1:33 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR PRICE: A couple things at the top today, and then we’ll move on to your questions. First, today’s announcement of Deferred Enforced Departure for Hong Kong residents currently in the United States provides Hong Kongers who are concerned about returning to Hong Kong with temporary safe haven in this country.
The United States will defer the enforced departure of all Hong Kong residents, who are physically present in the United States as of today, August 5, 2021, for a period of up to 18 months.
The United States stands in solidarity with the people in Hong Kong in the face of cruel repression by the PRC.
This is not just about the United States standing up for people in Hong Kong. We join our allies and partners, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia in offering options to those who fear returning to Hong Kong.
Our announcement today is in response to the PRC and Hong Kong authorities’ repeated actions to undermine rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Basic Law and the Sino Joint Declaration, which is a binding international agreement.
We strongly urge Beijing and Hong Kong authorities to cease their continued attacks on Hong Kongers for exercising protected rights and freedoms, and that includes the freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression, and to allow people in Hong Kong to participate meaningfully in their own governance.
We again call on the PRC and Hong Kong authorities to immediately and unconditionally release those detained or imprisoned solely for exercising their fundamental freedoms.
Yesterday, USAID Administrator Samantha Power announced over $720 million in new funding to intensify the fight against COVID-19 abroad, respond to humanitarian crises exacerbated by COVID-19, and support a global recovery while preparing for future pandemic threats. This announcement caps the end of her trip to Ethiopia, where she emphasized the urgent need for full and unhindered humanitarian access in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and reiterated the U.S. commitment to support African countries in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During her visit, the administrator toured a USAID-supported food commodities warehouse and a COVID treatment center and joined humanitarian partners to discuss the response to efforts in Tigray. In the lead up to the administrator’s travel, the U.S. announced more than $149 million in additional humanitarian assistance to help people affected by the ongoing conflict in Tigray. Administrator Power met with Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to discuss the expansion of the U.S. Government partnership.
The administrator also held substantive, frank discussions with Ethiopia’s Minister of Peace Muferiat Kamil and separately with the chairman of the Ethiopian Red Cross. She later had the chance to meet with young civil society leaders to discuss ethnic conflict, Tigray, and the future of the country, among other issues.
Before her visit to Ethiopia, Administrator Power spent four days in Sudan, where she met with Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, Sovereign Council Chairman Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Foreign Minister Dr. Mariam Al-Mahdi, and other transitional government leaders, as well as citizens who led the protests that resulted in former dictator Omar al-Bashir’s overthrow in 2019.
In a speech to students, academics, and democracy activists at the University of Khartoum earlier this week on August 3rd, Administrator Power announced an additional $4.3 million to support electoral processes in Sudan, making a total of $12 million USAID has committed in election-related assistance as Sudan prepares for democratic elections in 2024. She spoke with displaced communities in Darfur and Ethiopian refugees who fled the harrowing conflict in Tigray to eastern Sudan and saw some of the USAID programs that are providing them with life-saving assistance.
So with that, happy to turn to your questions.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks. And sorry, I don’t have anything really to start with. But just on the Hong Kong thing —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — there are a bunch of questions that this raises, but I suspect that they will be more – they’re probably DHS questions so – in terms of, like, what kind of passports do Hong Kongers have, whether they’re British Overseas National passports, or Chinese passports. Does that matter or is this – should specifics of this go to DHS?
MR PRICE: Many of those questions about enforcement would need to go to DHS.
MR PRICE: Great.
QUESTION: Can I ask a follow up on Hong Kong?
MR PRICE: Sure. Sure.
QUESTION: Can you give us a little better sense of that 18-month decision? What happens after 18 months? Is there a plan in the works to offer the equivalent of refugee status to Hong Kongers who look to leave the territory to the U.S.? And I mean, if in 18 months their status hasn’t changed and they have to go back, how does that actually help residents of Hong Kong?
MR PRICE: Well, in terms of how this program will work, as I told Matt just now, the Department of Homeland Security will have additional details on the Deferred Enforcement Departure, including the mechanics of it and details. They will be providing information to make sure that eligible individuals in this country; that is to say, residents of Hong Kong who are based here as of today, August, know how to proceed, given this announcement.
