MR PRICE: Thanks very much. And thanks very much, everyone, for joining. I have three items at the top, and then I will look forward to taking your questions.
First, Secretary Blinken, Secretary of Defense Austin, and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel will meet virtually with Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi and Defense Minister Kishi today for the 2022 U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee or “2+2” Meeting. The 2+2 Meeting is a well-established forum for U.S.-Japan foreign and defense policy cooperation.
During the meeting, the delegations will discuss ways the United States and Japan can strengthen and modernize our alliance to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region and to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and other global challenges.
The opening remarks will be livestreamed on state.gov at 5:30 PM Eastern today.
Next, we are pleased, as you saw today, to announce that Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman will travel to Switzerland and Belgium from January 8th to January 13th. The trip follows extensive diplomacy with our European allies and partners in developing a united approach to Russia’s unprovoked military buildup along Ukraine’s borders and our joint efforts to encourage Russia to choose diplomacy and de-escalate in the interests of Euro-Atlantic security and stability.
In Geneva on January 10, the Deputy Secretary will lead the U.S. delegation’s participation in an extraordinary session of the U.S.-Russia bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue. She will be joined by an interagency delegation from the State Department, the National Security Council, the Defense Department, and the Joint Staff. The NATO-Ukraine Commission will also take place on January 10th, and the U.S. will be represented by Ambassador Julie Smith.
The Deputy Secretary will then travel to Brussels on January 11th for consultations with NATO leadership, NATO Allies, and EU officials to continue our close coordination on European security in the context of Russian aggression against our partner, Ukraine. On January 11th, she will meet with representatives from the EU institutions and jointly prepare with Allies for the NATO-Russia Council meeting. On January 12th, Deputy Secretary Sherman will lead the U.S. delegation to the NATO-Russia Council Meeting.
The Deputy Secretary’s participation in the SSD, NATO, and EU consultations are part of the diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the tension caused by Russia’s military buildup and continued aggression against Ukraine. Our diplomatic engagements will continue with the first OSCE Permanent Council meeting of 2022 on January 13th, when Ambassador Michael Carpenter will lead U.S. participation. The OSCE is an important venue for multilateral dialogue on European security issues. And we will have more on all of this within the next day or so.
And finally, the United States remains concerned about the ongoing state of emergency in Kazakhstan. We condemn, in the strongest terms, the acts of violence and destruction of property and offer our deepest sympathies to those affected. The United States urges the authorities and the people of Kazakhstan to find a peaceful and constructive resolution of the state of emergency by respecting constitutional institutions, human rights, and media freedom, including through the restoration of internet service.
With that, we will move to questions. Operator, if you want to offer one more time instructions for answering questions, please – for asking questions, please.
OPERATOR: Absolutely. Again, if you would like to ask a question, press 1 then 0 on your touchtone phone. You’ll hear an indication you’ve been placed into the queue, and you will be announced when your line is open. If you are using a speakerphone, we ask you to please pick up your handset and to make certain your phone is unmuted before pressing any buttons.
MR PRICE: Great. We will start with the line of Matt Lee.
QUESTION: Happy Thursday. Listen, on the U.S.-Japan meeting this afternoon, can you be just a little bit more specific – well, a lot more specific, but I don’t expect you to be a lot more specific, but as specific as you can – about the, quote/unquote, “ways the U.S. and Japan are going to strengthen and modernize the alliance to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific”? And do you expect the consensus agreement on the SMA to be signed anytime soon?
And then just secondly, on – now I forgot what it was. (Laughter.) Oh, on Kazakhstan, the statement that came out earlier about the Secretary’s call with the Kazakh foreign minister, I’m just wondering if you can offer anything about what the response was when the Secretary raised the issue of Russian troop buildups near Ukraine with the Kazakhs, considering they have asked for Russian presence in their country. Thanks.
