Department Press Briefing – December 19, 2022
2:02 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Hello, everyone. Happy Monday. I hope everyone has a good start to the week as we prepare to end the year.
I’ll turn to your questions in just a moment, but first, we do have one element at the top, and that is today we announced the appointment of Joe Kennedy III as the U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland for Economic Affairs. In this capacity, Joe Kennedy will focus on advancing economic development and investment opportunities in Northern Ireland to the benefit of all communities as well as strengthening people-to-people ties between the United States and Northern Ireland. His role builds on the longstanding U.S. commitment to supporting peace, prosperity, and stability in Northern Ireland and the peace dividends of the Belfast and Good Friday Agreement.
Joe has dedicated his career to public service, including eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives, his tenure as Massachusetts assistant district attorney, and service as a Peace Corps volunteer. He will draw from his extensive experience to support economic growth in Northern Ireland and to deepen U.S. engagement with all communities.
So with that, I know our colleague is out, so happy to – Shaun.
QUESTION: Sure. There’s something else I wanted to ask about. Just to follow up on Joe Kennedy —
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: — just to clarify, this is not a George Mitchell-style position of Northern Ireland envoy? He’s not going to be dealing with post-Brexit issues directly at least?
MR PRICE: That’s right. Mr. Kennedy’s focus will be on strengthening U.S. economic engagement and people-to-people ties with all communities in Northern Ireland. He won’t be involved in political issues, including ongoing efforts to resolve differences over the Northern Ireland Protocol and to restore devolved institutions in Northern Ireland. That is something that, of course, we are deeply focused on; our diplomats here in Washington, our diplomats in Europe as well, they’ll continue to engage all parties on those particular issues.
But the economic side of all of this is critically important as well and Joe Kennedy will focus on increasing those opportunities for communities in Northern Ireland and strengthening those people-to-people ties.
QUESTION: Sure. And just briefly, is there a ready plan to have that position as well? Is that defunct, essentially have no broader special envoy position?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any additional personnel announcements to make now. Obviously we’re going to remain very engaged on the political side of the equation, which will complement what Joe Kennedy is doing on the economic side. But I don’t have any further personnel announcements at the time.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: There was an agreement announced earlier —
QUESTION: Can I ask on Joe Kennedy? Is that – does that require Senate confirmation? I know – maybe I missed it.
MR PRICE: It does not. It does not.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
QUESTION: At COP15 there was an agreement announced in the early hours today. Do you have any broader – any broader reaction to that? How important is that, and particularly the role of China? China was heading this – at least the diplomacy. Some people say this shows China is stepping up its game diplomatically. How do you – how do you see that? Do you see —
MR PRICE: Well, we were all quite pleased to see the good news that emanated from Montreal earlier today, namely that the delegates to COP15, the Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP15, adopted a sweeping and ambitious Global Biodiversity Framework committing the world for the first time to conserving and/or protecting 30 percent of global lands and waters by 2030. The Global Biodiversity Framework is the turning point we think we need to combat the biodiversity crisis and leave a better world for future generations. We’re grateful to the work of all of the delegates who were there, including our Special Envoy and Assistant Secretary Monica Medina, who led the U.S. delegation and the U.S. team that accompanied her there.
We’re really thrilled to see this. We see this as the culmination of not only this COP but really years of effort with the results being a framework that makes clear ambitious and measurable goals and targets coupled with review efforts as well to track that progress. We look forward to working with all of our partners to reach the Global Biodiversity Framework’s 2030 targets. Of course it’s important to have targets, but it’s arguably even more important to achieve those targets and to make sure the hard work that went into this framework is actually translated into the concrete results that we hope to see in the coming year.
Achieving this, what is called a 30×30 target, is not only important for biodiversity, but for also supporting nature’s resilience in climate impacts and contributing to a sustainable and resilient global economy. We are – the United States has long been a champion for conservation globally. We know that we have to work with partners around the world to conserve critical ecosystems, to protect wildlife, reduce the threats that nature preserves around the world might face. And we are prepared to and we will continue to provide significant foreign assistance for biodiversity annually, and we will continue to be one of the largest donors to the Global Environment Facility – the financial mechanism of this convention.
I mentioned before that we were pleased to work with all partners. We will continue to work with all partners on these important and ambitious biodiversity goals. We appreciate the PRC’s partnership with Canada in hosting the convention in Montreal and helping to ensure a successful conclusion to this COP and to us landing upon this important framework.
The PRC minister of ecology and environment, Huang Runqiu, this individual served as the president of the COP and presided over plenary sessions, including the session earlier today where the parties to the CBD reached an agreement on the Global Biodiversity Framework. We’ve long spoken of our approach to the PRC. It’s an approach that, as you all know, is predicated largely on competition. There are obviously areas of no shortage of tension in that relationship, but there are also areas where we are prepared to and, frankly, we need to work together: climate is one of them, global health is one of them, other global and transnational challenges, and that includes the threats to biodiversity that this COP was focused on.
QUESTION: Yeah, just to expand on that, particularly on the role of China. To what extent would you say the United States was cooperating with China on this? And do you think this could be – this could be a sign for other areas, whether it’s climate or whether it’s even more geopolitical security issues where there could be more cooperation with the Chinese?
MR PRICE: Well, I think there was a spirit of broad cooperation that really pervaded this COP. I think you saw that in what was announced today. It was never inevitable that we would land upon such an ambitious framework, but because of cooperation and concerted commitment on the part of those participants, we were able to do that. We certainly hope that this spells deeper cooperation with the PRC on shared challenges, climate, biodiversity being two of them.
