2:17 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: As you can see, we have a couple very special guests with us. As I think many of you may know – as all of you soon will know – we are in the midst of the International Anti-Corruption Conference, so we thought it prudent to have two of our top experts on anti-corruption speak to you today for a few minutes and then take a couple of your questions. I don’t think either needs an introduction, but we of course have with us Todd Robinson, our assistant secretary in our Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs; we also have Richard Nephew, who is the coordinator on global anti-corruption.
I will turn it over to Todd, you’ll hear from Richard, and then they’ll take your questions, and then we will continue with our regularly scheduled program. So with that, Todd.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Thank you. Hello, everyone. Great to be here with you today and to briefly speak about our anti-corruption efforts, which is a huge theme this week and also in the long term for us. I am here today with Richard Nephew, our Coordinator on Global Anti-Corruption.
Last year, President Biden designated the fight against corruption as a core national security priority and released the first U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption. A year later, we are showcasing efforts across the U.S. Government to implement the goals set out in the strategy and commitments made during the 2021 Summit for Democracy.
Yesterday, National Security Advisor Sullivan opened the International Anti-Corruption Conference here in D.C., which the department is co-hosting with Transparency International. The IACC is the leading global anti-corruption gathering, with almost 2,000 in-person attendees from around the world, and thousands more virtually. Transparency International has proven to be a valued partner in our efforts to raise awareness and combat corruption. And I would invite you all to follow along on our social media accounts for more announcements and developments.
Looking ahead, this Friday, International Anti-Corruption Day, Secretary Blinken will participate in the department’s International Anti-Corruption Champions Award ceremony. We will honor eight individuals who have demonstrated leadership, courage, and impact in preventing, exposing, and combating corruption around the world. These individuals have been participating in a two-week International Visitor Leadership Program around the United States and we’re incredibly excited to have them here with us to take part in the event. We hope you’ll follow the ceremony on Friday at 9:00 a.m. to learn more about the honorees and their impressive work.
Additionally, we’re looking forward to Secretary Blinken participating in a fireside chat later that day with three or four of our champions as part of the IACC. They will exchange ideas and lessons learned in their efforts to promote transparency and accountability in their countries and communities.
Clearly, no country can effectively fight corruption alone. We are honored to work alongside anti-corruption champions all over the world, like those who will be recognized Friday, and with international partners around the globe to defeat corruption.
With that, I am happy to turn this over to Richard and look forward to taking any questions you may have. Thank you.
MR NEPHEW: Hello, and thank you so much, Todd, and thank you, Ned, for the opportunity to be here today as we recognize several important events in our global fight against corruption.
As Todd noted, it was almost a year ago exactly when President Biden released the first-ever U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption. The first pillar of the strategy focuses on modernizing and integrating our U.S. Government efforts to counter corruption. My position – which was established by Secretary Blinken last December – is a direct result of this aspect of our national strategy and a reflection of the President’s elevation of anti-corruption as a core national security interest of the United States.
My role is to help guide the State Department’s implementation of the U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption, to ensure that we are championing and elevating anti-corruption efforts, that we are undertaking these activities in an integrated way, and that we as a department are advancing the President’s designation of anti-corruption as a top foreign policy priority and one critical to our broader efforts to encourage democratic renewal globally.
Since taking this role in July, I have met with officials throughout the State Department and U.S. Government, with foreign partners, with non-governmental organizations, with private sector groups, and courageous activists – including those who will be honored by Secretary Blinken on Anti-Corruption Day this Friday. I have been truly inspired by the work that this dynamic coalition is advancing each day in the fight against corruption.
This week’s International Anti-Corruption Conference offers a perfect opportunity for these groups to come together and focus on the enduring challenges posed by corruption. Even as we point to real achievements, there is still much to do, and the impacts of corruption continue to be felt at all levels of society in countries all around the world.
At the State Department, we’ll be working to improve our policy coordination, make sure our foreign assistance is strategically focused, deploy all available tools to prevent and combat corruption, and ensure we, along with our partners, are implementing the international anti-corruption architecture that we’ve built over the last several decades. We’re also paying particular attention to transnational corruption and kleptocracy.
In all these efforts, we will approach our task with humility and know that we must continue making reforms here at home, such as through rules related to beneficial ownership. We’ll also continue to find inspiration in the contributions of anti-corruption advocates from around the world, like those who are gathered in Washington this week.
Our efforts underscore the global nature of the corruption threat, one that impacts each and every country around the world, but also the global coalition that is working to fight and defeat corruption.
Thank you very much for your time, and I look forward to taking your questions.
MR PRICE: Said.
QUESTION: Thank you. Nice for you to be doing this. What kind of yardstick do you use to measure corruption in a particular country? Especially countries like Iraq. I mean, I remember a while in Iraq at one time it was, I think, the most corrupt country in the world, right after the American occupation.
MR NEPHEW: Yeah. So I would say actually you point to something that we’re actively working on as well. One of the key priorities of Secretary Blinken is what we’re calling the learning agenda, this idea that we need to engage in continuous research – knowledge development, learning – so that way we can try and understand better the dynamics that we’re seeing and our responses to them.
And so there are a number of different indicators that are already out there. You have the Transparency International indicators that are out there about perceptions of corruption, and others that exist as well. We’re undertaking a pretty thorough review of how you measure corruption, how you measure your responses to it, and then trying to embed that kind of work into our anti-corruption efforts so that we know that we’re actually having the impacts that we’re seeking to have.
