2:59 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Sorry, we are starting both later than usual and later than the advertised time, but it sure feels like a Monday. It is a Monday. A few things at the top, and we’ll take questions from there.
Let me start by saying that first we are deeply troubled by Israel’s announcement that it will reportedly advance thousands of settlements and begin a process to retroactively legalize nine outposts in the West Bank that were previously illegal under Israeli law.
Like previous administrations, we strongly oppose these unilateral measures, which exacerbate tensions, harm trust between the parties, and undermine the prospects for a negotiated two-state solution.
During his recent trip to Israel, Secretary Blinken was clear that all parties should refrain from actions that heighten tensions and take us further away from peace. Israel’s decision on settlements and outposts runs directly contrary to those objectives.
As Secretary Blinken has said, anything that takes us away from the vision of two states for two peoples is detrimental to Israel’s long-term security, its identity as a Jewish and democratic state, and to our vision of equal measures of security, freedom, prosperity, and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
We call on all parties to avoid additional actions that can further escalate tensions in the region and to take practical steps that can improve the well-being of the Palestinian people.
Next, as we continue to see the death toll rise, I want to again offer our severe – or sincere condolences to the people of Türkiye and Syria. The images of this tragedy are profound, and we are working to assist those in need day-in and day-out. This earthquake has affected not only Syria and Türkiye but also the world as we see the devastation and loss of human lives it has wrought.
The United States continues to support search, rescue, recovery, and relief efforts and to mobilize additional equipment and resources to assist with recovery and humanitarian response efforts in both Türkiye and Syria. We commend the incredible dedication of humanitarian responders and rescue workers who are working around the clock under extraordinary difficult circumstances.
The international community has a moral obligation to do everything in its power to get aid into affected areas of Syria. That includes urgently coming together in the United States Security Council to authorize additional crossing points from Türkiye. As we saw this past week, having only one crossing means there’s a single point of failure. We echo the repeated calls of UN officials for the UN Security Council to authorize additional border crossings to help deliver lifesaving aid to people in the northwest of Syria. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield put it well in her last statement last night. As she said, “People in the affected areas are counting on us. They are appealing to our common humanity to help in their moment of need. We cannot let them down.” This is not a political issue; it is a human one.
To our friend and Ally Türkiye, we will be with you every step of the way.
To the people of Syria, we are sending you precisely the same message. The United States is continuing to mobilize assistance through U.S.-funded humanitarian partners and will be pushing for a resolution in the Security Council that authorize – authorizes those additional crossings as soon as possible. More border crossings will save more lives. It is that simple.
Next, we are deeply concerned by the Cambodian Government’s abrupt decision to revoke Voice of Democracy’s media license. A free and independent press plays a critical role in functioning democracies, providing the public and decisionmakers with facts and holding governments to account. The decision is particularly troubling due to the chilling impact it will have on freedom of expression and on access to information ahead of the national elections in July. For more than 20 years, VOD has provided objective, fact-based reporting on issues that serve the interests of the Cambodian people. We urge Cambodian authorities to reverse this decision.
And finally, as Secretary Blinken said in 2021, human trafficking “…is an affront to human rights; it’s an affront to human dignity.”
This afternoon, Secretary Blinken chaired the Biden-Harris administration’s second meeting of the cabinet-level President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking. Today’s event is an opportunity for 20 agencies across the federal government responsible for coordinating U.S. government-wide efforts to combat human trafficking to highlight key federal anti-trafficking work and to announce upcoming initiatives to the public. This meeting underscores the administration’s strong commitment to combating human trafficking and is an opportunity to reinforce the priorities set forth in the updated National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, which we released in December of 2021.
The Secretary also presented the Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons to two recipients selected by the President; honoring their incredible work to fight human trafficking in our own backyard. A member of the presidentially appointed U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking spoke about the council’s work and recent recommendations.
This event, which is ongoing, is being live-streamed from the White House’s YouTube channel, and there will be a recording available at our website www.state.gov.
With that —
QUESTION: Great. Thank you, Ned. Happy Monday.
MR PRICE: Happy Monday.
QUESTION: Since I’m going – prepared to wager a significant amount of money that you don’t have anything new to say about the Chinese balloon and/or these shootdowns of whatever these things were, objects. Let me start where you started. Am I correct on that?
MR PRICE: Matt, I would never encourage wagering or gambling from the podium, but that would be a safe bet.
QUESTION: Yeah. Okay. Let me start where you started, then. When the Secretary was in the Middle East, when he was in Israel specifically, did he specifically tell Prime Minister Netanyahu that you would object and strongly oppose these kinds of – these moves, and in particular, these ones that were just announced yesterday?
MR PRICE: So Matt, when we were there, before we were there, after we were there, last week, again today, our message on this has been clear and consistent. We oppose any unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions. We’ve run through – you probably know our litany by heart at this point. And certainly among the steps that are unilateral, that have the potential to exacerbate tensions, is settlement activity and the legalization of outposts. It is no surprise to our Israeli partners precisely where we stand on this. It’s no surprise because we’ve made this very clear in private in very direct terms; but it is also no surprise because we consistently make this clear in public. This administration has been clear and consistent on that front. We did not want to leave any room for ambiguity whatsoever.
QUESTION: Well, then, what’s your takeaway from the fact that they went ahead and did it anyway?
MR PRICE: Yeah. So look, Matt –
QUESTION: What are you going to do about it?
MR PRICE: So Israel, of course, is going to make its own sovereign decisions. We have made our opinion, our very strong opinion on this, very clear. A number of other countries, including countries in the region, countries well beyond the region, have made their opinions on this clear as well, and I expect that will continue. So we’re doing a couple things. We are having intensive discussions with the parties. That includes Israel. We’re registering our deep concern over what we heard within recent hours. We’re engaging with the Palestinians. We’re engaging with other regional partners as well. And as I alluded to a moment ago, a number of regional partners have already spoken out about the announcement that has emanated from Israel.
We are doing this bilaterally. We are doing this multilaterally with a much broader group of partners, including a number of partners who share the concerns that I just outlined and the concerns that you heard from Secretary Blinken in the statement that he issued just a few minutes ago. When it comes to our regional partners, this was part of the reason Secretary Blinken thought it was so important to travel to Israel, the West Bank, and Egypt now last month. This is a regional effort in which we are engaged to do everything we can to de‑escalate – to support the de-escalation of tensions.
Now, ultimately it is incumbent on the parties themselves to take steps that serve that purpose, and the reason we’re voicing such strong concern and such deep trouble over what we’ve heard from Israel in recent hours is because it does precisely the opposite. This is a unilateral step that certainly does not de-escalate tensions; it has the potential to do quite the opposite.