From a policy perspective what this announcement signals is very clear. It is a testament to the fact that the Biden administration will – has and will continue to take steps to ensure that our foreign policy aligns with our values. We have and we will stand up for all of those who are struggling to defend their rights, to defend the – to defend their democracy. There are a number of tools we have at our disposal to demonstrate that support. This is just one tool of many. Each situation is different, as we have said.
Even in recent weeks, we have announced a number of measures to support the aspirations of the people of Hong Kong, to defend what was given to them, what was guaranteed by the PRC to them. You have heard us talk about the Hong Kong business advisory that we released last month, essentially warning American businesses of the deteriorating climate for the private sector in Hong Kong. In conjunction with that, we announced a series of sanctions on PRC and Hong Kong authorities. Today, this deferred enforced departure announcement that President Biden made and that you’ve heard more about from the Department of State and Homeland Security, and all throughout our work with the international community, our partners around the world, in Europe, in the Indo Pacific, to make clear that the United States and our likeminded allies and partners are standing with the people of Hong Kong, that we are by their side as they are seeking to protect, again, that which was guaranteed to them.
QUESTION: Rather than just deferring this enforcement, is the administration considering any scenario under which you would offer permanent residency to Hong Kongers who are in the U.S. or Hong Kongers who want to flee Hong Kong to the U.S.?
MR PRICE: Well, what is true is that residents from Hong Kong can be referred to consideration to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or any U.S. embassy. Any resident from Hong Kong referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and guaranteed and granted refugee status will be admitted, consistent with the annual presidential determination on refugee admissions. There isn’t, as you know, at this time a special program for Hong Kong. Residents from Hong Kong referred to the program will be required to pass the same security and health screening as any other refugee in the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. What we did today, of course, applies to Hong Kong residents who are already in this country.
QUESTION: All right. But really just to bring it back, why now? Why not a month ago? What is the U.S. seeing that’s happening in Hong Kong that made the government say we need to protect people who theoretically could be facing real harm if they were to go back, say today, August 5th?
MR PRICE: Well, the why now question is all around us. And virtually every week we have spoken of additional crackdowns, of additional incidents of repression, of continuing efforts by the part of PRC and Hong Kong authorities to assault the fundamental rights, freedoms, and again, the guarantees that to which the people of Hong Kong were promised. It is clear when you look at what is happening that PRC authorities seek to use the tools that they have given themselves – and that includes, of course, the national security law and other legislation – to make arbitrary arrests, politically motivated prosecutions of opposition candidates and politicians, activists, and peaceful protestors with the goal it seems – or certainly the end result – of creating an atmosphere of fear, of self-censorship, of repression among the general populace. And our measures today are a response to these and other actions by the PRC and other Hong Kong – and Hong Kong authorities to undermine, again, what was promised to the people of Hong Kong, and that is the high degree of autonomy, the freedoms for people in Hong Kong and its democratic institutions.
QUESTION: What’s the estimated number affected by this memorandum? Or if that’s not available, what’s the number of Chinese citizens arriving from Hong Kong who are in the United States right now?
MR PRICE: I don’t have those numbers with me. We’ll see if we can offer anything on that front for you.
QUESTION: Do these things – does the date get renewed as well? Like if someone from Hong Kong were to come tomorrow, fleeing persecution from the national security law, is that the kind of thing that has been renewed in the past, where the date is renewed and future people could get protection as well?
MR PRICE: There are various programs that afford this type of protection. Deferred Enforced Departure is one. There is a separate program, Temporary Protected Status, with which you are all aware. We are always evaluating conditions on the ground in countries to which these programs apply. So this is what we’re announcing today.
As I’ve said before, even in recent weeks, we have announced a series of policy measures to indicate that we’re standing with the people of Hong Kong: the business advisory, the sanctions, the statements, the spotlight that we’re putting on what is – what has been going on in Hong Kong for some time now. So if conditions warrant and an additional policy response is appropriate, we will make that clear.
QUESTION: Can I just clarify one thing? Did the State Department have any way to collect data on how many people from Hong Kong arrive in the U.S.?
