think – based on your assessment, is he blackmailing the West?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to categorize his comments one way or the other. I think what it’s important to look at here is Russia’s actions, and what their actions have been – have been deeply problematic, starting with the unjust and unlawful invasion of Ukraine, their initial reluctance to allow grain to leave ports of Ukraine. What this is really about is their actions. And so, what I would reiterate again is that this Black Sea Grain Initiative is a humanitarian arrangement to bring desperately needed food to the world’s hungriest populations. And any allegation or notion that our sanctions are standing in the way of that are just simply not true because we have always had clear exemptions for food and fertilizer.

QUESTION: But back to the filtration questions, if you don’t mind.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: You mentioned some technology, tools, equipment. Based on your assessment, is Russia alone in this, in terms of the source of those tools that Russia has been using?

MR PATEL: Is Russia what?

QUESTION: Is Russia alone in this, or is – is Russia cooperating with China, Iran?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to speculate on anything beyond what I shared initially at the top.

Still on Russia-Ukraine, Jenny?

QUESTION: Yeah – filtration camps as well. Does the U.S. consider this to be a war crime, and if so, how do you intend to hold Russia accountable for this? And have you assessed that Putin himself is involved in these filtration camps?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specifics on who might be involved other than to reiterate that, clearly, it’s members of the presidential administration. We know that there have been activities that could be categorized as war crimes that have happened by Russian Federation forces over the course of this conflict, but I don’t have anything additional to offer.

Still —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: Sure, Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: IAEA —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The report of the IAEA on Zaporizhzhia.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. Now the Russians are saying that the inspector had determined that the attacks are, actually, Ukrainian attacks on that plant? Do you have any comment on that?

MR PATEL: So —

QUESTION: That’s what the inspectors has allegedly said.

MR PATEL: We continue to appreciate the extraordinary efforts of the IAEA in their efforts to continue to maintain a presence at the ZNPP to assess its safety and security. I will note again, as I noted yesterday, that it is Russia that is unjustly and illegally and unlawfully infringing on Ukrainian territorial integrity and Ukrainian sovereignty by being present at the ZNPP. I know the IAEA put out a report yesterday. Our experts are continuing to review that report and its recommendations, and we continue to call on and support Ukraine’s call for a demilitarization zone around the ZNPP facility.

QUESTION: Right, right. But – I understand all this. But do you agree, or you refute, the notion that it is actually the Ukrainians who have been attacking in the last few days – I mean, we’re talking about a short period of time – the plant and putting in jeopardy the contents and so on that might cause something akin to Chernobyl.

MR PATEL: Sure, Said. I think we’ve been very clear from the onset that any kind of military or violent activity near a nuclear power plant is unsafe. But I would reiterate again that Russia is the country that is illegally infringing on Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty by being present at the ZNPP.

Janne, you had a question?

QUESTION: Yes, on sort of Russia’s – Russians’ ambassador to the United Nations refutes U.S. claims about the Russia’s purchase of arms from North Korea. How would you response this? Yesterday —

MR PATEL: You’re saying the UK —

QUESTION: No, no. North Korean arms —

MR PATEL: No, I know. Which ambassador are you saying?

QUESTION: I mean, Russian ambassador to United Nations.

MR PATEL: Got it, understood. So, I don’t have any comment to offer on that, but what I will reiterate again, and what we said yesterday, is that we believe the Russian Ministry of Defense is in the process of purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea for use on the battlefield in Ukraine. This purchase indicates that the Russian military continues to suffer from severe supply shortages in Ukraine, which is in large part a consequence of our export controls and sanctions, and we expect that Russia could try to purchase additional North Korean military equipment going forward.

QUESTION: He said this is not true, is false. So how are you going to verify —

MR PATEL: Well, we believe that it is true, and this is rooted in the important work being done by our Intelligence Community. But I don’t have anything else to offer on that from here.

QUESTION: And one more. Is there any update about Special Representative Sung Kim meeting with his counter partners South Korea and Japan?

MR PATEL: Yeah, so as I mentioned yesterday, Special Representative Sung Kim was in Tokyo. He met with his counterparts from the ROK and Japan today, earlier today, to discuss how to address the DPRK’s ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction program. We, of course, place a lot of importance on this trilateral cooperation. It is integral to our efforts in attempting to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as well as we continue to take necessary action to address the threat that Pyongyang poses to the U.S. and our allies as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Nadia, go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: So, the Israeli press are reporting that the administration told Prime Minister Lapid that any potential deal with Iran is off the table. Yesterday, the EU chief diplomatic – to Iran said that – Mr. Borrell said that the deal could be in danger. So where are we? Are you still confident that we are actually on track for any potential return to the 2015 deal? Are you still optimistic, like you’ve been talking about the last few days?

MR PATEL: Sure. So, this obviously is a negotiation and it’s a very complex set of circumstances, and we’re continuing to work through that process.

On your question about President Biden’s call with the Israeli prime minister, I’d refer you to the White House’s readout of that call. In general, we don’t get into specifics beyond that. But as we have said, part of this diplomatic process is regular engagement with our allies and partners, including our allies in Israel. And as we’ve said before – late last week – Iran’s response did not put us in a position to close the deal. We continue to work through that process. We are reviewing Iran’s response, and we hope to have an update soon. But this is something that we’re going to continue to pursue because we continue to believe and affirm that a mutual return to compliance of the JCPOA continues to be not only in the national security interest of this country; it’s an important step to contain Iran’s nuclear program; it is an important step for regional stability as well.

QUESTION: So, you’re saying it’s wrong to conclude that the deal is off?

MR PATEL: As I said, this is an extraordinary complex set of issues. It is unfortunate that Iran’s response to us took us backwards, and we of course are not going to conclude a deal that is not in U.S. national security interest. But this is something that we’re continuing to pursue. We are studying Iran’s response. We’re coordinating with our E3 allies, and wef’re continuing to go through this process.

QUESTION: Does Israel have veto power over the deal, whether it goes or does not go? Because that is in – that’s really the essence of the story. Do they have a veto power over whether this deal, or returning to the deal, see the day of light or it doesn’t?

MR PATEL: Well, like I said, Said, engaging with our allies and partners on a mutual return to compliance to the JCPOA continues to be a key component of this, and that of course includes engaging with our Israeli partners. But like I said, I’m not going to get into the specifics of the negotiations from here. We continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance of the JCPOA is not just in the national security interest of this country, but it continues to offer important nonproliferative benefits that will contain Iran’s nuclear program.

QUESTION: So just to be clear on that —

QUESTION: I’m sorry, just one follow-up.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Sorry. Does the Israeli election slated for next month play a factor whether the deal is gone back to now or thereafter?

MR PATEL: I think there is – there is really, only one ultimate end goal of this deal, Said, and that is to ensure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon. And that continues to be our vision forward and the reason why we continue to pursue this because we believe that a mutual return to compliance will help us get there. It will put restraints on Iran’s nuclear program, and it’s an important step for regional stability and in the national security interest of the United States.

Leon, you had a question?

QUESTION:  Just to be clear, so you believe that negotiations are worth continuing; you want this deal, the return to the JCPOA, notwithstanding the IAEA report saying that they can’t guarantee it’s a peaceful program, the cyberattack which – in Albania which Albania and the U.S. is accusing Iran of having planned – notwithstanding all that and all the back-and-forth and saying their response is not constructive, you are adamant in saying, we want this deal and we’ll continue to negotiate with Iran?

MR PATEL:  So, let me widen the aperture a little bit here for you. We have never sought to insinuate that a mutual return to compliance of the JCPOA will address every single activity that we find problematic that Iran undertakes, that it’ll address every single one of those. But what we do know is that an Iran with a nuclear weapon takes – makes all of these problems a lot worse, and that is why we continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance of the JCPOA will put restraints on Iran’s nuclear program; it is in the best national security interest of this country; and it will offer steps towards regional stability as well.

But, I will also note that President Biden and this administration are not going to re-enter a deal that is not in the national security interest of the United States. But also, it’s important to note that this is an extraordinarily complex set of issues. We’re continuing to study the response, work closely with our allies and partners, including our E3 partners. It is, as I said, unfortunate that Iran’s step took us backwards, but we’re continuing to work through this process.

Anything else on JCPOA? Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Can you just comment more specifically on the IAEA report today about Iran having moved closer to having more of its enriched uranium to near weapons grade? Is that not – is that not a – is that not a red line for the U.S. yet with this —

MR PATEL:  So, we continue to seek a full implementation of the JCPOA precisely because of Iran’s nuclear activities like the ones that you described. And under a JCPOA, Iran’s nuclear activities would be strictly limited and fully monitored by the IAEA. As you said, and as the IAEA report indicated, Iran now has a substantial amount of highly enriched uranium for it – which it has no credible civilian use. But in a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA, Iran would need to get rid of all of its enriched uranium stockpile, aside from the limits that were laid out in the JCPOA.

Still on Iran?

QUESTION:  Yes.

MR PATEL:  Another topic? Go ahead, Michel.

QUESTION:  I understand a State Department official met with the Mossad chief?

MR PATEL:  I don’t have any meetings to preview or read out.

QUESTION:  Can I change topics?

MR PATEL:  Anything else on Iran before we change topics? Okay, Said. Then we’re going to work the room a little bit. You got a couple questions.

QUESTION:  This will be a very quick question on the Palestinian issue. I want to ask you about where you began, actually, about filtration and so on.

MR PATEL:  Sure.

QUESTION:  You began by citing how Russia does filtration. You could be talking about the Palestinians. That’s what Israel has been doing for decades. In fact, it was legislated in law only a few days ago, and you expressed your concern yesterday about what the Palestinians have to go through and so on. But beyond that, there has been no scolding in the kind of language that you use, let’s say that you leveled on Russia and so on. Will the United States ever show the kind of strong language towards what is happening to the Palestinians, similar to that, that we see happening elsewhere, like in Russia?

MR PATEL:  Well, Said, we engage in serious diplomatic conversations with all of our allies and partners. Sometimes that’s on issues that we disagree with or continue to have to work through. Sometimes those conversations remain private. But as I said yesterday on the topic that you mentioned, and Ambassador Nides, our ambassador in Israel, spoke about this over the weekend, since February the department, including through channels at our embassy in Jerusalem and at the Office of Palestinian Affairs, have engaged with the Israeli Government on this; and we’re going to continue to do so moving forward.

As I said yesterday, we continue to have significant concerns with the published protocols that were published yesterday, particularly regarding COGAT’s role in determining whether individuals invited by Palestinian academic institutions are qualified to enter the West Bank and as well as the potential impact it could have on family unity. This is something we’re continuing to work on, and we’ve engaged directly with our respective counterparts on this.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)

MR PATEL:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Israel signaled opposition today to U.S. calls to review rules of engagement in the occupied West Bank. The U.S. has repeatedly called for accountability over journalist Shireen Abu Akleh’s death. If Israel resists reviewing the rules of engagement, how will accountability be achieved?

MR PATEL:  Again, I’m not going to – I don’t have anything additional to provide beyond the extent that – which I talked about this yesterday. But to reiterate, we continue to underscore the importance of accountability in this case, and we’re going to continue to press our Israeli partners to closely review its policies and practices on the rules of engagement and consider additional steps that will mitigate risk in this circumstance.

Anything else before we shift away to different topics? Why don’t we go back to Jenny?

QUESTION:  Thanks, Vedant.

MR PATEL:  Yeah.

QUESTION: Yesterday, The Washington Post reported that a document about a country’s nuclear defense information was recovered from Mar-a-Lago. Has the State Department been briefed on which country this was, the contents of that document, and are you concerned it could damage bilateral relations with whatever country this is?

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything to offer on that. This is a Department of Justice activity, and so I would refer you to them and let them speak to this.

Shannon?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Same topic. Given that the report is out there, though, is there any concern within the department that this could alarm foreign governments and perhaps jeopardize intelligence sharing?

MR PATEL: I think, again, I am not going to speak to the Department of Justice activity directly. I will let my colleagues speak – at the DOJ to speak to that. But what I will note is that in countries where we have bilateral relationships, we remain – we have open lines of communication where we engage with them directly on a variety of issues, and those communication channels are open, and we continue to work closely. But I don’t have any specifics to offer on that.

QUESTION: Do you have any – any plans to engage those channels on this topic?

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything to preview on this right now.

QUESTION: Just to clarify, is the State involved at all into a damage assessment? Because that’s what the State Department does, right?

MR PATEL: I understand, but I just – I don’t have anything to offer on the DOJ investigation. I appreciate that.

Let’s go back to Michel and then we’ll work through.

QUESTION: Yeah. Any readout from the Assistant Secretary Barbara Leaf in Iraq today?

MR PATEL: I do have an update for you on that. So, as we noticed over the weekend, Assistant Secretary Leaf is in Iraq and is meeting with a range of Iraqis and Iraqi political leaders both in Baghdad and Erbil. In her meetings, Assistant Secretary Leaf expressed U.S. support for Prime Minister Kadhimi’s call to hold a constructive dialogue to help resolve the current political and economic crisis and urged all parties to attend. She is focused on advancing U.S. support for Iraq’s sovereignty, stability, and security; and this includes working to advance the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement to support areas in which we can collaborate together, including energy, education, and infrastructure as well.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) You said Prime Minister Kadhimi?

MR PATEL: Yes.

QUESTION: Oh, thank you.

MR PATEL: Yes.

Lalit, let’s go to you.

QUESTION: Assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs is in India these days. Do you have a readout of his meetings, who he met and what he discussed there?

MR PATEL: Yeah. So Assistant Secretary of State Lu is leading a U.S. delegation to India from September 5th to 8th. This is to deepen the U.S.-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership. This delegation will meet with Indian officials. They will discuss ways in which the U.S. and India can expand our cooperation to support a free, open, connected, prosperous, and resilient Indo-Pacific. We also understand that Assistant Secretary Lu will engage in roundtable discussions with senior business executives about how India can realize its full economic potential over the next 25 years and become a central hub in global supply chains as well.

Let’s go in the back.

QUESTION: On Assistant Secretary Leaf’s visit to Iraq, I know you just had the readout, but where does the U.S. stand on the political impasse? Do you see in the current political environment that the Iraqi leaders can form a government?

MR PATEL: As I spoke to this a number of weeks ago, we do not view this as a U.S. issue. It’s an Iraqi issue, and our posture has continued to be calling on calm and calling for peace amid some of the demonstrations. And ultimately, what we want to see is a strong, united, resilient, and sovereign Iraqi state. We regard Iraq as a vital partner on a number of issues and a partner with whom we do many things across the region, whether it be food security, water security, addressing climate change, and among other things as well.

QUESTION: And then in Erbil she also discussed energy issues between Kurdistan region and Baghdad. I know that you’re saying the Iraqi formation of the government is not a U.S. issue, but then this one has some sort of U.S. angle where there are a lot of American companies – or some American companies – that are working in Kurdistan region and threatened by Iraqi supreme court’s ruling. Where do you guys stand on that? Do you want to see the continuation of American energy companies working in Iraq?

MR PATEL: Sure. So, to take a little bit of a step back for the rest of the room, as you mentioned, Assistant Secretary Leaf is taking a number of meetings with political leaders in Iraqi Kurdistan to strengthen the enduring relationship between the U.S. and the people of the IKR. Assistant Secretary Leaf is emphasizing the urgency of resolving Iraq’s political impasse in an inclusive way, including the importance of unity among the Kurdish parties in a – in forging a more secure, democratic, and prosperous future.

On your question about the energy, we encourage the parties to determine a way forward that supports existing and future investment and advances the interests of the Iraqi people, including those in the Kurdistan region as well.

QUESTION: One more quick question.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Does this visit have to do anything with the number of letters that you guys have been getting from Congress and Senate members asking you to engage Iraqi – Iraqi Government and Kurdistan government at the highest level?

MR PATEL: Sorry, I didn’t hear the —

QUESTION: The question I was asking was: Did this visit have to do anything with the number of letters that you’ve been receiving from Senate and Congress.