Beyond that, Matt, the Secretary’s statement in the topper that I just ran through, it made a reference to – of encouragement to all parties to take additional actions that can further de‑escalate tensions in the region and take practical steps to improve the well-being of the Palestinian people. Since the earliest days of this administration, we have been focused on those practical steps.
We were in a position to have to restart the relationship with both the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people essentially from scratch. That was an early priority of ours. We resumed those relationships and we’ve resumed the humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people. Over the please two years now, we’ve contributed more than $900 million to the Palestinian people as part of an effort to improve their well-being in very practical ways.
We are committed to a two-state solution. You’ve heard that in the Secretary’s statement today; you heard that when he spoke to J Street a number of weeks ago now; you heard this from the President when he was in the region, from Secretary Blinken when he was in the region more recently. We are going to continue to work with the parties, with Israelis and Palestinians in the first instance, but parties in the region, parties in some cases well beyond the region, to do everything we can to keep the prospects of a two-state solution alive.
QUESTION: The thing is, though, that Ned, you had intensive discussions. You just said – what are you doing in response, and you said, we’re engaged in intensive discussions with the parties and with our friends and allies in the region. But you had – just had intensive discussions with the prime minister, with President Abbas less than two weeks ago, less than 10 days ago. And it certainly looks like the Israelis just don’t care because, as you said, you made clear that these kinds of moves are – run counter and hurt one of your main priorities for the region.
So the question again is: What are you going to do about this, if anything? I mean, are you going to drop your opposition to the Palestinians taking these issues to international forums?
MR PRICE: So Matt, this is something we are going to continue to discuss with the parties themselves, with parties in the region, with countries in some cases well beyond the region. Our guiding principle in the first instance is to oppose any steps that have the potential to exacerbate tensions. The corollary to that is to support those steps that can serve to de‑escalate tensions. We are calling for both. We are calling on the parties to refrain from additional steps that could exacerbate tensions. We’re calling on the parties, the Israelis in this case, but countries in the region, countries well beyond the region, to take practical steps that would improve the well-being of the Palestinian people.
We have over the course of the past two years attempted to lead by example, and there are any number of metrics that you can use; $900 million in humanitarian assistance is just one of them. We are going to continue with that. But right now, the first order of business is to tend to what is very – is a very delicate situation, a situation that is – was made even more delicate over the past 24 hours by the announcements that have emanated from Israel. We are working to do all we can to support a de-escalation of tensions.
Over the longer term, we want to support this vision of a two-state solution. Right now, our focus is on quelling the potential for additional violence, and we’ve already seen far too much violence over the course of recent months. But over the longer term, again, this is a vision that is predicated on two states for two peoples with equal measures for Palestinians and Israelis of security, of prosperity, of freedom, of democracy, of dignity. That remains our intention over the longer term.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? Now, you said that – at the beginning that you are deeply troubled. I mean, in the past you’ve – guys, you were deeply concerned. What’s the difference? Is there a difference between deeply troubled and deeply concerned? Do you think it carries more weight?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t try to parse this statement beyond what we’ve said. We are deeply troubled.
QUESTION: All right, okay.
MR PRICE: We are deeply concerned by what we have seen out of Israel.
QUESTION: And at the same time, you said that that is on Israel. Of course, it’s an Israeli sovereign decision. That’s what you said. So if Israel tomorrow says I’m going to annex half of the West Bank, I’m going to annex somewhere, that is also sovereign decision; you agree? That is a sovereign Israeli decision? That will not prompt you to take any action beside or beyond expressing how deeply troubled you are?
MR PRICE: Said, that’s a hypothetical and it’s a hypothetical that you know as well as I is not going to happen tomorrow. It’s also a hypothetical that is inconsistent – would be inconsistent with everything that we have said about the strong urging we have put forward to both parties – to Israelis and Palestinians – that they should refrain from steps that serve only to exacerbate tensions and to put even further distance between where we are now and an ultimate two-state solution.
QUESTION: But why call it a sovereign decision if they don’t have sovereignty?
QUESTION: Can I finish, please? Okay. So, I mean you’re also saying that we don’t want to compromise the effort towards a two-state solution, right, although knowing full well that every time there is a new settlement that really compromises that outcome? Not only that, if you are unable to persuade the Israelis to backtrack on a settlement that they have termed as illegal, how are you going to force the Israelis to remove 700 settlers and maybe 300 on some settlement? How will you do that? If you – there is nothing wrong with the strength of your tone. The problem is that you are not utilizing any of the tools to press upon the Israelis to take action to fulfill those words that you are saying.
MR PRICE: Said, I think what is especially powerful is the fact that this is not a vision that the United States has and has alone. This is a vision of two states for two peoples that has been put forth by this administration, successive American administrations of both political parties, but of countries around the world and by Israeli governments themselves, not to mention a vision that is shared by the Israeli people.
The dynamic that we’re talking about today, not only the steps that were announced today but the dynamic that we’ve seen in recent years – steps that include settlement activity, that include legalization, that include annexation – the reason there is such opposition to that is because it is entirely inconsistent with what Israel is. It is entirely inconsistent with Israel’s identity, its identity as a Jewish state but also a democracy, a democratic Jewish state.
We are going to continue to use our voice. We are going to continue to engage with the parties. We are going to continue to engage in diplomacy bilaterally, multilaterally, to take steps that, one, would seek to – would serve to de-escalate tensions; but two, over the longer term, to protect and ultimately advance the prospect of that two-state solution.
QUESTION: Also Israel’s identity is an occupying power of the West Bank for the Palestinian territories. And you’re a signatory to all the international protocols that term – that have a very clear definition as to what a war crime is. Settlement of occupied territories is designated as a war crime. Do you consider settlements in the West Bank to be a war crime?
MR PRICE: Said, I’m not even going to entertain that question. We believe – we believe in a two-state solution, a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians are living side by side in states of their own where they can enjoy equal measures of prosperity, of democracy, of dignity, of security, and stability in their own states. That is the vision we’ve put forward. That’s the vision that countries around the world share. That’s the vision that Israelis and Palestinians also share.
QUESTION: And my last – my last one. Now, the Israeli prime minister said that this was in response to Palestinian terrorism or the uptick in violence and so on. Isn’t that a form of collective punishment? Do you agree that this is a form of collective punishment when you seal homes, demolish homes, arrest mothers and fathers and daughters and sons and so on, vanish them and so on? Is that collective punishment?