QUESTION: If I may just follow up – in a country like Venezuela, does politics enter into this? Because you – it’s classified as one of the most corrupt countries and so on, and there’s also – there’s a great deal of political differences with Venezuela. Does that ever factor into, let’s say, a country’s status?
MR NEPHEW: Well, no. Again, the work that we’re doing is focused on corruption as the problem as it is and attempting to measure that as a problem. I think some of the challenges that actually we face from a number of countries in fact result from the fact that there is endemic corruption, that there is autocracy, that autocracy is benefitting from corruption, so forth. So it may be that the relationship works actually the opposite way in terms of where you see a lot of these difficulties. You actually will often find corrupt actors and a corrupt issue.
MR PRICE: Kylie.
QUESTION: Would you just mind bringing us up to date on corruption in Ukraine? And given the war over the last year, has the government been able to do much on fighting corruption, or has it been distracted by the war and unable to do too much in terms of forward progress on getting corruption out of government?
MR NEPHEW: I’m happy to give a first answer, and if Todd would like to add, too. What I’ll say is that our Ukrainian partners are working very much on the issue of anti-corruption reforms. In fact, last evening I moderated a panel at the IACC that was talking about some of the work that’s being done on anti-corruption reforms, the efforts that are being made by judges, the efforts that are being made by the officials that are investigating corruption. So I think there’s a very real commitment to anti-corruption efforts, and we’re seeing a lot of work being done.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Yeah, I think the only thing I would add is the Ukrainians I’ve spoken to clearly want to get back on the anti-corruption reform effort once they get through the war footing that they’re on now because this is part of their European aspirations, and we support their aspirations to be closer to Europe.
QUESTION: And then just one quick follow-up on that. What’s your response to those who say that the history of corruption in Ukraine should raise alarm bells about providing them with too much support?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: What I would say is part of the reason – we know that part of the reason Putin took the extraordinary and horrendous step that he did was because this – the current government was working hard to fight corruption, to reform its institutions and make a change. And we were helpful in that, the Europeans were helpful in that. We have confidence that the aid that we’re giving them is going in the right direction and being used appropriately.
MR PRICE: Matt.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that I can’t – I don’t remember who it was, but someone out there in the ether pointed out the appropriateness of having a senior official dedicated to fighting corruption, kleptocracy, and nepotism, his name is Rich Nephew. (Laughter.) So just to point that out.
MR NEPHEW: (Laughter.) I enjoyed that thoroughly. Just to be clear, it never really occurred to me until it was pointed out.
QUESTION: You talked about how you approach this with humility, and the idea that the United States also has to do its own. With that in mind, and bearing in mind that the new Congress is going to be coming into session in January – at least the leadership, the Republican leadership, has pledged a whole lot of investigations into alleged corruption within the U.S. Government, some of which is at least tangentially related to the State Department – are either of your offices preparing to answer some of the questions, allegations, charges that are being made? Or is this something that is being left entirely to DOJ?
MR NEPHEW: (Laughter.) I’ll just say that again, the work that I am focused on is on the international anti-corruption efforts and working with our partners around the world. The work that we’re doing in terms of domestic pieces is taking what we’re hearing from our partners, what we’re seeing in mutual evaluation reports like the FATF and other organizations put together, and then bringing that information back home about reforms and things that we can do such as with regard to beneficial ownership and those sorts of things. Questions about investigations, those sorts of things, I don’t think are going to fall within my purview.
MR PRICE: Alex.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. Coordinator Nephew, you mentioned part of your job is to ensure that foreign assistance is properly used. Can you name any corrupt country or entity that has already been affected by (inaudible) foreign assistance since you have assumed office?
MR NEPHEW: Well, look, I wouldn’t want to describe or engage in any specific country-by-country kind of evaluation. What I would say is this: The issue of corruption is one that affects every single country on Earth, and so the efforts that we’re going to undertake are both about ensuring that our foreign assistance continues to meet the high standards that it does, and as Todd was saying, we’ve got every confidence that it does. But this is a constant process, a constant evaluation process to make sure that things are handled properly.
And then second, to ensure that going forward we’re taking a very strategic approach with how we provide capacity-building assistance to make sure that it’s doing the most good. And that’s a lot of what my function is going to be doing, trying to evaluate all the support that we’re giving and kind of identify and prioritize and ensure that we’re using our resources as best we can.
MR PRICE: And for one final question, Daphne.
QUESTION: You mentioned that Friday is International Anti-Corruption Day. Is the administration planning any concrete actions to mark that, such as sanctions?
MR ROBINSON: The short answer is yes, but I don’t want to get ahead of any statements the Secretary might make.
MR PRICE: Okay, that was such a short answer we can take one more question. (Laughter.)
MR ROBINSON: I should have made it longer. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Hi. So Richard, to go back on Iran, I have a question on that. The previous administration kept on saying – labeling Iran as a kleptocracy. Do you maintain the same result for the Iranian – for the Islamic Republic, and if yes, why, and if not and have changed, why not?
MR NEPHEW: Yeah. Again, I’ll defer to Ned to speak on issues more focused on Iran issues and so forth, but I’ll just say, again, our – I’m not going to speak to any specific country and specific concerns that we have there. But we’ve made clear in many, many different statements the broad-range concerns that we have got with the Iranian Government policies and Iranian Government practices and the nature of the government as well. And so I’ll defer to Ned to any further answers on that.
MR PRICE: Richard, Todd, thank you very much.
MR ROBINSON: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Hope you come back soon.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Okay. Before we get to your questions, we have a couple things at the top. Today, Iranians are observing the Day of the Student. It is a day that for many Iranians enshrines the freedom of speech and association and the role of university students in promoting those very freedoms.