MR PATEL: I wouldn’t assign a connectedness to that. I think, again, this is an issue that we are paying very close attention to and that’s why Assistant Secretary Leaf is in the region as well.

Let’s go in the back.

QUESTION: Let me just go back to the Russia and the DPRK.

MR PATEL: Okay.

QUESTION: In addition to the purchase, Russia had asked North Korea to send workers to reconstruct Donbas and the eastern region of the Ukraine. So what is your reaction to Russia and North Korea strengthening their ties? And does the U.S. consider any additional sanctions against North Korea?

MR PATEL: Well, we’re certainly not going to preview any actions, and I think in recent weeks we have seen Russia rely on states like the DPRK and Iran in ways that are deeply problematic. And everyone, not just in the region but around the world, should be concerned with Russia closening alliances to such countries.

But on your questions about the workers, I think we addressed this a number of weeks ago. But to reiterate, DPRK workers dispatched overseas, including to Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine, would be in clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions, and these resolutions highlight that the revenue generated from overseas DPRK workers would essentially contribute to the DPRK’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles program, and all UN member‑states are required to repatriate DPRK nationals pursuant to this.

QUESTION: North Korea. So, after the trilateral meeting of the special representatives in Tokyo, what is the latest assessment of the United States on the possible nuclear test by North Korea?

MR PATEL: Again, our goal remains to the – towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We harbor no hostilities or – nor hostile intent towards the DPRK and our policy has called for a calibrated, practical approach that will explore diplomacy.

Michel and then we’ll go to Nadia. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Lebanon, the presidential elections there should happen between now and the end of October. So far, no reforms and no new government after the elections, and the parliament doesn’t look ready to elect a new president. What is the U.S. view on this?

MR PATEL: Sure. So, this is for the Lebanese people to decide who is in their government, and we call on Lebanon’s leaders to hold a free and fair presidential election, in a timely manner, in a way that is in accordance with the Lebanese constitution. We want to see a government in Lebanon that is capable of restoring the trust of its own people and committed to implementing the political and economic reforms needed to effect meaningful change, promote good governance, and rescue Lebanon’s economy as well.

Nadia.

QUESTION: My two questions also on Lebanon. Iran offered to give free fuel to Lebanon to avoid sanctions and any transaction. Would you welcome that? What’s your comment on that? Do you think that’s a good idea?

MR PATEL: Well, we think that any activity that could skirt sanctions would be deeply problematic.

QUESTION: Okay. And also, on the port, Lebanon seems to appoint another judge to investigate the previous judge – was kind of backed by the U.S. Do you think – is this is something that you welcome, to have a new judge to investigate the port explosion?

MR PATEL: Are you – I don’t have any updates to offer you on that from here, but I’m happy to check back with the team and see if we can get you something.

Alex.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Do you have any concern on Turkey’s parroting of Russian propaganda, which raised eyebrows in the region? As I mentioned yesterday, they blamed sanctions for energy crisis, and today President Erdoğan was quoted as saying that the West is “provoking,” quote/unquote, Russia. How much do these statements reflect the current state of Turkish-U.S. relationship? Is there any miscommunication, lack of coordination? Where is this coming from, your assessment?

MR PATEL: So, I think it’s important to note that we view Turkey as a vital and key NATO Ally and partner, and they played an – a really important role in the implementation of this Black Sea Grain Initiative, which, again, I would reiterate is a humanitarian arrangement bringing desperately needed food to the world’s hungry populations. And again, there has always been clear exemptions on food and fertilizer, and our sanctions have never targeted humanitarian assistance.

QUESTION: Are you planning to meet with Turkish officials to discuss this misunderstanding or —

MR PATEL: I don’t have any meetings to preview, but as a key NATO Ally, we are in touch with our counterparts in Turkey on a regular basis.

QUESTION: And lastly, any comment or concern on upcoming China-Russia leaders meeting in Uzbekistan next week? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Sure. So, I’m not going to speak to reported meetings between other countries, but we’ve made clear our concerns about the depth of the PRC’s alignment and ties with Russia even as Russia prosecutes a war of aggression in Ukraine.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Chile?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: On Sunday there was a referendum on a new constitution, and Chileans overwhelmingly rejected —

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: — a left-leaning constitution after three years of debate and so on. Do you have any comment on that? Did you issue a statement?

MR PATEL: So, I believe we might’ve spoken about this earlier in the week, but the Chilean people have again demonstrated Chile’s commitment to democracy, and we remain committed to supporting Chile as it continues the democratic process of building a more perfect nation that expands prosperity and opportunity for all Chileans.

Let’s finish up with Leon.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up to the Erdoğan question. So, I mean, he’s clearly, publicly said – accusing the West of imposing sanctions on Russia that are not helpful – provocative is a word he used. So, I mean – and you’re saying now that he’s – of course, Turkey is an ally and they did this Black Sea deal and all that. But do you find those, his comments – do you disagree firmly with those comments? Do you find them helpful, not helpful? I mean, give us some feedback.

MR PATEL: What’s important to note, to any country and to anybody talking about this, is that the U.S. did not offer or provide any sanctions relief in exchange for participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative. And we have been clear from the very beginning that we have exemptions for food, for fertilizer; and our sanctions have never targeted humanitarian assistance. We want to see food and fertilizer reach global markets. We think this has been a very important development that has allowed grain to get to people in countries who need it most, and now it’s up to Russia to live up to its commitment of this initiative.

All right, thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:52 p.m.)

  1. Black Sea Grain Initiative

Department Press Briefing – September 6, 2022

2:05 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. Sorry for being a couple minutes late. So I —

QUESTION: You’re only four minutes late. And, in fact, if this is any indication of your punctuality in the –moving forward —

MR PATEL: Well —

QUESTION: It’s a very good sign.

MR PATEL: (Laughter.) Well, here to – here for you, Matt.

QUESTION: And welcome.

MR PATEL: Thank you.

QUESTION: Good to see you up on the podium.

MR PATEL: I have one quick thing off the top, and then I’m happy to turn to your questions. So first and foremost, we congratulate Liz Truss on her becoming the new prime minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The UK and the U.S. are the closest of friends and allies, and we look forward to continuing our close cooperation with Prime Minister Truss and the new government on a range of important priorities, including continued support to Ukraine in the face of Russia’s war, and preserving peace, and economic security, and the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific.

Our unparalleled defense and security alliance and Special Relationship, founded on shared values and common beliefs, promote security and prosperity for our two nations and for the world.

Our countries are deeply linked by our economic ties and the bonds between our people. The UK is our largest foreign investment partner and biggest partner in the services of trade, and our respective companies directly employ more than one million workers in the other country.

So again, an immense congratulations to Prime Minister Truss.

And with that, Matt —

QUESTION: Oh, that’s it?

MR PATEL: Take us away.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. Nothing to do —

MR PATEL: I have nothing else for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Just one extremely brief one on that, do you know if in‑between the time that she – while she was still foreign security, like before she went up to see the Queen and became appointed, do you know if the Secretary, who she had a close, really professional relationship with – do you know if the two spoke between the time that she was chosen and the time that she was —

MR PATEL: You mean today?

QUESTION: Well, between yesterday and today —

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: — while she was still foreign secretary. Do you happen to know?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any calls to —

QUESTION: All right.

MR PATEL: — read out right now.

QUESTION: Okay. I want to start in the Middle East. I want to start with Israel.

MR PATEL: Okay.

QUESTION: And your guy’s response to the IDF report on the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh but also on the situation with the Palestinian NGOs. So number one, on the IDF report yesterday, I’m a little confused as to what your actual response and what your actual position is. This is an American citizen who was killed. You have called for accountability, and yet there does not seem to be any accountability there. And the statement that came out yesterday in Ned’s name mentions accountability, but are you satisfied that this is – that the Israelis have done what they need to do in terms of this case?

MR PATEL: So we continue to underscore the importance of accountability in this case, and we’re going to continue to press our Israeli partners to closely review its policies and practices on rules of engagement and consider additional steps to mitigate the risk of civilian harm, protect journalists, and prevent similar tragedies in the future. Ultimately, that is a key goal for us, as the statement from Ned yesterday, is to underscore that similar actions and similar occurrences don’t happen in the future. And that’s what we continue to reiterate with our Israeli partners.

QUESTION: Well, but do you think that accountability has been achieved?

MR PATEL: So again, we’ve continued to underscore the importance of accountability in this case, and we’re continuing to press our Israeli partners on that.

QUESTION: Well, forgive me for not accepting – that doesn’t mean anything. I mean, I continue to underscore the fact that it’s important that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, but – and which it does. But there is – do you consider that – do you believe that Israel has taken steps to hold whoever is responsible for her death accountable?

MR PATEL: We’re —

QUESTION: And then if I could – and I’ve just – actually back up. What does accountability mean to this administration?

MR PATEL: Look, Matt, so I’m not going to categorize that in one way or the other from here. That’s for our Israeli partners to determine. What for us to do – and what we’re – the role we’re continuing to play is pressing Israel to closely review its policies and practices to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again.

QUESTION: Okay. But that’s not what accountability is, unless you guys have a different definition of it than the dictionary does. So what does accountability mean for this administration? An apology? We’re sorry. It happened maybe – it looks like it happened by accident.

MR PATEL: So —

QUESTION: But it won’t happen again. That’s the – that’s what accountability is, or is it something more?

MR PATEL: We are continuing to press Israel to review its policies and practices and that is what accountability —

QUESTION: How does that – but that doesn’t – reviewing their practices and policies does not mean accountability for this woman’s death, does it?

MR PATEL: Look —

QUESTION: Maybe it does in your view. I don’t know. You tell me.

MR PATEL: Our thoughts remain with the Abu Akleh family as they grieve this tremendous loss. Not only, as you all know, Shireen was a U.S. citizen, and she was a fearless reporter. And part of our vision of accountability is ensuring that activities like this – that something like this does not happen again. And that’s something —

QUESTION: Right. What’s the rest of it?

MR PATEL: — and that’s something that we continue to raise directly with Israel, that it closely review its policies and practices on the rules of engagement, to take additional steps to mitigate risk, to protect journalists, to protect civilian harm, and to ensure that similar tragedies don’t happen in the future.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, what is then the other part or other parts of accountability and from your perspective?

MR PATEL: Matt, I think I’ve answered your question a couple of times. I will just reiterate again that —

QUESTION: Well, I mean, you’ve said some stuff in response to my questions a couple times. I don’t think you’ve answered them. Let’s move – let’s —

MR PATEL: We —

QUESTION: I’ll let someone else go on. I just want to move to the NGOs.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: So you had said that you were looking for additional information to support the Israelis’ allegation that – support the Israelis’ decision to close down these offices, and I’m wondering if you ever got that.

MR PATEL: We continue to engage directly with our Israeli partners on that. We strongly believe that respect for human rights and the importance of a strong civil society are critically important. And we can make clear to the Israeli Government and the PA that independent civil society organizations in the West Bank must continue their important work. I don’t have any updates on this beyond what Ned briefed on this a couple weeks ago. We continue to seek additional information from our Israeli partners, but don’t have an update beyond that.

QUESTION: So they never brought the information that they said that they were going to?

MR PATEL: I just don’t have any other updates on this.

QUESTION: But – okay. When you were referring back to what Ned said a couple weeks ago, that was before the Israelis had brought this – what they said was going to be this – they promised that they were going to bring you – they haven’t done that as far as you know?

MR PATEL: We are in direct communication with the Government of Israel and we’re continuing to seek additional information.

Said.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. It’s great to see you behind the podium. Welcome.

MR PATEL: Thank you.

QUESTION: Let me press Matt’s question a bit further. I mean, the Israelis obviously know who the solider is and they said basically they are not going to press any charges. There will be no accountability, and that’s the Israelis’ statement that you have supported. There will be no accountability. So how is that – how does that juxtapose with – you talk about the family and your thoughts are with them, all this good stuff. But how are they going to receive accountability or justice in this case?

MR PATEL: Again, Said, we continue to press Israel directly and closely at the senior-most levels to review its policies and practices on this to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again in the future. That’s something we’re continuing to be really engaged on.

QUESTION: But you know what? It happened right after Shireen Abu Akleh – there were two journalists that have been killed. It happened time and again. There are 21 Palestinian journalists in Israeli prisons and so on. The Israelis are killing kids every day, teenagers and so on. So I don’t know when you say that we’ve talked to them at the highest level – I mean, do they heed your call? Do they listen to you? Or they just pretend that you’re not saying anything?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m not going to read out every diplomatic engagement that we have. But I will mention again that we continue to press Israel to closely review its policies and practices on the rules of engagement, to take steps to mitigate risks, to take steps to protect journalists, to take steps to protect civilians and prevent similar tragedies like this happening in the future. We, the United States, continue to support press freedoms and the protections of journalists in carrying out their work, and we call on democracies and all responsible actors to ensure that journalists can conduct the vital work that they do.

QUESTION: If this – excuse me. I have a couple more questions —

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: — on Palestinian issues so we don’t have to come back to it. So hypothetically, I mean, they could be listening to you and they will heed you, your warning to them not to do it again, and so on. But in fact, they do it again. And hypothetically if this had happened elsewhere, would your position be the same? If an American journalist was killed, let’s say, somewhere else, in another democratic country, that the police gunned her down in the street, let’s say in India or elsewhere. Would your position be the same, in your opinion?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m not going to get into a back-and-forth on hypotheticals. In any situation, we continue to support press freedoms and the protection of all journalists. And in this situation, we, again, are pressing Israel to closely review its policies and practices to address the rules of engagement, to take steps to mitigate risk, to take steps to protect journalists and civilians, and to ultimately ensure that something like this does not happen again.

QUESTION: I have a couple more question. Let me ask you about the new rules that Israel is imposing on those who visit the West Bank and Palestinians who are going to get married and so on, that they are demanding like a time, date on romance, if you will, and so on. Do you have any comment on that?

MR PATEL: Yeah. So I think you might have seen that Ambassador Nides spoke a little bit about this over the weekend, but to reiterate: Since February, the State Department, including through our embassy in Jerusalem and the Office of Palestinian Affairs, have engaged directly with the Israeli Government on these rules and will continue to move so – do so going forward.

We continue to have serious concerns with the published protocols, particularly the role in determining whether individuals invited by Palestinian academic institutions are qualified to enter the West Bank and the potential negative impact on family unity, as you mentioned. It’s important to ensure that all of these regulations are developed in a way that’s coordinated with key stakeholders, including the Palestinian Authority, and we fully expect the Government of Israel to make necessary adjustments to ensure transparency as well as the fair and equal treatment of all U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals traveling to the West Bank.

QUESTION: So if myself or my brothers or members of my family and so on that hold both – that hold an American citizen – citizenship go back, and there are – or they get interrogated almost on issues of land ownership – well, who are they visiting, why are they there, where will they be staying and so on – do they have a recourse? Could they come to you and say this has happened to me, I demand accountability?

MR PATEL: Said, we are continuing to engage with Israel on these pilot procedures that were published this weekend that, as you said, impact the entry, study, and work or residence of potentially thousands of people in the West Bank. We understand that Israel plans for them to go into effect on October 20th. We note that there are some improvements in some of these regulations from the original draft in February, but we remain concerned about potential adverse impact for these procedures and how they could impact Palestinian civil society, how it could impact tourism, impact family unity, investment, and other health care and academic institutions.

QUESTION: Honestly, Vedant, on – the problem is with the pilot program. You should look into that.

MR PATEL: Daphne.

QUESTION: Vedant, welcome to the podium. If I could switch over to Russia, the White House said today that President Biden has made a final decision against designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. Designating Russia was something that Ukraine has pushed for. What has been Kyiv’s response to this final decision being made?

MR PATEL: What has been —

QUESTION: Kyiv’s response?

