2:14 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone.
This morning, Secretary Blinken, Administrator Power, and White House Gender Policy Council Director Klein announced the release of the updated 2022 United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally. The updated strategy will direct an inclusive, locally led, and survivor-centered approach to prevent and respond to gender‑based violence through U.S. foreign policy and assistance.
A few key elements in the updated strategy are the intersectional and inclusive approaches to gender-based violence; the reinforcement of our commitment to doing this work in a survivor-centered, trauma-informed manner; and the integration of gender-based violence prevention and response as a strategic priority across our foreign policy goals.
We are grateful for the investment of time of over 450 individuals across 200 organizations who share their expertise to ensure this updated strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence is comprehensive and cemented in our U.S. foreign policy.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Great. Thanks, Ned. Happy Monday.
MR PRICE: Happy Monday.
QUESTION: I just want to see if we can get you on the record on updates, if there are any, on the two American citizens. The first, obviously, is Brittney Griner, and if there’s anything you can add to what we know or what we heard from – over the weekend, at least from the U.S. Government point of view. And then second is on Grant Wahl.
MR PRICE: Sure. Let me start with the second. I think many of you know that we have been engaged on the passing of Grant Wahl since we first learned of it on Friday evening. Our ambassador in Doha, Timmy Davis, has been in close and nearly constant contact with the family of Grant Wahl. Ambassador Davis has been in, in turn, close and regular contact with senior officials from the department.
We worked nearly around the clock – I should say our embassy worked nearly around the clock to help the family see to it that their wishes were fulfilled. And this morning, we did confirm that Grant Wahl’s remains and his belongings were repatriated to the United States’ just as an embassy officer had accompanied Grant’s remains in Doha, an officer – an embassy consular officer – accompanied his remains and his belongings on the flight back to the United States. At this point we will defer to the family to speak to the next steps. I know that they have spoken publicly to their wishes, and of course, we worked very closely with the family over the past 48 hours to help fulfill those wishes.
When it comes to Brittney Griner, we’re not going to be in a position to offer much in the way of updates going forward. You heard from Ambassador Carstens and Brittney Griner’s representatives that she is indeed at Fort Sam Houston at the Joint Army Medical Center. It is both not for us to speak to updates from here out, but in a way, we’re not in a position to do so. The broader point is that the course of treatment that any returnee undergoes at Fort Sam Houston or elsewhere, it is not a preset prescribed set of steps. It is a conversation that experts will have with Brittney, with Cherelle, with other members and interested parties to determine what’s in her best interests. And so whether that course of treatment lasts days or longer, that is not a question for us. That is up to Brittney Griner and to her, I’m sure, loved ones.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, as it relates then to further American detainee – wrongful detainees overseas, are there any updates at all on those?
MR PRICE: Matt, our update, of course, is that we continue to work these cases day‑in, day‑out, around the clock. As you know, we often don’t give status updates. It tends to be that our only update is when we have welcome news of a return. That’s what you heard late last week, last Thursday from us in the context of Brittney Griner. It’s what you’ve heard from us a number of times over the course of this administration. So I’m not in a position to offer updates into the status – the particular status of other cases other than to note that we are regularly engaging with the families and loved ones of those Americans who are wrongfully detained around the world. We are regularly engaging with governments and representatives of countries that hold Americans in wrongful detention to do everything we can to see their release as soon a we can.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that, then?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: So President Biden said this, and you guys have said this as well, that Russia is unfortunately treating Paul Whelan differently. So I understand you wouldn’t speak to like what you guys do on this on a daily basis. But what are you guys going to do differently? What is the U.S. Government going to do differently to secure his release?
MR PRICE: Well, look, we have made very clear our commitment to do everything we possibly can to see the release of wrongfully detained Americans released. And of course Paul Whelan does remain wrongfully detained in Russia. As in all cases, unfortunately, the other side gets a vote. The other side gets a veto. The other side has used that veto, unfortunately, when it comes to Paul Whelan.
They were – the Russians have to date not been willing to negotiate seriously or constructively on Paul Whelan’s release because they have and had always treated him differently than Brittney Griner and other wrongful detainees because they do have the sham espionage charges attached to his case. Nevertheless, we are committed. We are going to be creative. We are going to be relentless in working with Paul Whelan’s family, his loved ones, and in turn with the Russians to do everything we can to see this case resolved as soon as we can.
A couple points. We have now demonstrated on two separate occasions that we have an appropriate channel with the Russian Government that has repeatedly proved its utility. This is a channel that has been in existence since the two presidents met in Geneva in June of 2021. Of course, a lot has changed in the world and certainly in our bilateral relationship since then. But something that has not changed is the viability of this channel. And in fact, we’ve been able to demonstrate its effectiveness.
So we are going to continue to engage in a principled, consistent way with the appropriate Russian authorities to secure Paul’s release. When Trevor Reed came home in April, we wished at the time for nothing more than that Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan could have been on that plane. When Brittney Griner came home late last week, we wished for nothing more at the time than that Paul Whelan could have been on that plane. We are determined that a plane will be dispatched to Russia before long to bring Paul Whelan home. It’s a commitment we’ve made to his family. It’s a commitment we’ve made to Paul.
Roger Carstens has spoken to Paul Whelan; other senior officials in the government have spoken to Paul Whelan in the past couple days. Our message to Paul, our message to every American who is wrongfully detained is: Hang tight. Keep the faith. We’ll come to get you.
QUESTION: Right. When you say Russians have not been willing to negotiate seriously on Paul Whelan, are we talking about a specific proposal that the United States Government has made regarding Paul Whelan since last Thursday that they haven’t entertained yet?
MR PRICE: So I’m not going to go –
QUESTION: Or are we talking about like general?
