Department Press Briefing – January 25, 2023
2:10 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Wednesday. We have a couple things at the top, and then we’ll take your questions.
First, the United States has officially taken on the chairship of the Freedom Online Coalition from the previous chair, Canada. This is a commitment the United States made at the first Summit for Democracy last December.
The Freedom Online Coalition is the only international group of countries specifically dedicated to supporting and advancing respect for human rights online and in digital contexts. Its purpose is to protect the promise of the internet as an open, interoperable, secure, and reliable global “network of networks” and to ensure that the same human rights that people have offline are protected online. The coalition demonstrated its impact, for example, when its members came together in October to jointly condemn the internet shutdown perpetrated by Iranian authorities as part of their brutal suppression of peaceful protests, the Freedom Online Coalition’s first-ever statement addressing a single country’s internet censorship.
During our chairship, and in partnership with the Freedom Online Coalition’s 34 member countries and its nongovernmental Advisory Network, we intend to build on Canada’s excellent work to bolster the coalition’s policy efforts on protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms online; building resilience to digital authoritarianism and the misuse of digital technologies; advancing norms, principles, and safeguards regarding the development and use of artificial intelligence; and promoting digital inclusion.
We are excited to continue strengthening our partnership with like-minded governments, civil society, industry, and other relevant stakeholders to reclaim the promise of the internet and look forward to an impactful year as chair of the Freedom Online Coalition.
Next, and finally, the United States strongly condemns the murder of Thulani Maseko, a prominent human rights lawyer in Eswatini and a champion of social justice who was shot and killed on January 21st. Eswatini has lost a powerful voice for nonviolence and respect for human rights, as Maseko spent his life fighting for human rights using nonviolent means. We offer condolences to his family and friends, and we call for a full, transparent, and impartial investigation, as well as accountability for those responsible.
We remain deeply concerned about continuing violence in Eswatini, and we continue to urge the Government of Eswatini to set a date for an inclusive, national dialogue as soon as possible, as this is the best way to ensure respect for human rights, national healing, and lasting peace.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Right. Thanks, Ned. On the Ukraine tanks – and I’m not really expecting that you’ll have a whole lot more to add than – to what the Pentagon and the White House and the President have already said. But I just wanted to know if the U.S. has placed conditions on the supply of Abrams tanks. In other words, is it okay with you guys if the – if – when the Ukrainians get these tanks, for them to roll over into Crimea? Is it okay for them to roll over the border into Belarus, into Russia? Or have you told them, no, you can only use these when you get them – this is just the Abrams; I’m not talking about the other ones.
MR PRICE: Sure. So, Matt, on every single element of security assistance we’ve provided, there has been one and really only one condition placed on it. That is the fact that everything we’ve provided is for Ukraine’s self-defense. Everything we have provided is to enable our Ukrainian partners to take on, effectively and successfully, the Russian aggression – the Russian invaders that have crossed internationally recognized borders to be on sovereign Ukrainian territory. That is the case with today’s latest announcements – latest announcement of Abrams tanks. It’s the case with every other system we have provided going back to the elements that we provided prior to February 24th of last year: the Stingers, the Javelins, the anti-air, anti-armor systems that are also defensive in nature.
Everything we have provided is with that in mind. Our Ukrainian partners know that. They respect that. And when it comes to what they pursue, when they pursue, and how they pursue it on their own sovereign territory, that is absolutely their decision. DOD, of course, has an active dialogue with the Ukrainian military and their counterparts about how most effectively to take on Russian invaders, but these are sovereign decisions on the part of the Ukrainian Government regarding where, when, and how to strike back at Russian forces who are on their sovereign territory.
QUESTION: Okay. And just – just to make clear, the use of allied weapons by Ukraine into Crimea is not prohibited?
MR PRICE: We – our —
QUESTION: Because you still – you consider Ukraine – I mean Crimea to be part of Ukraine. So —
MR PRICE: Most importantly, first of all —
QUESTION: So that would be – so that would be defensive?
MR PRICE: Most importantly, first of all, Crimea is Ukraine. That has been our position since 2014. That is our position now. That will be our position going forward. That will never change.
When it comes to the security assistance we are providing, that has of course evolved over time. I don’t need to offer a reminder of that, as President Biden just today announced the provision of a new capability. We have been responsive to the discussion we’ve had with our Ukrainian partners, a discussion that is predicated on what they need and when they need it. So of course we are providing them with the systems they need to confront Russian invaders and aggressors where the battle is now. Right now, the battle is in the Donbas, the battle is in the east. The capability that we’re talking about today will enable our Ukrainian partners, will provide them another capability that they can use to take on Russian invaders in this part of their sovereign territory, just as we provided other systems that will help them do the same.
QUESTION: Thanks. On the tanks, what does this do for the U.S.-Germany relationship? They effectively strongarmed you into providing these sort of diplomatic cover. Moving forward, is this something that you’re going to be able to accommodate every time? And is this counterproductive for Ukraine’s needs on the battlefield?
MR PRICE: So a couple things on this. When I look at today’s announcements, what I see is determination, what I see is unity. I see determination on the part of the United States – stalwart determination to provide our Ukrainian partners with precisely what they need for the battle they’re facing now. As I alluded to with Matt, I see determination on the part of Germany to provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need, with what is in their stocks. And I see determination on the part of the dozens of other countries that have provided systems and capabilities from their own stocks.
At the conclusion of the latest contact group meeting that Secretary of Defense Austin and Chairman Milley attended last week, a number of countries, as I somewhat laboriously outlined the other day, made clear that they were providing new forms of assistance. But I also see unity. I see unity in the sense that today President Biden had an opportunity to speak with his so‑called European Quad counterparts, our German, British, and French allies. The decision announced today both in Washington and Berlin follows the contact group meeting last week. It follows a number of calls and discussions on a bilateral basis, on a multilateral basis, on an alliance basis between the United States and our partners, including Germany.
