2:14 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: Happy Bastille Day.
MR PRICE: Happy Bastille Day. We can always count on you, Matt, to respond to the greeting. Just one element at the top.
The United States is concerned by continued detentions, indictments, and harassment of Egyptian civil society leaders, academics, and journalists, including the indictment of Director General of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Hossam Bahgat.
Mr. Bahgat is a highly respected advocate for human rights, and EIPR works to strengthen and protect rights in Egypt. The targeting and prosecution of the staff of EIPR and other NGOs, including those charged in Case 173, degrades the rights of all Egyptians to freedom of expression and association, and it threatens the stability and prosperity of Egypt. We have communicated to the Egyptian Government our strong belief that individuals such as Hossam Bahgat should not be targeted for expressing their views peacefully.
As Secretary Blinken said in April, the United States will stand with brave human rights defenders, journalists, and advocates around the world. We believe all people should be allowed to express their political views freely, to assemble and associate peacefully. As a strategic partner, we have raised these concerns with the Egyptian Government, and we will continue to do so going forward.
QUESTION: Thanks. Two extremely brief logistical things before I get into – one, the International Religious Freedom summit was – is yesterday, today, and tomorrow. This is something that the previous administration had made a big deal out of, and I noticed that the Secretary was invited to speak. But he was not – Samantha Power did address it this morning, but the Secretary was invited. It’s not on his schedule. Did he decide that this is not something that merits his time?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, Matt, the Secretary believes deeply in international religious freedom. You’ve actually heard him speak on the topic in this very room.
QUESTION: I’m talking about the —
MR PRICE: So when it comes to logistics of the conference, we’ll have more for you on that.
QUESTION: Okay. And so you’re suggesting that he might, in fact, accept the invitation?
MR PRICE: We will have more for you on it.
QUESTION: All right. And then secondly, there was a call this – or a meeting this morning between Jake Sullivan and the French foreign minister. And I don’t expect you to talk about that, but there was also a call that the Secretary had with the Canadian foreign minister today, and the Secretary will be meeting with Foreign Minister Le Drian later today. But in the readouts of both Jake’s meeting and the Secretary’s call with the Canadian, the word “Haiti” is not mentioned at all. And I am just wondering, did they discuss Haiti, at least from the Secretary’s – in the Secretary’s call?
MR PRICE: Matt, if I recall the readout, it did make a reference to the Western Hemisphere and I think specifically a reference to —
QUESTION: It’s a big hemisphere.
MR PRICE: There is a lot going on in the hemisphere, too. But of course, Haiti is top of mind for the Secretary in this hemisphere. There are other countries as well that are top of mind, Cuba and Venezuela among them, that we talked about here yesterday alone. So I can assure you that issues —
QUESTION: So they did talk about Haiti and Cuba?
MR PRICE: I can assure you —
QUESTION: Not just the Western Hemisphere?
MR PRICE: — that issues of —
QUESTION: And the Monroe Doctrine and —
MR PRICE: — democracy and human rights and working together with our closest allies and partners in the world – and France would certainly qualify as one of our closest allies – that issue did come up.
QUESTION: On a more substantive matter, on Iran and this plot that was – came to light yesterday and the fact that you guys are continuing, according to what Rob Malley has said, I guess on the record and TV – I’m just curious as to – this is at least the second time that the Iranian Government has, quote/unquote, been “caught” – these are allegations obviously – trying to commit nefarious acts on U.S. soil while the administration at the time – this one and then the Obama administration – were pursuing negotiations on nuclear negotiations.
And I’m just wondering why are you continuing to do this if this government has shown no inclination that it’s willing to stop this kind of malign behavior that you and the previous administration and the administration prior to that and before that too have all called out?
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, as you know, we are careful not to weigh in on the specifics of law enforcement investigations and law enforcement matters, but obviously, as you know, the Department of Justice did release quite a detailed charging document yesterday. And let me be very clear: We categorically condemn this reported plot to kidnap a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil. There should be no doubt about where this administration, including the State Department, stands.
We will, as we have, forcefully defend U.S. citizens and U.S. interests, and that includes in the context of law enforcement actions like the one that the Department of Justice announced yesterday, as well as the actions the President has taken to defend our interests in the region from Iranian-backed militant groups. It also includes – and this is important – our ongoing diplomatic efforts to constrain Iran’s nuclear program.
We’ve made this point before, but it is an urgent concern: Every challenge we face with Iran is made more difficult, made more intractable, when Iran’s nuclear program is uncontrolled, when it is unconstrained. The JCPOA, to be clear, when it was in full effect, was successful in permanently and verifiably preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and that’s why we’re seeking that return to mutual compliance.
As the Justice Department’s actions prove, we will continue to address the other challenges that we have in our relationship with Iran or in the context of the challenges and threats that Iran poses to the region and beyond. As I said before, every single one of those is made more difficult, is more complex for us to confront, when we have the potential threat of an uncontrolled Iranian nuclear program on the horizon.
