Department Press Briefing – January 23, 2023
- EU / IRAN
- ETHIOPIA / ERITREA
- UKRAINE / GERMANY / REGION
- CHINA / UKRAINE
- RUSSIA / NORTH KOREA / SOUTH KOREA
- Türkiye / SWEDEN
- DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO / RWANDA / ANGOLA
- PRESS FREEDOM
- PAKISTAN / INDIA
- SWEDEN / Türkiye
- ISRAEL / PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
- ISRAEL / IRAN
- EU / IRAN
- WAGNER GROUP
- RUSSIA / BALTIC STATES
2:10 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Happy Monday. Good afternoon to everyone. It’s quite a full briefing room. I was joking with my colleague that I have a hard out today at 5:00 p.m. – (laughter) – so we’ll make good use of our time. Just one announcement at the top, and then we’ll turn to your questions.
The United States took further action today, concurrently with the United Kingdom and the European Union, to promote accountability for the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses by imposing sanctions on 10 additional Iranian individuals, including Iran’s deputy minister of intelligence and key commanders in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as one additional Iranian entity.
Today’s action is the latest of numerous tranches of sanctions made in close consultation with our allies and partners and aimed at Iranian individuals and entities connected to Iranian authorities’ cruel and violent crackdown against peaceful protesters. In addition, we applaud our allies and partners, including the United Kingdom, members of the European Union, Canada, Australia, and others, who also continue to sanction Iranian authorities and entities involved and complicit in human rights abuses and in Iran’s supply of weapons to Russia for use in the Kremlin’s brutal war against Ukraine. Today, we are united with our allies and partners in the need to confront Iran’s leadership for its human rights abuses and destabilizing activities, which should alarm the entire world.
With that, we’ll turn to your questions.
QUESTION: I was late so I will allow others to —
MR PRICE: That’s very magnanimous of you.
QUESTION: Could I?
MR PRICE: Sure.
MR PRICE: Nothing? I’ve always said that about you, Matt. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I think people may want to start elsewhere, but can I start in Ethiopia?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: The withdrawal of Eritrean troops. There was the call over the weekend with Prime Minister Abiy. To what extent is this verified that this is a withdrawal? Do you expect it to be permanent, expect it as in do you acknowledge that it’s permanent?
MR PRICE: This was a subject of the call with the prime minister over the weekend. As you know, they had an opportunity to speak on January 21st. They spoke of numerous elements, but that included the ongoing withdrawal of Eritrean troops from northern Ethiopia. The Secretary welcomed this development, noting that it was a key to securing a sustainable peace in northern Ethiopia, and he urged access for international human rights monitors. The Secretary also affirmed the commitment of the United States to support the AU-led peace process in northern Ethiopia. They also discussed the need to bring an end to ongoing instability in the Oromia region of Ethiopia.
We do applaud the continued steady progress towards implementing the key elements of the cessation of hostilities agreement that was reached a number of months ago as well as the positive role of the AU’s Joint Monitoring Verification and Compliance team.
When it comes to Eritrea, as I mentioned before, Shaun, we are aware that Eritrean forces are beginning to withdraw from Ethiopia. We reiterate the call that you’ve heard consistently from us, including the call that was included in the communique that emanated from the talks in South Africa, for the withdrawal of all foreign forces. We reiterate the call for the complete withdrawal in line with that November 12th Nairobi agreement as well.
The departure of Eritrean and other forces is crucial, as I said before, to achieving lasting peace, securing full humanitarian access, and ensuring the territorial integrity of Ethiopia. Even as we continue to see positive signs, including the ongoing withdrawal of Eritrean forces, we are concerned by reports that Eritrean forces have committed human rights abuses against civilians, and we continue – and continue to impede the delivery of much-needed humanitarian assistance. We call on the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea to investigate these reports and to hold those responsible to account. We also call on the Government of Ethiopia to fulfill its commitment to grant full access to international human rights monitors.
QUESTION: Sure, just to follow up on a couple of these. The abuses that you’re talking about, you’re talking about in the past, not currently?
MR PRICE: That’s correct.
QUESTION: Prior to the withdrawal?
MR PRICE: That’s correct.
QUESTION: Two things. As far as you know, has there been any contact with the Eritreans? Obviously the U.S. has a difficult relationship there, and of course there are sanctions that are imposed on Eritrea in the course of the war. Will those – not today, I’m sure, but will those – will those be lifted in some sense for this?
MR PRICE: In terms of our – any dialogue with Eritrea, we of course do have an embassy in Asmara. It is a relationship that is, to put it lightly, strained. Of course we have the means by which to convey messages to counterparts in Asmara, sometimes delivering those messages publicly as the most effective means by which to do that, but we do have an embassy there.
When it comes to the sanctions that are on Eritrean officials, you are right that there are a number of accountability mechanisms that – some of which were devised and announced in the course of this civil war in Ethiopia that we hope is finally coming to an end. One of those was the executive order that this administration devised and President Biden announced some number of months ago. Eritrean forces have been subject to its provisions because of their activity during the course of this conflict.
If this continues, if we continue to see positive momentum, we of course will take that into account. We will take into account everything we see – the good, the bad – as we evaluate the next steps and determine whether any additional accountability measures are warranted or, to the contrary, if certain sanctions that are in place no longer have a basis in that executive order.
QUESTION: Ned, can we talk a little bit about this whole saga around the tanks in Europe? And there seems to be a lot of back and forth and even, like, almost a dispute about Germany doesn’t want to send the tanks independently, you guys are saying it’s their sovereign decision, but they want – they seem to want the shield of allies. So what can the administration do to support that process? And the administration has made an effort to keep NATO unified, and this seems to be a bit of an emerging clash. How does the Biden administration feel about this in Europe?
MR PRICE: First, let me take the second part of your question first. At virtually every step of Russia’s war against Ukraine, we’ve heard these prognostications or predictions that the transatlantic unity that we’ve marshaled and maintained is fraying at the seams, it’s coming apart. In fact, we heard that even before the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th. At every step of the way, those predictions have proved to be premature and just flat out wrong. You – let me just give you one example: Look at what came out of the latest convening of the Defense Contact Group that Secretary of Defense Austin and Chairman Milley attended last week.
