Department Press Briefing – January 9, 2023
2:00 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR PRICE: Happy Monday. Hope everyone had a nice weekend. I’ll take the prerogative of pointing out we are starting precisely on time.
QUESTION: Oh, wow!
MR PRICE: We will try and keep that up. So remember this next time we’re a few minutes late.
QUESTION: Two minutes early.
MR PRICE: Two minutes early, even.
QUESTION: Put it in the record books.
MR PRICE: Right. Even – some of your colleagues haven’t even made it in the room yet. (Laughter.)
I have a few things and then we’ll turn to questions. First, today and tomorrow, a large delegation of senior officials from the U.S. Government are attending the first meeting of the Negev Forum working groups in Abu Dhabi, joining representatives from the Governments of Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates in an effort to advance initiatives to encourage regional integration and cooperation.
These meetings follow the March 2022 Negev Summit held in Sde Boker, Israel, which launched the Negev Forum, as well as the June 2022 steering committee meeting in Bahrain, where the six topical working groups – focused on regional security; clean energy; food and water security; health; tourism; and education and coexistence – were set up.
The working groups seek to advance coordinated initiatives to encourage regional integration, cooperation, and development to promote security, peace, and economic prosperity for the benefit of the people of the region, including initiatives that could strengthen the Palestinian economy and improve the quality of life of Palestinians.
The Negev forum is one of a series of initiatives to promote integration in the region as a foundation for an increasingly more secure and prosperous region. These initiatives include the expanding bilateral relations between Abraham Accord signatories, the I2U2 with Israel, India, United Arab Emirates and the United States, which is developing clean technology and food security initiatives following the President’s visit to the region last year, and security initiatives and joint exercises under the auspices of Central Command.
More than two years after the anniversary of the Abraham Accords and other agreements, we continue to see numerous benefits throughout the Middle East, including regional – including increasing economic relationships; more robust people-to-people ties; growth in tourism; direct flights; cultural, research, and academic exchanges; and better coordination on a range of other issues.
The Biden administration remains focused on strengthening and expanding these opportunities whenever possible.
Next, since last year’s devastating floods in Pakistan, the U.S. Government has worked closely with Pakistan to provide funding assistance for flood response, food security, disaster preparedness, and capacity-building efforts.
I am pleased to share that today the United States announced an additional $100 million of recovery and reconstruction funding, bringing our total contribution to over $200 million.
The new $100 million in funding will be used for flood protection and governance, disease surveillance, economic growth and clean energy, climate-smart agriculture, food security, and infrastructure reconstruction. The funding also includes humanitarian assistance to support flood relief and recovery efforts in refugee-hosting areas.
Our flood-related assistance complements our broader efforts to form a U.S.-Pakistan Green Alliance that looks at the range of climate and resilience issues central to Pakistan’s reconstruction. Pakistan’s recovery and reconstruction will be a continuing process in the months and years ahead, and we will continue to support Pakistan in its efforts to build a more climate-resilient future for its people.
The IPBF is an opportunity to discuss shared ambitions for the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, as well as our respective priorities for the United States’ APEC host year and Japan’s G7 presidency in 2023. The IPBF will also showcase high-impact private sector investment and government efforts to support market competition, job growth, and high-standard development for greater prosperity and economic inclusion in the Indo-Pacific.
This hybrid event will feature an in-person program in Tokyo and a virtual component timed to allow for meaningful participation from across the Indo-Pacific region. For further information on the IPBF and how you can register, we encourage you to visit our website, www.indopacificbusinessforum.com.
With that plug, I turn it over to your questions.
QUESTION: Right. Thanks, Ned. I’ll be very brief since I was late. I apologize. But you guys have a number —
MR PRICE: Sorry, go on.
QUESTION: You guys have a number of initiatives out there about – that deal with war crimes, or potential war crimes, or investigating potential war crimes in Ukraine. And I’m just wondering – Jake’s comments this morning in Mexico City about looking at – or saying that Iran might be complicit in any such war crimes is something that is being looked at. So I’m just wondering, is this an active area of investigation from – at least from the elements that you guys are involved in?
MR PRICE: So, Matt, you were right that there are a number of elements. And we are discussing – and when I say “we,” I mean primarily here at the State Department, Beth Van Schaack, our Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice and her team, and others – are discussing with other countries, with other entities, other venues, vehicles, and fora, that may be appropriate to help adjudicate the question of war crimes. We’ve talked about some of the initiatives that are already underway: first and foremost, the cooperation we have and the support we’re lending to the Prosecutor General of Ukraine and to that entity, knowing that the Prosecutor General, of course, has jurisdiction, has immense interest in pursuing these crimes, but also what the OSCE is doing, what the Human Rights Council has set up with the support of Secretary Blinken and the United States, and other initiatives that have been put forward by other countries and entities as well.
We’ve also made the point that we are not looking merely at those responsible for pulling the trigger or for pressing the button, as it were. We are prepared in accordance with international humanitarian law to go all the way up the ladder to see to it who precisely is responsible for issuing these orders and not only for taking these actions.
If in the course of that work we are in a position to determine that the Iranian Government as a whole or that senior Iranian officials are complicit or responsible for war crimes, we will work to hold them to account as well. We’ve made no secret of the fact that Iran is providing Russia with much-needed security assistance. And security assistance is almost euphemistic in this sense because this is, more to the point, the provision of lethal equipment that Russia is using every single day to target civilian infrastructure, to target energy infrastructure, to potentially even target civilians themselves.
We made the determination early on in Russia’s war against Ukraine that Russia’s forces have committed war crimes. We have continued to document evidence of war crimes, and if that evidence points to another state, points to other foreign actors involved in these war crimes, we’ll work to hold them to account as well.
QUESTION: Okay. But you – like as you just said, you have already made that determination with Russia.
MR PRICE: That’s right. That’s right.
QUESTION: You have not yet made it –
MR PRICE: We have not made a formal determination when it comes to other states or state actors.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that one?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Unlike Russia, Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism designated by the United States Government. Does it change how you have – if once you make a determination, how you approach the war crimes investigation, and also accountability? Will folks in the United States be able to go after Iranian leaders by using the U.S. laws and by also – also using by fact – using the fact that Iran is a sponsor – state sponsor of terrorism within the U.S. legal system?