When the PRC announced over the summer a pause or a cessation in cooperation with the United States on climate and in other areas of shared mutual interest, we expressed what I think countries around the world were in many cases thinking to themselves: that as two global powers, as the world’s first and second largest emitters, we have not only a need but also a responsibility to work together when it comes to these shared challenges. The world expects that of us.
An inability or, perhaps even worse, an unwillingness to work together on these shared challenges is not only bad for the United States, it’s not only bad for the PRC, but it is especially bad for the rest of the world – especially countries in the developing world, emerging partners of ours that are especially, acutely feeling the implications of climate change, a degradation of the economy, reeling from the world’s – the toll that is being taken on ecology and climate in their own – within their own territories and around the world. So I think not only we hope that this will translate into additional areas of concrete cooperation between the United States and the PRC, but the rest of the world presumably —
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
MR PRICE: — aspires to that as well.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: China. China and Russia will conduct joint military exercises in the East China Sea from this week to next week. What do you see as the purpose of training?
MR PRICE: Well, I understand that these are annual drills that the PRC and Russia take part in. I understand that these drills have been taking place for about a decade or so. So while this is not new, these particular drills, we’ve made no secret of our concern about the relationship between China, and the PRC – the PRC’s alignment especially with Russia, as Moscow continues its brutal, its unlawful war against Ukraine. We’ve heard the PRC claim to be neutral in this conflict, but its behavior, including what we’re seeing here, makes it clear it’s still investing in close ties with Russia. We have warned the PRC against providing Russia military assistance or systematic help evading the sanctions that countries around the world have placed on Moscow as a result of its brutal invasion of its peaceful neighbor.
We are very closely monitoring Beijing’s activity in this particular realm, but more broadly the world is watching very closely to see which countries stand up for the basic principles of freedom, of sovereignty, of self-determination, of independence that have not only been at the heart of the international system over the past eight decades but are – really form the basis of the UN system and the UN Charter that some 200 countries around the world have endorsed, have invested in, have helped to create in the aftermath of the Second World War.
The PRC has tremendous sway when it comes to Russia, not only the partnership that they have deepened in recent years, but their economic ties, their political ties, their security ties. We and the rest of the world hope to see the PRC use that leverage constructively. There have been some instances where we have seen that and we welcome that. The statement from the PRC – the restatement, I should say – of the axiom that’s been around since the Cold War that a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought – the restatement of that we welcomed because it very clearly signaled that countries around the world would not tolerate the use of nuclear weapons and were tremendously concerned with even the irresponsible rhetoric that we had heard emanating from Russia.
We certainly hope that the PRC uses its influence to help bring about an end to this brutal war, but steps like this, those are not helpful. They do not move us any closer to that.
MR PRICE: I’m not prepared to offer a detailed assessment. These were ballistic missile launches. These were launches that, as we have said about other ballistic missile launches, violate multiple UN Security Council resolutions. We believe they pose a threat to the region and to the international community more broadly.
Our commitments to the defense of the ROK, the Republic of Korea, as well as to Japan remain ironclad, and we remain committed to doing all that we can to make that clear even as we seek to make clear to the DPRK that we harbor no hostile intent, that we are committed to a diplomatic approach. And we continue to call on the DPRK to meet us in our continued calls for practical, pragmatic diplomacy to address this challenge.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up on PRC. I’m going to shift to Ukraine after it. Will the PRC’s behavior between now and next couple weeks, and also talks with – upcoming talks with Putin, will those factor into the Secretary’s trip to China?
MR PRICE: I am certain that when the Secretary travels to Beijing, which we still expect to happen at some point early next year, that Russia’s war against Ukraine will be on the agenda. Russia’s war against Ukraine has been on the agenda since well before it started. The threat of Russian aggression was on the agenda before February 24th, when Secretary Blinken spoke to his counterpart. You all recall as well that President Biden had an opportunity to speak to President Xi from a distance before Russia’s war actually started. Ever since February 24th it has been high on the agenda as well, and our message has been simple.
We hope and expect the PRC will not assist Moscow’s efforts by providing security assistance or by helping Moscow evade sanctions in a systematic way, that we’ll be watching closely, and more broadly the entire world will be watching closely to see where the PRC falls on these issues that are near and dear to countries around the world, the principles that are at the heart of the UN Charter. So far we have seen Moscow – or, excuse me, seen Beijing attempt to have it both ways to some degree, but there is no having it both ways when it comes to this particular issue.
Countries around the world, including the United States, but countries in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere, will be looking to hear that the PRC actually believes and actually upholds the principles that have been at the heart of its foreign policy for decades now – independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty. This is what the PRC has consistently purported to stand up for within the UN system, within the international system, and countries around the world will want to see that there’s actually meaning there, that this actually means something to the PRC and these are not just words.
QUESTION: Thank you. Staying on Ukraine, Russia again (inaudible) kamikaze drones on Ukraine. (Inaudible) focus on Kyiv because you just tweeted Conflict Observatory report on Kyiv falling into darkness. What does it tell you about Russia’s war strategy? What new have we learned from this report? I’ve also read the report – thank you for posting it – but I didn’t see anything about where the drones are coming from, Iran. Does this make Iranian, let’s say, trainers in Donbas, in Crimea, a legitimate target for Ukraine?
MR PRICE: So a couple things in your question. First, about the strategy. What it tells us is that President Putin’s strategy has failed. President Putin prior to February 24th thought that he could deploy his forces, send them into Kyiv, and within six hours or at most six days essentially be in control of the country, be the de facto leader of Ukraine, attempting to topple the government in Kyiv, attempting to subdue the people of Ukraine.