And you saw announcements – new announcements from any number of allies and partners that speak to the tremendous amount of not only unity but determination from countries around the world to continue to stick with it. France and Germany and the UK, they’ve all donated air-defense systems to Ukraine. That includes from Germany a Patriot battery. The Netherlands is donating a Patriot – Patriot missiles and launchers and training. Canada has procured a NASAM system and associated munitions for Ukraine. The UK of course announced the provision of Challenger 2 tanks for Ukraine. Sweden announced it’s donating CV90 infantry fighting vehicles and additional donations soon of ARCHER Howitzers. Denmark, Latvia, other countries all announced new provision of support to Ukraine in the context of the Defense Contact Group, and that was just last week. Oh, and I should be – I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that we also announced $2.5 billion of our own —
QUESTION: Yeah, but all of the –
MR PRICE: — of our own security assistance.
QUESTION: All of that lacks —
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: All of that lacks tanks, and that’s the urgent request from the Ukrainians. So like great cooperation and agreement on all of those, but they say this is the most urgent one —
MR PRICE: So tanks —
QUESTION: — and you guys seem to have lacked —
MR PRICE: Tanks. We have taken steps over the course of many months, including over the summer, to see to it that partners are in a position to provide tanks to Ukraine. Ukraine has tanks. I don’t want to leave you with the misimpression that Ukraine doesn’t have tanks. Ukraine has hundreds of tanks, so point A.
When it comes to any —
QUESTION: Are you saying their request is irrational or —
MR PRICE: When it —
QUESTION: — unnecessary?
MR PRICE: When it comes to any particular capability – you’ve heard us say this before and you actually summed it up – this is a sovereign decision on the part of each country to decide what types of security assistance to provide, what they’re in a position to provide. We applaud all of our allies and partners for what they have done so far, and I just recounted some of that that we’ve heard over the past 72 hours or so. We’ve previously, when it comes to Germany, applauded its announcements that they’ll send Ukraine infantry fighting vehicles, MLRS systems, air-defense capabilities including the IRS-T air-defense system, and as I mentioned before a Patriot missile battery. We also applaud the decision by the UK, as I mentioned before, to send these Challenger tanks to Ukraine.
We will continue to do our part to provide Ukraine with what it needs. I mentioned our latest provision of security assistance that we announced on Thursday and Friday. That was the 30th drawdown of so‑called Presidential Drawdown Authority. Thirty times now we have announced hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars’ worth of security assistance to Ukraine. And on Friday, we announced that we’ll provide more than 500 armored vehicles to Ukraine in addition to the Bradley Fighting Vehicles that we’ve previously announced.
QUESTION: But what role —
MR PRICE: I see you —
QUESTION: — do you play in the —
MR PRICE: I see you having a follow-up question. I suspected you would go there.
Our role there will be to continue to speak with our Ukrainian partners, to speak with our allies, including in the context of NATO, including in the context of the Defense Contact Group, to determine the needs of the Ukrainian fighters and also what members of this coalition of some 50 countries are in a position to provide.
We are not going to be prescriptive. The only thing that we’re continuing to prescribe is that President Putin’s aggression will be – continue to be a strategic failure. We are going to provide Ukraine with what it needs to take on the battle that it’s facing at any given moment. We can say that until we’re blue in the face, but more importantly, we can continue to demonstrate that. And I think you see that with the success that our Ukrainian partners have had on the battlefield, including with the security assistance that we have provided and some 50 other countries around the world have provided.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: In the meantime, Ned – Ned —
MR PRICE: In the back, yes. Yes, please.
QUESTION: In the meantime, on this issue. Ned —
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I have follow-up, obviously, to the tank question. What impact does Germany’s hesitation have on the German-American relationship when it comes to not sending tanks now, question number one? And Poland says that they want to send Leopards to Ukraine without the permit of Germany. Would Secretary Blinken support that decision?
MR PRICE: These are questions for Germany. These are questions for Poland. In some cases, these are questions that our German allies will need to discuss with our shared allies. And my impression, having seen headlines that are just emerging, is that we may be hearing more from our German allies in the coming hours and the coming days.
But I will say Germany is a stalwart ally across the board, including in the context of the security assistance that it has provided to Ukraine. I’ve already mentioned some of the systems that Germany has provided – the IRIS-T system, the MLRS systems, the Patriot missile battery; not to mention everything else that Germany has spoken to over the past 11 months or so.
If you had mentioned these systems and the amount of security assistance that Germany has to date provided on February 23rd of last year, I think there would have been a lot of people around the world who may not have believed you. Germany has stepped up. Germany has stepped up in a big way. It has provided quantity, but it has also provided capabilities that our Ukrainian partners need. There is no doubt in our mind that Germany is a reliable ally on this front and on every front.
QUESTION: A follow-up, please?
MR PRICE: Is it on this? Is it on this?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. On this issue. In the meantime, you are really pressuring Germany to send the Leopard tanks. Right?
MR PRICE: Said —
QUESTION: Why not send the A1M1 Abrams?
MR PRICE: Said, I just went to some length to say that —
QUESTION: No, no. I’m just saying.
MR PRICE: — to say that it is a sovereign decision of each country.
QUESTION: I understand. But there is a lot of pressure to send the Leopard tank. Why not send the A1M1 Abrams tank? I mean, why not? It’s the best tank in the world, admittedly. Right?
MR PRICE: Said, this is something that our colleagues at the Department of Defense have spoken to. I don’t want to compare apples and oranges, and I think the comparison of these two systems as apples and oranges may understate the differences that we’re talking about here. Let me just say that we are in direct, regular communication with our Ukrainian partners. We’ll continue to provide them with what they need to defend themselves, given the nature of the battle that they are confronting at any given moment.
Now, the other point I should make, and I made this to Humeyra, is that we’ve already helped our Ukrainian partners to obtain tanks. We have worked with them to obtain former Soviet-made and Russian-made tanks that they’re already trained on, they know how to use, they can put to use right away, they can repair them, they can keep them operational, and most importantly, they can be effective with them.
We also announced, as I said before, on Friday an assistance package that included 500 additional armed vehicles in addition to the Bradley Fighting Vehicles that we announced for the first time a couple weeks ago.
QUESTION: Although – although – just a quick follow-up.
QUESTION: Although – I understand. Although – but we have not really seen any great tank battles in this war. We have seen that these tanks are being used as artillery. I mean, what – maybe you can supplement that, send them some fancy artillery or something.
MR PRICE: You’re basically describing what we’re already doing. Yes.
MR PRICE: Follow-up? Go ahead. Okay.
QUESTION: Same topic.
