MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Happy Tuesday. One item at the top, and then look forward to taking your questions.
Yesterday, on the occasion of His Highness the Amir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani’s visit to Washington D.C., President Biden announced that he intends to designate Qatar as a Major Non-NATO Ally. The President’s decision is a symbol of the strong relationship and strategic partnership between our two countries.
Qatar served as the first and primary transit destination for over 60,000 evacuees from Afghanistan, including U.S. citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents, Special Immigrant Visa applicants, and our Afghan partners last August, and it continues to act as our protecting power in Afghanistan.
Qatar stands with us as a member of the D-ISIS Coalition, is a member of the Riyadh-based Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, and has actively participated in five rounds of multilateral sanctions designations against major U.S. and UN-designated terrorist organizations.
Yesterday’s signing of a more than $20 billion deal between Boeing and Qatar Airways Group, which will support tens of thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs, also highlights the strong economic and commercial partnership Qatar and the United States share.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of U.S.-Qatar diplomatic relations this year, we look forward to building on our strong foundation with an eye to the next 50 years of partnership between the United States and Qatar.
With that, happy to take your questions on this or anything else.
QUESTION: I think it won’t surprise you that I would like to move to Ukraine.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: Although if someone does have a question about Qatar and Major Non-NATO Ally status, I’m happy to defer. But if not, Ukraine.
So recognizing that a lot has been said today about Ukraine by President Putin, by Foreign Minister Lavrov, by Secretary Blinken on Twitter, by senior U.S. officials, is there anything new that you can report to us in terms of the diplomacy and what that will look like going forward? You will have seen that Putin said that he was open to continued talks, but there doesn’t seem to be any kind of – at least not yet, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of definite timetable for that.
MR PRICE: So Matt, as you know, we issued a written readout of the Secretary’s call with Foreign Minister Lavrov earlier today. I won’t go through that, as everyone has it now, but I’ll make a couple other broad points.
The Secretary made clear to Foreign Minister Lavrov, as he has before, that we are prepared to engage in serious diplomacy with the Russian Federation on a reciprocal basis. He also made clear that the non-paper we sent over – our response to the so-called treaties that the Russian Federation published the other week – contain a wide range of serious, substantive proposals. And we believe when you think about the Venn diagram between our security concerns, the collective security concerns of the United States and the transatlantic community, and in the stated security concerns of the Russian Federation, we believe that there is an intersection there where we can address those mutual concerns on a reciprocal basis. Those, of course, include our concerns, the concerns of our allies and partners, but also the stated security concerns of the Russians.
Now, that will require intensive, substantive, serious, sustained diplomacy if we are to get there. We are prepared for that. The Secretary also made the point that this diplomacy, if it is to bear fruit, will need to take place in a context of de-escalation. That is something, of course, that we have yet to see.
We heard from Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning – and I will primarily leave it to the Russians to characterize their response, but that – we heard again that they are working on a formal response to the U.S. non-paper that was sent over the other day. That draft will go to President Putin, as we have known and expected all along. And when President Putin has a chance to review it and approve it, it will be coming to the United States. We understand that once that takes place, the Russians too are willing to engage in continued dialogue. As to what form, as to the timing, that will depend on the receipt of the Russian response to our response.
QUESTION: So you keep talking about this Venn diagram with the overlapping areas, but the thing is is that President Putin said today that you guys have ignored their main requests. And that’s not exactly true; you guys haven’t ignored them, you’ve just flat-out rejected them and told them that they’re non-starters and that you’re not going to – so you’re well aware of what they are, and you’re not ignoring them; you’re just saying no, we’re not going to go there. So I’m just wondering if – do – given that, if you think that there is still an opportunity to resolve this without getting into what the Russians’ main concerns are.
MR PRICE: Well, we heard from President Putin a variety of things. I will leave it to the Kremlinologists out there – budding, professional, amateur, or otherwise – to read the tea leaves and try to interpret the significance of those remarks. For our part, we don’t necessarily need to do that because we know that a formal response from the Russian Federation is forthcoming. We heard that again today from Foreign Minister Lavrov.
So we have been clear and consistent since we started this process that there are areas where we believe there is maneuverability, that there is room to engage in substantive discussions, together with our allies and partners, with the Russian Federation on areas where, frankly, we have security concerns; the Russians will put their concerns on the table, and again, in full coordination with our allies and partners, we’ll see if there is room to address those concerns. We believe there is.