Of course, we are now nine, ten months on from that, and it is patently clear that President Putin’s aims have failed and so his strategy has shifted. His strategy has now become one of acute brutality. It is a strategy that, as the Secretary has said, seeks to weaponize winter – going after infrastructure, going after what the people of Ukraine need to survive during the cold winter, attempting to deprive them of heat, of water, of electricity, of basic services.
Meanwhile, President Putin’s strategy has shifted; so too has ours. We are continuing to provide our Ukrainian partners with precisely what they need to take on the battle where it is being waged right now. But just as President Putin has taken his battle to the cities of Ukraine, to civilian infrastructure targets, we are providing our Ukrainian partner with what they need to defend those targets with a heavy emphasis on air defense systems. From the earliest days of this war, we have provided Stingers and other air defense systems. Of course now, in more recent months, we’ve provided more sophisticated and capable systems, capable of protecting energy infrastructure and the targets that Moscow is pursuing, including the NASAMS that we’ve spoken about to some degree.
You raise the issue of Iran’s provision of UAVs to Russia. It’s clear that these UAVs are being used to deadly and lethal effect. Even when they are not lethal – when they may not be lethal in the first instance through the attack, their intent is to inflict suffering and ultimately death by depriving the Ukrainian people of heat, of water, of electricity during the winter.
Our Ukrainian partners have been effective in taking on a good number of these drones in the course of any particular onslaught. They’ve, in some case, been able to shoot down more than half of these drones. But the fact that a single drone is able to evade air defense systems and inflict such damage and brutality to us is just a reminder of the stakes. It’s a reminder of these barbaric tactics that President Putin and his enablers, including his enablers in Tehran, are assisting.
Right now, to your question, the battle is raging in the south, in the east, in the north as well. We are providing our Ukrainian partners with what they need to continue to be successful. And they have been successful in that counteroffensive. We – Secretary Blinken was last in Kyiv in September of this year. At that time, it was just a few hours prior to his arrival when the counteroffensive had begun. We received a briefing from the country team and our embassy in Kyiv, and later that day received a briefing from President Zelenskyy and his team.
At the time, I think they had moved 40 kilometers past the front lines, and now it’s just remarkable to look at the effectiveness of the counteroffensive, the square mileage – thousands of square miles – that our Ukrainian partners have wrested back from Russian occupiers, bringing the fight to territory that Moscow has attempted to annex, attempted to subsume, attempted to occupy, of course with results that speak for themselves.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Ukraine —
QUESTION: Does Ukraine have right to target Iranian – as we asked before – Iranian targets or Russian sites as well in Donbas, in Crimea, when its hits back while using the U.S. weapons?
MR PRICE: Ukraine has a right to defend its territory, and any target on sovereign Ukraine territory is, by definition, self-defense.
QUESTION: And just following up on this issue, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called for negotiations to begin and he said that the only outcome is the negotiated settlement, a call that was dismissed by Kyiv. They’ve called it appeasing the aggressor and so on. Do you think that his call is appeasing the aggressor?
MR PRICE: Well, Mr. Kissinger was speaking as a private citizen. I’m often hesitant – always hesitant, I should say – to characterize the views of private citizens. I won’t do it here except to say we firmly believe that Ukraine, and only Ukraine, has the right to decide its future. We believe, as does President Zelenskyy, that this war will have to end eventually through dialogue and diplomacy. President Zelenskyy himself has laid out a vision for a just peace. We believe in the need for a peace that is both just and durable.
Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any meaningful reciprocation from Moscow. I made this point before, but just as President Zelenskyy was outlining his vision of a just peace for world leaders who were gathered in Bali in November, it was met within hours by another brutal assault by Russian drones, missiles, bombs falling down on infrastructure targets, a continued escalation of this phase of the conflict that began in October and that continues today, continues even within recent hours.
QUESTION: Can I move on to another topic?
MR PRICE: Sure. Anything else on Russia or Ukraine?
QUESTION: Ukraine, Ukraine.
MR PRICE: On Ukraine, sure.
QUESTION: Yes. According to some reports, you ask Greece to send the S-300 to Ukraine and Greece accepted your proposal. In this case, are you prepared to give to the Greeks some Patriots?
MR PRICE: Well, we always defer to individual countries when it comes to any contributions that they may be or are making to Ukraine’s self-defense. But we certainly recognize the profound threat that Ukraine faces from the air. Our NATO Allies – Greece, of course, included – recognize that as well.
It’s always a topic of discussion when we speak to our Ukrainian partners regarding what they need to protect their people, to protect their country, from the air. It was a target – excuse me. It was a topic of discussion in Bucharest at the NATO ministerial late last month. And so we’re continuing to look at ways, together with our allies and partners, to best and most effectively help Ukraine protect its people, protect its population, to protect its broader infrastructure from these sorts of attacks.
Each country is going to have to decide for itself what it is able and to prepare – and prepared to provide to Ukraine. We certainly appreciate the many ways the international community, including Greece, has demonstrated their support and has stepped up.
There have been times – and sometimes we’ve pointed to these publicly; you may remember that in the early days of this conflict, Slovakia made the decision to provide an S-300 air defense system to Ukraine. We were able to help support and to facilitate that contribution by backfilling Slovakia’s needs. There are some cases where countries do this and we don’t talk about it as publicly. But we are looking at ways, whether it is through directly providing security assistance to Ukraine – the some $20 billion that we have provided since the start of this administration – or in some cases what we can do, what we can provide to other countries so they in turn can provide their wares and their supplies to Ukraine.
QUESTION: Thank you. Moving to the Palestinian issue. In a lengthy interview with Haaretz, Ambassador Nides reiterated that the U.S. is intent on reopening the consulate in East Jerusalem. The question for you is: When? I mean, it’s been a couple of years. What are the obstacles for reopening the consulate?
