Department Press Briefing – February 17, 2021
2:37 p.m. EST
This administration has made clear that the United States values our alliances and will work with our partners and friends around the world to pursue common interests across the globe.
I’m pleased to announce that tomorrow morning Secretary Blinken and his counterparts from Japan, Australia, and India will speak together.
The Quad, as it’s known, and this discussion with the Quad foreign ministers, is critical to advancing our shared goals of a free and open Indo-Pacific and rising to the defining challenges of our time, including coordinating our efforts on COVID-19 response as well as climate change.
The Secretary will also participate tomorrow in a virtual meeting with his counterparts from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom – the so-called E3 – to discuss our shared global challenges. This engagement this week is a follow up to the February 5 meeting of this same group, the E3.
And on Monday, February 22, Secretary Blinken will participate in the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council at the invitation of EU High Representative Josep Borrell. The Secretary is pleased to accept the invitation as an opportunity to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to repair, to revitalize, and to raise the level of ambition in the U.S.-EU relationship and relations with EU member-states.
We look forward to providing readouts for each of these meetings. And we’ll of course have more to say on all of them in the coming hours and days.
So with that —
QUESTION: Wait. In the coming hours?
MR PRICE: Well, it is obvious that tomorrow morning is hours away, Matt, yes.
QUESTION: No, I mean, are you going to give us a preview of —
MR PRICE: No, I do not expect we’ll give you a preview, but after the fact.
QUESTION: Okay. So you got the Quad, the V – the E3 —
MR PRICE: And the FAC, the Foreign Affairs Council.
QUESTION: — and the FAC. So what’s next, the quint, the quartet, the sextet?
MR PRICE: Right now we have the Quad, the E3, and the FAC.
QUESTION: Okay. Can I start with Iran?
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: So you will have seen probably that the head of the IAEA is going to Tehran. You may have also – at least I hope you have – seen that Rouhani has said that if you guys gradually back into meeting your – meeting the obligations of the deal, that they will also do it. And I know, and please don’t say that you’re not going to negotiate it from the podium, but, I mean, is this something that is acceptable to you, I mean, or is it just something that is just out of – it’s just not going to work? It’s all or nothing.
MR PRICE: Sorry, the antecedent – what is the “this?”
QUESTION: The – if they return gradually, then you will return gradually.
MR PRICE: Yeah. Well, let me just start – because you referenced Iran and the IAEA, so let me just start with a bit of context. And, of course, we are aware of Iran’s threat to cease the provisional application of its Additional Protocol obligations as well as other inspections provided for under the 2015 deal, the JCPOA. This, of course, comes on top of other steps Iran has taken that exceed, go beyond what the JCPOA allows in terms of limits on its nuclear programs.
The good news, of course, is that all of these steps are reversible and the path for diplomacy remains open. And I would say that as we and our partners have underscored, Iran should reverse these steps and refrain from taking others that would impact the IAEA assurances on which not only the United States, not only our allies and partners in the region, but the entire world relies. Iran should provide full and timely cooperation with the IAEA.
Of course, the proposition that you have heard from this podium, that you have heard from the President of the United States, that you have heard from Secretary Blinken, it of course remains on the table: If Iran resumes its full compliance with the deal, we will do the same. Importantly, as you have also heard us say, that the deal for us, it is a floor, it’s not a ceiling, and we want to go beyond the 2015 deal, lengthen and strengthen it, and build on it with follow-on arrangements to address other areas of concern when it comes to our relationship with Iran and concern that our allies and partners share, including Iran’s ballistic missile program.
So, of course, the path for diplomacy remains there. We hope to be able to pursue it together with our allies and partners.
QUESTION: So the previous administration, before the former president pulled out of the deal in 2018, but there was a year, almost a year – 14 months in between then when the previous administration tried to do exactly what you’re talking about, which was to lengthen and strengthen and to go on to – to go beyond that to get into missile activity and what they term malign activity in the region. How is it that you – that you think that your – this administration is going to do that any differently? Because the previous administration was not successful in its attempts and they tried pretty hard.