Now to your question, the response that we provided to the Russian Federation the other day, it did address the points that had been raised by the Russian Federation. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Russians will agree with the way in which they were addressed. And I think, as you’ve heard us say all along, it will not come as a surprise to you that there are some areas where we think diplomacy can lead to progress, can redound positively on the security interests of the United States, of the transatlantic community, but also potentially Russia, while other areas are nonstarters. And those areas that we’ve said all along are nonstarters, the idea that a country – any other country can impinge on the security arrangements, the alliances, the partnerships of another country; the inviolability of international borders, sovereignty, territorial integrity. You’re right that there is no trade space, none, when it comes to those issues. That should not – and I assume did not – come as a surprise to the Russian Federation or to anyone else as we described what was in our response, because we’ve been crystal clear about that.
QUESTION: How do you envision this intensive, substantive, sustained – what am I missing – serious diplomacy we’re talking about? Is this going into rounds of negotiations in Geneva over one, two years with Russia? Is that what you’re envisioning?
MR PRICE: I don’t think that that timeframe is what any of us have in mind as an initial matter, at least. What I can say is that for the past several weeks we have been, together with our allies and partners, engaged in diplomacy with the Russian Federation in a variety of venues and fora. We have done this bilaterally through the Strategic Stability Dialogue that Deputy Secretary Sherman engaged in with her Russian counterpart, Mr. Ryabkov, in Geneva the other week. We have done this in the context of the NATO-Russia Council, together with our NATO Allies. We’ve done this in the context of the OSCE with all of the participating member states of the OSCE of course, which – of which Russia is a member. And Secretary Blinken had an opportunity, again bilaterally but outside the formal SSD context, the context of the Strategic Stability Dialogue, to engage with Foreign Minister Lavrov in Geneva the other week.
So we are prepared to continue through all of those venues, through all of those fora. What matters most to us is that our diplomacy, our collective engagement with the Russian Federation, continues to be conducted in full consultation and coordination with our partners and allies. Oftentimes that will take place, we expect, with our allies and partners sitting next to us at the table, as would happen at the NATO-Russia Council, at the OSCE.
If it were to involve another bilateral engagement, which we are open to, we will continue to do that in full consultation and coordination with our allies and partners. Nothing about without. That is not a mantra that we are ever going to abandon or discount in any way. And I think you actually saw that today. After Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to speak with Foreign Minister Lavrov, he then immediately picked up the phone and spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, OSCE Chairman-in-Office Zbigniew, EU High Representative Josep Borrell. The Secretary thought it was important to engage them immediately on his discussion with Foreign Minister Lavrov. They had an opportunity to discuss that engagement. They also had an opportunity to discuss our approach to the Russian Federation going forward, both in terms of diplomacy and dialogue, which remains our preferred course, but the alternative course that we are continuing to pursue, the course of defense and deterrence.
QUESTION: Are you in any way more confident today after hearing from Foreign Minister Lavrov, after hearing President Putin at his press conference, that an aggression against Ukraine can be avoided by diplomacy?
MR PRICE: I’d make a couple points. One, this is not about optimism, this is not about pessimism. This is about a clear-eyed approach to what – to us and what to our allies and partners – is a clear threat to international peace and security. So these emotions, these orientations one way or another – to us, it is about the stakes of this, and the stakes for us are very clear.
Number two, again, we are just not going to be in the business of parsing, certainly not publicly, statements we hear from senior Russian officials, because we understand again today that we’ll be in receipt of a formal response that has been approved by President Putin that, presumably, will detail precisely and in specific language where the Russian Federation stands.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Is there – speaking of timeframes, is there a timeframe beyond which if you don’t see any signs of de-escalation there could be a number of steps – there’s pressure from the Senate, in fact, for sanctions before any kind of kinetic action. Could the U.S. – is there some limit to how long you’re going to have 130,000-plus troops and other military equipment, missiles in Belarus?
MR PRICE: Well —
QUESTION: And if I may just say something also on a point of personal privilege, I don’t know what else has been said in this room, but I just want to say that a remark on the passing of a real pioneer, one of your predecessors, Phyllis Oakley, who was just such – I don’t know, such an inspiration to women in this building and to the reporters who cover this building, because of the written and, most importantly, the unwritten rules of gender discrimination in the Foreign Service. And she really persevered and broke through, so she was a great standard bearer.