MR PRICE: I’m not going to go into the specific timeline. What I can say is that we have made very one – well, one very famous proposal to the Russians, and I say “famous” because Secretary Blinken announced it from this podium in July. It was clear that the Russians were not going to move seriously or constructively on that particular proposal. So in the months, in the intervening months between July and last week, we have been in regular dialogue with the Russians to put forward alternatives, permutations, ideas, that could have resulted in the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.
Secretary Blinken was very clear when he spoke of the substantial proposal, the initial substantial proposal that we put forward in July, that the proposal was for both Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner. It was made clear to us over the course of those intervening months that the Russians were at that point not in a position to negotiate seriously or constructively for Paul Whelan. But we’re going to keep at it.
QUESTION: Last one on that one: since last Thursday this channel that you guys have established with the Russians, has there been any communication through that channel with the Russians about Paul Whelan or Marc Fogel or anyone else?
MR PRICE: I am just not going to go into the specifics. And this was the same posture we took before Brittney Griner was released; it was the same posture we took before Trevor Reed was released in April. We don’t do a play-by-play of our diplomacy and our negotiations, but I can assure you that we are committed to doing everything we can to see Paul Whelan returned to his loved ones.
QUESTION: Recognizing you don’t do a play-by-play, I just want to make sure I – to get you to clarify your comment from a little while ago when you said, a plane will be dispatched to Russia to get Paul Whelan.
MR PRICE: I was – thank you – thank you, Matt. Thank you, Matt. I was – yes.
QUESTION: Since neither of the previous two releases have involved sending a plane to Russia —
MR PRICE: Yes. Thank you.
QUESTION: – that’s – you didn’t mean that, did you? You meant that —
MR PRICE: I do not expect – I do not expect that we would be dispatching a plane from the United States to Russia. There are obviously ways to effect repatriations with —
QUESTION: Yeah. No, I understand. But, I mean, when you say something like that, it can – it can give people the idea that things are advanced enough that you’re talking about actually sending a plane directly into Russia.
MR PRICE: Thank you for the opportunity to clarify.
QUESTION: May I ask a question differently?
MR PRICE: Anything else on this before we —
QUESTION: Just one more quick question on this.
MR PRICE: Then Alex, and then I’ll go to —
QUESTION: Russian deputy foreign minister claims that U.S. is not being constructive in Istanbul talks. Is there anything specific at Istanbul talks that we need to know about? I notice that he’s using present tense. Is there an ongoing dialogue?
MR PRICE: We did confirm that last week a senior official from the department did meet with the Russian counterparts in Turkey to discuss bilateral issues between the United States and the Russian Federation. We were very clear; in fact, we were probably clearer about what was not on the table than what was on the table. This was not about strategic stability. This was not about Ukraine, of course. This was not about wrongfully detained American citizens., This was about a pretty narrow set of bilateral issues – bilateral irritants, you might call them, including staffing levels at our embassies, for example.
So we’re not going to go into details, but we believe it’s important to have lines of communication with the Russian Federation in times of tension but especially in times of – in times of conflict. That’s what this is about. We have multiple avenues to communicate with the Russians. We’ve already talked about two of them in the course of this briefing. We’re determined to do everything we can to maintain that dialogue and to pursue our interests.
QUESTION: Talked about a single meeting in Istanbul, or there’s an ongoing —
MR PRICE: The – our senior official has returned to Washington.
QUESTION: And just – I’m just – has the U.S. been explicit with Russia about there being a cost or consequence if Viktor Bout does go ahead and provide support, physical or logistical, in any way to the ongoing war in Ukraine? I ask because over the weekend he said that he wholeheartedly supports the war and he would volunteer if he could.
MR PRICE: I’m not going to weigh in on those comments. The only thing I will say, Kylie, is that we’ve been clear in any different contexts, any number of contexts, including with the Russians, that we have a number of tools at our disposal to counter the range of threats and challenges that the Russian Federation poses, that Russian individuals might potentially pose, or that individuals in Russia might pose to the United States. We won’t hesitate to use tools as appropriate to go after anyone who poses a threat to the United States or our interests.
QUESTION: So keeping him from providing support to the Ukraine war wasn’t any sort of pre-negotiated part of this prisoner swap?
MR PRICE: I’m just not going to go into the specific talks other than to say what is well known by now, that ultimately we arrived at a formulation that saw a swap involving the release of Brittney Griner in return for the release of Viktor Bout.
Anything else on this before we move on? Sure.
QUESTION: A quick question. So there was a report on Friday that Russia wanted to see Vadim Krasikov released in Germany in exchange for Whelan. Can you confirm it? And if yes, if the U.S. tried to work with German partners on this, are ready to continue working on the issue?
MR PRICE: The only thing I can confirm is what you said, that there was such a report. I’m not in a position to speak to the veracity of that specific report. What I will say is that we’re going to leave the mechanics of that dialogue and diplomacy to the appropriate channel. But I’ll reiterate what I’ve said, that the Russians have not yet been in a position to negotiate constructively or seriously regarding Paul Whelan because they have consistently treated him differently than other American wrongful detainees, including Trevor Reed, most recently including Brittney Griner. That is not going to deter us in any way whatsoever. We are going to be committed, we are going to be creative, and we’re going to be relentless in our efforts to see Paul Whelan released.
Anything else on Russia-Ukraine? Okay, Nazira.
QUESTION: Thank you. Two question, Ned. One about two days attack in Kabul, and number two about there’s a former President Karzai meeting with Tom West. Any update? Because Afghan people should know that United States know are involved about the president, former President Karzai have Tom West meeting.