MR PRICE: Well, he reiterated that commitment because we are in fact intent on following through on it. We are committed to reopening our consulate general in Jerusalem. We continue to believe that reopening this facility would put the United States in the best position to engage and – engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people. And we’ll continue to discuss this issue with our Palestinian and Israeli partners, and we’ll continue to consult with Congress on it as well.
Even as we are working to fulfill this commitment that you’ve heard from the Secretary, that you’ve heard from the President and others, we have a dedicated team of colleagues working in Jerusalem, in our Office of Palestinian Affairs. They’re focused on engagement with and outreach to the Palestinians day in, day out.
QUESTION: Quick related issue. The Israelis deported a Palestinian human rights lawyer, Salah Hammouri, as he is a French citizen. Are you alarmed that this –they may use this, considering it was done by the ministry of the interior, or the minister of the interior and so on – that this will set a precedent for deporting Jerusalemites? Are you concerned about this issue?
MR PRICE: So a couple things on this. We have heard the statements from the Israeli Government that this was a decision made out of concern for Israel’s security. We are not in a position to assess this claim, but we refer you to the Government of Israel for more information regarded – regarding their stated basis for this actions –for this action. For our part, we of course recognize the very real security challenges facing Israel, and we’ve reiterated our commitment to Israel’s security. It is, in fact, ironclad. However, we have concerns about the practice of deportation and revocation of residency, and the potential threat of such policies on the demographic character of Jerusalem.
To your question regarding any broader implications of this beyond this discrete situation, we of course have serious concerns about any broader practice of revocation of residency and deportation from East Jerusalem. But I would hasten to add that does not appear to be what is happening here.
QUESTION: And lastly, last week you expressed concern and called on the Israelis who are investigating the killing of 16-year-old Jana Zakarneh. Have you heard anything from the Israelis on this issue? (Inaudible) back?
MR PRICE: We did express our condolences to the family of Jana Zakarneh. We noted the IDF had put out a statement; Prime Minister Bennett had issued a statement as well. We know that they’re undertaking a review; we certainly hope to see that review culminate in accountability. We’ve raised the issue ourselves. It’s not for us to speak to what we’ve heard privately from our Israeli partners, but our expression of condolence and the hope and expectation that this investigation will end in accountability stands.
And number two: There was report today that Moscow invited Ahmad Massoud and also defense acting minister Yaqoob, Mullah Yaqoob. Any comment about that?
And also, Taliban beating women and part of the people in north in Afghanistan, very bad. It’s kind of insultation. Any comment about that?
MR PRICE: Thanks, Nazira. So first on Tom West’s recent trip to the UAE, to Japan, to India – we talked about this; I believe it was last week – this was a trip to meet with government counterparts, to meet with media and civil society, as well as business leaders and communities with ties to Afghanistan. He, throughout the trip but especially in the UAE, discussed shared interests in Afghanistan with our Emirati counterparts, including, as we always do, the rights of the people of Afghanistan – its women, its minorities of all type – of all types; the rights of women and girls to education; the need for economic stabilization; our focus on security challenges and the imperative of seeing to it that Afghanistan does not again become a safe haven for international terrorism – all with the focus on our humanitarian support to the people of Afghanistan.
As we always do, Tom West engaged with a range of stakeholders. He did meet with Hamid Karzai. He met with former Balkh Governor Atta as well when he was in the UAE. We think it’s important that we hear from a wide range of voices representing the Afghan people and Afghan perspectives. That is something we do here in this country when it comes to the Afghan diaspora, but it’s something that we do around the world, and especially in the Gulf, where we have an ability to hear from Afghans who spend significant or all of their time inside Afghanistan. We think that perspective is important.
I’m not going to speak to Russian engagement with other Afghan actors or voices but to reiterate that just as we engage with stakeholders from across Afghan society, we think it’s important that the international community hear from stakeholders from across the international – across the Afghan – who are representative of the Afghan people.
The – what we’ve seen – the images we’ve seen out of Afghanistan; the floggings, the public executions; the clear, blatant, violent, barbaric violations of human rights of course are of grave concern to all of us. They harken back to a prior era, to an era that no Afghan or Afghans certainly as a whole do not want to return to, an Afghanistan that lacked opportunity, that lacked stability, that lacked security, that certainly lacked prosperity.
In every engagement we have with the Taliban, human rights is at the top of the agenda. We of course not only remind them of the commitments they have made to the United States but, more importantly, of the commitment they have to the people of Afghanistan to uphold their basic and fundamental and universal rights, something that the Taliban have failed to do.
Just as it is a topic with the Taliban themselves in our limited engagements with them, we spend much more time consulting with partners from around the world. This is precisely what Tom West was doing in the UAE, in Japan, in India as well. It’s precisely what we do with the UN. Rina Amiri, our special envoy for Afghan women and girls, was recently in Indonesia, where she represented the United States at the International Conference for Afghan Women’s Education that was co-hosted by Indonesia and Qatar. In every potential – in every forum, we take advantage of our presence to press the case for the human rights of the Afghan people and to press the case for ways in which we can hold the Taliban accountable for their failure to uphold these commitments.
QUESTION: But Taliban never listen. They don’t fix themselves and instead of fixing themself they make insult – more insultation for women. And also Afghan people, they are very upset. They say they receive 40 – more than $40 million every week, and United State doesn’t has any influences to the Taliban. “Hey, respect women, otherwise we make a sanction on you.”
MR PRICE: Well, the Taliban remains heavily sanctioned, of course, and we are not prepared to improve our relationship with the Taliban until and unless they actually start to uphold the commitments they’ve made to the Afghan people. We will look at additional accountability measures, including sanctions, if it comes to that.