MR PRICE: Among other titles, she was an assistant secretary of state. She was also a deputy spokesperson, spent some time speaking to your predecessors as well. So she is someone who has really left her mark on this institution. You saw that the department issued condolences to her family and to her loved ones and noted the legacy she leaves behind, a legacy that was integral to doing what was long overdue: ensuring that women were fully engaged, able to be fully engaged in this work, and that married women had the same rights as their male counterparts. So we do note her passing and appreciate you raising that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: In terms of the timeframe, our goal here is to forestall, is to prevent, is to deter a Russian – a further Russian invasion of Ukraine. So only the Russian Federation can determine how long this goes on for. We are ready either way. We are ready if the Russians are willing to continue down the path of diplomacy and dialogue in good faith – again, knowing that this is a process that, if it is to be effective, has to take place in the context of de-escalation.
We are equally ready, however, if the Russians determine that they are set on the path of further and renewed aggression. This is a path that we have been walking simultaneously as we have an outstretched hand for diplomacy and dialogue. This is the path we’ve been walking simultaneously with our partners and allies.
We’ve spent some time in recent days speaking to the long track record we have when it comes to this deepening sense of concern that has developed over almost three months now. It was in November, early November if I recall, where we first started talking about this publicly. We started to engage allies and partners late last year as the intelligence and information emerged of the Russian military buildup along the Ukrainian border, as our own concerns grew based on information that was then private and has since been made public.
So this is something we have been at for some time. But again, our goal is to forestall, to deter, to do everything we can to see to it that there is not renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine. But again, our charge is to be prepared with whatever course Vladimir Putin decides.
QUESTION: Yeah, Ned.
MR PRICE: Yes, please.
QUESTION: What was the main achievement between (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: Well, it was an opportunity – first, this was a moment that was agreed to by the two individuals in Geneva, coming out of the Secretary’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov in Geneva last month now. It was agreed that the two would have a follow-on conversation in the coming days. It was shortly after that engagement in Geneva where we submitted what we call our non-paper, the written response to the so-called Russian treaties. And that was done.
We – the Russian Federation has now had that document for some time. We understand that they are studying it. We understand that Vladimir Putin has had an opportunity to – at least an opportunity to see it, and we know now that he will have an opportunity to approve the response that comes back from the Russian Federation.
So the point was at least twofold. One, it was to confer on the road ahead. and we did come away with a clearer sense of what we can expect in the coming days or weeks as – however long it takes for the Russians to provide us with their response. We know from there that the Russians appear amenable to continue to engage in dialogue. As we’ve said, we far prefer that course even as we know it needs to take place, if it is to be successful, in the context of de-escalation.
But it was also an opportunity for the Secretary to reiterate the messages that the Russians have heard for some time now: that even as we far prefer the course of diplomacy and dialogue, we are continuing to prepare down the course of defense and deterrence. And so we had an opportunity again today to reinforce the idea of the high cost, the substantial cost, the sudden cost, that would befall the Russian Federation if this aggression were to go forward.
QUESTION: I wondered now that Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov have now spoken twice, they’ve exchanged papers, now you’ve said there’s a – the response will go through Putin and then afterwards Blinken and Lavrov will speak again. I wondered is it then time – because there doesn’t seem to be anything changing in terms of both sides’ positions, is it then time for the two presidents to speak again after that response has come? Does it need to escalate to that level?
MR PRICE: It really depends on where we are. You’ve heard repeatedly from President Biden, I believe most recently during his press conference last month now, that he and we remain open and amenable to another leader-level engagement between President Biden and President Putin. They’ve had an opportunity to speak on the phone. They have seen each other on screen within recent weeks. If we believe we’re at a moment where another leader-level engagement has the potential to move the ball forward when it comes to this diplomacy, that is certainly something we are open to and amenable to. But it will just depend on where we are after this next step.
QUESTION: I hate to say it, but it sounds very much like Groundhog Day. I mean, we’ve been here for a month. You say the same thing; Russia says the same thing. Can you point to any one thing that shows, that suggests Russia is open to real dialogue? Anything? Anything practical that suggests they really want to change their actions?