MR PRICE: Thanks very much, Matt. So on your first question, unfortunately there’s not much I can add at this juncture, precisely because the 2+2 will be getting started in just over three hours here, and I expect you’ll hear from Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin at the outset of that, not to mention from their Japanese counterparts, a bit more precisely on what you’re getting at. I also would not be surprised if you see in the hours that follow the 2+2 a bit more detail emanating from both of our governments on this very point. So I would commend you to be on the lookout for that.
When it comes to Kazakhstan, let me just start by reiterating what you heard from me at the top, and that is that we remain concerned about the ongoing state of emergency. We offer our deepest sympathies to those affected by the violence. We do condemn in the strongest terms the acts of violence and the destruction of property. Again, we urge protesters to express their grievances peacefully and for authorities to respond with restraint in order to seek a rights-respecting resolution to the crisis.
As you saw from our readout, the Secretary did have a productive call with the foreign minister of Kazakhstan, Foreign Minister Tileuberdi, earlier this morning. The Secretary reaffirmed our full support for Kazakhstan’s constitutional institutions and called for respect for human rights and media freedom as well as the restoration of internet service, and he advocated for a peaceful, again, rights-respecting resolution to the crisis.
When it comes to the deployment of CSTO forces to Kazakhstan, we are closely monitoring reports that the Collective Security Treaty Organization has dispatched its collective peacekeeping forces to Kazakhstan. I will say that the United States, and frankly the world, will be watching for any violations of human rights. We will also be watching for any actions that may lay the predicate for the seizure of Kazakh institutions. We certainly hope it does not come to that. We’ll be watching very closely.
We call on the CSTO collective peacekeeping forces and law enforcement to respect human rights in order to support a peaceful resolution. We hope that the Government of Kazakhstan will soon be able to address problems which are fundamentally economic and political in nature. And as a partner to the people and Government of Kazakhstan, the United States is ready and willing to continue to partner with Kazakh authorities and the Kazakh people on this front.
You will have noticed that in recent weeks we have engaged with a wide variety of allies and partners on our deep concerns regarding Russia’s military buildup near the borders with Ukraine and Russia’s possible intentions vis-à-vis Ukraine. We have done this, of course, in the context of our NATO Allies, of our European partners, but we have also done it with countries – with other partners, countries who are in the region and those who are a bit further afield.
So obviously, when it comes to Kazakhstan this was part of a conversation. The Government of Kazakhstan has a relationship with the Russian Federation, and of course, we have encouraged all governments that have a relationship with the Russian Federation to use their influence constructively to encourage Moscow to choose the path of diplomacy and de-escalation that the President has set out so that the alternative path that the President has set out, a path of deterrence and a path of strong measures should Russia move forward with additional aggression against Ukraine – so that we do not have to choose that path. But we’ll leave the details of that conversation to the foreign minister and the Secretary of State.
We’ll go to the line of Shaun Tandon.
QUESTION: Hey, Ned. Could I just follow up a little bit on Matt’s question and your response on Kazakhstan? The CSTO – would the United States be calling for a withdrawal of the forces? Do you think it’s appropriate that they’ve gone in? The Armenian prime minister, Mr. Pashinyan who heads it, was saying that there was outside interference and that’s what necessitated it. Do you think that that’s a valid argument for this, for this intervention?
And if you don’t mind, a completely separate issue – outgoing Envoy Feltman should be in Addis today. Do you have any readout of his meetings? Do you see any progress in his stated objective of laying the groundwork for potentially peace talks? Thanks.
MR PRICE: Thanks, Shaun. So on the deployment of the CSTO, we will, in the first instance, defer to the Government of Kazakhstan to answer those questions. It is – as we said, we have taken note of the reports. It is – we have questions about that deployment precisely because Kazakhstan, the Government of Kazakhstan, has resources, has its own resources, and is a government that is and has been well fortified. So we would leave it to the Government of Kazakhstan to speak to the – for its reasoning, for its rationale, for the deployment of foreign forces on its soil. As I said, we will be watching very closely for any violations of human rights and any efforts or actions on the part of foreign forces to seize Kazakh institutions.