MR PRICE: There are certain differences between the state sponsor of terrorism designation that Iran carries and other designations that are attached to Russian entities, to Russian actors. But the designation of a state sponsor of terrorism doesn’t allow us – or I should say the fact that Russia is not a designated state sponsor of terrorism does not deprive us of any tools that we can appropriately and as warranted yield against – wield against the Russian Government. We have a number of authorities that we have used to hold Russia to account. We’ve imposed biting sanctions, biting export controls, other economic and financial measures. You can see the effectiveness of those measures, the compounding effectiveness of those measures across many different metrics that you look at – even the metrics that the Russian Government, the central bank, the Russian finance ministry has itself issued. You see that in the slowing economic growth, in the economic downturn, but also in the mere fact that Russia is being forced to turn to states with whom it typically has not partnered on security assistance, Iran being one of them, the DPRK being another as well.
So we are wielding every appropriate authority. We’re also working with Congress, working with Congress to attempt to find a way to hold Russia accountable for its aggression in such a way that allows us to impose costs without having to grapple with the unintended implications that the state sponsor of terrorism designation carries.
QUESTION: You have already sanctioned seven Iranian industry leaders? Just last Friday, the leaders of the factory, a drone factory and also missiles programs, there’s a – it doesn’t involve the missiles program. What’s the next step in this case? Is the Iranian supreme leader a potential subject to, let’s say, U.S. sanctions once you determine Iran’s involvement in this process?
MR PRICE: Well, these sanctions are pursuant to various executive orders. These executive orders are – spell out precisely the criteria that we look at when we determine if a foreign actor is a potential target for any given executive order. So we’re not taking anything off the table; we are going to do and take actions that intend to disrupt this pipeline of lethal supplies, lethal materials that have gone from Iran to Russia. But we’ve also talked about this is a two-way street. The relationship between Russia and Iran is one of a close security partner, a close military partner. Iran has become Russia’s most important supplier of needed security assistance. But Russia, too, has in turn started to provide Iran with security assistance that it needs.
So we are going to look at all relevant tools, all relevant authorities, all relevant laws that are on the books to hold to account those who are responsible for this.
QUESTION: Can we go to Brazil, and let me ask you –
QUESTION: Can I follow Russia? One more –
MR PRICE: One more on Russia?
QUESTION: Yes. At the recent summit between Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, highlighted their military cooperation. How do you think China and Russia military cooperation will affect the Ukraine and the Korean peninsula?
MR PRICE: Well, I can speak to Ukraine, of course. And we have made also no secret of the fact that we are watching very closely. We are watching very closely the decisions that the PRC makes when it comes to any Russian requests for security assistance. We know that Russia has been forced, as I’ve already said, to turn to other partners – Iran, the DPRK – for security assistance precisely because we are starving the Russian state of the inputs that it needs to prosecute its war against Ukraine most effectively. And again, that is putting it euphemistically.
We are starving systematically the Russian Government of what it needs, what it thinks it needs, to fulfill what it deems as its mission to kill the Ukrainian people, to target Ukrainian infrastructure, to go after Ukrainian cities and towns – hitting in the process civilian targets, apartment buildings, residential buildings, schools, hospitals, nurseries. Nothing, it seems, has been off limits to the Russian state and its pursuit of this brutal war.
So we’re watching very closely. We’ve been very clear with the PRC, including in private, including when the two presidents met in Bali last November, about any costs that would befall the PRC should they decide to assist Russia in a systematic effort to evade U.S. sanctions or in the provision of security assistance that would then be used against the Ukrainian people in Ukraine. So we’re watching very closely.
QUESTION: There are reports Brazil —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) taking this meeting?
MR PRICE: We’ll come back to China later. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, just on this Brazil Bolsonaro visa, I understand you have proscriptions due to privacy and all that, but can you confirm that an A-1 visa would be valid for 30 days? And would an A-1 visa assigned to any one head of state would automatically become waived if that person, that individual, is no longer a head of state?
MR PRICE: Sure. So I don’t want to try to guess at what your underlying question is, but let me just state out of an abundance of caution that I am, of course, not going to comment on the visa records of any individual. Individual visa records, as you know, are confidential, and we wouldn’t speak to the status of any particular individual.
Leaving individuals aside and generally speaking, if someone entered the United States on an A visa, which is essentially a diplomatic visa for foreign diplomats or heads of state, an A visa holder – if an A visa holder is no longer engaged in official business on behalf of their government, it is incumbent on that visa holder to depart the U.S. or to request a change to another immigration status within 30 days. That request for a change in visa status would be made to the Department of Homeland Security.
So it would be incumbent on the visa holder to take that action, either to depart the United States or to request that change in status.
QUESTION: Have you – are you in a position to say whether the visa holder that we’re all talking about —
MR PRICE: I’m not talking about a visa holder, no. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Okay, but are you able to say that you have received any requests of change of status?
MR PRICE: I – you haven’t attached any names. I wouldn’t comment on any individuals. I’m not commenting on any individuals. I am commenting on a class of visa.
QUESTION: Could I attach a name to it? (Laughter.)
The current president, Lula, said yesterday after what happened in Brasilia that he believes that former President Bolsonaro bears at least some responsibility based on his – his past comments. Is that the same assessment of the United States? And if so, is former President Bolsonaro somebody who would be welcomed in the United States?
MR PRICE: President Lula has called for an investigation. There, as I understand it, is an ongoing investigation in Brazil. You heard from the President yesterday, you heard from the Secretary yesterday, you heard from Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, yesterday that we condemn this violence. Violence is never appropriate; it’s never the answer. Brazil’s democratic institutions have our full support.
As we always are, we are standing by for any request – requests for assistance from our Brazilian partners, from Brazilian authorities, whether those come through diplomatic channels, whether they come through law enforcement channels, and we will of course respond to those requests as appropriate.
