2:11 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
As you know, President Biden and Secretary Blinken have made human rights central to our foreign policy, and I would like to address two important issues, as I said before, in our own hemisphere.
We continue to follow widespread, peaceful protests throughout Cuba as Cubans are calling for freedom and human rights.
They are standing up to Cuba’s authoritarian regime.
Their basic needs are not being met and they are understandably exhausted.
We commend the people of Cuba for showing great bravery, the strength of their will, and the power of their voice.
In response, the Cuban Government has attempted to silence their voices and communications through internet shutdowns, violence, and arbitrary detentions of dozens of protesters, journalists, activists, and other repressive tactics.
We remain deeply concerned by the Cuban Government’s, quote, “call to combat” and by the images of violence that we have seen over the past two days. We call for calm and we condemn any violence against those protesting peacefully, and we equally call on the Cuban Government to release anyone detained for peaceful protest.
These reprehensible acts are incompatible with efforts to create conditions for comprehensive negotiations between the Venezuelan opposition and the Nicolas Maduro regime to resolve Venezuela’s crisis.
We call for the immediate release of Congressman Guevara and urge the international community to join us in condemning his detention in the strongest terms.
Venezuelans have suffered for far too long under a regime that engages in widespread repression and human rights abuses, targeting those who are attempting to build a democratic country with leaders and institutions that are accountable to the people.
Next, as part of the whole-of-government effort, multiple U.S. agencies issued an updated Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory today that describes the heightened risks for businesses that have supply chains and investment links to Xinjiang, China, due to the People’s Republic of China’s ongoing human rights abuses in the region. These include but are not limited to forced labor.
This business advisory was jointly issued by six U.S. Government agencies, and that includes us, the Department of State, the Department of Commerce, Homeland Security, Labor, and Treasury, along with the Office of the United States Trade Representative.
The advisory notes that – the Department of State’s determination that the PRC government is perpetrating genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. It cautions that given the severity and extent of these and other abuses, businesses and individuals that do not exit supply chains, ventures, and investments connected to Xinjiang could run a high risk of violating U.S. law. You can find the advisory and a fact sheet on the State Department’s website at state.gov.
The release of the updated advisory today underscores the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to promoting responsible business practices as well as accountability for the PRC government’s abuses in Xinjiang. I note the European Commission and the European External Action Service today published global forced labor guidance to help EU companies address the risk of forced labor and supply chains based on international due diligence guidelines. The United States and the European Union, we share concerns on the use of forced labor in global supply chains and we’re committed to working together to address this issue. We’ll continue to work with our interagency partners, the private sector, and our allies and partners around the world to promote reliable supply chains free from forced labor and call attention to human rights abuses.
So with that, Matt, happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks. Just logistically, if you’re – before I go to Cuba, if you’re not able to preview the ASEAN meeting that the Secretary is going to participate in tonight, can you just say if you expect that the Burmese foreign minister will be a part of this discussion?
MR PRICE: I would need to refer to ASEAN to discuss their participation in tonight’s meeting with Secretary Blinken – virtual meeting, that is. Of course, this will be an important opportunity, and the latest in a series of opportunities the Secretary has had, to reaffirm the centrality of ASEAN and to underscore its essential role in the Indo-Pacific’s regional architecture.
As you know, we’ve had a number of opportunities to engage with our ASEAN partners. We met with the chair of ASEAN in a recent trip to London several weeks ago now. Deputy Secretary Sherman has been in the region for in-person meetings herself. The Secretary has spoken bilaterally on a number of occasions to his ASEAN counterparts. But I know the Secretary is very much looking forward to this, his first meeting with his fellow ASEAN ministers.
QUESTION: Okay. On Cuba, there are quite a few critics of the previous administration’s Cuba policy who are now, because you haven’t changed that policy at all, by extension, critics of this administration’s Cuba policy who have pointed out or made the argument that the very sharp reduction in remittances that Cuban Americans are allowed to send back to the island is one, not the – not – surely not the only, but is one reason why the basic needs of Cuban people are not being met, as – in your words.
Do you accept – do you see any validity to that argument? And whether you do or not, are remittances or – and allowing them or allowing them to go back up to the level that they were under the Obama administration, is that part of the review?
MR PRICE: Well, I would say our review is taking a broad look at what we can do to support the core principles at the center of our policy, and that is democracy and human rights. To your point, Matt, we are always considering options available to us that would allow us to support the Cuban people, to support their humanitarian needs, which are indeed profound, and they are profound because of not anything the United States has done, but from the actions and inactions, mismanagement, corruption of the Cuban regime.
Look, the other point I would make is that current U.S. policy, the so-called embargo, it allows humanitarian goods to reach Cuba, and we do expedite any request to export humanitarian or medical supplies to the island. We regularly authorize the export of agricultural products, medicine, medical equipment, and humanitarian goods to Cuba. And we’ve authorized billions of dollars’ worth of goods over the past couple decades, since the latest iteration of this has been in effect. But just in 2020 alone, we exported more than $175 million worth of goods to Cuba, including food and medicine, to help the Cuban people. In the first six months of 2021 alone, Cuba imported $123 million worth of, in this case, chicken from the United States.