The other important point, though, Nazira, is that we’re not providing funding directly to the Taliban. We are providing hundreds of millions of dollars directly to the Afghan people, very intentionally bypassing the Taliban to see to it that the humanitarian funding, the funding that’s provided by the American people, doesn’t pass through their coffers, doesn’t – isn’t diverted to their wallets and bank accounts, but instead gets to the Afghan people where they need it most.
The same is true of the Afghan Fund, the fund that the United States has established with the support of partners in the international community, the $3.5 billion that is provided for Afghanistan’s macroeconomic needs. That too – there are rigorous checks on that funding and any potential disbursements from that funding to see to it that there isn’t diversion to the Taliban.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Let me move around a bit. Yes.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on Nazira question, I’m sure you have heard former Secretary Hillary Clinton talk about Ashraf Ghani running away with stashes of money to UAE. That money belonged to the American people. Is there ever going to be something to recover that money from people like Ashraf Ghani and many others who I have personally reported on as well and several other journalists as well, that there are officials or contractor that in these last 20 years, they have looted the U.S. Government and kept their money over there in the UAE. Is the State Department ever going to take action about them?
MR PRICE: I’m not in the position to speak to any specific claims, but what I can say is that the Afghan economy and the Afghan state more broadly has long been plagued by corruption. It of course was a challenge prior to August of last year. It of course remains a challenge with the Taliban now at least in de facto control. There are – there was a focus that the United States had with the prior Afghan government on anti-corruption. There were – we provided a good deal of support to the prior Afghan government to help them with this challenge, to see to it that the prior Afghan government were – was effective, an effective steward of the revenues that it collected from the Afghan people.
Of course those types of programs are in – are no longer possible with the Taliban now in at least de facto control across Afghanistan. But we will continue with international partners to do what we can to make sure that what is rightfully – what rightfully belongs to the people of Afghanistan is or remains in the hands of the people of Afghanistan.
QUESTION: And Ned, one more question. Just like Nazira said, in Afghanistan you’ve seen the human rights violation getting increased day by day. In Pakistan, I don’t know if you are aware since last – just even two days yesterday, one police station was attacked and four police officers were killed. Right now there is a counterterrorism department, which is under siege right now by the parliament, by the TTP. So do you see in coming days any over-the-horizon or under-the-horizon drones coming back to the region and targeting these terrorist groups, or situation has not gotten that worse yet?
MR PRICE: Well, first on the ongoing situation in Pakistan, we are of course aware. We’ve been closely following reports that militants have seized control of the counterterrorism center in Bannu. We offer our deepest sympathies to those injured.
We urge those responsible for the attack to cease all acts of violence, to safely release those who remain hostage, and to end the seizure of the counterterrorism center. Of course we refer you to the Government of Pakistan for details on this ongoing situation. But the broader point is that the Government of Pakistan is a partner when it comes to these shared challenges, including the challenge of terrorist groups – terrorist groups inside of Afghanistan, terrorist groups along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
We have partnered with our Pakistani friends to take on – to help them take on this challenge. We stand ready to assist, whether with this unfolding situation or more broadly. But this is a situation for which we’d have to refer you to Pakistani authorities.
QUESTION: Just last one. Two days ago, Pakistani foreign minister has called the Indian prime minister “butcher of Gujarat” in New York. Ironically, I had asked the same question six years ago to Mr. Kirby when, for the first time, Mr. Modi was coming to the U.S. I had said that Modi was not getting a U.S. visa now, is he going to be allowed to come to the U.S.
All these years down the line, don’t you think the strategic partnership with India has kind of influenced in some ways the human rights things which the U.S. stands for, minority rights – like Modi has been treating the way Muslims are being treated since last few years? Former prime minister, even, Mr. Singh, had tweeted about it.
Same thing with Ukraine, when you look at it. They’re still supplying – buying large number of oil from Russia, India. But this strategic alliance, it seemed like it has influenced or it is at least portraying the U.S. image as it is forcing U.S. to compromise on some of its human rights things that the U.S. basically stands for.
MR PRICE: We have a global strategic partnership with India. I have just spoken to the depth of our partnership with Pakistan. These relationships stand on their own; it is not zero-sum. We see the importance – the indispensability really – of maintaining valuable partnerships with both our Indian and our Pakistani friends. Each of these relationships is – we don’t view them in relation to the other. Each of these relationships also happens to be multifaceted.
So even as we deepen our global strategic partnership with India, we are also – we also have a relationship in which we can be candid and frank with one another. Where we have disagreements or concerns, we voice those just as we would with our Pakistani friends as well.
QUESTION: Following? Thank you, Ned.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Raghubir Goyal. Just going back, as far as U.S.-India diplomacy and relations are concerned, Secretary Blinken is household name in India because of U.S.-India relations and also diplomacy between the two countries.
One, I’d like to have comment that to what you think or what prime minister current – Secretary Blinken thinks about U.S-India relations. But also, at the same time, last week, and my friend said, and the United Nations Security Council heated argument took place between the two countries – between the – Indian and Pakistan, also between the two foreign ministers India and Pakistan blaming to each other. Indian foreign minister said that about terrorism Pakistan is supporting terrorism, and then Pakistani prime – foreign minister said so and so and so and “butcher” and calling names to Prime Minister Modi. And I think Foreign Minister Bilawal, he will be here in Washington tomorrow, or he’s already here and is taking – having many engagements. My question is: He called names to Prime Minister Modi, and back home in Pakistan. His foreign minister called – threatened India with nuclear weapons, that we have nuclear weapons and we – they are not just to show them off and we can use them. What I am asking you – when Secretary Blinken is engaged with both countries – so what do you think now? And what do you think about this and how he’s going to engage with many regional countries when he’s visit on that? The situation is very heated between India and Pakistan also back home, so where do we stand now as far as U.S. concerned? Sorry.