MR PRICE: So first on the attack today in Kabul. We’ve seen these reports, the reports of violence, reports potentially of deaths and casualties. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the use of violence against innocent civilians. The Afghan people have been subjected to levels of violence for – that are far too high for far too long, and we condemn unequivocally what has happened today.
Obviously, these reports are fresh out of Kabul. The attack appears to bear some of the hallmarks of ISIS-K, some of the brutal tactics that this especially brutal group has used to perpetrate attacks against the people of Afghanistan. We continue to call on the Taliban to live up to the commitments that they have made to the international community, to the United States bilaterally in some cases, but most importantly to the commitments that they have to their own people. And one of those commitments is to provide a society that is free from this sort of terrorist violence. So we’ll continue to watch very closely and we continue to stand with the Afghan people who are suffering needlessly as a result of these levels of terrorist violence.
To your second question, Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West was on travel last week. He traveled to Japan, he traveled to India, he traveled to the UAE to meet with government counterparts, media and civil society, business leaders, and other communities and – communities and individuals with ties to Afghanistan.
In Dubai and Abu Dhabi when he was in the UAE, Tom West met with Afghan business leaders to discuss the need for improved financial and monetary policies to benefit the Afghan people and with political leaders. And that includes, as you referenced, Hamid Karzai and former Balkh Governor Atta.
In Indonesia – and I should mention that Rina Amiri was also on travel last week as well. Rina Amiri was in Indonesia, Switzerland, and Turkey, where she met with Afghan women and civil society leaders to hear their perspectives and to amplify the plea of the Afghan people for the Taliban to respect the rights of women, girls, and other at-risk communities, and to initiate an inclusive national dialogue. We do welcome the Taliban’s decision to allow former President Karzai to travel to the UAE. We saw that as a positive step. We want to engage with representatives of the Afghan people and a broad range of representatives of the Afghan people.
In all of their commitments, Tom West and Rina Amiri have urged the international community to return – excuse me, to continue to advocate for the return of girls to secondary school and women to work. We know that is absolutely indispensable to Afghanistan’s security, to its stability, and to its prosperity as well.
QUESTION: Who pick for Hamid Karzai in Saudi? United States is involved about that, or just Taliban pick Hamid Karzai as a key member to go and make a negotiation here?
MR PRICE: We meet with a range of Afghan stakeholders, with a range of voices. It was not only Hamid Karzai that Tom West met with, but he met with another representative of the Afghan people while he was there. This is something that he does regularly, that Rina Amiri does regularly, that others here do regularly as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Jalil Afridi from The Frontier Post. I’m here after two years because State Department hadn’t renewed foreign journalist credentials.
MR PRICE: Welcome back.
QUESTION: But I was regularly here since Mr. Kirby was here, and it’s very good to see you. I’ve been hearing it online.
So my first question is that just with regard to Afghanistan and inter-relating it to my professional visa, so State Department took two years for decades-old journalist to renew their credential. Are you still satisfied that the State Department did a good job with the thousand of Afghans that came here? Do you still believe that their vetting process was done well?
And because Peter had had this question in the White House as well, about Homeland Security publishing a report that these – the vetting process was not done well, and although the poor man had denied and rejected that report that it was not fact. But are you guys still satisfied that the vetting process was done well? And is this administration going to take the responsibility if those who came in those two years do something, God forbid, in future? Will this administration take the responsibility?
MR PRICE: Well, let me just put a finer point on one part of your question. This is a process that is ongoing. Our commitment to the people of Afghanistan does not have an expiration date attached to it. You may be referring to the 120-plus, 124,000 individuals whom the United States Government helped to evacuate from Afghanistan during the process of the military withdrawal. That is one finite set of individuals. But our commitment to American citizens, to lawful permanent residents, and more to your question to Afghans who have partnered with us over the course of the past – over the course of the preceding 20 years, that commitment is ongoing.
And in fact, since September 1st of 2021, now for some 15 or so months, we have continued to make good on that commitment by facilitating the departure from Afghanistan of those American citizens, those lawful permanent residents, those partners of ours over the course of that 20-year military engagement, who have chosen to leave. And of course, our first priority is to Americans, to LPRs, and to their immediate family members. But thousands of Afghans have been transited out of Afghanistan under the auspices of the U.S. Government since September 1st of last year when that formal evacuation process came to an end, and that will continue to happen going forward.
As part of that process for our Afghan partners, whether it is the processing of those who were welcome here under Operation Allies Rescue, under Operation Allies Welcome as it subsequently became known, or as part of the SIV processing – again, to your question, there is an extensive vetting process. It is a process that involves not only this building; it involves our Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Intelligence Community more broadly, pulling upon every available source of information to make sure that someone is appropriate for resettlement here in the United States.
This is a process that has been honed over the course of many, many years now, and because of the inclusive, comprehensive nature of the vetting process it is not always a quick process. We attempt to see it completed just as quickly as possible, but it is a thorough process in which we have confidence and the American people should have confidence.
QUESTION: Just one more question, although I do have contradiction about this, because State Department officials and Pakistani officials off the record have said that they have doubts about the vetting process, but just moving onto one more question.
You guys, the State Department and the White House, has any collaboration with each other with regard to – because as you know, Secretary Blinken and Joe Biden, President Joe Biden, are two individuals that even their opponents agree on their foreign policy strength, that there is – this is one of their strengths. How about the media? Do you – and there’s a White House press, Ms. Karine. Do you guys have any, like, sharing of information about international journalists and how to promote the U.S. policy abroad, or these things are not discussed between you two?
MR PRICE: Could you clarify your question? Do you mean —
QUESTION: Basically what I’m saying – does the State Department informs the White House press secretary about the foreign journalists working in Washington, D.C., and to engage them or to at least when they come to press conferences – just to give a small example, like, for example, if Matt was in Pakistan presidency for three months, going to press briefing and not getting an opportunity to ask a question.