MR PRICE: Well, you’re right about that. You are also right about the fact that – I guess you didn’t say this explicitly, but I will – when the JCPOA was in place, the breakout time – that is, the time that Iran would require to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon – was 12 months. Published reports today put that at much closer to a few months, although those reports vary. But we know that Iran is heading in the wrong direction when it comes to that, and so that’s why we are so insistent as the JCPOA, with its verifiable – with its permanent limits on Iran’s nuclear program, with the inspections that it affords not only the United States, again, but the international community – that’s why it’s so important for us that this be the floor and not the ceiling.
Now, when it comes to our approach, I think what I would point to that distinguishes our approach in the context of Iran, but also in the context of just about any other challenge we face, is that we understand that we need to bring our allies and partners along with us. The Secretary, the President of the United States, others in this administration – to include the Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley – they have spent the past few weeks working the phones, working the VTC, ensuring that we are addressing this challenge in lockstep with our allies and partners. We know that for every challenge we face, our partners and our allies are going to be force multipliers.
When it comes to the challenge of Iran, we entered into this deal in 2015 in the context of the P5+1. Those partners and allies are indispensable to this effort. Of course, there’ll be an E3 meeting tomorrow. I would expect – E3 meeting tomorrow, yes. I would expect Iran to be a topic of discussion there, but it’s just one element of that coordination with our partners and allies. I think if – we can’t be successful if we don’t have that coordination. It is a necessary but insufficient element of our approach, but we are getting the fundamentals right, or at least we’re in the course of doing that. And that’s why we focus so concertedly on that coordination.
QUESTION: Okay, last – last one real quick. So you said yes, it’s going to be a part of the E3 conversation tomorrow. So in the first year of the previous administration, Brian – do you know if Rob Malley has talked to Brian Hook at all about —
MR PRICE: I haven’t had that discussion with —
QUESTION: — his efforts during that first year of the Trump administration to try to get the Europeans on board with extending – you don’t know?
MR PRICE: If Special Envoy Malley has spoken with Brian Hook?
MR PRICE: I haven’t had the discussion with the special envoy.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: On the E3 and —
MR PRICE: Sure.
MR PRICE: So I think it’s – well, of course, they met on February 5th, I believe it was, earlier this month. And in the context of that meeting, they did discuss shared challenges. They discussed Iran, they discussed climate, they discussed COVID, they discussed Russia, they discussed China, they discussed Burma. I know the French, I believe, announced the E3 recently, and I know they have said in the context of that Iran, broader regional challenges will be on the table. In that regard, I, of course, would point you to the joint statement that was released last night by the Secretary, by his French counterpart, by his German counterpart, by his Italian counterpart, and by the UK foreign secretary condemning the attack in Erbil and noting our united views – united view, excuse me – that attacks on U.S. and coalition personnel and facilities will not be tolerated. So I expect in the context of regional challenges that will be one of them, but I expect there will also be other items on the agenda as well.
MR PRICE: So the investigation, of course, is ongoing. We’re in the early days of this. As you know, the Secretary has spoken with his Kurdish counterpart, with his Iraqi counterpart. Others within the administration have reached out to their counterparts. We are moving is – as quickly as we can, knowing that the safety and security of U.S. Government personnel and U.S. citizens and the security of our facilities is a top priority for us. I think it is also safe to say that, of course, we’re not going to preview a response, but it is fair to say that there will be consequences for any group responsible for this attack. As I spoke to it yesterday, our Kurdish partners, our Iraqi partners, together they are working on this investigation to determine who precisely was responsible. Any response we take will be in full coordination with the Government of Iraq and with our coalition partners as well.
QUESTION: Follow-up on Iraq? How would you characterize how the department balances the inherent risks of working in Iraq versus any kind of diplomatic benefits it may yield?