Now, the pandemic has added an extra layer of pain and suffering onto the Cuban people as it has around the world, and we share the concern that the Cuban people have as they have faced an exponential rise in COVID cases across the island. Now, Cuba has made a sovereign decision regarding how it will address the pandemic, and that includes, in this case, the use of its own indigenously produced vaccine. Cuba, as you know, has not joined COVAX. The Cuban Government could always decide to receive outside vaccine donations, but the Cuban Government has decided not to do so yet.
QUESTION: Well, okay, but – so does that mean you do or do not agree with the argument that a sharp reduction in remittances has contributed to the lack of basic needs for —
MR PRICE: Matt, I have not seen a comprehensive study of it, so I’m not prepared to comment on that from here. What I would say, again, is that we are always looking for ways that we can support the Cuban people. We are consistent – we are constantly reviewing what policy measures might bring that about, and by “bring that about” I mean support of democracy, support for human rights on the island. That policy review is ongoing. We are engaging a wide range of stakeholders. We’re taking a close look not only what our immediate predecessor did but, of course, the actions of the Obama-Biden administration, administrations before that. Across any number of policy areas, we are seeking to learn from and to take into account the lessons of previous administrations – what they’ve done well, where there’s room to do something better or to do something different – and so that’s what we’re doing here. This is no different.
QUESTION: All right. And then just the last one: You mentioned that the current U.S. policy – you called it the “so-called embargo.” What exactly would you call it?
MR PRICE: The embargo. I’m not arguing with that.
MR PRICE: Andrea.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that regarding remittances?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Because my understanding is that the wire transfers are part of the late November, post-election additional sanctions by the Trump administration and that that is what many Cuban Americans are complaining about, where they can no longer send – from Miami, who support the overall embargo. So I was wondering today if there was any running room, any flexibility that the administration would be considering. Then I asked that question of Senator Menendez within the last hour or two and he said absolutely not, because the Cuban Government takes 20 percent off the top on the remittances and then transfers the money to pesos, the dollars to pesos, and so the people there are getting a fraction of what their relatives are sending home.
That said, I understand he’s been in touch with the White House at the highest levels on this very issue today. Is there anything that the White House would do that would go against the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who wrote section two Helms-Burton?
MR PRICE: Far be it from me to speak for our – speak for the White House. I will —
QUESTION: Well, as an administration official, how likely – especially one where nominations go through that committee and are being held by a singular – single Republican.
MR PRICE: What I will say is that – and I think there is widespread support; we recognize this in the administration; there is widespread support for this idea in Congress – is that the idea that Americans, and especially Cuban Americans, have the potential to be, and oftentimes are, the best – our best ambassadors for what we hope to see on the island nation of Cuba. That is also central to our policy review. We have absolutely been in touch with senior members of Congress. I won’t be in a position to confirm those discussions or to read them out, but as part of our dialogue when it comes to our review of the Cuba policy, we have engaged with Congress. In the aftermath – well, I shouldn’t say the aftermath, of course; they’re still ongoing – in the midst of the protests on Cuba, we have been engaged with senior members of Congress as well.
We do recognize that for our policies to have the most effect, to have broad legitimacy and support, it’s important that they have, to the maximum extent possible, support of Congress, and, of course, Cuba is no different. So those consultations are ongoing. Our policy review is ongoing. Even in the midst of that review, we’re going to be looking for ways we can support the Cuban people.
QUESTION: Well, when you said that our Cuban Americans are the best advocates, the best ambassadors for democracy versus authoritarianism, let’s say – I’m paraphrasing, but that seems to be the import of what you’re saying – is there some flexibility, as you said you’re discussing with members of Congress, to some of the travel restrictions, COVID permitting?
MR PRICE: Again, I’m not in a position to preview what we might do going forward from the podium. What I can say is that even before these protests started, we are looking for ways in the midst of COVID, in the midst of the other hardships that the Cuban people have endured because of, again, the corruption, the mismanagement of their own government – perhaps the indifference of their own government – we are looking for ways that we might support the Cuban people in a way that’s consistent with our interests, that’s consistent with our values.
We are, of course, doing that in the midst of these protests. These protests are about many things, but certainly the suffering of the Cuban people that is – has been made all the more acute during the pandemic. It’s top of mind. Of course, their quest for additional freedom, for human rights, central to it as well, and what we can do in a way that is responsible and effective to support those aims, including their humanitarian needs, we’ll continue to consider and move forward as appropriate.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Yesterday Jen Psaki said at the White House podium that the United States has spent something like $20 million to support democracy assistance programs in Cuba since 2009. Can you give us some granular detail on how that money was spent? Was it mostly for broadcast channels? Was there nothing else? And if it was mostly for broadcast, was that normal operating costs, or was that above and beyond what had already been budgeted in previous years?
