2:47 p.m. EST
First, the State Department was honored to host President Biden and Vice President Harris yesterday. It was their first visit to a cabinet agency, which was a powerful signal of their commitment to diplomacy as well as to the career women and men of this institution. President Biden outlined the administration’s foreign policy priorities, making clear that diplomacy will always be at the forefront of those efforts. He made the point that diplomacy will be central not just because it is the right thing to do for the world, but because it’s in our own self-interest. And he talked about how American values are a great source of strength and our abiding advantage. It will be those interests and those values that guide us as we pursue a foreign policy that delivers for the American people going forward.
Now moving on to Belarus. The United States welcomes the opportunity to recognize a Day of Solidarity with the people of Belarus this Sunday, February 7th. This coming week will mark six months of peaceful protest following the fraudulent election last August. We continue to be amazed by the exceptional strength, resilience, and courage of the Belarusian people. In the face of unyielding repression, they continue to demand freedom and democracy. The world has been inspired by the people of Belarus, especially Belarusian women, peacefully demonstrating for the right to have a voice in Belarus’ future. We support a peaceful and inclusive dialogue that bolsters an independent, sovereign Belarus with a government that preserves its people’s fundamental rights. We will continue to stand in solidarity with the people of Belarus and those around the world who face tremendous brutality as they exercise their democratic freedoms.
And with that, Operator, if you want to provide the instructions for raising hands.
OPERATOR: All right, thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad. You may withdraw your question at any time by repeating the 1-0 command. If you are using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. Once again, that is to press 1 then 0.
MR PRICE: Great. We will start, Operator, with Matt Lee of the AP.
QUESTION: Yes, hello?
OPERATOR: Thank you. Please go ahead.
One, do you have any reaction to the ICC judge’s decision today to recognize Palestine as a state party to the Rome Statute and basically say that the do have jurisdiction over what happens over potential or alleged crimes in the West Bank and Gaza?
And then third, as it relates to the Secretary’s phone call with the E3 foreign ministers today, did – and I saw the note that you guys put out earlier about the topics that he expected to cover. On Iran specifically, do you know, did he have an opportunity to raise the case of this Iranian diplomat who was sentenced – convicted and sentenced yesterday in Belgium for plotting the attack in Paris? And that’s it.
MR PRICE: Okay. Well, why don’t I take those in order.
First, when it comes to the ICC decision on jurisdiction, this decision just came out. We are aware of it and we are reviewing it. A three-judge panel of the Pre-trial Chamber One of the ICC issued a decision affirming that the ICC may exercise territorial jurisdiction in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza; however, we have serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel. We have always taken the position that the court’s jurisdiction should be reserved for countries that consent to it or that are referred by the UN Security Council.
Number two, on Libya, we welcome this news. We fully support this outcome of the UN-facilitated process that will lead to a stable, secure Libya and elections in December of 2021.
When it comes to Iran, Matt, and the E3 meeting that you referenced, as we have said, one of our – in fact, our earliest approach will be to ensure that we are consulting and coordinating very closely with first and foremost our allies, but also our partners, and of course, with members of Congress.
Secretary Blinken, Rob Malley, as I have spoken to, others in this building have gotten off to a running start when it comes to that consultation. I also would refer you to what we have said about the need to coordinate especially closely with our European partners.
I think when it comes to the substance of this, I wouldn’t want to go into it. But clearly, we want to make sure that we are working in lockstep with our European partners and to ensure that we know – they know exactly where we are and we know exactly where they are, and we will move forward together.
I don’t want to – I wouldn’t want to go into the verdict you mentioned in the Belgian court, and I couldn’t speak to whether the Secretary raised it. What I can say broadly is that we’ve seen the verdict. We universally condemn acts of terrorism used to undermine freedom of opinion and expression anywhere in the world. We welcome all efforts to hold the planners and perpetrators of these heinous crimes accountable.
Next question, please. Let’s go to – we’ll go to Barak Ravid.
OPERATOR: Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Yeah. Hi, Ned. Thanks. I want to continue what Matt – the question Matt started with about the ICC. The previous administration threatened that it would sanction the ICC judges if they go forward with such decisions. Does this administration have any intention on sanctioning the ICC or any members of the ICC for such a decision?