Now, you raised Germany and what this says about our relationship with Germany going forward. This only confirms what we’ve seen since the earliest days of Russian aggression. Germany is a strong U.S. ally. It is a strong partner to Ukraine. It has stepped up in ways that would have been, I think to most observers, unimaginable prior to February 24th. Leaving aside today’s announcement of the provision of Leopards, the capabilities that Germany has provided Ukraine over the course of the past 11 months – from the IRIS-T air-defense system to an MLRS System to a Patriot missile battery – all of this, I think, would have been almost unbelievable to a number of observers prior to the start of Russian aggression. This is on the security assistance side.
Look what Germany has done diplomatically, politically, something that I think probably startled a lot of observers. It happened, as I recall, on February 25th or so of last year; it was Germany’s decision to cut off the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. We – and I say this as someone who was on the receiving end of a lot of this – we got a lot of criticism in the summer of 2021 when we signed a joint agreement with Germany that called for precisely that.
There was a lot of doubt, there was a lot of skepticism in Washington and in places around the globe about whether Germany would actually follow through with a political commitment that was reflected in that joint statement. We saw that. We saw that almost immediately as tanks rolled over onto sovereign Ukrainian territory.
So time and again, Germany, I think, has proven itself: proven itself as a stalwart bilateral ally of the United States, as a stalwart member of the NATO Alliance, and an absolutely dedicated and stalwart partner of Ukraine.
QUESTION: But is this a tenable way to continue doing this going forward where you have to move together on these sort of actions? It seems counterproductive to Ukraine’s needs.
MR PRICE: You describe it as if it were a burden. And in our view, the unity that we’ve achieved and the coordination that we have is actually one of our greatest strengths. The fact that we are acting in a consultative, deliberate, but also coordinated way with partners and allies from the earliest days of this aggression – in fact, predating this aggression when we worked with partners and allies to spell out precisely what we would do on the three fronts that we outlined: provision of security assistance to Ukraine, holding Russia to account, and buttressing the NATO Alliance, including the eastern flank. Many of you were traveling with us late in 2021, early in 2022 when we were hammering out those details well before Russian tanks rolled onto sovereign Ukrainian territory beyond what they had captured or purported to capture in 2014. At every step of the way, we have attempted not only to maintain that transatlantic – that Alliance, that multilateral unity, which we have, but also to strengthen it.
You know that in the early days of the war, there was a UN General Assembly vote: 141 countries came together to condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Later last year, certainly not fewer than that – actually 143 countries came together to condemn Russia’s purported annexation at the time. So you have seen us by dint of diplomacy, of our phone calls, of our secure video conferences, of our travel around the world, really put a premium on this international unity. So far from holding us back, we see this as actually one of our greatest strengths, and one of the greatest assets that Ukraine has in all of this.
QUESTION: Yeah. And just to follow up, it’s all very true, but it could have been done last week. Meanwhile, you have all this public debate over tanks, whether they were useful, not useful, or whatever. And in the meantime, you had the Poles and the Baltic states, which were very strong and adamant – not very kind, put it that way – with the Germans. So I wonder if – of course you’ve reached a decision, and transatlantic unity and all that. But in the long run, has there been some damage done to this unity, given the rift open in the public between Germany, the Baltics, Poles, and the United States?
MR PRICE: I can’t help that these – but notice that these questions are being asked on a day when the United States and Germany provided new capabilities to Ukraine. The President of the United States brought together his counterparts from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and in the wake of concerted diplomacy, constructive useful and ultimately successful diplomacy that got us to the announcements you have today.
When we look at what we’ve demonstrated today, it is that determination to continue to help Ukraine on the part of the United States and our partners, but also that unity. At every step of the process, we are coordinating closely with our Ukrainian counterparts. Those discussions are then had between and among our NATO Allies, but also the dozens of countries from around the world who have raised their hands to provide security assistance to Ukraine.
Now, most of the time those discussions take place in diplomatic channels, in private channels. Occasionally you will hear some of those discussions out loud. That fact in no way detracts from the signal of unity, the signal of resolve, the signal of determination that the United States demonstrated today, Germany demonstrated today, and dozens of countries have consistently demonstrated over the course of President Putin’s brutal war.
QUESTION: Thank you. A French official told reporters in D.C. today that right now, we are testing the Russian appetite regarding getting to the negotiating table by changing the battlefield dynamic. In that vein, is there any effort now when you talk about concerted diplomacy to reach out to the Russians after making this joint decision about tanks? Is there an aim to increase outreach and encourage dialogue with them? And the same for friends of Moscow such as for those that can have influence over Moscow, including the Chinese and the Indians. And I have one more question after that.
MR PRICE: A couple things on that. First, we absolutely see an inter-relation, a nexus, between what happens on the battlefield and what ultimately will happen when a negotiating table emerges. What we are doing now is to strengthen Ukraine’s hand so that when that comes to pass, when a negotiating table emerges, Ukraine will be in the strongest possible position.
The unfortunate reality is that Russia has made very clear that they are not in the mood or the spirit for constructive diplomacy or, really, constructive dialogue of any sort. You want one vivid example of that. Just a couple weeks ago, President Erdogan, whose efforts to facilitate and to encourage this dialogue we deeply appreciate, had a phone call with President Putin. It was in the Kremlin’s own readout that made clear that Russia would need Ukraine, and in turn the world, to recognize what it termed, in its own readout, the quote-unquote “new territorial realities,” making very clear that they were in no mood to engage in dialogue that would bring about an end to this war on a just and durable basis.
When we say “on a just and durable basis,” we mean a basis that ultimately respects the principles of the UN Charter, respects the principles of UN law – of international law, respects the principles that countries around the world – West, East, developed, developing – have long espoused, including territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence, the right of states to determine their alliances, their partnerships, their friendships, their foreign policy orientation. Russia has made very clear that it is in no mood to entertain that.