MR PRICE: Yeah. Well, this is a challenge I think that goes well beyond Iraq. And we know that in order for America to pursue our values and to pursue our interests around the world, we have to be engaged in the world. And, of course, engagement in some corners of the world carries added risks. Diplomacy is not a risk-free venture, and we are absolutely grateful to our colleagues who are on the front lines, in war zones, in places where violence is high, in places where political instability is rife. The Secretary has been able to speak to some of them virtually. He made a point of reaching out to missions – he has made a point of reaching out to missions around the world and has spoken to some of our officers deployed in conflict zones precisely for that reason: knowing that we need to be engaged, just as we take every prudent precaution we can to protect our facilities, our people, our dependents, and, of course, those of our partners and allies.
MR PRICE: Sure. Iran? I didn’t hear – so, yes, Rosiland.
QUESTION: Yeah. Keeping in mind that you’re not going to tell us everything that comes up during the E3 meeting on Thursday, as part of trying to return to the JCPOA and expand it, what is this building doing to bring Congress along, one, to make certain that there is political –domestic political support for a deal with Iran, and two, to send the signal to Iran that should the administration change hands in four years, that whatever work is done now isn’t upended again in four years’ time?
MR PRICE: Well, you will know from the Secretary’s confirmation hearing that he was adamant about the need for a constructive partnership with Congress. The Secretary has, of course, been, as he likes to say, on the family plan with his partners and allies around the world, but also with members of Congress. And he’s held a number of conversations with relevant lawmakers, both as – when he was the designate, as courtesy calls, but also since his time in office, to include substantive discussions on some of these issues. The Secretary has also been clear with the staff in the building that as an institution, we need to ensure that we are prioritizing this partnership with Congress. It is good for the department. It is good for the Article I branch of government, but it’s also indispensable to our democracy.
We need a Congress, and we in fact want a Congress, that is actively engaged in foreign policy and that is a constructive partner with us. And I think the Secretary would tell you that he has heard a lot of constructive feedback from those members that he has spoken with and will continue to prioritize that engagement. Just in recent days, the Secretary has underscored for all of us that we need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to prioritize that relationship, and we’ll continue to do so.
QUESTION: Sorry, on the family plan —
QUESTION: Does that mean that – does that mean —
QUESTION: In that respect refers to what, a cell phone – like kind of a —
MR PRICE: It was a turn of phrase, but —
QUESTION: Right, but that’s – that’s what you’re talking about?
MR PRICE: Correct. Correct. Correct.
QUESTION: Like he’s talking to them so much that —
MR PRICE: Correct. Correct. Yes.
QUESTION: On Iran?
MR PRICE: On Iran? Sure.
QUESTION: When will Rob Malley start traveling and where will be his first stops? And then to follow up on Matt’s question, are you ruling out a gradual return to compliance as an option to coming back to the JCPOA?
MR PRICE: You’re not going to hear me rule anything in or rule anything out, certainly not today, certainly not from the podium. I think when it comes to Rob Malley, his travel is consistent with our policy for department – senior department leadership across the board. There is a general disposition, as I’ve said before, against travel. Of course, if there are exigent or urgent circumstances and Special Envoy Malley needs to travel, I’m quite certain he will be able to avail himself of that opportunity. But, of course, we are doing everything we can to protect our people, to protect those with whom we may come into contact, and to minimize travel consistent with an administration-wide policy.
Anything else on Iran?
QUESTION: Follow-up on Rob Malley. The Chinese ministry of foreign affairs said that he spoke to the vice foreign minister of China last week, but you guys didn’t read out that call. Is there some reason why you haven’t confirmed that? Are you able to confirm that now?
MR PRICE: We often don’t speak to individual engagements, but what I can say – and what I have said, in fact – is that Rob Malley has been engaging in ongoing consultations with members of Congress, with our allies, with our partners, and with others, including members of the P5+1. And I can confirm that does include Vice Minister Ma of China. Of course, China was – is a member of the P5+1, so that engagement is an important one.