MR PRICE: So a couple things. Number one, we have, as I said before, a global strategic partnership with India. Have also spoken about the deep partnership we have with Pakistan. These relationships in our mind are not zero-sum. We don’t view them in relation to one another. Each of them is indispensable to us and to the promotion and the pursuit of the shared goals that we have with India, the shared goals that we have with Pakistan, the shared goals that all three of us share.
The fact that we have partnerships with both countries makes us – of course leaves us not wanting to see a war of words between India and Pakistan. We would like to see constructive dialogue between India and Pakistan. We think that is for the betterment of the Pakistani people, for the Indian people. There is much work that we can do together bilaterally. There are differences that, of course, need to be addressed between India and Pakistan. The United States stands ready to assist as a partner to both.
QUESTION: Can I just follow one quickly? I did ask that question other day. Mr. Patel was very nice and kind during the briefing. But if I can ask again question, how seriously Secretary Blinken is taking the comments of Prime Minister Modi that he told to President Putin to end the war and this is not the time to play games or military use and all that? And what role you think, Secretary think that Prime Minister Modi or India can play to end the war between Russia and India – I mean Russia and Ukraine, a superpower invading a smaller (inaudible) country, Ukraine?
MR PRICE: Well, countries the world over welcomed what we heard from Prime Minister Modi about this not being the era of war. I think it’s notable that the communique emanating from the G20 also had very similar language – I think a testament to the fact that this was language and this was a call that resonated in this country, in South Asia, in Europe, and around the world. The United States certainly welcomes it.
It’s also important because India has a relationship with Russia that the United States does not have. For decades, India – I should say Russia was prepared to be a partner to India in a way that the United States at the time was not. Of course, that has changed in recent decades. It is a bipartisan legacy of the last several administrations, perhaps starting most notably with the administration of President George W. Bush, that the United States is now a partner of we hope first resort for India. There is a lot of good that we can do together, not only for our two countries but around the world, and I think we’ll see a good example of that in the coming year, when India hosts the G20. I know we’ll have an opportunity to travel to India, to be in close touch with India in the context of the G20, and we’ll be able to see what cooperation between our two countries and a broader set of countries can provide.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
QUESTION: Moving over to China, I’m just wondering, is there anything – given the pace and scale of their COVID outbreak at the moment, I’m wondering if there’s anything you can share about the department’s assessment of how that outbreak is going, how it’s likely to spread, and any impact you can see. And I’m also wondering, is the U.S. concerned that China might not be being fully transparent about the COVID numbers, the cases, and also the deaths that we’re seeing in China right now.
MR PRICE: So a few things on this. First, we’re not an epidemiological agency. I can barely pronounce the word, so I am not going to be in a position to offer those sorts of figures from here. We would need to refer you elsewhere for those. But when it comes to the current outbreak in China, we want to see this addressed. We hope our Chinese partners, the Chinese are able to address it, and we hope for several reasons.
First and foremost, any time there is death and illness anywhere around the world, we want to see a situation like that come to an end. When it comes to COVID, secondly, we know that any time the virus is spreading, that it is in the wild, that it has the potential to mutate and to pose a threat to people everywhere. We’ve seen that over the course of many different permutations of this virus and certainly another reason why we are so focused on helping countries around the world address COVID, another reason why bringing this to a close in China would be beneficial.
But third, the toll of the virus is of concern to the rest of the world given the size of China’s GDP, given the size of China’s economy. It’s not only good for China to be in a stronger position vis-à-vis COVID, but it’s good for the rest of the world as well. We – the United States continues to be a leading force for countries around the world in the provision of vaccines and helping countries overcome the acute phase of the virus. We certainly hope that will be the case before long in the PRC as well.
QUESTION: I have another question. According to reports, Germany hosted a private meeting in Brussels between the top advisors of the prime minister of Greece and the president of Turkey. They discussed, as we understand, the rapprochement of the two countries. Can you give us a comment on this? Do you have anything to say?
MR PRICE: I don’t. I would need to refer you to Germany for comments on that.
QUESTION: I know we discussed Ukraine already, but could you – could you say anything about Putin’s trip to – President Putin’s trip to Belarus? A couple of things there. First of all, there has been some talk about whether Russia will try to get a more direct Belarusian role in the war in Ukraine. Also, Putin just a while ago made some remarks saying that Russia has no intention of absorbing Belarus and said why could anybody think that? Do you have any reactions?
MR PRICE: Sure. I did see that headline just as I was coming down here. The reported claim from President Putin that he has no intention of, as you said, absorbing anyone in his talks with president – with Lukashenka, look, I think a statement like that has to be treated as the height of irony coming from a leader who is seeking at the present moment, right now, to violently absorb his other peaceful next door neighbor. We’ve heard these statements from President Putin. At the same time, since the earliest days of this conflict and the weeks preceding this conflict, we have seen the Lukashenka regime essentially cede its sovereignty, cede its independence to Russia. We saw Russian forces mass inside what should have been sovereign Belarusian territory. We’ve seen attacks launched from what should be sovereign Belarusian territory. And now we hear these comments from President Putin and from Lukashenka, but I think the track record speaks much louder than anything these two leaders could say.
QUESTION: A Jordan —
QUESTION: Same topic.
QUESTION: A Jordan question?
MR PRICE: Let me move around to people I haven’t called on.