When it comes to Ethiopia, I can confirm that Special Envoy Feltman met this morning with Prime Minister Abiy. They held constructive, substantive discussions. Those discussions covered the importance of the bilateral relationship as well as broader regional issues. The special envoy is still on the ground, and the meeting between him and the prime minister concluded all – not all that long ago. And so we will have more details once Ambassador Feltman is – has returned to the United States. We certainly hope, I will say in the interim, that any positive momentum from his discussions can be quickly realized. And we’ll be working with our – with the Government of Ethiopia to see to it that the prospects for realizing that positive momentum are achieved.
You didn’t ask this specifically, but you will have also seen, Shaun, that the Secretary issued a statement today about the transition we anticipate in the coming days in this role. And Ambassador Feltman had the opportunity to formally let the prime minister know of his intention to step down and for Ambassador Satterfield to take on the role of the special envoy for the Horn of Africa in the coming days.
Broadly, we continue to call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and end human rights atrocities, unhindered humanitarian access, and a negotiated resolution to the conflict. All of those topics were raised and were discussed during the special envoy’s discussions with the prime minister earlier today.
Let’s go to Kylie Atwood, please.
QUESTION: Thanks for doing the call. One follow-up question on Kazakhstan: Does the U.S. think that this Russian-led military intervention that they say is trying to quell these protests has anything to do with Russia trying to show strength in the region ahead of next week’s talks? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thanks, Kylie. Look, I wouldn’t want to speculate on the motivations. I can just offer what it is that we will be doing and we will be watching for. And as I said now twice, we will be watching for any violations of human rights, we will also be watching for any actions that may lay the predicate for the seizure of Kazakh institutions. We again call with our partners on the CSTO peacekeeping forces and law enforcement to respect human rights in order to support a peaceful resolution. That is what the United States is supporting. It is what we stand ready to help facilitate in any way that we can. And as part of that, we hope that the Government of Kazakhstan will soon be able to address problems that are fundamentally economic and political in nature.
Let’s go to Nick Wadhams, please.
QUESTION: Can you comment on the plans by the Senate next week to hold a vote on Senator Cruz’s amendment to the NDA – NDAA that would impose sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline? Do you – is the administration in favor of that amendment? Do you believe that now is the right time? And also, what do you make of President Zelenskyy’s comments in the middle of last month that the time is now to impose sanctions, not after Russia invades? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thanks for the question, Nick. You obviously had an opportunity to hear from the Secretary and from his German counterpart yesterday here at the Department of State regarding the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The foreign minister has made strong statements on this issue in the event of additional Russian aggression against Ukraine. Of course, our two governments have a joint statement that speaks to this issue as well.
When it comes to the United States, this administration continues to oppose Nord Stream 2 as harm – as a harmful Russian geopolitical project. We believe it’s a bad deal for Ukraine. We believe it’s a bad deal for Europe. And that’s why we remain committed to implementing the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act, or PEESA, as amended, even as we work with our partners to take steps to ensure that the pipeline is not allowed to circumvent the certification process in the EU’s Third Energy Package, including the requirement for ownership on bundling and third-party access to the pipeline to transit gas from sources other than Russia and Gazprom.
Again, these measures together with the implementation of the commitments I referred to earlier – the commitments spelled out under our joint statement on support for Ukraine – reduce the risks of an operational NS2 pipeline, reduce the risks that it would pose to European energy security and to the security of Ukraine and frontline NATO and EU countries.
When it comes to the amendment that you referenced, the Secretary had an opportunity to speak to this yesterday. Let me reiterate that we are committed to working with Congress on a credible, strong deterrent against Russian aggression in Ukraine. Unfortunately, this amendment is not, in our estimation, a genuine effort to counter further Russian aggression or to protect Ukraine. Our concern is that, if passed, the legislation would only serve to undermine unity amongst our European allies at a crucial moment when we need to present a unified front in response to Russian threats against Ukraine.