MR PRICE: I’m not going to characterize —
QUESTION: It’s very simple. Do you consider that to be collective punishment?
MR PRICE: Said, Said, I’m just not going to characterize the way any individual Israeli official has explained this. What I will characterize is our position on these moves. Our position is that we’re deeply troubled, we’re concerned, we oppose these moves – precisely because they serve to move us away from that vision of a two-state solution, of a two-state solution that has been the guiding principle of successive American administrations, that has been at the core of the vision of countries in the region, and, frankly, is one that is shared by those in the region.
QUESTION: Just to sort of put this another way, during the trip last week you mentioned this desire to rebuild the relationship with the Palestinians, with the Palestinian Authority. The Secretary in meeting with President Abbas specifically mentioned legalization of outposts, right? Is there a credibility issue here for Palestinians if you’re asking them to – you’re asking them to do things in this meeting and you’re coming after meeting Israeli officials and days later this ends up happening. So what are Palestinians who you’re trying to rebuild this relationship with, what are they supposed to take from that?
MR PRICE: Well, if they listen to our statements not only today but, again, over the course of this administration, over the course of successive administrations – just as to Matt’s earlier question, our Israeli partners know where we stand, our Palestinian partners also know where we stand. There is also an important note that I’ve already alluded to in the statement that the Secretary issued earlier today. He called on parties, countries to take practical steps that can improve the well-being of the Palestinian people.
The Palestinian people have in many ways been deprived of opportunity, they’ve been deprived of prosperity, they’ve been deprived of hope. As we seek to maintain the viability of a two-state solution, a vision of two peoples and two states living side by side, part of our focus right now is to instill and engender more hope, to give them the hope that there is a brighter future on the horizon. We are trying to mitigate the damage and we’re trying to preserve the viability of that vision, a vision that they want, a vision that we want, a vision that the region by and large wants.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say that the – there was this Fenzel plan, the U.S. security coordinator’s plan, and you had some officials stay behind after the trip to try to – to try to sort of work something out. Is it fair to say that there’s – that has no fruit – there’s no fruit from that given this move now? Can we say that anything was achieved by that work?
MR PRICE: Well, if your question is if we’re giving up hope on efforts to de-escalate tensions, the answer is an unequivocal no. Two senior State Department officials did remain behind when we were in Israel and the West Bank last month – I suppose it was earlier this month now – to hear ideas from the parties about steps that they themselves would have to be in a position to take to de-escalate tensions.
Now, the step that was announced from Israel yesterday now that was not a step in that direction – it was a step in the opposite direction, unfortunately – but our commitment to engage with the parties, to work with the parties, to support the parties as they seek to de-escalate tensions, to end this cycle of violence, our commitment is steadfast. We are doing that and we will do that with the parties themselves. We will do that with our partners in the region. It’s one of the reasons why Secretary Blinken thought it important to go to Egypt before we traveled to Israel and the West Bank. There are other countries in the Middle East who have and will continue to play a constructive role with both parties, and we’re going to continue to engage with them too.
QUESTION: At the risk of being – of being repetitive there, there is no consequence in terms of you’re not – you’re not looking at various U.S. aid to Israel, for example, a country so openly defying the Secretary of State in this way? Would you consider any consequences beyond deeply troubled and intensive discussions?
MR PRICE: So I’ll make a couple points. One, Israel is a partner of the United States. It is among the closest partners we have. It is not only shared interests, but it is the shared values that have long been at the core of the relationship between our two countries since 1948 when President Truman recognized the state of Israel I think eight minutes after Israel declared itself independent.
Part of that relationship is a rock-solid commitment to Israel’s security. There is no question that Israel faces threats to its own security. We have seen examples of that, just horrific examples of that in recent days alone. At the same time – and this goes back to what I was saying about the shared values being at the core of our relationship – we have, the United States, over the course of 70-plus years now, has supported a two-state solution as the only viable means by which to preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state and a democracy. So we’re going to continue to support that. We are going to continue to stand by Israel’s side when it comes to the security threats that it faces, even as we use our voice and we coordinate with other parties and partners in the region to oppose these sorts of steps that actually undermine the prospect for that very two-state solution.
QUESTION: Just one follow-up on Israel and then one on China. I think it’s fair to say that Israel faces a threat from within; you’ve seen the protests in Tel-Aviv over the weekend, and even more protests – tens of thousands marching in Jerusalem today. Do you have any new comment on Netanyahu’s government’s continuing intention to limit Israel’s supreme court powers?
MR PRICE: These are decisions for the Israeli people. I am sure all of you remember what the Secretary said when he was standing next to Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem. I’m sure all of you read what the President told The New York Times yesterday as well. Standing next to Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Secretary noted the recognition that we have in this country but that democracies around the world have, that building consensus for new proposals is the most effective way to ensure they’re embraced and that they endure.
Similarly, President Biden told The New York Times yesterday that the genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they’re both built on strong institutions, on checks and balances, on an open, independent judiciary. Building consensus for fundamental changes is really important to ensure that the people buy into them so they can be sustained.
Ultimately, these proposals are not a question for the United States, they’re a question for the Israeli people. What we have shared in public now a couple times and in private as well is the experience that we have in this country, is the experience that democracies around the world have had about the process, the process by which proposals are tabled, and debated, and taken up and advanced or not. That’s what we’ve commented on.
QUESTION: And can I pivot to China?
MR PRICE: Anything else on Israel?
MR PRICE: Go ahead. Go ahead, Camilla, and we’ll come back.
QUESTION: Yes, just quickly. Is the Secretary going to or is there an active intention to meet with Wang Yi in Munich later this week? And have you had since last week, since these objects have been shot down, have you had any interaction with Chinese counterparts in D.C.?
MR PRICE: So the answer to that second question is yes, we believe in keeping the lines of communication open. We think that is important. It’s especially important in some ways at times of tension. But we are going to do everything we can as a responsible country to see to it that we have the ability to communicate with one another, to speak directly, candidly with one another.
To the first part of your question, we’re always assessing options for diplomacy. I’ll have to let the PRC speak to Wang Yi’s potential travel. We’ll have an opportunity to speak to Secretary Blinken’s potential travel, but I can tell you at the moment there’s no meeting on the books between Secretary Blinken and a senior PRC official.
John, go ahead.
QUESTION: So the U.S. is open to it, then?
MR PRICE: Look, John, first of all, we are open and we are committed to keeping lines of communication open. There are different ways to do that. We can pick up the phone; we can see officials in our respective embassies in Beijing or Washington; we can see officials in third countries; we can – as we were planning to do – travel to the PRC to engage in those face-to-face discussions. We’ll take a look at all of those options, and if they make sense given where we are in the bilateral relationship, and if it has the opportunity to be constructive and useful, of course that’s something that we would take a look at.