MR PATEL: I am not going to speak to the response for – from Ukraine. I’ll let our Ukrainian partners speak to that. But as the President has said, we don’t think that a state sponsor of terrorism is the most effective or strongest path forward to hold Russia accountable. The designation could have unintended consequences for the world and Ukraine as well.

I’ll note that according to humanitarian experts and NGOs who have spoken on this, it could seriously affect the ability to deliver assistance to Ukraine, it could drive critical humanitarian and commercial actors away from facilitating food exports and engaging in the country. It could also undercut potentially multilateral coordination that has been very critical in holding Putin accountable and doing our part in ensuring that Ukraine is in a position to defend itself.

QUESTION: Can you tell me —

QUESTION: Does State have a legal analysis —

MR PATEL: We’ll work everybody. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Does State have a legal analysis of whether Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism?

MR PATEL: Well, as you know, that’s a process that is determined by the Secretary of State, and I don’t have any updates to offer on that right now.

Alex.

QUESTION: Thanks so much, Vedant. Congratulations on your debut, although you’re not a stranger to the room.

According to U.S. intelligence, Russia is purchasing North Korean weapons. We also discussed how Russia is cooperating with Iran on drones. If imposing secondary sanctions and calling the terrorism the way it is is not the best way to address the problem, then what is?

MR PATEL: Sorry, I couldn’t hear you. Say that —

QUESTION: If calling Russia – if, let’s say, given the fact that Russia has been cooperating with North Korea and Iran purchasing weapons against Ukraine, if calling Russia what it is, which is a state sponsor of terrorism, then what other means do you have in mind to call for accountability?

MR PATEL: Well, there are a number of lines of effort that we have at our disposal to continue to hold Russia accountable, our sanctions being one of them. And I think just last week we briefed out some metrics on the economic consequences that are directly being put upon Russia’s economy because of their barbaric and unjust actions in Ukraine.

But to go back to the crux of your question, as you said, the Russian Ministry of Defense is in the process of purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea for use in Ukraine. This purchase indicates that the Russian military continues to suffer from severe supply shortages due in part because of export controls and sanctions – another example of the lines of efforts that we have to hold Russia accountable.

QUESTION: There’s a new narrative – just to stay on the same topic.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: A new narrative pushed by Russia also replicated by other countries like Turkish Erdoğan and others. They’re blaming European energy crisis on sanctions. And also at some point, Russian foreign minister named the U.S. as one of the reasons behind this crisis. Do you have a response to that? Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: Sorry, can you repeat the first part of your question?

QUESTION: That the energy crisis that Russia and allies are basically blaming the sanctions as a reason why Europe is facing this crisis. Do you have a response to that?

MR PATEL: So we’ve seen those reports, but what I would note is that these kinds of – this kind of rhetoric continues to demonstrate that Russia is not a reliable supplier of energy and that we remained with – in sync with our allies and partners and our commitment to promoting European energy security, reducing our collective dependence on Russian energy products, and continuing to place pressure on the Kremlin.

Anything else on —

QUESTION: Staying on that – on Russia?

MR PATEL: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: The IAEA report today – I wonder what you make of it and what the next steps diplomatically are to safeguard that facility.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: And this idea of a demilitarized zone, I mean, everyone keeps talking about that, having the Russians pull back, but it also would mean not having – having the Ukrainians pull back from that area. And I wonder what you make of that.

MR PATEL: Sure. So on the report, we received the report earlier today and our experts here at the State Department are reviewing it. I don’t have any immediate reaction to offer, but we continue to remain concerned about such military and violent activity so close to a nuclear power plant. That continues to be incredibly concerning. Some initial takeaways, though: I believe the report touched on observations of physical damage at the power plant, and that continues to be something we find incredibly troubling as well.

As we from the department have said previously, fighting around a nuclear power plant certainly presents a serious risk, which is why we have continued to call for Russia’s immediate withdrawal from the facility, and that continues to be our belief on that.

QUESTION: And do you have any ideas on who would —

QUESTION: Sorry, can I just – oh, go ahead. Sorry.

QUESTION: — enforce some kind of demilitarized zone?

MR PATEL: Pardon me?

QUESTION: Or what would – who – what would the U.S. like to see in terms of a demilitarized zone? Who could enforce that?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to qualify it one way or the other from here, but I think it’s important to note that Russia is the one that is illegally, unjustifiably in Ukraine, in Ukrainian territory, and infringing on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine by being at the ZNPP.

QUESTION: Can I – I just want to – two things.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: One, on this whole idea of holding Russia accountable for the invasion of Ukraine. So accountability – does it mean something different in the context of Russia invading Ukraine than it does for a U.S. partner and ally like Israel? Does it?

MR PATEL: That certainly is – that certainly is not what I was trying to say there.

QUESTION: I mean, I realize the two situations are apples and oranges, but the word “accountability” is the same word and it should have the same definition, shouldn’t it?

MR PATEL: Well, the two – as you noted, the two situations are apples and oranges, and so —

QUESTION: They are completely different, but accountability doesn’t change, right? Or at least it shouldn’t. Maybe – and if it does, and if there are different standards for different countries, then it would be great if you would tell us that.

MR PATEL: I was —

QUESTION: Anyway, that’s kind of a rhetorical question. The main question is: Am I correct in thinking – and I realize these reports are relatively recent and so there may not be anything on the ground, but have you seen any evidence of either Iranian drones or North Korean weapons being used in Ukraine by Russia?

MR PATEL: I’ve —

QUESTION: To this point? I realize —

MR PATEL: Specifically at the ZNPP or —

QUESTION: No, anywhere.

MR PATEL: I don’t have any updates on the use of them.

QUESTION: Okay. So as far as you know, these transfers that you are saying are still in progress and these weapons, what – drones or artillery or whatever – have not yet arrived and been used in the theater?

MR PATEL: I’m just – I’m not going to speak to the specifics of that. That’s probably a better question for the Pentagon, but I would again reiterate the declassified language on both Iran and the DPRK.

QUESTION: Vedant, on state sponsors of terrorism, do you have a standard definition on that? I mean, I’m sure the State Department has. You guys have, like, a legal language on how you classify countries as state sponsors of terrorism?

MR PATEL: I’m sure we’d be happy to get you a specific definition after this.

QUESTION: Just going back to that North Korea —

MR PATEL: Sorry. Michele, go ahead.

QUESTION: — going back to that North Korea.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, if there are actual shipments, couldn’t there – couldn’t they be interdicted at sea because it would be violating UN resolutions? Is that something you guys are working on, bringing up at the UN?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to preview anything from here, but to your point, yes, this would violate UN sanctions on the DPRK by doing this. Multiple UN Security Council resolutions prohibit UN member-states from procuring from the DPRK all arms and related material. The Security Council imposed this prohibition over a decade ago in response to the DPRK’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile program. While all UN sanctions are a serious violation, I think particularly concerning here is that a permanent member of the Security Council is floating these measures.

Can we stay on Russia-Ukraine before we shift away?

QUESTION: Just quickly – and welcome to the podium, Vedant.

MR PATEL: Thank you.

QUESTION: The Nord Stream pipeline that Russia shut the gas supply off, does the department have an assessment and/or a comment as to why Russia is doing that?

MR PATEL: Well, my understanding is that they are – they have reduced flow due to claims of maintenance and a supposed oil leak, but we have not found those claims to be credible, and other experts in the private sector and otherwise have also found that to be not credible as well.

As I stated to Alex’s question, this is just another example of Russian actions demonstrating that they are not a reliable energy source. And we continue to remain in lockstep with our allies and partners in our commitment to promoting European energy security, reducing our collective dependence on Russian energy, and maintaining pressure on the Kremlin.

Anything else on Russia or Ukraine?

QUESTION: One more on (inaudible)?

MR PATEL: We just went to you, Alex.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. So this is actually returning to the beginning about Liz Truss.

MR PATEL: Okay.

QUESTION: You mentioned that you were looking forward to continuing close cooperation on various things such as support to Ukraine, but what is your take on Northern Ireland and what sort of cooperation you can have there? Because Ms. Truss, as you know, has driven the legislation to scrap parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol. So are you concerned about the strength of her conviction on this issue now as the prime minister? Do you think there’s any way you can sway her on this?

MR PATEL: So I’m certainly not going to speak to any potential legislation or anything like that in another country, but what I will say is that the U.S. priority remains protecting the gains of the Belfast and Good Friday Agreement and preserving peace and stability and prosperity for the people of Northern Ireland. We have welcomed the provisions in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and the Northern Ireland Protocol is a way to manage the practical challenges of preserving distinct EU and UK markets, while preventing the return of customs infrastructure on the land border.

Anything else – going back to Russia-Ukraine before we close out? I know we’ve been jumping a little bit. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PATEL: And then I’ll come to you, Janne. I promise. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Just circling back briefly to the state sponsor of terrorism branding, I want to just be clear on that phrase “final decision.” Is the view of the administration that there are still red lines that Russia could cross that would merit the designation?

MR PATEL: Again, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals from here. What I will reiterate again is that this is a designation authority that rests with the Secretary of State, but also, as the President said over the weekend, we do not think that this is the most effective or strongest path forward to hold Russia accountable. The designation could have unintended consequences for both Ukraine and the world broadly as well.

Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Good to see you. And North Korea will be keeping close eyes to Iran nuclear deal. What differences do you see between the Iran nuclear deal and the nuclear negotiation with North Korea in the future? And will Iran and North Korea’s nuclear technology cooperation be included in the negotiations?

MR PATEL: Yeah. Thanks, Janne. So both a North Korea with a nuclear weapon and an Iran with a nuclear weapon are things that we view as deeply problematic and destabilizing, not just for the world but for their respective regions as well. And that is why, as it relates to the DPRK, we continue to push for a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and we’re going to continue to stress our commitment to dialogue with the DPRK, without preconditions, while we’ll also take all necessary actions that we need to to address the threat of Pyongyang that it could pose not just on the United States but on its allies and partners as well.

QUESTION: Another questions. At the national security advisors meeting was held in Hawaii last week, you know that, the three parties national security advisor, South Korea, Japan, and United States. They agreed to take strong countermeasures if North Korea conduct its seventh nuclear test. What is the strong level of countermeasures? What is it specifically?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to preview any actions or measures from here, but I do want to take this opportunity to note that Special Representative for the DPRK Sung Kim is in Tokyo to meet with our multilateral partners, the Republic of Korea and Japan, on this very issue, where he will, again, stress our joint efforts to achieve a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and also stress the importance of U.S. commitment to taking dialogue, even while we take necessary action to address the threat Pyongyang poses.

Anything else on DPRK?

Leon. I’m sorry, I skipped you over when I was going through the first round. Apologies.

QUESTION: No problem, Vedant. Congrats.

MR PATEL: Thank you.

QUESTION: Moving on to Ethiopia.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: So Special Envoy Mike Hammer is there. You guys have been very sketchy about his schedule and who he’s seeing or not seeing. As far as we know now, he’s already seen the UN representative there. Can you give us any information as to who is he going to see and give us some details on his trip?

MR PATEL: Sure, sure. So to just share for folks – and we, I believe, put a media note about this over the weekend – but U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Ambassador Mike Hammer arrived in Ethiopia on September 5th to support efforts to get the TPLF and Ethiopian Government to come to an immediate cessation of hostilities and participate in AU-led peace talks. While in country, Ambassador Hammer will consult with the Ethiopian Government, the African Union representatives, and international partners on the next step forward.

I will also just use this opportunity to reiterate what some from the administration said last week, that we are deeply concerned about renewed fighting in Ethiopia. The U.S. condemns the TPLF offensive outside of Tigray, we condemn the Ethiopian Government’s airstrikes and ground offensives, and we condemn Eritrea’s re-entry into the conflict as well. These actions are increasing tensions throughout the region and worsening the humanitarian situation. In our view, there is no military solution to this conflict.

Nike.

QUESTION: Just to follow up to that, so has he seen the Ethiopian officials yet?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specifics to read out about his travel at this point, beyond what I just shared.

Nike, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, and welcome to the podium.

MR PATEL: Thank you.

QUESTION: On China and Taiwan, after the State Department announced it has approved new packages of arms sales to Taiwan, China has rejected and threatened to take actions. What is the U.S. response to China and its objection of U.S. arms sale to Taiwan?

MR PATEL: Well, there is no reason for China to react. These systems are for defensive purposes. And the United States has been providing defensive capabilities to Taiwan for decades, which is in line with our longstanding commitments under not just the Taiwan Relations Act, but it’s also consistent with our “one China” policy. In line with that policy, the U.S. will continue to meet Taiwan’s defense needs. This package was in the works for some time precisely because we expected it would be needed as China increased its pressure on Taiwan. We have and we will continue to be responsible, steady, and resolute and keep our lines of communication open with Beijing, but also continue to support Taiwan in consistent – in ways that are consistent with our policy.

QUESTION: And then can I just follow up? To what degree does the U.S. decision on the quality and quantity on Taiwan – arms sale to Taiwan is based on the level of threats that Taiwan is facing from China? Thank you.

MR PATEL: So consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. makes available to Taiwan defense articles and services necessary to enable it to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability. I’ll note that since 2010, the Executive Branch has notified Congress of over $35 billion in arms sales to Taiwan.

QUESTION: On Iraq and Syria?

MR PATEL: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Iraq – assistant secretary’s visit – Barbara Leaf’s visit to Baghdad and Erbil. What is she trying to achieve there?

QUESTION: Okay, excellent answer.

MR PATEL: Sorry – (laughter) – sorry about that. I was just finding something. So I don’t have any – I don’t have any specifics to offer on her travel beyond the media note that was put out over the weekend, but what I will note is that we, again, believe, as it relates to Iraq, that now is the time for all parties to resolve the current impasse. Above all, we urge all those involved to remain calm, abstain from violence, and pursue peaceful avenues. But we’ll see if we have any updates from her trip in the later part of the week.

QUESTION: And then the Erbil part – is the U.S. oil companies, the pressure on U.S. oil companies, is that part of the discussions there?

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything to preview on that.

QUESTION: On Syria, Nick Granger’s visit to northeast Syria – what can you tell me about that? And does it – having a U.S. diplomatic mission there, does it indicate any seriousness in U.S.’s stance on the situation there or trying to deescalate the Turkish attacks on northeast Syria?

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything for you on that from here, but we’ll follow up with you after the briefing and see if we can get you an update.

QUESTION: Iran?

MR PATEL: Iran? Go ahead. Then we’ll —

QUESTION: Over the weekend, High Representative Borrell said the whole process is in danger when it comes to reviving the JCPOA. On Thursday you called Iran’s latest response not constructive. How would you characterize where the process stands right now?

MR PATEL: Yeah. I mean, to reiterate what the administration said at the tail-end of last week, Iran’s response did not put us in a position to close the deal. We’ve consistently said that gaps remain, and it’s clear from Iran’s response that these gaps still remain.

QUESTION: Still on Iran?

MR PATEL: Still Iran? What’s that?

QUESTION: On Iran as well?

MR PATEL: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Baquer Namazi’s family – he’s wrongfully detained in Iran – is saying in a statement today that he requires urgent surgery. I’m wondering if his clearly deteriorating health situation has triggered the U.S. to do any more to try and secure his release.

MR PATEL: So I don’t have any updates to offer on his medical condition. But – give me one second – apologies. Again, so I don’t have anything to offer on his medical condition. Due to privacy concerns, I’m just not going to get into that. But as it relates to Iran, we are continuing to approach negotiations to secure the release of four wrongfully detained U.S. citizens with the utmost urgency, and we continue to urge Iran to do the same. Iran must allow Baquer and Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, and Morad Tahbaz to return home to their loved ones.

QUESTION: And just sticking on Americans wrongfully detained, when it comes to Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, the lawyer for Alexander Vinnik, who is a man – a Russian man accused of money laundering. He’s now calling for the Russians to include Vinnik in a potential prisoner swap for Whelan and Griner. Has – have U.S. officials discussed that specifically, including him in a potential prisoner swap with the Russians?

