2:19 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: All right. Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to Monday. A couple things at the top and then turn to your questions.
First, I would like to start today by echoing the President and the Secretary in expressing our deepest condolences to the people of Türkiye and Syria following the devastating earthquakes in Kahramanmaras, in Southeastern Türkiye. The Department of State is in close contact with our Turkish allies and our humanitarian partners, and our initial assistance response is already underway. We are determined to provide any and all assistance to help those affected by these earthquakes. Secretary Blinken just got off the phone with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu of Türkiye, to reiterate the same message. And we stand in solidarity with our allies, our partners, and the people of Türkiye and Syria affected by these terrible events.
Next and finally, one year after launching the COVID-19 Global Action Plan or GAP, tomorrow – excuse me – on Wednesday, February 8th, Secretary Blinken will host a fourth and final Global Action Plan Ministerial to reflect on progress made in addressing the acute phase of the COVID‑19 pandemic, the work remaining, and to collaborate with GAP partners on strategies to prevent, to detect, and to respond to future global health threats.
Foreign ministries came together through the GAP to catalyze political momentum around critical gaps in the response and to enhance coordination. Health security is national security, and foreign ministries will remain engaged on these shared challenges – on these shared global challenges going forward. The GAP partners include 33 countries, the European Union, the African Union, and the World Health Organization. And the ministerial will be livestreamed on www.state.gov at 8:00 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday of this week.
So with that, happy to take your questions. Sure. Start with the front row. Humeyra.
QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Just before I begin, thank you for that condolences as a member of – a Turkish member of the bullpen. I really appreciate it personally.
I just want to ask about China. Can you talk a little bit about like what these conditions will be for when the Secretary would go? Has there been any like active planning on when —
QUESTION: Let me ask about Türkiye. Sorry, about the earthquake.
QUESTION: It’s okay.
QUESTION: Forgive me, because it’s just really —
QUESTION: It’s just too devastating. I mean, I know you mentioned condolences and offers of help and so on, and you – you just said that you stand in solidarity with our allies in Türkiye and Syria. So you only stand in Syria with your – with the Kurds, for instance? You don’t stand with the rest of the Syrian people? Those are your allies.
MR PRICE: No, Said, that is not what I said. I said we stand in solidarity with Turkish allies. Of course, Türkiye is an important NATO Ally.
QUESTION: Okay. I understand. Where you do stand in Syria?
MR PRICE: The United States is a partner to the people of Syria. We have provided more humanitarian assistance to the people of Syria than any other country going forward. We are committed to doing what we can on both sides of the border, to helping our Turkish allies respond in the first instance with rescue and recovery efforts. That effort will be underway soon with U.S. assistance, but also with funding for recovery and broader response efforts.
The same is true on the other side of the border, Said. We are determined to do what we can to address the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people. We’ve done that over the course of the 12-year civil war to the tune of billions of dollars. We do that through a different process. In Türkiye, we have a partner in the government; in Syria, we have a partner in the form of NGOs on the ground who are providing humanitarian support.
QUESTION: Well, let me just follow up on this because the Syrian Government, as far as I know, it’s a government that you still recognize. You have never unrecognized the Syrian Government. So why not reach out to the Syrian Government? They are in power. They’re the ones that run these rescue operations or aid operations and so on. It would be a great gesture. Another gesture would be to sort of the lift the sanctions that have basically suffocated Syria.
MR PRICE: Said, I’m going to resist the temptation to go into your advocacy rather than questioning. But I will make the point that it would be quite ironic, if not even counterproductive, for us to reach out to a government that has brutalized its people over the course of a dozen years now – gassing them, slaughtering them, being responsible for much of the suffering that they have endured.
Instead, we have humanitarian partners on the ground who can provide the type of assistance in the aftermath of these tragic earthquakes, but these humanitarian partners who have been active on the ground since the earliest days of the civil war. This is a regime, Said, that has never shown any inclination to put the welfare, the well-being, the interests of its people first. Now that its people are suffering even more, we’re going to continue doing what has proven effective over the course of the past dozen years or so: providing significant amounts of humanitarian assistance to partners on the ground. These partners, who unlike the Syrian regime, are there to help the people rather than brutalize them.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
QUESTION: Listen, and I apologize for missing the top, how exactly would it be ironic?
MR PRICE: To use this as an opportunity to reach out to a regime that has brutalized its people when its people are in an even more dire situation.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, all right. Maybe I’m not – maybe my understanding of the word irony is a little bit different. Anyway, did you guys begin with this or with China?
MR PRICE: It’s a long story, but —
QUESTION: I tried to.
QUESTION: It’s a long story?
QUESTION: On unofficial initial assistance, we also heard Kirby say that the two rescue teams are going to Türkiye. Have they left the country? When are they going to be there? And do you know how the process is going to go forward, where they will leave from?
MR PRICE: So I don’t have specific details on where they will deploy from, but my colleague at the White House did make reference to two teams, two rescue and recovery teams that will be traveling to Türkiye in the coming days, two teams of 78 individuals. That’s one element of our response.
There is a broader element of our response. We’re looking at additional funding resources that we have available, again, for both sides of the border. Secretary Blinken did think it was important of course to speak to Foreign Minister Cavusoglu as soon as he could today. They’ve just got off the phone a few minutes ago. The Secretary offered his profound condolences on the loss of life, the destruction throughout large swaths of Türkiye. The imagery that we’ve all seen is just searing; it’s harrowing. And unfortunately the death toll, we can all expect, will only climb in the coming days.
So we are going to remain committed to do what we can to support our Turkish allies just as we’re going to remain committed to do what we can to support the people of Syria who have also been affected by this.