QUESTION: And on the same topic, we heard from Kirby that there was no indication that this was – that the crafts were surveilling anything, the recent crafts. Is there any indication or evidence that the craft belonged to a nation-state?
MR PRICE: My colleague at the White House just gave quite a long briefing on this. I think the bottom line is he conveyed is that these recovery operations are ongoing, and the first order of business here is recovering these objects and from there getting a better sense of just what they were and to whom they might have belonged.
QUESTION: Thank you. A follow-up, China, about human trafficking in China. There’s – North Korean defectors are being human trafficked in China. What actions will the United States take to China for the human trafficking?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, Janne, we’re intensely focused on this, and it was – it’s the very reason why all of the Cabinet departments and agencies that are involved in combating the scourge of human trafficking are assembled – or have been assembled – together today to – not only to herald those who have made tremendous contributions to this, but to plot out the next steps of our efforts to prioritize this challenge and to take it on. Our annual Trafficking in Persons Report includes sections on countries around the world. There’s a section in there on the PRC, so I would refer you to that for details.
QUESTION: One more. Just – Chinese President Xi Jinping and Iranian President Raisi, they’re meeting today, then they said that – they announced that they will discuss united anti-American front. How do you response on this?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the last part of your question.
QUESTION: They’re going to say – they announced that they were discussing both in Iran and China – anti – I mean, united anti-American front. So how will you response on this?
MR PRICE: I would leave it to those two countries to characterize the purpose of their meeting. I would just make a broader point, that there was a time not so long ago where the United States made a concerted effort to engage with the PRC on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program precisely because we recognize it to be a challenge to both of our countries. Our bilateral relationship with the PRC is complex; it is consequential. It is the most complex, probably the most consequential bilateral relationship we have. There are different aspects to that relationship that is primarily competitive. There are some aspects that are adversarial, potentially conflictual, which is why, again, we focused on maintaining those open lines of communication.
But there are areas that have been or have the potential to be collaborative, where we do share interests, where it is in America’s interest to engage with the PRC. In the context of Iran, we demonstrated that over the course of many years; working with the PRC in the context of the P5+1 – first the talks and later in the context of the Iran deal after it was implemented in January of 2016 – precisely because Iran’s nuclear program poses a challenge to the United States. It poses a challenge to the PRC as well.
There are other challenges to the international system that Iran poses that also implicate the PRC, just as there are challenges to the international system that the PRC engages in that are of profound concern to us. So I will leave it to these countries to discuss the point of this meeting. Each country is going to have to determine the nature of its relationship with the PRC. But when it comes to Iran, we think it is important that the rest of the world make very clear that Iran’s nuclear advancements, that its efforts to export terrorism and malign influence throughout the region and potentially beyond, that is not something that any country should tolerate, and certainly not support.
QUESTION: Question. Kim Jong-Un is highlighting his daughter recently. Do you think she will be the next North Korean leaders?
MR PRICE: I don’t have a —
QUESTION: How would you asses?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t comment on succession in the DPRK.
QUESTION: Why not?
MR PRICE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. If the – quick – I saw several videos showing the Barzani charity foundation delivering humanitarian aid to people in Türkiye and Syria. It is continue very successful, and people over there, they were very thankful. My question is why you are not trying to send some of your aid to Syria by the Kurdistan Regional Government. Do you believe your allied as Kurdistan Regional Government can provide good assistant to the delivery of aid to Syria, and especially Afrin City and around of Afrin?
MR PRICE: Well, to the first part of your country, we are – the first part of your question, excuse me – we are calling on countries around the world to do everything they can to support the people of Türkiye and Syria. We are doing that in this country. This is an effort that transcends the federal government. This is an effort where, once again, we’ve seen the generosity of spirit of the American people rise to the occasion. Yesterday during the Super Bowl we saw another example of that, of Americans having the opportunity and Americans taking advantage of the opportunity to provided much-needed support to the people of Türkiye and Syria.
As you know, our response on both sides of the border began almost immediately upon the news of the earthquakes last week. On the Syrian side of the border, to your question, our – there were independent NGOs that were able to respond within minutes of the earthquake precisely because the United States has been the world’s leading humanitarian provider to the Syrian people since 2011, since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria. We have supported the Syrian people, both inside Syria and Syrian people throughout the region, to the tune of some $15 billion over the course of those dozen years.
Now, the needs on both sides of the border are enormous. When it comes to the Syrian side of the border, there are obviously additional complications there, owing to the operating environment, owing to the fact that the Assad regime – with the backing of Russia – had heretofore, at least, allowed only a single humanitarian crossing for aid to traverse from Türkiye into Syria. We want to see that changed. We want to see all countries, including Russia – that has, again, until now refused to do so – stand on the side of the Syrian people and show that they can put political considerations aside in the face of profound suffering and profound need, and do the right thing – something they have refused to do here in recent years – precisely so that additional humanitarian aid can flow to the Syrian people.
We’re going to look at all potential and appropriate ways to provide aid to the Syrian people. We want to see that possibility opened to – the aperture opened even wider, with additional humanitarian crossings.
MR PRICE: Let – I need to move around. Yes. Go ahead.
MR PRICE: On this issue, on Syria —
QUESTION: So the second round of U.S.-Pakistan Mid-Level Defense Dialogue began in Washington today, as per reports. What more you could tell us about these meetings, what is the agenda, and also when is Counselor Derek going to Pakistan? Because it was said last week that he’s going to be visiting Pakistan this week. Could you tell us about the visit —
MR PRICE: Sure. So on your question on the dialogue, this is a dialogue that is administered by our colleagues at the Department of Defense, so I need to refer you to them for the specifics of these discussions. But the broader point is that we maintain a dialogue with Pakistan on a broad range of issues. We maintain productive engagement with our Pakistani partners at all levels of government, and we have a shared interest in combating what are, in some cases, shared threats to regional security and to the security of our respective countries.
We seek a strong partnership with Pakistan on counterterrorism. We look forward to cooperative efforts to eliminate regional and global terrorists and other security threats. The Mid-Level Defense Dialogue that is taking place this week, it’s an opportunity to continue those discussions and to deepen partnership towards those ends.