Today, Iran’s students continue to protest. We are aware of reports that security forces violently attacked students who were rallying against today’s visit by President Ebrahim Raisi to University of Tehran.
The courage of the Iranian people is an inspiration to the world, especially the courage of the women, girls, youth of Iran, who are leading these peaceful protests. Iran’s students and children are the very people who should be the future of their country. Instead, authorities are attacking them and arresting them by the thousands. As the people of Iran continue to peacefully protest and bear the violent, ongoing crackdown, we will continue to stand with them to shine a light on the human rights abuses perpetrated by Iran’s leadership.
And next, as you saw yesterday, we welcome the December 5th signing of an initial framework political agreement in Sudan. We commend the parties’ efforts to garner support for this framework agreement from a broad range of Sudanese actors and their call for continued, inclusive dialogue on all issues of concern and cooperation to build Sudan’s future. There is now a credible path to final agreement on forming a civilian-led government that would take Sudan out of its current political crisis – we respectfully urge all Sudanese stakeholders to seize this opportunity.
Now more than ever, all political stakeholders and civil society actors must put Sudan’s national interest above narrow personal and party ends.
In support of the Sudanese people who continue to demand freedom, peace, and justice under a democratic government, and recognizing the fragility of democratic traditions, the Secretary announced an expansion of visa restriction policy under Section 212(a)(3)(C), or the “3C” policy, of the Immigration and Nationality Act to cover any current or former Sudanese officials or other individuals believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic transition in Sudan, including through suppressing human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the immediate family members of such persons. This should send a clear signal that the United States will promote accountability in an effort to prevent spoilers – whether military or political actors – who attempt to undermine or delay Sudan’s democratic transition.
With that, turning to questions.
QUESTION: Right. Yeah, thanks, Ned. I’m wondering if you can explain what seems to be an amplification of the statements of concern and expressions of concern about the potential for Iran sending more drones as well as sending ballistic missiles or missiles of some sort to Russia for them to potentially use in Ukraine. Are these concerns, which were – started to come out again yesterday, they’ve been out there for a while but – and there’s – seem to have resurfaced yesterday and then again this morning – are they based on any new intelligence that such deliveries are imminent or have already happened? Or is this just kind of like a reminder to those two countries that you’re watching?
MR PRICE: Matt, this is not a new concern of ours. And you referenced it in your question, but this is a concern that we have voiced very publicly since this summer. It is a concern that has come to fruition in the form of Iran’s provision of drones, lethal drones to Russia, which in turn Russian pilots are using to attack Ukrainian civilians. We’ve voiced our concerns that Russia could look to Iran for ballistic missile technology. We’ve voiced our concerns that cooperation between Iran and Russia could extend to other realms – sharing knowhow, expertise, I hesitate to say best practices but perhaps worst practices when it comes to the suppression of peaceful protesters.
These are the things that we’re concerned about. We’ve spoken very openly about this partnership, and we’ve spoken about it openly because we believe it should be a concern not only for the region but for the broader international community. It’s why we contributed to a UN session over the summer to discuss Iran’s UAV program. We’ve shared information with authorities in New York regarding our knowledge, the threat that we see from Iran’s UAV program, and we’ll continue to work with partners and allies around the world, including using our own authorities to go after these proliferation networks in Iran, in Russia, anywhere they may exist to try to disrupt this dangerous nexus in the flow of lethal assistance.
QUESTION: Right, but do you have – do you have information or any kind of indication that there is – there are actual shipments of ballistic missiles or anything beyond the drones that you’ve already seen being used, that those kinds of shipments are happening or are about to happen?
MR PRICE: I think you heard from my colleague at the White House this morning that we don’t have any information to share at this point regarding current deliveries of ballistic missiles, but we know that Russia’s brutal assault against Ukraine has forced Russia to extend its relatively scarce quantities of weaponry, including ballistic missiles. In turn, we have imposed these export controls on Russia in a fairly novel and especially painful way on the Russian military industrial complex such that Russia now does not – certainly does not have the same access to the key inputs, the key raw ingredients it needs to indigenously produce some of its war-making capabilities and machinery, including ballistic missiles.
So the concern remains that Russia may look to other countries, including Iran, to help replenish its stocks of ballistic missiles just as we continue to be concerned that Russia continues to look to the DPRK when it comes to other forms of assistance for its illegal war against Ukraine.
QUESTION: Ned, Ned, is it the belief of this administration that Iran, a third-world country that has been under maximum sanctions for many, many years, can actually produce enough drones and enough ballistic missiles to give Russia, who has pioneered rocketry and space and so on and all these things, tip the balance in the war?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to say “tip the balance.” Certainly that is not an assessment that we are offering. But Iran is a country that over the course of decades now has prioritized not the needs of its people, not its own economic development, but in many ways has used resources – resources that have been scarce because of international sanctions owing to its range of malevolent actions in the region and around the world – using those scarce resources in a way that prioritizes some of its military elements, its support for proxies, its support for terrorist groups, its support for other destabilizing forces, its support for other malign actors in the region in a way that in a sense deprioritizes the needs of its own people.
So the premise of your question, the second element of your question, is not something I would quibble with because even though Iran would stand to perhaps use its revenues more judiciously and to invest in areas that would actually help the people of Iran, it has instead chosen to develop other elements of the state, including its security apparatus, in a way that has allowed it to provide what have become important contributions to Russia’s war effort. Those contributions are all the more important because of the point I made just a moment ago: the export controls that we have leveled against Russia has left, to some degree, much – Russia much less able to indigenously produce the components it has used, it would otherwise seek to use in its brutal aggression against Ukraine.