MR PRICE: I see.
QUESTION: Would that look any awkward? Like, does Ms. Karine – do you, like, discuss at all with them? Because, I mean, I’m just coming to Pakistan, to be honest with you. Question is, like, in last few months, the way Mr. Donald Lu has become popular in Pakistan – I mean, even president has become that popular. So, like, do you tell Karine that if a Pakistani journalist is there, at least give them an opportunity to ask a question?
MR PRICE: I understand. We have a regular discussion and dialogue with our White House counterparts. They of course know the indispensability of foreign journalists to our broader foreign policy mission. Of course, there are foreign journalists in this room every day, there are foreign journalists in the White House press briefing room every day, and I know how much our White House colleagues value the White House’s own foreign correspondents’ association and how valuable, in turn, having that association is, because our messages need to be understood and digested not only in this country but around the world. And in order to do that, I understand – I know my colleague at the White House understands as well – that we need to be able to speak to people like you, people who are disseminating these messages well beyond our national borders.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
QUESTION: Hi, Ned. I would like to move on to the U.S.-Africa summit – actually, to the margins of that summit. There are many leaders invited, including the ones from Rwanda and the DRC – this against a backdrop of renewed fighting in the eastern Congo and pressure on Rwanda and its support of the – presumably support of the M23 rebels. I was just wondering if the Secretary would seize the opportunity that he has here with the two leaders being here – or going to be here – to maybe get them together, broker some sort of discussion, and – because the – obviously the opportunity is right in front of him.
MR PRICE: Yeah, there are a number of opportunities that the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit will present in the coming days. Some of them have to do with peace and security on the continent. That, of course, will be a topic of discussion in many different fora over the next few days. As you know, this is a conflict and a set of tensions that Secretary Blinken has become personally invested in – traveled to Rwanda and the DRC in August as tensions were flaring in an effort to engage the leaders of both countries, to urge a de-escalation and to urge steps that would put an end to these hostilities.
He’s continued to be personally engaged with counterparts in both countries, this week, of course, and we’ve continued to see levels of violence that are of concern. We remain deeply concerned by developments in the eastern DRC, particularly the renewed M23/FARDC hostilities. These hostilities really resumed in earnest in October and they’ve continued since. We’ve been deeply troubled by reports of killings of civilian areas under M23 control.
We – just as we did when we were in the region, as we’ve done since that travel, we’ve urged all armed groups to cease hostilities. We’ve called for a swift and thorough investigation of and accountability for those responsible for these reports of atrocities. And we support the African‑led mediation efforts to address the regional tensions in eastern DRC. The East African Community, Kenya, Angola have played an important role in all of this. We spoke to that role when we were in the region in the late summer, but all three have continued to engage with Rwanda and the DRC.
We urge implementation of the commitments that came forward after the November meeting in Luanda. There was a communique that was put forward following that meeting. Those commitments include a cessation of hostilities, the M23’s withdrawal, and an end to state sponsor to armed groups, as well as condemnation of hate speech and the resumption of consultations between the DRC Government and domestic armed groups through that Nairobi process. So we continue to urge the DRC and Rwanda to work with one another, to work constructively with their neighbors, namely Kenya, Angola, and through the East African Community, to fulfill those commitments that were put forward.
QUESTION: But there will be no three-way meeting or anything like that (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak at this point to any meetings that may be on the schedule, but I can assure you that tensions in the eastern DRC will be on the agenda.
QUESTION: Can we stay on the Africa summit?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: I’m wondering if Secretary Blinken in his meetings will raise any concerns about Chinese lending and investment in the region, and if yes, what will be the message, basically.
MR PRICE: Humeyra, you’ve traveled with us and heard us long enough to know that we tend not to speak in relation to any other country. We tend to have conversations with countries that are about the United States and what we can do, and, in some cases, what our comparative advantage is. In the Africa strategy speech that the Secretary laid out to the continent and to the world when we were in South Africa several months ago, the Secretary made the point that the United States is ready, willing, and able to be the partner of first resort for the countries across the continent.
We recognize the vibrancy, the energy, the opportunity that is presented on the continent, and that’s not opportunity for us; it is opportunity for the countries of Africa to achieve with us. And that is really what we mean when we say partnership. We are not looking for a relationship that is transactional, that’s extractive, that is burdensome, or leaves country in a – leaves various countries in a more fragile, poorer state after a deal is signed.
QUESTION: Is that a characterization for how you guys see Chinese investment in the region?
MR PRICE: It is a characterization of what we’re not looking for. What we’re looking for is true, genuine partnership with the countries of Africa, a partnership that will allow us to unlock the potential, whether it’s through trade and investment, whether it’s through people-to-people ties, whether it’s through deepening diplomatic initiatives to advance our interests and the interests of the countries on the continent.
QUESTION: Yeah, but it’s no doubt that China has expanded its footprint in that – across that continent. So, I mean, let me ask it differently: Is this like a – I mean, do you see this as an opportunity for the U.S. to deepen its ties with the countries there?
MR PRICE: Of course. Of course. This is – this is what the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit is all about. At the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in 2014, we invited heads of state and government to come to Washington to begin this conversation as a continent. Now some eight years later, this is another important opportunity for Africa to come to the United States as a continent to discuss areas where individual countries bilaterally, groupings of countries multilaterally, or the continent itself, whether through the AU or other ad hoc groupings, can work closely with the United States.
We want to use the summit to deepen that partnership. We think we’ve made good headway over the course of the past few years during this administration, but there’s nothing like face-to-face diplomacy; there’s nothing like having the relevant leaders from across the continent in the United States for these discussions.