QUESTION: Okay. So TVN Warner Bros. Discovery from Poland, so it’s obviously a question about Poland’s role here. So Poland wants to build, and it’s a quote from the prime minister, at least a small coalition of countries that would send Leopards to Ukraine. Would you diplomatically help build such a coalition so that Poland and other countries in the region could send those Leopards to Ukraine?
MR PRICE: We have marshaled, built, led a coalition of countries, of 50 countries, that for – over the course of the better part of a year has provided billions and billions of dollars’ worth of security assistance to Ukraine. And we keep talking about security assistance because that’s where the questions are coming. But I would be remiss not to mention the economic assistance, the humanitarian assistance that countries around the world have also provided. I don’t want to suggest that security assistance is the only form of assistance our Ukrainian partners need. They need all of it, and they need it from as many countries as are positioned to provide it.
So to answer your question, there is an extant coalition. The United States has helped to put this together, helped to lead it. We’ll continue to do that.
QUESTION: How about Leopard coalition to provide tanks?
MR PRICE: Let me just make a quick point. We don’t have Leopard tanks, as I think you know. This is a question for countries in Europe that do have them.
MR PRICE: Any – okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: So, Ned, to understand your position on this. We aren’t questioning about the unity. That’s clear. That part has been established, and thank you for that. The question’s about the leadership. Germany says the U.S. needs to lead by providing with one single Abrams so we can release all the Leopards. So are you waiting to —
MR PRICE: Alex, I think – I think oftentimes people in this room put words into my mouth. I think you might be putting words into the mouths of German officials. I’m not sure I’ve heard that from our German allies.
QUESTION: Change topic —
QUESTION: The Polish —
MR PRICE: Are you asking a question on this?
QUESTION: No, no.
MR PRICE: Okay. Let’s try and move on in a couple (inaudible).
MR PRICE: Anything else on this, Kylie?
QUESTION: Today the Polish prime – or maybe yesterday – but today or yesterday the Polish prime minister made a remark saying that they’re going to try and put together a coalition of European countries that would like to send these Leopard tanks, and essentially made the argument that they might do it without getting the approval of Germany. Would the U.S. support those countries in doing that if Germany doesn’t give them the green light?
MR PRICE: This is not a question for us. This is a question for our German allies. This is a question for our allies that have these systems.
QUESTION: But could it be harmful to the NATO coalition if they did that?
MR PRICE: Again, an indispensable element of the effectiveness that our Ukrainian partners have had has been the unity, the consensus, the unanimity that we’ve seen within this broad coalition, whether it’s within NATO, whether it’s within this grouping of some 50-odd countries that are providing security assistance to Ukraine. Of course we put a premium on maintaining that consensus and that cooperation and that close coordination, but that’s not a question for us, that’s a question for our allies and partners with these particular systems.
QUESTION: Sorry, did you just say that just say that you guys would actually prefer unanimity or you would want unanimity?
MR PRICE: We – of course, it has been indispensable to the success – and I’m not speaking to the provision of a system; I’m speaking –
QUESTION: And it would be indispensable on this occasion as well?
MR PRICE: I am speaking in terms of the indispensability of the consensus, the coordination, the consultation that we have achieved and maintained with partners around the world in support of Ukraine. That’s my point.
QUESTION: Just on – Ned, one – yes, on this subject.
MR PRICE: Anything – we’ll take one more question on this. You seem particularly – here, yeah.
QUESTION: Yes, sir. A little bit on the peace side of these tanks, because I know Putin has been talking about if these tanks were to be given, nuclear war could have started. So let’s – if you could change the subject a little bit to the peace side of it, is it true that Ukraine has asked China to help out in this issue, and maybe bring about some peaceful result to this whole thing? Or no?
MR PRICE: That’s a better question for our Ukrainian partners. I can say that we are looking to all countries around the world that have relations with Russia, including a relationship with Russia that we certainly don’t have and many of our closest partners in NATO and in the broader international community don’t have, to use their voice, to use their pull, to use their leverage to encourage President Putin to put an end to this brutal war. China is a country that, perhaps more so than any other country, has leverage with Russia – political leverage, economic leverage – that we would like to see the PRC use to bring about an end to needless bloodshed, an end to civilian harm, suffering, destruction; and, by the way, to hold up the very principles that the PRC over the course of many decades now has at least maintained that they hold dear.
Whether it’s in the United Nations system, whether it’s in any number of international fora, we’ve heard from the PRC over the course of decades an emphasis on state sovereignty, an emphasis on the rules-based international order, an emphasis on the UN Charter. By tacitly – and in some cases explicitly – supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they are eroding their standing on all of those issues. They are taking actions that counteract everything they have said that they believe in.
QUESTION: And Ned, one question on India. India.
MR PRICE: We’ll come back.
MR PRICE: Go ahead, Russia. Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have Russia and North Korea together. The head of Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group sent a message of action to the White House refuting the arms deal between North Korea and the Wagner Group announced by the White House last week, and they asked what the crime was. What is the State Department position on the objection of the Wagner Group?
MR PRICE: Well, I would note that this letter from Mr. Prigozhin to my colleague at the White House came precisely in the aftermath of the White House declassifying additional information regarding the Wagner Group’s activities inside Ukraine, the Wagner Group’s – the support that it is receiving from the DPRK, not to mention the – a broader discussion about the destabilizing influence that the Wagner Group is having, not only in Ukraine, but in other parts of the world, including in parts of Africa.
So we’ve gone to great lengths to explain our concerns with the Wagner Group. We have declassified information, we have declassified imagery, we’ve spoken to our concerns in the Ukrainian context and the broader context, and I think I’ll let those comments speak for themselves.
QUESTION: Regarding UN Security Council sanctions, if China and Russia oppose sanctions against the Wagner Group, will the U.S. pursue its own sanctions?
MR PRICE: Yes, and we are. What the White House noted last week is that we are imposing additional designations, using additional authorities to pursue the Wagner Group. This is a group that for quite some time has been subject to U.S. sanctions. We imposed further sanctions in March of 2022 related to Mr. Prigozhin’s funding of the Internet Research Agency, which he uses to propagate his global influence operations.
So we are going to use every appropriate tool to pursue the Wagner Group, to attempt to counter its destabilizing actions, its destabilizing influence – again in the Ukrainian context and more broadly as well.
QUESTION: And then will you engage in diplomatic cooperation with South Korea on these matters, these issues?
MR PRICE: On this particular issue?