The administration is working with Congress and European partners on a package of sanctions, as you have heard us say, that maximizes the potential costs to Russia if Moscow does continue with aggression against Ukraine. This legislation does not do that. At this moment, it is in – it is critical to ensure maximum transatlantic unity in addressing the potential Russian threat to Ukraine. Russia would interpret any daylight in our position stemming from sanctions on Nord Stream 2 as an opportunity to exploit a fissure in the transatlantic relationship, and this administration is determined not to give them that.
We’ll go to Rosiland Jordan, please.
OPERATOR: Ms. Jordan, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks so much. Happy New Year, Ned.
MR PRICE: Happy New Year.
QUESTION: I have two – thanks. I have two unrelated questions. The first is a follow-up on Kazakhstan. Did the Secretary tell the foreign minister in their conversation that one of the things that might help end this crisis is fully eradicating all of the former President Nazarbayev’s ties to the government, any advisory roles he might have? People have been saying old man needs to go in the protests in the past few days. And the – and the other part of it is: What has the administration told Kazakhstan about dealing with endemic corruption?
And then my other unrelated question has to do with the military prison at Guantanamo. As you know, next Wednesday is the 20th anniversary of the first detainees being brought to Gitmo. The administration has said it wants to close the prison, but there are yet once again new restrictions placed in the defense bill that limit how the U.S. can close the prison, how it can move those men who can be repatriated back to their home countries or to third countries. Has the administration identified any way or ways of working around these congressional restrictions given that this still does harm the U.S.’s reputation on human rights? Thanks so much.
MR PRICE: Thanks, Rosiland. So on Kazakhstan, again, we will leave the conversation between the Secretary and his counterpart between those two individuals, but I’ll make a few broad points. First, and as I’ve said before in this context, we do believe that – we do believe that and we do hope that the Government of Kazakhstan will be able to address problems that manifested in these protests, problems that are fundamentally economic and political in nature. It is not our wont to be prescriptive in terms of our guidance, but again, as a partner to Kazakhstan, this is something that the United States would support. And if there are ways that we can help Kazakhstan address these challenges, the United States stands ready to do that.
As you know, we’ve had a number of occasions in recent months to meet and to speak with our Kazakh partners at various levels, including a formal dialogue that has taken place in recent weeks. And so whether it is issues of – issues that are economic in nature, issues that are political in nature, issues of corruption, the types of issues that we raise and we offer assistance the world over, those are conversations that we have consistently had with our Kazakh partners, just as we do with our partners around the world.
When it comes to Guantanamo, the – as you’ve heard from us before, we remain dedicated to a deliberate and to a thorough process focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population at Guantanamo Bay and ultimately closing the facility. There are many reasons to seek to close the facility. You identified one. It is the moral stain associated with this facility that is pronounced. As you pointed out, we approach two decades of operation. We, the Department of State, are seeking to identify suitable onward transfer countries and to negotiate transfer agreements, including appropriate security and humane treatment assurances for detainees whom the Periodic Review Board determines that law of war detention is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.
In this process, the Periodic Review Board or the PRB determines that a detainee has been deemed eligible for transfer and can be recommended – and can recommend countries in which former detainees may be resettled, but it does not determine where detainees will actually be settled. And the Department of State is in regular contact with countries around the world regarding options for responsible disposition of former detainees at Guantanamo Bay at the detainee facility there as we seek to see it closed.
We’ll go to Daphne Psaledakis.
QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thanks for doing this. China said today that it would appoint a special envoy to foster peace in the Horn of Africa and wanted to shift focus on the continent to trade over infrastructure. Does the State Department have a reaction to this? And is the U.S. concerned that its sanctions against Eritrea and cutting Ethiopia off from AGOA is further pushing Horn of Africa countries toward China?