QUESTION: When is Derek, counselor, going to Pakistan —
MR PRICE: We’ll have more to say on his travel in in the coming days.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Ned. Three question. Number one, Zamir Kabulov, Putin representative, claimed that U.S. support Daesh-Khorasan, ISIS – number one. I don’t know what’s your position about that. Number two, Taliban has a lot of conflicts between each other, and today in Kabul they fight against – with Daesh. But Afghan people say this is not Daesh, this is all Taliban. What do you think end of the day? Taliban continue like that even they are not good between each other? They have so many conflicts.
And also, in the north in Afghanistan, war started between Uzbek people and Taliban. Any comment about that?
MR PRICE: So to your first question, Nazira, I just reject that out of hand. No country has done more to combat the specter of ISIS or Daesh than the United States. It was in 2014 and 2015 and – the United States corralled, organized, and since then has led the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
And not only have we led it, but we have led it effectively, with dozens of countries, some 70 countries from around the world, including some of our partners in South Asia who have joined these efforts. You can look at the effectiveness and the success of that leadership and that campaign in any number of ways, but if you take a look at the land that ISIS held in the Middle East and parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014 and 2015 compared to where we are now, there is a clear recognition that, because of this coalition, that America has continued to lead. Daesh has been decimated. We have wrested much of its territorial stronghold away from it. Its so-called caliphate is no more. We continue to be focused on ISIS and its affiliates around the world.
Of course, there is an especially dangerous affiliate in Afghanistan, ISIS-K. We’ve seen the lethality of ISIS-K. No American needs reminding of the danger this group posed as our troops were withdrawing from Afghanistan in August of 2021. President Biden has made a solemn commitment to remain focused on ISIS-K and, if necessary, to take action against it if we see plots emanate that are targeting the United States and our partners.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have three questions, so please bear with me. First one is about the JCC meeting in Riyadh. Special Envoy Robert Malley just left for Riyadh. It has been mentioned in your readouts that Iran is going to be one of the topics that you are going to talk about. Can you please elaborate more on that, that – what aspect of Iran is going to be discussed there? And also, Robert Malley had a meeting in Willard Hotel here in D.C. on Saturday with the Iraqi delegation. What was the outcome of that meeting?
MR PRICE: Sure. To your first question, we did announce over the weekend, I think it was, that a senior interagency delegation would be traveling to Riyadh. The delegation has arrived in Riyadh as Saudi Arabia is hosting the GCC secretariat’s headquarters to participate in three U.S.-GCC working groups this week. I believe they will culminate on Thursday. This delegation, which Rob Malley is heading, will meet with representatives from GCC member-state governments and the secretariat to discuss our shared priorities. These meetings will demonstrate the United States and GCC members’ shared commitment to advancing regional security and stability through cooperation across a range of issues.
There are three working groups at play here. One focuses on integrated air and missile defense and maritime security. There is a working group that is focused on Iran and the challenges that it poses. And there is a third working group that will focus on counterterrorism. And so the delegation will engage in all of those working groups.
QUESTION: Okay. And also, on Friday a group of eight figures – the most important and prominent Islamic Republic opposition – gathered here in Georgetown University, and they announced a sort of so-called qualification. We are expecting a charter to form united front against the Islamic Republic of Iran to be published by the end of February. This is the first time that the opposition, including Prince Reza Pahlavi, Masih Alinejad, Nazanin Boniadi are coming together, forming a coalition. What’s your reaction to that? Are you welcoming that?
And previously, you here at the State Department, you hosted Nazanin Boniadi. Are you planning to continue this sort of contact and talks with them?
MR PRICE: Well, of course no one, including the U.S. Government, can claim to speak for the people inside of Iran. Only they can do that. Our job of course is to listen to them and to support them in every appropriate way we can. We are also listening very closely to leaders of the diaspora community. We want to hear from them their thoughts, their perspectives, knowing that many of them have direct relatives who are in Iran. The Secretary has met with members of the diaspora, as have the deputy secretary, and in some cases heard just harrowing tales of the repression and violence that their relatives, family, friends have suffered at the hands of the regime.
So this is a task that we do every day. We want to hear from a wide array of voices so we can see to it that we’re best supporting the aspirations of the people of Iran.
QUESTION: And last question.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: Sorry, I said three – it’s about Iranian drones. Guardian reported yesterday that there was a new delivery of advanced Iranian drones to Russia in November. How are – what is your response to that?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to confirm that specific report, but the broader trend line is something – certainly something we’ve warned about for the better part of a year now. We have been warning since mid-last year of this burgeoning military and security relationship between Iran and Russia that has been not just a one-way street with Iran providing UAV technology to Russia, but it’s been a two-way street with Russia in turn providing Iran with wares that it needs and it wishes to have for its own military and security services.
We are taking action to do everything we can to counter this relationship and to counter that transfer of technology – again, looking at it as a two-way street. We’ve used our authorities to good effect; we have exposed this linkage. We are continuing to galvanize countries around the world to maintain the focus on this and to do everything we can as responsible countries around the world to counter what is a profound threat to the people of Ukraine, but also a security relationship that has the potential to be a threat to people well beyond.
QUESTION: Next —
MR PRICE: Go ahead. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you. NATO chief last week had a press conference with Secretary Blinken, talked about Chinese increased surveillance activities in New York China is conducting. What is the U.S. assessment of China’s surveillance programs in the Western Balkans, in particular? Are you seeing anything that concerns you and the NATO, and are there any spying balloons in the Western Balkans?
MR PRICE: So we did release some additional information last week. I recognize it was not enough information to satisfy the questions and curiosity of most of you in this room, but we did note the – when it comes to this program, the extensive, almost global nature of it – five continents, some 40 countries whose sovereignty has been violated by this particular PRC balloon program.
For reasons that are probably self-evident, we aren’t naming the countries that had been subjected to this. But what we are doing is engaging directly and privately with those countries to share with them what we know, to hear from them what they know, recognizing that this is a shared challenge. And just as we do with all of the challenges that the PRC poses to the rules-based order, we know that we’re always going to be in a stronger position, we’re always going to be in a more effective position to address those challenges when we’re working with our allies and partners. That certainly includes our allies and partners in Europe. NATO as an Alliance has recognized what it calls, I believe, the systemic challenge that the PRC poses to the rules-based order. This is something on which we’ve seen a great deal of convergence between the United States, Europe, NATO, and countries around the world.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: On the warning to Americans in Russia to leave immediately, do you have a sense of how many Americans are there? Have you received any outreach from Americans that are trying to leave? What’s the plan for the embassy? And why now? We’ve been knowing that this has been a concern for a while. Why has this re-upped?
MR PRICE: I’m glad you ended there, because that’s where I wanted to start. This is not new guidance that we are providing to the American people. We have been warning the American people for months now that they should not travel to Russia, and we’ve been warning Americans who may have been in Russia that now is not the time to be in Russia and that they should depart immediately.