QUESTION: Can I —
MR PRICE: Yes, Janne.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can I follow up Chinese issues there? Chinese’s President Xi Jinping declared that crude oil purchase will be made in the Chinese money, yuan. What is the U.S. position of the hegemonic competition with the dollar as China declared internationalization of the yuan?
MR PRICE: What was – sorry, what was the last part of your question, Janne?
QUESTION: What is the U.S. position on the hegemonic competition with the dollar as China declared the internationalization of the yuan, the Chinese money?
MR PRICE: Well, it is just a fact that business transactions around the world oftentimes are denominated in U.S. dollars. I wouldn’t necessarily call that hegemonic. I would call that a consequence of time and convenience and history.
I think the underlying point of your question is something that we can offer a bit more on because you seem to be referencing Chinese purchases of Russian oil, if I – if I heard correctly. We’ve worked with countries around the world, of course, to do what we can to hold Russia to account for the brutal war of aggression that it’s waging against the people and the country of Ukraine. As part of that, we have sought to limit the revenue-making ability of the Kremlin. We’ve put in place a number of steps, including on December 5th, a week ago now, putting into place the price cap on the export of seaborne Russian oil.
We do not think that countries should be deepening their economic ties with Russia at a time of its brutal aggression against the people of Ukraine. We’ve put in place this oil cap so that global energy markets continue – can continue to be stable, can continue to be supplied without providing the Russian Federation the revenue that it would otherwise accrue and in turn use for its brutal war of aggression against Ukraine.
Now, a number of countries have agreed to comply with this oil cap, but even for countries that are not formally part of the oil cap, the cap has the effect of depressing the price of Russian oil. Even before it went into effect, the price of Russian oil was reduced as a result of the promise of the oil cap. Markets, of course, are forward-looking. As soon as the oil cap – plans to institute it were announced, that had implications on the price of Russian oil.
So whether countries are formally part of the price cap or not, we encourage them to take advantage of the implications of the price cap when it comes to the price of Russian oil, which in turn will deprive the Russians of revenue they would otherwise accrue from those sales.
QUESTION: One more question now, and just turn to Secretary for East Asia and Indo-Pacific Kritenbrink visited China and South Korea and Japan. How would you describe your background over these three countries at this time? And during this visit to South Korea, will you discuss South Korea electric vehicles? Electric vehicles.
MR PRICE: Electric vehicles.
QUESTION: Yes, IRAs.
MR PRICE: So we did announce last week that Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink accompanied by the Senior Director for China and Taiwan Laura Rosenberger and our Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for China and Taiwan – excuse me, Deputy Assistant Secretary for China and Taiwan Rick Waters did travel to – would travel to the PRC.
They met with PRC Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng in Langfang on December 11th and 12th. They went there for a number of reasons, in part to follow up on the two presidents’ – the conversation the two presidents had in Bali in November, but they also discussed preparations for Secretary Blinken’s own travel to the PRC early next year.
The talks were candid. They were substantive. Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink and Senior Director Rosenberger made clear that the United States would continue to compete vigorously, stand up for U.S. interests and values, defend the rules-based international order, and coordinate closely with allies and partners. Those are the points that we make in all of our engagements with senior PRC officials.
They also emphasized the importance we place on bringing home U.S. citizens who are wrongfully detained or who may be subject to exit bans, noting that it’s a personal priority for the President, for the Secretary of State as well.
They exchanged views on key regional and global issues, including Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and the threat to regional security and stability that the DPRK poses as well.
They also explored potential avenues for cooperation where our interests do intersect. That includes on challenges such as climate change, health security, global macroeconomic stability, and global food security as well.
After the meetings in China, the Assistant Secretary and Senior Director Rosenberger, they traveled to Seoul and Tokyo for consultations on a range of regional and bilateral issues. They were there from December 12th through the 14th.
QUESTION: Last one. Last one, excuse me. Why doesn’t the United States impose sanctions on China and Russian individual entities to help North Korea?
MR PRICE: Why —
QUESTION: Why China and Russia is not sanctioned? I mean additional sanctions regarding —
MR PRICE: Well, Janne, we’re always looking for individuals who would be appropriate to sanction under our various authorities, including those authorities that are targeted at the DPRK’s ballistic missile program, its nuclear weapons program, its WMD program more broadly. If there are individuals who are appropriate for the use of sanctions, we won’t hesitate to do that. We are – we have made very clear that we will continue to hold the DPRK to account for its threat to stability and security in Northeast Asia and potentially well beyond.
QUESTION: Thank you. To follow up Secretary Blinken’s visit to China, logistically could you explain why the meetings in Langfang instead of Beijing?
MR PRICE: I would need to refer to you to PRC authorities for that.
QUESTION: And regarding the talks, have they talked the recent arm sales to Taiwan?
MR PRICE: Did they discuss recent arms sales to Taiwan?
MR PRICE: Beyond the readout that I just provided, I’m not in a position to go beyond that. But in every senior-level engagement with the PRC, we make very clear that we continue to uphold, to respect our “one-China” policy and the elements that undergird it, as we continue to fulfill the requirements that are put forward in the Taiwan Relations Act.
QUESTION: And when you talk about Secretary Blinken’s visit to China early next year, are we talking about January or February?
MR PRICE: At this point, we’re just in a position to say early next year. I think we’re at the preliminary stages of scheduling the visit, so I wouldn’t want to get ahead of where we are.
QUESTION: And will the COVID outbreak in China have any impact on this trip planned to China?