MR PRICE: I believe most of these questions will need to go to DHS.
QUESTION: So you don’t? I mean, you might get it from DHS, but unless they’ve gotten a visa, and even if they have gotten a visa, if they need a visa to get in, you wouldn’t know, first off? I mean, you might know if you get it from DHS?
MR PRICE: We talk to our interagency partners quite frequently, yes, yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah, and I know, but you do not collect that information?
MR PRICE: That is primarily a DHS issue, correct.
QUESTION: Can I have move to Iran?
MR PRICE: Iran and then I’ll go to the back, sure.
QUESTION: Thank you. So the new Iranian president sent some mixed messages today, saying he’s ready to support any diplomatic plans to lift the sanctions, but also that he won’t back down from defending their rights and their nuclear program. Are you – now that he’s in place, are you telling the Iranian Government that now is the time to resume talks in Vienna, or are you ready to wait for some more time?
MR PRICE: Well, we wouldn’t want to weigh in on the messages that the new Iranian president may or may not be sending. What I can say is that our message to President Raisi is the same as our message to his predecessors, and that is very simple: The U.S. will defend and advance our national security interests and those of our partners. We hope that Iran seizes the opportunity now to advance diplomatic solutions and the diplomatic solutions that are before all of us. We are waiting to see, as I’ve said before, the approach that the new government in Iran will take. And we will in turn respond in consultation with our partners. For our part, we’ve made very clear that we are prepared to return to Vienna to resume negotiations.
We are prepared to do that for one simple reason, and that goes back to the message – our message to President Raisi: Doing so is in our national security interests. It is in our national security interests and in the national security interests of our allies and our partners the world over to once again permanently and verifiably ensure that Iran is not able to acquire a nuclear weapon. We urge Iran to return to the negotiations soon so that we can seek to conclude our work. We’ve heard what the new Iranian president has had to say on that score.
But at the same time – and the Secretary has said this message, you’ve heard it from here as well – this process cannot go on indefinitely. The opportunity to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA won’t last forever. The longer this goes on, the advantages to our national security that would be accrued by a mutual return to compliance will start to chip away by the advancements that Iran is able to make while the shackles are at present removed from its nuclear program. So we’re mindful of that, and that’s why we urge the new Iranian Government to return to diplomacy.
QUESTION: How specifically —
QUESTION: How long are you ready to wait for?
MR PRICE: Again, we’re not going to put a timeline on it, but for us, this is an urgent priority, knowing the issues that are at play, and we hope the other – we hope the Iranians treat it with the same degree of urgency.
QUESTION: How specifically is the U.S. worried about losing by this extended delay and the return to talks? What progress has been made that you think could be degrading because there aren’t these conversations happening?
MR PRICE: Well, for us, the more important issue – it’s less the progress that has been achieved in the sixth round of talks. I think the United States and our partners, we assume that the seventh round would pick up where the sixth round has left off. For us, the more important issue is what – the implications of further delays for the broader issue that we’re talking about, and that’s Iran’s nuclear program.
Again, this goes back to the original advantage of the JCPOA. When it was being negotiated in 2014 and 2015 and the preceding talks before that, Iran at points was a handful of months away from being able to produce the fissile material required for a nuclear weapon should it decide to weaponize and pursue that route. The advantage of the JCPOA was that it extended that so-called breakout time to 12 months, to a year. For us, this has always been the advantage of the JCPOA. It is the extension of that so-called breakout time, but even more so, it’s the permanent and verifiable prohibition on Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.
So now that Iran has been – has distanced itself from its nuclear limitations since 2018, the breakout time, according to published reports, is back down to a handful of months. For us, that is not a proposition that can last indefinitely, and it is also not a proposition that can last indefinitely when, as these nuclear constraints aren’t applied, Iran’s advancements continue day by day. And we are not comfortable with an Iranian nuclear program that is able to make advancements without these checks in place.
So that’s why we’re treating this as an urgent priority. We’re treating it as an urgent priority to return to the diplomacy, but more so as an urgent priority to ensure that those permanent and verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program and that permanent and verifiable prohibition on Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon is back in place.
Anything else on Iran?