MR PRICE: Well, Barak, when it comes to the ICC, I just gave you our response to this. I don’t think I would want to go any further. Obviously, we are taking a close look at the decision today. I think broadly when it comes to the ICC, as we’ve said, we share the goals of the ICC in promoting accountability for the worst crimes known to humanity. At the same time, and you heard me allude to this just a moment ago, we have always taken the position that the court’s jurisdiction should be reserved for countries that consent to it or that are referred to by the UN Security Council. I think I would – I need to leave it at that.
We will go to Joseph Haboush.
OPERATOR: Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for this. There have been no mentions, at least I may have missed them, on Syria, Iraq, or Lebanon in readouts of Secretary Blinken’s calls with foreign leaders. I understand it’s still very early on in the administration, but is this a sign that the Biden administration considers these three countries to be a part of the bigger problem in dealing with Iran?
And just a second one. Will the issue of Lebanon’s Hizballah and its arms be a priority for the Biden administration in dealing with Lebanon, or do you – do they plan on distinguishing between the need to form a competent government and looking to deal with Hizballah’s arms at a later time? Thanks.
MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to Lebanon specifically, I would refer you to the quite lengthy statement that Secretary Blinken and his French counterpart issued yesterday on the six-month anniversary of the explosion in Beirut. That offers a pretty robust explanation of where we stand, of where we stand with the people of Lebanon, and so I would refer you there.
We will go to Nick Schifrin.
OPERATOR: I’m sorry, to Nick Allen?
MR PRICE: Nick Schifrin of PBS.
OPERATOR: One moment. Thank you. Please, go ahead.
And staying on Yemen, I want to confirm that given President Biden’s statement yesterday that the U.S. is pulling support for Saudi operation, can you respond to the criticism that even though that support is only for intelligence and for guidance, that that support actually prevents the Saudis from being even worse at targeting, and that pulling support will mean the Saudi bombs may kill more civilians? Thanks.
MR PRICE: Well, Nick, to your first question, when it comes to the Houthi designation, I believe in his first appearance in the press room Secretary Blinken was asked among those moves by – the last-minute moves by the last administration that were under review what his priority would be, and he spoke at length about the designation of Ansarallah. He said at the time that we would move expeditiously through that review given the humanitarian implications of that last-minute move. I think he actually cited the fact at the time that some 80 percent of Yemen’s civilian population lives under Houthi control. And so in the first instance, we want to make sure that we are not doing anything to make life worse or even more miserable for the long-suffering people of Yemen, which by most accounts is home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.
So people in this building, people across the interagency have been taking a very close but swift look at these issues. Before we would be able to make any sort of decision to lift this, we would need to notify Congress as the first step, because we intend to get back to regular order in that regard. Don’t have anything to announce there, but as soon as we do we will be sure to let you know.
When it comes to Yemen and what you heard from President Biden yesterday, it is true that we are stepping up our diplomacy to end the war in Yemen, which I mentioned before, a war that has created both a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe. And he spoke about a few elements to that. First, you heard him say that the main focus of our efforts will be the diplomatic effort to end the war in Yemen via the UN-led process to impose a ceasefire, open humanitarian channels, and restore long-dormant peace talks. Working closely with the UN envoy, Martin Griffiths, and led now, as you heard the President announce yesterday, by Special Envoy Tim Lenderking, our primary objective is to bring the parties together for a negotiated settlement that will end the war and the suffering of the Yemeni people. We have no illusions about how challenging this will be, but it is our priority and we recognize that there is no military solution to the war in Yemen.
Second, as the President said, we are ending all American support for offensive operations in Yemen, including relevant arms sales. Importantly, this does not apply to offensive operations against either ISIS or AQAP, but it does include both materiel and restricting, as you alluded to, our intelligence sharing arrangement with Saudi Arabia and the Saudi-led coalition in accordance with the President’s guidance. All arms sales to Saudi Arabia will return to standard procedures and orders, including with appropriate legal reviews at the State Department. We’ve re-established an interagency process for working through the details of these individual cases. It will be led by the White House and with all relevant agencies at the table bringing expertise, discipline, and inclusivity back to our policymaking on these issues.