The United States and Brazil – we are close partners. We work together day to day on any number of matters and issues, and oftentimes those are matters of law enforcement. We have well-honed processes in place to cooperate where requests are made for information or potentially for action on the part of Brazil to the United States. In this case, we have not yet received any requests for information or for action.
QUESTION: Leaving aside Bolsonaro personally, is there any concern that perhaps some of the – the plotting of this could have taken place in the United States in Florida?
MR PRICE: This will be a question for the Brazilian investigation. If it would be useful for Brazilian investigators to be in receipt of information from the United States Government, we would of course adjudicate those requests promptly, as we always do, and provide them with appropriate information. But we haven’t received such a request.
QUESTION: Just one more. A little bit more broadly, you’ve often spoken and the President has often spoken about democracy being promoted around the world by the United States, so this is one of the major parts of the administration’s agenda. Is there a bit of a concern at all that perhaps there is also another model in the United States, that being of January 6th, that of the violent overthrow of democratic institutions? How much of a concern is that that that’s something that could also emanate from the United States? And what can the State Department or the administration do to counter that?
MR PRICE: Well, what the world saw emanate from the United States yesterday was immediate —
MR PRICE: — swift condemnation of what happened, what was ongoing in Brazil at the time. That was violence against Brazil’s democratic institutions. What the world heard and saw from the United States yesterday was swift and immediate support for Brazil’s democratic institutions. That message was loud and resoundingly clear. Today, the world heard that from President Biden, from Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada, from President Lopez Obrador of Mexico as well in their joint statement. So that is precisely what the world has been seeing and hearing from the United States over the past 24 hours.
Of course, we have consistently made the point, including in the aftermath of events in this country, that every democracy has its challenge. It is a reflection of the strength of that democracy how it grapples with, how it responds to those challenges.
And speaking in the case of Brazil, we have seen remarkable resilience from Brazil’s democracy over the past 24 hours. The violence was quelled within hours. The institutions were cleared of violent protesters within hours. A range of Brazil – Brazilian voices from across the political spectrum have condemned it. President Lula addressed his people. We have heard Brazilian politicians from all parties and all stripes condemn this violence as they well should.
Anything else on Brazil? Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: At least four American legislators – they asked the federal government – U.S. federal government to not allow the presence of the Brazilian former President Bolsonaro here in the country. From your perspective, can this fact generate a diplomatic incident between the two countries?
MR PRICE: No, because we have excellent cooperation with our Brazilian partners. As I said before, we on a daily basis work with our Brazilian partners through diplomatic channels, through law enforcement channels as well. And if there is a law enforcement matter that needs to be adjudicated between the United States and Brazil, we have well-honed, well-practiced processes for doing so, and we’re prepared to do that. But as I mentioned before, we haven’t received any specific requests just yet.
QUESTION: Regarding the new ambassador that she is swearing in, in a couple of minutes, from your perspective what is going to be her main mission once she arrives in Brasilia, taking in account everything that happened yesterday?
MR PRICE: Well, the main objective for any ambassador at any U.S. embassy anywhere around the world is really twofold. Number one, it is to provide steady leadership to our team – and we obviously have a very large mission in Brazil encompassing a number of facilities; but also this gets to the second charge, which is executing the President and the Secretary’s vision for that bilateral relationship. We also have a broad bilateral relationship with Brazil. It’s a pivotal time in terms of U.S.-Brazilian relations with the new government, with this government, eager to work with President Lula and his team.
I think you have seen that in the early engagement we had with President Lula, with senior U.S. officials traveling to Brazil to meet with then President-elect Lula, with the conversations that have taken place between President Biden and others and Secretary Blinken and their Brazilian counterparts. There is a broad range of work that we want to accomplish, that we need to accomplish, with our Brazilian partners. And when Ambassador Bagley arrives in Brazil, which I expect to be in the coming weeks, she’ll be well-positioned to help execute that vision.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Anything else on Brazil?
QUESTION: Just one more just on the general —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — general question. So when you say that it’s incumbent upon the – this visa, A visa holder to leave the country or apply for a change in their immigration status, is that person precluded from getting another A visa because they’re no longer head of state or no longer have that diplomatic status? What kind of change —
MR PRICE: Generally speaking, an A visa is reserved for someone who is engaged in official business in the United States on behalf of their government.
MR PRICE: If that is no longer the case, it’s incumbent on that particular individual to solicit a change in their status to a different kind of visa, whether that person may be —
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MR PRICE: — eligible for a tourist visa, a business visa, or what have you.
QUESTION: Okay, but —
QUESTION: By the way, is —
QUESTION: But they can’t, based on having previously had an A visa, they can’t get another one as long as they are not the head of state?
MR PRICE: Within 30 days of their official business ending, it’s —
QUESTION: No, I get that.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: I mean what kind of visa would one – a former – all right. I’m the – I am the president of —
QUESTION: — Narnia. (Laughter.) And I come – and I come to the U.S., and I’m in Louisiana eating at Popeyes, and then I am unelected. I am no longer the – what – I have an A visa. I came in on an A visa. What kind of visa can I get to extend my stay?
MR PRICE: So, Matt, it’s really going to depend on the individual, as you know, because the visa process is unique to each individual. It depends on that individual’s status, activities, what that individual is doing in the United States, what that individual may be doing in the United States. But I think you know the categories of visas as well as others. There are tourist visas. There are business visas. There are student visas. So I couldn’t speak to a particular case, and I wouldn’t speak to a particular case, but —
QUESTION: No, no, no. But, so the whole – other than an A visa, I could try to get anything I wanted?
MR PRICE: You could try to get any visa that is eligible for a foreign national.
QUESTION: What happens —
QUESTION: If the individual doesn’t do either of those, doesn’t leave the country and doesn’t apply?
QUESTION: Within that 30-day period.
QUESTION: Within that 30 days.
MR PRICE: So if an – if an individual has no basis on which to be in the United States, an individual is subject to removal by the Department of Homeland Security.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’m going to go where you started at the very top, about the Negev Forum that is being held. I want to ask you – you talked about advancing peace and so on, and you tell me how this so-called Abraham Accord advanced peace in any way. I mean, in the last three years we have seen Israel wage two major wars on Gaza; we see a war ongoing day in and day out in the West Bank. Last year was the bloodiest year for the Palestinians since the second intifada. And certainly the economic conditions for the Palestinians has worsened by a great deal. So other than just these guys getting together and maybe having good meals and drinks and so on, what have they done to really advance peace?