MR PATEL: Yeah, I’m not going to get into specific details or negotiations from here. I will reiterate that the U.S. Government continues to urge Russia to release wrongfully detained individuals Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. As you all know, the Secretary came and spoke to you all a number of weeks ago, where he was clear that there was a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release, and our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal.

QUESTION: And just one follow-up on that.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Does the departure of Ambassador Sullivan disrupt at all conversations that were occurring regarding Griner and Whelan’s release?

MR PATEL: No, those conversations and engagements continue to be ongoing.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, please?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: You and then I’ll come to you in the back. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Yesterday marked 200 days since detention of Brittney Griner. Last time, the U.S. embassy reached out to Russian officials? Do you have any information about that?

MR PATEL: Again, I’m just not going to get into the specifics of our engagements and negotiations from here.

Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah, I have a couple questions. Counselor Chollet is in the UAE today, and he met with the foreign minister. He discussed Libya, Yemen, and Iran. What is he trying to achieve there?

MR PATEL: Yeah, so Counselor Derek Chollet is in the UAE today as part of travel to the region, and he’ll be going to Pakistan after that. But I will see if we can get you some specifics on his engagements in the UAE.

QUESTION: And on OPEC+ decision to decrease its production in October by 100,000 barrel, how do you view this decision?

MR PATEL: Yeah, so the White House put out a statement over the weekend addressing this, and so I will reiterate that this administration has been clear that energy supply should meet demand to support economic growth and lower prices for American consumers and consumers around the world. This administration has taken action, including a historic release from – of oil from U.S. and global strategic reserves and working with allies on a price cap on Russian oil, to ensure we maintain a global oil supply even as we punish Russia for their actions. U.S. oil production is up by more than half a billion dollar – half a billion barrels per day since the beginning of the year and is on track to be up by more than 1 billion barrels per day by the end of the year.

QUESTION: And one more on Amos Hochstein talks with Israel and Lebanon.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Any updates on these talks?

MR PATEL: So I have no travel to preview for Special Coordinator Hochstein, but we remain in close touch with both governments. Special Presidential Coordinator Hochstein continues his robust engagement to bring the maritime boundary discussions to a close. We continue to narrow the gaps between the parties and we believe a lasting compromise is possible, and we welcome the consultative spirit of both parties to reach a resolution.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR PATEL: Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: If I could go back to the Namazis and the other prisoners in Iran, the families are understandably concerned that their fates are tied to the outcome of the nuclear talks. Given the latest setback, does the U.S. believe a prisoner swap is possible in the absence of a revived agreement? And what’s your message to those families?

MR PATEL: So again, I’m just not going to get into specifics of negotiations or engagements from here, but what I will reiterate is that the U.S. will always stand up for our citizens who are wrongfully detained overseas. We’re continuing to approach negotiations to secure the release of our four wrongfully detained U.S. citizens with the utmost urgency, and we’re urging Iran to do the same and release them. And we believe that these individuals should be returned home to their loved ones.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. The Biden administration announced the first U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit for September 28th, 29th. Can you talk about the significance of that summit and the primary aims in the context of increased Chinese engagement with the region?

MR PATEL: Sure thing. So, as you saw, our colleagues at the White House announced the first U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit. This will be the first ever U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit, which will be held at the end of September. The summit will demonstrate a number of things, but first the U.S.’s deep commitment and its enduring partnership with Pacific Island countries and the Pacific region that is underpinned by shared history, values, and people-to-people ties. The summit will also reflect our broadening and deepening cooperation on a number of key issues, including maritime security, addressing climate change, pandemic and global health response, economic and trade recovery and ties, environmental protection, but also advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific.

QUESTION: Which countries have confirmed attendance?

MR PATEL: I don’t believe we have attendees yet.

QUESTION: One more on Iran?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: On Iran’s wrongful detention, there – Iran sentenced two – what human rights organizations say – LGBTQ activists, Zahra Hamedani and Elham Choubdar. Do you have any comment on Iran’s sentencing people for defending human rights?

MR PATEL: Yeah, so we are aware of those reports that Iranian authorities have sentenced two LGBTQI+ activists. The U.S. firmly opposes all human rights abuses against LGBTQI+ persons and urges governments to repeal laws that criminalize individuals on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics. We do not have further details regarding the specifics of the case, unfortunately, at this time.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Do you have any readout on Assistant Secretary Donfried’s call to Azerbaijan’s foreign minister yesterday?

MR PATEL: I don’t, but we can check if we have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: According to Azeris, they discussed the Karabakh conflict, something that we have discussed previously. You mentioned before that the U.S. supports the Brussels process, also negotiations between two sides – direct negotiations. My question is: We did not see U.S. representative at the Brussels meeting last week. I just – I’m trying to figure out what – when you talk about supporting the process, do you mean a moral support or distant support? What does that mean?

MR PATEL: Well, as you know, Alex, this is – it’s an EU-led process; it’s not a U.S.-led process. But I also want to use this opportunity to note that Ambassador Reeker, our senior advisor for Caucasus negotiations, will be traveling to the region this week in what will be his first trip in this new role. This is a first of what we expect to be regular travel to the region. He departs this evening and will be going to Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, and in all three countries he’ll meet with senior officials to discuss key issues in the region as well as looking for pathways to assist partners and engaging directly and constructively to resolve outstanding issues and further regional cooperation.

QUESTION: One more —

MR PATEL: All right, Michel.

QUESTION: Any comment on the Russia plan to buy military equipment from North Korea and Iran?

MR PATEL: I —

QUESTION: You already do this?

MR PATEL: I addressed this at the top, Michel, but just for you —

QUESTION: Oh, I wasn’t here. Sorry about that.

MR PATEL: No, no, you’re okay. Just for you I will —

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR PATEL: — again reiterate that the Russian military defense is in the process of purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea for use on the battlefield in Ukraine. This purchase indicates that the Russian military continues to suffer from severe supply shortages in Ukraine due in part to export controls and sanctions, and we expect Russia to try to purchase additional North Korean military equipment going forward as well.

QUESTION: Can you take one more on Russia? I know it has been long time. One last question, then.

MR PATEL: One last question.

QUESTION: The sham referenda – we talked about that before.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: But according to Russian sources, they have been put on hold. Are you in a position to confirm or deny that?

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything on that from here. I don’t have anything on that from here.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: All right. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:49 p.m.)

# # #

Department Press Briefing – August 30, 2022

2:02 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: Hey there. Thanks so much. Good afternoon, everybody, and thank you for joining us today. I have two quick things for you at the top before we dive into your questions.

So first, the United States, through USAID, is providing an additional $30 million in humanitarian assistance to support the people affected by severe flooding in Pakistan resulting from heavy monsoon rains, as well as landslides and glacial lake outbursts, since mid-June.

The flooding has affected an estimated 33 million people and resulted in more than 1,100 deaths and more than 1,600 injuries. In addition, more than one million homes have been damaged or destroyed, and nearly 735,000 livestock – a major source of livelihood and food – have been lost, and the flooding has damaged roads and more than two million acres of agricultural land.

With these funds, USAID partners will prioritize urgently needed support for food, nutrition, multi-purpose cash, safe water, improved sanitation and hygiene, and shelter assistance.

A USAID disaster management specialist arrived in Islamabad on Monday to assess the impact of the floods and coordinate with partners on response efforts. USAID staff in Islamabad, Bangkok, Washington, D.C. continue to monitor the situation in close coordination with local partners, the Government of Pakistan, and U.S. Embassy Islamabad.

We are deeply saddened by the devastating loss of life and livelihoods throughout Pakistan. We stand with Pakistan during this difficult time, and the U.S. is proud to be the single largest humanitarian donor to Pakistan.

One more thing. The U.S. Government has assessed that Moscow is preparing to stage sham referenda in areas of Ukraine under its control. We expect Russia to manipulate the results of these referenda in order to falsely claim that the Ukrainian people want to join Russia. This is a part of Russia’s playbook to attack the sovereignty, identity, and history of Ukraine.

These referenda could take place in the coming weeks.  But Ukraine, the United States, and the international community know the simple truth – that all of Ukraine is and will always remain Ukraine. No matter how many Russians soldiers or puppet officials might be installed there, the Kremlin cannot change the borders of sovereign Ukraine by force.

The Kremlin continues to prepare to hold sham referenda on joining Russia in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, and the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic. Russian leadership has instructed officials to begin preparing to hold a sham referendum in parts of Kharkiv as well. These sham referenda will attempt to give a veneer of legitimacy to a blatant land grab that would violate the Ukrainian constitution and international law, including the UN Charter, and contravene principles of the OSCE.

As part of the sham referenda, Russia will undoubtedly employ propaganda and disinformation campaigns, falsify voter turnout, and exaggerate the percentage of those who supposedly voted in favor of joining Russia. We want to be clear: Any claim by the Kremlin that the Ukrainian people somehow want to join Russia is a lie. Polling shows that just three percent of Ukrainians say that they would like Ukraine to be a member of the Russia-led Eurasian Customs Union, and 90 percent want Ukraine to become a member state of the EU. It will be critical to call out and counter this disinformation in the weeks and months ahead. We expect the results to be predetermined by Kremlin authorities.

The people of Ukraine and the world will not be fooled by this mockery of a process. We stand by the people of Ukraine and their democratically elected government.

And with that, I’m happy to take your questions. Operator, if you wouldn’t mind sharing question-answer instructions again.

OPERATOR: Once again, ladies and gentlemen, if you have a question, please press the 1 – the 1 followed by the 0 on your touchtone phone – 1, 0 if you have a question.

MR PATEL: First, let’s go to the line of Matt Lee with the Associated Press.

OPERATOR: Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. You can hear me okay I hope?

MR PATEL: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, hey, listen just on your second topper there, you guys have been saying for months now that the Russians are going to do these sham referenda. Is there something new or particularly imminent about this? I’m just curious as to why today you’re raising this point again when it’s been raised multiple times in the past going back at least two or three months.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Matt. You’re right. We’ve raised this before, but we just wanted to share some additional information that we had about this, as I detailed in my topper, and to reiterate some of those points again that previously hadn’t been public. Polling data shows that in a free referendum that Ukrainians in the occupied areas would not choose to join Russia. The NDI’s May 2022 poll found that only three percent of Ukrainians would like Ukraine to join the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union.

I would also note, which is not something we’ve said previously, that preparations for the sham referenda are being led by the first deputy head of Russia’s presidential administration, Sergey Kiriyenko. Kiriyenko is responsible for overseeing the Russia-held territories in advance of their attempted incorporation into Russia, which would be illegal if completed.

Let’s go to the line of Shaun Tandon with AFP.

QUESTION: Thanks Vedant. Hope you’re doing well. Could I follow up on Iraq? The – do you have any follow-up on the – anything further to say about the status of the U.S. embassy, about safety of Americans in light of the violence yesterday? On the political developments, the president of Iraq just shortly earlier today was talking about holding new elections, saying that could be a way out of the political impasse. Does the United States have any view one way or another on that and how that would – whether that would be a good idea?

If you don’t mind, a somewhat general question on the aid in – on Pakistan – to Pakistan. To what extent is climate a factor that you think needs to be addressed in this? The UN secretary-general notably was quite forceful today speaking about how climate change – this shows how climate change needs to be addressed better. If you have any remarks on that, I’m wondering if you could. Thanks. Bye.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much, Shaun. So I have no update on embassy stature or operations beyond what I briefed yesterday. Of course, ensuring the safety of U.S. Government personnel, U.S. citizens, and the security of our facilities remain our highest priority. I will also note that a travel for – a Level Four Travel Advisory Warning remains in place in Iraq for American citizens intending to travel.

On the second part of your question, I think what I would reiterate what we’ve said previously is that we encourage all parties to resolve their differences through dialogue and engagement. This is an Iraqi issue, not a U.S. issue. And we have constantly reaffirmed that — the U.S. Government’s commitment to a strong, stable, and prosperous Iraq. We believe that a long-term, deep, multifaceted strategic partnership with Iraq serves both the Iraqi and American people.

And on your final question about flooding, we’ve seen, I’m sure, a number of extreme weather events across the world over the past year or two. And so it’s for that reason that addressing climate both through the work of this department and the interagency continues to be one of the top priorities for this administration. It’s work that Secretary Blinken takes seriously. It’s a key goal of his, as well as the important work being led by Special Envoy Kerry as well.

Let’s next go to the line of Daphne Psaledakis with Reuters.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this. A quick question on Taiwan. Taiwan fired warning shots at a Chinese drone which buzzed an offshore islet on Tuesday. How concerned is Washington about escalating tensions?

And then if I could, just on the Solomon Islands, which has suspended entry into its waters for foreign navy ships pending adoption of a new process for approval of port visits, does Washington believe China is pressuring the Solomons to change the status quo in the region regarding ship visits? And based on your understanding, does this moratorium apply to potential visits by Chinese naval vessels as well? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Daphne. So on your question about the Solomon Islands, U.S. Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry diverted to Papua New Guinea after the Solomon Island Government didn’t provide diplomatic clearance for the vessel to refuel and provision in port. The U.S. Oliver – the Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry is – was in the region as part of the Pacific Island Forum’s fishery agency’s Operation Island Chief. The operation aims to support regional partners effectively and efficiently; protect their national interests; combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing; and strengthen maritime government on the high seas and model professional maritime behavior to partners and competitors.

It’s disappointing that the Oliver Henry was not provided diplomatic clearance in support of its operation with the FFA. I will note that on August 29th, the U.S. received formal notification from the Government of the Solomon Islands regarding a moratorium on all naval visits pending updates in protocol procedures.

Sorry about that. Going back to your first question, Daphne, so I think it’s important to take a step back here. Over the past number of weeks, China has overreacted and has made provocations, whereas the United States and others in the region have been measured and responsible. And we have been clear that it’s important not to escalate and that there is no reason for the – for a crisis. We’ve also reiterated our intention of continuing to operate in the region, accordance – in accordance with international law, and we’re going to continue to support Taiwan as well as maintain open lines of communication with Beijing as well.

Let’s go to the line of Jennifer Hansler with CNN.

QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?

MR PATEL: Yep. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Going back to Iraq, are there any discussions about increasing security in or around the embassy compound in Baghdad in light of the protests in the international zone? And have there been any discussions between U.S. and Iraqi officials and does Secretary Blinken plan to call the prime minister? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks. So I have no calls or engagements to read out from the department. What I would reiterate is that we consistently reaffirm the United States commitment to a strong, stable, and prosperous Iraq, and we believe a deep, multifacted partnership with Iraq both – serves the people of both countries.

On the first part of your question, I don’t have any updates to provide. Certainly I’m not going to get into deliberative policy processes about potential security preparedness, but again would reiterate that there has been no change in posture at our embassy in Baghdad, as I noted yesterday as well.

Next, let’s go to the line of Said Arikat.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant, for doing this and for taking my question. Two quick questions. Today an Israeli court sentenced the Gaza representative of World Vision, an American Christian charity organization, to 12 years in prison. There has been no evidence of – his lawyers and even the organization itself. I wonder if you have a position on this. First, are you familiar with the case? And second, do you have a position on this?

And my second question is regarding Bachelet, the outgoing High Commissioner for Human Rights for United Nations. Michelle Bachelet criticized Israel today for not issuing or renewing visas for UN officials tasked with monitoring the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. I wonder if you have any comment on that as well. Thank you, Vedant.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Said. On your second question, I don’t have anything for you on that at the moment. Happy to check if we have any updates and can circle back.

But on your first question, the U.S. has closely monitored this case, the one that you mention, and we have noted UN and NGO concerns about fair trial guarantees. We previously have been in touch with Mohammad al-Habib’s attorney to learn more about his detention and the court case, and we have expressed to Israel our deep concerns over the length of his trial.

We continue to urge the full respect for human rights in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza. As we have said many times before, Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy. We’ll continue to elevate the role of human rights in our foreign policy and to encourage legal reforms that advance respect for human rights of all individuals.