MR PRICE: Again, we are planning this. We are at the early stages of planning this with the assistant secretary’s travel and Laura Rosenberger’s travel. We’ve had face-to-face discussions regarding this, but we do look forward to the opportunity to continue the face-to-face conversation that President Biden had with President Xi in Bali last month when Secretary Blinken does travel to China early next year.
QUESTION: Which kind of interactions between this building and China will take place before Secretary Blinken’s visit?
MR PRICE: There is always a range of preparatory discussions before any senior-level travel anywhere. I would hazard to guess that those discussions may be even more intensive in the run-up to Secretary Blinken’s travel to the PRC because this will be the first senior-level travel during this administration to the PRC and one of the first senior-level interlocutors to travel to Beijing since the outbreak of COVID in early 2020.
So there is a lot of preparations to do. We’re in the early stages of that. And as soon as we have more to announce regarding the details of the travel, we will.
QUESTION: Regarding COP15, I wonder if 30 by 30 – does the administration consider that a floor or a target that is ambitious? Can – is there more we can do?
MR PRICE: Well, we are —
QUESTION: And I have another question.
MR PRICE: We are always looking at what more we can potentially do when it comes to COP15. Of course, it does present an opportunity to advance international efforts to save nature, to reverse and potentially even restore unprecedented global loss of biodiversity, and to protect nature for generations to come. We look at COP15 as the potential to be a turning point when it comes to these important issues.
I think you were on the call this morning when our Special Envoy and Assistant Secretary Monica Medina discussed her upcoming travel to COP15 and the goals we have for that. Not only do we set a high standard for ourselves, but we believe that by demonstrating our own ambition when it comes to these issues – climate, biological diversity – we in turn can be a catalyst for other countries to do the same.
And we hope COP15 is an opportunity for countries to come with ambitious targets and commitments in hand, and potentially even to leave COP15 with even more ambitious commitments in hand. But we’ll have more to say about all of this as it gets underway.
QUESTION: As a follow-up, is there any chance that some of the biodiversity ambitions that we have could get into talks with, say, China or – as an area where we have – could have agreement?
MR PRICE: Climate, shared transnational challenges like this, are absolutely areas where our interests intersect. You heard from us for – you’ve heard from us consistently that when the United States and the PRC aren’t able to cooperate effectively or even discuss effectively these transnational challenges, it doesn’t just hold the United States back, it doesn’t just hold China back, but it presents a challenge to the entire international community.
Countries around the world expect the United States and China to work constructively to see where we can potentially cooperate when it comes to these transnational climates like biodiversity, like climate, like global health, like the threat from narcotics and cooperation when it comes to counter-narcotics. That is something that we are determined to do. One of the reasons President Biden thought it so important to meet with President Xi in Bali, to now have a number of conversations with President Xi during the course of this administration, is to explore, is to test the proposition that we can deepen cooperation with the PRC in areas that are in our mutual interests. And it’s undeniable that this is one of them.
QUESTION: Thank you. The Palestinian issue. A human rights group called on the State Department to invoke the Leahy Law on a battalion called Netzah Yehuda. It’s a notorious battalion. They’re the one in whose custody last year an American citizen died, Omar Assad. I wonder if you have any comment on that. And would, actually, the department recommend such a —
MR PRICE: Well, Said, consistent with the Leahy Law, which by the way is just an important legacy, one of the many important legacies, of Senator Leahy, something that I think rightly carries —
QUESTION: Oh, yeah.
MR PRICE: Of course.
QUESTION: Of course.
MR PRICE: Of course. But just to herald him and to herald it, it is something we take very seriously. All security force units that are nominated to receive assistance from the department, including training, are vetted according to the Leahy Law. And we manage our security relationships around the world in the context of human rights and the rule of law and in accordance with U.S. legislation, including in this case with the Leahy vetting laws. We’ll not waver from supporting efforts aimed at promoting respect for human rights or the rule of law, for accountability, for justice, for reconciliation as well.
QUESTION: Speaking of Omar Assad, it’s been 11 months today, as a matter of fact. Are you anywhere near knowing what really happened?
MR PRICE: Well, of course Omar Assad was an American citizen. Our thoughts continue to be with his family, with his loved ones now nearly a year after his death. We’ve stated this multiple times now. But we were and are extremely concerned about the circumstances surrounding his death, and we urge the swift conclusion into the ongoing criminal investigation. We do note the statement on the report of the IDF commander’s inquiry into the cause and its findings, including the determination that, quote, “the incident showed a clear lapse of moral judgment,” and a failure to protect, quote, “the sanctity of any human life,” and as well as the – and we also note that disciplinary action is being taken against three commanders of the unit involved in the incident, the unit at the heart of your question.
QUESTION: And one last question. Today a young Palestinian girl, 16 years old, was shot and killed on the roof of her house by another notorious group. They’re the ones – they’re called Mista’arvim. They dress like local Arabs and so on, and they go about hunting the Palestinians. I wonder if you have any comment on this. Should there be an investigation into this thing? Should people that have committed this crime be held accountable?
MR PRICE: Well, similarly, Said, we do express our profound condolences to the family of Jana Zakarneh, the young teenage girl who was killed. This – it is a tragic incident. It’s a heartbreaking incident any time you hear of a civilian being killed in these types of operations. We understand the IDF is undertaking an investigation into what happened. We hope to see accountability in this case. I did note that outgoing Prime Minister Lapid did offer his condolences to the family of Jana Zakarneh, and we note that that her tragic death comes in the context of the escalating violence in the West Bank that we’ve noted and lamented for some time now.
It is this alarming increase in Palestinian and Israeli deaths and injuries, including injuries to numerous children and now the death of a young Palestinian teenager – we reiterate the need for all parties to take steps to de-escalate the situation. It’s vital that the parties themselves take urgent action to prevent even greater loss of life.