MR PRICE: Ben, that’s not incumbent on us. That’s incumbent on Moscow. So —
QUESTION: So you’ve seen nothing?
MR PRICE: Well, it is true, as you have heard from us, we have not seen concrete, tangible signs of de-escalation. That is what we have continued to convey that we need to see if this dialogue, if this diplomacy, is going to bear fruit.
But to your question, we are not waiting on signs of de-escalation. We are not sitting on our hands calling for de-escalation. And we are moving forward as quickly and resolutely as we can to proceed down this path of defense and deterrence. Again, this is about defensive steps that we are taking as an Alliance, as a NATO Alliance; defensive steps that we are taking to shore up the defenses of our partner Ukraine; steps that we are taking to deter a Russian invasion or renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine. Some of that is consistent with the defensive steps that we’ve taken. Some of that lies in the fact that we’ve been very clear – not only the United States but our European allies and others – about the massive costs – economic, financial, and otherwise – that would befall the Russian Federation if an invasion, renewed aggression, were to go forward.
You have already seen manifestations of those costs even in advance of the imposition of any new sanctions or authorities on the Russian Federation. We’ve talked about this before, but the Russian stock market has declined significantly, the value of the ruble has declined significantly. Market participants are growing increasingly pessimistic about the implications of the sanctions and the economic measures that we’ve talked about were they to go forward. So that, I think, is just a preview of what would – what would transpire were these measures to be fully put into place.
So to recap, that is a question that is best addressed to Moscow. It’s incumbent on Moscow to de-escalate. We are not waiting for de-escalation. We are open and prepared to engage, continue to engage, in diplomacy. But we are also moving ahead swiftly down the path of defense and deterrence.
QUESTION: And just – there was some confusion about the letter was received yesterday. A few senior administration officials appeared to say that was the letter from Russia they were expecting, it was reported – and does that suggest that you don’t know what’s coming in that letter, that it – that well could have been the letter when you first saw it? Why the confusion?
MR PRICE: No, there was never an intention to suggest that was the formal response from the Russian Federation. What one of your colleagues reported and what you heard from senior State Department officials yesterday is that we received a follow-up from the Russian Federation. I will leave it to Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Russians to characterize what exactly they intended by that. But Foreign Minister Lavrov spoke to this missive publicly over the weekend, and we understand again today that we’ll be receiving a formal response from the Russian Federation once it has been approved by President Putin.
QUESTION: Can I just warn you, though, that Ben’s first question – since tomorrow literally is Groundhog Day, you should expect the same question again.
MR PRICE: I may have a similar answer. Yes.
QUESTION: In which case it would just —
MR PRICE: It would be —
QUESTION: — in keeping with —
MR PRICE: — prove the prophecy true.
QUESTION: Marcin Wrona, TVN Discovery from Poland.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Andrea mentioned sanctions, and as diplomacy seems to be going nowhere now, isn’t it high time to start strengthening the eastern flank of NATO? And you mentioned Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau a moment ago. He is coming here tomorrow, and he will be talking about that. And he’s also meeting with Secretary Blinken later this week, so could you preview those talks with the Secretary, between the minister and the Secretary?
MR PRICE: So to your first question, isn’t it time to strengthen the eastern flank of NATO, the answer is unambiguously yes. We have been talking about that for weeks now, and in fact, we have taken concrete steps, some of which have been announced by the Department of Defense, to place thousands of troops, U.S. service members, at a heightened state of readiness, should they be called into service by the North Atlantic Council. We have worked concertedly with our NATO Allies, including our allies on the eastern flank, to work with them to prepare for the eventuality, possibility of further Russian aggression. We will continue to take steps to reassure, to reinforce – defensive steps – NATO’s eastern flank because we agree it is important.
When it comes to the Polish foreign minister, as you noted, as I noted earlier, the Secretary had an opportunity to speak both with him, with the EU High Representative Josep Borrell, and the NATO secretary general today. We will continue to engage with our Polish allies both in the context of the OSCE – and the engagement today was in the foreign minister’s role as the chairman-in-office of the OSCE – but also as a valued and important NATO Ally. I don’t want to get ahead of those discussions, but this gets back to your question. We will continue to show our support in many different forms for our NATO Allies, those on the eastern flank, our NATO Allies throughout the continent.