QUESTION: I’d also like to thank, just like Humeyra did, for the great response in the first hours of the disaster because it’s really grim, looking grim out there. And we heard from Kirby, just like my colleague pointed out, that two 79-person rescue teams are being dispatched to Türkiye at the moment. And the Secretary’s message was that in the coming days, weeks, and months we’re determined to do any and everything that we can, so what’s on the table if you could elaborate on that a little bit? You said that perhaps as well as the humanitarian assistance, likely what could be on the table? What was discussed? Because obviously we know that the United States has massive resources and experience in dealing with such natural disasters.
MR PRICE: Absolutely. So I think you have to look at this is discrete phases. In the first phase that will unfold in the coming days is a phase of rescue and recovery. And that’s why, as you heard from the White House, we are dispatching two teams of individuals who will work with our Turkish allies on that rescue and recovery effort. It is our fervent hope that the rescue and recovery effort is able to save as many lives, to pull people from the rubble, to focus on that near-term priority to stabilize buildings, to pull people, and to again potentially save as many lives as possible.
Over the longer term in the coming days, weeks, and months, as the Secretary’s statement alluded to, there is going to be a massive rebuilding and reconstruction effort that is – that will need to be underway across Türkiye. The Secretary in the senior staff meeting this morning directed his team to look across various accounts to see what funding we might have available, what other resources we might have available, to help our Turkish allies, to help through NGO partners on the ground the people of Syria.
This is very early hours, but we are going to be focused on this. We are also going to remain in touch with our Turkish counterparts. It was so important for the Secretary to speak to his foreign minister counterpart, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu, in the first instance to offer condolences and to make clear to Foreign Minister Cavusoglu that anything Türkiye needed that we could provide, they should pick up the phone and let us know. We stand ready as an ally should to help our ally in a time of need. Similarly, when it comes to the people of Syria, we stand ready as a partner and oftentimes the leading funding partner to the NGOs that are on the ground inside of Syria to be a partner to them and their efforts to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people.
QUESTION: May I follow up on Türkiye, please?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: There are reports about communication outages, blackouts in particularly in the south in parts like Hatay and other areas. Is there anything the U.S. Government can do at this point to mitigate communication problems?
And secondly, any report, any information about the U.S. citizens being damaged, being affected by the latest —
MR PRICE: Any reports of?
QUESTION: U.S. citizens being affected. I don’t know if maybe you can add up a little bit about the embassy’s efforts like that.
MR PRICE: Sure. So a couple things on that. Of course we are focused on the safety and security of Americans who may be in Türkiye. We did an accountability exercise for our team, our staff on the ground. We have full accountability of our team members. Of course we’re also going to have to do structural assessments of our facilities that are in regions that have been hit by this.
I should also add as a form of our assistance – and this gets back to your first question, Alex – our facility in Adana is going to be in a position to host others who are coming to facilitate and to help the rescue efforts. So we’re going to open our doors. We are going to open our collective wallet, as it were, to help Türkiye in any way that we can, to help the people of Syria in any appropriate way that we can.
When it comes to the specifics of this, it’s again very early hours. We’ve talked about what we’re prepared to do when it comes to rescue and recovery. But this will be a comprehensive effort that goes well beyond rescue and recovery, to include rebuilding, to include addressing the significant challenges, including the communication challenges, the infrastructure challenges that our allies are likely to find going forward.
QUESTION: When you say —
QUESTION: When you say your mission in Adana is going to open the doors to others, like, U.S. rescue teams or any —
MR PRICE: To other countries who are prepared to assist in this effort.
QUESTION: And when you say it’s full accountability, do you mean they’re all safe?
MR PRICE: That’s correct. Now, the —
QUESTION: Okay, because full accountability can also mean —
MR PRICE: Oh, yes – no, of course. They – our —
QUESTION: — that their deaths —
MR PRICE: Our staff on the ground after our accountability exercise was deemed to be safe. Now, the tragic reality is that the death toll of this earthquake is likely to continue to climb in the coming days. Our consular team, consular officials on the ground, they’ve been in touch with the American citizen community. As of earlier today, we had not yet confirmed the deaths of Americans, but I think we’re all realistic, we’re all very sober about the implications of this and the fact that many countries, many nationalities are likely to be implicated, just given the massive toll and destruction that this earthquake has caused.
QUESTION: So can we go to China, or back to China, as it were?
MR PRICE: Anything else on Türkiye?
QUESTION: Can you get into some more detail on how U.S. is scaling up support for NGO partners in Syria? Groups like the White Helmets have the equipment but say they’re running out of diesel. Is the U.S., for example, going to attempt to send partners diesel across Bab al-Hawa, which – the road into which has reportedly been damaged? Can you speak to any of those logistical challenges?
MR PRICE: Well, again, we’re in the very early phases of this so I don’t want to get too far ahead of where we are, what we may be in a position to do. But I will expect that we’ll have additional details on that going forward. What is important – and this was true even before the earthquakes of the past hours but is certainly true now – is that humanitarian crossings need to remain open. The people of Syria need humanitarian access. NGO actors, these organizations, many of whom have been active in parts of Syria over the course of a dozen years now, need to have access to be able to go back and forth across the border, to deliver the humanitarian assistance that the United States was providing before this earthquake and the humanitarian assistance that we’ll be in a position to provide after the earthquake as well.
QUESTION: (Off-mike.) You mentioned that the Secretary called his Turkish counterpart as soon as he could. Is there any reason why it took this long? He just got off the phone – why not last night? Why not this morning?
MR PRICE: Alex, these are scheduling issues on both sides. We put in a call request very early. We wanted to make clear to our Turkish allies that the Secretary was ready, willing, and available to be on the phone, and they were able to connect just a little while ago.
QUESTION: I’m sorry if you – more on Türkiye?
QUESTION: No, I was going to ask about China.
QUESTION: Okay, so go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I just pick up my previous line of questioning?