QUESTION: I have a question about the president of Turkey. I’m sure you may know that he threatened, again, Greek – people in Greece. He said that his missiles will attack Athens. And I wanted to know if you have any comment since this is the worst threat ever coming from Erdoğan against Greece.
MR PRICE: Well, look, we regret this escalation of provocative statements. It is especially regrettable at a time when unity and cooperation is needed most among our own NATO Allies. We urge all of our allies to avoid threats and provocative rhetoric. All that an escalation of rhetoric will do is to is to raise tensions and to distract us from the unity of purpose, the unity of purpose that we need to confront any number of challenges, not the least of which, of course, is the threat that the Alliance potentially faces from Russia, and of course the ongoing active threat that the people of Ukraine face from Russian aggression.
MR PRICE: Well, we’re closely monitoring developments in this case. We’re closely monitoring the developments of the corruption investigation into current and former EU officials. We’ll continue to watch how this unfolds. But for comment, we’d need to refer you to Belgium and to the EU as well.
QUESTION: Yeah, so you obviously spoke about the death of Grant Wahl earlier and his remains being returned to the U.S. But what about the circumstances surrounding his death? I mean, his brother said that he had been receiving death threats. His brother also said he didn’t believe he died from bronchitis and that he’s – his quote was “legitimately suspicious” about what may have happened. And his brother also said that there were NYC police in Qatar looking into the situation. So I guess do you – can you speak to what the U.S. is doing to look into the situation, how they’ll hold Qatar accountable for being transparent and letting everybody know what happened there? And do you share that legitimate suspicion that his brothers said he has?
MR PRICE: When it comes to the New York Police Department, I’ll need to refer you to them to – for anything they may be undertaking. But I would note that NYPD has had a liaison officer in Qatar as a normal course of business.
When it comes to the tragic death of Grant Wahl, what I can say is that his remains were repatriated today. The family has spoken to the fact that he will – his remains will undergo an autopsy in this country. It’s my understanding that his remains are now in the possession of the New York City medical examiner.
What I can also say is that we have seen no indication of foul play or anything nefarious at this point. We did receive excellent cooperation from our Qatari partners. As soon as we learned of Grant Wahl’s passing, our ambassador, as I mentioned before, was in regular contact with senior officials in the Qatari Government in an effort to see to it that we were in a position to fulfill the wishes of the families as expeditiously as possible. Our Qatari partners were cooperative, they were responsive, and as a result, Grant Wahl and his – his remains and his possessions have been repatriated as of earlier this morning.
QUESTION: May I ask a Syria question?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Today, the Turkish foreign minister, Çavuşoğlu, acknowledged that there are talks between Syrian intelligence and Turkish intelligence to discuss ways and means to returning Syrian refugees. So my question to you: Do you feel that the conditions are there for the Syrian refugees to go back? That’s one.
And second, he also said during some – a parliamentarian session that there’s all kinds of talks between Syria and Turkey on issues of terrorism and other issues. So just your comment.
MR PRICE: These are these are much better questions for Turkey. We very much commend Turkey for its role in helping to provide safe haven to so many Syrians who have been forced to flee from their homes, from their communities over the course of the now more than a decade of civil war within Syria. We welcome everything Turkey has contributed to the humanitarian response that countries throughout the region have provided.
Of course, Syria now is – there continue to be a number of dangers and risks posed throughout the country. So we continue to work very closely with Turkey, with our partners on the ground as well to see to it that the progress that we have been able – in the context of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS has made, in recent years especially, the progress against ISIS, against Daesh – to see to it that that progress is not reversed and to see to it that the momentum we have that could one day see many more Syrians return to their homeland – to see to it that that momentum is maintained.
QUESTION: So is it still your feeling that conditions are not such where they are – actually can allow for the return of Syrian refugees?
MR PRICE: This is not a question for the United States. This is a question for Turkey when it comes to —
QUESTION: Well, the reason I ask this is because you guys said that before. You said that you believe the conditions are not anywhere near ripe for the return of refugees. But maybe the war has ebbed a little bit to allow for that.
MR PRICE: Of course, we’ve seen progress against Daesh, but there continues to be levels of violence in the civil war, the civil war that’s roiled the country for more than a decade now. And we continue to commend all of the countries in the region – Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, others – that have opened their arms and opened their borders to those fleeing violence from the civil war and from the threat of terrorism in Syria.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. A couple of questions on the region, starting from Iran. May I get a reaction to Iran today executing second prisoner detained during the protests? His name was Majidreza Rahnavard. Do you have any leverage on Iran to prevent them from conducting these executions?
MR PRICE: So first, when it comes to the more horrific news coming out of Iran, we know that Majidreza Rahnavard is the Islamic Republic’s latest victim. He was swiftly executed after what can only be described as a sham trial. We understand that he was also executed publicly; he was hanged in public. The regime has rounded up and detained thousands of people for their involvement in these protests. Many of them now face harsh sentences, including the death penalty and sham trials that lack any due process. We denounce this draconian treatment in the strongest terms.
These harsh sentences and now the first public execution, at least, are meant to intimidate Iran’s people. They are meant to suppress dissent. And they simply just underscore how much Iran’s leadership actually fears its own people. As Iran’s leadership continues its violent crackdown on peaceful protesters, they should know that the United States is watching, but more importantly the world is watching, and we’ll continue to coordinate with our allies and partners around the world to confront Iran’s human rights abuses.