MR PRICE: Well, what Jen was referring to yesterday was the fact that we do provide economic support funds for democracy promotion programs to Cuba on an annual basis, and that amount has been $20 million per year for several years now. And now these U.S.-funded programs, they are – they do go to broadcast funding. They inform the Cuban public through support for independent media. They support Cubans to promote free expression in their communities. They increase access to information on democracy, participatory government, human rights, and market economics. They provide emergency and humanitarian assistance to human rights defenders and to political prisoners, and they prepare those who seek, who aspire, to have a voice in a free and democratic Cuba. All of this funding, all of these programs, they do adhere to the laws and the guidelines laid out in the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 and the Cuban Liberty and Solidarity Act.
We’ve made no secret of the fact that support for democracy, support for human rights, is really at the core of our approach to Cuba. They are going to be anchors of our – not only our policy review, but where we net out on that policy.
I would make one other point, that as these protests have taken place, we have seen the Cuban Government respond with internet shutdowns, with blackouts. These are government-imposed internet shutdowns. And so just as we’ve been doing with this funding, we call on Cuba’s leaders to demonstrate restraint, to urge respect for the voice of the people by opening all means of communication, both online and offline. Shutting down technology, shutting down information pathways – that does nothing to address the legitimate needs and aspirations of the Cuban people. And so we’ve been very clear on that from the start.
QUESTION: So just to drill down a tiny bit on a technical detail, is it fair to assume that that money has come out of this building and/or USAID? And did it go strictly through NGOs?
MR PRICE: Well, of course, we’re not providing any funding directly to the Cuban Government. Oftentimes, as you know, we work through partners on the ground. For additional details you may want to reach out USAID for how they may administer it.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. A couple questions about Georgia. I watched your briefing a week ago, where you talked about organized violence on Tbilisi’s streets when Georgian law enforcement, as many allege, intentionally did not stop the violent mob’s attacks on journalists and members of the LGBTQI community. After your briefing, two days ago precisely, a cameraman of TV Pirveli, my colleague, Alexander Lashkarava – this is actually him – he was beaten up by this mob and he died two days ago.
And so my question would be: In light of these events and the recent past events in Georgia, there are serious concerns that Georgia is diverting towards illiberalism. So is the Secretary Blinken comfortable with that development? And also what do you have to say to those people on the street right now who are demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili? I might have a few follow-ups on that. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Sure. Well, first, of course, we extend our deepest condolences to your former colleague Lekso Lashkarava, to his family, loved ones, and of course to his colleagues, yourself included. We’re closely following the reports concerning his death. We do call for calm and an end to the violence that has already caused one tragic loss of life, in this case the death of your colleague. The safety of every Georgian journalist and the credibility of democracy in Georgia, in fact, require that every individual who attacked peaceful protesters and journalists on July 5th and 6th or those who incited violence – they must be identified; they should be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. We remind Georgia’s leaders and its law enforcement of their responsibility to protect all of those exercising their constitutional rights. We remind them of their responsibility to protect journalists exercising the freedom of press – of the press. And we encourage all Georgians, including Georgian officials, to publicly condemn this type of violence that has no place in a democracy.
We proudly advance efforts around the globe to protect LGBTQI populations from violence and abuse, criminalization, discrimination, and stigma, and we seek to empower local LGBTQI+ movements and persons. We firmly oppose abuses against the LGBTQI+ community and, of course, in this case, the brutal violence against your former colleague, your now deceased colleague. When it comes to the prime minister and his future, that, of course, is a decision for the Georgian people.
QUESTION: Thank you. My sources on the Capitol Hill are telling me that there are talks on imposing personal sanctions against those officials in the Georgian Government who were directly responsible for the violence we all saw on July 5th. Is this an idea the State Department is also entertaining? How realistic that could be? And very lastly, I would like to know what you think about the responsibility of the opposition political parties in Georgia who are leading those people on the streets. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Well, we have a number of tools to hold accountable those responsible in some way for human rights abuses, for violence around the world. Sanctions are indeed one of those tools. As you know, we don’t preview sanctions before we enact them. But we are following the situation very closely, and we are committed to seeing to it that those responsible for this are held accountable.
When it comes to all political actors in Georgia, again, we urge them to very publicly condemn this violence. When it comes to the Georgian Government, I would reiterate our calls for a thorough investigation of this that leads to the perpetrators of this horrific crime being brought to justice.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask about Myanmar. The situation in the country at the moment is that there’s a huge COVID spike and people are calling – people are sort of reporting oxygen shortages, there’s very little medical care, there seems to be very little supply of vaccines. It’s not – Myanmar has not come up, Burma has not come up in – Burma in discussion about vaccine diplomacy or vaccines for other countries. I’m wondering: Is it a possibility to send COVID vaccines or assistance to a country like Myanmar, where you’re currently not in a good relationship with the government? Is that something that you are considering? Is there any way you can give assistance to the people of the country in the current political climate there?
MR PRICE: Well, to be very clear, our assistance in the form of vaccines has nothing to do with politics. And again, our goal is to put shots in arms, not to twist arms, knowing that if we are to end this pandemic here in this country and around the world, we have to be in a position to support the distribution of a safe and effective vaccine around the world. And that is precisely what we’ve been doing.
