3:15 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Thank you, everyone, for bearing with us today. I’m sorry we got a late start. I just have a few things at the top before we take some questions.
First, today is an important day for Moldova. We are pleased to announce that the United States has donated 500,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to Moldova, the first shipment to arrive today, July 12th. This donation, which was announced Friday, July 9th, will increase the number of vaccinated Moldovans by more than 100 percent, and it comes in addition to over $7 million in U.S. aid provided to Moldova since the beginning of the pandemic last year.
Separately, the United States congratulates the people of Moldova on their July 11th early parliamentary elections. We echo the preliminary findings of the OSCE and ODIHR, which found that the elections were well administered, they were competitive, and that the fundamental freedoms were largely respected. We urge Moldovan authorities to address concerns raised by ODIHR in its report, including enhancing full impartiality of the Central Election Commission and effective campaign finance oversight, and addressing the insufficient legal framework to regulate electoral dispute resolution.
We are committed to strengthening our partnership with Moldova based on shared democratic values and we look forward to working with the new government to grow our bilateral relationship and our cooperation.
Five years ago, the Arbitral Tribunal, constituted under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, delivered a unanimous and enduring decision firmly rejecting the PRC’s expansive South China Sea maritime claims as having no basis in international law.
Yesterday evening, as you probably saw, Secretary Blinken released an official statement supporting this important ruling.
Many of our partners and allies, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the EU, issued statements or took to social media to demonstrate global support for the rules-based maritime order.
As Secretary Blinken told senior PRC officials in Anchorage early this year, quote, “The alternative to a rules-based order is a world in which might makes right and winners take all, and that would be a far more violent and unstable world for all of us.”
We call on the PRC to abide by its obligations under international law, to cease its provocative behavior, and to demonstrate respect for the rights of all countries, those both big and small.
Next, the United States is gravely concerned by reports of ongoing hostilities in western Tigray and evidence of escalating military conflict there. Escalating fighting will undermine critical ongoing efforts to deliver humanitarian relief to famine-affected populations in Tigray.
We again call on the Tigrayan Defense Forces, the Amhara regional forces, and Ethiopian National Defense Forces to move towards a negotiated ceasefire in the interests of civilians in the region and to preserve the unity of the Ethiopian state. We strongly condemn any retaliatory attacks that have been or may be directed against civilians in the Tigray region, whether by organized military or security forces or by rogue elements. The United States further calls on all armed actors to comply with their international humanitarian legal obligations, including regarding the protection of civilians. All those who are responsible for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses must be held accountable.
As we have consistently said, any effort to change the internal boundaries of Ethiopia by force is unacceptable. Any issue of such national importance, like borders, would be an issue for the Ethiopian people to decide through consensual dialogue, not by the barrel of a gun.
The United States is disappointed by reports that a court in Morocco has sentenced journalist Soulaiman Raissouni to five years in prison. We note Mr. Raissouni has alleged there were violations of fair trial guarantees. We believe the judicial process that led to his verdict contradicts the Moroccan system’s fundamental promise of fair trials for individuals accused of crimes, and it is inconsistent with the promise of the 2011 constitution and His Majesty King Mohammed VI’s reform agenda.
We also have concerns about the case’s negative impact on freedom of expression and freedom of association in Morocco. Press freedom is foundational to prosperous and secure societies, and governments must ensure that journalists can safely perform their essential roles without fear of unjust detention, violence, or threats. We are following this case closely as well as those of other detained journalists in Morocco, including Omar Radi, and we have raised these concerns with the Moroccan Government and we will continue to do so.
With that, I am happy to move to your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. In addition – on Afghanistan, in addition to the change in command that happened earlier today, the embassy announced overnight that it’s going to resume immigrant visa processing. And I am just wondering, is this resumption going to make a dent in the backlog, or how much of a dent will it make in the backlog? Does it affect the relocation plans or the option for relocation, and is anything – has anything been decided on that front?
MR PRICE: Well, you are correct that the embassy has announced over Twitter that it will resume immigrant visa interviews this week, and that does include the SIV process. As you know, the SIV process is written into law. It was designed by Congress and involves more than a dozen steps, and that includes both a role for the Department of State as well as for the Department of Homeland Security. As we’ve said before, there are approximately 18,000 Afghan principal applicants at some stage of this process as of May of 2021.