To the second part of your question, Alex, we have a range of authorities. We have exercised many of those authorities already in the context of the violent crackdown on the protests on the part of the Iranian people, the efforts of the Iranian regime to suppress these peaceful protests, to cut off the Iranian people’s access to the outside world, their ability to communicate with one another. We’ve used our human rights authorities, including in the tranche of sanctions that we spoke to last week, on – in advance of Human Rights Day, to hold accountable those who are responsible for this brutal crackdown.
QUESTION: If you talk to Iranian protesters, they always have concerns that Iranian Government’s narrative is still able to find its way to Washington. They talk about lobbying groups. I don’t want to name the names, but – I also know that this might go beyond your payroll, but is it something you guys are worried about, that Irani lobbying groups are still roaming around and pushing their narratives?
MR PRICE: Well, our Department of Justice, of course, oversees a program that sees to it that agents of a foreign power are registered as such, so I’d refer you to the Department of Justice for questions pertaining to domestic activity in this country. But it is of course a concern to the United States, the ability of Iran to project repression beyond its borders, something we call transnational repression. We have taken note of the regime’s efforts to pursue its critics well beyond its borders, including, in some cases, here in the United States. That, of course, is of great concern to us and something we take very seriously.
Let me move around, just because we’re running out of time.
QUESTION: One more question – just one more final question on – Azerbaijan-Armenia. I’m sure you have seen media reports that there’s a tension building up involving the corridor between Azerbaijan and Armenia. I don’t want to get into rabbit hole of who started what, he said, she said, but my question is: We have seen Putin calling two sides talking, Western Europeans express their concerns – where is the U.S. at this point? Are you able to keep your eyes on the ball?
MR PRICE: I think we have. We have consistently focused on this challenge, on the need to de-escalate tensions, on the need to set these two countries on the path to a lasting, comprehensive settlement. We, of course, brought the two countries together at the foreign minister level here in Washington. We did that in New York on the margins of the UN General Assembly. And Phil Reeker, our senior advisor, has been actively engaged with officials in both countries to see to it that we are doing everything we can and, most importantly, that these two countries are doing everything they can to see to it that these tensions are de-escalated.
Take a couple final questions. Yes, in – go ahead.
QUESTION: The administration has stated support for African Union membership in the G20. Do you have any background on that? Why now? Is it because of the summit here in Washington, or is there more – can you talk to – a little bit more on that?
MR PRICE: So this is something that the President will speak to during the course of the Africa Leaders Summit, but we believe, in short, that it’s past time for Africa to have a permanent seat at the table in international organizations and initiatives. We need more African voices in international conversation, including conversations that pertain to the global economy, democracy and governments – governance, climate change, global health – essentially every transnational challenge and opportunity that we face.
And the President in making the statement is going to be following through on his commitments and listening to our African partners regarding what it is that they want and what they seek. This announcement builds on the strategy that Secretary Blinken laid out in South Africa over the summer. It also responds to requests from the AU president and South Africa, the only African G20 member at the present.
QUESTION: I actually have a question about the meeting in Istanbul between Russian and U.S. officials. Are there any agreements following the meeting? This is my first question. And second question: Do you know of any meetings, similar meetings, being planned at the moment in the future?
MR PRICE: So I’m not in a position to speak to any potential future engagements, except to say that we believe in the value of such engagements because we believe in the need to maintain open channels of communication. These channels are important at all times, but they’re especially important in times of tension, and certainly in terms of times of conflict, as we’re seeing now with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
As for the results of the meeting, again, it was a meeting that was narrowly focused on a small set of bilateral issues, bilateral irritants that tend to in some cases get in the way of productive conversations between our two countries. But I just don’t have any additional details to offer.
QUESTION: Are those irritants still in place?
MR PRICE: I think it is fair to say that we have more to discuss if we are to remove those irritants entirely.
Shannon, do you have a – did you have a question?
QUESTION: Oh, me. So for the – actually, I do have a question. I apologize if it was brought up. But there are reports that another American was killed while fighting in Ukraine, and her name is Rebecca. I was just wondering if the State Department has any comment on that. And I know, of course, you’re limited on what you can say because of privacy and so on.
MR PRICE: I’ve seen those reports. What I will say – those reports are unconfirmed. Without going into specifics, we have noted before misinformation and disinformation circulating in the context of this conflict. But what I would say from here is that those reports are unconfirmed.
Thank you all very much.
MR PRICE: We’ll have more to say on this later today. What I can say now is that you saw over the weekend that the Department of Justice announced that United States is taking custody of the alleged Pan Am Flight 103 bombmaker. We understand that Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi has been charged for his alleged role in the bombing of Pan Am 103, and he’ll be making an initial appearance in Washington, D.C. in this hour, so I don’t want to get ahead of that.
But we have consistently made the point about the long arm of American justice. This was a terrorist attack that resulted in the deaths of 270 people nearly 34 years ago and taking victims from 21 nations along with 190 Americans. We will always remember the victims of this heinous act. We have never stopped pursuing justice in this case on behalf of the American people. If the Department of State has an opportunity to help our partner agencies, including the Department of Justice, fulfill justice in a case like this, we won’t hesitate to do that. But I just don’t want to get ahead of the process at this time.
QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking you to get ahead of any process. I’m asking you if you had any role in the actual getting him here to the court?
MR PRICE: I – what I can —
QUESTION: Are you suggesting that we will get more information at this hearing about the State Department’s role, if there was one?
MR PRICE: I suspect you will be hearing more on this case generally after this – after this appearance, but —
QUESTION: But what I’m interested in is any State Department role in what has happened to date.
MR PRICE: It is —
QUESTION: Not what’s going to happen at a court hearing later this afternoon.
MR PRICE: It is safe to say that this happened in consultation with appropriate Libyan authorities, and the United States is in regular contact and discussion with our Libyan counterparts, but I would need to leave it at that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:20 p.m.)
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