As you know, the President has authorized 80 million from our own domestic stockpile to be distributed. We have announced the allocation of millions of those doses to countries around the world. We have announced the purchase of 500 million Pfizer doses that will start going out next month and into 2022 as well. Working together with the international community in the context of the G7 summit earlier – it was last month now, I suppose – committed to some 1 billion vaccines for the world.
So just because we may not have the best of relations with a particular regime or government does not mean that that diminishes the need for that country’s people. And as you know, it’s – we have bilateral mechanisms to provide vaccines but also COVAX. COVAX is supporting the safe and effective distribution of vaccines around the world. We are working diligently through COVAX, and, in fact, three quarters of our vaccine allotment is going through COVAX. And that’s part and parcel of the $2 billion commitment we made early on to COVAX and the $4 billion total that the United States will vector towards COVAX over time. So the people of Burma are equally deserving of medical care as people around the world.
QUESTION: Ned, follow-up. So far there aren’t – there isn’t any donations of vaccines or other stuff to the —
MR PRICE: We have not made any announcements, but as you know, we continue to work with COVAX. And if we do have a Burma-specific announcement, we’ll be happy to let you know.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. A follow-up on COVAX, but the country is India I wanted to ask me about. Do you know how much – figures of India receiving the COVID-19 vaccines from the U.S. so far? Has India started receiving COVID-19 vaccines from the U.S.?
MR PRICE: So as I just said to Simon, as you know, the United States will share 80 million doses from our domestic stockpile with countries around the world. Before we can ship those doses, however, each country must complete its own domestic set of operational, of regulatory, and legal processes that are specific to each country. Now, India has determined that it needs further time to review legal provisions related to accepting vaccine donations. Once India works through its legal processes, our donations of vaccines to India will proceed expeditiously. We would need to refer you to the Government of India on the status of its discussions with COVAX, which, in this case, is helping to facilitate that delivery.
More broadly in the region, throughout South Asia, we’re donating millions of vaccines to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Roughly 40 million doses have been delivered worldwide so far.
QUESTION: So the delay in shipping COVID-19 vaccines to India is because of some regulations that India has to clear that, right?
MR PRICE: I would need to refer you to the Indian Government for their processes and where they are internally. But we are ready to ship those vaccines expeditiously when we have a greenlight from the Government of India.
QUESTION: But have you determined how many vaccines you are planning to ship to India?
MR PRICE: We’ve announced that. I – we can get that for you.
QUESTION: And can you also give us a sense of cooperation between India and U.S. on COVID-19 vaccines development and production and also to the third-world countries?
MR PRICE: And – what was the last part of your question?
QUESTION: And also the third-world countries.
MR PRICE: Absolutely. So cooperation between our two countries, it is not the product of something – of only something that was built in the context of COVID. It actually builds on decades of successful partnership between our two countries in health, in biomedical research. We are partnering to strengthen the global response to COVID-19 on issues ranging from addressing infectious disease outbreaks to strengthening health systems to securing global supply chains.
We recently welcomed an initiative to collaborate through the International Center of Excellence in Research focused on infectious diseases, and in this case that includes COVID-19 and other emerging threats. And we look forward to an overarching MOU, a memorandum of understanding, to enhance health cooperation beyond that.
We are further working on diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccines to combat the disease and to recognize the importance of manufacturing critical drugs during this time and to making them accessible globally. And we’re able to do that because India’s pharmaceutical sector is strong, it’s well-established, it has played a central role in manufacturing vaccines for global use over some time. And we’re pleased that U.S. pharmaceutical companies in turn are coordinating with their Indian counterparts since the beginning of the pandemic. As you know, beyond this partnership, in the context of the Quad leader’s summit, there was an agreement to work with India to boost manufacturing of COVID vaccines that would support a safe and effective and eventually universal distribution of vaccines around the world.
QUESTION: One final one. The situation – the pandemic situation in India has improved quite considerably in the last few weeks. The U.S. had imposed some travel restrictions on people coming from India. Now the situation is improving. Are you reviewing it and when do you think this will be lifted?
MR PRICE: Well, I would say there are a couple of things at play here. When it comes to the travel restrictions, as you know, that is something that we are taking a close look at – the U.S. Government, I should say, is taking a close look at. There are expert groups that have been formed. And “experts” in this case refers primarily to medical professionals, because for us this is not a decision about politics; this is a decision about public health and the safety of the American people but also the safety of the global traveling public. And we want to make sure that this decision is adjudicated with that central principle in mind.
The State Department, for our part, we also routinely issue travel advisories and we routinely update them for all countries based on a comprehensive review of available safety information and ongoing developments. We review those regularly and we make updates as warranted.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned, very much. I have a follow-up on Cuba, but first I want to ask two questions on Brazil.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: The Brazilian president wants to change next election process back to a paper vote. He has alleged that fraud in previous election, without giving evidence, and last week he threatened to cancel next election next year if there is not a clean one. So what is the administration reaction, response to these claims? And does the U.S. have confidence that the previous past elections in Brazil were fair, and the next one will also be fair?