Approximately half of those applicants are at some stage of the process pending applicant action, so in other words, approximately 9,000 or half of these applicants need to take action before the U.S. Government can begin processing their case. About 30 percent of these applicants are awaiting a decision at the chief of mission stage and the final 20 percent were approved by the chief of mission stage and they’re moving through the application process, either in the petition or the visa processing stages.
You are also right in your question that we have mobilized significant resources to do all we can to make a dent in the applicants. As you know, we have been very clear and consistent that we have – the United States has – a special responsibility to those who have assisted us in different ways over the years, often at great risk to themselves, sometimes to their families as well. That is also why we have identified a group of SIV applicants – that is to say, individuals who were already somewhere in that SIV processing chain – whom at the right time before the military withdrawal is complete later this year relocate or at least offer to relocate to a third country as they go through their SIV application processing. We have been in conversations, diplomatic discussions with a number of countries around the world. These have – discussions have occurred at any number of levels, to include senior levels, but we don’t have any updates for you regarding that.
The other point I would make is that throughout this process, we have prioritized the safety and the security of those who, often at great risk to themselves, have helped the United States over the years. And so we will be in some cases constrained in terms of what we can say publicly about relocation, about numbers, about certain details. But as soon as we have more to share on that front, we will do so.
QUESTION: Okay, but how much of a – once the interviews resume, how many can they do? How many can – how much of a dent do you think you can make in the backlog?
MR PRICE: Well, look, we are moving just as quickly as we can. The —
QUESTION: You can’t say – just say that so I don’t keep – because I’m going to keep asking the question until you – if you don’t know, that’s fine. But I’m just – that’s my question.
MR PRICE: Matt, we have already made significant progress in shortening the period it requires for an applicant to go from the start of the process to – through the visa provision stage. We have shortened that by a number of months and we have done that by surging individuals, by – through operations in Kabul, but the other important point is that much of this adjudication and processing that takes place at the chief of mission stage need not and does not take place in Kabul. This is a point that we have made in terms of our embassy staffing posture in Kabul. We are able to process individuals at the chief of mission stage from here in Washington.
And the other point I would make – again, this program is defined in statute. It was passed by Congress, designed by Congress. We will continue to work with Congress to find ways that we could potentially streamline these operations, knowing that there are to date more than 18,000 people who have – who are somewhere in that process. Again, our goal is to shorten that process as much as we can in a way that is pursuant to the safety and security needs of these individuals but also responsible in the way that we are processing the individuals.
QUESTION: So since the President’s announcement that all troops would be gone by the end – by September 11th and now August 31st – but since the initial announcement back in May, how many SIV applicants – applications have been approved, and how many of those approved visa holders have been admitted to the United States? May, June, July – that’s three months.
MR PRICE: We can see if we can provide a snapshot of that three-month period. I don’t have that —
QUESTION: Well, is it more than zero? I don’t know. I’m —
MR PRICE: We’ll see if we can provide specific numbers.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Said.
MR PRICE: Anything else on Afghanistan?
QUESTION: Can we stay on this?
MR PRICE: Sure, sure. Please.
QUESTION: If it’s on Afghanistan, yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’ve just got one on Afghanistan.
MR PRICE: Sure. Yeah.
QUESTION: Turkish President Erdogan says Turkey and the U.S. have reached an agreement on security for HKIA. Is this true? Can we get details if it is? The 2020 Doha agreement says no U.S. military can remain in Afghanistan. Will any U.S. military personnel assigned to airport security be rebranded as diplomats and given diplomatic passports?
MR PRICE: Well, what I can say is that we have had discussions with our Turkish partners in the context of broader cooperation in Afghanistan. Those discussions are ongoing. We don’t have anything to announce today. I know that last week the Department of Defense read out a couple of those conversations, but I don’t have any additional details to share for you now.
We certainly welcome Turkey’s constructive role when it comes to the withdrawal and the – and the broader safety and security situation in Afghanistan, also with support for the diplomatic process.
When it comes to U.S. personnel on the ground, I would need to refer you to DOD for details of that.
MR PRICE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Thinking of what you said about the limited commentary you can give us on numbers and everything, can you give us any sense of the scale of how many people are in this group that you’ve identified? Is it in the hundreds? As you’ve said, there are 18,000 applicants in total. How many of them would be expected to be relocated?