QUESTION: Ned, thank you. Going back to North Korea, last month during the summit meeting between United States, ROK, Japan, they agreed to share the DPRK missile warning data in real time. So I’m wondering if – whether this activity has been working effectively each time when DPRK launched its missile, including yesterday?
MR PRICE: Well, what I can say is that we are in nearly constant communication with our Japanese and ROK allies. That is certainly true in the aftermath of DPRK provocations. We are in communication from the State Department. We’re in communication from the Defense Department, from elsewhere in this administration as well. But as for the technical details of any early warning systems, I would have to refer you to the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali, ARY News in Pakistan. Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan launched massive attacks against Pakistani security forces and Pakistani civilians. As you’ve recently talked about the current situation right now and when – what kind of assistance you can offer to Pakistan to crush this terrorist group? Because we have seen that United States has the ability to track down these terrorist groups and wipe them out, like we see al-Qaida’s leadership. So what kind of assistance you can offer to Pakistan to crush this Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan?
MR PRICE: Well, of course, Pakistan is an important security partner. There are groups that are present in Afghanistan, in the Afghan-Pakistan border region that present a clear threat as we’re seeing not only to Pakistan but potentially to countries and people beyond. So we’re in regular dialogue with our Pakistani partners. We are prepared to help them take on the threats they face, but I think the details of that cooperation are best left in diplomatic channels.
QUESTION: You just spoke about Pakistan-India, just not about the war of words, their tension on the border, their tension (inaudible) leadership (inaudible). What kind of message you will give to the leadership of both the countries to bring peace to the region?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry. What kind of —
QUESTION: Message —
MR PRICE: Message.
QUESTION: — you will give to leadership of both the countries to bring peace to that region?
MR PRICE: Well, I think the message is, just as I related to your colleague, both Pakistan and India are partners of the United States. As with any of our partners, we want to see constructive relations between them. It’s always of concern when we see escalation in tensions, when we see escalation in words, in dialogue. We want to see countries – certainly, we want to see our partners work together to achieve common ends.
QUESTION: Sir, the main reason of tensions between two countries is the India-occupied Kashmir – you know about it – former President Trump offered the role of mediation between India and Pakistan to solve the issue of Kashmir. What is the policy of current administration on Kashmir?
MR PRICE: Our policy is that this is an issue that needs to be addressed by India and Pakistan. We are prepared to support if the parties want that, but this is a question for India and Pakistan to adjudicate.
QUESTION: A Jordan question?
MR PRICE: Let me go back to – yes.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have two questions. One is about a session today at the Security Council on the implementation of the Resolution 2231. Mr. Guterres’s report is already out, and we know that he decided at the moment he is not going to raise the issue whether Islamic Republic’s drone sale to Russia is against 2231 or it’s not against that. He only mentioned two times that it is under study. They are still gathering information and he’s going to talk about it later.
So what is your response to that? Because you, along with European allies, you are pushing that this is against 2231. So how are you going to respond to that?
MR PRICE: Well, before this briefing started, at least, the report was not out. It may have come out during the course of the past hour. I understand that there’s going to be a session at the UN Security Council in the 3 o’clock hour today. I have not seen the report, if it is in fact out yet, so I’ll reserve judgment until we have a chance to take a look at it.
But as we’ve said previously, Russia’s acquisition of UAVs from Iran contravenes UN Security Council Resolution 2231 and particularly the restrictions that resolution places on the transfer of missile-related technology to or from Iran. It was adopted in July of 2015. It established critical restrictions on Iran that would last for a period of years. And all councilmembers, including, of course, Russia as a Permanent Member of the Security Council, voted for it. Russia was itself involved in negotiating the provisions of 2231.
Iran, meanwhile, in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, provided Russia with drones which Moscow is now using to wreak havoc and inflict destruction on Ukrainian civilians. We have provided information regarding that; that has been provided publicly, it’s provided – it’s been provided within the UN system as well. Russia, in violation of 2231 for its part, then procured them. There is no doubt that the transfer occurred without advance case-by-case approval by the council, and it is thus a violation of Resolution 2231.
We, along with our partners, reported these violations to the UN Security Council in accordance with the procedures set forth in UN Security Council Resolution 2231, and the UN secretary has mandated under this very resolution to investigate allegations of violations of this resolution typically following reports by member states, which in fact happened – the reports of violations. There is ample precedent for the UN secretariat to carry out independent investigations as part of this mandate to report on implementation, and as we’ve said before, we encourage the secretariat to proceed with documenting and analyzing information regarding this violation.
QUESTION: I have another question on the freedom of internet – free internet for Iranian people. You gave out a statement today, a very clear, very long, transparent statement which is very clear, but my question is about the result of that group of experts that the U.S. formed with European Council. Do you think based on the current report that you have or the upcoming reports, is there any possibility of U.S. and European allies to form, like, a joint plan of actions for Iranian people to support their access to free internet based on the reports that’s coming from that group?
MR PRICE: Well, the United States and many of our partners around the world, including our partners in Europe, have taken individual steps to help facilitate the ability of the Iranian people to communicate with one another and with the outside world. For our part, we’ve spoken of the issuance of General License D-2, which provides technology companies the ability to send hardware and software that’s needed by the Iranian people to Iran on a self-executing basis – that is to say, they don’t need approval from the Department of Treasury to do so.
If there are steps that we can take, relevant steps that we can take with our European partners, we’ll of course look at those. But we encourage countries around the world to stand with those brave protesters in Iran who are expressing rights that are as universal to them as they are to people around the world. It is always the policy of the United States to stand on the side of those exercising their rights peacefully. We’re doing that here. We’ve encouraged countries around the world to do the same, and we’ll work with countries around the world to do the same.