MR PRICE: What we call for – and this is not unique to Brazil, but it’s what we call for around the world – are free and fair elections, the ability of the people to exercise their will freely and fairly. And so the mechanics of an election are typically not of consequence to us. What is of consequence is the character of an election, and so we will be looking to see to it that elections around the world – but including in Brazil – are free and fair.
QUESTION: Are you being patient to these claims that the president is making? He is following Trump’s playbook when it comes to election fraud.
MR PRICE: Well, I would not want to characterize what the Brazilian president is saying, but I will characterize where we stand on the exercise of democracy, the ability of peoples around the world to exercise their free will, and that’s free and fair elections in our view are important. They are important in democracies; they are important in aspiring democracies. They are a key metric as we determine the health of democracies and the health of participatory electoral systems around the world.
QUESTION: And another one, because harassment against journalists also in Brazil has increased since President Bolsonaro took office. Last week the organization Reporters Without Borders included Bolsonaro on a list of press predators, alongside 37 authoritarian leaders like Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin. And also last week president’s lawyer sent a message to a female reporter saying that in China, she would be – she would disappear and her body would not be found. So what is – is this kind of threat is something that worries this administration, coming from Bolsonaro’s government?
MR PRICE: Well, generally the department is always concerned when journalists face threats of harassment, face threats of intimidation, and especially when there are threats of violence. We already spoke of one especially tragic case during the course of this briefing. Freedom of the press, freedom of expression more broadly, is something we support around the world. In order to have freedom of the press, freedom of expression, you have to stand up for the safety and security of journalists and reporters around the world. So I haven’t taken a close look at the study you mentioned, but we certainly have seen, broadly speaking, an uptick in threats of intimidation, threats of violence of reporters globally.
As you know, the Secretary, just in advance of World Press Freedom Day, in May of this year, hosted a group of journalists, many of whom have faced intimidation, threats of violence in their own work. And we did that very purposefully, to put a spotlight on this challenge. And it’s a challenge that not only comes from governments; sometimes nongovernmental organizations and actors, terrorist groups, and others take part in this. But journalists should never face threats, face danger in the course of their work for what it is they may report, for what it is they may uncover.
QUESTION: Would these violations of human rights impact the bilateral relationship between Brazil and the U.S., since you are saying this administration put human rights at the center of foreign policy?
MR PRICE: Well, that’s exactly the point. And it’s not unique to Brazil; it’s not unique to any one country. But in every relationship we have – this includes with our closest partners; it includes those with whom we may have profound disagreements – we are always going to be taking a close look at a country’s human rights record to seek improvement where we can, but ultimately to see to it that people around the world are protected in exercising their universal rights, their universal freedoms. The United States will always be a voice for that. Oftentimes we do make that point publicly, but in private conversations as well we don’t shy away, and we do what we can in our assessment as – in the means most effective for us to protect and to safeguard human rights around the world.
QUESTION: Just – can I do a very quick follow-up on Cuba?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Because during the campaign, President Biden said that Trump’s reversals on Cuba policy have inflicted harm to the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights. So does President Biden still want to change Trump’s policy on Cuba? And when would be a good time, if not now?
MR PRICE: Well, we are undertaking a review of our – of a Cuba policy precisely to determine how best we can support the human rights of Cubans, how best we can support the prospect for democracy on the island. Now, of course, successive administrations have sought in some ways to do that, and so as I said before, we are going to be taking a close look at what has and has not worked in the past, and unfortunately, in the case of Cuba there may be more that has not worked than what has worked. And so we are going to be, as we’ve done in other cases as well, studying that very closely to determine what we can do most effectively, consistent with our values, consistent with our interests, to move the ball forward, especially when it comes to democracy and human rights.
QUESTION: Will Cuba become a priority now, after the events on the ground?
MR PRICE: Well, of course, you heard from the President directly, you heard from the Secretary directly standing right here. We have not been shy about speaking to what is going on. Of course, it’s always a priority for us when citizens are taking to the streets peacefully to express their aspirations for democracy and human rights. We’ll continue to watch this very closely.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: I want to stay in the hemisphere.
MR PRICE: I’ll – in the hemisphere? Were you staying in the hemisphere?
QUESTION: I was going to go to a different hemisphere.
MR PRICE: Well, let’s stay in the hemisphere. I’ll come right back to you.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: So in Haiti – is the U.S. team in Haiti assisting the assassination investigation part of a U.S. foreign emergency support team? Do you know who from this building was part of the U.S. delegation went to Haiti on Sunday? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Right. So there was an interagency delegation that was in Haiti on Sunday. DAS Lochman from our Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau represented the department in discussions on Sunday. The team was deployed in order to take part in an assessment of how best the United States can support the Haitian people as they respond to this. Right now we’re focusing on that investigation, what we might be able to do to support the Haitian investigation into the assassination of President Moise.
QUESTION: Is anyone from the FEST, the foreign emergency support team, there?
MR PRICE: I – we’ll get back to you on that.
QUESTION: Uh-huh. And what is the U.S. message to Haitian people standing outside of U.S. embassy, asking for political asylum?