MR PRICE: Well, we are making an assessment based on the needs, based on the safety and security of those applicants. We don’t have numbers to share. And again, we’re going to be limited in the details that we ultimately will be able to share. But as we do, we will do that.
QUESTION: You can’t give us any sense of like hundreds, thousands?
MR PRICE: At this point, I don’t have any specific numbers to share.
QUESTION: And then on Ambassador Khalilzad’s travel to the region, which was announced on Saturday, does he have a specific message he’s bringing to the Taliban? Is he going to offer incentives or give them a warning if they don’t cooperate in peace negotiations?
MR PRICE: I think his message will be consistent with the message that we have reiterated all along, and that is that we continue to call for an end to ongoing violence. We know that violence has been driven largely by the Taliban. We know that a negotiated settlement between the Islamic Republic and the Taliban is really the only way to end 40 years of violence and, importantly, to bring to Afghanistan’s people the safety and security and the peace that they seek.
And as so as Ambassador Khalilzad is there, he will urge the sides to engage in serious negotiations, to try to determine that political roadmap for a future for Afghanistan that leads to a just and durable settlement. Both of those are very important to us. A settlement cannot be durable if it is not just, and that has been a guiding principle of us all along – of ours all along.
We also know in the context of the recent uptick in violence – we’ve made this point before, but the world will not accept the imposition by force of a government in Afghanistan. Importantly, legitimacy and assistance and popular mandate within Afghanistan for any Afghan Government can only be possible if that government, again, has the support of the people, and for the United States and for the international community, if it has a fundamental and basic respect for human rights. For us that’s non-negotiable.
In the interim, we’ll continue, as you’ve heard, to support the ANDSF. That support will transition and form over time. But what won’t transition and form over time is the partnership, the partnership we will maintain with the Afghan people, with Afghanistan’s leaders, as we support this diplomacy seeking a just and durable political settlement.
QUESTION: Just to add on Afghanistan, I don’t know if this is – if you all do this here, so hopefully this isn’t out of school. But would it be possible at some point to get someone to walk us through the process that the SIVs undergo just while all the details and the destinations are being worked out? Because then we can write about it with – from a place of greater understanding of what the challenges and the whole process and the parameters will be that apply to all these applicants.
MR PRICE: That is something we do here, and happy to take that —
MR PRICE: — and take that back. I think there would be some good utility. Again, it’s a process, and there would be good utility because it’s a process that is not uncomplicated. There are a number of steps that take place in country, that take place back here. And so we’ll take that back and let you know.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Ned, can I —
MR PRICE: Anything else?
QUESTION: Ned, yeah, just one on Afghanistan. I just can’t – what does it mean, “the world will not accept the imposition of a government by force?” And you say that – for that – for us that’s non-negotiable. But what does that mean?
MR PRICE: The basic respect for human rights.
QUESTION: But what does that mean —
MR PRICE: In any —
QUESTION: — that it’s non-negotiable? What are you going to do if and when that happens, when there is the government imposed by force?
MR PRICE: Matt, I think this goes back to the two criteria that we’ve spoken to: it’s just and it’s durable.
MR PRICE: In order for any government —
QUESTION: But you seem to – you seem to think that the Taliban care about being named and shamed.
MR PRICE: I seem to think —
QUESTION: And I don’t – I just don’t —
MR PRICE: I seem to think – and more importantly, this department and our allies and partners around the world think – that any government that might come to power in Afghanistan will require not an insignificant degree of assistance from the international community. And the international community has been very clear that any government that doesn’t respect the basic and the fundamental rights of its people won’t be in a position to accrue that international support. That is what we’re calling for: a just settlement.
If a settlement is not just, it won’t be durable. And it may not be durable in large part because the international community won’t be there to offer it the backing that successive – well, certainly that in the past 20 years – central governments in Afghanistan have required.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Moving on to the Palestinian issue, today the special rapporteur for human rights for the Palestinian territories, Michael Lynk, called the occupation a war crime. Do you agree that the occupation is a war crime, I mean, in the spirit of this presentation today?
MR PRICE: I’ve seen those comments. We aren’t going to evaluate or respond to every statement. To be clear, the State Department has never used such terminology. We are committed to promoting respect for human rights in Israel and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. We have an enduring partnership with Israel, and we discuss a wide range of issues with the Israeli Government, and that includes human rights. We discuss them with Israel just as we do with other – every other partner around the world.