QUESTION: Yeah, on Iran, Ned.
MR PRICE: Iran?
QUESTION: Sorry for coming in late, Ned. On the sanctions, President Raisi said today, as he said in the past, that his focus is on lifting the sanctions. Now, you guys have said in the past that you are willing to consider lifting the sanctions that were imposed under former President Trump. Is that the case? I mean, would – that probably covers all the sanctions that Iran would want lifted.
MR PRICE: Well, again, the nature of sanctions relief is a primary topic of discussion in Vienna. If President Raisi is genuine in his determination to see the sanctions lifted, well, that is precisely what’s on the table in Vienna. The formulation that was enshrined in the original JCPOA, the JCPOA with which we’re trying – we’re attempting to see if we can resume mutual compliance, was a formulation that called for the lifting of nuclear sanctions in return for these permanent and verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program.
This is something that in 2015 was in the interests of the United States. It was in the interests of our P5+1 partners. According to the supreme leader then and now – the now former president of Iran, it was in Iran’s interest at that time. You just cited President Raisi’s statement about wishing to see that sanctions relief come into play once again. That might suggest that there’s an appetite on the part of the new Iranian Government to engage in this diplomacy. We certainly hope that’s the case, because we believe profoundly that it remains in our interest – in the interests of our allies and partners – to see Iran’s nuclear program once again permanently and verifiably restricted.
But this is a new administration in Iran. We’ve heard their words, but to us, actions will speak louder. And the Iranians clearly have some decisions to make.
Anything else on Iran before —
QUESTION: Yeah, just because – actions speak louder, yeah, okay. Let’s leave apart the increased aggression in the Gulf, the attacks on various ships, drone attacks, whether or not you guys have decided who is responsible for the – for the incident involving multiple vessels the other day, the kidnapping attempt on someone who’s living in the States, the increase in Houthi aggression in Yemen, the Hizballah rocket attacks on Israel.
So let’s leave aside all of that right now and just focus on the nuclear side of it. It is your position, right, that since January 20 – since this – the Biden administration took office, that Iran has become less compliant with the JCPOA, right? They have taken steps since January to bring themselves further out of compliance. That’s correct, right?
MR PRICE: What is correct is that since the last administration left —
QUESTION: No, no, no. I’m just talking about since January. Since you guys have been running the show —
MR PRICE: It’s a little nuanced, as is often the case in foreign policy, so if you’ll give me a second to explain, I will.
In 2018, the last administration left the JCPOA. In 2019 —
QUESTION: I’m well aware of that. (Inaudible.)
MR PRICE: In 2019, Iran began to distance itself from the limitations that were on its nuclear program. So —
QUESTION: And the previous administration took action, whether or not it was successful or not, but they imposed more and more sanctions on them, right? So since January, the Iranians have continued to distance themselves from the agreement, correct?
MR PRICE: Since January, the Iranians have continued to pursue the path that they have gone down since 2019, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Fair enough. But they’ve gotten – but it’s gotten worse. Their compliance has gotten worse, right? Or they are —
MR PRICE: They’ve continued to go down the path that has been —
QUESTION: And what has this —
MR PRICE: — that has been available to them since 2019.
QUESTION: Okay, okay. And so what have you guys done? What has this administration done since January to make it clear to Iran, other than getting up on the podium or – and condemning them, what actions has this administration done to show your disapproval or to punish them or to – however you want – whatever word you want to use? What have you done to make it clear to them that this is not acceptable?
MR PRICE: Matt, as you said yourself, Iran has been under heavy sanctions since 2018. Those sanctions – every single one of them remains in place. We have not removed —
QUESTION: Okay. So they’ve gotten worse, and you guys haven’t done anything. In fact, you’ve lifted some sanctions, correct?
MR PRICE: We have not lifted —
QUESTION: Ned, in New York, you guys went back on the snapback. You lifted the prohibitions, the travel restrictions on Iranian diplomats who were accredited to the UN. You’ve removed at least five – maybe not you, but Treasury has – at least five, maybe six or seven, Iranian individuals and entities from sanctions lists. But have you imposed any new costs on Iran since January?