What we did do – and we often reissue what is known as our Travel Advisories for countries around the world – but we reissued our Travel Advisory for Russia with several updates, and that includes information regarding dual national military conscription, martial law in Russian areas bordering Ukraine, limitations on Embassy Moscow staff use of airlines, and Russian legislative changes permitting prosecution of those who, quote/unquote, “discredit” Russia or advocate for the rights of LGBTQI+ persons and consular services in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.
So these are changes that are material to the American citizen community in Russia. But again, our message should be that Americans – our message is that Americans should depart Russia. They should depart Russia immediately owing to a number of risks that are spelled out in much greater detail in that broader Travel Advisory.
QUESTION: How real is the threat of them being drafted or forced to serve in the Russian army?
MR PRICE: Well, again, it’s going to be based on the individual, but it is a concern we have to the extent that we thought it prudent to reissue our Travel Advisory warning against the possibility of conscription for dual nationals. This is not something that we want Americans to consider precisely because we want them to leave Russia. We do not want them to leave themselves subject to these or any other measures that could put them in grave danger.
QUESTION: Thank you – excuse me?
MR PRICE: I’ll go to you next, Alex.
QUESTION: Could I just go back to Nicaragua?
MR PRICE: Sure. Do you have a follow-up on that, Alex?
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MR PRICE: Okay, and then I’ll come back.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks so much. This comes days after U.S. embassy diplomats got threatened, warned by Russian Government. I’m just trying to find if there’s any connection there.
Also, I asked before, previously, the state of the U.S. business. There are some companies are still operating in Russia. Do you – are you planning to come up with any guidance in light of today’s announcement?
And lastly, some countries like France today also extended notice to Belarus. I was wondering if you are also planning to include Belarus to today’s announcement.
MR PRICE: So we are constantly looking at conditions within each individual country and updating our Travel Advisories as appropriate. That’s precisely what we did in the case of Russia. Should conditions warrant, we’ll update the Travel Advisory for Belarus as well.
When it comes to American businesses, American businesses are going to have to make their own decisions based on a variety of factors – legal constraints, sanctions, the economic viability of their model, reputational concerns with operating in a place like Russia. This is not a decision we can make for companies. This is – these are decisions that companies will have to make for themselves.
What we are encouraging, of course, is that Americans, including American businesspeople working for – whether they’re American companies or multinationals or conglomerates, that they not be in Russia because those individuals are subject to undue risk. The fact is that about a thousand American companies have fled the Russian marketplace since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They have not done that because they have been prohibited by the U.S. Government from operating in Russia. They have done that based on their own calculations, and in some cases, the Russian Government has reinforced that very same message by threatening to seize assets, by threatening to take extralegal actions against these companies that pose a threat to their people, that pose a threat to their business model, that pose a threat to their viability. So a number of countries have heeded our advice and a number of them have come to their own decisions on that front.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Quick, to Nicaragua?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Following up on the release of prisoners on Thursday, on Friday, I believe it was, Nicaragua sentenced to more than two decades in prison Bishop Álvarez, who apparently was offered and did not go – did not come to Washington. Do you have any reaction to that and what this says about any budding thaw, normalization, or better relationship with Nicaragua?
MR PRICE: Well, let me first start with the action that you mentioned. We condemn this action by the Government of Nicaragua and we urge Bishop Álvarez’s immediate release. We also appreciate Pope Francis’s strong advocacy for Bishop Álvarez. We continue to call for the release of individuals imprisoned in Nicaragua for exercising their fundamental freedoms, and we remain steadfast in encouraging the government to restore civil liberties and democracy for the Nicaraguan people.
When we spoke late last week about the arrival of 222 former political prisoners from Nicaragua into the United States, we made very clear this was a welcome step, this was a constructive step, but this was in no way a panacea for the many concerns we have with the Nicaraguan regime, including the repression and oppression it continues to wield against its own people. With the 222 political prisoners who were released last week and allowed to travel to the United States, there are still many more political prisoners who remain behind. We continue to call on the Nicaraguan Government to release those who are held for doing nothing more than exercising the right that is as universal to them as it is to people around the world.
Goyal, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Two questions on South Asia. First, let’s go back to Pakistan. It’s very sad to see the press reports and TV and also experts that politically and economically situation is very bad, and also former Prime Minister Imran Khan also have already – many times already accused and also challenged the current regime. But in this middle of this thing going on in Pakistan, minorities are under attack, vandalized, there is lootings and rapes and killings and murders, like Christians and Hindus and also, of course, Ahmadiyyas and Sikhs and many others. But what they are saying that their issues are being ignored because of these situations going on in Pakistan. So my question is there – if anything you have been doing to protect their well-being in Pakistan.
MR PRICE: We’re aware of reports of harassment of religious minorities in Pakistan. As you know, we have an office in the State Department, the Office of International Religious Freedom, that is focused on these issues. They issue a report every year that features countries around the world. This is something that our partners on the Hill are very focused on as well. Whether it’s Pakistan, whether it is any country around the world, our message is one of the importance of tolerance – religious tolerance for groups large and small but certainly to include religious minorities. It’s a message that we reinforce in public. It’s a message that we convey in private as well.
QUESTION: And my second question is as far as U.S. companies are concerned, more and more companies are firing computer experts or ITs and H-1 visa and 2 visas now – more and more, thousands and thousands, and many of them are in this area. What is the future as far as to stay in the U.S.? Because they’ve been here for 5, 10 – even 20 years, but they’ve been on an H-1 visas and now they have no place to go as far as to stay in the U.S. These companies are firing more and more people.
MR PRICE: Well, I think you’re – you may be alluding to some – a statement that one of our senior officials from our Bureau of Counselor Affairs made last week. The broader point is that the Department of State is committed to safeguarding national security while facilitating legitimate travel to the United States for both immigrant and nonimmigrant travelers. We know that timely visa processing is essential to the U.S. economy and to the administration’s goal of family reunification. We are quickly lowering visa interview wait times worldwide. This is certainly true in South Asia. This is a direct result of our hard work by our consular teams in the field and an embrace of innovation and efficiency in our processes.
But we’re also using new tools to not only address interview wait times, but to introduce efficiencies and customer service improvements. In this fiscal year – in FY ’22 – embassies and consulates process 90 percent of their pre-pandemic 2019 nonimmigrant visa volume and expect to exceed that in this year, in 2023.