MR PRICE: It is fair to say that, of course, we have the closest of relations with our South Korean ally. There is a nexus to the DPRK in this case, given the provision of arms and other military wares from the DPRK to Wagner entities for use in Ukraine. We routinely discuss with our partners in the ROK the broad array of threats and challenges we face from the DPRK, most frequently the challenge we face from its nuclear weapons program, its ballistic missile program. But we’ve spoken, too, to its activities in the cyber realm, to money laundering, to criminal activities, and yes, to its support for what Russia is perpetrating on the people of Ukraine.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on —
MR PRICE: I need to move around to – yes – to get everyone.
MR PRICE: Well, you know our position on Finland and Sweden and their NATO accession. You’ve heard this from the administration, you’ve heard this from members of Congress. We strongly support their NATO candidacies. Finland and Sweden are ready to join the Alliance. They are ready to join the Alliance because of their military capabilities, the longstanding security partnership that we have with Finland and Sweden that now goes back decades. We exercise together, we cooperate together, we share information together. But they’re also ready to join the alliance because these are highly developed democracies.
When it comes to what we’ve seen in recent days, we support freedom of association, the right of peaceful assembly as elements of any democracy. But just as the Swedish prime minister said, burning books that are holy to many is a deeply disrespectful act, and he made the point that what is legal is not necessarily appropriate. We have a saying in this country – something can be lawful but awful. I think in this case what we’ve seen in the context of Sweden falls into that category.
We are also cognizant of the fact that those who may be behind what has taken place in Sweden may be engaging in an intentional effort to try to weaken unity across the Atlantic and within and among our European allies and partners. We feel that Finland and Sweden are ready to be NATO Allies. We have voiced that consistently, but ultimately, this is a decision and a consensus that Finland and Sweden are going to have to reach with Türkiye.
QUESTION: On the same subject?
QUESTION: And on Russia – sorry.
MR PRICE: Let’s stay on the same subject and come back. Sure.
QUESTION: So the United States, we all know, that says that it fights extremism in all its forms around the world. And that might be true, but the – from so many Muslim countries and international organizations alike, even the United Nations, have come out condemning this extremist behavior. So does the United States condemn this behavior? Because it is going to send a pretty clear signal to the whole world – wider Muslim world – that if there’s no condemnation from the United States, it’s kind of a clear-cut message that the reaction might be a little bit softer than expected.
MR PRICE: So a couple things. As I said before, we support freedom of association and the right of peaceful assembly as elements in any democracy, and one of the reasons Finland and Sweden are ready to join NATO is because they are advanced democracies. We have had our own challenges along these lines in this country. There was a famous incident not so long ago in this country that would fall in the – under the same terms, something that may be legal but that is profoundly disrespectful; that is profoundly, we might think, inappropriate, profoundly incendiary – something that is lawful but in this case awful. It is up to Sweden, it is up to Finland to interpret and to enforce their own laws, just as it is up to us in this country to interpret and enforce our own laws when we’re confronted with something that a provocateur might wish to take on.
QUESTION: So in that scenario, then, what’s keeping the United States from condemning this act? Because I’m not trying to extract some kind of a statement from you, but what’s the thought process at the State Department to condemn this or not, because even the United Nations have come out and condemned it?
MR PRICE: Well, again, no one here is defending what happened. And in fact, you’ve heard the very same thing from senior Swedish authorities. We are cognizant, though, that within democracies there is freedom of association, there is freedom of expression. Within that freedom, that gives people the right to undertake actions that may be disrespectful, they may be repugnant, that may be disgusting. I think all of those descriptors apply to what we’ve seen here. It’s what we’ve heard from our Swedish partners as well.
QUESTION: Ned, just to follow up on that.
QUESTION: Follow-up, please.
QUESTION: What is the U.S. assessment on Erdogan’s specific comments, though? Like, do you think – is the U.S. assessment that he is closing the door, or he’s just very angry with what happened over the weekend and this is a temporary thing?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to interpret President Erdogan’s comments from here.
QUESTION: It’s not interpretation. What do you guys understand? Like, what is your take?
MR PRICE: Well, you’re asking me – you are asking me to interpret his comments.
QUESTION: Well, the – Washington would have an assessment on this. Like, is he closing the door on this or is he —
MR PRICE: Our assessment – our assessment is that Finland and Sweden are ready to join the Alliance. We’ve made that very clear in public; we’ve made that very clear in private. Our Congress has made that very clear as well.
QUESTION: Change subject?
MR PRICE: Yes, Nike.
MR PRICE: Of course, we all woke – awoke to the heartbreaking news on Sunday morning, the terrible shooting that took place in Monterey Park. Our – just as you heard from President Biden, from the First Lady, our thoughts are with all of those who were killed in this horrific attack, all of those who were wounded in this shooting, those who are still recovering and fighting for their lives.
This is an attack, of course, that has been felt across this country. We know that this is an attack that has, of course, been especially devastating for the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander community as well. Our thoughts are with the entire community, and obviously our law enforcement partners are pursuing this matter aggressively.
QUESTION: Can I also ask about U.S.-China cooperation on (inaudible) to fight narcotics? When was the last time the two countries talked or had meeting to talk about combating narcotic (inaudible) including the illicit fentanyl? And do you expect that to be on the agenda for Secretary Blinken’s travel to Beijing?
MR PRICE: When it comes to the agenda for his upcoming travel, I’m going to avoid getting into any detail at this point. I suspect we’ll have plenty of opportunities to speak to all of you ahead of his travel to the PRC next month. Suffice to say, the Secretary will seek to engage substantively and constructively when it comes to those areas of competition, those areas that have the potential to be conflictual, to see to it that we can prevent competition from veering into conflict, but also those areas where we would like to see cooperation or, in some cases, deeper cooperation.
On that third category, we have a long history of successful cooperation with the PRC on counternarcotics. It is a threat that is felt acutely in both of our countries, and it’s also a threat that neither of our countries can address alone. Engagement on this issue has been limited in recent months, but we are seeking to re-engage the PRC on this issue precisely because it is within that bucket of issues where we feel that we have a responsibility as two great countries to tackle this and to tackle one of the core challenges that we feel acutely here.
I made this point the other – the other day, but fentanyl is the leading killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 49. It’s precisely why Secretary Blinken in any number of engagements with his senior team raises the challenge of fentanyl, the need on the part of the State Department to see to it that we’re doing everything we can through our bilateral relations, through international bodies, cooperation with the DEA and other departments and agencies in this government, to see to it that we’re doing everything to address it.
