2:45 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Okay. Good afternoon. A couple things at the top before we turn to your questions.
First, reflecting the United States’ solidarity with India as it battles a new wave of COVID-19 cases, the United States is delivering supplies worth more than $100 million in the coming days to provide urgent relief to our partners in India.
In addition, U.S. state governments, private companies, nongovernmental organizations, and thousands of Americans from across the country have mobilized to deliver vital oxygen, related equipment, and essential supplies for Indian hospitals to support frontline health care workers and the people of India most affected during this current outbreak.
U.S. government flights will start arriving in India tonight and they will continue into next week.
Just as India sent assistance to the United States when our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need.
Next, we are deeply concerned by the Ukrainian cabinet of ministers’ recent actions to manipulate existing resolutions – sorry – regulations to dismiss the supervisory board and replace the management of Ukraine’s leading energy company.
This calculated move – using a procedural loophole – to oust well-regarded experts from the boards of several key state-owned enterprises reflects a disregard for fair and transparent corporate governance practices and complicates longstanding efforts to reform Ukraine’s energy sector and improve its investment climate.
Unfortunately, these actions are just the latest example of ignoring best practices and putting Ukraine’s hard-fought economic progress at risk.
We will continue to support Ukraine in strengthening its institutions, including advancing democratic institutions and corporate governance reforms, but Ukraine’s leaders must do their part as well.
So with that, happy to turn to your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks. Before we turn to India for a second, I just want – did you get an – I asked you on I think it was Monday about the vote at the UN on the – or Iran’s election to the Commission on the Status of Women. Did you get answer on how you voted?
MR PRICE: So what I can say, Matt, is that the unopposed candidacies of countries that engage in torture, in abuse, violations of human rights and due process – it was a troubling feature of this election, the election that you referred to. That’s why – that’s precisely why the United States called for the vote on the Commission of the Status of Women, specifically to allow countries to register their opposition. The United States supports candidates in the UN system that seek to contribute positively to its work and mission and reinforce the foundational values of the UN system, including human rights. And that’s precisely why we have re-engaged with the UN, re-engaged with its human rights body, and will continue to do that throughout the UN system.
QUESTION: So you voted against them?
MR PRICE: It was a private vote, but we called the vote specifically to allow countries to register their concern.
QUESTION: Okay. It was a private vote. Well, what do you think? Is it appropriate for them to be on this commission, this council?
MR PRICE: Well, I would point you to what I just said. It is a troubling feature when countries run unopposed, countries that have —
QUESTION: Well, I’m talking about Iran specifically.
MR PRICE: Well, and I’m – and in this case —
QUESTION: Do you guys have an issue with them being on this commission?
MR PRICE: In this case, I think that Iran would qualify for much of what I just said: countries that have very troubling records, deeply disturbing records.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you said it was – but you said it was – you didn’t say that it was troubling for them to be on it; you said it was a troubling feature for these kinds of countries to run unopposed.
MR PRICE: Well, and it’s precisely why we called this vote.
QUESTION: So is it an issue —
MR PRICE: So countries could register their concern.
QUESTION: So is it safe to say – would someone be wrong in writing that the U.S. thinks it’s a bad idea for Iran to be on this commission?
MR PRICE: With a commission like this, we think that members should reflect the values underlying the commission.
QUESTION: And Iran doesn’t. All right. I’ll drop it there.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: The – in addition to this aid, you guys put out this new travel notice, travel alert today, which mentioned the authorized departure for families of U.S. government personnel at the embassy and the, what is it, four consulates. I’m just curious. Is this by popular demand? Were there people – and I know you don’t want to get into numbers or anything, but were people wanting to leave and have people left already under this – the authorized departure?
MR PRICE: Well, thanks for that question. And I think it’s important to speak for just a moment about what this was and importantly what this was not. Out of an abundance of caution, the Department of State authorized the voluntary departure, so-called authorized departure, of family members of embassy – at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and the consulates throughout the country. Authorized departure doesn’t force anyone to leave; it doesn’t require anyone to leave. It gives these family members the option to depart if they wish. Departure, again, is not required.
There’s also been I think some misreporting, perhaps a misperception, that we provided revised guidance to private American citizens in India. That is not true. There was a pro forma reissuance of the travel advisory, the level four travel advisory that had previously been in effect, given COVID not only in India but also globally as well.
QUESTION: Yeah, but are people taking advantage of it? Were people wanting this, or was it just decided from here and from the ambassador or whoever the charge is that this would be a good idea? I mean, is there a rush to the exits?