And then finally, a final element to this: We understand that Saudi Arabia faces genuine security threats from Yemen and from others in the region, and so as part of that interagency process, we’ll look for ways to improve support for Saudi Arabia’s stability, to defend its territory against threats.
Next question. Why don’t we go to Robbie Gramer?
QUESTION: Can you hear me?
OPERATOR: Please, go ahead.
MR PRICE: Yeah – yup.
QUESTION: Oh, great, thanks. The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, called on the Biden administration to reverse Trump’s redesignation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terror. I’m wondering, has the State Department made a decision to do so yet? Or if not, and it’s still under review, what does that review entail, and do you have a timeline on when that review might be wrapped up? Thanks.
MR PRICE: Well, let me speak a little bit about our overall overarching policy when it comes to Cuba, and it’s a policy that will be governed by two principles. First is the support for democracy and human rights. It will be at the core of our efforts through empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future. And second, we believe that Americans, and especially Cuban Americans, are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba. We’re committed to making human rights a core pillar of our U.S. foreign policy. That certainly applies to Cuba, just as you’ve heard me reference it across the board, and includes redoubling our dedication to human rights throughout our own hemisphere.
Despite, human rights defenders around the world continue to look to the United States to – for support against authoritarian regimes. This is one of those issues that we will continue to rally our allies and partners against. And in the administration we’ve also committed to carefully reviewing policy decisions made in the prior administration, including the decision by the outgoing administration to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. I wouldn’t want to go into any further details. But as we take a look at this issue into our broader policy with Cuba, those principles will continue to be front of mind.
Why don’t we go to see – let’s see here – Laura Kelly?
QUESTION: (No response.)
MR PRICE: Do we have Laura?
QUESTION: (No response.)
MR PRICE: Okay, all right.
OPERATOR: Apologies. Apologies. Technical difficulties. Laura Kelly, your line’s open.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Thank you for doing this. Going back to Yemen, does the ending of the relevant arms sales – does that include any arms sales to the United Arab Emirates? And if you can, do you have an update on the status with U.S. assistance to the north of Yemen? I’m under the impression that it was halted because of the Houthis. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Well, thank you very much. When it comes to arms sales, you’ve seen – and I believe it was National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said yesterday that we have paused two arms sales with Saudi Arabia to ensure that while we examine whether – to ensure that we examine whether they meet our objectives and policies. It is also typical, as I think you have heard us say, and standard for an incoming administration to undertake a review of all arms sales, impending transfers to ensure that they are consistent with our interests and our values.
But when it comes to the arms sales that the President – and arms transfers that the President referenced yesterday, they will from here on out follow a regular order, follow a process that is being led in the first instance by the White House, by the NSC, but in coordination with the State Department and our relevant interagency partners.
We will go to – sorry – we’ll go to Rich Edson.
OPERATOR: One moment.
MR PRICE: Yes.
OPERATOR: Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hey, thanks guys. Just a quick one on Hong Kong. The previous administration had determined that Hong Kong had lost its autonomy. Is that still consistent with U.S. policy? Is that part of any review on China?
MR PRICE: Rich, let me take that question. We’ll see if we can get you some lines on that.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MR PRICE: We’ll go to Bahman Kalbasi.
OPERATOR: One moment. The name again, please?
MR PRICE: Bahman Kalbasi, K-a-l-b-a-s-i.
OPERATOR: I’m trying to find his line.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: Hi, I can – I can hear you.
MR PRICE: Great, we have you now.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks. Thanks for doing this, Ned. Back in September, President Biden wrote that piece about returning to the Iran deal, and he also mentioned that – and I quote – “I will also take steps to make sure U.S. sanctions do not hinder Iran’s fight against COVID-19.” There was a request by Iran for a $5 billion loan from IMF which the Trump administration fought hard against. Is that or any other move in the discussion – apart from the steps that are being taken to decide how and when to go back into the deal – to send a signal that given the situation with COVID in Iran, that U.S. is prepared to ease some of these pressures on the public in Iran?
MR PRICE: Thanks for the question, Bahman. I believe, as in one of the first executive orders, too, on COVID, there was a requirement that we review our sanctions policy globally to ensure that we weren’t in the first instance doing anything that would increase humanitarian suffering around the world.