MR PRICE: Said, a couple of things. First, the Negev process really kicked off in earnest last year, and just last year. It was in March of last year when Secretary Blinken was in the Negev Desert, in Sde Boker, with his counterparts. So this is a process that is relatively new. It is part of the reason why we’re especially eager to have the opportunity to have these working groups constituted today and tomorrow in Abu Dhabi on the part of several dozen U.S. Government officials and their counterparts from these other countries.
But we’ve also been clear this process is not a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace. We support the normalization of relations between Israel and its Arab and Muslim-majority neighbors and countries around the world, but it’s not a substitute. We believe – and we’ve heard from participants in the Negev process as well – that normalization can and should be leveraged to advance progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track. Secretary Blinken made this clear in March of last year when he was in the Negev. He said that we have to be clear that these regional peace agreements are not a substitute for progress between Palestinians and Israelis.
He also noted in those same remarks how countries involved in the Abraham Accords and other normalization agreements, as well as those that have longstanding diplomatic relations with Israel, can support the Palestinian people, how they can support the Palestinian Authority in concrete ways and have a positive impact on the daily lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. And I don’t have to tell you, Said, that there are several of these countries involved in the Negev process that are doing quite a lot for the Palestinian people; there are other countries that have normalized relations or have diplomatic relations with Israel who are doing quite a lot for the Palestinian people. The United States is doing quite a lot for the Palestinian people on a basis of people-to-people ties.
But this is an ongoing conversation, and it’s a conversation that we believe can and really must support our goal of Palestinians and Israelis enjoying equal measures of freedom, of security, of stability, of democracy, and of dignity.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, that – those are fine words, but in fact isn’t this process aiding and abetting Israel into deluding itself that its war is with everybody else except for the Palestinians, while in fact the war is with the Palestinians? It’s not with the UAE, not with Morocco. I mean, I can understand the transactional value of these accords and these agreements and so on, but in fact, for – to accomplish peace, it’s not there. And we’ve seen – like Oman was that – was a country that was perceived as being probably the next place to normalize with Israel criminalizing any contacts with Israel. And so even on that track they’re a failure. So, I mean, one can go on and on in discussing these things, but in fact, you have not – there has been not one step taken by any of these governments to really pressure Israel into easing its treatment of the Palestinians or making life palatable or giving anything that resembles equal measures that you talk about.
MR PRICE: Said, every time the United States of America engages with our Israeli partners in a substantive way, we discuss issues as they pertain to Israeli-Palestinian relations. We discuss the need to improve day-to-day lives of Palestinian – Palestinian civilians. We discuss ways we can make tangible advancements, tangible progress towards a negotiated two-state solution. I don’t speak for other governments, but having been at the Negev last March, I can tell you that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a topic of discussion between other governments, the other participating governments, and Israel. And I would suspect that in the talks that took place today and the talks that take place tomorrow in Abu Dhabi, there will be quite a bit of talk, including on the part of the United States but also on the part of these other Arab governments, of the need to see tangible progress, tangible improvements in the day-to-day conditions for the Palestinian people. This is an opportunity to have those discussions, which itself is important.
MR PRICE: We have been consistent in our own strong opposition to the request for an ICJ advisory opinion concerning Israel. We’ve talked about that before, including last week. We believe this action was counterproductive and will only take the parties further away from the objective of a negotiated two-state solution. We are seeking both sides to take steps to move them closer to a negotiated two-state solution.
We’ve also been clear that Israelis and Palestinians alike, equally, deserve to live in safety, in security. They deserve equal measures of freedom, of dignity, justice, and prosperity as well. And we’ll continue to encourage all parties to refrain from unilateral actions that threaten the viability of a two-state solution and the path towards direct negotiations.
QUESTION: So would you urge the Israelis to release the money that they held?
MR PRICE: To – I’m sorry?
QUESTION: To release the money that they held, some $40 million.
MR PRICE: We – we have continued to make the point that unilateral actions that threaten the viability of a two-state solution, unilateral actions that only exacerbate tensions – those are not in the interests of a negotiated two-state solution.
QUESTION: Well, you said, though, that the Palestinian move was counterproductive, but what about the Israeli move, not just on the money but also on the cancellation or the revocation of the travel permit.
MR PRICE: Well, this is part of the reason why we’ve opposed the Palestinian move when it comes to the ICJ, knowing that it could potentially only serve to increase tensions. That is exactly what has happened.
QUESTION: So in other words, what you’re saying is that the Palestinians brought this on themselves?
MR PRICE: Matt, I am not saying that. I am not saying that.
QUESTION: Well, I’m just curious as to why you say Palestinian move is counterproductive but you won’t say the Israeli move – the countermove was also —
MR PRICE: This was a – this was a unilateral action that certainly doesn’t seem to move us closer to a negotiated two-state solution. In fact, it seems to set us back.
QUESTION: Okay. Okay, so the ICJ referral was a unilateral move, but the Israeli response to it is not a unilateral move? It is a – it is purely a response and therefore it’s okay?
MR PRICE: I did not say that. I think it’s fair to call it —
QUESTION: I’m – I’m trying to figure this out.
MR PRICE: I think it is fair to call it a unilateral response.
QUESTION: So it – so you don’t like it?
MR PRICE: It is fair to call it a unilateral response. We wish – we discouraged publicly the Palestinians from moving forward with this ICJ opinion because we didn’t want to see tensions exacerbated.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay, fine, but did you discourage the Israelis from taking punitive measures in response?
MR PRICE: We have private —
QUESTION: Or is it the Palestinians’ own fault that —
MR PRICE: We have private discussions – we have private discussions with our Israeli partners as well. It is clear that these steps have served to exacerbate tensions. This is not in the interests of a long-term negotiated solution.
QUESTION: Yeah, but which steps, though? Just the Palestinian side or both?