When it comes to the PRC, since the PRC scheduled fentanyl and related substances as a class in 2019, the PRC is no longer a major source of fentanyl flowing to the United States. But we continue to see PRC-origin precursor chemicals being used in illicit fentanyl production. Though its past action has helped counter illicit synthetic drug flows, we do hope to see additional action from the PRC – meaningful, concrete action – to curb the diversion of precursor chemicals and equipment used by criminals to manufacture fentanyl and other synthetic drugs. This is a challenge not only within our own two countries, but around the world. Countries around the world expect us to work cooperatively to address it.
QUESTION: Thank you. Last week Secretary Blinken spoke with President Lourenço, and on the call he highlight the efforts of President Lourenço to bring peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Can you elaborate a little more on this call and can you give us a view of the State Department on the effort that Angola is making to bring peace to the DRC? And what can the U.S. do to help?
MR PRICE: Sure. I appreciate the question. The two did have an opportunity to speak on January 19th, late last week. We issued a readout in the aftermath of that call. But it was an important moment for Secretary Blinken to speak to President Lourenço about a couple of things.
Number one was Angola’s constructive engagement through the Luanda process – Luanda process to engage with authorities from the DRC, authorities from Rwanda, to try to bring about an end to this conflict, this needless violence in the eastern DRC. When we were in the DRC and Rwanda over the summer, the Secretary spoke in very complimentary terms with high praise about the role that we’ve seen Angola and other countries play to try and address the disagreements between the DRC and Rwanda and to bring about an end to the bloodshed that has cost far too many lives.
We also have a burgeoning economic partnership with Angola. It was a topic of conversation between the two leaders. The Secretary raised the upcoming visit of Amos Hochstein, who is the special presidential coordinator for the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, something that we are very bullish on as an opportunity to bring additional economic prosperity, partnership to countries and places around the world where the United States has not always been the partner of first resort when it comes to infrastructure, when it comes to investment projects. And we hope to see that change.
They also discussed some follow-up matters from the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. We were very happy to welcome the Angolan delegation to Washington in December, and I suspect that we’ll continue to see follow-up from other senior officials in this department to their Angolan counterparts in the weeks and months ahead.
QUESTION: And can you tell us if there is any upcoming visit from U.S. officials to Angola?
MR PRICE: What I can say —
QUESTION: Obviously the coordinator for —
MR PRICE: Yes. What I can say – you heard this from President Biden at the conclusion of the U.S. Africa-Leaders Summit that individuals from across this administration – senior individuals from across this administration are going to be spending quite a bit of time on the continent over this year – this coming year.
QUESTION: So Angola is one of the countries?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any travel to announce today, but whether it’s Secretary Blinken, whether it is our Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield who just announced an additional trip to the African continent today, the First Lady, the President himself, others – I suspect you will see a number of senior officials from this administration in Africa in the coming months.
QUESTION: Can I just get your comment real quick?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: There was an attack today in the east of the DRC claimed by ISIS. Is – just briefly, do you have any reaction to that? How much of a concern is there that there could be more ISIS violence there?
MR PRICE: We’ve unfortunately seen ISIS claim a number of attacks in the DRC. Last week, ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Protestant church in the eastern Congolese town of Kasindi, killed more than a dozen people, it injured dozens more – some 60 people. We have consistently condemned ISIS-DRC for the cowardly attacks, bombings that they’ve carried out against the civilian population in this part of the DRC. The fact that they would attack a church makes what they have done especially dastardly and contemptible. Our thoughts are with the victims, with their loved ones. Those responsible for this must be held to account.
QUESTION: And just very briefly on DRC, the – there’s a weekend statement – the Secretary’s call with Foreign Minister Al Thani of Qatar, and it mentions – actually, they talked about DRC. Can you be more specific what the Qatari role there that they’re looking from them?
MR PRICE: There’s not much additional I can add on this, but of course our Qatari partners have been useful bridge builders across any number of challenging issues. They have helped us indispensably when it comes to Afghanistan. They’ve been a force to help create and reinforce regional stability and integration in the Middle East, but they’ve also played a role that is much further afield, including in the context of the conflict in eastern DRC.
QUESTION: On the Taliban?
MR PRICE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, follow up so —
MR PRICE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: The United Nations human rights representative for Afghanistan released a report today that shows a new high level of human rights violations by the Taliban in many levels. They torture women, human rights activists, and so on and so forth. So may I ask you, which kind of action the United States would take to keep the Taliban accountable? So far we have seen that the Taliban asked many things from the United States, and they got it – many of them. They got money and also they are flexible, some sort of. But they haven’t given anything so far. Especially, the United States asked for including women’s right; they banned women from universities, and they are torturing journalists and human rights activists. So the people are asking this question that which kind of action the United States would take to keep them accountable?
MR PRICE: Sure. I just want to be very clear on the premise of your question. It is certainly not the case that we have provided the Taliban with any support whatsoever. And in fact, we have gone to great lengths to continue to be the world’s leading humanitarian provider to the people of Afghanistan in a way that doesn’t flow through the coffers of the Taliban. We’ve provided about $1.1 billion worth of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, not to the Taliban, not to any entity purporting to represent or to serve as the Government of Afghanistan for that very reason.
When it comes to the trust fund that we established, we established a trust fund so – precisely so that this funding would not be able to be diverted to the Taliban and to use for their own ends. The trust fund – the $3.5 billion in the so-called Afghan Fund that we established is for broader macroeconomic stability, again, for the people of Afghanistan but certainly not to support the Taliban in any way. Much to the contrary, we’ve been reviewing our approach and engagement with the Taliban in the context of many of the human rights violations, the draconian edicts, the repugnant actions that we’ve seen from the Taliban in recent weeks and in recent months. I’m just not in a position to detail where we are in that process, but I can tell you we are actively evaluating with allies and partners the appropriate next steps.
We’ve been clear that there will be costs for the Taliban for these actions. Absolutely everything remains on the table. And we’re looking at a range of options that will allow us to maintain our position as – principled position as the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan – again, that’s funding that goes directly to the Afghan people – while also doing everything we can to prevent the humanitarian situation from deteriorating even further. These responses take some time. They involve significant coordination with our allies, with international partners, and Afghan women themselves. We have been in touch with senior UN officials as well. There have been delegations from the UN to Afghanistan to investigate the situation and to be a constructive force vis-à-vis what we’ve seen from the Taliban. But the human – humanitarian and human rights communities, there’s no question, are facing extremely difficult options as they strive to help those in dire need while also remaining neutral, impartial, and independent in their provision of support to the Afghan people. Because, as a result of these edicts, men are not allowed to enter women-headed households, NGOs cannot reach most of the most vulnerable inside of Afghanistan, including in women-run households and mothers who must maintain adequate nutrition for their newborn babies without female workers present.