MR PRICE: Thanks, Daphne. So we’re aware of the reports you reference, namely that the PRC will appoint a special envoy for the Horn of Africa. We are committed to promoting peace, security, prosperity in the Horn and we’ll work with all partners who share our objectives in that.
You heard this when the Secretary was on the continent several weeks ago, but our engagement in Africa is based on sustained and transparent collaboration with partners across the continent and the broader international community. And let me just hone in on that word, “partners.” The relationships that we seek to have with countries across Africa are relationships fundamentally predicated on the concept of partnership. We don’t ask our partners to choose between the United States and any other country. That includes the PRC. What we seek is not to make them choose, but to give them choices.
And you heard from the Secretary when we were in Kenya and Nigeria and Senegal about the choice and the – in the type of partnership that the United States offers to the countries of Africa. These are partnerships that are based on mutual opportunity, mutual respect, the types of investments that the United States seeks to make. Whether it is private sector investment, whether it is through the Build Back Better World program, whether it is through other U.S. Government programs and through partner programs, our – is – it furthers our goal of partnerships that are mutually beneficial and that are empowering for the countries of Africa with whom we are – with whom we have these constructive relationships.
Let’s go to Will Mauldin.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Can you hear me okay?
MR PRICE: We can.
QUESTION: Great, happy holidays. And wanted to ask to what degree Kazakhstan would play – would be a part of the talks in Geneva or the other upcoming talks involving Russia. Would – compared with Ukraine or European security, how much of a mention or focus would be on Kazakhstan? And also just was a little curious about Secretary Blinken’s call with Kazakhstan and the contrast between the U.S. interest in Ukraine, keeping Russian troops out of Ukraine, and sort of the more understanding position in Kazakhstan. Is that in part due to the geographic location where Kazakhstan’s in Asia, where the U.S. is not as concerned about allies, and Ukraine is squarely in Europe? Or are there other reasons for that difference in focus? Thanks.
MR PRICE: Thanks, Will. So we want to be careful not to conflate countries, and not to paint with too broad of a brush. So I think we need to speak of Ukraine in one sentence and Kazakhstan in another sentence. We have – I’ve had ample opportunity in this call to speak to what we are calling for in the context of Kazakhstan. You have heard us in this call and in the previous weeks speak to our concerns about the Russian military buildup along the borders of Ukraine. These are two fundamentally different issues, and so again, I wouldn’t want to speak to them through precisely the same prism.
I think when we talk about the moment that we are facing with Russian aggression towards Ukraine, the context here is notable. We have heard the Russians claim that they have every right to undertake movements, troop movements, within their own territory. As we speak at the moment, however, there are Russian forces and Russian-backed forces on sovereign Ukrainian territory. Russia, of course, has no right to do that. As we speak, Russia has amassed tens of thousands of forces along its border with Ukraine in an obvious effort to intimidate, bully, and coerce its neighbor. Russia, of course, has no right to do that.
And these deployments don’t come in a vacuum, and recent history substantiates the profound concerns we share with our European allies and partners. It was Russia that in 2014 attempted to annex Crimea and instigated war in eastern Ukraine. Russia neither had nor has any right to do that. It is Russia that over the years has invaded, occupied, fomented conflict against its neighbors and others. The list is long. It includes Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova. It’s Russia that over the years has interfered in democratic elections, extraterritorially employed chemical weapons, orchestrated cyber-attacks, cheated on nonproliferation agreements, used energy as a weapon, among other tactics.
So as we listen to Moscow attempt provide innocuous explanation for its activities vis-à-vis Ukraine, we can’t discount its actions both at present and over the years as well.
We’ll go to Eunjung Cho.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Ned, for taking my question. Happy New Year.
MR PRICE: Happy New Year.
QUESTION: What is the State Department’s reaction that North Korea claims to have successfully test-fired a hypersonic missile? And also, does the U.S. plan to call a UN Security Council meeting to address North Korea’s ballistic missile launch that State Department pointed out as violating UN Security Council resolutions? The U.S. called for a meeting last October in the wake of Pyongyang’s submarine-launched ballistic missile test.