MR PRICE: I don’t have the numbers. I’m not sure we’d be able to provide them, regardless, given —
QUESTION: I don’t want your numbers. I just want to know if people are taking advantage of this.
MR PRICE: Well, I think it speaks to the fact that we put the safety and health of our employees and their families, in this case – we prioritize that, and so that is why the department thought it prudent to give them the option to depart the country if they so wished.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
QUESTION: Also on India. So I’m wondering how that’s connected to the outbreak that’s been reported from inside the U.S. embassy or among U.S. embassy staff. Do you have any update on how many people have been infected among staff there and how many fatalities there are and what the embassy and the government have been able to do to protect staff at the mission?
MR PRICE: Well, we addressed this the other day, and to Matt’s point, numbers are difficult for us to offer publicly, given privacy concerns. What we will say is that, of course, our hearts go out to the people of India as they navigate this surge. It is fair to say that COVID has touched every – just about every element of Indian society, and of course, we do have a large diplomatic presence in India, as you might expect, given our global comprehensive partnership with India. So while I can’t offer any specifics on U.S. embassy employees or family members or locally employed staff, clearly this is a pandemic; this is an outbreak, a surge of cases in India that has left no part of the country untouched.
QUESTION: And has that outbreak happened sort of despite vaccine? You’ve obviously been sending vaccines out to different embassies. Was there a delay getting them to the embassies in India that perhaps has led to this?
MR PRICE: So as we mentioned I believe as of mid-April, our missions around the world, all of them have had access to the vaccine. It was an effort that was conducted as expeditiously as possible. The vaccines have been in India for – to – available to our employees, to embassy staffers in India for several weeks now. But obviously, with any global distribution effort, it’s a complex undertaking, but it’s something we did as quickly as we could and it’s something we’re proud of. As we mentioned the other day, not a single vaccine dose was lost in that massive undertaking – nearly 200,000 doses worldwide, including to our mission in India.
QUESTION: Well, certainly related to – related to this in India, one of the things that’s happened in India is the number of critics of the Modi government’s performance, let’s say opposition politicians, by request of the Indian Government, their posts have been removed at least internally in India from Twitter and other social media outlets. Does this give you pause to the United States? Do you think that’s within the rights of the Indian Government? Do you have anything to say about this?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve made the point both when it comes to India and to countries around the world that freedom of expression, freedom of information is a hallmark of any democracy. Of course, India is a large democracy with whom we share foundational values, and freedom of information, freedom of expression is something we support around the world.
QUESTION: Can I ask on India?
MR PRICE: Sure, we’ll go to Lalit and then Kylie.
QUESTION: Yes. I would like to follow up on the comment that what you say when the tool of freedom of expression or social media is used as a tool to incite violence against the government or the – disturb law and order? How do the government handle that?
MR PRICE: How does – how does the government handle – I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Yeah. When that tool is used as – social media is used as a tool to incite violence —
MR PRICE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — like what some section of the society has been doing there, right.
MR PRICE: Of course. And of course, hate speech, incitement to violence is something that we oppose everywhere. But clearly, we support freedom of expression, while still calling out and condemning when we see incitement to violence and hate speech.
QUESTION: Thank you for all the aid that you have been providing to India. But I’d like to ask you about what is the U.S. assessment of the situation of pandemic in India right now. How serious it is? This is the worst outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic anywhere in the world?
MR PRICE: Well, I would be hesitant to offer a sweeping judgment like that. I think you can look at any number of metrics, and of course, if you look at the case count, the daily case count, of course, you see a case count that is very concerning and you see an epidemic that just about by any metric is incredibly concerning. And that is why the U.S. Government has been engaged, deeply engaged in supporting the Indian Government. As I mentioned the other day, even since the start of this outbreak, prior to the recent assistance that we just announced, the United States had delivered some $19 million in support to India’s public health system.
Of course, we have spoken to a great deal more in recent days, not only from the U.S. Government, from the State Department, from USAID, from CDC, but also, we have undertaken an effort to galvanize the private sector. Secretary Blinken, as you know, took part in a call earlier this week and actually led the call earlier this week with the Chamber of Commerce. Commerce – Gayle Smith took part in that call. She took part in a subsequent call with the Chamber of Commerce to make the point that if we are to make progress against this current surge of cases in India, it can’t be something that the Indian Government tackles alone, it can’t be something that the United States Government tackles alone. Everyone has a role to play, including the private sector, including the advocacy community, including civil society, and that’s what we’re seeking to do. We’re seeking to – our assistance, we hope, will have a catalytic effect on society more broadly here and around the world to come to the aid of the Indian people.