QUESTION: And did he speak to Martin Griffiths before his visit to Iran, the UN envoy?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry, did Special Envoy Malley? I don’t know the timing of that. We can see if there’s anything to provide there.
QUESTION: Just briefly on Iran – the role of the European Union. As you know, Foreign Minister Zarif has spoken about a role for Josep Borrell in trying to coordinate action. Is that something that’s going to be in the discussions tomorrow? What’s the role that you see for the EU when – going forward?
MR PRICE: Well, the role of the EU is an important one, and it is important precisely because the P5+1 includes the EU in addition to the European member states. And so it’s going to be on the agenda for the E3 tomorrow. It’s going to be – and it has been on our bilateral agenda with the individual member states who are part of the P5+1 with the Brits, the French, and the Germans, but also with the EU, precisely because the EU was there at the inception, and the EU has an important role to play going forward.
Anything else on Iran, or should we move on? Okay.
MR PRICE: Egypt? Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday you raised some human rights concerns in Egypt regarding the family of Mohamed Soltan. But you also notified Congress about a big arms deal with Egypt. So why is the – why is the State Department moving ahead with these arms sales despite these human rights concerns?
MR PRICE: Well, as a general matter, what I would say is that we are committed to supporting Egypt’s efforts to meet its self-defense requirements while also ensuring that respect for democracy and human rights returns to the forefront of U.S. policy, not only toward Egypt, but as I have said before, to every single relationship we have around the world. You are right that on February 16th, the department approved a proposed FMS, a foreign military sale, for rolling airframe missiles and related equipment for slightly less than $200 million. This proposed sale is a routine replenishment of naval defense surface-to-air missiles. It serves U.S. and global interests by enhancing the Egyptian navy’s ability to defend Egypt’s coastal areas and approaches to the Suez. And, of course, the Egyptian navy plays an important role in ensuring freedom of navigation and safe passage through the Suez.
This was a process that had started – I believe it was late last week when we started notifications with Congress. And again, this was a routine replenishment of defensive weapons. That in no way prevents us from continuing to uphold our focus on democracy and human rights. You heard me say – speak yesterday to the reports of Egypt’s reported actions against the family members of Mohamed Soltan. We are raising these reports with the Egyptian Government, and we won’t tolerate assaults or threats by foreign governments against American citizens or their family members. Such behavior is against our values, it’s against our interests, and it very much undermines our bilateral partnerships around the world.
QUESTION: Do you at least get that the optics —
MR PRICE: Let’s – I want to move it around a little bit. Rich.
QUESTION: Well —
MR PRICE: Matt, Matt, if there is time —
QUESTION: Can we stay at – can we stay on Egypt for one second? Can you at least —
MR PRICE: Does anyone else have an Egypt question?
QUESTION: Can I ask something related?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: That has nothing to do with Egypt. Can I ask you about the optics of —
MR PRICE: Matt —
QUESTION: — after you come out and say that you have concerns —
MR PRICE: Shaun, I will answer your question. As you know, in – a couple weeks ago when the President was here and shortly thereafter, the White House spoke of a new process we would undertake to review sensitive arms transfers. This was a process that’s being led by the NSC to ensure that when it comes to particularly sensitive proposed transfers – sales and transfers – that they are consistent not only with our interests, but also with our values.
Now, you raise the Emirati F-35 sale. Of course, this is a longer-term proposition. As I understand it, it is years away. So I don’t have an update for you there, especially given that long timeframe we are working with.
QUESTION: On North Korea. The Secretary had ordered a review of U.S. policy on North Korea. Could you give us a look at where is that right now? Have there been consultations with Japan and South Korea? And also, is the U.S. position still the same – total and irreversible denuclearization – or is there room for arms control talks, that idea?