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Is there any active planning for the Secretary to go back? What kind of a timeline are we looking at? Can you detail these – when conditions allow – what are they basically?
MR PRICE: So the short answer is right now we are focused on a couple things. We have been engaged extensively with our partners and allies over the course of recent days. Over the weekend, today, at senior levels, both in Washington and from our embassy in Beijing, we have been consulting with a broad array of like-minded countries. We want them to understand what it is that we’ve experienced. As you’ve heard from my colleagues at the Department of Defense, other countries, other regions of the world have also been subjected to these brazen violations of sovereignty as well. We think it’s important in the first instance that we share as much as we can, because these are challenges that many of us have and will continue to have to confront together.
Now, when it comes to engagement with the PRC, we’ve also been very clear that we seek lines of communication, lines of dialogue to remain open. Secretary Blinken picked up the phone on Friday morning to reach out to Wang Yi, the senior foreign policy official within the People’s Republic of China, with a couple of messages. One was that even in this time of heightened tension, in the context of the discovery of the high-altitude surveillance balloon, we wanted to be able to pick up the phone to speak to one another. We believe that dialogue and diplomacy is always important when it comes to a competitive relationship like this. We believe it’s especially important when tensions are even further heightened.
We’re going to remain in touch with our PRC counterparts. The embassy has been in touch with their PRC counterparts. Senior individuals in this building have been in touch with their PRC counterparts since Friday as well. But you have to remember that the trip that Secretary Blinken was to have undertaken starting on Friday was to have been an extension of the conversation between President Biden and President Xi in Bali. That conversation, and in turn the conversation that Secretary Blinken was to have had yesterday and today, would have been about establishing that floor on the relationship to see to it that competition doesn’t veer into conflict, but also to see – to test the proposition of collaboration, cooperation in areas that matter to us, that are of profound interest to us, but also that are of profound interest to the rest of the world.
The discovery of this high-altitude surveillance balloon in the days that preceded the Secretary’s visit, of course, undermined the point of that visit. We would not have been able to conduct the important business that Secretary Blinken was looking forward to doing on the ground in Beijing in that context.
Now, just as we continue to remain in contact, in dialogue with the PRC in the coming days, as I expect we’ll do at various levels, when – we’ll determine when it’s appropriate to potentially look to travel to the PRC to have the type of discussion that we think it’s incumbent on our countries to have.
QUESTION: So if you can’t have that conversation now about the guardrails and this incident has happened which was a breach of sovereignty, where does that leave the U.S.-China relationship, which wasn’t – which was already strained anyway?
MR PRICE: Well, look, we’ve always been clear-eyed about this relationship. We know it’s the most consequential, we know it’s the most complex relationship we have in all of our bilateral relationships. We suspect it’s also the most consequential and complex bilateral relationship on the face of the Earth. We believe it’s important to – again, to build that floor under the relationship to see to it that areas of potential competition don’t veer into conflict. We believe it’s incumbent on us, the United States, as a responsible power, to see to it that we are doing all we can to protect and to promote not only our interests, but the elements that countries around the world care about.
And there are some cases where our interests with the PRC do intersect. Part of the agenda of Secretary Blinken’s travel to Beijing – what would have been his travel to Beijing – was to talk about some of those issues, again, because it’s in our interests, it’s in the interests of the rest of the world, it’s what the rest of the world expects of us.
We are – we haven’t had conversations at this point about rescheduling the trip. As I said, right now we are focused on coordinating closely with our allies and partners, sharing information, comparing notes, making sure that they understand the information that we have in our possession, they understand the basis for our actions, and that they understand the brazen nature of this violation of our sovereignty, violations of sovereignty that are not unique to us, that have taken place across countries and across regions around the globe.
So that’s going to continue to be our focus in recent – in the coming days.
QUESTION: Ned —
QUESTION: If the conversations since the Secretary spoke with Wang Yi on Friday have not revolved around or touched on a rescheduling of the trip, what have they touched on? I mean, I’m presuming that on Saturday, if there were conversations, that they would have been about the shootdown of the balloon. Is that correct, or am I – well, that yesterday —
MR PRICE: So it is true that we notified – it is true that we notified the PRC after the fact of the action that the U.S. –
QUESTION: And that they saw it on TV?
MR PRICE: I presume they were watching, as were many of us. That was conveyed to them on Saturday. But in a sense, it shouldn’t have come to a – as a surprise to our PRC interlocutors. As you know —
QUESTION: Well, what else, other than the balloon being shot down? What else did these conversations go over?
MR PRICE: I’m not going to get into the conversations in any detail, but precisely what we said publicly is what we’ve conveyed privately as well. This was inappropriate, it was irresponsible, it was unacceptable for –
QUESTION: Okay, but that’s – right, but that’s the same thing you were saying on Friday and the same thing the Secretary said publicly, the same thing that you’ve said publicly, the same thing the White House has said publicly. So the Chinese already know that. So what were the point – what were the point or points of the conversations that have happened since the Secretary spoke to Wang Yi?
MR PRICE: Well, part of the point, Matt, was repetition. And repetition can be important, especially when you’re dealing with various interlocutors at various levels through various parts of a different government. We wanted the PRC to be under no illusions about the way in which we’re treating this, the way we see this, and the implications that it has had not only on the Secretary’s travel, but more broadly as well, again, it was inappropriate, it was irresponsible, it was unacceptable for this sort of thing to happen. We wanted to be very clear with them about that. We did notify the PRC after the fact that this action had taken place on Saturday, that the rest of the world saw as well.
But again, it should not have come as a complete surprise to the PRC. When Secretary Blinken spoke with Wang Yi on Friday morning, he underscored twice for Wang Yi that the United States would be prepared to take any appropriate action to protect our interests. A similar message was conveyed to the PRC embassy official that Secretary Blinken and Deputy Secretary Sherman met with here on Wednesday when that individual was summoned to the department to discuss this. We are – even as we convey these tough messages in a candid way, we are going to continue to maintain in contact with the PRC.