QUESTION: Is there any differences between the U.S. Government and the Indian Government about how the aid has to be distributed? I’ve heard somewhere that U.S. wants to distribute this aid through NGOs and send directly to the local government. Indian Government wanted to route it through the federal government itself.
MR PRICE: Our goal is to see to it that this aid – and this is a goal, of course, that we share with the Indian Government – is to see to it that this aid is put to immediate and effective use. For the details of that, I would refer you to those that are implementing this on the ground.
QUESTION: And how do you describe the India-U.S. relations in first 100 days of this administration?
MR PRICE: Well, of course, there’s been a concerted focus on India over the past 100 days. President Biden, of course, did make mention of India in his address last night. And I think you can look at that deep partnership and commitment to partnership through any number of lenses.
As you know, President Biden himself had an opportunity to speak to Prime Minister Modi in recent days. Secretary Blinken has engaged with his foreign minister counterpart, Jaishankar, several times as well. There have been several high-level delegations. Secretary Kerry was in India not all that long ago to discuss climate. Secretary Austin, the Secretary of Defense, was in India not all that long ago to discuss elements of our security cooperation.
We have engaged with India in the multilateral context as well, through the Quad, both at the ministerial level and for the first time ever at the leader level. I’ve mentioned our climate cooperation, but also our health cooperation. And this was something that predates the pandemic, but it is something that intensified with the onset of the pandemic and intensified even further with the uptick in cases, the very concerning uptick in cases that we’ve seen in India in recent days.
So I think it is engagement that reflects our global comprehensive partnership.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
MR PRICE: Thank you. Kylie, India.
QUESTION: So I just want to ask about the travel advisory this morning. In addition to what it said about U.S. diplomats there, it also said to U.S. citizens in India who wish to depart that they should take advantage of available commercial transportation options and warned against other Americans traveling there.
So is the administration considering stopping all flights from India to the U.S. in coming days or weeks?
MR PRICE: So the travel advisory – and you know this; I think we discussed this in a recent briefing – but as you know, the State Department recently adopted the CDC framework when it comes to our travel advisories. And so that’s why many countries – I believe 80 percent of countries around the world – are now at Level 4 Travel Advisories. It is a consequence of the State Department adopting that uniform approach that the CDC uses.
So when it comes to our guidance to Americans in India, that did not change. What did change was the ability of American family members to depart India on a voluntary basis should they choose to do so. My understanding is that commercial travel continues, commercial flights continue to take off and land in India. When it comes to any travel restrictions, as you know, that is something that is determined in close coordination and under the advice of public health professionals at CDC and HHS.
QUESTION: But if those flights were under consideration to shut down, it would obviously be up to the State Department to give Americans heads up that that was a possibility. So given that you guys haven’t issued any of those warnings, should we assume that no shutdown of those flights is anytime imminent?
MR PRICE: Again, that’s not for me to speak to. I wouldn’t read anything beyond – read anything into the updated travel advisory that you saw today. Again, my understanding is that those commercial flights continue to take off and land. Any changes to entry requirements or restrictions would be dictated by public health and in coordination with medical professionals and CDC.
QUESTION: And the State Department would give Americans heads up well in advance of that?
MR PRICE: The State Department as a regular course communicates with Americans around the world through our embassies.
QUESTION: When you said you adopted the CDC standard, I just want to make sure, that’s just for like health and diseases?
MR PRICE: That’s correct. That’s correct.
QUESTION: Because the CDC is good at that, but they don’t – maybe not know so much about the political ramifications.
MR PRICE: Well, and some 80 percent of countries around the world are at this Level 4 precisely because of public health concerns.
QUESTION: For disease reasons.
MR PRICE: That’s right.
QUESTION: But you’re still doing – you’re still factoring your own metrics into – for violence, or —
MR PRICE: Of course. Of course. Yes.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up on India. Do you know when the CDC is sending its team of officials to the U.S. Embassy in Delhi?
MR PRICE: As quickly as possible – as soon as possible, I should say. The CDC team was mentioned in the White House fact sheet, as you know. I know they will be engaging as quickly as possible, but I’d have to refer you to the CDC for specific details.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. My name is Nazira Azim Karimi. I’m an Afghan independent journalist. As you know, sir, nowadays Afghanistan has a sensitive time. Afghan women, they are very worried, although they have a lot of achievement. This is a few example that I brought with myself. And they are really under bad situation psychologically. Can you give me some details, short information that – what will be their situation in future? They are really worried about their future.