MR PRICE: Well, I understand that the situation in front of our Embassy in Port-au-Prince is now calm. The groups that were gathered there, I understand, have dissipated. As we do around the world, we encourage Haitians, in this case, not to gather in front of our embassy. For their own safety, for their own security, we continue to urge calm across the – across Haiti. We have heard Acting Prime Minister Joseph make very similar calls, other political actors make similar calls, calling for calm. We reiterate those. That is precisely what Haiti needs, as Haiti’s political actors, we hope, will work together in the interests of the Haitian people to make meaningful progress in efforts to form a consensus government that can lead to free and fair elections.
QUESTION: So have the Haitians made any requests that you guys have said no to?
MR PRICE: Right now we are evaluating a number of requests. We are evaluating how best we can support the needs of the Haitian Government at the moment. As I said right now, much of that focuses on the ongoing investigation into the killing of President Moise. In addition to the interagency team, the FBI and DHS have been engaged on the ground as well to determine the investigative assets, investigative support that Haiti may need on its investigation.
QUESTION: So does that mean the answer is no, you haven’t denied any requests, at least yet?
MR PRICE: We’re still evaluating. I don’t believe we —
QUESTION: Okay, fine. But have you said no to anything?
MR PRICE: Yeah. I don’t believe we have denied any requests right yet, but we’re still evaluating quite a bit.
QUESTION: Just one follow-up —
QUESTION: But as you said yesterday, the focus is on the investigation rather than security assistance, which was a request. So is there a response to that request?
MR PRICE: Well, as I think you’ve heard from the Pentagon and from the White House, we are evaluating requests for assistance, just as we would requests from assistance in other contexts. We know in this case that there may be needs for protection in the context of critical infrastructure. We’re taking a close look at that as well. FBI and DHS, as I said before, have been engaging with their Haitian counterparts, but all of these requests we’re evaluating in line with our assessment of how we can best assist the Haitian people and the Haitian Government.
MR PRICE: Do we support their —
QUESTION: They’re boycotting. Would – is the U.S. considering or will the U.S. follow suit and do the same?
MR PRICE: Well, we are – what is true is that we are closely consulting with allies and partners, as well as other actors, including the business community, to identify common concerns and, ideally, to establish a common approach regarding the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games. We’ll continue to speak out consistently in the meantime, and again, jointly with allies and partners when it comes to what we’re seeing from PRC officials. And we’ll continue to impose costs and sanctions on those responsible for human rights abuses, including the state sponsorship of forced labor. And just today, as I said at the outset of the briefing, you saw the updated business advisory that came from the Department of State and several of our interagency partners. But right now, we are engaged in discussions to establish those common concerns, and I don’t have anything for you beyond that.
QUESTION: Did the U.S. – as you – as the U.S. engages with its allies on this decision-making process, did the European Union or those countries engage? Was that – their decision the result of consultations with the United States?
And then sort of separately on your talking about the business community and today’s advisory, can you confirm that we can expect one on Hong Kong? And the Xinjiang advisory is about three dozen pages. Succinctly, what is the message to the business community? That this type of activity, knowingly having forced labor in your supply chains, is immoral – which it is, clearly, in the statement – or is it illegal?
MR PRICE: Well, I think what we said in – at the outset is that companies that engage with entities and who are enmeshed in supply chains in Xinjiang do face potential legal exposure. And the business advisory was quite clear on that.
When it comes to the EU and how they arrived at this decision, I’m not going to speak for the EU. I will let them speak for themselves. I will say that the EU, of course, is an important partner when it comes to any number of issues, and that in part is predicated on our shared values. And I would make the broader point that you have seen a great deal of convergence between the United States and our European allies on – based on those values in the context of the PRC and Xinjiang in particular. Let me give you just a few examples.
At the G7 summit, President Biden and Chancellor Merkel outlined our shared positions on China. The President had an opportunity to meet with a number of his other counterparts, including British Prime Minister Johnson and others, to discuss the importance of coordinating and responding to China’s non-market practices and the need to speak out on human rights abuses, including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. The communique that resulted from the G7 summit also addressed the need for action against forced labor practices in the agricultural, solar, and garment sectors. There was an entire paragraph – paragraph 49, I belive it was – dedicated to this issue and showcasing the convergence.
At the NATO summit, the communique for the first time ever addressed the security challenges from China. And the United States and our NATO Allies, many of whom are European, of course, agreed to draft a new strategic concept, a framework that will guide the Alliance’s approach to the evolving strategic environment in the coming years – not only to address Russia’s aggressive actions, but also those posed by the PRC to our collective security.
And then, of course, at the U.S.-EU summit the leaders launched the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council, the goal – whose goal is to write the rules of the road for the economy of the 21st century in areas like emerging technology and competition policy. And we’ve also put forward a series of affirmative ideas, Build Back Better World being at the center of this, offering and making clear that, one, democracies can deliver; and two, there is an alternative, attractive model to what other countries may be offering here.