Next, let’s go to Alex Raufoglu with Turan.

QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Can you hear me?

MR PATEL: Yes, sir. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, awesome. Thank you so much for doing this. I have two questions, but before that I do want to follow up on Matt’s question regarding the referenda. You mentioned rightly that some of the details are indeed new about involved actors, but we also did not hear anything new in your renewed response other than just we will not recognize the sham referenda. Is it fair to expect more than that, like sanctions or other tangible steps that might possibly make Russia think twice?

And now to my other questions, staying on Russia. There are reports that Russia has already obtained hundreds of Iranian drones capable of being used in its war against Ukraine, despite your warnings to Tehran not to ship them. Are you in a position to confirm those reports? Also I would appreciate if you gave your comment on that, specifically potential implications for the wider region.

And lastly, on Armenia-Azerbaijan, President of European Council Charles Michel will host next (inaudible) summit between Aliyev and Pashinyan tomorrow in Brussels. What are the DOS expectations from that meeting and also other communications between the two countries asides today’s meeting in Moscow? Thank you so much again.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much, Alex. Let me see if I can unpack that a little in three parts.

So first, in terms of action, look, we have stood with Ukraine for 31 years and we will continue to firm – firmly stand with them as they defend their freedom and independence. Our support for Ukraine is unwavering, and we continue to take steps to ensure that Ukraine can defend itself, defend its territorial integrity, defend its sovereignty, as well as put it in the best position possible at a potential negotiating table.

But on top of that we also continue to have at our arsenal a number of consequences that we can continue to put onto Russia, whether that be economic sanctions and other things as well. And I will also note that the economic costs are hitting Russia and they’re hitting them hard. I’ll note that the import of goods could fall by 40 percent, which will lead to a shortage of foreign components, rapidly declining industrial production, and waves of underemployment. I will also note that Russia’s economy is so deeply tied to fossil fuels that it has no significant alternative industry to make up for declining oil and gas revenue. So those are just examples of how our actions continue to hold Russia accountable.

On your second question, we’ve spoken to this a little bit before, but the United States assesses that Russia has received UAVs from Iran. And over the course of several days in August, Russian transport aircraft loaded the UAV equipment at an airfield in Iran and subsequently flew from Iran to Russia. This initial delivery is likely part of Russia’s plan to import hundreds of Iranian UAVs of various types. Russian operators continue to receive training in Iran on how these systems – on how to use these systems. And we assess that Russia intends to use these Iranian UAVs, which can conduct air-to-surface attacks, electronic warfare, and targeting on the battlefield, in Ukraine.

The Russian military is suffering from major supply shortages in Ukraine in part because of sanctions and export controls, forcing Russia to rely on unreliable countries like Iran for supplies and equipment. In fact, our information indicates that UAVs associated with this transfer have already experienced numerous failures. Russia deepening an alliance with Iran is something that the whole world and especially those in the region should look at and see as a profound threat.

We’ll continue to vigorously enforce all U.S. sanctions on both the Russian and Iranian arms trade, and we will stand with our partners throughout the region against the Iranian threat.

And on your final question about Armenia and Azerbaijan, I don’t have any updates for you other than to reiterate what we’ve previously said, that the United States remains committed to promoting a secure, stable, democratic, prosperous, and peaceful future for the South Caucasus region, and we urge Armenia and Azerbaijan to intensify their diplomatic engagement and achieve a comprehensive peace agreement.

Next, let’s go to the line of Ed Wong with The New York Times.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. I was wondering – I wanted to follow up on Daphne’s earlier question about the Solomon Islands. Does the State Department have any indication that Chinese officials have exerted any sort of influence over the Solomon Islands Government on its recent moratorium? And have PLA navy ships made any visits recently to the Solomon Islands, or do you expect them to make such visits in the near future? And finally, is the opening of the U.S. embassy that will cover the Solomon Islands on track to take place, as Secretary Blinken announced in February? And do – what are the – what’s the current status of discussions on the naval visits right now between U.S. diplomats and the government there?

MR PATEL: Thanks, Ed. I don’t have any updates or assessment to provide from here other than reiterating that it is, of course, disappointing that the Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry was not provided with the diplomatic clearance in support of its operation with the FAA. And as I noted, on August 29th we received formal notification from the government regarding a moratorium on all naval visits pending updates in protocol procedures.

On your question about the embassy, I don’t have any additional updates to provide at this time either, but we’re happy to take that back and see if we have anything for you.

Next, let’s go to the line of Abigail Williams with NBC News.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. Two questions on unrelated topics. First, can you provide the latest on where negotiations stand on a return to the Iran nuclear deal? And more specifically, do you have any response to reports that the U.S. and Iran have reached an agreement to return to the deal which would be announced in the next two to three weeks?

And then separately, do you have any response to a letter sent by a group of senators to Secretary Blinken once again asking that detained American in Russia Mark Fogel be classified as wrongfully detained? Thanks so much.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Abigail. So on your question about the JCPOA, that reporting is false. We have not concluded an understanding. The situation remains the same as I briefed yesterday. We received Iran’s comments on the EU’s proposed final text through the EU, and we have responded to the EU on Wednesday, August 24th. Now it is up for Iran to answer.

On your second question, there is a protocol and procedure in place for the assessment of wrongful detention. I don’t have anything to provide beyond that.

Next, let’s go to the line of Camilla Schick with CBS News.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you, Vedant. I’m sorry if I missed it at the very top; I missed the first couple of minutes. I just had a question about the IAEA team on the ground in Ukraine right now. Can you give any update of what is the understanding of when they are scheduled to go and visit Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, whether that’s something today or tomorrow, or whether that’s still up in the air? Thank you.

MS PATEL: Thanks Camilla, and no, I hadn’t had a chance to address that yet. But as confirmed publicly by the IAEA, an expert team is currently in Kyiv and is expected to arrive at the ZNPP later this week. Russia has said that it will let the IAEA team inspect the power plant, and we hope Russia lives up to its word and allows a full inspection of the facilities and unhindered access to the operators. I don’t have anything further to preview on that, though, at this time.

Next, let’s go to Nike Ching with Voice of America.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant, for the phone briefing. On China and Taiwan, do you have anything on Arizona governor’s visit to Taiwan this week? Did the State Department get a heads-up or facilitate his visit, and is it fair to say this is in line with usual practices that are in place for years?

Also, just – follow-up on what you said earlier about China’s military escalation in the Taiwan Strait: does the U.S. assess it’s a result of Chinese domestic political calculation, particularly in the weeks leading to China’s 20th Communist Party Conference? Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Nike. So I will let the delegation speak to their own travel and any specifics around that. But what I will note and I have repeatedly noted is that members of Congress and elected officials from varying levels of government have gone to Taiwan for decades and will continue to do so. This is, of course, in line with our longstanding “one China” policy.

And sorry, on your – on the second part of your question, I am certainly not going to speculate. But what I would reiterate is that over the past week, many weeks, China has overreacted and taken provocations, and the United States’ response has been measured and responsible. And we have made clear that we do not intend to escalate the situation or cause any crises, and we certainly do not intend to change our longstanding “one China” policy.

We’ve also made clear that we’re going to continue to operate in the region as consistence and in accordance with international law. That also means maintaining open lines of communication with the PRC but also supporting Taiwan.

Next, let’s go to the line of Laurie Mylroie with Kurdistan 24.

QUESTION: On Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr has called on his supporters to end their protests. Do you have a response to that?

MR PATEL: Thanks, Laurie. As we’ve said previously, now is the time for all parties to resolve the current impasse. Above all, we urge all those involved to remain calm, abstain from violence, and pursue peaceful avenues of redress. The right to peaceful public protest is a fundamental element of all democracies. The demonstrators need to respect the property and institutions of the Iraqi Government which belong to and serve the Iraqi people.

And I will mention again, as in response to some of your colleagues’ questions as well, we have consistently reaffirmed that – our government’s commitment to a strong, stable, and prosperous Iraq. A long-term, deep, and strategic partnership with Iraq serves the people of both of our countries.

Let’s go to the line of Hiba Nasr, Asharq News.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. My first question is on Taiwan. Can you please confirm that the State Department would ask the Congress for approval for a military sale worth $1 billion?

And my second question on Iraq. President Biden said during his visit to the region that the United States is staying there, is not going anywhere. I mean, Iraq was about to collapse yesterday. Is there any kind of engagement from your side? You have 2,500 troops there. They are not in a combat mission, but what kind of engagements did you make these two days? Nothing? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Hiba. So I will reiterate what I’ve said previously, is that we have a long-term commitment to this region. We reaffirmed this fact at the July Strategic Dialogue in Washington, where representatives of our countries met to discuss strengthening our long-term strategic relationship, not just in the security space but also when it comes to trade, culture, education, and the environment. And I will say again the U.S. wants to see a strong, united, resilient, and sovereign Iraqi state. We will stay with them and continue to support this process.

As I addressed to some of your colleagues, we don’t have any calls or specific engagements to read out, but we continue to pay close attention to this – to the situation.

On your question about Taiwan, as a matter of policy we do not publicly comment or confirm proposed defense sales until they’ve been formally notified to Congress. But I will note, as I have said many times, we will continue to fulfill our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act, and that includes supporting Taiwan’s self-defense.

Let’s go to the line of Joseph Haboush with Al Arabiya.

QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?

MR PATEL: Yep, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks for taking my question. I wanted to ask just also a follow-up on Iran in terms of some more details. Are you guys – I mean, are there plans for another round of talks, one?

Two, moving to Iraq, Reuters had reported earlier today that a series of rocket attacks pushed U.S. contractors out of the country where they were working to expand one of the biggest gas fields there. Part of that expansion project was funded through an agreement with USAID – or U.S. International Development Finance. Can you confirm that?

And also – last one – is Barbara Leaf traveling? Is she on official travel? And if so, could you let us know where? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Joseph. So let me take that last part of your question first. I can confirm that Assistant Secretary Leaf is traveling to the region and is in Tunisia today, where she met with the president and other Tunisian officials. I don’t have any other information for you on our travel, but we’ll have more updates today and through the course of the week.

On the topic of your question about the JCPOA, I don’t have any additional specifics to provide at this time. We, of course, are not going to negotiate in public. But as I said earlier, we received Iran’s comments, we’ve responded to them, and now it’s up to Iran to answer. We have been sincere and steadfast in pursuing a path to meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance of the JCPOA. And we continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance is not only in the national security interests of the United States; it continues to provide critical non-proliferative benefits but is also for – an important step for regional stability as well.

And on the topic of Iraq, I just don’t have any additional updates to provide for you on security or embassy personnel. As I said, there has been no change in our posture since yesterday.

All right, we have time for a couple more questions. And so next, let’s go to the line of Eduard Ribas with EFE.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. The Mexican president said that Secretary Blinken is traveling to Mexico this September. Can you confirm this? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much for your question. I don’t have any travel to the region to preview or announce at this time.

Next, let’s go to Victor Shalhoub with al-Arabya al-Jadeed.

QUESTION: Hello? Hello, thank you, Vedant. Do you hear me? Can you hear me?

MR PATEL: Yes, sir. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you, Vedant. I assume that you learn about the four conditions laid down today by President Raisi concerning the JCPOA. Do you have any comment, especially about Iran’s condition about ending the IAEA inspections in order to return to the implementation of the JCPOA? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Victor. So we fully support the efforts of Director General Grossi and the IAEA Secretariat to engage Iran on the need to provide the necessary cooperation in order to clarify and resolve the open safeguards issues. Safeguards on nuclear materials relate to the very core of the IAEA’s mandate. And we have been crystal clear that we do not believe there should be any conditionality between reimplementation of the JCPOA and the investigations related to Iran’s legal obligations under the NPT and its Comprehensive Safeguard Agreement.

And thanks so much, everybody, for joining today. I really appreciate it. And we’ll talk to you all again soon.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:40 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – August 29, 2022

2:09 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything off the top for you today, so I am happy to dive into your questions. Apologies for being a few minutes late, a little bit of a crazy schedule today, but thanks so much for all joining. And Operator, if you want to share instructions to ask questions again.

OPERATOR: Yes, thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0.

MR PATEL: Let’s go to the line of Leon Bruneau with AFP.

QUESTION: A follow-up on the situation in Iraq. The U.S. has denied that there has been any evacuation order to our embassy there in Baghdad. Can you say, however, if there’s been any measures to have some people leave, maybe, or other details like that without it – calling it per se an evacuation order? Do you have any comment on that?

MR PATEL: Thanks, Leon. So as a matter of policy, we don’t comment on matters of internal security and ensuring the safety of U.S. Government personnel and U.S. citizens, and the security of our facilities both in the National Capitol Region and abroad remains our highest priority; but would reiterate what was shared with you all earlier today, that reports of Embassy Baghdad being evacuated are false.

Let’s go to the line of Will Mauldin with The Wall Street Journal.

OPERATOR: One moment, please. I’m not seeing that line. Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I had a similar question just following up. You said there’s no evacuation. Was there any or is there any reduction of staff at the Baghdad Embassy? Thanks.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Will. I don’t have any operational updates to provide as it relates to Embassy Baghdad. Again, I would just reiterate that the reports that it’s being evacuated is false. And as a matter of policy, I’m just not going to get into internal security.

Let’s go to the line of Camilla Schick with CBS News.

QUESTION: Hi there, can you hear me?

MR PATEL: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks Vedant. Today marks a year since an erroneous U.S. airstrike killed 10 Afghans, which included aid worker Zemari Ahmadi and his children. Last week marked one year since over a hundred Afghans and 13 U.S. service members died in a suicide bombing on the international airport in Kabul. Two weeks before that marks one year since Kabul fell to the Taliban. There’s still no after-action report on Afghanistan from the Biden administration. Can we still expect something on this to be published? And if so, can you explain the delay in getting these out to the public? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Camilla. I don’t presently have an update to provide. But as we’ve said, we will be as transparent as possible with the report, consistent with classification and other considerations, and we hope to have an update to you all as soon as possible.

Let’s next go to the line of Jennifer Hansler with CNN.

QUESTION: Hello?

MR PATEL: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Two questions, one of the news that the IAEA team is heading to Zaporizhzhia. Does the U.S. have any comment on this? Do you believe they can accurately and completely carry out an investigation at that nuclear power plant?

And then separately, do you have any update on the two Americans who are being held by Russia as prisoners of war? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Jenny. So as confirmed publicly by the IAEA, an expert team is on its way and is expected to arrive at the ZNPP later this week. Russia has said it will let the IAEA team inspect the power plant, and we hope that Russia lives up to its word and allows a full inspection of the facilities and unhindered access to the operators. But I don’t have anything else to preview on that at the moment.

And sorry, as it relates to your other question, we remain in contact with the families of U.S. citizens who may be detained, but I don’t have any details to get into on that at the moment. Thanks.

Let’s go to the line of Nadia Bilbassy with Al Arabiya.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, Vedant, for doing this. I want to follow up on Iraq as well. (Inaudible) phone calls between the Secretary and any Iraqi officials in the next few days, if not today? And second, were you caught by surprise of the events that’s happening today in the Green Zone, considering the turmoil that the (inaudible) in the last few weeks and months?

And on the Iranian response, do we any expect any timeline, considering the State Department and the White House saying we are two weeks closer to probably reaching an agreement – we are closer than two weeks ago. Is it any (inaudible) for the Iranians, and then it’s going to be another round of talks? If you’d just clarify this point. Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Nadia. I will take your second question first. So I will refer – let Iran and the EU speak to timeline. But as you know, we responded to the EU on Wednesday, and now it’s up to Iran to answer and send their response to our text back.

And then separately, on your question about Iraq, I don’t have any calls with any leaders to preview or anything like that. But as per standard, we’ll read something out if something comes together. But to take a little bit of a step back, reports of unrest throughout Iraq today are disturbing, as Iraqi institutions are not being allowed to function. This in turn increases the risk of violence, and Iraq’s security, stability, and sovereignty should not be put at risk.