And also, Istanbul conference for peace process – as you know, Taliban postponed it, and it look that Taliban is more powerful now. Istanbul conference will take place or not?
MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to the Istanbul conference, we’ve heard from the organizers that they would – it’s unlikely to take place during the month of Ramadan, but would need to refer you to the organizers for updates when it comes to that.
When it comes to women and girls – and thank you for those illustrations – as you know, Secretary Blinken traveled to Afghanistan shortly after President Biden – within hours of President Biden’s speech from the White House. And, of course, while there we met with President Ghani, we met with Chairman Abdullah, but importantly, we also met with representatives of civil society. And there were some half dozen or a couple more participants in that meeting, all of – all but one of whom were women, women who had been at the front lines of the gains that the Afghan people – the hard-won gains, I should say – that the Afghan people have achieved over the past 20 years.
And Secretary Blinken determined that it was especially important for him to – not only to go to Afghanistan but to meet with representatives of civil society and with Afghan women, precisely to send the signal that even as we withdraw militarily from Afghanistan, our partnership with the people of Afghanistan will endure. We have made clear that any country that seeks international legitimacy, that wishes not to be a pariah, needs to respect women and girls, and that includes any future government in Afghanistan. The United States will continue to provide support through the Department of State, through USAID for the important programs that have supported many of, again, the hard-won gains of Afghanistan’s women and girls over the past 20 years.
As you know, we are continuing to have a diplomatic presence on the ground in Afghanistan. That’s especially important as an element of that enduring partnership with the people of Afghanistan going forward.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
MR PRICE: Yes. Oh, sorry, I didn’t see who it was. Yes.
QUESTION: Yeah, sorry. There’s news today that the U.S. troops are beginning to withdraw. I wonder if you can describe the situation at the embassy. Has the drawdown there begun?
MR PRICE: So I would need to refer you to the Department of Defense to speak to the drawdown of troops, but the broad point is that – and President Biden laid this out in his speech – that the only military presence that will remain in Afghanistan is the very limited presence required to protect our embassy, and that’s important for the reason I was just discussing. Even as we disengage militarily from 20 years of military involvement in Afghanistan, our presence on the ground will remain through our embassy, through our civilian representatives, including our diplomats.
The – as you know, there was an announcement earlier this week that we will be relocating some personnel from Kabul. These are personnel who can do their jobs elsewhere. It is a repositioning of personnel that will allow us to place them elsewhere and also to bring in additional personnel who will be able to help manage the drawdown and the implications that has for our embassy presence and for those who will be able to help be the conduits, the diplomatic conduits to the government and the people of Afghanistan going forward. As we mentioned, this was a drawdown order that affects only a relatively small number of diplomats who are based at our embassy in Kabul.
QUESTION: Thank you. It’s a hundred days into this administration, and among ambassadorial appointments, only a handful has been nominated and none from the larger missions, I guess with the exception of the UN. Why is the process going so slowly? And does that create a void or a vacuum in your stated efforts to repair the damage, the diplomatic damage of the last four years?
MR PRICE: Well, I’d make a couple points. As you know, there have been 11 ambassadors put forward – nine career ambassadors, two political ambassadors; those two political ambassadors being Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at our mission to the UN and Chris Lu, who would hold another position at our mission to the UN. But even as – even for those posts that do not yet have a nominee, we are incredibly fortunate to have career women and men at the Department of State serving in the function and the capacity of charge. We have – in the course of our travels already, Secretary Blinken has had an opportunity to meet with those individuals, all of whom are, again, career professionals who have years if not, in most cases, decades of experience in the Department of State. So it’s not that there is a leadership vacuum anywhere in the world here, not here at Main State, not anywhere around the world. And those charges will continue until they, in some cases, have a confirmed ambassador in place to serve and to serve exceptionally well.
QUESTION: Any reason, though, for the slowness of the process?
MR PRICE: Well, it’s – as you know, this is a process that is handled by the White House, by the Presidential Personnel Office. It’s an office that not only oversees nominations for ambassadors here at the Department of State but appointees and nominees throughout the Executive Branch. So they clearly have a lot of work. As we’ve said before, we’ve – the White House has put forward nearly a dozen nominees for ambassadorial positions. That’s in addition to the nominees that have been put forward for other positions here at State, including assistant secretary and under secretary positions as well.