When it comes to Hong Kong, we don’t have anything to announce at this time regarding future policy moves. You’ve heard from us on any number of occasions our concern regarding Beijing’s ongoing attempts to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy, to dismantle its democratic institutions and processes. We’ll continue to call international attention to and to hold PRC and Hong Kong authorities accountable for the erosion of the rule of law in Hong Kong.
I would make one additional broader point here. We know that a healthy business community relies on the rule of law, which the national security law that applies to Hong Kong continues to undermine. As a general matter, we seek to ensure that businesses can operate in a stable, predictable, and fair regulatory environments around the world. And rule of law risks that were formerly limited to mainland China are now increasingly a concern in Hong Kong. That’s of great concern to us. It is of great concern to the American business community. It’s of great concern to the international business community.
QUESTION: On Cuba – just because you’re on Cuba – my colleague asked about the urgency of this ongoing policy review. Is there a timeline for completion? I think we’ve continued to ask, and obviously the protests sort of lend a greater immediacy to the question.
And then on Haiti, are you – is the administration particularly concerned about instability in the country as a result of this dispute over control of the government? And is the State Department or the interagency going to continue to engage with all of the claimants to power?
MR PRICE: Well, we have engaged with a wide variety of stakeholders in Haiti. The interagency delegation that was there over the weekend met with Claude Joseph, Ariel Henry, Joseph Lambert, and others. And we have continued to urge these political actors to work together in the interests of the Haitian people.
We have called on Haitian political leaders, the Haitian private sector, civil society to come together to – importantly, to strengthen the democratic institutions and to reach an inclusive solution that will facilitate peace and stability and lead to presidential and legislative elections.
For us, this is about – the guiding principles are Haiti’s constitution, its institutions, and we have urged Haitian political actors to work together in the interests of their people to make meaningful progress in that effort to form a consensus government that ultimately can lead to free and fair elections. And of course, the Haitian constitution calls for those free and fair elections later this year.
Beyond this immediate political situation, Haiti’s political gridlock has long taken a great toll on the country, and it’s vital for Haiti’s leaders to finally come together to chart a united path for the country. The United States will continue to be a partner to the Haitian people. We will continue to engage constructively with Haiti’s political actors and its broader set of stakeholders to do what we can to help support Haiti’s political leaders finding this consensus solution.
On the Cuba policy review, of course, we are moving as expeditiously as appropriate in this case. We are making sure that we are consulting with, as I said before, a broad and wide variety of stakeholders. We are taking a close look at what the United States can best do to support the needs of the Cuban people, to support their legitimate and long-denied aspirations for democracy and human rights.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: There was a report yesterday in Politico that Mohamed Soltan, whose case I’m sure you’re familiar with, that there was an agreement by the State Department under the previous administration, at least something signed, to the effect that he would be again in custody of the United States and that Egypt’s intelligence chief has raised that again.
First of all, is there any truth to the – to that initial finding that there was some document there? Was this raised? And do you have any comment overall on his situation now?
MR PRICE: Well, we’re aware of the document that was reported related to Mohamed Soltan, of course, a U.S. citizen. He was formerly imprisoned in Egypt. We don’t have a comment on its legal authority.
What I would remind you, though, is what we said at the time: The United States condemned the detention of Mr. Soltan and we called for his immediate release. It’s something that we worked for very assiduously.
QUESTION: Could you say whether the Egyptians have raised this again?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to detail that.
QUESTION: Staying in that region, if we could go to Iran. There is a report out of Tehran today that a government spokesman said that Iran and the United States are negotiating for prisoners exchanges.
First, I assume that was not a direct negotiation, but if it was, could you please comment?
And then secondly, this seems like a good opportunity to ask about the status of the talks and what effort is being made to break the current stalemate, or hold, or logjam, or whatever we want to call it.
MR PRICE: Well, first on the question of detainees, you are correct; it is indirect but active discussions taking place on this – to this end, seeing the release of the Americans who have been unjustly detained, deprived of their freedom for far too long now. We are treating the issue of detainees independently from discussions of the JCPOA, as you know. It’s really a matter of us to see to it that these detainees are released as soon as possible. We are working with the utmost urgency and we want it to be resolved immediately. We’re working night and day to bring these detainees, these American citizens home. We’re also working with our allies, many of whom also have citizens currently arbitrarily or wrongfully detained by the Iranian Government.
Look, the broader point is that Iran’s unjust imprisonment of U.S. citizens for use as political leverage, it’s abhorrent, it’s outrageous. Our priority is bringing these individuals home as possible and resolving the cases of missing and abducted U.S. citizens just as quickly as we can.
When it comes to the status of the talks, we’ve discussed this yesterday, but questions about when or whether Iran would be prepared to start a seventh round of talks or to reach an understanding on a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, those questions have to be addressed to Tehran. They can’t be addressed to us. As we’ve made clear, we are prepared to continue engaging in the context of these indirect negotiations with Iran. We’re prepared to return to a seventh round of talks. We’ve been equally clear that there’s not a deadline, a firm deadline that we have in mind as of right now, but we’ve made no secret of the fact that we are considering the implications of Iran’s nuclear advances for a potential return to the JCPOA. So we’re watching very closely.