We continue to emphasize to both Israel and to the Palestinian Authority the need to refrain from unilateral action that exacerbates tension. This includes annexation of territory. It includes settlement activity. It includes demolitions. It includes incitement of violence. It includes support for terrorism, and that includes providing compensation to individual imprisoned for acts of terrorism.
QUESTION: Well, let me ask you about this specific case. There is a Palestinian feminist and leader and known leftist, Khalida Jarrar, who has been in and out of prison for the past 10 years. There are never any charges. She is a Palestinian legislator. She is guilty of being a leftie or maybe even a communist, and she is boisterous in her speech and so on, but that’s why she has been in prison.
Well, yesterday – she is prison now – she is supposed to be let out next October. Yesterday her daughter died. She is 30 years told. They are preventing her from going – joining in the funeral. Would you call on the Israelis to allow her to go and be in the funeral procession of her daughter?
MR PRICE: Said, I am not in a position to weigh in on the merits of any particular case today. Again, what – the point I’ve made before is the operative one, that whether it is our Israeli partners, whether it’s a partner around the world, we consistently raise human rights. We also, importantly, remain committed to – in seeing to it that Palestinians are able to live equally in peace, in security, in dignity.
That is incredibly important to us. It is really at the foundation of our approach to this conflict – the idea that both Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal measures of these elements, of these very important elements. And it is why, as you’ve seen, we have already begun to re-establish that partnership with the Palestinian people. We are moving ahead with re-establishing our ties with the Palestinian Authority. Of course, Secretary Blinken has had an opportunity not only to speak with President Abbas but also to meet in person with him.
As you know, DAS, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Hady Amr is in the region right now. He is meeting with and will be meeting in the coming days with Israeli officials, with Palestinian officials, but also with elements of civil society. And his interaction and his upcoming, forthcoming meetings with elements of civil society are important to us because that is what we know needs to be empowered through all of this. And so Deputy Assistant Secretary Amr will have a series of meetings where he’ll be – will be able to push forward with some of this important work.
QUESTION: We understand. But on this issue of administrative detention which is practiced by Israel time and time and time again without any charge. I mean, when people are charged with something, that is clear, but they keep arresting people and sometimes they go on for 20 years, 15 years, under administrative detention. Does that – doesn’t that bother you as a basic violation of a very basic human right?
MR PRICE: Said, we have spoken about administrative detention before. We have made clear that whether it’s our closest friends or other partners around the world we don’t shy away from raising issues of human rights. In the case of Israeli and Palestinians, again, our policy is predicated on the idea that Palestinians deserve equal measures of freedom, of safety, of security, and dignity. And this gets to your question.
QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. So the Chinese Government came out strongly against Secretary Blinken’s statement regarding the fifth anniversary of the international tribunal’s ruling on the – China’s – at The Hague, China’s expansive claims in South China Sea. It was foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian called it – called the ruling a waste of paper.
So my question is: Wouldn’t it be easier for the U.S. State Department to push its position on this ruling if the U.S. Government ratifies UNCLOS, the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas? And so – and with that – and further to that question, is there – is there an effort underway within the U.S. Government to ratify UNCLOS? Is it under consideration? Is it a priority for this administration to ratify it?
MR PRICE: Well, the point I would make is that since UNCLOS was adopted, every U.S. administration has recognized its provisions on traditional uses of the ocean as reflecting customary international law and has recognized that the United States would abide by UNCLOS with respect to traditional uses of the sea. And that includes the assertion of rights in maritime spaces.
Now, for the PRC, the PRC is a state party to UNCLOS. The PRC has agreed to abide by compulsory dispute settlement with regard to arbitration. But by ignoring the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling on the South China Sea and dismissing it, as you said, as a mere scrap of paper, Beijing is in clear violation of its obligations under UNCLOS.
Look, for us, this is not a question of the United States against the People’s Republic of China or any other country. For us, this is an affirmative policy of the free and open Indo-Pacific and beyond that, the rules-based international system that every country in the world, big and small, has an obligation to abide by.
So again, when it comes to territorial claims, for example, the United States doesn’t take a position on that. When it comes to these maritime claims, we do endorse the unanimous, decisive ruling that was put forward by the arbitral council. So if you want to ask about which country is being more faithful to the principles that undergird UNCLOS, I think you have a pretty clear answer.
QUESTION: But it’s – it is or is not a commitment of this administration to get the Senate to ratify it?