MR PRICE: We’re talking about both. We are talking about both.
QUESTION: All right. Sure.
MR PRICE: Yes. Yeah.
QUESTION: I want to ask you about Netanyahu’s statements, but before that, I want to follow up on the Negev Forum. The fact that the Secretary of State is not attending since the forum is not held on the ministerial level, is this a downgrade of this forum?
MR PRICE: Not at all. This was never intended to be held at the ministerial level. When the participants got together several months ago, they agreed that individuals at the sub-ministerial level would convene in Abu Dhabi. We don’t have dates to announce yet, but I can assure you that Secretary Blinken will remain personally involved in the Negev process, in the Negev Forum process, and I would expect that before too long there will be a ministerial where Secretary Blinken himself will represent the United States.
QUESTION: Okay. So Prime Minister Netanyahu is sending his special envoy, as you call it, representative, who is, I believe, the Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer. And he said that he want to formulate what he called a unified position between Israel and the United States vis-à-vis Iran. Can you articulate to us where do you agree with the Israelis and where you differ? Because even Jake Sullivan this morning in the gaggle, he was referring as we are different in the way that we execute things but not on the principle.
MR PRICE: Sure. At the strategic level, there is absolute consensus. There is absolute unanimity with our Israeli partners. We both wholeheartedly, fully are committed to the fact that Iran must never be able to acquire a nuclear weapon. That is the commitment President Biden has. That is the same commitment that we’ve heard from Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is, by the way, the same commitment that we heard from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s predecessors. So we are in lockstep when it comes to that strategic goal.
Now, there is no secret – and Jake alluded to that this morning – that when it comes to how we do that, there may be some tactical differences. There are some tactical differences. We’ve made no secret about that. We have a relationship with Israel that is close enough that it allows us to have candid conversations, and when we disagree, we disagree. We tell them what we think; they certainly don’t shy away from telling us what they think. We believe that a diplomatic – maintaining that a diplomatic – that diplomacy, I should say, presents the most viable, durable, sustainable means by which to permanently and verifiably prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That has always been our focus.
Now, it has not always been the focus of the Iranians, and, in fact, they have repeatedly turned their backs on a diplomatic deal in the form of what was on the table. That was a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. They did that most recently in September. It hasn’t been on the agenda ever since. We continue to believe that diplomacy presents the most attractive option, but we also agree with our Israeli partners that we shouldn’t take anything off the table. We haven’t taken anything off the table. And as we meet with our Israeli partners, one of the many issues we discuss is the most – the various means by which we can see to it that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: So when you say – sorry, can I just follow on this one? You say that diplomacy is your preferred option. Does that mean that you disagree with your own President when he says on a leaked tape that the track is dead and there’s no going back to diplomacy?
MR PRICE: The President did not say diplomacy is dead, not at all.
QUESTION: The negotiation in Vienna is dead, so —
MR PRICE: The President was alluding to the fact, which should be clear to everyone in this room, that the Iranians swiftly killed – the Iranians killed the prospect for a swift return to compliance with the JCPOA. A return to compliance with the JCPOA isn’t on the agenda. It’s not on the agenda for primarily one reason; that’s because the Iranians turned their back on it, the Iranians reneged on commitments they had made.
In the absence of that being on the agenda, we are focused first and foremost at the moment on what we can do to support the brave Iranian people who are taking to the streets across Iran, but also what we can do to disrupt, to counter the support that the Iranian regime is providing to Russia, support that Russia is in turn turning around and using with deadly vengeance against the Ukrainian people.
QUESTION: So if the Iranians come back tomorrow and said, “We’re willing to resume the talks,” then you will?
MR PRICE: I don’t entertain hypotheticals. I also don’t entertain scenarios that are just —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the process (inaudible) —
MR PRICE: — that are just incredibly improbable.
QUESTION: Sure, but you just (inaudible) —
MR PRICE: Even if the Iranians did come back tomorrow, we have a track record here, unfortunately, a track record that suggests to us that the Iranian word is – isn’t worth the – choose your metaphor. We of course have been down this road with them. So we of course want to see this resolved peacefully; we want to see this resolved diplomatically. But we are going to, in the absence of any real interest in diplomacy on the part of the Iranians, continue to keep our focus on supporting the Iranian people, keep our focus on countering Russia’s supportive security assistance to – excuse me, Iran’s support – Iran’s security assistance to Russia.
QUESTION: Knowing that it was the United States that backtracked on its word, correct? With the last JCPOA.
MR PRICE: No, Said, that is not correct.
QUESTION: It was not —
MR PRICE: That is not correct.
QUESTION: It was not the United States that pulled out of the deal?
MR PRICE: You’re – I am referring to last September.
MR PRICE: You may be going further back.
MR PRICE: Look, we can relitigate this. We have also made no secret of the fact that this administration considers the decision on the part of the last administration to withdraw from the JCPOA one of the greatest strategic blunders of American foreign policy in recent years.
QUESTION: Just one more on the visa issue.
MR PRICE: Will, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just one more on the visa issue. Would it be out of the ordinary for a head of state, head of government to arrive in this country on something other than an A visa?
MR PRICE: I would be hard pressed to think of a scenario in which a sitting head of state or a diplomat and would travel to the United States on a – something other than an A visa if that person were here in furtherance of official business. As diplomats – I’ll use me; I assume I have a Privacy Act waiver for myself – if I were to take a vacation in a foreign country, I wouldn’t travel on my diplomatic visa. I would use my tourist visa. You could imagine a foreign diplomat or a foreign head of state coming to the United States purely for tourism purposes and not traveling on an A visa, but I couldn’t speak to any particular —
QUESTION: Was that the case for Bolsonaro, or —
MR PRICE: (Laughter.) Go ahead. Yes.