MR PRICE: There is a strict and comprehensive sanctions regime that is in place against Iran. That will remain in place against Iran unless and until we reach a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.
QUESTION: Okay. But you guys have not added anything to the sanctions regime that was imposed by the last administration, correct?
MR PRICE: We absolutely have added sanctions against Iran.
QUESTION: You have?
MR PRICE: We’ve talked about them in the context of support for the Houthis in Yemen. We’ve talked about them in connection with Iran’s abuses of human rights. Absolutely, we continue to hold —
QUESTION: I just said leaving aside – my opening to my question was leaving aside the non-nuclear things, just on the nuclear front, what have you guys done in terms of the nuclear file to impose costs on Iran for their increasing noncompliance?
MR PRICE: First of all, the noncompliance, it’s a binary. Either they are in compliance with the JCPOA or they’re not. Since 2019, Iran has not been in compliance with the JCPOA. There was a pathway that, in our estimation, unfortunately, was put before them in 2018 that they have very regrettably chosen to pursue. It is true that they have continued to make advancements in their nuclear program. This is a concern for us. It is motivating the fact that we have been very clear that this is not a process that will be open indefinitely.
QUESTION: Oh, yeah. But you – as they are noncompliant, you haven’t done anything, other than to say that you’re still open to talks and – anyway, I’ll stop because I don’t think you can answer that.
MR PRICE: Please. I’m sorry, I told you I’d come back to you. Yes.
QUESTION: My turn?
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. Thank you, Ned. My name is Mesfin from TG Ethiopian Broadcasting. I have two question for you – two questions for you, please be patient. And Ned, this question – these questions are not only mine. They are also questions of millions and millions of (inaudible) around the globe.
Two weeks ago, when I got a chance to ask Jen Psaki a question at her White House press briefing, she responded, I quote, “I would point you to the State Department. I know my colleague, Ned Price, is briefing later this afternoon and giving you more details on what our work is.” Since this press briefing is a pooled press coverage, I was not able to come soon to ask you this question, and I’m glad I’m here today, Ned. And here is a question I asked Jen Psaki and I want you to answer it for me.
The United States and other countries have been supporting on into the fighting in the Tigray region. And as the first step, as you know, to end the fighting, the Government of Ethiopia declared a unilateral ceasefire and pulled out their troops from the Tigray region. The TPLF, the Tigray Liberation Front, rejected the ceasefire, calling it a “sick joke.” And the TPLF continues the war, especially by deploying child soldiers in this conflict, and if the war continues there are thousands and thousands of people who will die.
Ned, what is the Biden’s administration statement on TPLF’s refusal to accept the ceasefire and the use of children as soldiers? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Well, thank you for that question. There are a couple pieces there.
One, I want to be very clear on these allegations that the TPLF is recruiting child soldiers. We are very much concerned by these reports. We take these allegations very seriously. We reiterate our call for all parties to adhere strictly to international humanitarian law and for those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses to be held accountable.
When it comes to the broader conflict, we have made this point before, but, again, it bears repeating. We call on the TPLF, we call on the Amhara regional forces, we call on the Eritrean Defence Forces, on the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, and associated regional militias to end this crisis and to move towards a negotiated ceasefire. In our mind, this is what is most important: ending the conflict, moving toward that negotiated ceasefire, and providing the level of humanitarian access that the people in Tigray need, of which they are in dire need.
The Ethiopian Government and the TPLF need to begin ceasefire negotiations immediately and without preconditions. This should lead to a broader dialogue to find a durable political solution to this conflict.
We strongly condemn any attacks that have been or may be directed against civilians in the Tigray region regardless of the actor, whether it’s organized by military or security forces or rogue elements operating there. Those who commit such acts, as I said before, must be held accountable, and we call on all parties to condemn such acts and do everything in their power to stop them.
We’re particularly concerned by credible reports that armed forces affiliated with the TPLF and the Tigrayan militias have engaged in attacks against Eritrean refugees in the region. Such conduct is reprehensible. It must cease. It must come to an immediate halt. Those responsible, again, should be held responsible and accountable for their actions.