MR PRICE: I don’t have an update for you on potential Senate ratification, but again, every administration since UNCLOS has gone into effect has abided by its core underlying principles.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: — context there and perhaps save my colleagues some response.
QUESTION: Some emailing.
MR PRICE: The Secretary had an opportunity – I guess it was late last month – to travel to Italy and to join his Italian counterpart, Luigi Di Maio, as a co-host of the D-ISIS coalition ministerial. And that coalition remains critically important to our efforts, and the coalition, we heard in Italy, is united in its determination to see ISIS destroyed.
On that, the global coalition has destroyed 100 percent of ISIS’s fraudulent territorial so-called caliphate. The ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, of course, is no longer with us. We have heard a clear determination from the global coalition to see to it that ISIS won’t be allowed to reconstitute that territorial caliphate. Through our diplomatic efforts, this global coalition has continued to grow and now stands at, I believe, 83 members. There are 78 countries and five international organizations. And this includes a broad swath of regions: 26 members from Africa and Asia as well. And we continue to expand that partnership and cooperation against a common enemy.
Of course, that is not to say that ISIS does not continue to pose a threat, and we have continued to work through the coalition bilaterally, multilaterally, and in other forms to provide support to our partners in the Middle East, in Africa, who are facing these horrific attacks from the terrorist group.
QUESTION: Thank you for that. I have two questions on Iran and Yemen. On Iran, Iran Foreign Minister Mr. Javad Zarif said that the talks in Vienna is nearing an end, and apparently he gave a very comprehensive report to the Shura Council talking about what he called illegal U.S. sanctions and the impact on the oil and on the banking sectors.
Does the administration share his view that, actually, the talks are about to be concluded and you’re going to reach an agreement? What is he basing his assessment on?
MR PRICE: I cannot speak to what he’s basing his assessment on. I can speak to our – where we stand on this, and that is that Special Envoy Malley and his team are prepared to return to Vienna for a seventh round of talks as soon as they are scheduled. Look, questions about when or whether Iran would be prepared to start a seventh round or reach an understanding on a mutual return to the JCPOA, those can only be addressed by Tehran. They can’t be routed here. We’ve made very clear that we are prepared to return to a seventh round. Again, we’re not imposing a deadline on these talks, but Secretary Blinken has made the point, I’ve made the point from here as well, that we are conscious that as time proceeds, Iran’s nuclear advances will have a bearing on our view of ultimately returning to the JCPOA.
So again, we stand ready to resume negotiations. We continue to believe that diplomacy is the most effective means at our disposal to achieve what we seek, and that is verifiably and – verifiably and permanently ensuring that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: And on Yemen quickly, can you brief us on what’s the latest the administration is doing to encourage the Houthis to come back to the negotiation table? There was a time when Mr. Lenderking will go to the region very often, and there were some encouraging signs, but now it seems to be silent. So are – these talks are kind of hitting a dead end? Would you say that?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry, what was the final part of your question?
MR PRICE: No, absolutely not. And Special Envoy Lenderking and his team continue to work very closely with the UN special envoy, continue to work very closely with our partners in the region. Of course, you know last week Special Envoy Lenderking met with the Saudi deputy minister of defense. He has recently undertaken a series of meetings to continue this diplomatic push. There is a serious proposal on the table. The Houthis are the ones who – despite these constructive ideas that have been put forward, the Houthis are the ones who continue to perpetrate these horrifying attacks, including on Yemeni civilians. Just in Marib on – late last month, June 29th, the horrific attack that took the life of a child.
We also know that the Houthi offensive only exacerbates the humanitarian crisis that Yemen is in right now. We are supporting this diplomacy as a means to bring about an end to this long-running conflict, but also knowing that this diplomacy is the most effective means to mitigate and to ease the humanitarian burden on the Yemeni people. And so we are working urgently. Special Envoy Lenderking is working urgently. We know that our partners in the UN are doing the same, and we’ll continue to do that with a combination of both carrots and sticks.
And as you know, we continue to apply pressure to the Houthis in the context of both domestic and international sanctions. Just on June 10th we sanctioned 12 individuals and entities and a vessel related to an international network used to facilitate the provision of – I believe it is millions of dollars to Houthis in cooperation with the Qods Force. This was in addition to the designation in May of two Houthi leaders, both of whom have played a significant role in this offensive against Marib.