We’re aware of the reports of increasing violence and potential casualties, and we condemn the use of violence above all. Now is the time for dialogue, and we urge all those involved to remain calm and pursue peaceful avenues of redress. The right to peaceful public protest is a fundamental element of all democracies, but demonstrators should also respect the property and institutions of the Iraqi Government which belong to and serve the Iraqi people.

Let’s go to the line of Said Arikat.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Very, very quickly, thank you for doing this and for taking my question.

Very quickly, when the President visited Israel and the West Bank last month, he impressed upon the Israelis to keep the bridge, the border bridge, the Allenby Bridge, between Jordan and the West Bank open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But as of now, nothing has happened. I mean, this has been promised before. I saw a tweet by former ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, where he says, look, I was promised this back in 2014 and nothing happened. So my question to you: Are you getting any kind of firm commitment by the Israelis that they will open that border?

And second, will there be a meeting between the – between the head of the Mossad, who is in town, with any at the State Department? And will they discuss, beside the Iranian issue, the Palestinian issue? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Said. Let me answer your second question first. I don’t have any meetings to preview or anything to announce. But to take a little bit of a step back, as always, we are in intensive and constant discussions with our Israeli partners on Iran. There is no greater supporter of Israeli security than President Biden.

And on the question about – your first question, look, this administration supports creating a more autonomous, efficient, and reliable Palestinian experience of traveling abroad. During the President’s trip in June, he announced that Israel is prepared to take measures to increase efficiency and accessibility to the Allenby Bridge for the benefit of Palestinians. In order to upgrade facilities, Israel agreed to enable access 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by September 30th, 2022. And a group is – a working group is assessing several measures, including the use of biometric passports, and will complete its assessment within the month and discuss conclusions with U.S. partners. In addition, the working group is considering steps to establish Palestinian Authority presence on Allenby Bridge while maintaining Israel’s security considerations.

Let’s go to Abigail Williams with NBC News.

QUESTION: There’s a report out that Iran has started enriching uranium with one of three clusters of advanced IR-6 centrifuges that were recently installed at its underground enrichment plant Natanz. Is the U.S. concerned that Iran is continuing to advance its nuclear program even while negotiating re-entry into the JCPOA?

And then a second question. Does the State Department have anything further on the American who was killed while fighting in Ukraine last week? Have U.S. officials been in touch with Russian officials regarding the return of their remains to the United States? And can you say how many American citizens fighting in Ukraine does the U.S. believe have been killed since the start of the Russian invasion?

Thanks so much.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Abigail. I will take your second question first. So first, our ability to verify reports of deaths of U.S. citizens in Ukraine is limited. In addition, not all U.S. citizens’ deaths may be reported to U.S. authorities. For those reasons, we’re unable to provide a definitive number of all U.S. citizens who have been killed. But to the crux of your question, we can confirm the death of a U.S. citizen in Ukraine, and we are in touch with the family and providing all possible and necessary consular assistance. Out of respect for the privacy of the family, I don’t have anything additional to add other than we are working with our international partners and the Ukrainian Government regarding this case. It’s extremely sensitive, and we take our responsibilities as such very seriously, and out of respect for the family during this difficult time we have no further comments.

On your question about Iran and the JCPOA, we’re certainly not going to negotiate in public, but what I will reiterate, and which what others from the department have said, is that a mutual return to full implementation is in America’s national interest. It is the best available option to restrict Iran’s nuclear program and provide a platform to address Iran’s other destabilizing conduct. We have been sincere and steadfast in pursuing a path of meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return of implementation that we think will address our full range of concerns with Iran.

Let’s go to the line of Nike Ching with Voice of America.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant, for the phone briefing. On Taiwan, do you have anything on the planned visit by head of Taiwan Mainland Affairs Council? Is there a plan for State Department officials to meet with him? And is the meeting in line with the State Department’s revised guidelines on interacting with Taiwan?

And separately, if I may, on Afghanistan SIV, I want to put on your radar the feedback – an Afghanistan evacuee now into his second and final year with parole status, which is as it stands now, Afghan evacuees are sent to the same email address whether they are starting the SIV process or nearly through. Why isn’t there a hub of workers assigned to expedite advanced cases when paperwork has been filled or individual cases workers assigned? And I have a follow-up question. Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much, Nike. So on your first question, we don’t have any meetings to announce, and I’d refer you to TECRO for any information on possible Taiwan official travel to the United States.

And on your second question about SIVs, what I would note is that we are – first, to take a step back, our commitment to SIVs and SIV processing is enduring, and we’re continuing to assess the process and do whatever we can to make it more efficient and process SIV applications more expeditiously, while of course also safeguarding our national security. I will also note that earlier in – earlier this year, we were able to in conjunction with our partners at USCIS further streamline the SIV process and reduce the administrative burden on applicants by getting rid of a duplicative process that we think will be able to save about a month off of processing time.

So this is a commitment that we are continuing to be laser focused on, and we’ll continue to assess and make adjustments to the process as we see fit, and that are of course in – consistent with U.S. law, and safeguarding our national security.

Let’s go to the line of Shannon Crawford with ABC News.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks so much. I wanted to ask about a report that the war in Ukraine has depleted American stocks of some types as ammunition to dangerously low levels. Does the State Department share that level of concern? And if so, will that have any influence over future aid packages? Thanks so much.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Shannon. So I think what’s important to remember here is that the United States has stood with the people of Ukraine for 31 years, and we will continue to firmly stand with them as they defend their freedom and independence. Our belief is, is that we will do everything we can to ensure that Ukraine can defend itself, can defend its territorial sovereignty, to defend its territorial integrity. And we are going to continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as that takes. And part of that also involves continuing to hold Russia accountable through economic costs, through sanctions, and other measures as well.

Next, let’s go to the line of Ksenija Mcateer with Pavlovic Today.

QUESTION: I would like to ask you if Secretary Blinken has been briefed about the latest outcome of the Serbia-Kosovo talks, and what are his thoughts regarding the lack of agreement on the license plates? And my second question related to the same topic, can we expect Secretary Blinken to reiterate in the coming weeks the need for the creation of the Community of the Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Ksenija. So we all at the State Department have been paying close touch. And as you know, through the EU-facilitated dialogues, Serbia has agreed to eliminate entry and exit documents for Kosovo ID holders, and Kosovo agreed not to introduce entry and exit documents for Serbia ID holders. The U.S. and this department supports this agreement and sees it as an important step forward towards normalized relations centered on mutual recognition.

The dialogue has proven itself to be an important and flexible mechanism for dispute settlement, and the dialogue is a mechanism through which Serbia and Kosovo can come to a comprehensive agreement on normalizing the relations between two countries which will unlock a European future for both countries. Based on the commitment of both parties and the hard work of the special representative of the EU, we will find a way to move forward in a peaceful manner.

Let’s go to the line of Janne Pak with USA Journal Korea.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MR PATEL: Yep. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. I have a question about South Korea and Russia. And first question is South Korea. South Korea concerns about the electrical vehicle production due to Inflation Reduction Act, and the South Korea recently requested the United States to enforce maximum flexibility. Will the United States consider on this? And second – my second question on Russia: Russia has announced that it will increase the – its Russian troops. Can you predict this will be a long war of Ukraine? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Janne. So on your first question, we’ll have to get back to you. We’ll take that question and someone will follow up. But on your second, what I would reiterate, again, is that the United States has stood with the people of Ukraine for 31 years, and we will continue firmly to stand with them as they defend their freedom and independence. Our support for Ukraine is unwavering, and we’re going to continue to take steps to do everything we can to ensure that Ukraine can defend its territorial integrity, can defend its sovereignty.

And it’s quite clear that as this war enters its seventh month that President Putin’s assault is coming at a climbing cost: thousands of civilians killed or wounded, 13 million Ukrainian citizens forced to flee their homes. But President Putin has also failed in his goal: Ukraine has not and will not be conquered; it will remain sovereign and independent. We don’t know when this war will be over, but the United States will continue to stand united with Ukraine for as long as it takes.

Let’s go to Hiba Nasr with Asharq News.

QUESTION: You said on Iraq that you agree with the UN assessment that Iraq state is at stake with what’s happening now?

MR PATEL: I’m sorry, Hiba. We missed most of that question as you were coming off of mute. Can you re-ask that?

QUESTION: Yes. Does the U.S. agree with the UN assessment on the situation in Iraq that the Iraq states – the Iraq state, sorry – is at stake now with what’s happening?

MR PATEL: Thanks so much for your question. What I will – what I am going to do is reiterate what I’d said already, which is that reports of unrest throughout Iraq today are deeply disturbing, as Iraqi institutions are not being allowed to function. This in turn increases the risk of violence and it – Iraq’s security, stability, and sovereignty should not be at risk. The right to peaceful public protest is a fundamental element of all democracies, but demonstrators must also respect the property and institutions of the Iraqi Government, which belong to and serve the Iraqi people.

Let’s go to the line of Laurie Mylroie with Kurdistan24.

QUESTION: Regarding Iraq, what is your response to critics like David Schenker, former assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, who just complained in Foreign Policy magazine that senior officials, U.S. officials have not been interested enough in Iraq and that has given a relatively free hand to Iran and its proxies there?

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Laurie. We have consistently reaffirmed the U.S. Government’s commitment to a strong, stable, and prosperous Iraq. A long-term, deep, multifaceted, and strategic partnership with Iraq both – serves both Iraqi and American people, and we are prepared to work with a government that puts Iraqi sovereignty and the best interests of the Iraqi people at the heart of its agenda.

Next let’s go to the line of Michel Ghandour.

QUESTION: I have two questions. First, is Deputy Assistant Secretary Amr going to Israel and Palestinian territories, as the reports say?

And second, any updates on Senior Advisor Hochstein’s talks with Israel and Lebanon? Is there any deal on the table?

MR PATEL: Thanks so much, Michel. I don’t have – to your first question, I don’t have any travel to preview or anything like that. And on your second, as we’ve previously said, the U.S. remains committed to facilitating negotiations between Lebanon and Israel to reach a decision on the delimitation of their maritime boundary, but I don’t have any updates or new information to provide.

Next let’s go to the line of Ahmed Alhazeem with Al Jazeera.

QUESTION: Few questions about Iraq, but everybody – it’s been asked and answered, so I don’t want to waste everybody’s time.

MR PATEL: Okay, then in that case let’s go to the line of Jiha Ham with Voice of America.

QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Thank you for taking my question. An expert from Russia on the North Korean issue in an interview on Saturday said that the U.S. and South Korea are now instigating the DPRK and want Pyongyang to carry on a nuclear test as soon as possible. And North Korea’s state media KCNA published this story on their website today. So what would be your comments on this? I mean, do you still assess that North Korea is preparing its seventh nuclear test?

And I have a second question. South Korea has announced that it has formed a consultative body to assess environmental impact of the U.S. anti-missile defense system, THAAD. Once it’s done, the THAAD system is expected to be operated fully, and many expect that China will press South Korea. I mean, how would you react on China’s strong opposition to the possible full operations of the THAAD system? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks. Let me take your second question first, and I addressed this a number of weeks ago, but we believe that THAAD is a prudent and limited self-defense capability designed to counter DPRK weapons programs. Criticism or pressure on the ROK to abandon its self-defense is inappropriate. The U.S. and the ROK made an alliance decision to deploy THAAD to the ROK as a purely defensive measure to protect the ROK and its people from armed attack and to protect alliance military forces from the DPRK’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile threat.

As it relates to your first question, I think it’s important to take a little bit of a step back here, and I would reiterate that our goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. harbors no hostile intent toward the DPRK, and our policy calls for a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and willing to explore diplomacy with the DPRK to make tangible progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies, and our deployed forces. We’re prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions and we hope the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach. However, we also have a serious responsibility to address the DPRK’s recent provocations and to implement UNSCRs already in place.

All right, I think we’ve got time for one last question, so we can close it out with Nike Ching again, Voice of America.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Just a quick follow-up on the Afghan SIV. As you mentioned, there are new measures to expedite the process. Could you please elaborate a little bit? What is the State Department implementing that’s new to expedite these cases? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Sure, Nike. So to just give a little bit of specificity on the adjustment that we made in July, so beginning on July 20th all new Afghan SIV program applicants are no longer required to submit a form I-360, petition for a special immigrant, to USCIS. Instead, a revised form DS-157, which is already one of the several documents required in our State Department’s chief of mission approval application, now serves as the petition for classification as a Special Immigrant Visa. We anticipate that this change will shave at least a month off of adjudication time as well as ease administrative burden on the visa applicant, while also maintaining our robust security standards as well.

Alright, everybody, I really appreciate everyone joining today, and again, sorry for dialing in a little late. And looking forward to talking to you all again soon.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:42 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – August 25, 2022

2:04 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: Thanks so much. And good afternoon, everybody, and thanks so much for joining. I have one thing for you at the top before we dive into your questions.

So nearly every day, we see new and credible reports of Russia’s forces committing horrific atrocities against individuals, families, and communities as President Putin’s devastating and unjustifiable war against Ukraine continues. As we’ve said before, President Putin and all those who commit heinous acts must be held to account for violations of international law. The United States is supporting reporting and accountability efforts through a multifaceted approach.

The Conflict Observatory is a program designed to capture, analyze, and make publicly available evidence of war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine committed by members of Russia’s military. Today we announced an extension of the program’s work through $9 million in additional funds. This supports efforts through the administration’s European Democratic Resilience Initiative to advance accountability and justice.

Today, the Conflict Observatory also released a new analysis of sites it identified as associated with Russia’s brutal filtration operations. The Conflict Observatory was able to make these identifications based on a combination of overhead imagery, traditional news media sources, and accounts of these activities shared via social media.

The report follows the unclassified U.S. National Intelligence Council assessment of Russia’s filtration operations and other recent Conflict Observatory products that document damage to Ukraine’s hospitals, schools, churches, museums, archives, and other civilian objects.

The broad assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is clear, as are Russia’s destructive ambitions, and we are keeping a focus on these abuses. The people of Ukraine deserve justice, and together with them, we too demand it.

And with that, I’m happy to open it up to questions. Operator, if you wouldn’t mind sharing instructions again.

OPERATOR: Certainly. And ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad. You may withdraw your question at any time by repeating the 1-0 command. And we do ask if you could please pause before asking your question until we let you know your line is open. Again, if you have a question, please press 1 then 0.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much. Let’s first go to the line of Shaun Tandon with AFP.

OPERATOR: And your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Thank you. Could I follow up on Ukraine? The – and there was an announcement today that the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power complex was cut off from the national power grid. Can you comment on that? Does the U.S. have information to confirm that? And if so, what do you see the effects of this? How serious is this for the situation in Ukraine and for, indeed, the power situation and continued concerns about an incident there?

If you don’t mind, a separate question. I was wondering if the U.S. has anything to say about the situation politically in Pakistan. Imran Khan, there are some charges that have been placed against him, the former prime minister, and also a decision not to – an order not to air his remarks in the media on satellite TV. Is there anything that the United States wants to say about that? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Shaun. Let me take your first question first. We are closely monitoring the reports that the last two operational reactors at ZNPP have been shut down. Ukraine is reporting that all the plant’s safety and security systems are working normally, and we have no indications of increased or abnormal radiation levels. I also want to take a minute and applaud the courage and selflessness of Ukraine’s personnel at ZNPP for their commitment to nuclear safety and security under the most harrowing and dangerous conditions.

But to take a little bit of a step back, it is clear that Russia’s shelling and seizure of Ukraine’s power plants and infrastructure are part of its strategy to create energy crises in Europe. We strongly condemn any action at ZNPP or elsewhere that impacts the health and welfare of civilians throughout the region. The situation at ZNPP is the result of Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine, its control of and dangerous military presence at the power plant, and its unwillingness to turn control of the plant back to Ukraine for safe and secure operations.