We’re equally concerned by reports of Ethiopian Security Force harassment and arbitrary detention of ethnic Tigrayans in regions of Ethiopia beyond Tigray, and security force harassment and detention on the basis of ethnicity is unacceptable. We call on all parties to cease such activities and to respect human rights and the rule of law.
We further call on all armed actors to comply with international humanitarian law, including the obligations regarding the protection of civilians. As we have consistently stated, any effort to change Ethiopia’s internal boundaries by force is unacceptable. Any issue of national importance is an issue for the Ethiopian people to decide through consensual dialogue and democratic processes, not through violence. And that is why we have put such a priority on this negotiated ceasefire. This is what we have continued to urge, urging the parties to come together immediately without preconditions just as we push for increased humanitarian access so that the long-suffering people of Tigray can be in receipt of that relief.
QUESTION: Okay. The TPLF refuses the ceasefire and the talks of the ceasefire, and it advanced its forces to Amhara and regional – Amhara and upper regions. So what do you say when the TPLF refuses the ceasefire? How can – there will be negotiation?
MR PRICE: Well, we have seen these reports of the expansion of the fighting. The expansion of the fighting in Tigray are concerning. The reports of the expansion of the fighting in Tigray are concerning. And it’s concerning because it will only lead to more suffering and to more death.
That is why we continue to say that all parties to the conflict should immediately agree to an end to the violence and to begin in earnest negotiations and political dialogue. Armed actors in Tigray and Amhara, those and the Government of Ethiopia need to reach an agreement that allows the ceasefire to include all parties and facilitate, as I said before, delivery of humanitarian access. The Government of Eritrea, for its part, must withdraw its forces consistent with commitments by both Ethiopia and Eritrea.
QUESTION: My final question is: During your press briefing, you often call TPLF’s forces military forces. As you know, TPLF is an opposition and armed resistance to the established Ethiopian Government, whether you like it or not, which makes – the TPLF is against the government, and it makes its rebel force.
As my – even though my English is second language, military is a name given to the armed forces of a country. So then why are you calling TPLF forces military whenever you give your press briefing? The military is for, as I said, is for – given for a country forces, not just for rebel forces. So can you explain —
MR PRICE: The point we have been making, and what in part makes this conflict so concerning, is the fact that a range of actors are engaged in violence and, in some cases, in these reported atrocities. There are military actors involved. There are irregular forces involved. There are militias involved. There are rogue actors involved.
Our – what we have been pushing for is for Ethiopian Government and the TPLF to begin the ceasefire negotiations immediately and without all preconditions, just as we call for all armed actors in this conflict – and unfortunately there are many – to cease the violence, to cease the killing, and to respect the international, legal obligations to which they’re subject.
Were you – have follow up on Ethiopia?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah. Going back to Power’s trip, did she get any concrete guarantees while in Ethiopia? Was there any commitment from the Ethiopian Government on humanitarian access to Tigray? And then while we’re on this, forces from Ethiopia’s Tigray region have taken control of the town on Lalibela, which is a UN World Heritage Site. Do you have any reaction to this? And do you have any comment on the responsibility, if any, of forces to protect the World Heritage Site?
MR PRICE: So on Ambassador Power’s trip, I suspect there will be additional details available later today. She also had a press conference in Addis prior to the conclusion of her trip. It was during that press conference that she spoke of her conversation with the minister of peace, and she called, as she said yet again, for a cessation of hostilities and unhindered humanitarian access. And she reiterated the United States’ care and concern for the people of Ethiopia, no matter their identity or affiliation. She, of course, also did announce a very substantial sum of aid.
One of the AID – USAID has – we’ve worked very closely with USAID on this issue of humanitarian access. It is an issue that Ambassador Power stressed. It’s an issue that Secretary Blinken has stressed directly in his conversations with Prime Minister Abiy. It’s an issue that the special envoy, Ambassador Feltman, has stressed as well. And we will continue to work that.
Remind me what your second question was?