So our message is very clear. The Houthis need to show us that they are serious about diplomacy, and they can do that by ceasing this offensive and by easing the humanitarian plight on their own people. And this is something we have been working very concertedly with our partners and allies towards.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: The Secretary again reiterated the importance of elections before the end of the year. Elections have never solved Haiti’s problems, ever, so I’m just wondering if you could explain to me the thinking behind this imperative that there be elections to settle Haiti.
MR PRICE: Well, I would start with the proposition that for us, this is about institutions. It’s about Haiti’s institutions. We continue to support the Haitian people and their constitution, knowing that the constitution needs to be an enduring framework for what happens next. And so yes, in our view there need to be free and fair elections. They need to happen this year – legislative elections, presidential elections – pursuant to the Haitian constitution. And that is precisely why we have continued to support them.
We have continued even in recent hours. And as you know, there was an interagency delegation that was in Port-au-Prince yesterday. It included representation from the Department of State. And the delegation continued to encourage Haiti’s political actors and its stakeholders to build an inclusive Haitian consensus to peacefully navigate and overcome this crisis. And to do that, we continue to believe that what needs to govern this is the Haitian constitution and Haiti’s institutions, and ultimately, in an effort to bolster Haiti’s democracy.
QUESTION: Quick follow-up on Haiti?
MR PRICE: Haiti still? Or – Haiti?
QUESTION: Conor, go for it, yeah.
QUESTION: Could I just ask about the security assistance aspect of that? That’s something that apparently was discussed yesterday. Is there any timeframe for the administration to make a decision on potential security assistance? What, if anything, could be in the cards?
MR PRICE: Sure. So our immediate focus – and this was a focus of the delegation that was in Port-au-Prince yesterday – is determining the assistance that Haiti may need with this investigation. And after close consultation with Haitian officials in recent days and again on Sunday, we believe our focus should be assisting the Haitian Government with navigating the investigation into the assassination of President Moise, determining who is culpable, and supporting the Haitian Government as it seeks justice in this case. And FBI and DHS officials have also traveled to Port-au-Prince. They’re working to determine what assistance the United States can provide to the Haitian Government in its time of need.
The delegation that was there yesterday did commit to support the Haitian people in the aftermath of the assassination. That includes with a review of security of critical infrastructure with Haitian Government officials. So we’ve been in close contact with Haitian Government officials. We are reviewing the request for assistance that they have sent in, and we’re also doing our own assessment of what would be most beneficial to the people of Haiti.
QUESTION: Just briefly, one more thing on Haiti. The Americans there who have been accused in the assassination, has – is there any update on consular access or any type of view about whether they – about their treatment and their – whether they’re culpable?
MR PRICE: So we are aware of detention of a third U.S. citizen. We continue to monitor the situation closely. As in all cases, we will provide appropriate consular services to detained U.S. citizens. Obviously privacy considerations preclude us from saying much more, but I do suspect that once we have had access to all three American citizens who are detained, we’ll be in a position to confirm that.
QUESTION: Speaking of detained U.S. citizens, there was a verdict and a sentence handed down in Jordan today against two people, one of whom is an American citizen. I’m wondering if you have anything to say about that.
MR PRICE: Well, we are closely monitoring the case of Bassem Awadallah in Jordan. We take seriously any allegation of abuse, and we always emphasize the importance of respecting fair trial guarantees, humane treatment. We’re providing all appropriate consular assistance in line with our commitment to assisting U.S. citizens abroad. We have, in fact, visited Mr. Awadallah five times since April of this year. The most recent visit occurred just a few days ago, on July 11th.
QUESTION: Right, but that doesn’t speak to the actual verdict and sentence, which is what I’m asking you about.
MR PRICE: I don’t have any comment on the verdict. But as I’ve said before, we always emphasize – and this goes back to Said’s question earlier – the importance of fair trials and guarantees of humane treatment around the world.
QUESTION: The journalist in Morocco who you talked about at the very beginning, right, was he – is he an American citizen?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any indication he is an American citizen.
QUESTION: But – and yet you have a position on the verdict in that case, but none in this. So what do we – what do we read into that?
MR PRICE: Matt —
QUESTION: You think that this – the guy in Jordan could be guilty?
MR PRICE: Each case is different.
QUESTION: I know.
MR PRICE: We are —
QUESTION: So that’s why I’m asking you why you don’t have anything to say about the verdict.