QUESTION: Now, what you said was putting those troops on heightened alert. What about sending troops now to the eastern flank before the – any aggression that Russia may perpetrate?
MR PRICE: Well, I don’t want to speak for the Department of Defense; I don’t want to speak for the White House. But I will tell you that we are taking and are considering a number of steps that will reinforce the message of defense and deterrence. Some of that is with regard to the unprecedented levels of defensive security assistance that we’ve provided to our Ukrainian partners; some of that is in the authorization – the expedited authorization – that we provide to – provided to our NATO Allies, including our Baltic allies, to provide U.S. origin equipment to Ukraine. But again, we are taking steps in the vein of defense and deterrence, working closely with our allies on the eastern flank to reassure and to reinforce their own defenses.
QUESTION: In terms of NATO and U.S.-European unity, do you find that Viktor Orbán visit to Moscow and press conference with Putin is helpful in any way?
MR PRICE: Well, look, we know that a number of our counterparts around the world have engaged with the Russian Federation, some with Foreign Minister Lavrov, some with President Putin directly. We have consistently said that we support dialogue, we support diplomacy that is conducted, as we have, in full coordination and consultation with the alliance. That has been the North Star of our engagement with the Russians when our allies are not sitting next to us physically at the table – nothing about Europe without Europe, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. So any dialogue, any diplomacy that is conducted in a similar vein is something that we would support, especially if it’s something that has the potential to produce tangible signs of de-escalation.
QUESTION: Was it the case for the Hungarian prime minister visit?
MR PRICE: I will leave it to our Hungarian allies to characterize their engagement with the Russian Federation.
QUESTION: Thanks. Just another follow-up on Andrea’s question earlier, I mean, about the deadline for de-escalation, rather. I mean, you’ve referred to economic and other penalties in the event of further and renewed aggression, but does that mean that the status quo can endure indefinitely as you continue hoping for a diplomatic breakthrough?
MR PRICE: I don’t think anyone wants to see the status quo endure indefinitely, and I say that because this massive Russian buildup along the border with Ukraine, the dispatch of troops into what should be sovereign, independent territory of Belarus – all of this heightens tensions. All of this increases the possibility of, whether by accident, whether by miscalculation, whether by the fabrication of a pretext, that this buildup gives way to conflict. That is certainly not something we want to see happen.
So no one is happy about the current situation. No one wants to see this buildup remain as it is for any longer than is necessary. That’s why we’ve continued to call for de-escalation and why we have continued to call for tangible signs of de-escalation.
QUESTION: Can we move —
MR PRICE: Let me move back to the – Peter.
QUESTION: Yeah, I wanted to – actually to follow up on that same point, I mean, because all of this seems to put the U.S. in a very kind of reactive position where there’s a risk of State Department priorities being set by Vladimir Putin. Is there a point at which this diplomatic process taking up so much of the Secretary’s time, so much of other senior officials’ time, and ultimately surely detracting from efforts to pivot to Asia or – and focus on competition with China – is there a point at which this just needs to end?
MR PRICE: We’re a large country. We’re a large department. Not to use once more an overused metaphor, but we can walk and chew gum at the same time. In recent days alone, you’ve seen the President, you’ve seen the Secretary engage with the amir of Qatar. You’re seeing him today with his Cypriot counterpart. You’re seeing us engage on any number of challenges and opportunities in the region.
So it is not the case that even as we are intently focused on a challenge, even something we might call a crisis like this, that it crowds out our ability to focus on the other challenges, the other opportunities that faces the United States.
QUESTION: So there’s no time limit?
MR PRICE: Again, we do not want to see this escalation of tensions last any longer than is necessary. We are calling for immediate de-escalation. That is what we want to see happen.
QUESTION: Ned, were you able to achieve an agreement with Qatar regarding providing Europe with gas in case of (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: This is something, when we talk about the contingency planning that we do – not necessarily in the vein of defense and deterrence, but in the vein of prudent planning – that we have discussed with a number of energy-producing countries around the world. We know that the strength, we know that the severity, we know that the suddenness of the measures that we are prepared to put in place on the Russian Federation could have impacts well beyond Russia, including in terms of energy supplies. And so that’s why we have had regular, frequent, substantive conversations with countries around the world on how we might mitigate some of those impacts, and we believe – we certainly believe we’ll be in a position to do so.