MR PRICE: We believe in the importance of these channels of dialogue, precisely to – so that we can see to it —
QUESTION: Last one, but if it’s – if it’s just repetition all the time, are you not at all concerned that the Chinese are going to start to think like you guys think when they repeat their whole Taiwan line every – at every single meeting they have with you – that it doesn’t really do any good just to repeat the same “This is inappropriate, it’s inexcusable, it’s a violation of international law” – do you not think that it’s going to have the same non-impact that their repetition of the talking point – of their talking points on Taiwan have with you?
MR PRICE: Matt, we are now, what, 48 hours from Saturday afternoon. We’re 72 hours from Friday. We are talking about this over the course of a few days now. I think to compare this and to try and analogize in that way, it’s not only asymmetric but it’s just not an apt analogy.
QUESTION: Ned, on Türkiye?
QUESTION: Ned, the President —
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: So President Biden is a big believer in personal diplomacy. Isn’t it more important than ever to talk to China in person or even to confront China? Is there any preconditions to resume the talks —
MR PRICE: We –
QUESTION: – or the visit?
MR PRICE: We, too, are big believers in dialogue and diplomacy, absolutely. That’s precisely why Secretary Blinken and Deputy Secretary Sherman took part in the conversation with a PRC embassy official here on Wednesday. It’s precisely why Secretary Blinken picked up the phone on Friday morning to speak to Wang Yi. It’s precisely why senior officials in this building were in touch with PRC officials and officials in – at our embassy in Beijing have also been in touch with PRC officials as well.
We can convey messages in the near term as we emerge from what has been a very public incident between the United States and the PRC, knowing that, yes, face-to-face diplomacy is some ways is invaluable. But in the near term, we were managing at the time what was an ongoing situation. We wanted to be very clear with the PRC about our concerns about what this could lead to in terms of the action that ultimately took place on Saturday, and the fact that this action seems to have – well, in fact, did undermine the point of the trip that the two presidents agreed to in November.
You have to remember, the Secretary’s planned travel to Beijing was an outgrowth of the multi-hour meeting that President Biden and that President Xi of China had in November of last year on the sidelines of the G20 in Bali. It was not a meeting to have discrete talks on tactical issues, on just a few specifics here and there. This was to have been a fairly broad, wide-ranging discussion on constructing a floor below the relationship and, where we can, seeing to it – testing the proposition, at least – that we could try to seek out additional cooperation in areas that are profoundly of interest to us and the rest of the world.
Now, all of those things continue to be important. But by taking the action that they did, by engaging in this flagrant violation of our national sovereignty, and by taking this irresponsible and ultimately unacceptable act, the PRC in effect undermined the point of what was to have been that face-to-face diplomacy. That in no way devalues the importance, the indispensability of face-to-face diplomacy in general.
I suspect there will be opportunities going forward for the Secretary to engage in that face-to-face diplomacy. After all, we didn’t cancel this meeting, we postponed it. We postponed it until such a time where it would be appropriate for the Secretary to travel to Beijing to have the type of meeting that we hope to have, a meeting that could help to establish a floor under the relationship and a meeting where we could discuss everything that’s of interest to us and many issues that are of interest to the rest of the world as well.
QUESTION: What is your reaction to critics saying that the United States overreacted due to domestic political pressure since this incident happened – a similar incident happened before, and given the fact Secretary Blinken is going to be the first secretary to visit China in four years and maybe meet – potentially meet President Xi Jinping?
MR PRICE: We had an opportunity. We had what would have been a valuable opportunity to engage in that face-to-face diplomacy. It was to have been a near-term diplomacy. Of course, the blame does not fall to us for undermining that opportunity. It falls to the PRC for engaging in what was – in what was ultimately an inappropriate and irresponsible or unacceptable act. We’ve acted responsibly. We’ve acted practically. We’ve acted prudently in this case but also in the broader context of the bilateral relationship. We think it’s important that we have these lines of communication so that we can make very clear to the PRC what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
Unfortunately, they decided to undertake this action in the days leading up to Secretary Blinken’s travel that completely undermined the point of the trip and left us with, unfortunately, no option but to postpone it.
QUESTION: Lastly, could you please clarify? So you said Secretary Blinken was supposed to depart for Beijing last Friday. But you have never announced the exact date of his visit. What’s the reason behind it?
MR PRICE: I think, as all of those reporters in this room who travel with us pretty frequently, they do know that we often announce travel the day before, the day of. We were set to depart for Beijing, to make the long trip to Beijing, on Friday evening. It had been our intention to announce it earlier in the week. We ultimately had an opportunity to announce it on Friday morning. But unfortunately, the PRC put us in a position where it just did not make sense at that time to continue with the trip because their irresponsible, inappropriate actions unfortunately undermined the utility of such a trip at that time.
QUESTION: Thank you. One China and one on North Korea. The Chinese deputy foreign minister will visit to Russia. And also, it was reported that China supplied military equipment through Russian defense company and supported the invasion of Ukraine. Do you have anything there? How can you see that Russia and China, they get together right now?
MR PRICE: Well, this is something we’ve spoken about extensively over the better part of a year now, the relationship between the PRC and Russia that in some ways has deepened. We’ve seen very tangible manifestations of that. It was just about a year ago, maybe almost exactly a year ago if memory serves, where we saw a communique emerge between the PRC and Russia speaking of a friendship with no limits. We have seen the PRC attempt to take what they portray as a neutral stance to Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine, but in reality it’s been anything but. They have provided Russia with rhetorical support. They’ve provided them with political support. They have continued their economic relationship as well.