We’ve said this before, but no country should turn a nuclear power plant into an active war zone, and we oppose any Russian efforts to weaponize or divert energy from the plant. To be very clear, the ZNPP and the electricity that it produces rightly belongs to Ukraine, and any attempt to disconnect the plant from the Ukrainian power grid and redirect to occupied areas is unacceptable.

On Pakistan, we’re aware of some of these reports. The United States does not have a position on one political candidate or party versus another. We support the peaceful upholding of democratic, constitutional, and legal principles. The United States values our longstanding cooperation with Pakistan and has always viewed a prosperous and democratic Pakistan as critical to U.S. interests. That remains unchanged.

Next let’s go to the line of Nike Ching with Voice of America.

OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for taking my call. Quick questions on Iran. Does the United States plan to issue visas for Iran’s President Raisi and his entourage? UNGA is approaching. Can you confirm or rule out that he’s attending UNGA? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Nike. Visa records are confidential under U.S. law, therefore I can’t discuss the details of individual visa cases. But I would reiterate what we’ve said before that as a host nation of the UN, the U.S. is generally obligated under the UN Headquarters Agreement to issue visas to representatives of UN member states to travel to the UN headquarters district. The U.S. takes seriously its obligations as a host country of the UN, but again, visa records are confidential, and therefore I can’t get into anything else.

Next let’s go to the line of Simon Lewis with Reuters.

OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks, Vedant. I wondered if you had a response to the new congressional delegation just arrived in Taiwan led by Marsha Blackburn, Senator Marsha Blackburn. I understand there’s been several of these delegations. What advice is the State Department giving to members of Congress who come to you and ask whether they should visit Taiwan and what advice was given in this case? And is there any concern given the – China’s reactions to previous – the previous visits that continued visits, repeated visits is – could potentially inflame the situation? Thanks.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Simon. So members of Congress and elected officials have gone to Taiwan for decades and will continue to do so, and this is in line and is consistent with our longstanding “one China” policy. I’d refer you to the delegation for any other specifics on their travel.

But look, the United States has continued to act in a – in a way that is responsible, steady, and resolute. Our policy towards Taiwan has remained consistent for decades across administrations, and we remain committed to our “one China” policy. We’re going to continue to take calm and resolute steps to uphold peace and stability in the region and to support Taiwan in line with our longstanding policy.

Next let’s go to the line of Alex Raufoglu with Turan News.

OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, and thank you so much, Vedant. I have two questions. The first one is on Ukraine. Putin has signed a decree on – decree to increase the size of his military today. As you know, the war in Ukraine enters its seventh month with no signs of abating. I’m wondering how do you read this news in terms of Russia’s intentions in the region and, of course, its possible implications to not only Ukraine but also other vulnerable countries.

And my second question – I want to ask you about the U.S. role in the Azerbaijani-Armenian peace process, especially in the wake of yesterday’s announcement came out from the Secretary. It looks like the Azeris are surprised by the appointment of Ambassador Reeker to the post of Minsk Group co-chair as well as senior advisor for Caucasus negotiations. In fact, the Azeri foreign affairs ministry described it as “an approach far from the post-conflict [reality]…in the region,” quote/unquote. Can I get your reaction to that? Because as someone who has been covering this issue for years, frankly, I am surprised that the Azeri Government is surprised, because if I’m following it closely enough, these kind of appointments have always been coordinated before telegraphing publicly, right? In general, how do you want us to read Ambassador Reeker’s appointment in terms of the administration’s current approach to the peace process? Thank you again.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Alex. So in response to your first question, it’s quite clear that the United States has stood with the people of Ukraine for 31 years, and we will continue to firmly stand with them as they defend their freedom and independence. Our support for Ukraine is unwavering. President Putin’s full-scale war on Ukraine continues to result in climbing costs – thousands of civilians killed or wounded, 13 million Ukrainian citizens forced to flee their homes, historic cities pounded to rubble, foot shortages, skyrocketing food prices around the world, all because President Putin has determined to conquer another country.

And he’s failed in that goal. Ukraine has not and will not be conquered. It will remain sovereign and independent, and as this war stretches on, the courage and strength of Ukraine’s military and its people become even more evident and even more extraordinary. They will do whatever it takes to protect their homes, their families, their fellow citizens, their country. Ukraine’s talks with Russia are not stalled because Ukraine has turned its back on diplomacy. They’re stalled because Russia continues to wage a war.

I would also note that these actions continue to have consequences on Russia and Russia’s economy. I’ll note that nearly a thousand multinational companies have curtailed or suspended operations in Russia, including Citigroup, which is one that was just recently announced.

And on your other question – on your question about Armenia and Azerbaijan and the appointment of Ambassador Reeker, look, the Secretary appointed him to serve as the senior advisor for Caucasus negotiations to underscore our commitment to facilitating peace in the South Caucasus. As a country, we are committed to facilitating direct dialogue between Azerbaijan and Armenia bilaterally, multilaterally, and in cooperation with likeminded partners to achieve a comprehensive peace settlement between the two countries. His selection underscores our commitment to the Geneva International Discussions, where we’re going to continue to hold Russia accountable to the commitments it made under the 2008 ceasefire. Also, as part of his diplomatic advisor role, Ambassador Reeker will also represent the U.S. both at the OSCE Minsk Group and at the Geneva International Discussions as I mentioned.

Let’s go to the line of Jennifer Hansler with CNN.

OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks. Two questions, Vedant. Does the State Department have any comment on the Myanmar military junta detaining a former British ambassador there?

And then separately, in light of the renewed hostilities in Ethiopia, are there any plans to dispatch the special envoy for the Horn of Africa to the region to try to solve any of this? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much. On your first question, I’ve – we’ve seen those reports but don’t have anything to offer here from the State Department. We’d refer you to the United Kingdom for anything on that.

As it relates to the travel of Special Envoy Hammer, I don’t have any travel to preview, but in coordination with the embassy, Special Envoy Hammer is in frequent contact with the parties as well as international partners to urge a cessation of hostilities and for peace talks to start as soon as possible under the African Union’s auspices. He is prepared to the region – he is prepared to travel to the region – I’m sorry – as is needed.

Let’s next go to the line of Guita Aryan with the Voice of America.

OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, Vedant. While the State Department is laser focused on the JCPOA talks, about an hour ago or less the Treasury Department issued a general license for Iranian students, allowing for any U.S. academic institution giving online educational services and providing them with the necessary software. I know this is not part of the Vienna talks, the negotiations that the U.S. says it doesn’t want to talk anything outside of that framework, but since these students have been issued visas by the State Department, could you tell me anything – why this change? And obviously the State Department must have been advised or consulted by the Treasury on this decision. Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Guita. We’ll have to check with some folks here, and then we can circle back with you. I’d also encourage you to reach out to our colleagues at the Treasury Department on this as well.

Let’s next go to the line of Michel Ghandour.

OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you Vedant for doing the call. I have two questions. Were you able, first, to convince Israel and U.S. allies in the region that they will be better off with Iran nuclear deal?

And second, when do you expect to receive Iran comments on the U.S. response to the EU proposal?

MR PATEL: Thanks, Michel. So there – of course, the process for the flow of information and the conveying of communication is through the EU, so would refer to them. I’m certainly not going to speculate on a timeline from here.

On your question about our Israeli partners, look, to take a step back, as you heard me say earlier this week, we have continued to engage closely with our Israeli partners on this issue. We think that – we continue to feel that a mutual return to compliance in the JCPOA continues to be not only in the national security interest of the United States, but also an important step for the region. But I’m certainly not going to comment on details or negotiate from the press or get into a back-and-forth on our specific engagements with our allies and partners.

Next let’s go to Laurie Mylroie with Kurdistan 24.

QUESTION:  Thank —

OPERATOR:  Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much for taking my question, and it’s actually Laurie Mylroie. But here’s my question: Washington Post columnist David Ignatius has an article today warning about the growing alliance between Russia and Iran. That includes that Russia might use the revival of the JCPOA as a way to sell its oil and evade sanctions. Do you share that concern?

MR PATEL:  Thanks, Laurie, and apologies for the mispronunciation. My bad. So to take a little bit of a step back and to widen the aperture, absent a deal we will continue to use our sanctions authorities to limit exports of petroleum, petroleum products, and petrochemical products from Iran, and we’ll address any effort at sanction evasion. The framework of U.S. sanctions on Iran remains robust and continues to have a very clear impact. Iran’s macroeconomic figures clearly bear this out. We have used our sanctions authorities to respond to Iranian sanction evasion efforts and will continue to do so. We have seen reports about increased oil revenue. I can’t confirm the accuracy of those claims. But I would note that oil export figures fluctuate regularly over time based on prices and changes in methodology.

Let’s go to Elizabeth Hagedorn.

OPERATOR:  Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi. I’m wondering if you have a reaction to recent comments made by Turkish officials hinting at eventual reconciliation with Damascus. Most recently, Turkey’s foreign minister said the country had no preconditions for dialogue with the Syrian Government. Given the U.S. position on normalization of the Syrian regime, how does the U.S. view this recent rhetoric?

MR PATEL:  Thanks for your question. So first and foremost, I will reiterate what we’ve said previously on this, that Turkey tins to be a important NATO Ally and has played an integral role in continuing to hold Russia accountable for its barbaric actions in Ukraine. But to be clear, this administration will not express any support for efforts to normalize or rehabilitate Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. does not intend to upgrade our diplomatic relations with the Assad regime and we don’t support other countries normalizing their relations, either.

We will not lift sanctions on Syria or change our position to oppose the reconstruction of Syria until there is authentic and enduring progress towards a political solution. We believe authentic and enduring political progress is both necessary and vital for reconstruction and have not seen progress on that front. We urge states in the region to consider very carefully the atrocities inflicted by the Assad regime on the Syrian people over the last decade as well as the regime’s continuing efforts to deny much of the country access to integral humanitarian aid and security.

Next let’s go to the line of Said Arikat.

OPERATOR:  Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you for doing this and thank you for taking my question. Very quickly, I know I saw the statement that you guys issued after the meeting of Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman with the Israeli National Security Advisor Hulata. And I saw that there was a reference to the Palestinian issue and to the organizations and so on. Can you tell us whether the deputy secretary received any kind of clarification on the Israeli position or there any evidence and so on? And what was her – his response on this issue?

And second, just to follow up on Michel Ghandour’s question about the – regarding the Iran deal being the best possible way forward to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and whether that your allies have been content with that. Thank you.

MR PATEL:  Thanks, Said. So I don’t have additional information to provide beyond what was in the readout of Deputy Secretary Sherman’s meeting. But to reiterate here for those, the Deputy Secretary was able to, with the national security advisor, discuss the strength of the bilateral relationship. They discussed shared global security challenges, including Iran. The deputy secretary also reiterated the administration’s commitment to Israel’s security. She also underscored the importance of ensuring independent civil society organizations in the West Bank and Israel are able to continue their important work.

On the second part of your question, again I’m just not going to read out specific engagements with our allies and partners beyond reiterating what I’ve said, which is that our engagements with allies and partners, including those in Israel, continue to be a key tenet of our process with the JCPOA. And we continue to fully believe that a mutual return to compliance is not only in the national security interest of the United States, it’s the best step to contain Iran’s nuclear program but will offer benefits in the region as well.

I think we’ve got time for a couple more questions. Let’s next go to the line of Hiba Nasar.

OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, and thanks for taking my question. My first question about Iran: Iranian foreign minister today said that they would not allow the IAEA baseless accusations to remain – I’m stating his words – so they are opposing that the investigation could go on after the deal. Is there room for you to stop the investigation? This is my first question.

My second question: What do you make from these attacks against the U.S. troops in Syria since they are happening now when you are closer to a deal with Iran? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks. Let me answer the first part first. So our position on this has been quite clear, and we have communicated this repeatedly in public and in private to Iran. Iran needs to answer the IAEA’s questions. That is the only way to address these issues. Once the IAEA director general reports to the board of governors that the outstanding issues have been clarified and resolved, we expect them to come off the board’s agenda, but not before that. We’ve also been clear that we do not believe there should be any conditionality between reimplementation of the JCPOA and the investigations related to Iran’s legal obligations.

And on the – and on your second question, what I would say about the airstrike – and again, I would reiterate that our colleagues at the Pentagon can speak to some of this additionally – is that whether or not there is a deal, the President’s commitment to protect U.S. personnel and confront Iran’s activities that jeopardize our people or our partners in the region is unwavering. The nuclear deal has nothing to do with our readiness and ability to defend our people and our interests.

We’ve also been clear that we will ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. We believe diplomacy is the best path to achieving that goal, and as we long have said, we believe pursuing JCPOA talks is in U.S. national security interests, and we’re going to continue to do so.

Great. I think we’ve got time for one last question, so why don’t we close it out with Matt Lee from the Associated Press?

OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, there. Thanks, Vedant. I wasn’t going to ask a question, but your response to the last question on the IAEA safeguards inspections prompted me to ask this question, and that is: You guys keep saying that there is no conditionality between closing this file and the implementation, or there should be no conditionality between closing these – this investigation and the implementation of the deal. And you present this as though it is some tough, hardline stance that the United States has.

But you can – it can be looked at entirely the opposite way, meaning that Iran doesn’t have to do this and the deal – I mean, Iran doesn’t have to satisfy it, the deal will be implemented, and you guys will still give them sanctions relief under the deal. Is that not correct, or am I completely missing something? You guys are presenting this as though we’re forceful; we’re telling the Iranians that they can’t – that their demand that this be closed before the deal is implemented, that we’re rejecting that. But in fact, what it also does, it says that the deal can be implemented, Iran can get the sanctions relief even if they haven’t satisfied the IAEA’s concerns. Is that correct or not?

MR PATEL: Thanks, Matt. So I will just reiterate what I’ve said previously, that of course it would be preferable for us to return to a full implementation of the JCPOA without any safeguards issues, but the power to achieve that is fully in Iran hands. And again, to say like I said before, we have been clear that we don’t believe there should be any conditionality between reimplementation of the JCPOA and investigations related to Iran’s legal obligations under both the NPT and its comprehensive safeguards agreement as well.

Alright, everybody. Thank you so much for joining us this afternoon. We will all be in touch, and please don’t hesitate if you all need anything else.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:35 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – August 24, 2022

2:01 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. Thanks so much for joining us today. I wanted to start by taking a minute to highlight that today is Ukraine’s national day, which also marks the sixth month of Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine. Looking back six months ago, the United States consistently spoke of the two paths Russia could choose: dialogue and diplomacy or escalation and massive consequence. We made genuine and sincere efforts to pursue the former, which we vastly preferred, but President Putin chose war. Putin expected a quick victory but underestimated the resolve of the Ukrainian people, their strong desire to remain independent, and their capability to defend their freedom and democracy.

Since Putin made that fateful decision, Russia has inflicted unconscionable civilian suffering and massive damage to civilian infrastructure. Its bombardments have hit schools, hospitals, churches, apartment buildings, and food infrastructure facilities. The United States has rallied the world and galvanized our global allies and partners to support Ukraine and press Putin to end his senseless war. We have worked with our allies and partners to impose severe and unprecedented costs on Russia, including through sanctions, export controls, and visa restrictions that target Putin, his war machine, and his enablers.

Including today’s announcement of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, the United States has announced more than $22 billion in assistance to Ukraine, including critical security assistance to help Ukraine defend itself, humanitarian assistance to help the millions of people displaced or affected by Putin’s brutality, and economic assistance to support the resilience of Ukraine’s government and economy. We don’t know when this war will be over, but we know this: Ukraine will be a strong, sovereign, and independent nation, and the United States will continue to stand united with Ukraine and help it defend itself for as long as it takes.

And with that, I’m happy to take your questions. Operator, would you please mind sharing the question instructions again?

OPERATOR: Of course. If you have a question at this time, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad. You may withdraw your question at any time by repeating the 1 then 0 command. If using a speakerphone, please pick up your handset before pressing the numbers. One moment, please, for our first question.