QUESTION: Going with Israel, Amnesty came out with this report accusing Israel of imposing apartheid on the Palestinians with policies of segregation, dispossession, and exclusion that amount to crimes against humanity. What’s the U.S. Government’s response to that? Do you agree with the conclusions of this report, and do you share those concerns about the situation there in Israel?
MR PRICE: Well, Simon, you know that as a general matter we don’t offer public comprehensive evaluations of reports by outside groups. We have our own rigorous standards and processes for making determinations on potential human rights abuses, for documenting what we see take place around the world, including on an annual basis in the Human Rights Report.
What I will say, however, is that we reject the view that Israel’s actions constitute apartheid. The department’s own reports have never used such terminology. We are committed to promoting respect for human rights in Israel and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. We have an enduring partnership with Israel, and we discuss a wide range of issues with our Israeli counterparts, including those related to human rights.
We support the efforts of the Israeli Government, of the Palestinian Authority, alongside human rights activists to ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuses. And we continue to emphasize to Israel and to the Palestinian Authority the need to refrain, as you’ve heard us say repeatedly, from unilateral actions that exacerbate tensions. This includes the annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, incitement of violence, and the providing of compensations for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism. We take all allegations of human rights abuses seriously – that is true around the world – including allegations of arbitrary detention, and we continue around the world to urge respect for human rights.
QUESTION: A follow-up on —
QUESTION: Do you think it comes from a place of anti-Semitism to make those accusations? That’s what Israel’s response to Amnesty has been.
MR PRICE: We have had an opportunity to speak about this with our Israeli counterparts. They have conveyed their objections to the report. As we’ve noted, we don’t offer our own public comprehensive evaluations of reports, but we certainly reject the label that has been attached to this.
When speaking about Israel – one other point here – we think that it is important as the world’s only Jewish state that the Jewish people must not be denied their right to self-determination, and we must ensure there isn’t a double standard being applied.
QUESTION: Ned, it may be true that you don’t offer public comprehensive evaluations of outside reports, but you certainly cite them quite a bit in your own Human Rights Report. And I went back and looked, and in terms of just the last Human Rights Report cited Amnesty International on Ethiopia, on Cuba, on China and Xinjiang, on Iran, on Burma, on Syria, on Cuba. And that – those references are endorsements of what this group, Amnesty, and then other groups as well that are cited, have found. Why is it that – without taking a stand or making a judgment about the findings of this particular report, why is it that all criticism of Israel is – from these groups is almost always rejected by the U.S., and yet accepted, welcomed, and endorsed when it comes – when it comes out, when the criticism is of other countries, notably countries with which you have significant policy differences?
MR PRICE: Matt, I would make a couple points. Number one, when we include a footnote in something like —
QUESTION: These aren’t footnotes, Ned. These are – these are full-on citations.
MR PRICE: When we cite – when we cite, which it’s a game of semantics, I suppose, but whether you call it a citation or a footnote —
QUESTION: Well, when it says in the report, Amnesty International found this, X —
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: — in Xinjiang with the Uyghurs, and we – and we determine that we think that it’s a genocide, and you guys come out and cite that, and say, well, we also agree that it’s a genocide —
MR PRICE: That is a far cry, Matt, from saying – from saying that we have —
QUESTION: I’m not saying it’s the same thing, but —
MR PRICE: — comprehensive agreement with a third-party report that was produced by an outside group.
QUESTION: So it’s just – so it’s just when it’s criticism of Israel that you feel free to disagree? Where have you ever disagreed with an Amnesty report or a Human Rights Report on a country such as Iran or China?
MR PRICE: This is not – Matt, this is not about any outside group. This is about our vehement disagreement with a certain finding in a report by an outside group.
MR PRICE: There are plenty of times where we cite, as you said, outside groups in our own reports. We cite the facts that they have uncovered, that they have put forward. But I don’t think you’re going to find any citation in any State Department document – and I don’t think I’ll regret saying this – that says the department agrees on a comprehensive basis with absolutely everything that’s in this report.
QUESTION: Is it the department’s view that human rights abuses resulting from occupation are discrete events rather than resulting from discriminatory policies or discriminatory systems that are backed up by law?