QUESTION: Could I follow up on one of your toppers – Sudan?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Can I just stay on Iran for just one —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: One quick question.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: And Russia. So just to follow up on this concern about the relationship, CNN and The Washington Post, I believe, had reported a few weeks ago that there was an intelligence assessment that Iran and Russia reached an agreement to start a production line of attack drones in Russia with the blueprints and the components coming from Iran. So is there anything that you have to say on that specific aspect of the relationship potentially growing?
MR PRICE: There is nothing specifically on that report that I can say at this moment other than the fact that Iran has made very clear, despite its public protestations to the contrary, that it is willing and able to provide UAV technology to Russia that Russia has in turn used against innocent civilians in Ukraine, that is more recently used against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, in an attempt to weaponize winter, to turn off the lights, to turn off the water, to attempt to freeze Ukraine and Ukrainians into submission. So I don’t have anything to offer when it comes to potentially moving that production chain onto Russian soil, but the transfer of technology between these two countries is something that we’re deeply concerned with. It is something that we are using various tools at our disposal to disrupt.
QUESTION: Same topic? Yes.
MR PRICE: Same topic?
QUESTION: Yeah. Back to Matt’s question. The new information is that Russia resumed using those drones as of today. You told us from this podium that you knew that – you believed that they were possessing hundreds of drones. It was a couple months ago. If they were running out of them, that means they are purchasing new ones. If your measures that you have taken have not prevented them from sending new drones, are there other, let’s stay, stones that you have not looked under yet, or you are still seeking new tools to prevent them from sending their drones?
MR PRICE: So when we first declassified or released the information regarding Iran’s provision of lethal UAV technology to Russia, I believe the term we used was at least dozens. So I’m not in a position to go beyond that, but Russia – excuse me, Iran has indeed provided at least dozens and perhaps much more of these Iranian drones to Russia for use inside of Ukraine. The Ukrainians, using their own capabilities but also using the air defense capabilities that the United States and many of our partners have provided, have in fact been able to target and have been able to neutralize many of these UAVs, but, of course, these UAVs continue to be incredibly lethal, continue to be incredibly damaging not only to civilian populations but also to civilian infrastructure in a way that has implications for hundreds, thousands, or more innocent civilians in Ukraine who need that infrastructure for electricity, for heat, for water, for basic survival.
So I couldn’t offer any more on the inventory that Russia currently has at its disposal, but to your question, we are using relevant tools. We have used our sanctions authorities against Iranian targets, against Russian targets, and we’re prepared to use them against any additional targets anywhere around the world that is part of this proliferation network that has allowed Iran to send this lethal, this very deadly technology to Russia.
QUESTION: Now, let me get your reaction to Putin’s today’s calling nuclear weapons a tool of deterrence in Ukraine. (Inaudible.)
MR PRICE: I don’t have a response to that. I – again, we have heard from countries around the world a reaffirmation of the very simple statement that has been around since the Cold War – namely, a nuclear war is something that must never be fought and can never be won. We have heard that from the PRC, we have heard that from India, we have heard that from our allies. We have reaffirmed it, and we’ve also heard it reaffirmed by Russia. We think any other rhetoric, whether it is nuclear saber-rattling or even raising the specter of the use of tactical nuclear weapons – it’s something that is irresponsible, it is dangerous, and it goes against the spirit of that statement that has been at the core of the nuclear nonproliferation regime since the Cold War.
QUESTION: But is it also your assessment the risk of a nuclear war is on the rise, as Putin wants you to believe?
MR PRICE: Could you repeat that one more time?
QUESTION: Putin said today that the risk of nuclear war is on the rise. Is that your assessment as well?
MR PRICE: Again, I’m just not going to get into our assessment. We think any loose talk of nuclear weapons is absolutely irresponsible. It flies in the face of the very statement that Russia formally signed onto in January of this year in the context of the UN Security Council. It flies in the face of the statement that we’ve heard from Russian officials even in recent weeks reaffirming that very simple principle about a nuclear war. So that is what we continue to point to.
QUESTION: Could I follow up on your comments on Sudan at the beginning?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: If not mistaken, it was $700 million was suspended at the – when the coup took place in October of 2021. Does that remain suspended with the tentative agreement on Monday? Is there any timeline, perhaps, for when that could be restored, potentially?
MR PRICE: There has been no change in our suspension of the emergency funding for Sudan. Of course, we are watching very closely. We are – we welcomed the announcements, the announcement that we saw from the parties. This was a very positive step. We still know that this is a process that is subject to spoilers and to those who would put their own personal agenda over the best interests of the Sudanese people.
So Sudan has a long way to go back on that path towards democracy. It has made that path, it has made that trek once before. We are going to continue to stand with the people of Sudan who so clearly aspire to continue down, to advance down that path towards a democratic transition, and we’ll be there to support them along the way.
QUESTION: Sure. Completely different topic, unless somebody wants to follow up on Sudan. Peru.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Saw that the ambassador, Lisa Kenna, I believe on Twitter made some comments just an hour or so ago, but could I get the State Department’s take on what’s happening? Is there a sense that this is a coup, in the determination of the State Department? Is there a sense that this could – that President Castillo’s actions maybe won’t go forward (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: So you are correct that our ambassador in Lima, Lisa Kenna, did issue a short statement on Twitter. She made very clear that we categorically reject any acts to circumvent or to contradict Peru’s constitutions. We categorically reject any acts that undermine democracy inside of Peru. This is not only a concern of the United States, it is a concern that we share with our partners. They have raised this at the OAS, within the Organization of American States. Under the Inter-American Democratic Charter, we share a hemispheric commitment to upholding democratic values, human rights, and the rule of law. I noted that it was in Lima itself where the Inter-American Democratic Charter was signed more than 10 years ago – more than 20 years ago, excuse me.