So there has been good progress that we’ve already seen, and I expect you’ll be hearing more from President Biden and from the White House when it comes to personnel announcements going forward.
QUESTION: Ned, can I just make a point that what you’ve just said in the terms of the career people, that there’s no dearth of leadership experience or – that when the previous administration had the same – made the similar argument about lack of ambassadors or lack of people, that people – many people who are involved in this administration, including, I believe, yourself – were pretty dismissive of that argument, scoffed at it, saying people are being sidelined and that kind of thing. And so I’d just like to make the point that the same explanation you just gave or the same reasoning was not well received by people in the current administration, politicals, when it was made by the previous administration.
MR PRICE: Well, I’d be interested, perhaps in another venue, in hearing exactly what remarks you’re referring to. But I think you may be referring to efforts to sideline individuals rather than nominate individuals in the first place, but that may be for another venue.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have a couple of questions, but I would start by Iran. A team of U.S. officials is traveling to the Middle East this week for talks with U.S. allies there. Can you share any information on who from State Department would participate in those talks? What are the main stops of the U.S. delegation? And is that part of paving the ground from now for a potential deal with Iran that would come within weeks, as predicted by the Israeli ambassador here in Washington?
MR PRICE: Well, we don’t have details to share at this point. What I can confirm, however, is that a senior interagency delegation will be traveling over the coming week to discuss a number of important matters related to U.S. national security and ongoing efforts to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East. I suppose I would hasten to add that this delegation is not focused on any one issue, certainly not focused just on Iran and anything that may emanate from the ongoing discussions in Vienna.
When it comes to those discussions in Vienna, I would use this as an opportunity to make the point that we are now in the third round of what promises to be a multi-round exercise. It continues to be a venue that – where we’ve been able to engage indirectly with the Iranian delegation in largely thoughtful, businesslike, constructive dialogue. But there is still a great distance to travel, and what we have said before about having more road ahead of us than road behind us remains accurate.
QUESTION: But there are positive signs from everyone. All the parties that participate in those talks agree that there is sort of breakthrough. So is it fair to say that a deal is within reach?
MR PRICE: It is fair to say that some progress has been made. We have a better understanding of what we might need to do were Iran to go back into compliance, and it is our assessment that the Iranians have a better sense of what they would need to do to resume their compliance with the JCPOA. But that remains a hypothetical; it remains an if. And big challenges remain. I think it is fair to say that we are not on the cusp of any breakthrough, and again, there is a potentially long road ahead of us.
I think since you raised it, I would just make the point that there has been a heavy focus on what the United States might need to do were Iran to resume its compliance with the JCPOA. I think what is often omitted from that discussion is the other side of that equation, and that is what Iran would need to do to resume its compliance with its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal. The fact is that Iran’s nuclear program has been galloping ahead since the previous administration left the nuclear deal in 2018. Iran, as of recently, had 10 times the amount of enriched uranium permitted under the deal, and it has made more ever since that assessment came down. It is spinning cascades of advanced centrifuges that are prohibited by the deal. Its breakout time, which, as you may recall, was at a full year when the deal was in effect, is by most accounts now a matter of months. So it is fair to say that this is a crisis that we inherited. This was a crisis that was precipitated by both sides distancing themselves from the Iran deal.
If Iran were to resume its compliance with the nuclear deal, it would, of course, require Iran to significantly roll back its nuclear program and once again block every conceivable pathway to a nuclear weapon. That is precisely what the JCPOA did. It set forth in verifiable and permanent terms restrictions that would permanently prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That’s what is at stake here for us. That remains our ultimate objective, to see Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon once again permanently and verifiably blocked.
QUESTION: I believe Iran was the main topic of discussion today, in today’s meeting between Secretary Blinken and U.S. officials including the chief of Mossad and the Israeli ambassador in Washington. Can you share any readout of this meeting, please?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any such meeting to confirm or to read out. What I will say, however, is that we have been in close contact with our Israeli counterparts. As you know, Jake Sullivan met in Washington with Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat earlier this week, where, of course, Iran was on the agenda. Rob Malley was – briefed the group for part of that. We have, as you heard from State Department officials, updated our Israeli counterparts before every round of negotiations, after every round of negotiations, and we’ve been consulting with them during these negotiations as well.