So our task at the moment is to change that calculus, to continue to provide Ukraine with what it needs to be successful on the battlefield, because we do see that nexus, that interrelation between battlefield dynamics and the prospects for diplomacy going forward.
QUESTION: And so this French official said we know that they need to be – the Ukrainians need to be in a better tactical situation, which mean means breaking the territory that Russia has captured along the Azov Sea. If Russia were to signal a willingness to come to the table before such territory in the south was taken, is that something the U.S. would support, or is there a belief that that territory now needs to be taken?
MR PRICE: This is not a question for us. It’s not a question whether we would support it. It’s a question better put to the Zelenskyy government and to Kyiv, because these are decisions that Ukraine itself is going to have to make. We are seeking, first and foremost, to put Ukraine in the strongest possible position when it’s confronted with those decisions. The sad reality, the tragic reality, is that Ukraine is not now in a position to have to address those decisions because, again, Russia has shown absolutely no willingness to engage in dialogue or diplomacy.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on the tanks specifically? And there was an article in The Washington Post this morning that the Secretary was quoted in, and there were some senior State Department officials quoted in it, and it talked about building up deterrence, not just fighting Russia’s invasion right now, but trying to prevent them from future aggressions. And so I wonder if you could just explain to us the thinking of the administration in terms of how these tanks specifically build up that long-term deterrence.
MR PRICE: Sure. So, a couple things, and I appreciate you raise the long-term aspect of this. So much of the security assistance that we’ve provided to date has been for the near-term needs of the Ukrainians – what they are facing at the moment they are facing it, where they’re facing it. We have spoken quite a bit about that.
But we have also provided our Ukrainian partners with billions of dollars’ worth of assistance, including through our FMF program, our foreign military funding program, that is geared not towards the immediate but towards the longer term. And I think you can think of this Abrams capability in that light as well.
This goes back to what I was saying to your colleague Camilla when we were – when we have placed an emphasis, but more importantly President Zelenskyy has placed an emphasis on achieving what he has termed a just peace, as well as a durable peace. Just, we’ve already talked about – a peace that respects the principles of the UN Charter, of international law, the rules of the road that have really governed relations between states for the past 75 or so years.
When we talk about a durable peace, we mean a peace that will last, that will leave Ukraine with the capability it needs to deter the possibility of future aggression, or, if necessary, to defend itself against renewed Russian aggression. What we don’t want to see happen is to have essentially a frozen conflict that will allow Russia to rest, refit, regroup, repair, and re-attack. We want to see to it that when this comes to an end, Ukraine is in a position where it can deter against that going forward and if necessary, again, defend itself.
This is part of that long-term deterrence capacity that we focused on with our FMF funding, that we focused on in terms of other provision of security assistance. It’s very important to us; it’s very important to President Zelenskyy.
QUESTION: So just to summarize, the administration believes that it’s more likely that Russia could back off militarily if Ukraine has more advanced weaponry?
MR PRICE: It is – two things, really. One, we’re talking about putting Ukraine in the strongest possible position for the aggression that it’s facing now. This aggression is, as President Zelenskyy has said, almost certainly going to end at the negotiating table. We want Ukraine to be in the strongest possible position when that table emerges. That’s why we’re providing them with the presidential drawdown authority, the 30 PDAs that we’ve announced so far, the 27-, nearly $28 billion in security assistance that we’ve provided so far.
But when that time comes and there is an end to this conflict, we want that resulting peace to be just – and I won’t go through that again – but to be durable – “durable” meaning it is not just a moment in time where a week later, a month later, a year later, or 10 years ago, Russia decides to rest, regroup, refit, and re-attack. We want to equip Ukraine with deterrent capabilities, but also defensive capabilities, if Russia once again makes a disastrous decision to cross international borders and to re-attack Ukraine in the future.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
MR PRICE: Anything else on this? Yeah. Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Two things, first. Is that the approach for the post-war era in which there is no security guarantees under Article 5 for Ukraine, instead given weapons, and we’ll send the economic reforms in Ukraine in order to make it in a stronger position? Is that the approach that you are pursuing? And second, do you have any response to the Russian ambassador in Washington in light of today’s announcement in which he says that it’s obvious that Washington is trying to inflict a strategic defeat on the – on Russia. Do you have any comment about that?
MR PRICE: On that second question, Moscow has already inflicted a strategic failure on itself. We’ve seen the strategic failure since the earliest days of this war, when President Putin sent his forces into Ukraine under the erroneous assumption that Kyiv would fall; that the country would be his; that more so than the territorial conquest, that he’d be in a position to erase Ukraine, erase its identity, erase its people, subsume the country. Obviously, that has failed. It has been a strategic failure, and that is precisely a result of Russia’s own actions.
On the first part of your question, two points. One, NATO’s door remains open. This is in some ways what this aggression is all about, the fact that this is a defensive alliance – NATO, the world’s strongest defensive alliance – that has an open door policy. That door will never be closed. And in fact, it will always be open to those countries who aspire to join this defensive alliance and who meet the membership criteria in order to do so.
Now, leaving apart NATO, we want to make sure that regardless of Kyiv’s choices going forward, of NATO’s decisions going forward, that Ukraine is in a position to deter and to defend itself, if necessary, against potential aggression over the longer term. This is about equipping Ukraine and making real that idea of a peace that is both just and durable. And the durability part of that requires us to make not only these short-term investments in Ukraine – providing them with what they need when they need it, at the moment they need it, but also over the longer term so that when this war ends, when Russia’s aggression ends, if Russia once again makes a disastrous decision – whether that’s a week, a month, a year, a decade later – that Ukraine is prepared to defend itself.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Happy Thanksgiving, as they say. (Laughter.) I want to follow up with the first question that Daphne raised, and your response is very interesting. I did get your point about robust diplomacy, but we also have witnessed evolving views and intense diplomacy, if you want. My question is: How much of this is a game changer in terms of your future decisions? This is not the first time that allies have to make this tough decision. And it’s not going to be the last time; Ukraine still needs air force support and other support. I’m just wondering how much of this is a case study for you. Is there any lesson learned from this episode, if you want?