QUESTION: Great. Ned, just on the indirect, active – indirect but active discussions on the – is there anything new about this today other than the fact that an Iranian official said this?
MR PRICE: I —
QUESTION: Anything new over the course of the last couple months? We’ve known about these talks for some time. They’ve been going on, yes, separately from the nuclear talks, but still they’ve been going on. And I think that senior officials who we all know has talked about it pretty openly.
MR PRICE: I – correct me, Lara, if I’m wrong, but I think Lara asked a question just based on what an Iranian official said.
QUESTION: No, no, no, I know. But I’m wondering, it’s – I’m not saying it’s not a valid question. I just wonder if there’s anything new today that was not new last week or the week before or the month – a month before or two months or three months.
MR PRICE: Matt, I think we have found in the cases – in the case of Americans who are held against their will unjustly around the world that these discussions are best undertaken quietly, and we often don’t speak to the details from the podium precisely because we are doing everything we can and working as urgently as we can to secure their release. I’m just not in a position to update on where these indirect discussions may be.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but they’ve been going on for months, right?
MR PRICE: Well, they’ve been going on before this administration took office. I —
QUESTION: That’s – yes, I mean – okay.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you, Ned. Two questions, please. First, on the Secretary’s ASEAN foreign ministers meeting later this evening, last week Kurt Campbell spoke at an event where he said I think we have been “missing in action” in many respects in the Pacific. He said we recognize fully that for an effective Asia strategy you must do more in Southeast Asia. And he said we want in the next little while to step up our game substantially.
So first, would the State Department agree that the U.S. has been missing in action in the Pacific? And will the Secretary’s message today be about greater U.S. engagement in Southeast Asia? And then I have a follow-up on China.
MR PRICE: So this is a region, the Indo-Pacific, that is vitally important to us for any number of interests, but also our values. I think what the Secretary will say tonight – and I expect we’ll have a readout after the session concludes – is a reaffirmation of our commitment to ASEAN’s centrality and a reaffirmation of ASEAN’s central and essential role in the Indo-Pacific’s regional architecture. The Secretary will have the first opportunity tonight to speak to ASEAN – at least to the foreign ministers – as a whole, but as you know, we did meet with the Bruneian foreign minister in London, current chair of ASEAN; the Secretary has been in contact bilaterally with – over the phone and in person with a number of ASEAN members. Deputy Secretary Sherman was – traveled to the region several weeks ago, where she met with ASEAN counterparts.
So I think both in terms of word and deed, we have demonstrated our commitment to the centrality of ASEAN. We know of its indispensable and central role to the regional architecture. But I wouldn’t want to get ahead of the Secretary’s engagement tonight.
QUESTION: And then – excuse me – on China, China’s Foreign Ministry has responded to yesterday’s atrocities report, and they’ve said that the U.S. is no position to point fingers at other countries’ human rights situation. They gave examples of past treatment of Native Americans, I think they brought up George Floyd, and they called the report a waste of paper. Do you have any response to that?
MR PRICE: I don’t have a response to that. I will just say, without commenting on what sounds like the PRC playbook, that we have been very clear that as part of our commitment to human rights – our defense, our promotion of human rights around the world – that as a confident democracy, as a country that is comfortable and confident in its standing, we can be open, we can be transparent about where we have veered off course, where we have not met the ideals that – towards which we strive every day. After all, and as we often like to point out, this country was not born a perfect union. It is our essential mission every day to form a more perfect union.
Where that imperfection has been on display, at least speaking for this administration, we have not sought to sweep it under the rug, we’ve not sought to hide it from the rest of the world. We know that for the health, for the wellbeing of our own democracy, it’s important that we are open and transparent but also to be the model that we aspire to be for other democracies and aspiring democracies around the world. We set an important example by comporting ourselves in that.
Thank you very much, everyone. Very quick? Very – yes.
QUESTION: Quickly, Special Envoy John Kerry’s meeting in Russia, because it was reported by media reports that the U.S. is trying to setting up some proposal to work with Russia on climate change. Do you have any readout on his meetings in Russia?
MR PRICE: I don’t have a readout at the moment. I do expect that the special envoy’s office will be in a position to provide additional details at the conclusion of his meetings there. Of course, it is not a secret that we have profound differences with the Russian Federation on any number of issues, and I need not go into them. But it’s also not a secret – and you saw this in the form of President Biden meeting with President Putin – that we believe there are going to be certain areas where our interests align. And you saw that in the context of an agreement last week announced to extend the Syrian humanitarian corridor by 12 months; you see that in – you saw that in the renewal of the New START agreement for five years in the first days of this administration; and Secretary Kerry at the moment is testing the proposition as to whether we can work together on the global and existential challenge of climate change. Russia is one of the world’s most prolific emitters, and so Russia has a responsibility, as does the United States, to be ambitious in its climate targets.
QUESTION: Can I – so do you expect Secretary Kerry to go to Brazil as well this year before the summit?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any forthcoming travel to announce. I would have to refer you to his office for that.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:13 p.m.)