We understand that many of the deputies within Pedro Castillo’s government have since resigned. We understand that congress has since taken action to impeach Pedro Castillo. But we will continue to support the people of Peru. We will continue to stand against and categorically reject any acts that contradict Peru’s constitutions, any – constitution – any act that undermines democracy in that country.
QUESTION: Sure. Appreciating that this is very new, this is just in the past few hours, but is there any sense – is there any intention in the United States to actually take some sort of punitive action, whether it’s toward – toward Castillo, toward the president.
MR PRICE: Well, my understanding is that, given the action of the congress, he is now former President Castillo. The virtue of democratic systems around the world is the fact that they are self-correcting, and we continue to watch these events very closely – they are fluid – but it seems that Peru’s congress has taken a corrective action by, it seems, impeaching Pedro Castillo. We’ll continue to watch developments closely as they unfold, and we will act in accordance with the wishes and the aspirations of the Peruvian people.
QUESTION: Thanks. Unless anybody else wants to jump in, just something completely different as well: Afghanistan. Public executions are back. Does the United States have any take on that?
MR PRICE: We’ve seen the reports that the Taliban has ordered judges to impose their interpretation of Sharia law. That includes public executions; it includes amputations; it includes floggings. We’ve seen the reports of a public execution today. We’ve seen despicable videos that have circulated online in recent days regarding some of these tactics. This indicates to us that the Taliban seek to – seek a return to their regressive and abusive practices of the 1990s. It was an affront to the dignity and the human rights of all Afghans then; it would be an affront to the dignity and the human rights of all Afghans now. It is a clear failure by the Taliban to uphold their promises.
Afghans continue to reject these actions by the Taliban, and we’re closely watching the Taliban’s treatment of the people of Afghanistan. As we’ve said both publicly but also in our private engagements with the Taliban, their relationship with us, with the international community depends entirely on their own actions. It depends largely on their actions when it comes to human rights, when it comes to the rights of all Afghans, when it comes to the rights of women, girls, minorities, and other marginalized communities in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: So – all right, so are you starting to get the message, then, that when you were claiming a year and a half ago that the Taliban were interested in a better relationship with the outside world, and that when you left that they would – are you starting to get the idea that you were wrong?
MR PRICE: Matt, the Taliban – and I’m not going to —
QUESTION: You were told by pretty much everyone that they didn’t care what the rest of the world thought about them, and you kept saying – not just you, and not you personally – the administration kept saying: well, they say they want a better relationship and we’re going to take them at their word. Well, that appears to have been a mistake, doesn’t it?
MR PRICE: So, Matt, it is undeniable that the Taliban continue to seek relations with countries outside of Afghanistan. It is equally undeniable that, despite what any individual actor within the Taliban movement might want, the Taliban needs relations with the rest of the world. This is a country that has been able to subsist for decades now with a hefty dose of international aid, development assistance, humanitarian assistance. The people of Afghanistan – and Afghanistan itself would not and will not – be in a position to have prosperity, stability without continued international assistance.
The United States is doing our part by providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan – of course, circumventing the Taliban in doing so – but the Taliban recognize and know full well that if theirs is to be a movement that is to lend any degree of prosperity, of stability to the country, whether they like it or not, they will need to have relationships with countries outside of Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Yeah, but the point is that they don’t care. So why do you keep making the point that if they want to have a functioning – a prosperous society with equal rights for everyone that they need to have a relationship with the outside world? Because they’ve demonstrated time and time again since you guys withdrew that that’s – they’re not interested in that.
MR PRICE: Even if it is motivation that consists of nothing more than self-interest – and it may well be on the part of some actors within the Taliban – they will need those relationships in order to continue, if they want to continue in the position they are in. It is our message consistently to them that the relationship that they’ve made very clear that they wish to have with the United States, countries that we consider allies and partners – if they wish to have any semblance of improved relations – relationship with us, it will depend entirely on their conduct. It will depend entirely on what they do when it comes to those areas that are in our national interest. Human rights is a core interest of ours; the rights of women and girls, it’s a core interest of ours. Safe passage, counterterrorism, the Taliban’s ability or willingness to form of government that is representative of their people – we are looking to all of these things and will continue to do that as we chart our own potential engagement.
QUESTION: I’ll take you at your word that they’ve told you that they want to have a better relationship. But given the conditions that – what you’re just said – isn’t it clear to you now, or haven’t they demonstrated over the course of the past year that they don’t care?
MR PRICE: It is —
QUESTION: They don’t want, really, a good relationship with the United States or, in fact, any other Western country, that they just don’t care.
MR PRICE: They have demonstrated to date that they are unwilling or unable to live up to the commitments they have made – not only to us, not only to the international community, but most importantly, to the people of Afghanistan. They are going to be accountable at the end of the day to the people of Afghanistan. We will continue to support the people of Afghanistan – again, circumventing the Taliban – with our humanitarian assistance. But for any semblance of improvement in that relationship, in any relationship we might have with the Taliban, in any relationship other partners or allies of ours might have with the Taliban, it will depend entirely on what they do in those key areas.