MR PRICE: Well, and that will begin with the thorough policy review that you refer to. We are doing that in close consultation with our South Korean allies, with our Japanese allies, and with other allies and partners both in the Indo-Pacific and more broadly as well, knowing that, again, just as we said in the case of Iran, we need to have them with us if we are going to take an effective and ultimately successful approach vis-a-vis the challenge of North Korea’s nuclear program, its ballistic missiles program, its other areas of concerns. And, of course, you heard from the Department of Justice this morning on another of those areas of concern.
Our focus will be on reducing the threat to the United States and of our allies, as well as improving the lives of the North and South Korean people. And to your other point, we do remain committed to the principle of denuclearization. It is a – it is very much a part of that approach that we will have going forward.
QUESTION: Also on North Korea, you just mentioned the Justice Department announcement today on the hackers, and earlier this week South Korean officials said that North – or alleged that North Koreans had attacked the U.S. drug maker Pfizer for data on COVID-19 vaccines. First, specifically about the Pfizer attack, do you have any response to that or information about it? And second, more broadly, how is cyber security factoring into your policy review on North Korea?
MR PRICE: Sure. When it comes to the specific report you mentioned, we’re aware of these reports, but we don’t have a specific comment on this particular case. I would say that in general, North Korea’s malicious cyber activities threaten the United States, they threaten our allies and partners and other countries around the world. We know from previous cases – and I’m not speaking about the indictment that the Department of Justice unsealed today – but that North Korea poses a significant cyber threat to financial institutions. It remains a cyber espionage threat. It retains the ability to conduct disruptive cyber attacks, and several of those cases in the past are quite profile – high-profile and prominent.
So our review of our policy to North Korea will take into account the totality of the malign activity and the threats that are emanating from North Korea. Of course, most frequently we speak of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program, but of course, its malicious cyber activity is something we are carefully evaluating and looking at as well.
QUESTION: Ned, on the WHO, in the announcement this morning, the Secretary acknowledged that there need to be reforms at the WHO. Did the United States work to or did confirm any commitments as a part of agreeing to release the $200-plus million in funds by the end of the month?
MR PRICE: Well, look, the Secretary of State has said that we will swiftly review and develop options for key reforms in the early stage of this administration. We’ll partner with countries to build support for priority reforms as well. In that same vein, I would point you to what the National Security Advisor said over the weekend in a statement. I thought it was quite poignant. He said we are – “re-engaging with the WHO also means holding it to the highest standards.” And so, of course, our re-engagement with the WHO was – we did so knowing that in order to staunch outbreaks before they become epidemics, in order to staunch epidemics before they become pandemics, it’s not something we can do ourselves, certainly not when a disease that starts in a country halfway around the world can soon find itself on our shores without prudent international and multilateral cooperation. The WHO is an important international institution. I think it’s fair to say that it has never been more important and we have deep respect for its experts and the work they are doing every day to fight COVID-19 and to advance global health and global health security.
At the same time, we know there are areas for reform, and this is something that the State Department is prioritizing. We’re working very closely with our partners in the interagency to identify ways we can strengthen this institution, something that is manifestly in our interests and also the interests of our partners and allies, but also the WHO itself.
QUESTION: But there are no – nothing confirmed for – as part of this $200 million payment? Which I know is something unfrozen from the previous administration.
MR PRICE: That’s right. I don’t have anything specific to announce right now, but clearly, it’s something we believe in. We want to strengthen and improve this institution, again, for the interests of the American people, but also for our allies and partners and the WHO itself.
MR PRICE: Well, Special Envoy Lenderking was virtually behind me, I suppose, yesterday, and he spoke to his engagement with the Yemeni Government officials, with Saudi Government officials, with Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy. He went into great detail about the meetings he had undertaken in Riyadh in recent days.