QUESTION: I want – on Iran; I will also follow up on Brazil. So you say that the Iranians have swiftly killed the prospects of a swift return to the JCPOA, and also you’ve said your preference is diplomacy. And also you are saying that it’s incredibly improbable that the Iranians are going to return to the table. So the question is: How – can you convince us how the President is going to achieve his commitment that the Iranians will not acquire a nuclear weapon while the situation right now is like this, Iranians are out —
MR PRICE: Well, history can be instructive. It can be instructive in a case like this when we have a long history of pursuing this road with our partners and allies vis-à-vis Iran. The reason we were able – in 2012, 2013, ultimately 2013 and 2014, with the JPOA, subsequently with the JCPOA – to arrive at a diplomatic arrangement was because we worked with allies and partners around the world to put significant economic pressure on Iran. What ultimately brought Iran to the table was not a strategic change in mentality on the part of the regime. It was, I think, a realization that they were under tremendous economic duress. And rather than provide them with a strategic asset, their nuclear program at the time was a strategic liability. It’s our goal to ensure that Iran continues to feel pressure until and unless it changes course.
Now, you can do that as the United States – the last administration attempted to do that with the strategy of maximum pressure. That clearly didn’t work. What history teaches us is that economic pressure is most effective when it’s brought to bear with other allies and partners. And so that’s why we’ve put such a premium on working with our European allies and partners, particularly with the so-called E3, the France – the French, the Brits, and the Germans – in this case, but also bringing along other EU allies and partners, countries around the world to see to it that until and unless the Iranian regime changes its approach, it is going to feel the condemnation but, even more importantly, the economic and diplomatic pressure of the rest of the world.
QUESTION: And then I have a – excuse me.
MR PRICE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, I have a follow-up on Brazil as well.
QUESTION: Okay, go ahead, please.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) in your approach towards Iran’s nuclear issues is the reason why we keep seeing Iranian regime is holding sham trials, executing its own citizens, because they don’t get strongest message from the West in terms of potential consequences. You mentioned financial and other prices they might pay. Can you give us an example of, let’s say, going after Iranian leaders and their children in here in the United States financially and by other tangible steps that you have been taking so far?
MR PRICE: Alex, we’ve taken a number of tangible steps, and we’ve announced some of those steps even in recent months. You already alluded to the actions we took last Friday against seven Iranian individuals for their support to Iranian UAV proliferation networks. We’ve announced sanctions on Iranians’ – on Iran’s petrochemical industry. We’ve announced sanctions on its oil production industry. We have announced very tangible actions.
I haven’t seen a roller coaster in terms of this administration. Our approach has been remarkably steady. Our approach has been to work day in, day out with allies and partners to present a united front to Iran.
QUESTION: But they did not prevent Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Mohammad Hosseini from being executed. I mean, that’s clear not enough, Ned.
MR PRICE: And Alex, there will be escalating costs for the Iranian regime. We’re mixing apples and oranges just a bit here; we are talking about its nuclear program, but there are, of course, other hugely important challenges in the relationship, not the least of which is Iran’s treatment of its own citizens. And this is something that has been put on display with the uprising of the Iranian people, the fact that so many of Iran’s citizens, including at the vanguard its women and girls, have taken to the streets. And we have seen the disdain that the Iranian regime has for its own people, the brutality with which it has treated its own people.
You raised the most recent executions. Look, we are appalled by Iran’s executions of Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Mohammad Hosseini, and the sentencing, I should add, of additional individuals to death for involvement in protests. These two individuals were put to death following what can only be called sham trials, sham trials that were rushed, that lacked any fair trial guarantees. We condemn these executions in the strongest terms.
But these executions are, in our estimation at least, a key component of Iranian authorities’ brutal effort – their brutal effort to suppress peaceful protests that began in September following the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the so-called morality police. We’re deeply concerned that Iranian authorities may imminently execute other Iranians after sham trials that similarly lack fair trial guarantees, especially teenagers and youth, as part of their brutal crackdown.
The young people of Iran, it is clear, are bearing the brunt of this repression, of this brutality. And we’re aware of reports that several young people have had their sentences upheld and, as I mentioned, may be at imminent risk of execution. Rather than listen to the young people, to the women, to the girls of Iran, the regime is trying to silence them, and in some cases the regime is even killing them.
Anything else on Iran? Or – yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Earlier on I was going to ask you my follow-up question. So you tried to actually avoid questions about the ex-president of Brazil here. I’m just trying to directly ask you: Are you ready – you said you are going to cooperate with the investigators in Brazil. Are you ready to cooperate to an extent to extradite the president of Brazil to the country if they need him there?
MR PRICE: As I have said before, we are ready to respond swiftly and as appropriate to any requests from the Brazilian Government. We have not yet received any such requests.
QUESTION: And also one more, please.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. So – my questions were broken down, but anyway. Canada has announced that they have made an – reached an agreement with the United States about the F-35, 88 F-35s. Do you have anything on that? Could you —
MR PRICE: I don’t, and typically we would not speak to any potential arms transfers until and unless we’ve notified them to Congress.
QUESTION: Going back to Iran again, and on executions.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have anything other than statements, like are you pushing for any sort of international effort? Because Canada today, they imposed five sanctions. European countries are summoning Iranian diplomats. Do you have anything other than statements?
MR PRICE: Yes, absolutely. It’s precisely why at the United Nations last year we pushed for the Commission of Inquiry. We pushed for the commission so that it is not only the United States watching closely, as we always are; it is not only other countries, our European allies among them, watching closely, as they always are; but to see to it that the world’s preeminent body in many respects has a standing commission that is solely and exclusively trained on the brutality that the Iranian regime is perpetrating against its own citizens. It was hugely important that we were able to create this entity. It’s hugely important that this entity is able to fulfill its important mandate. We are going to continue to help the Commission of Inquiry fulfill the mission that was set out for it, just as we continue to train the eyes of the UN, of our partners, on what’s happening to the Iranian people.
QUESTION: And on JCPOA, you mentioned about working with allies, European allies. One of the things you can do is to ask them to activate snapback mechanism. That’s one way of working with allies. And why you don’t do that?
MR PRICE: This is a decision for our European partners. This goes back to some of the questions we’ve talked about earlier – the historical antecedents that describe why we are not in the JCPOA, why we are not in a position ourselves to have a vote one way or another on snapback. This is a question for the Europeans.