So we have conducted ourselves with a great deal of transparency, knowing that the United States and Israel share a common interest here, of course, and that is seeing to it – again, as I said before – that Iran is verifiably and permanently prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: But Iran also welcomed what it called the change of tone from Saudi Arabia. How would this conciliatory tone between the two sides affect the so many crises in the region, including Yemen, with the fourth visit of the Special Envoy Tim Lenderking to the region?
MR PRICE: Well, I wouldn’t want to characterize the tone that may be heard from Iran, or heard from Riyadh for that matter. But since you raised it, as you heard from us last night, Special Envoy Lenderking is, as of today, in Saudi Arabia. He’ll also travel to Oman on this trip. He’s meeting with senior government officials and is always working closely with the UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths as part of this. His discussions are focused on ensuring the regular and unimpeded delivery of commodities and humanitarian assistance throughout Yemen, and of course, promoting that lasting ceasefire and advancing that political process that we’ve invested in since the earliest days, earliest hours even, of this administration.
QUESTION: And lastly, the Iraqi News Agency quoted the Iraqi oil minister, Ihsan Abdul Jabbar, as saying that his country intends to import gas from Syria, without giving details. But he was speaking after a meeting with his Syrian counterpart. I’m wondering if you are aware of those reports and if such move would violate the U.S. sanctions on al-Assad regime.
MR PRICE: We’ll see if we can get you a response there.
QUESTION: Can we stay in the region? Just in the past few hours, Palestinian Authority President Abbas saying that Palestinian elections can go ahead if there’s voting in Jerusalem, in East Jerusalem. Does the U.S. have any position on – first of all, on voting in Jerusalem, whether that should go ahead again this time and whether the Palestinian elections should be held on schedule?
MR PRICE: We do have an opinion, and it’s our opinion, as we have always said, that the exercise of democratic elections is a matter for the Palestinian people and for the Palestinian leadership to determine.
QUESTION: But the vote in Jerusalem —
QUESTION: Well, it sounds like you don’t have an opinion at all.
MR PRICE: Well, no. It is actually an affirmative position. We believe in an inclusive political process —
QUESTION: And that’s what the Bush administration said when there was an election in Gaza, too.
MR PRICE: Well, so it —
QUESTION: Look – and look how that – so —
MR PRICE: It continues to be our position that democratic elections are a matter for the people and the Palestinian leadership to determine. By the way, that happens to be our position on elections around the world. We never dictate when it comes to elections, when it comes to the outcome of elections.
QUESTION: So it’s okay if it’s not democratic?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: So it’s okay if the election isn’t democratic, too?
MR PRICE: Free and fair is —
QUESTION: When it comes to democratic elections, we think it’s up to the people. I mean, don’t you want – shouldn’t they always be democratic?
MR PRICE: I —
QUESTION: So if the Palestinian —
QUESTION: About voting in Jerusalem? Sorry.
QUESTION: If the Palestinian leadership decides it wants to hold elections in Jerusalem, they should be allowed? It should happen, is what you’re saying? Or no?
MR PRICE: It is a matter for the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people to decide.
QUESTION: They decide, and if they want it, they should have it.
QUESTION: Not Israel.
QUESTION: Not – it’s not up to the Israelis.
MR PRICE: It is a matter for the Palestinian people and leadership to decide on the exercise of democratic elections.
QUESTION: And Israel should not interfere? And Israel should not interfere?
MR PRICE: It is a matter for the Palestinian people and leadership.
QUESTION: Just one more question about Afghanistan. There is expert talk that Taliban still have relationship with al-Qaida. If they don’t disconnect their relationship, what will be the U.S. reaction to the Taliban? And also, based off your opinion, United States win the war in Afghanistan or lost the war?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the last part of your question.
QUESTION: United States winners or they lost war in Afghanistan, or still war continuing —
MR PRICE: Oh, did we win or did we lose the war in Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: So the point that I think is critically important to understanding this administration’s position, what President Biden laid out, is the very simple fact that we went into Afghanistan together with our partners in 2001, in October 2001, with one goal in mind, and that was to degrade al-Qaida, the al-Qaida presence that was there, the al-Qaida leadership that had directed the attack on the United States on 9/11. Usama bin Ladin was killed more – just about 10 years ago. That is a mission that due to the heroics of our military and other interagency partners we were able to accomplish. It is a mission that was not only accomplished successfully and that was in our interests but also in the interests of all of our partners around the world who had come under threat from al-Qaida that was at the time based in Afghanistan.