As part of these efforts, to your question, we’re working in earnest on plans to restart domestic visa revalidation for applicants who are physically present here in the United States and renewing their visa in certain petition-based nonimmigrant visa categories. And we hope to have a pilot up and running later this year. This, when it is up and running, would eliminate the need for these applicants to travel abroad to renew visas – all part of the effort to eliminate inefficiencies. We can’t comment at this point on how many visa holders would be initially eligible, but the pilot we hope and expect would begin with a small number of cases before scaling up in the coming one to two years.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) questions on China. Number one is there was a train derailment in Ohio a couple of days ago, and there were a lot of chemicals that were loaded on that train. I asked your colleague since morning – they were very kind, messaged back and forth. But my question is: Would it be correct to say that if these chemicals were to be imported from China, and after these balloons incidents are happening, would it be correct to say that China has started espionage activities in the U.S.? Can you say anything about that?
MR PRICE: So the train derailment, that is something I would need to refer to the Department of Transportation and others who are responding. Of course, I’ve seen the imagery of this derailment in Ohio, just the plumes of smoke and destruction that’s surrounding it – it’s just —
QUESTION: The train I am not focused on. I am focused more on the chemicals that were on it.
MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to what chemicals might have been on a train in northwest Ohio.
QUESTION: Okay. One more question. Again, a few weeks ago I had used the term “compromising on U.S. values.” In this country, one of the values is the freedom of religion, and being Muslim, I go for Friday prayers every week. But one of my colleague who just recently went to China, he inform me that the Islamic and the Muslim people over there are being treated so much worse than what the U.S. has even informed the public about it, and after getting that report, I checked with your former colleagues as well. And it has come into the notice that whenever things are good with China, then the Muslims were treated the way they are treated where you guys do not take action about that when there is good relations. But when there’s bad relations, then the Uyghur Muslims issue raises up and stuff.
But can you confirm that the – can you at least confirm that the Muslims in China, beside the Uyghurs, tons of Muslims in different states are being treated very horribly? And it is in the notice of the State Department and you guys don’t talk about it.
MR PRICE: Well, I would dispute the premise of your question. Regardless of the state of bilateral relationship with any other country around the world, our values are immutable. Our values don’t change. And we are always going to speak out when we see systemic persecution, certainly on the scale that we’ve seen in the PRC. You said leaving aside the Uyghurs; I think that is difficult to do, given the scale of atrocities that we have seen and human rights violations that we’ve seen committed against the Uyghurs by PRC authorities. We’ve been clear and consistent that this is a genocide. It’s an ongoing genocide directed against the PRC’s Uyghur minorities.
But to the broader part of your question, there are other elements and aspects to persecution based on religious identity in the PRC. And going back to what your colleague asked just a moment ago, we have an office that is very focused on this. Every year we produce a report that has quite detailed information on what we see in the PRC and countries around the world.
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you, Ned. What does the U.S. delegation visit to Saudi Arabia mean? Did the administration finish its review and did you open a new page with the Saudis? And I have one more question, please.
MR PRICE: So Michel, as I mentioned a moment ago, they are traveling to Saudi Arabia – they are in Saudi Arabia now – to meet with the GCC, to take part in the important working group, these important GCC working groups. When it comes to Saudi Arabia, one, we are grateful to the kingdom for hosting these critical meetings; we do believe they are valuable opportunities to discuss shared concerns with all of our GCC partners.
And when it comes to our relationship with Saudi Arabia, we have multiple interests. We have important work to accomplish with our Saudi partners. We are focused on pursuing and forging and crafting and operationalizing a bilateral relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that serves the interests of the American people, that serves the interests of the United States, and that serves the purpose of a more integrated, more stable, more prosperous, more opportunity-filled Middle East.
The security relationship we have with Saudi Arabia remains strong. We witnessed just a few months ago when our countries worked together to deter and to disrupt a threat emanating from Iran towards the kingdom. There are other examples of that. We are always looking at ways to optimize each and every one of our bilateral relationships around the world.
And at the center of that work is one simple question: Is this relationship most effectively serving the American people, serving our interests? And that’s work that’s going to be ongoing in all of our diplomacy.
QUESTION: And do you have any updates on the U.S.-Qatari Strategic Dialogue being held in Doha?
MR PRICE: I don’t have an update on timing for you. Of course, when we were in Qatar in November of last year, we discussed plans for the upcoming Strategic Dialogue. But we’ll let you know when we have dates to announce.
QUESTION: Last time you claimed, quote, “We follow the law in every instance.” But Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s last article was an admonition to this administration headlined, “Joe Biden Should End the U.S. Pretense Over Israel’s Secret Nuclear Weapons.” The subhead was, “The coverup has to stop, and with it the large sums in aid for a country with oppressive policies towards Palestinians.” The archbishop noted specifically amendments by former Senators Glenn, Stuart Symington and John Glenn banned U.S. economic and military assistance to nuclear proliferators and countries that acquire nuclear weapons. He noted that Israel not only got nuclear weapons but also, quote, “There is overwhelming evidence that it offered to sell the apartheid regime of South Africa nuclear weapons in the 1970s and even conducted a joint nuclear test. The U.S. Government tried to cover up these facts.” The archbishop added, quote, “The U.S. Government should uphold its laws and cut off funding to Israel because of its acquisition and proliferation of nuclear weapons.”
Are you not in fact in violation of this U.S. law which is part of the Arms Export Control Act, as the late archbishop charges?
MR PRICE: This administration follows the law. We have an ironclad relationship with Israel, as I mentioned before. We are committed to Israel’s security. That, of course, remains the same. We’ve spoken a lot about Israel and that bilateral relationship today, but that security partnership is strong and we’re committed to preserving that and to strengthening that.
QUESTION: But I just cited a specific law. Will you reply to the law? Are you not in violation of the Glenn/Symington Amendments to the Arms Export Act?
MR PRICE: We follow the law in all instances.
QUESTION: You have to specify. You have to give me more information than that. It says that there should be a cutoff of U.S. aid to a country that proliferates nuclear weapons, or the president can issue a waiver. There has been no information of any sort of waiver. Have there been any waivers?
MR PRICE: I’m not familiar with the details of this law, but I can tell you that we follow the law in —
QUESTION: I’m talking about details; I’m talking about the core.
MR PRICE: — in every – in every instance.
QUESTION: I’m talking about the core of the law.
QUESTION: Are – I’m citing a law and you’re not responding to any specifics on this specific law.
MR PRICE: Again, I’m not familiar with the details of this law.
QUESTION: Will you get back on this with us – to us?
MR PRICE: I’m not familiar with the details of this law, but of course we —
QUESTION: Will you get back on the specifics here?