Our message to the PRC has been very simple: we’re watching very closely; there are and would be costs and consequences if we were to see a systematic effort to help Russia bypass the sanctions that dozens of countries around the world have enacted against the Kremlin, President Putin, others, for this brazen aggression against Ukraine; and there would be consequences for the provision of lethal material that Russia could then use against civilians in Ukraine in the same way that it sought lethal material from Iran, from DPRK to use against the people of Ukraine.
QUESTION: And one more on North Korea. North Korea is preparing for a large-scale military parade this Wednesday. How is the U.S. prepared for contingency?
MR PRICE: Well, these are always exercises that we watch. I think it is almost certainly the case that these have more messaging and propaganda value than any material value to the DPRK. But we’re of course going to be watching, as we always do. But more so, we are investing in our alliances and our partnerships in the region and well beyond. As you know, the Secretary’s ROK counterpart was in Washington on Friday. They had an opportunity to have a wide-ranging discussion about the challenges and opportunities that are presented in the Indo-Pacific region and well beyond. At the top of that list of challenges is the DPRK. It’s why we’re committed on – with an ironclad basis to the security of our ROK ally, to the security of our Japanese allies. It’s why we have attempted to deepen and to advance trilateral cooperation not just in the context of the DPRK and its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons program, but 0across the range of challenges and opportunities that our three countries, that our alliance faces.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. One just on what – my colleague just used the term “overreaction” with regard to China. Is – how much truth do you think it is if you say that the U.S. overreacted but just President Biden being pressured from, like, the U.S. media a little too much and there is not much truth into the surveillance equipment terminology there, and that it was just some media people who won’t want President Biden and China to get a little bit closer, that they were not interested in Blinken’s visit. And is there any truth to that, do you think? Or no, there was some surveillance equipment found in the balloons as well?
MR PRICE: So a couple things there. First, it is a fundamental misunderstanding of the United States to suggest that we take these sort of actions based on anything other than what’s in our national interest. This was a decision that the President made in close consultation with the Secretary of State, with the National Security Advisor, with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with the Secretary of Defense as well. And ultimately, the course of action was one that was put forward and executed by the Department of Defense.
When it comes to what we’ve heard from the PRC, I’m just not going to give that too much oxygen. Let me see if I can state it as clearly as I can: The PRC knows precisely what this was. The PRC knows precisely why this was in our airspace. The PRC knows precisely what this was doing over the United States. And ultimately, the PRC knows precisely why we did what we did.
The Secretary made the point on Friday that if the shoe were on the other foot, if something analogous were to have happened within PRC airspace, you can only imagine the response from Beijing. We’ve been clear. We have been resolute. But we’ve also been practical as well, and we have taken practical steps since the time this high-altitude surveillance balloon was detected to mitigate its ability to collect intelligence against sensitive sites, to mitigate any threat it could pose to the American people.
But more than that, in a way we flipped the script because we’ve trained quite a bit of capabilities of our own at this high-altitude surveillance balloon while it was violating our airspace. We learned quite a bit about it and the practice in general, the technology that was on board. And as you’ve heard I think just recently from my colleagues at the Department of Defense, there is an active effort underway to recovery what is left of this high-altitude surveillance balloon on the surface of the ocean, and in the coming days there will be an effort to collect what we can from the bottom of the ocean.
QUESTION: In Pakistan, in my home city of Peshawar —
MR PRICE: Well, anything else on China before we go on?
MR PRICE: John, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just on those statements you just made, have you guys ruled out an accident or incompetence when it comes to the balloon on the part of the Chinese?
MR PRICE: John, I think those explanations just ring hollow to us. They ring as hollow as the idea that this was some sort of weather balloon.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on this?
QUESTION: Just to clarify, you said something that the Chinese or the – I guess if the shoe was on the other foot and so on, what would they do? Are you suggesting that there are no surveillance balloons over China, American surveillance balloons over China?
MR PRICE: I am.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. —
QUESTION: A follow-up on the —
MR PRICE: Go ahead, Alex.
QUESTION: Given how you dictated the scope of the violation, they violated the U.S. airspace, is it fair for us to expect more punitive steps from the U.S.? You don’t down the balloon and just do nothing if they violate the U.S. airspace.
MR PRICE: So —
QUESTION: Like sanctions or something like that.
MR PRICE: So Alex, in the first instance we’re discussing this with our allies and partners. We’re comparing notes about what has happened to us in recent days, what has happened to us within recent years as well. We want to learn as much as we can about not only what’s happened recently but in recent years, and we’re going to take steps to protect our interests as appropriate.
Anything else on China?
QUESTION: Does the U.S. —
MR PRICE: Okay, Ian.
QUESTION: Can you just talk a little bit about how this balloon incident is going to change the trip that the Secretary may eventually go on if he does go? Will Blinken bring up the incident? Will he convey these messages in person to his counterparts there, and will he talk about Chinese espionage sort of more broadly with his counterparts there?
MR PRICE: Well, in some ways the trip that had been planned would have provided the Secretary an opportunity to discuss this broad set of challenges. As you know, we face a wide range of challenges from the PRC. One is in the espionage realm. We face economic challenges, we face diplomatic challenges, political challenges, economic challenges, and security challenges of course.
So every time we have an extended discussion with our PRC counterparts we spend a lot of time speaking about the threats that we face, the competition that is a part of this relationship. And as I alluded to before, we seek both to advance our interests and to do what the rest of the world expects of us: to have a discussion of areas where we potentially can cooperate or even deepen that cooperation.
If and when the Secretary returns or travels to Beijing – and again, this trip was postponed, it wasn’t canceled – I fully expect he’ll have an opportunity to discuss the full range of our concerns with PRC behavior in all of those realms.