As of earlier this month, about 83 percent of organizations operating in Afghanistan have suspended or reduced their operations because they came to the conclusion that they could not do their work under these new edicts. This is unacceptable to us, but more importantly to the international community, because it imperils some 28 million Afghans who need this humanitarian assistance to survive, and especially women and children, those who are especially vulnerable. So we’re firmly committed to helping alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people. And as I mentioned before, we’ve been the world’s leading humanitarian provider – $1.1 billion in assistance since August of 2021to provide critical aid. And I have no doubt that we’ll continue to do everything we can to support the weighty humanitarian needs of the Afghan people.
QUESTION: Yeah. The concern is that the Taliban are getting that money, because there is not any clear strategy to give that money to ordinary people and vulnerable people. So the concern is and there are reports that Taliban are obviously using that money for their own benefits.
MR PRICE: This money is not flowing to or through the Taliban. It is being administered by NGO partners on the ground – or I should say it has been administered by NGO partners on the ground, and I say “has” because of the challenge we’re facing now, these draconian edicts on the part of the Taliban, including an edict propagated on Christmas Eve of last year that NGOs couldn’t work with women, had to work with men. Of course that is an unsustainable obligation, restriction on the part of many international NGOs, and we’ve seen many international NGOs come to the conclusion that they’re just not in a position to continue providing this aid to the Afghan people. We’re going to do what we can to see to it that these edicts are reversed using the leverage that we have to seek to accomplish that, but also to do everything we can to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people in the context of these restrictions and edicts.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News, Pakistan. This is about press freedom again. Our director of news – of ARY News, Ammad Yousaf, is facing criminal charges for just doing his job. He’s also being dragged for extradition case, which can get him a death sentence. And we talked about this press freedom many times. Your thoughts on that, please?
MR PRICE: We have discussed it many times, and each time you’ve heard of the emphasis we place on press freedom around the world. Free press and informed citizenry are key for any nation and its democratic identity, its democratic future, the democratic aspirations of its own people. We routinely raise our concerns about press freedom to governments, to stakeholders all around the world. When it comes to this particular case, would need to refer you to the Government of Pakistan.
QUESTION: Sir, Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has called for the peace talks with India. He says that he’s ready to talk about all the burning issues, including Kashmir, but India rejected that offer. They say this is not, like, the right time to talk about these issues. What are your comments on that? Because you always talk about the peace and stability in the region.
MR PRICE: We have – you’re right, we’ve long called for regional stability in South Asia. That’s certainly what we want to see. We want to see it advanced. When it comes to our partnership – our partnerships with India and Pakistan, these are relationships that stand on their own. We do not see these relationships as zero-sum. They stand on their own. We have long called for regional stability in South Asia, but the pace, the scope, the character of any dialogue between India and Pakistan is a matter for those two countries, India and Pakistan.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) with respect to today’s Quran burning incident in Sweden. Ned, you used so many words, so many terrible words – like repugnant, disrespectful, disgusting – but for condemning it. What take you from saying that you condemn this act of hatred? And even Russians came out condemning it.
MR PRICE: I’m certainly not refraining from condemning this particular action. As I said before, it’s repugnant. It is something that is vile. Of course countries around the world have – and what we also seek to uphold are the very democratic principles that we’re talking about here: the right to freedom of assembly, the right to freedom of expression. I was making the point that we’ve had at least one high-profile similar incident in this country that was equally repugnant and vile, and that we spoke out against at the time just as we’re doing so in the context of what has happened in Sweden, just as our Swedish partners have done.
QUESTION: Yes, but at the end of the day, currently, the Turkish public and of course the entire Muslim world is outraged by this act done under the protection of police, Swedish police, and then it has a political pressure on the Turkish leadership with respect to the Swedish bid for NATO. So do you think that just calling it, yes, some repugnant, disrespectful, and disgusting action happened under the auspices of freedom of speech would help in any way to resolve the current deadlock between Türkiye and Sweden with respect to Swedish membership to NATO?
MR PRICE: Our Swedish partners have spoken to this. They have spoken out forcefully against it. The fact of the matter is this was, as I understand it, a private individual, a provocateur, someone who may have deliberately sought to put distance between two close partners of ours, Türkiye and Sweden, who may have deliberately sought to have an impact on the ongoing discussion regarding the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO. This of course was not an act of the Swedish Government. This is something that our Swedish partners have rightfully spoken out against, just as we spoke out against a similar vile act that took place about a decade ago in a previous administration here. It doesn’t – because something happens in a democracy does not mean that the government supports it. It is a reflection of the values and principles that we hold dear, including freedom of association, freedom of expression. Something, again, can be lawful and awful at the same time. It’s precisely why Sweden has spoken out against it in this case as we’ve spoken out against similar examples in the past.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Yes, Ned. Last week I had asked you about Narendra Modi and how the U.S. has compromised on some of its values. And the BBC just released a documentary on Modi on how he had butchered, and the report was just released. It was a government report. BBC just released it. It was made by a former secretary in which he has even mentioned higher number of deaths, higher numbers of women raped, and it was just done right under the nose of Narendra Modi. I don’t – I have never challenged the strategic interest of the U.S. with India, but I regret the fact that since last eight years that I have been covering the State Department I have not seen once an senior official standing here at your seat condemning Narendra Modi himself individually – not just as a prime minister but individually his acts. And I’m sure the U.S. officials were aware of it as well.
MR PRICE: I am not aware of this documentary that you point to, but I – what I will say broadly is that there are a number of elements that undergird the global strategic partnership that we have with our Indian partners. There are close political ties, there are economic ties, there are exceptionally deep people-to-people ties between the United States and India. But one of those additional elements are the values that we share, the values that are common to American democracy and to Indian democracy.
India, of course, is the world’s largest democracy. It’s a vibrant democracy. And again, we look to everything that ties us together, and we look to reinforce all of those elements that tie us together.
QUESTION: So my godfather is an Indian as well, by the way, so I have all the respect for India. Don’t get me wrong or anything. But I just regret the fact that how is it possible that State Department officials who were posted there at that time did not know that this individual, who was a former chief minister, he is – it happened right under his nose. Two thousand people were burned alive.