MR PRICE: From this episode, meaning —
QUESTION: Last couple of weeks or days.
MR PRICE: Past couple of weeks.
MR PRICE: Well, look, I think what we see over the past couple of weeks, in the past couple of days principally are the two elements that I outlined at the top: determination, making very clear that we are determined to do everything we can to continue to support Ukraine; and unity, doing so, demonstrating, exhibiting that determination together with our allies and partners. I wouldn’t say it’s a game changer, Alex, because this has really been – those have been two hallmarks of our approach since long before Russia’s aggression started. I think at every chapter, at every twist and turn of this conflict, you see those once again highlighted, and I suspect those two traits will be with us for as long as this aggression continues.
QUESTION: But did you listen to the President this afternoon and think that, gee, this was easy?
MR PRICE: Did – I’m sorry, did we what?
QUESTION: I mean, was it, like, necessary to – did – when you listened to the President this afternoon, did you – was it – did you think that this was easy? Why did it take this long for the U.S. and allies to go back and forth? The sausage-making process was really too long.
MR PRICE: I would hesitate to call anything in this tragic saga easy. There are no easy decisions of this sort, but there is nothing easy in the context of brutal aggression against a country that posed no threat, that didn’t present any sort of challenge in a way that is contrary to international law, to the UN Charter, to the principles of the rules-based order. These are always – at every step Ukraine, but those countries supporting it, have faced decisions, have faced trade-offs, but I think once again today you see that we are demonstrating that determination and we’re demonstrating that unity in facing those decisions.
QUESTION: And my last question on this: What lessons do you think Russia and its allies should take from this episode when they were looking at you past couple of days and smelling some split?
MR PRICE: I couldn’t tell you what Moscow was smelling, but I can tell you that if they were to continue – and mix metaphors – if they were to look under the hood, they wouldn’t see any sort of split, as you said. In fact, I think they would see what has been a hallmark of our approach and really the indispensable ingredient to Ukraine’s ability to take on these Russian aggressors so effectively, and that is the unity, the coordination, the resolve within the international community. I think you saw that today. I think you’ve seen that at every step.
Anything else on this? Okay.
QUESTION: One more question (inaudible).
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Just – should the expectation of the Ukrainians and the Russians be that the U.S. will replenish and refurbish these tanks in the long run for Ukraine, even if the current conflict, the Russian invasion, isn’t happening?
MR PRICE: Again, this is a hypothetical. We are focused on a shorter time frame right now. You’ve heard from my DOD colleagues about the time frame for providing our Ukrainian partners with the first tranche of these deliveries. Ultimately, again, we want our Ukrainian partners to have the capabilities themselves to deter and to, if necessary, defend against renewed aggression. And to have those capabilities themselves, in some cases it means having capabilities, having systems within their country; sometimes it means having that know-how, how to repair, refurbish, refit. In some cases that requires training, as will be the case with the Abrams.
So ultimately we want Ukraine to have its own capacities, but DOD would be in a better position to speak to the specifics.
QUESTION: Do you have any concerns that today’s announcement will push Russia to expand its cooperation for weaponries from countries like Iran, North Korea, or even China?
MR PRICE: Russia is seeking these wares from other countries because its ability to produce them at home has been systematically blocked, not by the United States acting alone, not by any one other country acting alone, but by dozens of countries instituting sanctions, financial controls, export controls on the Russian economy. This has been a very deliberate strategy to starve the Russian war-making machine of the ability to indigenously produce what it needs to propagate this war against Ukraine.
Now, that doesn’t mean that Russia is in the near term at least any less dangerous because it has turned to Iran, it has turned to the DPRK. It’s seeking alternate sources of these wares. But it’s important to us that we institute these measures so that over time we will shrink Russia’s ability to propel force beyond its borders to engage in something like this once again.
QUESTION: Afghanistan, please?
MR PRICE: Sure. Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. First question about Mike Pompeo new book. He published his book and criticized former President Ghani and former President Abdullah. Afghan people will think that United States also blame – Afghan people blame too – that they are responsible too. I need your comment.
And second question: Two, three days ago, White House announced a new program for Afghan refugees, not only Afghanistan – around the world. I need to get some more details about it, and also Taliban doesn’t – they stopped to issue passport. People want to sponsor their family and their friend, but as long as they are not have a passport, how can they leave Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: So first on former Secretary Pompeo’s book, I’m just not going to weigh in on that. He is expressing the views of a private citizen, as is his right. The history of Afghanistan especially in the final years of America’s military engagement in Afghanistan is the subject of quite a bit of interest, understandably so.
We’ve made very clear the decisions we made, the basis for those decisions; but I also want to make very clear, of course, that the United States Government is a partner to the people of Afghanistan. We are supporting the people of Afghanistan. We’re doing that in a number of ways. We are doing that, of course, through our leadership when it comes to humanitarian assistance, providing more than $1.1 billion to the Afghan people in a way that bypasses the Taliban that goes directly to the Afghan people. Of course, the Taliban have made that ever more difficult with the restrictive limitations that they’ve placed on the provision of that aid. We’re taking a close look at that and how that will impact our ability to provide humanitarian assistance going forward.
But we have also consistently stood up for the Afghan people, for the rights of the Afghan people, the rights that the Taliban committed to respecting. That includes the rights of women, girls, religious minorities, ethnic minorities. When we say all of the people of Afghanistan, we mean all of the people of Afghanistan. There is no one in this administration who is placing blame on the Afghan people. In fact, this administration recognizes the tremendous suffering that the Afghan people have endured because of the decisions that those in positions of power have made over the course certainly of the past 18 months but even before that as well.