MR PRICE: Yep. Thanks for the question. So we condemn the DPRK’s ballistic missile launch. We have assessed – and you heard this from our partners in INDOPACOM – that this event did not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory or to our allies. The launch does highlight the destabilizing impact of the DPRK’s illicit weapons program. It is in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. It poses a threat to the DPRK’s neighbors and the international community. And that’s why we call them the DPRK to refrain from further provocations and to engage in sustained and substantive dialogue.
To your question of what comes next, we are consulting closely with our allies and partners on this. Our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains ironclad, and we’ll remain in very close touch with our treaty allies in the Indo-Pacific and with our allies and partners around the world on this as well.
Let’s go to Said Arikat.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned, for doing the call, and thank you for taking my question. Two quick questions, one on the Palestinian Authority and one on Iran. On the Palestinian Authority, they issued a statement placing the blame for the spike in violence on Israel and calling on the international community, including you guys, to provide protection for the Palestinian people, and calling on you in particular to implement commitments that you have made, according to their statement.
And on the Vienna talks, very quickly, Bagheri Kani, the Iranian negotiator, said that things are not moving, that there’s no movement in the talks, while the German foreign minister said that we are at a decisive moment. Could you please explain both – your take on these comments? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Sure. So on your first question, Said, we’ve said this consistently, but our focus is on doing everything we can to significantly improve the quality of life for the Palestinian people and to improve Israeli-Palestinian relations. Our interest in supporting peace and stability certainly requires that we have open and constructive engagement with the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people, and you have seen us over the course of the past year or so seek to further and advance that.
When it comes to Vienna, what I don’t want to comment on is the comments of others regarding the progress or lack thereof that we’re seeing on the ground in Vienna. What I can tell you is to echo what you heard from us just a day or two ago, and that is namely that Special Envoy Malley and his team are engaged in the eighth round of talks. Those resumed on January 3rd. We spoke to modest progress in those talks earlier this week. We’ve continued to see that modest progress. We hope to build on that over the course of this week, what remains of it, and in the days ahead.
Now, what is true – and you referenced this in your question – is that time is absolutely running short, and we have not – we have not been shy in making that clear. If we don’t soon reach an understanding on mutual return to compliance, Iran’s accelerating nuclear steps will hollow out those nonproliferation benefits the JCPOA conveyed, and we will have to consider a different path forward. That is a matter of weeks; it is certainly not a matter of months. But again, you have heard us speak to this not as a clock, as a standard clock, but rather on the basis of a technical assessment of Iran’s nuclear program rather than any sort of temporal clock with a date that has long been fixed.
Let’s see if there – a final – a couple final questions. Conor Finnegan, please.
QUESTION: Hey, can you hear me?
MR PRICE: Hey, yes.
QUESTION: Hey, so sorry, one more on Kazakhstan and then one on Egypt.
On Kazakhstan, you’ve said a couple times that you’re waiting – you’re watching for violations of human rights. There are reports now that security forces have killed dozens of folks, have used live ammunition against demonstrations. Do you condemn that use of force, the use of live ammunition?
And then on Egypt, an Egyptian American surrendered to the FBI today for allegedly providing intelligence on political dissidents in the U.S. and acting at the behest of the Egyptian Government. Do you have any response to those charges? Do you condemn the extraterritorial reach here against dissidents on U.S. soil? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thanks, Conor. So on your first question on Kazakhstan, look, we remain concerned about the ongoing state of emergency there. We always condemn any violence against peaceful protesters. Individuals around the world have every right to peacefully voice their frustrations, to act on their aspirations. And every time we encourage them to do so peacefully, we also encourage restraint on the part of government forces and security services when it comes to peaceful protesters.