MR PRICE: If we have anything to share on this law, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I hope you are familiar what’s going on in Ethiopia. I’m asking you – I present this question to you not only as a correspondent but also as an Orthodox Christian. So in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, one of the oldest in the world and which accounts for about 40 percent of the country’s 120 million population, is under threat after the move by the breakaway bishops who created their own synod. There should be no other synod in Ethiopia – one holy synod, one patriarch for the whole Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Ned, unless there is a peaceful solution for the current religious crisis in Ethiopia, it is difficult to imagine the magnitude of the dangers the current development in Ethiopia is posing not only to one of the most ancient church of 1,007 years, but also to the peace and the stability of the whole nation and the region.
My question to you, Ned: What is the State Department’s position regarding the current very dangerous situation in Ethiopia?
MR PRICE: So this is something that we have not only addressed, but something that we have worked on intensively. And as you know well, as a result of that diplomatic effort that we have put forward and our partners in the African Union and across the African continent have put forward, there has been a cessation of hostilities agreement that has been in place since early November of last year. We recently marked three months of that cessation of hostilities agreement being in effect, but most importantly for that cessation of hostilities agreement being respected by the parties themselves. We’ve seen a significant diminution of the violence. We are aware that Eritrean forces are withdrawing from Ethiopia. We are going to continue to attempt to build on the progress of that cessation of hostilities agreement, but to attempt to build on the progress of greater levels of stability, greater levels of security for the people of Ethiopia – all of the people of Ethiopia.
QUESTION: But can I have – hold on one second, Ned. My question to you is not about the Tigray. I give credit to the United States for bringing a peace deal between the Ethiopian Government and TPLF. But the question has nothing to do with TPLF. Right now there is another very dangerous situation which involves politics, religion, and race. There – it’s like a coup d’etat to get rid of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. That is my question. If there is no peaceful solution, we are going to see more, more dangerous situations than we see in Tigray. So that’s my question. What is the State Department position right now what we have in Ethiopia – regarding this religious conflict, religious crisis?
MR PRICE: So we are a partner to the people of Ethiopia; we’re a partner to the Government of Ethiopia. We’ve worked with stakeholders across Ethiopian society. We want to be there not only to help build on what’s been achieved in Tigray, but when it comes to reports of instability in other parts of the country. We’ve spoken of Oromia, for example. You’re raising other issues. We want to be a partner to the Government of Ethiopia, to the people of Ethiopia, and we’ll do what we can to support that.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Ned. I have two questions. One question about Rob Malley’s meeting with the Iraqi foreign minister. This meeting came after the Iranian foreign minister called the Iraqi foreign minister on Friday, then after that they – he had a meeting with Rob Malley at the hotel. Then what I’ve learned, they discussed JCPOA and also they discussed what Iranian foreign minister talked to Iraqi foreign minister. Do you have any indirect talks with Iran? And if the JCPOA is not on your agenda, why it’s being discussed with the – Iraq, then they will go back to Iran?
My second question about Iraq. There is – congressional lawmakers are trying again to repeal the 2002 law, Authorization for Use of Military Forces against Iraq. Are you in their book to repeal this act now?
MR PRICE: On the question of the AUMF, this is something that we spoke about during the last congress. We do support the repeal of the 2002 AUMF. As you know, there are two AUMFs that are currently in existence. The 2001 AUMF provides us with the authority that we deem necessary to take action that we deem prudent when it comes to the threats posed by terrorist groups, for example.
On Rob Malley’s discussions, I’m not going to characterize any particular engagement he has – he has had, but I will just reiterate that there has been no discussion of resuscitating the JCPOA. That is not on the agenda. It hasn’t been on the agenda when we’ve engaged with partners and it hasn’t been on the agenda when we’ve engaged indirectly with the Iranians.
When it come to what we’re conveying to the Iranians, we have means by which to convey those messages, and they really boil down to three simple messages: stop killing your people, stop providing UAV technology to Russia, and release the wrongfully detained American citizens.
Yes, go ahead. And we’ll – last question in the back.
QUESTION: Oh okay, thank you for taking my question. So today Deputy Secretary Sherman had a joint press meeting, like, with U.S., Japan, and ROK. In that meeting, was there any conversation (inaudible) discussion discussed about like joint sanction due to recent Chinese behavior, like Chinese spy balloon?
MR PRICE: So I wasn’t in on those discussions. I also haven’t had a chance to speak with the deputy. But fortunately, you all had a chance to hear from Deputy Sherman herself and from her ROK and Japanese counterparts.
Let me just say broadly when it comes to the DPRK we’ve consistently called on responsible stakeholders the world over to uphold UN Security Council resolutions. That of course applies to permanent members of the UN Security Council, the countries that themselves negotiated and formalized these Security Council resolutions.
It is incumbent on all countries, including the PRC, to follow the letter and the spirit of the Security Council resolutions that have been implemented. The DPRK’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs pose a threat not only to the United States, to our deployed forces, to our citizens in the region, but to our allies, the ROK and Japan. And it is certainly not in the interest of any country in the region, and that includes the PRC.
QUESTION: So I’m going to go back to Syria real quick. Time is of the essence, so why did the U.S. wait until yesterday, six days after the earthquake, to formally call for a UN Security Council resolution that would open up more crossings?
MR PRICE: We have been formally calling for more cross-border openings, cross-border checkpoints, consistently. We have done this every single time there has been a vote at the UN. You have heard us twice a year now call for not only longer duration of these cross-border transit points from six months to a year, but we’ve consistently made the point that one is not enough. And one is not enough precisely because of what we saw in the earliest days following the earthquake.
When the one crossing that Russia would agree to in the Security Council was made inaccessible after the earthquake, it was a stark reminder to the rest of the world of the need for redundancies. Hopefully it was a stark illustration to not only the regime in Damascus but also to the Russian Federation of the moral imperative of putting aside politics, putting aside petty relationships, and doing what is right for the people of Syria. That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what we’re putting forward in the UN. That’s what we’ve heard a lot of support for in recent days from our UN partners.
QUESTION: Just a very quick follow-up. Just in the past – well, during the briefing now, there’s a statement from Secretary-General Guterres saying that Assad has agreed to two more border crossings. Do you have any information on that or any reaction to that?
MR PRICE: Well, certainly hope Assad is serious about this. Of course, it hasn’t been only Russia that’s been opposed to this in the past. The Assad regime has consistently argued against additional humanitarian crossings. But if the regime is serious about this and if the regime is willing to put those words into action, that would be a good thing for the Syrian people.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned.
(The briefing was concluded at 4:16 p.m.)
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