MR PRICE: Again, I’m not familiar with the documentary you’re referring to. I am very familiar with the shared values that connect the United States and India as two thriving, vibrant democracies. When we have concerns about actions that are taken in India, we’ve voiced those. We’ve had an occasion to do that. But we want first and foremost to reinforce those values that are at the heart of our relationship.
QUESTION: One follow-up. But does – do you think that such foreign policy has affected President Biden’s Indian voters here in the U.S., though?
MR PRICE: We don’t think about it through those terms. I don’t think about domestic politics, and neither does anyone in this building.
QUESTION: On China, one on China. What is your assessment of the COVID situation in China? Do you have any – because the figures that are coming from inside China are not – said to be not very reliable. Do you have any estimate how many people have died, how many people have been impacted by COVID-19? And has it impacted its aggressive behavior against its neighbors?
MR PRICE: One, I wouldn’t want to even speak to the toll of COVID inside the PRC. That’s a better question for the WHO, for global health authorities, including those like the WHO, who have had an opportunity to sit down with PRC authorities to look at the data.
The point that we have routinely made is that we wish to see transparency from the PRC. We wish to see transparency towards the WHO so that the broader international community can be best prepared to detect and prevent the spread of any new variants that may be circulating and could have the potential to emerge. It’s not just a point we have made, but it’s a point that the WHO has made as well.
QUESTION: Has China asked for any help and assistance from the U.S. in terms of any supplies, medical supplies or vaccinations?
MR PRICE: The United States is the world’s leading provider of vaccines to countries around the world, 600-plus million vaccines without any political strings attached that we have provided over the course of nearly the past two years. We have been very public about the fact that we’re willing to provide vaccines to any country that would seek it that’s in need of them. That includes the PRC. The PRC has publicly said that they appreciate the offer of vaccines but they’re not in need of them at the moment.
QUESTION: I have one more question on Pakistan. There is a massive national grid collapse inside Pakistan. The federal minister has said that even the emergency services are being shut down, like hospitals. I know U.S. has played a big role in Pakistan’s power electricity generation. Is U.S. sending someone over there to look into it for a long-term solution to the collapse of the power grids?
MR PRICE: Of course I’ve seen what has transpired in Pakistan. Our thoughts are with all those who’ve been affected by the outages. The United States of course, as you mentioned, has assisted our Pakistani partners across any number of challenges. We are prepared to do so in this case if there is something that we’re able to provide. But I’m not aware of any particular requests.
QUESTION: Real quick here.
MR PRICE: Let me move around to others who haven’t gotten a question.
QUESTION: Yeah, very quickly on the Palestine-Israeli issue. Human Rights Watch issued a report today saying that the new Israeli measures regarding the entry of foreigners into the West Bank threatened to exacerbate the separation of Palestinians from the local civil society. Do you have any comment on that? Because they are not allowed – they can go into Israel, but apparently they’re not allowed to go into West Bank towns and villages.
MR PRICE: Said, I haven’t seen that particular report. If we do have a comment, we can get back to you.
QUESTION: Can you look into it? And one other question. Israel, regarding Israel. Today the United States and Israel launched one of the biggest exercises that they have ever held. It’s called Juniper Oak, and it combines all forces together. Does that mean that diplomacy with Iran has – has slid off the table?
MR PRICE: No, it means that our security commitment to Israel is ironclad. And exercises, including military exercises, with our Israeli partners are something that we’ve done routinely in the past. I would need to refer you to DOD to speak to this. But it is a reflection of the vibrant security cooperation and commitment we have to our Israeli partners.
QUESTION: Yeah, but they made no secret of the fact that it actually resembles now perhaps an attack on Iran or anything like this.
MR PRICE: Again, Said, we are —
MR PRICE: We work day in, day out with our Israeli partners to be prepared to confront any number of challenges. But what you’re referring to is a reflection of that ironclad security commitment that we’ve long had.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about there have been ongoing protests in Israel about what’s viewed as stacking or diluting the power of the supreme court? Does the U.S. have anything to say about that and whether this shows respect for judicial independence in the way that the United States would see as consistent with democracy?
MR PRICE: Well, as a matter – in terms of our approach, we support policies that advance Israel’s security and regional integration, support a two-state solution, and lead to equal measures of security, prosperity, and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians. We strongly support freedom of assembly. This includes peaceful protest – countries around the world. Of course that includes inside of Israel as well. We look forward to working with Israel to advance the interests and values that have been at the heart of our relationship for decades, and that includes the equal administration of justice to all of those who live in Israel.
Let me move to people who haven’t – yes, in the back.
QUESTION: On China and human rights, that we have American families, like, who have family members that detained in China. Is that – like, they are calling for negotiations or even prisoner exchange. Is that something the U.S. would consider with the PRC?
MR PRICE: We have no higher priority than the safety and security of Americans overseas. Of course you’ve heard the priority we attach to individuals who are wrongfully detained, who are subject to coercive exit bans. In any country where this is the case, we raise that with local authorities. We raise it when we travel to such countries. We routinely raise it when we have discussions with authorities from those countries as well. That is the case with – in the context of the PRC. It’s been a discussion with our PRC and the – with our PRC counterparts in the past. I suspect it will be, and I know it will be, a topic of discussion in the future as well.
QUESTION: Thank you. Today’s sanctions against the Islamic Republic, along with the UK sanctions and EU sanctions, showed a very remarkable unity. But on the same day, today, we have a comment from Josep Borrell about listing IRGC as a terrorist group. So he said that this cannot be decided without a court, a court decision first, and then EU is going to proceed with that. And then he said something interesting. He said, “You cannot say, ‘I consider you a terrorist because I don’t like you.’” This is what he said, quote unquote. And also, Islamic Republic foreign minister said that he has assurance from Borrell that IRGC is not going to listed as a terror organization. Do you have any comment on this development?
MR PRICE: We’ve heard a number of statements from the Iranian foreign minister that are dubious if not outright lies, so I would just keep that broader context in mind when you point to statements from the Iranian foreign minister.
When it comes to our European allies, we welcome Europe’s strong and principled approach to the IRGC. As you know, the IRGC remains designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization, and a specially designated global terrorist. We’ve also sanctioned many IRGC leaders individually for their involvement in terrorism and human rights abuses. You mentioned the latest tranche of human rights sanctions that we announced in conjunction with many of our closest partners earlier today.