MR PRICE: Right. When it comes to Lalibela, we recall that when the World Heritage Committee inscribed the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela to the World Heritage List, the committee described the whole of Lalibela as a testament to Ethiopia’s civilization and the medieval civilization that was there. Lalibela represents part of Ethiopia’s unique, diverse, and rich cultural heritage, and it’s something that should serve to unite all Ethiopians. We’ve seen the reports that Tigrayan forces have taken Lalibela. We call on the TPLF to protect this cultural heritage. We also call on all parties to the conflict to end the violence, as I said before, to initiate talks to achieve a negotiated ceasefire, and for the TPLF to withdraw its associated military forces immediately from the Amhara and Afar regions.
At the same time, we renew our calls for the Amhara regional government to withdraw immediately its associated military forces from western Tigray and for the Eritrean Government to withdraw its military forces permanently from Ethiopia. All parties, as we’ve said, should accelerate unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance to those affected by the conflict, and the commercial blockade of Tigray must come to an end.
QUESTION: One last follow-up on this. As you said, Administrator Power met the minister of peace. But she did not meet Prime Minister Abiy or other senior Ethiopian officials. Do you believe that she was snubbed in not having these meetings? And do you think, to Daphne’s question, that your point about humanitarian access is being heard within the Ethiopian Government?
MR PRICE: In terms of the meetings that Ambassador Power had, she was able, as we’ve said before, to meet with the minister of peace. She was able to take part in a very frank conversation with the minister about these issues. We seek to engage – and we have engaged – Ethiopia’s leadership at various levels – the minister of peace in the past – Secretary Blinken, Ambassador Feltman have had conversations with Prime Minister Abiy. We have been very clear with the prime minister about the need for this humanitarian access, about the need for this – for ceasefire talks to start, and for a negotiated ceasefire to be on the table as an immediate priority.
QUESTION: Wanting to ask about India and UN Security Council. India is the president of UN Security Council for the month of August. And the past three presidential administrations had supported publicly about India being a permanent member of UN Security Council. What is this administration’s position on that?
MR PRICE: Well, we value working with India at the United Nations, including in the context this month of the Security Council. We believe that a reformed Security Council that is representative, that is effective, and that is relevant is in the best interest of the United States and all of the UN member states. And we look forward to the opportunity to working very closely with India in the context of the Security Council in the coming weeks.
QUESTION: Does this administration think that India should be a permanent member of the UN Security Council?
MR PRICE: Well, we support building a consensus for modest enlargement of the Security Council for both permanent and non-permanent members, provided it does not diminish its effectiveness or its efficacy and does not alter or expand the veto.
QUESTION: What is modest expansion? Number three, four? What’s the number of that?
MR PRICE: Well, that’s the point of consensus. We look forward to building that consensus.
QUESTION: And secondly, in the past U.S. Government officials have said that India and U.S. don’t – are on the same page when it comes to voting on several crucial issues at the UN, at the United Nations. They had a lack of cooperation, coordination between the two countries in the past. Has it improved or what are – how is it right now?
MR PRICE: Well, as you heard during our visit to India just the other – last week, I guess it was – we have a number of shared values and shared interests with our Indian counterparts and our Indian partners. Indeed, we have a comprehensive strategic partnership with India that unites us on many levels that we are seeking to deepen and strengthen on many levels as well. And we are very much looking forward to working very closely with the Indian Government in the context of the UN and the Security Council this month.
QUESTION: I have one more, if I can.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: I just saw at Washington Post about the Hindu temple being vandalized in Pakistan. Have you seen that? Do you have any comment on it?
MR PRICE: I haven’t seen that report. I haven’t seen that report.
QUESTION: Real quick question – a couple questions on Israel. I don’t know if you talked about it at the top, but could you comment on the Israeli air raid on Marjayoun?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry, say that one more time?
QUESTION: Could you – I don’t know if you talked about it at the top. Have you talked about the Israeli air raid on Marjayoun? And do you see this as a dramatic escalation?
MR PRICE: Well, we did talk about this yesterday, and we noted yesterday that we condemn —
QUESTION: They fired the rocket, but what about the Israeli response?
MR PRICE: Well, it’s – they’re obviously very related. And we condemn the rocket attacks from armed groups based in Lebanon into Israel. We have made the point that Israel has the right to defend itself. We’ll continue to monitor the situation. We’ve remained very engaged with Israeli and with Lebanese officials and other partners in the region in an effort to de-escalate the situation.