QUESTION: Going back to the virtual meeting between Russia President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, is it still the U.S. position that the China is not providing material assistance to Russia amid its war on Ukraine? The reason I ask is I want to know if you have anything on reports that Russia An-124 military transport aircrafts’ frequent visit to China, including various cities like Zhengzhou, Shanghai, Guangzhou, et cetera. Is there any indication that material assistance has been provided to Russia via – through these types of transports?
MR PRICE: I don’t have a new assessment to offer. It is still very much the position of the U.S. Government that we are, number one, watching very closely; number two, if we see the provision of security assistance to Russia for use in Ukraine to do what Russia has been doing to the people of Ukraine, to the state of Ukraine, to the Government of Ukraine, or if we see the PRC taking action to systemically assist Russia evade sanctions, of course there will be costs.
QUESTION: How closely is U.S. monitoring the An-124 military transports to China, back and forth?
MR PRICE: We are – we are very closely watching all of this.
QUESTION: And one final, generally speaking on U.S.-China relationship. Like, what type of people-to-people exchange programs do you envision that could be resumed or achieved in 2023?
MR PRICE: Well, I don’t have any programs to speak to today. But when we talk about the bilateral relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, we typically refer to the government-to-government relationship; that’s what we call the most consequential bilateral relationship on the planet. But it is a relationship that transcends governments. It is a relationship that has a private sector, a business and economic element that is driven and led by the private sector.
But there’s also a vibrant people-to-people element, and there may be ways to make that people-to-people element even more vibrant, whether that is through exchanges, whether it’s through new programs, restarting defunct programs. We’re going to look at all of that to see to it that we have a relationship that, first and foremost, is serving the interests of the United States, but a relationship that is also serving our people. Ultimately, that’s what we seek to do.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. On the Under Secretary Fernandez visit to Seoul this week, will the Under Secretary Fernandez discuss the IRA issue during his visit? Is there any optimistic solution to South Koreans’ electric vehicles subsidies?
MR PRICE: So I imagine this will be a topic of conversation when Jose Fernandez is in Korea this week. He’ll then be traveling to Tokyo to take part in the Indo-Pacific Business Forum, as I mentioned at the top. Just as we’ve said with our European allies, this is a consequential piece of legislation. It’s a complicated piece of legislation. It’s a large piece of legislation. And so we are prepared to work with our allies and partners, in this case, of course, with the ROK, to talk about implementation of this legislation and ways we can work to take into account those concerns.
QUESTION: What is the U.S. position about the Hyundai Motor Company’s statement that it will reconsider investment in the United States if South Korea’s electric vehicles subsidy is not reserved?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t weigh in on the statement of a private company. Obviously, our relationship with the ROK, it is extraordinarily multifaceted, and one of those facets is the private sector two-way investment. By two-way, I mean American companies investing in South Korea, South Korean companies investing in the United States. We want to make sure that two-way pipeline is as robust as we can accomplish, and that’s part of the reason why Under Secretary Fernandez is in Korea this week.
QUESTION: I have a question on Türkiye. I heard you last week. You spoke again highly of Türkiye as a very important ally of NATO and United States. But Türkiye accuse both NATO and United States of cooperation with terrorists. They mean the Kurds of Syria, I think. Are the Syrian Kurds of the YPG – are your allies? Or they are terrorists, as Türkiye says?
MR PRICE: Well, there is no denying that Türkiye faces a complex security environment. Türkiye has endured more terrorist attacks than any other NATO Ally. We want to work with Türkiye to address its security concerns. We believe that we can work with Türkiye to address those concerns while still prosecuting the shared challenge that we have in Syria, and that is to see to it that ISIS is not a position to reconstitute.
The Coalition to Defeat ISIS or Daesh has achieved significant gains in recent years. We don’t want to see to it that those significant gains are put at risk or, worse, rolled back. And so of course we’re going to continue to have close consultations with Türkiye on this. We understand and appreciate their position, we recognize their position, and we need to continue our close coordination and cooperation with Türkiye on these very shared challenges.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you cooperate at the same time with the YPG, correct?
MR PRICE: Our Kurdish partners on the ground have been an important element in that campaign that I referenced to take on and to roll back and ultimately to eliminate Daesh. Of course there are terrorist groups that pose a threat to Türkiye. The PKK is one of them. We have been clear about that. We can work to address Türkiye’s legitimate security concerns without losing sight of what is ultimately our shared objective, and that is to see to it that ISIS is not in a position to regain strength or to reconstitute itself.
QUESTION: So if I write that the Syrian Kurds are not terrorists and they are your allies, I am correct?
MR PRICE: You’re painting with a very broad brush. I am speaking to specific security concerns. But I’ll tell who is an ally: Türkiye is an ally. We look forward to continuing to work closely with Türkiye on shared concerns.
QUESTION: So you’re not ready for the pronunciation change? (Laughter.) That’s my question.
MR PRICE: I suspected you might be going here. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, I’m just curious.
MR PRICE: There, of course, is always in all of our policies built-in leeway when it comes to pronunciation.
MR PRICE: And of course, we always beg your —
QUESTION: So Daesh and ISIS.
MR PRICE: We always beg your forbearance when it comes to pronunciation. I certainly do, given my own pronunciation.
MR PRICE: But just as the Board on Geographic Names allowed for some leeway in certain circumstances where we can promote broader public understanding, I am going to stick with the previous pronunciation?
QUESTION: Has anyone asked the Board of Geographic Names on a – about the Czechs?
MR PRICE: You are welcome to as an enterprising journalist.
QUESTION: Well, I’m just wondering if – because there’s been – we’ve been – a lot has been made about Swaziland to Eswatini.
MR PRICE: Sure, sure. And I —
QUESTION: Macedonia, North Macedonia.
MR PRICE: I am not aware of —
QUESTION: What about Czechia?
MR PRICE: I am not aware of a request that we’ve seen on —
QUESTION: They are a NATO Ally.
MR PRICE: I am not aware of a request we have received from our Czech allies to have their name formally – or the spelling of their name changed, but I would check in with them.
MR PRICE: No pun intended. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Well done.