MR PRICE: Barbara, we document this comprehensively in our own Human Rights Reports. And we document allegations of and what we have found in terms of Israel, and the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip comprehensively on an annual basis. So I will leave it to that document to speak to our framework for this. I think you have heard us on a number of occasions when we have heard reports of or been in position to corroborate human rights abuses in this region that we have not hesitated to speak out.
QUESTION: I got two really brief ones on Israel (inaudible).
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: One is you may have seen that the Israeli military today said it was censuring or reprimanding a couple – several soldiers for their role in the death of – or leading to the death of a Palestinian American. Is – I’ve been asking for a couple days now about whether you’re satisfied with your request for clarification for – does this do it? Have you gotten from – have you gotten this information from the Israelis, and are you satisfied with the response?
MR PRICE: Well, I expect you’ll – we’ll have a little bit more to say on this later today, but let me say that we continue, as I said yesterday and last week, to be concerned by the circumstances of the death of Mr. Omar Assad. He, of course, was a U.S. citizen who was found dead on January 12th after Israeli soldiers detained him in the West Bank.
We do note the public statement on the report of the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces, commanders’ investigation into the case and its findings, including the determination that, quote, “the incident showed a clear lapse of moral judgment,” and a failure to, quote, “protect the sanctity of any human life.” The IDF public summary of the investigation further states that the disciplinary action is being taken against the commander of the Netzah Yehuda Battalion and other officers responsible for the unit involved in the incident, and that the military police criminal investigation division investigation of the case is ongoing. We expect a thorough criminal investigation and full accountability in this case, and we welcome receiving additional information on these efforts as soon as possible. We continue to discuss this troubling incident with the Israeli Government.
QUESTION: Okay. So this – what the IDF announced today is not satisfactory in and of itself; you want a criminal investigation?
MR PRICE: We have – we are continuing to discuss this. These are public statements that have come from the IDF. Again, we know that the investigation itself is ongoing, so it’s something I expect we’ll continue to discuss with our Israeli counterparts.
QUESTION: All right. And then one other one, and this is really brief, and it’s kind of minor, but it has attracted some attention, and that is yesterday after his conversation with Foreign Minister Lapid, it was – the Secretary’s conversation with – that Secretary – was it yesterday or maybe it was the day before?
MR PRICE: It was yesterday.
QUESTION: But anyway, he tweeted something, and identified Foreign Minister Lapid as “Alternate Prime Minister,” which is something that he’s – in the tweet, right. And he’s never called him that before. So I’m just – is there a reason for that, instead of calling him —
MR PRICE: My understanding is that his – that’s his formal title.
QUESTION: Well, his title is also foreign minister.
MR PRICE: Right.
QUESTION: Okay, so you’ve just decided to use his formal title starting yesterday? I don’t know.
MR PRICE: There has been no change —
MR PRICE: — in how we view Mr. Lapid. He is the alternate prime minister and foreign minister.
MR PRICE: Yes, please.
QUESTION: Ned, on Cuba, any comment on the recent mass trials of Cubans that participated in the protests for political reform last year? Almost 800 people has been charged with more than 170 already convicted, some of them facing jails or prisons. Is there a space for new sanctions? Can we expect, like, a response for the U.S. Government, as you have praised the demonstrators last year?
MR PRICE: Well, it is true that ever since the protests that began on July 11th of last year, we have seen the Cuban Government respond with their trademark brand of repression of their own citizens. We believe – and you’ve heard from us – that the Cuban people, just like people around the world, have every right to continue to voice their desire for fundamental freedoms, and we condemn the failures of the Cuban Government to protect those universal rights and the failure of the Cuban Government to meet the most basic needs of the people. Again, rather than focusing on its own provision of services, its own governance, the protection of rights within Cuban society, the Cuban regime has responded with repression. And it was just last month that the so-called Damas de Blanco were imprisoned for doing nothing more than exercising what should be a universal right.
We support the rights of Cubans and people everywhere to exercise their freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. We call on the Cuban Government to respect these rights and to release those unjustly detained for peacefully protesting. No one should face prosecution, no one should face imprisonment, for exercising a right that is as universal in Cuba as it would be anywhere else.
QUESTION: But is the U.S. Government think about new sanction, or is there a space for new sanction, given the big scope of they are already in place – that are already in place?