You raised the – you’re referring, Nazira, to the Welcome Corps.
MR PRICE: Welcome Corps. This is a program that we were very proud to launch last week, I believe it was. Yesterday or earlier this week, the White House – the press secretary also did a briefing topper on it. But this builds on the longstanding tradition the United States has as a country that derives strength from our diversity and that welcomes those who are seeking refuge. At the core of our refugee resettlement program has always been our local communities. And based on that and in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services, we did launch the Welcome Corps. It is a private sponsorship program that will create opportunities for private American citizens to directly sponsor refugees from around the world through what we call our U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, or USRAP, and make a difference by welcoming these new arrivals into their communities.
This is really a way to position Americans to do what they’ve always done best when it comes to those coming to America: to be a neighbor, to be a guide, to be a friend, to newcomers in search of safety and freedom. We’re very excited about this for a number of reasons, but we do see it as the boldest innovation in the U.S. refugee resettlement process in decades – in some four decades. It is designed to strengthen our country’s capacity to resettle refugees by harnessing the energy of private American citizens. Much of this work to date has been done by private resettlement agencies. They continue to play a pivotal role, but we’re now in a position to enable American – private American citizens to do some of this. This will, we think and we hope, include Americans from all walks of life: members of faith and civic groups, veterans, diaspora communities, businesses, colleges and university – and universities, other community organizations as well.
These groups of Americans – private Americans will help refugees take on the tasks of daily American life: to find housing and employment, to help them enroll their children in school, connect them with other essential services. They’ll also raise funds to help refugees as they settle into their new life here in the United States.
So our goal in the first year is to mobilize at least 10,000 Americans to step forward as private sponsor – private sponsors and to offer this welcoming hand to at least 5,000 refugees. Since the announcement was made late last week, we’ve seen an outpouring of support from Americans from across this country. We have seen thousands upon thousands of hits on our website, a significant number of Americans raising their hands to learn more, and we hope before long a significant number of Americans actively involved in the process to welcome refugees and to be a guide to so many of those who are newly arrived in our country.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Ned, one question that’s related to internet, and the other one is – I’m going to make it a little bit vague so I don’t get in trouble.
Some of these leaders from some nations, when they come to the U.S. Government for assistance, those leaders themselves are billionaires and they ask financial assistance from the U.S. Doesn’t the U.S. tell them that, like, how come your country is so poor but you guys yourselves are billionaires? Like —
MR PRICE: When it comes to determining our assistance, we look not at the net worth of any particular leader but at the national needs of any particular country. We are very focused on how the United States can step up to help people in need. There, of course, each instance is going to be different. But what we care about most is what the people need – the conditions that they’re facing and how the United States can help alleviate those conditions.
QUESTION: And the second question is with regard to internet. Ned, I’m sure you are aware that due to corona, the internet business in the U.S. has gone pretty up in lots of fields. Now when the U.S. is in the chair, a lot of these companies are using the U.S.’s platform to cheat a lot of different bloggers, different publishers, and I’ve personally faced it myself as well. And I have noticed that the laws are a bit not very clear about it. Will the State Department raise this issue at some level with the Congress to look into it? Because in the online industry, there are a lot of frauds, and I’ve personally witnessed it, but quite a few, especially one reputed company, like publicists and their U.S. – which is a French company, but they have a U.S.-based company as well which is called Commission Junction, and they are literally cheating publishers and I would request you personally to at least look into this matter, how the internet – the U.S. internet is being used for fraudulent earnings basically by some of these companies.
MR PRICE: Understand. These can be questions of national legislation, including here in this country, legislation around the world. But in some cases, it sounds like what you may be referring to are individuals who are violating the terms of service of individual private sector entities. When it comes to that, regardless of whether an individual is violating U.S. law – that’s something, of course, that the relevant authorities would look into – it is incumbent on providers, on private sector entities to enforce their own terms of service. That’s not something that the State Department gets into, but it is – it is a message that we routinely convey to the private sector.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’m going to ask you about Franco-German plan for Kosovo, or some are calling the European plan. My first question: Why there’s no mention of the U.S. in the title of the plan? For example, “The EU-U.S. Plan,” or “Franco-German-U.S. Plan?” Does this mean that you gave up on your active role in the Kosovo dispute?
And my second question is: What does Secretary Blinken think about this specific plan, and what expectations, if any, he has from the Serbian president when it comes to rejecting or accepting this proposal?
MR PRICE: I think I can answer both questions with one answer. It’s referred to as the EU dialogue, but it is something that has our strong support, and I think you have seen that represented over the course of this administration just recently – January 20th; I think that was last Friday – our Deputy Assistant Secretary Gabe Escobar together with senior representatives from the EU, from Germany, France, and Italy, conducted a joint mission to Pristina and Belgrade to discuss the proposal for the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. The leaders underlined the opportunities of the proposals and emphasized the urgency of swift progress to avoid the risk of further escalation.
We, together with our EU partners in this, expect parties to live up to their responsibilities. Both Kosovo and Serbia in this case should implement the agreements they’ve already signed on to through this very dialogue process, including progress establishing the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities, and we strongly encourage Kosovan Serbs to return to Kosovan institutions as quickly as possible to improve security and stability for all citizens. These are messages that Kosovo, Serbia are hearing from the United States. They’re also hearing from the EU, they’re hearing from EU member-states – in this case, with this delegation, Germany, France, and Italy.
So we are very much supportive of this process. Our approach to conflicts and tensions around the world often consists of this. We are supporting in some cases local, in some cases regional solutions. The United States lends our support when and how we deem to be most effective, and in this case, the EU dialogue, we believe, is – has the potential to be an effective vehicle to reduce tensions and to resolve conflicts between Kosovo and Serbia to bring greater levels of stability, prosperity, and opportunity to both peoples.