QUESTION: When last week you announced the largest PDA package for Ukraine, the Pentagon said that the purpose of this was to change the dynamic on the battlefield. And I’m wondering, does it mean that you are concerned about the current dynamic, and do you feel that it’s going the wrong direction?
And a second one, if I may on – over several weeks now, we have official statements highlighting the growing role of the Wagner Group and Yevgeny Prigozhin becoming an alternative center of power in to the Russian military. And I wonder if this is a source of concern for you, or maybe hope because it’s a sign of change?
MR PRICE: Sure. So on your first question, there are several dynamics at play in Ukraine. One dynamic is the dynamic that you’ve heard from us, from our Ukrainian partners, and that is the dynamic under which they have demonstrated consistently their resilience but also their effectiveness on the battlefield, wresting back thousands upon thousands of square miles of territory that Russia had laid claim to, that Russia had forcibly taken at one point from Ukraine, that is now back where it belongs in Ukrainian hands.
But the broader dynamic is one in which there remain thousands upon thousands of Russian forces on sovereign Ukrainian territory with Russian assets regularly raining down firepower onto Ukraine’s towns, its cities, targeting civilian infrastructure.
So that is a dynamic of course that we would seek to change, a dynamic that the provision of this additional security assistance – some $3 billion when you take into account the Presidential Drawdown Authority and the Foreign Military Financing that we announced last Friday – will seek to change because it provides additional capabilities, new capabilities in this case, including armored fighting vehicles but also the type of air defense systems that our Ukrainian partners have used to such extraordinary effect to take on the threat from Iranian-produced UAVS, in some cases eliminating every single drone before it’s able to pose an imminent threat to Ukrainian citizens, but more broadly protecting Ukrainian infrastructure, protecting the Ukrainian people. So our goal is to continue and we will continue to support our Ukrainian partners for as long as it takes.
On your second point – I wasn’t – it was on Prigozhin but —
QUESTION: Yeah, and like how do you assess this? You highlight that his well is drying, and like that his – he’s becoming an alternative center of power to the Russian military. So I don’t know if you see it as a positive they opened or not.
MR PRICE: Well, it certainly reeks of desperation. It certainly suggests that the Russians are becoming increasingly – turning to increasingly drastic means to project force beyond Russia’s borders into Ukraine. There are now tens of thousands of fighters associated not with the Russian military, but with the Wagner Group. And if you look at the backgrounds of so many of these fighters, these are not highly trained infantry men, these are convicts. In many cases these are individuals who have been accused and convicted of heinous crimes, violent crimes – murder, rape – who are now fighting in Ukraine because they’ve been promised pardon or leniency. That itself is repugnant. Human rights groups have condemned it as extralegal. We have made the point that it reeks of desperation. It’s not going to change the ultimate tide of battle.
A couple of final questions, Michael?
MR PRICE: Well, of course we commented on the death, the tragic death, apparent killing of Edwin Chiloba last week. We’ve sent our condolences to his family, to his loved ones, but also to the LGBTQI+ community in Kenya during their time of mourning. There were so many in that community in Kenya who benefited from his leadership, from his visibility, from his support. Violence against LGBTQI+ persons or anyone, of course, is unacceptable. But when violence stems from possible bias or stigma, it indirectly harms all members of the targeted community.
Ultimately, acts of intolerance – ultimate – the ultimate act of intolerance has no place in free and open societies. We made the point last week that we urge and expect the Kenyans to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into his death. And of course, if there’s anything we can do to assist, we stand ready to do that.
QUESTION: Thanks. Just quickly again on the diplomatic visa without mentioning any names, if someone came into the U.S. as a head of state on an A-1 visa and then was hospitalized and then their visa ran out – (laughter) – and then their visa ran out, would they be permitted to stay in hospital in the U.S. as long as they need? And completely separately, do you have any comment on former President Bolsonaro being in hospital in Florida?
MR PRICE: On your second question, I’m aware of the reports that he has been hospitalized. Of course he’s a private citizen, so we wouldn’t comment on that from here. And on your first question, I wouldn’t want to even weigh in.
QUESTION: Quick one last thing. With all the events this week with Japanese prime minister in town, the case of Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis, who’s imprisoned in Japan – how front and center should we expect that be? Has Secretary Blinken raised his case with his Japanese counterpart? Would you expect President Biden to raise this with Kishida?
MR PRICE: We of course have a close relationship with our Japanese allies. That close relationship will be on full display this week when Secretary Blinken meets with his counterpart, when – with Foreign Minister Hayashi; when later in the day he and Secretary Austin meet jointly with their counterparts in the context of the so-called 2+2; and then on Friday, of course, when President Biden meets with Prime Minister Kishida of Japan.
It’s a relationship that allows us to broach every issue. Of course we are prepared to discuss this case. It’s a tragic case for all involved. We’re working to find a compassionate resolution to this case, but I wouldn’t want to go further than that in public.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary raised this with his Japanese counterpart before today? Because you’re saying we’re “prepared” to.
MR PRICE: This case has been discussed with our Japanese allies.
QUESTION: On Azerbaijan, I was wondering if you have anything for me on the leading opposition figure Tofig Yagublu’s arrest, and also he is in jail and hunger strike along with several others, including Bakhtiyar Hajiyev.
MR PRICE: So we’re deeply troubled by the arrest and detention of Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and Tofig Yagublu. We urge the authorities to release them expeditiously. We remain strongly committed to advancing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. And again, we urge the government to expect[i] its citizens’ right, including the rights to express views peacefully.
Yeah, Shaun, final question.
QUESTION: Just briefly —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Just one of the things you mentioned at the top, Pakistan and the assistance. Pakistan at the donors conference today, the resilience conference in Geneva, said that this is time to relax IMF conditions, the restructuring package. Does the U.S. have any stance on that and whether this aid is contingent on continued reforms in Pakistan?
MR PRICE: This is ultimately a decision for the IMF, so would defer to them on that. We of course want to see Pakistan continue down the path of reform. We want to be a partner. We will continue to be a Pakistan – a partner to Pakistan when it comes to all of their priorities, whether it’s security, whether it’s economic in this case, or humanitarian in the case of the provision of the additional funding for the flood relief today.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:09 p.m.)