QUESTION: Afghanistan – sir, we have also seen a rise of violence in Afghanistan. The military reports, intelligence reports suggest that the local and foreign terrorist groups like Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, al-Qaida, Daesh, and others are regrouping and recruiting more jihadis. Sir, why Taliban has also failed to fulfill their commitments regarding not providing safe havens to these terrorist groups? What are your thoughts?
MR PRICE: Well, our thought is, again, that the Taliban are either unable or unwilling to live up to the commitments that they’ve made in a number of areas. One of those areas is the commitment they have made to counterterrorism, to seeing to it that Afghanistan does not once again become a haven for international terrorists, a launch pad for attacks against countries well beyond its borders. That is an interest of ours.
We also have capabilities when it comes to counterterrorism in the region that does not leave us entirely beholden to the Taliban. We demonstrated those capabilities in recent months with the killing of the now-deceased al-Qaida emir, Ayman al-Zawahiri, making good on the pledge that you have consistently heard from President Biden since the withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan last year, that we will take action if we see international terrorists regrouping in Afghanistan. We will take action in a way that protects our interests.
It is, of course, our broader goal to see to it that terrorists and others aren’t able to use Afghanistan as a launch pad for attacks on Pakistan. Of course, we’ve seen other groups also active. You mentioned the TTP, among others. We are determined to work with our partners in the region, including Pakistan, to do what we can to take on the threat of terrorism in the region, and certainly the threat of terrorism that extends well beyond the region.
QUESTION: Sir, the current situation Afghanistan is a security threat in the whole region, especially to Pakistan. We have seen some security cooperation with United States and Pakistan, but that cooperation was suspended during the Trump administration. Is there any update on that? What is the state of security cooperation that was suspended (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: Well, as I alluded to just a moment ago, Pakistan is an important partner in a number of respects. We value that bilateral relationship. We welcome opportunities to expand cooperation in areas that are of mutual interest to us and to Pakistan. That, of course, does include when it comes to counterterrorism. Pakistan does receive grant assistance from the International Military Education and Training program. This program provides professional military education, operational and technical courses that in turn strengthens Pakistan’s own abilities to take on the threats – whether it’s counterinsurgency, counterterrorism – as well as skills courses that improve institutional capacity and resource management. The program continues to enhance the bilateral relationship. It continues to strengthen military cooperation between our two countries.
QUESTION: So one last question. The former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Dr. Asad Majeed Khan, has been appointed as a foreign secretary of Pakistan. He is considered the real reason behind the anti-American campaign launched by Imran Khan because Dr. Asad Majeed Khan, after his meeting with Donald Lu, wrote a letter to Imran Khan that United States is trying for regime change in Pakistan. So that kind of diplomat is now the foreign secretary of Pakistan. Is it a concern for you?
MR PRICE: We have consistently refuted these false and scurrilous rumors. Our only interest is in the interest of the Pakistani people and Pakistan’s constitutional system. We don’t favor any one candidate or any one personality over another. What we favor is Pakistan’s constitutional system.
QUESTION: Hi. I’ve got a question about the NDAA. The State Department said back in April in a letter to Congress that the State Department favors the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey because it is in line with U.S. interests. And just yesterday we learned that the restrictions that were proposed by some congressmen and congresswomen were removed from the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. Do you welcome the news, and what’s your assessment of the current status of the state of these fighter jets?
MR PRICE: Of course, Turkey is an important NATO Ally. It’s an important security partner. We want to ensure that our defense capabilities are integrated and that Turkey has what it needs to take on the formidable threats that it faces. No NATO Ally has faced more terrorist attacks on its soil than our Turkish Allies. And so our cooperation in the security realm is of paramount importance to us. This was an issue that the two presidents discussed when they gathered over the summer in Madrid at the NATO Summit. It’s been a discussion at lower levels as well. It’s been a discussion that we’ve had with Congress, and of course, we have an ongoing dialogue with Congress on this very issue, but I just don’t have an update to offer publicly.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: May I follow up?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Senator Menendez, as you maybe know, he made a statement a while ago and if I – and I quote, “Contrary to some claims, the NDAA is not a win for Turkey,” Senator Menendez says. “This is just one of many tools we have at our disposal in the Senate to deal with arms sales. I’ll say it again, as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I will not approve F-16s for Turkey until Erdoğan halts his abuses across the region.” What is your comment on this statement by the Senator Menendez?
MR PRICE: Perhaps I should let you two work this out. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It’s very important to know your opinion on this question.
MR PRICE: Of course, and I think I did offer my opinion to your colleague’s your question.
MR PRICE: Turkey, of course, is an important NATO Ally. Turkey, of course, faces a formidable threat, a more severe threat than any other NATO Ally in the sense that Turkey has suffered more terrorist attacks on its soil than any other NATO Ally. So, of course, we are – we seek to ensure that Turkey has the defensive capabilities that it needs – what it needs to continue to serve as its role as an important NATO Ally. These are conversations that we have with our Turkish Allies, but these are also conversations that we have with Congress. And I think I’ll leave it there.
QUESTION: Yeah, are you going to allow the Turks to use the F-16 against your allies in Syria, the Kurds?
MR PRICE: When it comes —
QUESTION: And your Allies in NATO, Greece?