QUESTION: Does the United States has a read on the tone of the statement issued by Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs? Do you think it’s targeted on domestic Chinese audience, especially on those ultranationalists, or is it a signaling to U.S. that there may be more retaliation actions? I mean, do you sense any tone, more conciliatory tone, from your private conversation?
MR PRICE: And Nike, I’m just not going to parse their statements. We’re going to be looking for actions. We’re going to be looking for the PRC to act responsibly, to act responsibly and practically, calmly, resolutely, in the way that we have throughout this and over the much broader horizon.
QUESTION: Yeah, the Pentagon said they were tracking the balloon since at least January 28th, so last Saturday. The White House said the President was briefed on it Tuesday, so a few days after that. I’m curious. Can you clarify when the top officials in this department were first briefed on this? When did they first learn about it? And then why did it take till Friday morning to cancel the trip if you presumably knew about this earlier in the week?
MR PRICE: So Dylan, our colleague at the White House and the Defense Department have spoken to the tactical timeline of this. But you are right that we learned about it early in the week. Obviously we were traveling early in the week to the Middle East. We were in Egypt, Israel, the West Bank when this first started to percolate. The Secretary was deeply engaged with his counterparts as well as with the President on this issue throughout the course of the week and as the end of the week neared.
And ultimately, Dylan, these are difficult decisions. They are difficult decisions regarding the most prudent course to take with a high-altitude surveillance balloon like this. There are prudent – there are difficult diplomatic decisions to make. But as the week progressed and as we considered it and talked about it with partners across the government, it became clear to us that the PRC’s reckless, irresponsible, inappropriate action had undermined entirely for the time being the point of what was supposed to have been the trip that was starting late last week. That decision ultimately was finally made early Friday. We informed all of you shortly thereafter.
QUESTION: On China. China and India but China first. Ned, I’ve been saying this for the last – over 25 years that China was spying on the United States to get its secrets in many ways. Do you believe China is spying on the United States to get all the secrets, but they are now like in industries, and nuclears, and others? And also, few Chinese citizens are now – they were arrested and in jail.
MR PRICE: Yeah, so look, I’m not going to go into any detail, but I’ll just say this: We’re under no illusions about the challenges about the threats we face from the PRC. The reason we have sought to engage in dialogue, in diplomacy, is in the first instance to manage that competition, to see to it that that competition doesn’t veer into conflict, but also to set guardrails on a relationship that is complex, that is consequential, precisely because we have a number of concerns about PRC behavior, espionage being one of them.
QUESTION: And India, please. It’s been 14 years when scores of people were killed in November 26, 2008 in Mumbai terror attack. Among six U.S. citizens were killed. Now, after 14 years, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Chairman Mr. Michael McCaul, he wrote a letter to Madam Samantha Power, USAID administrator, that asking her to stop funding for HHRD, or Helping Hand Relief and Development Foundation, or it’s in the name of charity. He said that the fundings are going or they are linked to the LET and other terror organizations based in Pakistan and ISI.
So what my – what I’m asking you is your question on 24 January letter written to her, one comment on the letter. And second, the families and loved ones are asking when their loved ones will get – six U.S. citizens who were killed – justice.
MR PRICE: Thanks for that question. I will leave it to USAID to comment on the letter specifically. As I understand, it was addressed to Administrator Power. But the terrorist attacks that took place in 2009 in Mumbai – of course, the memories of that are still vivid. They’re still vivid in India. They are still vivid in the United States as well. We can all remember the horrific imagery of that day, the assault on the hotel, the bloodshed that resulted, and it’s why we’ve continued to insist on accountability for the perpetrators of this, not only the individual operatives who took so many innocent lives that day, but the terrorist groups that were behind this that helped to orchestrated it as well.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
QUESTION: Ned, in Pakistan, Peshawar, a hundred people died in a suicide blast. And so terrorism is very much active back in Pakistan. Any help from the U.S. for an ally who was standing with America for 20 years, has lost over 75,000 of its people, and is begging the IMF where the people are fighting for bread? Any support? Any – I know there is so much happening in the world to be asking for —
MR PRICE: No, of course. But this is important, and it’s precisely why we took an opportunity last week to issue a statement on the bombing of the mosque that was inside the police lines in Peshawar. Of course, this is – any terrorist attack is something that we condemn with the utmost vociferousness. But this attack resulted in the deaths of scores of innocent civilians as well as public servants, individuals who had dedicated their lives to protecting their fellow Pakistani citizens.
This is a scourge that affects Pakistan, it affects India, it affects Afghanistan. It is something that we’re focused on throughout the entire region. When it comes to Pakistan, they’re an important partner of the United States, and a partner in any number of ways. We’ve talked in recent days about our commitment to stand with Pakistan in the face of these security threats. Pakistan will continue to be a stalwart partner of the United States and vice versa in the face of these types of horrific terrorist attacks.
QUESTION: One last one, I have a story that I’ve been following, and I want to get your comment on it. I have reports that some Taliban have gone into Ukraine to support them in the fight against Russia. Do you have any information about that? Any comment about that?
MR PRICE: I don’t have anything to add on that. I haven’t seen those reports.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Missy.
QUESTION: Ned, I wanted to ask you on a very different topic and follow up, I think, on a question that Said may have asked about a week or two ago, and it’s about the withdrawal of the DRL nominee Sarah Margon. And can you just – is there anything else that you could say about the department’s perspective on the long hold by Senator Risch and the grounds or the alleged reason for that? And can you tell us anything about what Secretary Blinken is doing to fill the DRL position since it’s already been half of the administration at this point? Thanks.
MR PRICE: Well, first, when it comes to the approach that the Senate has taken, I would need to refer you to the Senate to comment on that. Sarah Margon is just a tremendous intellect. She is committed. She is passionate. She is someone that many of us have worked with outside of government, someone that many of us were very much looking forward to working with inside of government. Her talents, her determination would have been a tremendous asset to this department but also to the fuller administration. This was ultimately a decision that Sarah herself made. She came to recognize that there was not a path forward for her confirmation. It is unfortunate, but – and it’s ultimately something that we sought to advocate for every step of the way.