MR PATEL: Thanks. Let’s first go to the line of Shaun Tandon with AFP.

QUESTION: Hey, Vedant, hope you’re well. I’m sure lots of my colleagues have questions on Iran, but if you don’t mind I’d like to ask about two things that are unrelated to that. Ethiopia, the breaking of the ceasefire – do you have any comment on that, and also in terms of diplomacy, whether there’s any U.S. effort to try to restore the ceasefire, and whether this will affect at all any discussions on Ethiopia’s trade privileges, trying to restore those, as Ethiopia has been trying to do?

And also I was wondering if you could give a readout of Deputy Secretary Sherman’s talks with the Chinese ambassador yesterday. What was discussed – Taiwan, et cetera? Does this indicate that there could be some diplomacy back on track? Anything you could give on that. Thanks very much.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Shaun. I will start with your second question first. So Deputy Secretary Sherman met with the PRC ambassador to the United States yesterday on August 23rd. We have and will continue to keep the lines of communication open with the PRC. Beijing has shut down some key communication channels and cooperation across several vital issues that affect the entire world, but the United States continues to seek an open and constructive line of communication to manage our differences.

And on your question about Ethiopia, we are concerned by reports of renewed hostilities in Ethiopia, and we call on the Government of Ethiopia and the TPLF to redouble efforts to advance talks to achieve a durable ceasefire without preconditions and ultimately bring a permanent end to the conflict. Over the past five months, the March 24th humanitarian truce declared by the government and reciprocated by the TPLF, it reduced violence and it cleared the way for delivery of humanitarian assistance in key regions of Ethiopia. Respect for this truce has saved countless lives and enabled assistance to reach tens of thousands, and recent provocations on the battlefield and the lack of a durable ceasefire now threaten this progress and delay the establishment of an inclusive political process to achieve progress towards common security and prosperity for all Ethiopians.

A return to active conflict will result in widespread suffering, heightened human rights abuses, create further economic hardships, and play into the hands of those that seek to undermine Ethiopia’s peace and security. The United States remains fully committed to the unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ethiopia, and seeks peace and stability in Ethiopia. We stand ready to work with all Ethiopians to navigate the full range of challenges the country faces, which include overcoming historic drought and promoting regional security. I’ll also note that the U.S. is the largest contributor of humanitarian assistance, reflecting our commitment to reach all regions and people of Ethiopia in need.

Next let’s go to the line of Simon Lewis with Reuters.

QUESTION: Yeah, I just wondered if you had any – the U.S. has any comment or response to political developments in Thailand, where the prime minister – a court has ruled that the prime minister should be suspended because he served a long enough period in charge. So is there any particular concern from the U.S. about this development and – yeah, your comments on that? Thanks.

MR PATEL: Sure. The United States respects Thailand’s democratic process and institutions and looks forward to continuing our engagement with the government and people of Thailand. It’s important to remember that Thailand is a key partner and one of our most enduring allies in Asia. Our broad cooperation benefits both of our countries, the region, and beyond.

Next let’s go to the line of Shannon Crawford with ABC.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks so much. I wanted to ask about Iran and your response today to the EU. I was wondering if you could read anything else out and say what you expect the next steps to be. Additionally, I wanted to ask about the timeline for that response. The administration has said itself that the runway is ending, time is of the essence to restore the JCPOA. And it took about a week for you to reply after Iran issued their comments to the EU. I wanted you to say if you had any concerns over the timeline to restore a deal going forward. Thanks so much.

MR PATEL: Sure. As you know, we received Iran’s comments on the EU’s proposed final text through the EU. Our review of those comments has now concluded, and we have responded to the EU today. We have conveyed our feedback privately, and I’m not going to get into further details from here today on that.

To take a little bit of a step back, we have taken a deliberate and principled approach to these negotiations from the start. If Iran is prepared to fully implement its commitments under the 2015 deal, then we’re prepared to do the same. This negotiation at times has languished for months upon months on account of Iran. The notion – we started in March, that we – we stated in March that we were prepared for a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA based on the text that was on the table at that time. Iran was not. So we’re – like I said, we’re not going to negotiate additionally from public, and we’ve conveyed our response to the EU today.

Next let’s go to the line of Nike Ching with Voice of America.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my questions. Following up on the question regarding Deputy Secretary of State Sherman’s meeting with the Chinese Ambassador Qin Gang, specifically what’s discussed on Taiwan? Does the United States assess a drastic military move by China as Chinese President Xi Jinping is on his way to the third term? And how did you describe the intimacy of the meeting? Is this part of the guard rails to prevent miscalculation?

And separately, if I may, what can you tell us about discussions with China on Taliban travel ban waivers? Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: Sure. Thanks, Nike. So I will just reiterate what I answered before in that we have and will continue to keep the lines of communication open with the PRC. The United States continues to seek open and constructive lines of communication to manage our differences. I will note that we continue to take calm and resolute steps to uphold peace and stability in the region as well as support Taiwan in line with our longstanding “one China” policy.

I don’t have any specific readouts to provide on discussions about the travel ban exemptions. But what I will reiterate, and some have spoken to this before, is that the exemption expired on August 19th, and discussions on whether to grant an exemption remain ongoing, and a decision requires consensus among other members of the Security Council. We will, I’m sure, have more to say once the committee concludes negotiations; generally we see the need to continue limited engagement with the Taliban to help the people of – help the Afghan people, and have found that face-to-face discussions in third countries have proven to be useful to advance our interests, to advance our national security interests.

Next let’s go to the line of Jennifer Hansler with CNN.

QUESTION: On Iran, I wanted to ask about the issue of the detainees. Are there still active negotiations on that part? And is it still the position of the U.S. that there has to be an agreement on their release before any reentry to the JCPOA?

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question. So the Secretary addressed this earlier this year. He said for four years the Shargi family has waited anxiously for the Iranian Government to release Emad. Like too many other families, their loved one has been treated as a political pawn. We call on Iran to stop this inhumane practice and release Emad. The U.S. will always stand up for our citizens who are wrongfully detained overseas, and we’re continuing to approach negotiations to secure the release of four wrongfully detained U.S. citizens with the utmost urgency, and urge Iran to do the same.

We have two separate negotiations underway with Iran, one for a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA and one on the release of all four U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Iran. We continue – we are continuing to approach these negotiations with the utmost urgency, and like I said, are urging Iran to do the same.

Next let’s go to the line Nadia Bilbassy from Al Arabiya News.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for doing this. I hope you can hear me. I just wanted to clarify one point. You’re saying that basically, if an agreement is signed, so basically it will allow Iran to go back to the 2015 agreement as it was signed. Does that mean that the administration is not going to address the issues that led the Trump administration to withdraw from it in 2018, which is the sunset clause, allowing inspectors to go to secret sites, et cetera? So my understanding, and I just want you to confirm that, is basically we’re going back to the agreement as it was signed during the Obama administration. Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Nadia. So the Biden administration has been sincere and steadfast in pursing a path of meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA and use that to address our full range of concerns with Iran. A mutual return to full implementation is in America’s national interest. It is the best available option to restrict Iran’s nuclear program and provide a platform to address Iran’s other destabilizing conduct.

Next let’s go to the line of Alex Raufoglu.

QUESTION: Thank you so much, Vedant, for doing this. I want to stay on Ukraine and just to pick up on where you left off in your opening statement, and just wanted to give you a chance to a little bit expand on what your objectives are six months into the war. Is it just to help Ukrainians defend their territory, or to help them achieve victory and defeat Russia? I’m asking because there is a huge difference between the two, and we also have seen the Secretary’s statement today, and of course the White House’s and also an aid package.

My second question: Can I get your comments on planned trials of captured Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol? Thank you so much again.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Alex. So let me try and address this in two parts. First is – the first part of your question – we believe it’s for Ukraine to define what it considers success. We’ve been clear that diplomacy is the only way to end this conflict, but Russia has consistently shown no signs that it’s willing to seriously engage in negotiations. We want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign, and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression, and we are focused on strengthening Ukraine’s hand as much as possible on the battlefield so when that time comes, Ukraine has as much leverage as possible at the negotiating table.

Ukraine has continuously demonstrated its commitment to a peaceful negotiated end to the conflict, and we believe that if and when Russia is prepared to act in good faith, Ukraine will be as well.

And on the second part of your question, we’re going to have to take that question back and we’ll have the team follow up with you.

Next let’s go to the line of Said Arikat.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) anything on the organization, the Palestinian organizations? Is there anything in the offing on the position of the United States? That’s one.

Second, did the United States warn the Palestinian Authority or Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, not to pursue efforts for full membership in the United Nations?

And lastly, did Mr. Hulata, the Israeli national security advisor, discuss with Deputy Wendy Sherman the issues or did she raise the issues of the organizations with Mr. Hulata? Thank you, Vedant.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Said. So we actually missed the first part of your question, so if you could please repeat that, that would be great.

QUESTION: My first part – the first part of my question was: Is there anything new on the U.S. position about the organizations that have been declared as terror organizations by Israel, the human rights organizations? That was my first question.

Were the other ones clear?

MR PATEL: Yup, thanks. So on the first part of your question, my colleague Ned Price spoke to this extensively on Monday and we don’t have any additional updates to share beyond that.

On the meeting that you mentioned in the second part of your question, that – Deputy Secretary Sherman looks forward to meeting with Israeli National Security Advisor Dr. Eyal Hulata later today. We will of course have a readout once that meeting concludes, but I’m not going to get ahead of that process just yet.

Let’s go to the line of Hiba Nasr.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for taking my question. Is there a possibility of a meeting between the Secretary and Lavrov on the sidelines of the UNGA?

MR PATEL: Sorry about that, with difficulty getting off of mute. We have no meetings to preview as it relates to UNGA or anything on the sidelines at this time.

Next let’s go to the line of Hiba (inaudible).

OPERATOR: She seems to have removed herself from queue.

MR PATEL: Understood. Let’s go to the line of Roj Zalla from Rudaw TV.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MR PATEL: Yes, sir. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Two questions about Syria. First, the airstrike that targeted some Iranian militia group. I know that CENTCOM had a statement on that, but I was just wondering if there was anything else that you could add or what’s the State Department’s position on that.

And then the second question that I have is about the Turkish drones striking an education camp, killing four teenage girls. I know you guys had a statement in which you are calling for restraint, but the statement fails to even mention Turkey. I mean, if it was someone like Bashar Assad or another regime, I would assume that you would have a much stronger statement. So what is it that doesn’t allow you guys to even mention the perpetrator of an attack that killed four teenage girls? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question. So on the airstrike, I don’t have anything additional to provide beyond what our colleagues at CENTCOM shared, but to reiterate as the CENTCOM spokesperson stated last night, at President Biden’s direction, U.S. military forces conducted precision airstrikes on facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s IRGC and Syria overnight. The strike was in response to attacks by Iran-backed militia groups against U.S. forces in Syria, including the attacks on August 15th. The U.S. will do what is necessary to defend U.S. forces, but would defer you to the Pentagon for anything additional.

And on your second question, I will just reiterate what we have said previously, which is that the United States remains deeply concerned about increasing military activity in northern Syria, and in particular its impact on the civilian population. We continue to support the maintenance of current ceasefire lines and condemn any escalations. It is crucial for all sides to maintain and respect ceasefire zones to enhance stability in Syria and work towards a political solution to the conflict.

Next, let’s go to the line of Guita Aryan with Voice of America.

QUESTION: Hi, I don’t know if my line is open yet or not.

MR PATEL: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Oh, okay, how is it going? Thanks for taking my question. I want to circle back to Iran. Now that the team has taken its comments on Iran’s comments, does the State Department think that this could be a short dash – a really short dash to an agreement?

MR PATEL: Hi, there. Sorry about that. I’ve been struggling with mute. So again, I’m just not going to speculate or negotiate on a timeline or get into details from here beyond what we’ve already said, which is that we received Iran’s comments and we have responded to the EU today. We’ve conveyed our feedback privately, but we’re not going to get into the details of that. We have taken a deliberate and principled approach to these negotiations from the start. We are continuing to engage with this, and I don’t have anything additional to provide right now on timeline.

Next, let’s go to the line of Hariana Veras with TPA.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for the opportunity. So today is the election day in Angola. And we noticed that the State Department didn’t issue any alerts for the Americans in Angola. And also the election is done. Angolans went to vote and everything was peaceful in the entire country. So I just want to hear the comments of the State Department on the Angola election.

MR PATEL: Sure. Thanks so much for your question. The United States supports the democratic process through our ongoing democracy and governance programs, and by observing the election. Election observations promote participation and public confidence in the electoral process. I will also note that the United States and Angola share a strong partnership. We will continue to work together with the government chosen by the Angolan people to deepen cooperation around shared priorities, which include democracy, economic growth, and investment, global health security, and public health, and climate and energy goals to create a better future for all Angolans.

The United States also commends the Angolan people for their participation in the democratic process, and efforts to strengthen democratic institutions will provide a foundation for a safe, prosperous, healthy, and inclusive future for both of our countries.

Let’s go to Jennifer Smith from The Daily Mail.

QUESTION: Hi there. Thanks for taking my question. I’d like to ask you about Charles Oliha. He is the diplomat from South Sudan who was arrested on suspicion of rape this weekend in New York City. He was released after he invoked his diplomatic immunity. My question has two parts. Firstly, I would like to know whether or not he remains in the U.S. or if he has left the country. And secondly, the Manhattan district attorney has announced that he is investigating these claims. If he does bring charges, will the State Department ask the Government of South Sudan to waive Oliha’s diplomatic immunity? Thanks.

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question. So we are aware of the incident referenced involving a diplomat accredited to the UN. We take these allegations very seriously and are working closely with the New York Police Department and the Mayor’s Office of International Affairs, as we do in all legal and criminal cases involving foreign diplomats assigned to permanent missions and observer offices at the UN.

I don’t have anything else to add, as we don’t comment on specifics of ongoing investigations.

Next, let’s go to the line of Jiha Ham with Voice of America.

QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Thank you for taking my questions. I hope you can hear me?

MR PATEL: Yes, sir. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Great, thanks. Two Russian bombers flew through South Korea’s air defense identification zone yesterday. So what is your level of concern over this Russian military activity? Plus the U.S. has made clear that the trilateral cooperation between and among the U.S.-ROK-Japan is pivotal to a number of shared interests. Can you say this Russian bombers case is one of the areas where the U.S. can cooperate or coordinate with South Korea?

My second question is, as we know, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has announced his new initiative towards North Korea. But some say that the U.S. and North Korea should normalize their relations along with this – along with this initiative when and if it is moving forward. I mean, what do you think of this suggestion or idea, the normalizing of relations between the U.S. and North Korea? Are there any conditions or limitations? Thanks.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much for your question. So on your first question, we’re going to have to take that back and we’ll have someone from the team follow up with you on that one. But what I can say about your second part is that the United States remains focused on coordinating closely with our allies and partners to address the threats posed by the DPRK, which includes advancing our shared objective of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and continuing our ironclad commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan.

And I think we’ve got time for one more question, so we’ll close out going back to Said.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question again, Vedant. I wanted to ask you, Axios reports that the administration has warned the Palestinian Authority not to apply for full membership in the United Nations. I wonder if you have any comment on that, whether this happened or not happened. Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Said, and apologies for missing this when you asked earlier. So there are no shortcuts to Palestinian statehood outside direct negotiations between the parties. The only realistic path to a comprehensive and lasting peace that ends this conflict permanently is through direct negotiations between the parties. The United States remains committed to a two-state solution. As President Biden said along President Abbas earlier this summer, the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own that’s independent, sovereign, viable, and contiguous. The United States is focused on trying to bring the Palestinians and Israelis closer together in pursuit of this goal of two states, for two people, living side by side in peace and security.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much, everybody. I think that’s all the time we have for today, but appreciate everyone joining, and we’ll talk to you all soon.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:34 p.m.)

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