QUESTION: Another question on Israel: Israeli media sources claim that Israeli diplomats are talking to you about coaxing the Palestinians into accepting a deal in Sheik Jarrah – the area in East Jerusalem that is so much in the news – that they would accept to live there as renters for a long period of time. Is that true? Could you share anything with us on this score?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, we don’t speak to any diplomatic or private conversations, but what I can say is that we believe that the proposal offered by the Israeli court on August 2nd is a matter for the Israeli and Palestinian parties to the case to consider and to decide for themselves. We’ve said this just this week and many times before that: families should not be evicted from their homes in which they have lived for decades. We have encouraged Israeli authorities to avoid evictions and other actions that exacerbate tensions and that undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution.
QUESTION: Has any American diplomat talked to any Palestinians in Sheik Jarrah about perhaps a compromise of some sort?
MR PRICE: Look, we’re not going to comment or comment on or confirm reports of diplomatic conversations. What we have said as it relates to this – we have both in public and in private encouraged Israeli authorities to avoid evictions and other actions that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance negotiated two-state solution.
QUESTION: On Guatemala, last week, you suspended cooperation with the public ministry over the suspension of the special prosecutor for corruption. This week, the Guatemalan attorney general appointed a new prosecutor who is said to be even – have corruption allegations of their own. I’m just wondering what your response is and whether or not you believe that the Guatemalan Government is heading in the wrong direction and if your seeking cooperation with them is not working.
MR PRICE: Well, on this, Attorney General Consuela Porras’ sudden appointment of Rafael Curruchiche to lead FECI does not add confidence in the body’s ability to independently investigate and prosecute corruption cases. Our position remains that it is essential for FECI – that it is essential FECI is able to function, and its prosecutors and analysts are empowered to continue to investigate cases to maintain the fight against corruption in Guatemala. Any politically motivated interruption of investigations has no place in an open and strong democratic system. We continue to encourage the Government of Guatemala to reject the use of spurious lawsuits as a way to silence opposition viewpoints or impede the Guatemalan judicial process. The Guatemalan people, as we have said time and again, deserve accountability and transparency from their leaders, and that’s what we’re seeking to support.
QUESTION: In the bigger picture, do you believe that the government is heading in the wrong direction in terms of trying to clean up this – these cases of corruption or, as you said, using lawsuits to attack political opponents?
MR PRICE: Well, the firing certainly was a step in the wrong direction. This latest move certainly does not inspire any additional confidence.
QUESTION: I’ve got one more.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: So there was supposed to be a second flight of Afghan SIVs that left yesterday from Kabul – should have arrived this morning. Can you confirm that that did arrive?
MR PRICE: There have been several flights that have arrived.
QUESTION: How many?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to give a precise number. But —
QUESTION: There have been two, as far as I know. The second one left yesterday. It should have arrived this morning. So is that – did it arrive?
MR PRICE: Again, we’re for security reasons, we’re not confirming precisely —
QUESTION: Yeah, but you confirmed – you confirmed the first one. Why not the second one?
MR PRICE: We’re not – we’re not confirming precisely when flights land. But —
QUESTION: Well, but did it get here or not? I’m not asking you precisely when it landed. Did they get here?
MR PRICE: Matt, we just don’t have any additional details to offer on that.
QUESTION: On —
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Ned, what do you say to those millions of Ethiopians who believe now the United States is supporting TPLF?
MR PRICE: We have been very clear that we are supporting and we are standing with the people of Ethiopia. In the case of Tigray, we are doing all that we can to support the people of Tigray who have suffered tremendously from this conflict. We’re doing that in a number of ways: through the provision of aid, our calls for expanded humanitarian access – but on a political and diplomatic level – to bring the parties together, the Ethiopian Government and the TPLF, to arrive at a negotiated ceasefire, just as we call an all of the armed actors in this conflict to halt the violence, to cease some of these atrocious attacks that, in some cases, reportedly have resulted in very grim civilian deaths. We are working urgently on this. Our priority, again, is to bring about peace and security for the people of Tigray in the form of a negotiated ceasefire to this conflict.
Thank you very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:20 p.m.)