MR PRICE: Well, ever since July 11th of last year, we have enacted a series of measures to promote accountability against those individuals and entities within the Cuban Government who are responsible for this repression, who are responsible for the violent crackdowns on peaceful protesters last summer and in the ensuing weeks. So we will continue to look to ways to promote accountability and to uphold and protect and promote what should be the universal rights of the Cuban people.
QUESTION: Yesterday The New York Times sued the State Department over some Freedom of Information requests that the State Department hasn’t been responding to. These are in relation to Romanian embassy emails sent between 2015 and 2019 that mention a number of international businesspeople, including the President’s son, Hunter Biden. Do you have any comment on that? Why is it taking so long to release these emails?
MR PRICE: I don’t have a comment on pending litigation. As you know, Ben, when it comes to FOIA requests, we process these as expeditiously as we can. We are committed to and we always do follow the law when it comes to that.
QUESTION: But administration – the family members of administration officials should not be able to reach out to the State Department for their own personal business dealings, correct?
MR PRICE: Ben, I don’t know to what you’re referring specifically. We —
QUESTION: The content of these emails suggests that —
MR PRICE: You have heard from Secretary Blinken that this department is committed to exercising and wielding the highest standards of conduct in office. The only thing that undergirds our decisions and decision making is the national interest.
QUESTION: Two questions. Yesterday at the UN Security Council, India abstained from the vote on whether to pursue the discussion. Russian officials have thanked India for this abstention. Were you disappointed?
MR PRICE: Again, I think what we saw in the Security Council yesterday were countries from around the world voicing their concern with this Russian military buildup that has needlessly provoked a crisis, an international crisis, an international threat to peace and security, the very reason the UN Security Council took this matter up in the first place. And you heard from a variety of countries that the international community is firmly behind a – the path of diplomacy and dialogue. That’s what we heard coming out loud and clear of the UN session yesterday.
QUESTION: Two brief asks and then I’ll just – one, have you guys yet decided whether or not what happened in Burkina Faso was a coup? And the reason I’m asking this again today is because the Millennium Challenge Corporation says that it has suspended – it’s more than 400 million, but it might be 450 million – but anyway, they’ve suspended a big chunk of their program to Burkina Faso. So has the State Department made a determination on this?
MR PRICE: So we are evaluating the impact of what we’ve seen transpire in Burkina Faso in recent days on our engagement with the country. It’s too soon for us to get into specifics in great detail, but we’ve called for restraint by all actors as we carefully review the events on the ground for potential impact on our assistance. What I can say now is that we have paused most assistance for the Government of Burkina Faso as we continue to monitor the situation.
QUESTION: Well, can you be a little bit more specific about that?
MR PRICE: I can’t.
QUESTION: When you say “most,” what does that mean?
MR PRICE: Most means most. It means the majority. I can come up with other synonyms, but no, I just – I’m not in a position now to —
QUESTION: I’m not looking for a synonym for “most.” I’m looking for like a number, and what exactly is it? I mean, is it FMF? Is it —
MR PRICE: I’m just not in a position to – I’m not in a position to do that today, but we’re continuing to evaluate what’s transpired and the appropriate impact on our assistance to the government.
QUESTION: All right. Well, so, do you have less high standards or stringent standards than the Millennium Challenge Corporation does?
MR PRICE: We have our own standards, and we have a standard —
QUESTION: Your standard is set by law, actually, so it’s not really your standard; it’s Congress’s standard, right?
MR PRICE: It is – you are not incorrect, but yes, it is a standard that we hew to.
QUESTION: And so that standard has not yet been met.
MR PRICE: Matt, it is a standard against which we are evaluating what has transpired. So when we’re in – if we are in a position to offer an evaluation against the standard, we will let you know.
QUESTION: All right. And then do you know – you’ve seen, probably, reports about what’s happening in Guinea-Bissau.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about —
MR PRICE: We’re monitoring those reports closely. They just began to emerge several hours ago, so we are continuing to watch closely.
QUESTION: To remain in the region, what do you make of the huge differences appearing every day between Mali, the government – the junta in Mali and France and Europe? And do you fear this could be a real blow to the counterterrorism operations in the region, in the Sahel?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, our French allies are indispensable partners in the counterterrorism effort, whether it is in the region or beyond, but certainly in the region. When it comes to what we have seen transpire between the Government of Mali and our French allies, I would refer to them for any comment.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:57 p.m.)
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