MR PRICE: When it comes to Turkey and potential escalation along the border and potentially across the border into Syria, we spoke about this at length yesterday. We’ve spoken about this at length over the past two weeks. Our point on this has not changed. We continue to make clear both privately and publicly that we strongly oppose military action, including a land incursion, that would further destabilize the lives of communities across Syria and risk the hard-earned gains that the global coalition to confront ISIS has achieved in recent years. We think that all parties should immediately de-escalate. We don’t want to see escalation along the border or inside Syria, in Northeastern Syria. It would be not only an – it would put not only the hard-won gains of the counter-ISIS coalition at risk, but it has the potential to put our own personnel – U.S. personnel – at risk.
QUESTION: The foreign minister of Turkey, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, said yesterday that they are going to attack Greece. Are you going to allow this?
MR PRICE: Of course, we urge any disagreements between our NATO Allies to be worked out diplomatically between them. Greece is an important ally. Turkey is an important ally. We are continuing to work with all parties to de-escalate tensions in the region when it comes to Turkey, when it comes to Syria, and when it comes to other heightened tensions in the region.
QUESTION: On Nigeria, Reuters reported today that since at least 2013, the Nigerian military has conducted a secret, systematic, and illegal abortion program ending at least 10,000 pregnancies. The abortions were mostly carried out without the person’s consent. Do you have any reaction to this and will you be raising this with Nigerian authorities?
MR PRICE: My reaction to it in the first instance was a personal one, and that I read it and was deeply disturbed by it. It was a harrowing report. We are – it’s a concerning report, and for that reason, we are seeking further information, but I just don’t have anything to offer at this – at this time.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. Very quickly, past November 15th, the Israeli press reported that the FBI was launching an investigation – its own investigation – into Shireen Abu Akleh, and I was wondering, were there any communications between the FBI and you? Where are we with this effort?
MR PRICE: So for any communication – and your question was communication between the State Department —
QUESTION: The State Department and the FBI. Have they asked for your help? Have they asked for any information?
MR PRICE: Well, the FBI, of course, is a law enforcement agency. So if there were a law enforcement investigation, typically the FBI would work with the country or the entity in question. I’m not in a position to —
QUESTION: So —
MR PRICE: — speak to any ongoing investigations, of course. I also couldn’t speak to any correspondence between the State Department and the FBI.
QUESTION: Okay. But if I recall, it was your statement on July 4th that basically said that the Israeli is responsible, but the intention was not there, right?
MR PRICE: It was —
QUESTION: That would be – that would be, I’m sure, material for the FBI to sort of discuss.
MR PRICE: You’re referring to a statement that we issued on July 4th of this year that summarized the findings of the U.S. security coordinator. Whether any law enforcement entity is speaking to the security coordinator about those findings, I just couldn’t say.
QUESTION: On Japan. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida decided to increase the country’s defense spending by about 50 percent in the next five years. This decision is coming from growing geopolitical risk in Northeast Asia, like PRC or DPRK. How do you evaluate in terms of a U.S. prospect?
MR PRICE: In terms of —
QUESTION: From U.S. standpoint.
MR PRICE: So there is no question that Northeast Asia has become a more dangerous neighborhood. And there are a number of threats that contribute to that, but none more so than what we’ve seen from the DPRK – not only over the course of recent weeks, when the pace and the scale of its provocations, of its launches, of its tests, of its rhetoric has intensified, but also in recent years. We know that in the absence of the DPRK’s willingness to take us up on the offer of dialogue and diplomacy, that what is most important is coordination and defensive and deterrent steps with our allies in the region. And there are no more important allies in the Indo-Pacific than our allies in Japan and in the Republic of Korea.
We certainly welcome the announcement from Japan regarding its plans for defense spending. We work closely with Japan across the broad array of areas, and security is certainly one of them, and the security challenges that we face and the fact that those security challenges have become more acute as a result of the DPRK’s provocation and the danger and destabilizing influence it has on the region – our security cooperation has in turn deepened as well as we seek to protect, in a defensive way, our own interests, the interests of our allies as well.
QUESTION: If I could switch gears to President Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia this week, how does the U.S. view that trip and how concerned are you that China is seeking to expand its reach in the region beyond trade and into security?
MR PRICE: Well, we don’t often comment on the visits of foreign leaders to third countries. Of course, Saudi Arabia has a relationship that – with the PRC. We have a relationship with the PRC – of course, President Biden traveled to the region to meet with our GCC partners and with our Saudi partners a number of months ago now. It’s not for us to say what any particular bilateral relationship around the world should look like.
The point that we’ve made consistently over the course of this administration is that we are not asking countries to choose between United States and the PRC – or any other country, for that matter. We are not asking countries around the world to choose between us and any other country. We are seeking to give countries around the world choices, and we are speaking affirmatively about the choice that the United States presents to partners around the world, including to important partners in the Middle East.
Countries, of course, are going to make their own sovereign decisions about their foreign policy, about their relationships, about their systems of partnerships and alliances. Our goal is to give countries the most attractive choice and to make the United States the most attractive choice in terms of what we bring to the table, to make sure that they know what that is, they know what our comparative advantage is, and that they can in turn make informed decisions about their partnerships and – their partnerships.
There is no country, I think it is fair to say, that brings more to the table when it comes to building coalitions, building partnerships, and – importantly, when it comes to the Middle East – integrating the defensive capabilities that are so important, so vital to many of our partners across the Middle East, than the United States. These are issues that we speak to our Middle Eastern partners about regularly, and we’ll continue to have those discussions about how we can work together in all of those areas.
QUESTION: Just on a related note, it’s been about two months since OPEC+ announced its supply cuts. President Biden vowed consequences. Is the administration currently considering any retaliatory actions?