So the President made very clear that having accomplished that military mission, it was time for our service members to depart. But again, he was equally clear that even as we withdraw militarily we will remain engaged diplomatically, remain engaged diplomatically with the Afghan leadership and remain engaged diplomatically with the Afghan people.
When it comes to the Taliban, as you know, we spent quite some time studying the agreement that the previous administration agreed to, the stipulation that was in the agreement from the previous administration that American troops needed to be on the way out as of May 1st. We’ve spoken of the mixed record when it comes to the Taliban in adhering to the agreement. We’ve spoken to the levels of violence in Afghanistan that remain unacceptably high. And I think the point remains that if the Taliban wants any semblance of international legitimacy, if the Taliban does not wish to be a international, a global pariah, that it must cease any ties with al-Qaida or other terrorist groups.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: What makes you guys so convinced that the Taliban fear being a pariah? I mean, they were pretty much a pariah back in the ‘90s, and they didn’t seem to mind. Do you think things have changed that much that they now are so eager to be a part of the international community that they will change their ways?
MR PRICE: The consequence of being a pariah, of lacking any international legitimacy, is, I think in our minds, the inability to have any durability to that sort of movement. If the Taliban wants to be part of Afghanistan’s future, they’re not going to be able to do so if they do not respect the rights of women and girls, if they do not sever ties with al-Qaida or other terrorist groups. So it is not only consistent with our values and with our interests that the Taliban do this, but if the Taliban think they have a future in Afghanistan, it’s also in their interest.
QUESTION: But the Taliban don’t care about what your values are. They care about their values. And I – why are you guys convinced that their values include not being an international pariah when the evidence – strong evidence from the previous time they were in power – showed that they didn’t care?
MR PRICE: Because engaging in these sorts of practices or failing to follow through with these sorts of commitments won’t afford the Taliban any degree of legitimacy or durability. And I think durability is certainly something that the Taliban seeks to achieve. They would not be able to achieve that absent these steps.
MR PRICE: Russia, sure.
QUESTION: The – Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said that he’s going to attend the meeting of Arctic nations in Iceland. And he said he’s ready to meet Secretary Blinken at that location. Does Secretary Blinken feel the same way? Is he open to meeting Minister Lavrov?
MR PRICE: Well, I wouldn’t want to get ahead of things. I would make the broader point that in the midst of these very challenging times in the bilateral relationship with Russia, in the context of a relationship that we would like to be both stable and predictable. We know that an ingredient to seeing that through is engagement, should be engagement. That is why we hope and we expect that not all avenues for engagement will be shut off. And that is why you have heard us object to the steps that we’ve heard from Moscow to limit our diplomatic presence in Russia. We know that if we are to inject some degree of stability, some degree of predictability into this relationship, there has to be or there needs to be some semblance of engagement.
And so that’s why President Biden, in his conversation with President Putin the other day, held out the prospect of a meeting between the two presidents in the coming weeks. But when it comes to the upcoming Arctic conference, I just don’t have anything to preview at this time.
QUESTION: And the status of the Russian local staff at the missions, is that still in limbo or has that been clarified by Moscow, the status?
MR PRICE: Well, what I will say – and to go back to what I was referencing a moment ago – is that Moscow formally notified the State Department of portions of the additional actions it is choosing to impose on our mission to Russia, but we don’t have the full details of that yet. We’re in the process of reviewing the measures that have been formally relayed to us. We know that they would have a negative impact on our mission’s ability to operate and, again, consequently on our ability to engage diplomatically with our Russian counterparts. And we, of course, do reserve the right to respond.
What we have always said is that the measures that the White House, that President Biden announced the other week – those were not escalatory. Those were a response to the attack on our democracy that we had seen from the Russians; it was a response to SolarWinds. And so that’s how we look at it. It is not that we have escalated. And we continue to review the – what the Russians have communicated to us, knowing that we do reserve the right to respond, depending on what we hear and what we assess going forward, but also knowing that, again, we need to keep those lines of communication open if we are to inject some degree of stability and predictability into the relationship.
QUESTION: One other follow-up on Russia. The Secretary yesterday mentioned that he’s raised the issue of RFE/RL. Can you be any more specific about what the U.S. wants to see there and how you hope to resolve that?
MR PRICE: Well, media freedom, as we know, is – has come increasingly under threat from Moscow. The Russian Government’s long-running campaign against independent media and voices has only intensified in recent months. We’ve seen, of course, a broad crackdown on human rights and those seeking to achieve a greater degree of inclusiveness and participation in Russian society, only to see the Russians attempt to quash that.