I wouldn’t want to go beyond what he offered yesterday, but he made the broad point that we know there is no military solution to this conflict. We are prioritizing a diplomatic approach that will bring peace, security, and stability to the long-suffering people of Yemen. We’re cognizant that Yemen is now home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe, and that is why the President elevated Special Envoy Lenderking himself to take on this role, a role that previously did not exist. It is precisely why he is empowered within this building and throughout the administration to represent the United States on the global stage with our allies and with our partners to try and find that diplomatic solution to this conflict.
Anything else on Yemen or Middle East? Middle East-ish or —
QUESTION: Well, yeah. I had an Egypt question.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: So —
QUESTION: Oh – oh, no?
QUESTION: I have a question from a colleague who can’t be here, just —
QUESTION: I don’t get to ask it?
MR PRICE: Matt, I want to make sure everyone has a chance to ask a question.
QUESTION: Yeah, everyone had a chance.
QUESTION: So this is for a colleague since we are pooling. Joel Gehrke asks: Russia’s special envoy for Afghanistan has said that there is an agreement for a U.S.-China-Russia meeting. He says Ambassador Khalilzad is on board, and it sounds like Moscow would like a bigger role in the talks. Can you confirm any of that?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry, confirm —
QUESTION: Confirm that there are – there’s an agreement from U.S.-China-Russia talks on Afghanistan.
MR PRICE: I don’t have any additional announcements to make. I know that, of course, we have spoken to the defense ministerial that Secretary Austin is taking part in today, and tomorrow, of course, there will be a focus on Afghanistan. But nothing further to announce at this time.
QUESTION: I have another on Afghanistan.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Does Secretary Blinken intend to engage directly with the Taliban as Secretary Pompeo did?
MR PRICE: Well, the peace process is ongoing. We are – and the special representative and his team are supporting those ongoing negotiations between the parties. I don’t have anything to say in terms of direct engagement with the Taliban at this point but, of course, we support those ongoing discussions as part of our effort to – just as we said in the context of Yemen, to bring peace and security to – and stability to Afghanistan in the form of a just and durable negotiated settlement.
QUESTION: On those talks, though, General Miller said today that if violence isn’t reduced, it will make it very, very difficult for those talks to succeed. Does this building agree with that assessment?
MR PRICE: Well, we agree with the fact that violence is unacceptably high. The current level of violence throughout the country is unacceptable. As we have said, we are coordinating closely with our allies and partners. One example of that is Secretary Austin’s meeting tomorrow with his counterpart – with his NATO counterparts. That will be a topic of discussion tomorrow, just as we within our own system evaluate the U.S.-Taliban agreement and measure the parties’ compliance with what they have already agreed to.
QUESTION: Staying in the Middle East?
MR PRICE: Has anyone not asked a question? Okay, Rosiland.
QUESTION: U.S.-Saudi relations. Your White House colleague Jen Psaki said yesterday the President was going to be engaging directly with King Salman, and a lot of the punditry are reading that as a snub of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan. And she went on to say that there is an overarching reassessment of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Can you expand on Jen’s comments from yesterday?
MR PRICE: Well, I think what Jen said – in fact, I know what she said – is that the President would be engaging with his counterpart, and this – his counterpart is the king – just as the Secretary here has been engaging with his counterpart, and we have read out those conversations that he has had with the Saudi foreign minister.
The President, the White House, Secretary Blinken, and from this podium as well, we’ve spoken broadly to our relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. President Biden has said that we’ll review the entirety of that relationship to make sure that it advances the interests and is respectable – and is respectful of the values that we bring to that partnership. We, of course, know that Saudi is an important partner on many different fronts. Regional security, counterterrorism are just two of them.
At the same time, the strategic partnership needs to reflect and to be respectful of the values that we bring to the table as well as our interests, and the American people expect that U.S. policy towards Riyadh prioritize the rule of law, respect for human rights. And that’s why we will cooperate with Saudi Arabia where our priorities align, but just as we won’t shy away from making clear and defending our interests and our values when they do not. We can do both of these things. We can cooperate, we can help defend our Saudi partners from the outrageous attacks they continue to face from Yemen, just as we continue to speak out for our own interests, and importantly, our own values.