MR PRICE: Well, when we spoke about our approach following that OPEC+ decision, we made the point at the time that we would be deliberate, we would be strategic – taking into account the fact that this is a relationship that has been built up over the course of some eight decades. We did not want to be precipitous or rash in charting a way ahead. We are having conversations with members of Congress; we’re having conversations with partners around the world. We’re having conversations with the Saudis themselves about the partnership that we have with Saudi Arabia and how, as we’ve said since that time, we can see to it that this is a relationship that is effectively serving our interests in the best way possible. And those conversations are ongoing. I don’t have any update beyond that.
QUESTION: Wait, wait – being in Saudi Arabia, it would be a mistake, I think, to let it go by. You but you must be pleased with the judge’s decision last night to dismiss the case against MBS based on your department’s recommendation?
MR PRICE: Matt —
QUESTION: Don’t tell me it’s a legal matter, because it isn’t anymore.
MR PRICE: It is in fact a decision that came down from a judge. You can read the decision for yourself.
QUESTION: I did.
MR PRICE: We were asked to weigh in.
QUESTION: Yes, you did, and your advice was accepted.
MR PRICE: As we —
QUESTION: So I’m asking you are you gratified or relieved that the judge did accept your —
MR PRICE: This is a legal question. We weighed in on a narrow issue. The judge then took that rather narrow input and determined that that input had implications for the broader case, and I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Well – so you’re not gratified or happy or relieved that your opinion was accepted and the case was thrown out?
MR PRICE: We did not offer an opinion on a case. We offered an opinion on the very narrow question that was put before the Department of Justice and in turn the Department of State.
QUESTION: Yes, yes. Well, what is your – do you have any reaction to the judge accepting your very narrow opinion?
MR PRICE: I don’t.
QUESTION: Well, okay. Really?
QUESTION: Can I ask another question, please?
MR PRICE: I’m not going to weigh in on the – on a ruling that was —
QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking you to say whether you thought it was right or wrong, but I’m just asking you to say if you thought – if you’re pleased that he agreed with you.
MR PRICE: The question we were asked was not about the merits of the case. It was not about the case more broadly. The question we were asked was a very narrow question about sovereign immunity.
QUESTION: Is it not the case that had you not accepted the claim of sovereign immunity, which you suggested was – which you said he merited given his position – is it not the case that it would have complicated things for the U.S. – for the administration?
MR PRICE: This is a legal question. We weighed in on that narrow legal question. The judge, in turn, made a ruling that used that input. I’m just not going to weigh in on that particular ruling.
QUESTION: Yeah, question on China and election influence. Forbes report last week that the Chinese Government was using a number of accounts on social media, specifically on TikTok, to distribute inflammatory, divisive content, oftentimes disinformation, ahead of the midterm elections. This comes off as very similar to what Russia did in 2016 election and subsequently. They were sanctioned for that, condemned for that, otherwise punished. Is there going to be any consequences for China for engaging in what seems to be very similar behavior? And additionally, is the administration considering any action regarding TikTok specifically, perhaps banning it or otherwise restricting it given the (inaudible) security issues we’re hearing about regarding that app and the Chinese Government?
MR PRICE: Two parts of your questions. I need to be careful about both parts because of equities that reside outside of this building. On your first question, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence conducts a review in the aftermath of elections, midterm elections and presidential elections, in this country. I’m not in – prepared to speak to that. I don’t believe that their report has been finalized or released yet, so I’ll refer to the ODNI when it comes to what they saw or what they did not see when it comes to potential foreign influence in the 2022 midterm elections.
We did, however, see, and you may have seen as well, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency – CISA’s joint bulletin on October 6th of this year. They put out a public service announcement with the FBI that detailed foreign actors’ likely use of information manipulation tactics in advance of the midterm elections, and I would refer you to that report for the assessment prior to the elections and, of course, to the ODNI for their report in the aftermath of the elections.
When it comes to TikTok, the platform you referenced, I also need to be careful here, because this is a matter that is – I would need to refer to my Commerce Department colleagues to weigh in on. But I will say that we are always concerned about foreign actors’ potential use of technology to leverage the personal or potentially private information of American citizens. We work very closely with allies and partners around the world to make sure that we appropriately safeguard the personal information of Americans and to see to it that countries or entities that would seek to use it in a less than benign way don’t have access to it.
QUESTION: Do you trust that the CCP is not going to – given that TikTok is essentially a state-owned application by the CCP, do you trust that they’re not doing anything nefarious with the data they are presumably, reportedly gathering on millions of Americans?
MR PRICE: I would not go that far.
QUESTION: One last question, please.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: Please. Turkey is under CAATSA sanctions, correct?
MR PRICE: That is correct.
QUESTION: Because they bought the system from Russia.
MR PRICE: That is correct.
QUESTION: Can you tell us how a sale of F-16s is compatible with being sanctioned? How can – how are you going to give them – to give them the F-16s? Are you going to lift the sanctions?
MR PRICE: So, again, I’m not in a position to go beyond what I told you and your colleague just a few minutes ago. Turkey’s desire for F-16s is something that we have discussed, including at the most senior levels, with our Turkish allies, but it’s also something that we’re discussing with the Hill. We want to make sure that any decisions, any moves that are made are consistent with our national security interests and are consistent with the shared security objectives that we also have in common with our Turkish allies. So not in a position to go beyond what we’ve said, but we continue to discuss it.
QUESTION: Yeah, but the sanction – are you going to lift the sanctions? This is the question.
MR PRICE: You’re asking a hypothetical question, and just not going to weigh in on that.
MR PRICE: Thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:18 p.m.)
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