We applaud the EU’s recent designations of IRGC officials and entities for their involvement in providing drones to Russia which are being used to fuel Russia’s unconscionable attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. Our European allies recognize the threat, the challenges posed by the IRGC and Iran more broadly. We have enjoyed exceptionally close cooperation and coordination with Europe on confronting these challenges.
QUESTION: And Ned, his hesitation, Borrell’s refraining from this, which is very the opposite of what we are hearing from other, let’s say, parliament members like Germany’s member at the parliament, European Parliament, do you think this hesitation is coming from a hope that he has? I cannot help but wonder – maybe Borrell is still hopeful that JCPOA is going to be revived. Can be this a sign of that, or —
MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to the high representative’s comments – in fact, I would refer you to the EU on his comments – and these are questions for our European allies. But what is not a question is the JCPOA. We’ve been very clear that the JCPOA is not on the agenda, has not been on the agenda for months. Iran has consistently turned its back on opportunities to pursue mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. And as a result of what Iran is doing around the world and to its own people, we have focused on sending very clear messages to Iran: Stop killing your people, stop providing drones to Russia for use in Ukraine, and release the Americans that you are wrongfully detaining.
QUESTION: Same topic. Can you say if the U.S. has given the European Union any consult on whether to designate the IRGC? And can you say just would the U.S. welcome – while it’s in the hands of the EU, would the U.S. welcome such a designation?
MR PRICE: This is a question for the European Union. But what I can tell you is that we routinely discuss the challenges and threats posed by the IRGC with allies and partners around the world. And of course, that includes with our European allies bilaterally, but also with the EU as a whole. There is no illusion in Europe about the challenges or threats that the IRGC poses. We’re always looking for ways that we can work with our European allies to counter the malicious activity of the IRGC, other Iranian proxy groups, other groups that Iran has supported. And we have applauded the recent designations that we’ve seen from our European allies of IRGC officials and entities for their involvement in some of what we’ve already discussed: Iran’s provision of drones to Russia, and as a result of the human rights abuses that we’ve seen in Iran.
QUESTION: If I could follow up on that – on today’s human rights sanctions, do you have any indications that the designations of Iranian officials are having an impact internally, including on the security force’s behavior?
MR PRICE: It is always difficult to delve into a hypothetical or a counterfactual like that. We want to send – and I think we are sending – a very clear message to the Iranian regime – two messages, really: that the world is watching, and the world is prepared to take action in response to the violence that Iranian officials are perpetrating against their own people. This is not the first round of sanctions that we have announced against Iranian officials in response to the protests that we’ve seen in Iran since late last year. If Iran continues to engage in these human rights abuses, we will continue to apply even more pressure on Iran. But of course, this is about human rights.
We have other concerns with this regime, and we are going to use every relevant and appropriate authority to hold it account on the various fronts, from human rights to its provision of UAV technology to Russia, to the challenges that are posed by its nuclear program, to its support for terrorist groups and proxies as well.
QUESTION: (Inaudible), BOL News, Pakistan. Former prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, has said he wanted to establish good relations with United States of America. As we know, many thing happened in the past. If he get elected as the prime minister of Pakistan, what – would you open the door for talk to him and his party?
MR PRICE: We are, of course, open to and would work with any elected government in Pakistan. Pakistan is a partner of ours; we share a number of interests. We have demonstrated our desire to see constructive relations with Pakistan over the course of successive governments. As we have said in different contexts, we judge governments by the policies they pursue. It would ultimately be a question of the type of policy that any future government of Pakistan might pursue.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Alex.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. A quick follow-up on Wagner, and I also have another question on the Secretary’s call to Azerbaijan. I’m having trouble understanding the administration’s strategy on, first of all, going with the TCO designation instead of FTO, which we discussed last week, Foreign Terrorist Organization. And if the intention here is to go after their business, why announcing your intention on Friday and not taking action until this week? Aren’t you galloping against the time (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: So a couple things on that, Alex. One, as I said before, we’re reaching for every appropriate and effective authority when it comes to countering the activity that the Wagner Group is engaged in. These authorities are not authorities that we’ve created ourselves. Oftentimes they are legislated, they are written into law with various requirements that any particular group would have to meet, whether that’s the transnational criminal organization authority, whether that’s a state sponsor authority, whether that is any authority that we’ve attached to terrorist organizations, criminal organizations, or otherwise.
When it comes to what we announced about our forthcoming plans for the Wagner Group, the activity that we’ve seen on the part of the Wagner Group allows us to meet that threshold that is established under the transnational criminal organization authority. It is engaging in activity out of a pursuit of in some ways a profit, in some ways prestige; it is employing officials who are criminals; in some cases, its subordinates include those who have been released from prison, where they have been serving long sentences for the – for committing violent crimes.
So we look to the authority and the requirements that we have to meet. In this case, we’re confident that we’re able to meet it, in the case of Wagner’s status as a transnational criminal organization. It provides us another tool to hold the Wagner Group, its other senior officials, and its employees to account. We’ll have more to say on a broader set of actions that we’re taking later this week. I don’t want to get ahead of that, but we are confident that this is an appropriate step given what we’ve seen from the Wagner Group.
QUESTION: Thank you. My next topic (inaudible).
MR PRICE: I need to move on, Alex. Yes.
QUESTION: One question on Lebanon and the other on Russia. On Lebanon, today the judge investigating Beirut blast resumed his work, and he made charges against senior officials. Some of them are your allies and have been in the States before, a few months ago. Do you have any comment on that?
MR PRICE: If you’re referring to the decision on the part of Baltic states to downgrade their relations with Moscow, these are sovereign decisions on the part of our partners. We would defer to them as to determine the level of diplomatic representation, if any, that is appropriate with Russia.
When it comes to Lebanon, we in the international community have made it clear since the explosion that we support swift – that we support and urge Lebanese authorities to complete a swift and transparent investigation into the horrific explosion at the Port of Beirut. The victims of this explosion in August of 2020 deserve justice. Those responsible must be held accountable.
Yes – yeah.
QUESTION: Yes, I have a question on – I see the statement that you continue the talks with Türkiye on the F-35 program, and I’m wondering if something changed, because the last we knew was that Türkiye is under CAATSA sanctions for buying the Russians – the Russian system S-400. Why do you talk —
MR PRICE: That’s right. Nothing has changed in terms of Türkiye’s eligibility for the F-35 program. DOD did issue a statement. This is a discussion regarding how to wind down elements of that program.
All right. Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:23 p.m.)