We’ll take a final question. Anyone who has not asked a question? Yes, please.
QUESTION: I do have a question concerning Iran. You – the U.S. approach seemed to have – the U.S. approach towards Iran seemed to have been an indirect one through the Yemen conflict, yet the regime in Tehran doesn’t seem to be very responsive. Do you think they do not want to have that linkage between them and the Yemen conflict?
MR PRICE: Well, it is – it has not been our intent, nor has it been our strategy, to engage on the challenge of Iran’s nuclear program through the context of Yemen. That is not at all how we see it. Again, how we see it is the proposition that the President has put on the table, the shorthand for which is compliance for compliance. That is the context in which we have undertaken consultations with allies, with partners, with members of Congress in order to see to it that that diplomatic path remains open. Yemen, in our view, is about bringing peace and stability and an end to the conflict for the long-suffering people of Yemen. So we see these as largely distinct.
QUESTION: Just briefly, Rwanda. The trial of Paul Rusesabagina – he has been charged with terrorism, among other things. Do you have any concerns about the trial? His family says he was abducted. Do you believe that that’s a concern as well in this case?
MR PRICE: Well, I would say broadly that the department and our embassy in Kigali, we’ve continued to urge the Rwandan Government to provide humane treatment, respect for the rule of law, and to provide a fair and transparent legal process, including access to legal counsel of his choosing for Mr. Rusesabagina. We continue to underscore that. We continue to underscore that the legal process adjudicating the charges against Mr. Rusesabagina must be fair, transparent, respect the rule of law, and be consistent with Rwanda’s own international human rights obligations and commitments. We have engaged at the highest levels in Kigali and with Rwanda’s ambassador to the United States on this matter.
When it comes to how Mr. Rusesabagina arrived in Rwanda, we certainly do urge the Government of Rwanda to be fully transparent about the circumstances of his arrival in Rwanda.
I think we have had enough for —
QUESTION: Wait, can I ask one personnel question?
MR PRICE: Sure, sure.
QUESTION: Because a lot of us were writing these stories about how hollowed out the State Department was. Now that you’ve been here, the Secretary’s been here for a few weeks, is there anything that surprised him about the status of the Foreign Service, the Civil Service here? He talks about wanting it to be nonpartisan again. Are you worried about how partisan it’s become, or how political the building was in the previous administration?
MR PRICE: Well, I wouldn’t want to speak to the leadership of the previous administration. I think what I can speak to is the excitement and the enthusiasm that the career women and men of the department have greeted – with which they’ve greeted the Secretary. I think we’ve said this before, but Secretary Blinken has conducted some 50 calls with his foreign counterparts. And just before about each one of those calls, he has a chance to speak to the career – in most cases the career desk officers responsible for those accounts. And he has found them uniformly to be talented, to be energetic, to be excited, to be engaged in the work, and to be expert in their area of focus. As I said before during the session today, the Secretary has had the chance to meet virtually with missions and embassies around the world, and he has found the same from ambassadors to more junior officials who are posted in some cases to places that may carry additional risk.
So look, the – we know that there are thousands of people in this building and in our installations around the world who, over the past four years, in many cases for years and even decades before that, have worked diligently, have kept their nose to the grindstone. They may be Democrats. They may be Republicans. We wouldn’t know it, and quite frankly, we don’t care, because they are here because they are the experts at what they do. They have the background, they have the experience, they have the know-how, and we have found they have the enthusiasm and the eagerness to be put to work, and to be put to work in constructive ways that advance the values of the United States, that advance our interests, and that ultimately moves forward with the foreign policy that delivers for the American people. That is something I think we have found across the board in our few weeks here.
Thank you very much, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:15 p.m.)