But when it comes to Iran, what I would say is that I would actually go back to what I was speaking of in the context of today’s meeting between Secretary Blinken and the E3. Before we take any measures, including measures along the lines of the one you referenced, we would want to make sure that we have coordinated closely with our allies, with our – with partners, and with members of Congress as well. So before we announce any sort of changes in policy along those lines, we would want to make sure we’ve undertaken those consultations, and we’re in the process of doing that right now.
We probably have time for just another question or two. So we can go to Cindy Saine of VOA.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) —
OPERATOR: Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: — something’s also shaping up – yeah, can you hear me?
OPERATOR: Please, go ahead. Yes, please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, hi there. Can you hear me?
MR PRICE: We can. We have you.
QUESTION: Yes. What is the U.S. position on Haiti’s opposition efforts to oust President Moise this Sunday, which is a disputed date for elections? Have U.S. officials spoken with the opposition about their transition plans? And what is the U.S. position on possible violence against protesters on Sunday?
MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to engagement with the opposition, our embassy does maintain regular communication with contacts across the political spectrum. Zooming out a bit and looking at our relationship with Haiti, we have, and together in this case with the OAS and other parties, consistently called on all political forces in Haiti to adhere to the spirit of their constitutional order. We’ve urged the Government of Haiti to organize free and fair legislative elections so that parliament may resume its rightful role.
In accordance with the OAS position on the need to proceed with the democratic transfer of executive power, a new elected president should succeed President Moise when his term ends on February 2nd, 2022.
MR PRICE: Sorry, February 7th, 2022. The Haitian people deserve the opportunity to elect their leaders and restore Haiti’s democratic institutions. The United States continues to maintain that the Haitian Government should exercise restraint in issuing decrees, only using that power to schedule legislative elections and for matters of immediate threats to life, health, and safety until parliament is restored and can resume its constitutional responsibilities.
Why don’t we take one final question here. Let me just see here. Kim Dozier, do you want to go ahead?
OPERATOR: I’m sorry, Kim?
MR PRICE: Kim Dozier, D-o-z-i-e-r.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks, Ned. I wanted to ask if, by appointing an FSO and Arabist in Tim Lenderking to the Yemen role and keeping past Trump political appointees like Khalilzad and Carstens, are you sending a message to the State Department writ large that there is a departure from the loyalty tests of the past administration? And also, could you give us a round figure of how many political appointees have been asked to stay and what you’re doing to get State Department veterans who may have quit to come back?
MR PRICE: Well, thanks, Kim. I appreciate the question. I think in his first remarks to the workforce a little over a week ago now, Secretary Blinken spoke of his priorities, and the first priority he spoke to was what he called the State Department’s greatest asset, and that’s our people. He spoke of his plans to empower our officers across the board, but also to recruit, retain, and to promote a workforce that looks like the American people, understanding that if we are going to represent the United States around the world, we have to, our workforce has to look like the country we represent.
So you’re absolutely right that in this case, Tim Lenderking is – has been a longtime public servant. He is someone who has served this country with honor and distinction through multiple administrations. He is a career Foreign Service officer, as I understand. And as Secretary Blinken has said, career officials will, in the coming weeks and as nominations and appointments are put forward, fill some of the highest and most senior positions in this building.
When it comes to individuals who served in political positions under the previous administration, there are some areas where continuity is important. We spoke yesterday about Ambassador Carstens, our special presidential envoy for hostage affairs. The work that he and his office have done and the success they have had reuniting detained Americans with their families is just tremendous, and Ambassador Carstens has the respect and trust of the families of Americans who are detained overseas.
You mentioned the SRAR, Ambassador Khalilzad, and of course we’re at a very delicate moment as we look forward to May and as we evaluate the U.S.-Taliban agreement as well as our broader approach to Afghanistan. There are just a small handful of officials both in this building and in ambassadorial posts around the world who the Secretary of State has asked to remain because of the distinguished work they have done, because of the continuity we need in key areas. And again, we’ll see if we can get you some more details about how many individuals that entails.
So I think with that, we’ll go ahead and call it a day. Thank you, everyone, for joining us, and we will plan to see you in person or at least see some of you in person on Monday. Have a good weekend.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:14 p.m.)