We do in this case condemn the acts of violence and destruction of property. We are – when it comes to the protesters, we’re urging them to express their grievances peacefully, and as I said before, for authorities to respond with restraint in order to seek a rights-respecting resolution to this crisis. That is what we have said in our public messages. It is also the message that the Secretary conveyed in a productive call with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Tileuberdi.
When it comes to your question on Egypt, because this is a matter before law enforcement, I would need to refer the question to the FBI or to the Department of Justice. Leaving aside any specific case, you have heard us speak to the ways in which we are – the ways in which we condemn and the ways we are seeking to hold to account countries that would use – that would pursue dissidents, that would undertake such activity extraterritorially. And we’ve spoken to that in a number of cases, but to your specific question, I would need to refer you to the Department of Justice or to the FBI.
Let’s see, we’ll go to – final question from Carla Angola.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for taking my questions and Happy Near Year for you all.
On Venezuela, Jorge Rodriguez, Maduro’s representative at the dialogue table in Mexico, said that they will not return until, and here I quote, “the United States returns the stolen Venezuelan assets and frees Alex Saab from his kidnapping that the Norwegian minister and the Justice Department have sabotaged the talks in Mexico,” and here I close the quote. If these are the conditions required by the Maduro’s regime, what is the response of the Biden administration?
And another question, if I may. China and Russia are the backing of Maduro in the world. Has the Biden administration formally posed to both countries the damage that this regime generates in the hemisphere? But above all, have you asked China and Russia how they will help the transition in Venezuela? And if so, what have they committed to with you? Thank you so much.
MR PRICE: Thanks very much. So on the first part of your question, our objective is to support free and fair elections that reflect the will of the Venezuelan people. That is something that the Maduro regime has repeatedly deprived Venezuelans of. They did that most recently during Venezuela’s November 21st regional and local elections. Of course, those featured arbitrary arrests and harassment of political and civil society actors, criminalization of opposition parties’ activities, bans on candidates across the political spectrum, manipulation of voter registration rolls, persistent media censorship, and other authoritarian tactics.
The conditions necessary for free and fair elections, insofar as we’re concerned and our partners are concerned, include the immediate release of all those unjustly detained for political reasons, the independence of political parties, freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and an end to human rights abuses. Only with these fundamental changes will conditions exist for Venezuelans to be able to express themselves politically and to choose their leaders themselves. You’ve heard this from us repeatedly, but we do not recognize Maduro as president of Venezuela. Since he illegitimately usurped a second presidential term in January of 2019, he’s only attacked and destroyed Venezuela’s democratic institutions and prevented Venezuelans from choosing their own leaders through free and fair presidential elections.
What is needed now is for the Maduro regime to return to the negotiating table and to work with the opposition’s Unitary Platform to solve Venezuela’s problems and to restore democracy and the rule of law. The interim government, which is headed by Juan Guaido, is an expression of the democratic will of the Venezuelan people through a decision of the National Assembly. And as opposed to the Maduro regime, the Unitary Platform has repeatedly emphasized its commitment to the Venezuelan-led negotiations. And we continue to support their efforts to restore democratic processes and institutions in Venezuela and to address the country’s dire humanitarian crisis.
Again, free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections, an end to human rights abuses, and a solution to Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis are long overdue. We have seen a sincere desire on the part of the Unitary Platform to bring that about. We have not seen that on the part of the illegitimate Maduro regime.
On the question of Russia and China, look, I will leave it to those governments to explain their approach to the countries of the Western Hemisphere. The countries of the Western Hemisphere have heard directly from us about our approach to our partners in the hemisphere we share with them. It is not only a question of them hearing from us, but also a question of them seeing us demonstrate what that partnership looks like with them, the opportunities that partnership with the United States brings about. And I think the contrast between the types of relationships that we have and the types of relationships that we seek with our partners throughout the hemisphere, and the types of relationships that other countries perhaps not in our hemisphere seek, those tend to be fairly self-evident.
With that, we’ll leave it there. Thank you all very much and we will speak to you at the next opportunity.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:51 p.m.)