Yes. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. In the next two weeks, an Iraqi delegation will arrive in D.C. and they will have a meeting with Secretary Blinken. They will discuss dinar and dollar exchange rate. Then when they have a meeting with you, what will you have on the table to tell them to this matter? And second question, what concerns do you have about the dollar overflow from Iraq to Iran? Have you took any measurements against Iraqi commercial banks to this matter?
MR PRICE: So on your first question, we tend not to preview visits that far in advance. I suspect we would have more to say in advance of any bilateral engagement with our Iraqi partners in the coming days, so I don’t want to get ahead of that.
On – regarding the Iranian nexus, sanctions enforcement – first, our sanctions, as our international sanctions, our – continue to be enforced. We continue to enforce them. Sanctions enforcement is an iterative process. We routinely have engagements with partner governments and with the private sector to make them aware of the scope of our sanctions and to see to it as best we can that states and companies around the world are complying with those sanctions. Iraq is a partner of ours. The United States is a stalwart partner to the people of Iraq, to the Government of Iraq as well. And we’ll – I expect when we do have an opportunity for a bilateral engagement, we’ll discuss not only those bilateral issues but also the broader regional issues, including the challenges we see posed by Iran.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib from ARY News. This is about a BBC documentary on Prime Minister Modi. We have seen that Indian Government banned that documentary, also shutting down universities, colleges, and even banned all social media links. Do you think it’s a matter of press freedom or freedom of speech?
MR PRICE: I’ll say generally, when it comes to this, we support the importance of a free press around the world. We continue to highlight the importance of democratic principles, such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, as human rights that contribute to the strengthening of our democracies. This is a point we make in our relationships around the world. It’s certainly a point we’ve made in India as well.
QUESTION: And due to the political unrest and security situation in Pakistan, many foreigners avoid visiting Pakistan. I was just going through U.S. Travel Advisory for U.S. citizen. It says: Reconsider travel to Pakistan. Do not travel to KPK or Balochistan. So Pakistan is not safe to visit for the – for the U.S. citizen, right, or that’s Travel Advisory says, right?
MR PRICE: Well, you’re referring to the Travel Advisory that our Bureau of Consular Affairs updates regularly for countries around the world. The travel advisory for Pakistan was last updated in October of last year, and I understand that was not at the time much of a substantive update. But we do have an obligation to inform our citizens around the world, including our citizens in Pakistan, of potential risks.
And as do our Travel Advisories for countries around the world, this Travel Advisory offers advice to Americans who would consider travel to Pakistan. We have a tiered system from Level 1 to 4, and the advice in those Travel Advisories are based on so-called risk indicators. We look at levels of crime, of terrorism, kidnapping or hostage-taking, civil unrest, natural disaster, health, wrongful detention, and other potential risk. And that’s how we arrive at that tiered numbering system that you referred to in the case of Pakistan.
QUESTION: The United States donated $200 million to Pakistan in flood recovery. Is there any check and balance in that?
MR PRICE: There absolutely is. There are checks and balances across every form of assistance that the United States provides – security assistance, humanitarian assistance, economic assistance. That includes when it comes to the flood assistance in Pakistan. It’s something we take very seriously not only in this case, but anywhere around the world where our taxpayer dollars are implicated and when there’s an urgent humanitarian interest at stake. We make regular trips to monitor our programs in the field. USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART, traveled to more than 10 flood-affected districts in Balochistan, in Sindh province to assess not only the humanitarian conditions, but also the response activities, and to make sure that the response activities were meeting the humanitarian need of the people there.
We work with the UN. We work with NGO partners that have extensive knowledge about the affected areas and their populations. They are required to provide regular program updates on the progress of activities and any security concerns. And we also require our partners to immediately report any potential diversions, seizures, or losses. Throughout our flood relief efforts, we’re working in close coordination with Pakistani authorities and local partners to make sure that assistance is directly helping the communities and those who need it most, and as you know, we have been in a position to support flooding relief and recovery to the tune of more than $200 million total, making the United States one of the largest bilateral country donors. And we’re committed to helping Pakistan and its people rebuild better and even more resilient.
QUESTION: Ned, I have a question on Lebanon. Lebanon’s top prosecutor has ordered all suspects detained in the investigation into Beirut port blast released and filed charges against the judge who’s leading the probe. How do you view that scene?
MR PRICE: Michel, we’ve seen those reports. I would refer to Lebanese authorities on this development, but more generally, as we’ve stated, we in the international community have made it clear since the deadly explosion that we urge Lebanese authorities to complete a swift and transparent investigation into this horrific explosion at the Port of Beirut. The victims of this August 2020 explosion deserve justice, and we believe those responsible must be held to account.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you. Ned, the road to Nagorno-Karabakh remains closed for 1.5 months by now, and I know that you personally and this administration has made calls to Azerbaijan to unblock the road. I was wondering if there is any new update on this, if you could provide any more information on this.
And my second question is: Azerbaijan continues to disregard all these international calls coming, whether from this administration or other international partners. United Kingdom’s foreign ministry today called again Azerbaijan to unblock the road, but there is no evidence that President Aliyev is willing to change his policy and to unblock the road. So my question is: If the situation continues, are there any other options on table, particularly in regards to delivering more humanitarian aid to Nagorno-Karabakh? Because the Red Cross is the only organization that can deliver very, very limited help to Karabakh, which doesn’t satisfy the dire needs of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.
And you just mentioned that USAID and U.S. administration works with international partners and delivers aid to situations, to the countries and geographies where humanitarian crisis exists, and it exists in Nagorno-Karabakh. Do you think that USAID particularly, an organization which work with Nagorno-Karabakh in – and was engaged in humanitarian projects before, could step in and try to increase the volumes of help to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. Thank you.