QUESTION: Yesterday you called Tunisia’s parliamentary elections an “initial step.” How can an election with (inaudible) voter turnout in Tunisia’s recent history for a parliament that will be mostly toothless, how is that not considered a step back for Tunisia’s democracy?
MR PRICE: Well, first and foremost, you heard this from Secretary Blinken last week when he met with President Saied, and he said this publicly. We stand with the Tunisian people. We remain committed to the longstanding U.S.-Tunisia partnership. We did note in the statement yesterday that parliamentary elections that took place in Tunisia over the weekend have the potential to put the country back on the path, put it back towards a democratic trajectory. But I think we have to be candid that elections alone do not a democracy make. The – what you pointed to, of course, is an apparent sign of discontent among the Tunisian people. We were also very clear about that: the low voter turnout reflects the need for the Government of Tunisia to engage in a more inclusive, and to engage in a more inclusive process going forward to further expand political participation. And we’ll continue to support the Tunisian people’s aspirations for democratic and accountable government that protects free expression, including dissent, and to support civil society.
We also at the same time urge the Tunisian Government to take urgent steps to address the current economic crisis and achieve long-term stability and prosperity for all Tunisians.
QUESTION: Sorry to backtrack a bit to Belarus, but on the prospect of increased military aid from that country to Russia, does the State Department assess that could be a difference-maker in Ukraine? And is the State Department trying to do anything to counter any burgeoning help that it might get on the battlefield?
MR PRICE: Well, we’re going to continue to watch very closely, and the fact that we’ve watched very closely has led us to see very clearly the level of complicity, the level of cooperation between the Lukashenka regime and the Kremlin. That’s why the Lukashenka regime is now subject to a bevy of sanctions. We’ll look for additional means to hold Belarus accountable if it continues to cooperate with the Kremlin in this brutal war.
Remind me the second – the other part of your question.
QUESTION: Whether or not it might be a difference-maker in Ukraine.
MR PRICE: In – look, we’re going to continue to watch very closely. We have seen President Putin’s aims thwarted at every step of the way. He initially, as I said before, thought that the country would effectively be his within hours or days of February 24th. That of course turned out not to be the case. He called upon a partial mobilization, mobilizing up to several hundred thousand Russians, putting them into combat. That has turned out not to be a difference-maker. He has turned to Iran, potentially turned elsewhere, including the DPRK, for security assistance and supplies to use against the Ukrainian people. That has turned out not to shift the overall tide of battle, even as they inflict tremendous damage across Ukraine.
As he has changed his tactics, I think we’ve seen time and again that his aims, even if they have become narrower and smaller, they’ve been thwarted. And so regardless of what he does, we will continue to provide Ukraine with what it needs. And we’re confident that regardless of what we see, the Ukrainian armed forces, the Ukrainian people will be resilient, they will be committed to winning back their sovereignty, their independence, their territorial integrity.
QUESTION: May I follow up on this one, please?
MR PATEL: Sure, final —
QUESTION: I know you just said that – thanks so much. I know you just said that you have been watching, but do you have any red line that you would like to convey to Belarus? I’m asking because there are two warning signs. One is Putin today said that they’re going to – they pledged closer cooperation to overcome Western sanctions. And secondly, Belarus opposition leader Tsikhanouskaya said that chances of Belarus sending troops into Ukraine will increase in the coming weeks.
MR PRICE: Well, we’re going to continue watching very closely. And our concern has always been that despite what we hear from President Putin, despite what we hear from Lukashenka and his regime, President Putin has been able to use Belarus as a launch pad for his brutal war against Ukraine, mobilizing forces onto what should be sovereign Ukrainian territory, launching attacks from what should be sovereign Ukrainian territory into Belarus. Whether Belarus provides additional support to Putin’s war in Ukraine, that’s something we’re going to pay very close attention to. And if we see it, if we see the potential for it, we will respond appropriately to impose additional measures to hold the Lukashenka regime accountable for what is essentially its complicity in President Putin’s war against Ukraine.
QUESTION: May I – a quick question on Jordan?
MR PRICE: Let me take one question in the back from Kristina, if you haven’t had a question yet.
QUESTION: Yeah, the international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, Tanya Sanerib, called – said that conserving biodiversity and preventing pathogen spillover needs to go hand in hand in order to prevent the next pandemic. Did we maybe miss an opportunity to push China to join us in a resolution – calling for a resolution during COP15, calling for the elimination of pathogen spillover risk in order to make progress toward the goal of eliminating pandemics?
MR PRICE: I don’t know that we would speak of a missed opportunity in the context of COP15 when COP15 resulted in a really – what is a tremendous success and an ambitious target for the rest of the world, or the world, by 2030 when it comes to biodiversity. Now, no one has ever expected a single convention, a single gathering to be a panacea. I think that is the case here. Protecting biodiversity, including with other tools and tactics, that will continue to be high on the agenda of the department. I know our special envoy, our assistant secretary for our OES bureau, will remain engaged on this. And if there are ways that we can work with countries around the world, including the PRC, to achieve that goal, we won’t hesitate to do so.
QUESTION: Yeah, I just wanted to ask a quick question on Jordan, whether you have any comment on the violence that broke out in the last couple of days, and three security people were killed and so on. Are you in touch – I mean, Jordan is a close ally and you coordinate a great deal on security matters. So do you have any comment on what is happening?
MR PRICE: As we do around the world, we respect and we support the right of individuals to engage in peaceful protest. That is true in Jordan. That is as true in Jordan as it is anywhere around the world. Of course we condemn violence, we call for de-escalation, but the right of individuals to exercise their universal rights, that is in fact something we stand for universally.
QUESTION: All right, thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:10 p.m.)