Every time we have an in-depth discussion with the Senate, we bring up the issue of nominees and the need for a swift confirmation of our nominees. The fact that we haven’t had a confirmed assistant secretary in DRL during the course of this administration – of course, it doesn’t mean that we haven’t focused on human rights, that we haven’t placed human rights at the center of our foreign policy. This is something that Secretary Blinken is committed to. It’s something that Uzra Zeya and others in this building are committed to.
But it is important that we have Senate-confirmed individuals in place both here in the department in assistant secretary positions as well as other confirmed positions, but around the world. The point we routinely make is that no other country on the face of the Earth would put itself in this position, would tie a hand behind its back by leaving critical members of its team off the field, in a position where they are not able to be engaged.
I have no doubt that Sarah will direct her considerable talents to her advocacy work on the outside. That, too, is a good thing for us. It’s important to have voices like hers in civil society. But we also need a confirmed assistant secretary in DRL. Now that Sarah has made the decision she has, we are going to take a close look at what the appropriate next step is, and we’re going to continue to work with the Senate to see to it that our nominees are confirmed as – on as swift a basis as can be achieved.
QUESTION: Do you have an idea – can you say anything about the timing of a potential nominee and whether or not the department will try to nominate another external appointee or – or a career person?
MR PRICE: I’m just not in a position to speak to that at the moment. It’s something we’re taking a close look at. We want to see to it that DRL has an empowered assistant secretary, someone who reflects the commitment on the part of President Biden, on the part of Secretary Blinken, on the part of others throughout this administration to really give meaning to putting human rights at the center of our foreign policy.
QUESTION: Ned, real quick, do you have any comment about Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday speaking out against laws that criminalize LGBTQI folks?
MR PRICE: We’ve obviously heard similar comments from Pope Francis in recent days. His Holiness using his voice in this way is something that will be noticed by people and governments around the world. He obviously speaks with authority that perhaps no one else can. We welcome those remarks, and for our part, we will continue as an administration, as a government, to doing what we can – perhaps in a very different way, but practical steps that we can to promote and to protect the rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world consistent with the executive order, with the presidential memorandum that the President put out a couple years ago now.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Said.
QUESTION: Thank you. On the Palestinian issue.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: A couple questions. Couple days ago, on the occasion or World Cancer Day, the – with a theme – I think the theme for this year was closing the care gap – the Palestinian health ministry accused Israel of denying cancer patients the right to medical treatment abroad. That’s what they claimed. And they said that Israel deprives about 40 percent of patients in Gaza of their right to medical treatment. I wonder if you are aware of these reports and you have any comment on that in view of the visit that just ended.
MR PRICE: I’ve seen those reports, Said. What I can say is that we’re aware of them. We would reiterate, as you know, as we have always said, that Palestinians and Israelis should enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, and prosperity. That of course includes freedom of movement to receive medical treatment.
QUESTION: Another question is the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said today that they will not go back to security coordinations and so on. We’ve seen Israel up its – sort of its raids and so on in Jericho, in other places, and so on. So – and this comes in the aftermath of the Secretary’s visit to Israel and to the West Bank. Are you disappointed that this visit did not have much of an impact in that realm, in that area?
MR PRICE: A couple things, Said. First, we were under no illusions that a single visit would be able to immediately reverse the tide of violence, the accelerating pace of violence, that we’ve seen in recent weeks and months and even over a longer time horizon.
On the trip, and before and since, the Secretary, we, have consistently made the point that it is incumbent on the parties themselves to take steps to de-escalate what is a dangerous situation, what is an increasingly combustible situation as well. On the trip, the Secretary underscored the urgent need for all parties to de-escalate to prevent the loss of further civilian life, and for both sides to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank. We believe that Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live in safety and security, and a key element of that is stemming this tide of violence.
After the trip, we continue to work closely with both Israelis and Palestinians to support their efforts to end this cycle of violence, and our overarching goal beyond the very near term, this immediate goal, is to support the de-escalation of tensions and to work with the parties to take action to lessen the violence, which has already taken far too many lives just at the beginning of this year as we look to advance the longer-term prospects of a negotiated two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians.
QUESTION: And finally, CIA Director Bill Burns told a group in Georgetown on Thursday, I believe, that the conditions that he sees in the West Bank are very similar to those that were on the eve of the second intifada, which was so violent. Do you have any – have you seen that, first? And do you have any comment on that?
MR PRICE: I’m familiar with that, and I think this goes back precisely to what I said a moment ago. There are a number of very concerning trend lines and data points, and none is more concerning than the loss of civilian life that we’ve seen over the course of this year and in recent months as well. It is precisely the reason Secretary Blinken from Israel, from the West Bank, from Egypt, encouraged Israelis, Palestinians to take urgent steps themselves that would de-escalate this situation and lead to greater degrees of security and stability for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. On Russia-Ukraine, the Justice Department over the weekend confirmed that the first seized Russian assets to go to Ukraine had been already directed to the State Department. Can you speak to the significance of that and how much amount we’re talking about. Also, what kind of message does it send to Russian oligarchs? And maybe is this something we should expect more in the weeks and months ahead?
MR PRICE: Well, it sends a very simple message that those who would support this brutal war should not expect to have impunity, that they will find themselves on the other end of important tools that we have at our disposal to hold them to account. Anyone who supports this war who is subject to our sanctions authorities, to our broader economic authorities, puts themselves in a vulnerable position. And I think the action the Department of Justice announced in recent days speaks to that.