MR PRICE: So a couple things. The worsening humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh has been of significant concern to us. It’s been the topic of discussions, as you alluded to, between Secretary Blinken and the leaders of both Armenia and Azerbaijan in recent days. We’ve made the point that ongoing obstruction of normal commercial and private travel along the Lachin corridor is causing these very shortages of food, of fuel and medicine, for the residents – the many residents who depend on this corridor for those basic supplies. These periodic disruptions to natural gas and other basic utilities further exacerbate the worsening humanitarian situation.
We’ve called for the full restoration of free movement through the corridor, including commercial and private travel. We need to find a solution to this impasse that will ensure the safety and the well-being of the population living in this area. We believe the way forward is through negotiations. We remain committed to supporting a lasting peace. We’ve demonstrated both in word and in deed our willingness to engage with the parties, whether that’s bilaterally, whether that’s multilaterally through the OSCE, whether that’s trilaterally with both Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts at the table.
But above all, we believe that negotiations is the path forward. In the near term, we’ve called for that restoration of free movement so that the humanitarian needs of those who depend on this corridor for lifesaving essentials and supplies can be met, and the United States will continue to do what we can to bring the parties together, to encourage this dialogue, and to encourage a full restoration of this free movement through the corridor.
QUESTION: It’s getting more and more difficult for the United States to bring peace, so to end the war between Russia and Ukraine. And as you know, the Russia minister of foreign affairs is in Angola. He just met President Lourenço today. And I would like you to explain a little bit of what is the view of the U.S. administration on how African nations can help bring peace or end the war between Russia and Ukraine, because this in the great interest of African leaders. And they also want to end this war. And because the foreign minister of Russia is in Angola, I think even President Lourenço is trying to find a way to end this war that is affecting many country, including African nations. So what is the view of U.S. on how African nations can help put the end on this war?
MR PRICE: I would start by saying that African nations are in a unique and special position to lend their voices to ideally help bring about an end to President Putin’s aggression, and I say that because so many African nations have histories and legacies that are shaped by colonialism. Their histories and legacies have been morphed and, in some cases, distorted by the efforts of other countries to do what Russia is trying to do to Ukraine, to redraw borders arbitrarily, to dictate to countries what their orientation should be, what their choices should be. Across the continent of Africa, there is deep respect for the UN system, for the UN Charter, for international law. And I think that deep respect is born of the fact that for many decades across the continent, those principles weren’t adhered to. And the principles that are at the heart of the UN Charter, at the heart of international law were disregarded, and so African countries feel this acutely.
We think what countries across the continent and across the world can do most effectively is to make clear where they stand, to make clear to Russia, to visiting Russian interlocutors, but also to countries around the world that they stand for the UN system, they stand for the UN Charter, they stand for international law, and they stand against any effort to subvert that. African countries know all too well the consequences of a systemic subversion of those very principles, and lending their voice and making clear, not only to the Russian Federation but also to the rest of the world, that it’s not something they will tolerate, that itself would be very powerful.
QUESTION: And do you think it is appropriate, for example, for African nations who have received a lot of support from Russia in years to right now kind of give back to them? Because we heard also from the Congress that the United States is trying to pass some kind of law to force African nations not to work with Russia. But do you think this is a right decision for African nations to do right now when it comes to deal with Russia?
MR PRICE: I think what you’re pointing to is just a historical reality. It is again born of the fact that for many decades, the United States was not in a position to be a partner to so many countries across the African continent and, for various reasons, the Soviet Union was or Russia was. That of course has changed; that dynamic no longer holds. It eroded with the end of the Cold War. It has gone away entirely in the decades since.
The United States is ready, willing, and able to be a partner of first resort to the countries across Africa. You heard that very clearly from President Biden when he invited African heads of state and government to Washington late last year for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. He made very clear that we’re all-in on Africa in a way that the United States hasn’t been able to be all-in on Africa before. This is a dynamic that evolved over many decades. It is a dynamic that will likely take many years to chip away at and to ultimately reverse.
But we are committed to making the investment, to demonstrating both in word and in deed that we want a true partnership, a partnership with the countries of Africa that presents both of our peoples with opportunities. We are not looking to engage – to use Africa as a new geopolitical stomping ground or playground. We’re not looking for relationships that are extractive, that export chaos, that export instability, that advantage only American private companies, as you’ve seen an approach taken by countries who have a different model. Our model is one of true partnership, where we seek to do and to take on challenges and opportunities with the countries of Africa together in a way that provides both our people greater prosperity, greater stability, greater security, and greater opportunity.
QUESTION: One last one on the DRC. How the United States expect to support the election process that this country will go through this year, taking into account the instability going on there?
MR PRICE: Well, we had an opportunity to discuss the elections with the Government of the DRC, with President Tshisekedi and his team, when we were in the DRC in August of last year. Free and fair elections is what we advocate for around the world. We want to see and the people of the DRC want to enjoy free and fair elections, but you also have to have the conditions to conduct a free and fair election as such. President Tshisekedi and his government have committed to doing that, committed to fulfilling their – have committed to fulfilling and carrying forward with those free and fair elections. We will continue to be a partner where it is of use to our partners in the DRC, and we look forward to those free and fair elections in the DRC later this year.
QUESTION: Just to stay in the region, in Africa, two questions and very unrelated. On Nigeria, there was this – I’m sure very carefully calibrated – statement this morning by the Secretary, but a little bit strange in the sense that you are imposing sanctions, visa restrictions against Nigerian individuals. But you don’t name them and you don’t say if they’re part of the government or what have you. And then you go on to say this is not against the Government – precisely – of Nigeria, and – so you do you have any details as to which individuals we’re talking about, at least if they’re part of the government or what have you?