MR PRICE: We are going to – we are going to speak based on the facts and the circumstances as they are known to us, but obviously these cases are —
QUESTION: So does that mean that you’re not clear on the facts and circumstances of Mr. Awadallah’s case?
MR PRICE: I think what is very clear to us is that journalists, and hopefully everyone here can agree with this, don’t belong behind bars, that they —
QUESTION: Yeah, no, I agree with that. I’m not talking about the Morocco case.
MR PRICE: That they shouldn’t —
QUESTION: I’m talking about case in Jordan. Is it the case that in this situation you do not have all the facts or you – you’re not clear enough on the facts and circumstances of the verdict, of the trial that you will – that you’re not clear enough so that you can’t render an opinion on —
MR PRICE: What is fair to say is that when the facts and the circumstances are clear to us and when we determine that we can best move the ball forward by speaking publicly, we will never hesitate to do that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Okay. Back in 2015, July 2015 when relations were restored and President Obama said that it was – the policy of sanctions and so on was a failed policy. And then there was a great deal of hope and so on. But then the preceding administration collapsed all that hope down. But you guys seem to be following the same kind of policy as the previous administration. What are you doing, let’s say, to show people that there are actually – there are benefits to good governance and all that stuff?
MR PRICE: I certainly would not say that we are following the previous – the policy of the previous administration. As you know, our Cuba policy is under review. But importantly – and I think this is a pivotal distinction – our policy, as you heard from the Secretary, it focuses on the wellbeing of the Cuban people, and at the center of that policy are democracy and our human rights.
And what we are assessing in the context of that policy review is how the United States can best support the aspirations of the Cuban people. So that policy review remains ongoing. It is something – the issue of human rights on the island is very important to us, and we’re seeing yesterday and today in the streets all throughout Cuba that it is very important, as you might expect, to the Cuban people as well. And as we undertake this review, at the center of that review will be the welfare and the wellbeing of those Cuban people.
QUESTION: That’s exactly what the previous administration said their policy was towards Cuba, right?
MR PRICE: Again, we haven’t spoken – we haven’t spoken —
QUESTION: So until your review is complete, why is Said incorrect in saying that you’re following – you’re doing the exact same thing that the Trump administration did?
MR PRICE: Well, he was speaking of our policies towards Cuba. And again, our —
QUESTION: Well, yeah. You haven’t changed the previous administration’s policies, right, so until that review is complete, you’re doing the same thing, right?
MR PRICE: Well, I can assure you that we are going about this —
QUESTION: You’re doing the same thing as the previous administration did, right? You haven’t changed the policy.
MR PRICE: We have not announced our Cuba policy, but what we have said is that democracy and human rights are at the center of it.
QUESTION: Just on that, does the administration still consider Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism?
MR PRICE: We – there’s been no change. As you know, the state sponsor of terrorism list is –it’s evaluated, and the report is released once a year. When we have a new report to release, we’ll do that.
QUESTION: So that’s part of the policy review in general of – for Cuba policy?
MR PRICE: We are always reviewing issues of state sponsorship for countries around the world pursuant to the requirement to put forward the state sponsor of terrorism list. Our review of Cuba and Cuba policy, it is taking place in parallel to that.
QUESTION: So separate, but parallel?
MR PRICE: I think that is a fair characterization.
QUESTION: Do you have time for one —
MR PRICE: Sure, one last question.
QUESTION: Ethiopia. The election results came out this past weekend. The United States has voiced concern previously about the atmosphere in which the elections were to be held. What’s your view on the election results? Do you think they confer legitimacy on Prime Minister Abiy?
MR PRICE: Well, the Secretary himself has spoken to this. It was late last month, June 21st, he issued a statement noting that the elections took place against the backdrop of grave instability, including increasing interethnic and intercommunal conflicts and an electoral process that was not free or fair for all Ethiopians.
The boycott of the elections by opposition parties, the detention of vocal political leaders, the ongoing violence in multiple parts of the country – look, all of this underscores the need to launch an inclusive effort to build a national consensus on the governance of Ethiopia that, importantly, preserves the sovereignty and the unity of the state and strengthens rather than undermines the constitutional order.
In this period following the election, it’s critical that Ethiopians come together to confront growing divisions. We urge politicians and community leaders to reject violence and to refrain from inciting others to violence. And we’ll be watching the situation very carefully going forward. Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:57 p.m.)