For more than 70 years now, RFE/RL has been a vital source of objective news and information for the people of Russia and an important link between our two countries. As Secretary Blinken said, he has raised this issue with Foreign Minister Lavrov. He and other officials have called on the Russian Government to reconsider its actions against RFE/RL and we have heard – we’ve been gratified to hear statements from some of our international partners joining that call.
Unfortunately, the Russian Government is increasingly intolerant of outside perspectives. We’ve made clear that Russia’s actions against RFE/RL and other media organizations labeled as so-called foreign agents reflect significant intolerance and oppressive restrictions. We’ll continue to raise this case, the case of RFE/RL, freedom of expression within Russia more broadly, and human rights more broadly as well with our Russian counterparts. Should the Russian Government continue to move to forcibly shut down RFE/RL, we will respond.
QUESTION: Different topic. Haiti. This week, Chairman Meeks wrote a letter saying – basically quite critical of policy currently on Haiti. One of the more specific things he was saying is that the U.S. shouldn’t support the constitutional referendum that’s coming up. I know that generally you don’t want to respond to everything from the Hill, but in this case does the United States still support the – or does the United States support the constitutional referendum in Haiti?
MR PRICE: Well, you’re right, we don’t comment on correspondence from the Hill. But let me just give you a sense of our view of this, and that is that holding overdue elections are the democratic means to end Haiti’s irregular and prolonged rule by decree, and to restore the legislature’s role in Haitian democracy. Presidential elections scheduled for the fall of this year are necessary to transfer power peacefully and on a timely basis from one democratically elected leader to another. We have repeatedly stated that constitutional reform is for the Haitian people to decide. We’ve emphasized – and this goes back to part of your question – that the U.S. Government – we’ve emphasized to the Government of Haiti that the U.S. Government will not provide financial support for a constitutional referendum.
QUESTION: Will not support the constitutional referendum?
MR PRICE: Will not, for a constitutional referendum.
QUESTION: Do you oppose it being held or is it just a matter of U.S. support? It is – again, when it comes to those moves, these are for the Haitian people to decide. But when it comes to that referendum, it is not something that we will provide financial support for.
QUESTION: Ned, why is it necessary in Haiti for presidential elections to transfer power peacefully and not for the Palestinians?
MR PRICE: As we said, this is for the —
QUESTION: You just said – you said you didn’t – you said that that’s up to the Palestinian people. Well, in Haiti, you say that these are necessary. Why aren’t elections for the Palestinians necessary?
MR PRICE: We are talking about the timing of the Palestinian elections. That is for —
QUESTION: We’re also talking about the timing – have been talking about the timing of the Haitian elections.
MR PRICE: This is written into – this would be consistent with what is called for in Haiti. I —
QUESTION: Yeah. The Palestinians haven’t had an election in 15 years.
MR PRICE: I don’t think you can compare two countries. In some cases, we’re going to have —
QUESTION: You made a blanket statement.
MR PRICE: — apples and oranges.
QUESTION: But you made a blanket statement that elections are up to the people.
MR PRICE: But there are also key differences between the contexts in Haiti and with the Palestinian Authority.
I saw one final question. Yes
QUESTION: Yes. On Syria, what would the U.S. Government do in order to revive the political process, in order to counter the fact that President Assad may be in the power for another seven years? And would the U.S. consider nominating special envoy to lead those efforts?
MR PRICE: Well, I don’t have any personnel announcements to preview at this time. What I would say is that per UN Security Council Resolution 2254, steps should be taken towards convening free and fair elections, very importantly, pursuant to a new constitution administered under the supervision of the UN, in which all Syrians, including internally displaced Syrians, displaced Syrians, refugees, and the diaspora might be able to participate. We believe that stability in Syria and the greater region is best served through a political process that produces peaceful outcomes in Syria. We are committed to working with allies, partners, and the UN to ensure that a durable political solution remains within reach.
Even as we do that, we are also doing everything we can, and you heard from Secretary Blinken himself, to provide humanitarian relief to the people of Syria who have suffered so immensely under the brutal repression, the brutality of Bashar al-Assad. We’ve spoken to our commitments to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, not only providing that aid but also seeking to provide humanitarian access to ensure that that aid can reach those most vulnerable and those in need. We have done that in the face of resistance, including within the UN Security Council. We continue to work on this issue just knowing how vitally important it is to the wellbeing of the Syrian people.
Thank you very much, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:36 p.m.)
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