MR PRICE: Well, I can tell you why we didn’t go into greater detail, and that’s because visa records are confidential. I know this is an issue we’ve discussed before. It’s an issue that can be deeply unsatisfying when we’re trying to explain what it is that we’ve announced. But what I can say is that, just as you said, this is a policy that doesn’t target the Nigerian people, that, to the contrary, seeks to support the Nigerian people and their desire for free and fair elections in the coming weeks. This policy does cover those believed to be responsible for, complicit in undermining democracy, including through the rigging of the electoral process; corruption; vote buying; intimidation of voters, the media, or elections observers through threats or acts of physical violence; suppression of peaceful protests; threats against judicial independence; or the abuse or violation of human rights in Nigeria.
We wanted to send a very clear message, just as we indicated we would prior to the enactment of this visa restriction policy, that the United States will be watching very carefully the actions of those who would engage in any such activities. When we see that, we’re prepared to revoke visas, to take other actions as appropriate. And today, we make good – we made good on that pledge.
QUESTION: And I had a follow-up.
MR PRICE: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Not a follow-up, but another question on Africa. There’s a very peculiar case involving a French student in Morocco, detained in Morocco, and he’s being extradited to the United States, being accused of cyber attacks, as I understand it. Have there been any conversations with the French? Because arguably, he’s a French citizen – the crimes would have been committed in France. One would think he would be extradited to France, if anything, but he’s extradited here. State Department have any comment on that?
MR PRICE: Our only comment would be that we refer you to the Department of Justice on extradition matters.
QUESTION: Upcoming Security Blinken’s trip to China – at this point there is no nuclear arms reduction agreement between PRC and United States or Russia. Given the fact, is Secretary going to – also going to talk about nuclear disarmament in China? And more broadly, how do you think the importance to sign such a deal with PRC?
MR PRICE: A couple of things. We’ve – I’ve made very clear that we’re just not going to get into the agenda this far ahead of the travel. I expect we may have more to say on that in the coming days, next couple of weeks. But we want to allow space for Secretary Blinken to engage in the meaningful and constructive diplomacy that we hope to find in Beijing. But broadly speaking, Secretary Blinken will have an opportunity to carry forward the conversation that President Biden had with President Xi in Bali late last year. And that was a conversation predicated on how we can responsibly manage what is the most consequential bilateral relationship that we have probably on the face of the planet, a conversation that seeks to ensure that the stiff competition that we’re engaged in with the PRC doesn’t veer into conflict.
As part of that we’re going to discuss the areas of competition. We are going to discuss those areas that have the potential to be conflictual, where we hope to establish those guardrails to see to it that competition doesn’t veer into conflict, but to also discuss those areas where we see the potential for further cooperation with the PRC. And principally, these are going to be on transnational challenges, challenges like changing climate, COVID, drugs, fentanyl, precursors, essentially threats to people around the world, threats that know no borders. But, of course, it is in our interest, as it is in the PRC’s interest, that we be able to discuss strategic stability broadly. We’ve noted with some concern the growing size of the PRC’s arsenal. There have been various public reports that have been written about this. Of course, it is an issue that we seek to discuss. We believe responsible nuclear powers need to act responsibly; they need to engage in discussions of strategic stability to see to it that the world’s most powerful weapons are managed appropriately and that our respective stockpiles are handled appropriately.
So all of these are issues that we seek to discuss with the PRC. We’ll have an opportunity to do – to do some of that in the coming weeks.
Quick final question.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Two separate questions. Ukraine first. The negative on the latest situation on the ground: There are reports that Russians have captured – apologies – captured Soledar. Is Russia on its back foot, front foot, or somewhere in between based on your assessment?
MR PRICE: Our assessment really hasn’t changed since the earliest days of this war. It has been a strategic failure for President Putin and his forces since the earliest days. The only reason that there is some discussion about tactical movements in Soledar now is because the Russians have not been in a position for months to tout any forward momentum, even incremental as it might be. Of course, the Russians are looking for a propaganda victory in what has been a sea of failures that they have confronted since the earliest days. Nothing that we’ve seen today or nothing that we’ve seen in recent days changes our assessment of the strategic course of this conflict. The Ukrainians have demonstrated remarkable determination and, most importantly, remarkable effectiveness in pushing back Russian aggression and recapturing much of the territory.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. On – back on the Nagorno-Karabakh topic, we have seen some back-and-forth between Washington and Baku in terms of the Lachin corridor. The readout of the Secretary’s call and what we have seen from the Azerbaijani side is completely different, contradicting against each other. We also heard Azeri foreign affairs ministry spokesperson today put out a tweet contradicting what you said yesterday.
My question is: The Europeans have eyes on the ground right now; they sent a monitoring mission. Is there any concern on your end that you don’t have independent eyes on the ground, there’s no ambassador in Baku? That was a concern that Ambassador Reeker raised in October, that the President’s nominee hasn’t even received any invite to the Senate foreign affairs committee. So we are sort of, like, stalled here and two different narratives. Is there any step you are going to take in the weeks ahead, days ahead, to move the needle?
MR PRICE: So, Alex, on your question, you yourself refer to the fact that our European partners do have monitoring missions; they have a presence on the ground. Of course, as you know, we work remarkably closely with our European partners when it comes to Nagorno-Karabakh, when it comes to the current challenge we face in the Lachin corridor, and when it comes to tensions and conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan more broadly.
So we share our information with our European partners. The same is true of them to us. And we believe it’s important that we continue to work closely together with our European partners, through the OSCE as appropriate, directly with the parties if and when it’s effective. We’ve done all of those things and we’ll continue to do what we think is effective to bring about a lasting peace and a diminution of the tensions.
QUESTION: Do you still consider the United States a co-chair of the Minsk Group? Because there is no chairman in the U.S. side.
MR PRICE: The Minsk Group has not been a functioning body for some time, but we are prepared to work to resolve this conflict bilaterally, multilaterally through the OSCE, with partners, with the parties themselves.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:20 p.m.)