As you know, through working with Congress we have a significant sum at our disposal when it comes to security assistance, when it comes to humanitarian assistance, when it comes to economic assistance. But again, looking at the announcement from the Department of Justice, we’re determined to be resolute and we’re determined to be creative in ways that we support the Ukrainian people, support their near-term security needs, support their near-term humanitarian needs, their near-term economic needs, but also the needs that they’ll have over the longer term when it comes to reconstruction and to rebuilding their country.
QUESTION: Do you have more details about the amount of —
MR PRICE: I would need to refer you to the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: Yeah. And how is it going to be allocated? Through USAID projects or any particular details about how the State Department is going to spend it?
MR PRICE: If we have more details on that, we’ll share it at the right time.
QUESTION: And another question, if you don’t mind. Reports have emerged again over the weekend that Russia and Iran are planning to build up – produce more drones. Two questions. First of all, what kind of reaction will that invite from the U.S.? Secondly, does that make a potential factory wherever they’re going to build up a target, legitimate target?
MR PRICE: I’ve seen those reports. I’m not in a position to confirm it from here. But it, in a way, at a broader level, doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. We have spoken extensively over the past six months or so now about the burgeoning security relationship between Russia and Iran, between – about the provision of UAV technology from Iran to Russia, but also the fact that this is very much a two-way street. Russia is in turn providing Iran with military and security wares that it has requested as well. It’s part of the reason why we’ve enacted a number of tranches of sanctions against not only Russian actors, but in this case Iranian actors as well.
And in fact, the most recent illustration of that was on Friday when the Department of the Treasury designated eight Iranian individuals who were purporting or acting on behalf of an entity known as Paravar Pars. It’s an Iranian firm that produces UAVs for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force. It’s tested UAVs for the IRGC. We designated this entity in September, and then on Friday we took action against these eight individuals affiliated with it.
I can tell you we don’t preview, of course, future sanctions actions, but we will continue to look for targets that will allow us to counter this relationship between Iran and Russia, and more concretely, the provision of UAV technology from Iran to Russia that has resulted in untold damage, destruction across Ukraine and to the people of Ukraine.
QUESTION: On Brazil, President Lula comes to D.C. this week to meet President Biden, and I know climate is on the table. Is the U.S. open to putting money on a fund to protect the Amazon? And also I know democracy is another subject. Former President Bolsonaro has been in Florida since December. Does it somehow worry the U.S. Government?
MR PRICE: Right now we’re focused on the upcoming visit of President Lula. It’s something we’ve been looking forward to since his inauguration. The president will be here on Friday for a meeting with President Biden at the White House. We do expect a wide-ranging discussion between the two presidents, and we expect this will be an opportunity for our two countries to strengthen our already close relationship. During the meeting, we expect the presidents will discuss our unwavering support of Brazil’s democracy, how our two countries can continue to work together to promote inclusion and democratic values in the region and around the world, and that’s especially so in the run-up to the Summit for Democracy, which will take place in March of this year.
We expect the presidents will also discuss how our two countries can continue to work together to discuss common challenges – this gets to your question – combating climate change, safeguarding food security, encouraging economic development, strengthening peace and security, and then managing regional migration throughout the Western Hemisphere.
QUESTION: Can you tell us, Ned, anything with the Paris meeting about Lebanon? I think it’s over by now.
MR PRICE: It did take place today. Assistant Secretary Leaf led the U.S. delegation to the meeting in Paris. I suspect we’ll have more to say, whether as a group of countries or ourselves, in the coming hours. But this was an opportunity for us to work with partners to encourage and support Lebanese leaders to elect a president, to form a government, and to implement the necessary economic reforms.
QUESTION: But no statements yet from —
MR PRICE: We’ll have something in the coming hours, I would expect.
MR PRICE: Yes, final question?
QUESTION: Thank you. Quick follow-up on the Chinese balloon issues. There are speculations that the Chinese balloon flew over Japanese airspace before it reached continental U.S. And there’s also speculation that other Chinese balloons might flew over Japan previously. So do think Chinese balloon issues pose challenges to U.S. allies in Asia, like Japan?
MR PRICE: Well, I’d say a couple things. One, I would refer you to the Japanese Government to speak to any assessment of overflight, whether of this balloon or of previous balloons. What we have said is that we have detected these – this variety of high-altitude surveillance balloon across five continents. This is a challenge that a number of countries around the world have been subjected to. And it’s precisely why, in the aftermath of the downing of this high altitude surveillance balloon, we thought it was important to convene, to reach out to like-minded countries around the world to share what we experienced, to share what we know, to express our common concern, and to do what we can to see to it that, as an international community, we’re speaking very clearly to the PRC – and for that matter, any other country around the world who would engage in this type of behavior – to underscore that it’s irresponsible, it’s inappropriate, and at the end of the day it is unacceptable.
Our Japanese allies are critical allies to us in the Indo-Pacific, in North Asia, and beyond. We’ve applauded the investments that the prime minister announced in Japan’s defense capabilities. We wholeheartedly embrace our alliance coordination and cooperation across a range of fronts. And more broadly, whether it’s in the Indo-Pacific, whether it’s in Europe or anywhere else, when it comes to the challenges that are posed by the PRC, one of our greatest strengths are – is going to be the system of partnerships and alliances that we bring along with us.
We spent much of the first year of this administration – that is to say, 2021 until the end of that year – working to forge convergence with our allies in Europe, but also allies and partners around the world, on the broad set of challenges, threats that we face from the PRC. I think you have heard a number of countries express their own concern, even outrage over what has transpired in the last couple of days. But more broadly than that, we are lucky to have by our side allies in the Indo-Pacific like Japan, allies and partners around the world – in the Indo-Pacific, in Europe, and places in between – that are – with whom we are working in lockstep to confront the challenges and opportunities we face, whether that’s great power competition or whether that’s transnational threats.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:25 p.m.)