Let me put that a slightly different way. Constraining Iran’s nuclear program by returning to the JCPOA, by seeing to it once again that Iran’s nuclear program is permanently and verifiably in a box, that will put us in a better position to address all of the other challenges that we have.
The simple fact of the matter – and you referred to the previous administration and the one before that. But ever since the U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA, none of the challenges we have with Iran – and again, they are many – have gotten better. And in fact, most of them have gotten worse. That starts with the unconstrained activities in the nuclear program. We’ve talked a great deal about the attacks by these Iran-backed militias. DOJ has spoken to this alleged plot.
So yes, to be clear, we intend to continue our effort to limit Iran’s nuclear program through a mutual return to compliance, just as we continue to go about actively confronting the range of threats we see from Iran, to include those that maybe targeting or in some ways implicating American citizens and American interests. We demonstrated that yesterday. The President has demonstrated it in the past. And this department will continue to demonstrate that through our principled, clear-eyed diplomacy to seek to effect a mutual return to the JCPOA.
QUESTION: But literally, like less than an hour or less than two hours before the DOJ announced this indictment, you were up there right where you’re standing right now saying that you’re in indirect but active discussions with the Iranians on prisoners while, in fact, someone should have known in this building that DOJ was about to unveil, unseal an indictment saying that the Iranians were plotting to do the same thing again.
MR PRICE: So is the implication that we should —
QUESTION: No. The – there’s no implication. I’m just, I mean, this part of it, quite apart from the nuclear issue, is continuing and getting worse, and yet there doesn’t seem to be any impact – it doesn’t seem to have any impact —
MR PRICE: No, well, in —
QUESTION: — or make any – or make any difference —
MR PRICE: In some ways you’re not wrong, and I think we’re making the same point that many of the challenges we face with Iran have become more pointed, more complex, more intractable since the previous administration left the nuclear deal. But if the implication is that because we face a range of threats from Iran, that we shouldn’t seek to effect the return of Americans who are unjustly held overseas or that we shouldn’t seek to verifiably and permanently prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, that’s not a logic that this administration buys into at least.
QUESTION: No, I’m not implying anything of the sort. But I’m just asking you how it makes sense, because if you look at it from the outside it seems a bit ridiculous that you guys are talking, continuing to talk to them, apart from the nuclear issue, about prisoners when they’re plotting to kidnap – they’re plotting to take more.
MR PRICE: This – Matt, you’ve heard this any number of occasions, but we don’t negotiate with our closest friends. We negotiate to solve the most difficult challenges we face and Iran’s nuclear program is certainly one of them.
QUESTION: The last one – last one on —
QUESTION: Stay on Iran?
QUESTION: The – yeah, it’s on this. You said that it’s gotten worse, the situation has gotten worse since the previous administration pulled out. And yet, since this administration took office, while it’s been getting worse and while the Iranian violations of the JCPOA are becoming more profound, you guys have not imposed any additional penalties on Iran. In fact, you’ve removed some, and I’m not talking about yesterday and the money the South Korean – I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about Treasury removing specific people that you called good sanctions hygiene – remember – so in fact, the amount of pressure that this administration is putting on is less than what it was before. How does that – how do you square that?
MR PRICE: Matt, I think you are overlooking some of the activity that we have taken, including taken action against Iran with sanctions for some of the egregious human rights abuses that we’ve seen in Iran. In the course of this administration, we have enacted additional sanctions on Iran for human rights abuses. Of course, recently we sanctioned a network of Qods Force operatives who were funding the Houthis in Yemen. We have continued to pursue through sanctions and other tools Iran’s proxies in the region, militant groups. So —
QUESTION: Yeah, but none of those are nuclear-related, and what you’re talking about and what you just —
MR PRICE: Oh, I’m sorry. I —
QUESTION: What you just acknowledged at the top is that it’s gotten worse.
MR PRICE: Oh, I’m sorry. I thought – I thought you were talking about – no, we are in – we are in complete agreement that ever since the United States left the nuclear deal that – the JCPOA, that the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear program has grown more pronounced.
QUESTION: Right. Okay.
MR PRICE: Iran has continued to distance itself —
QUESTION: So what have you – and what have you done about it?
MR PRICE: I’ll tell you what we’ve done about it. We have engaged now in six rounds of principled, clear-eyed negotiations, indirect, in an effort to return to a state where Iran is permanently and verifiably prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We continue to believe, and successive administrations had believed, that through diplomacy – diplomacy presents the best means to control verifiably and permanently Iran’s nuclear program. We still —
QUESTION: Okay, but having six rounds of talks is not actually doing anything other than talking. So is that – that’s your response to Iran’s increasingly – increasing violations of its own commitments to the JCPOA? The administration thinks that going to Vienna and talking with them is —
MR PRICE: We continue to think —
QUESTION: — is the – is the appropriate response?
MR PRICE: We continue to think that the best outcome —
MR PRICE: — would be an Iran that is verifiably and permanently barred from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon. That’s correct.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that question? Does there come to be a point at which the administration decides that Iran’s behavior or malign behavior or this attempted kidnapping, whatever it may be, in other areas are so egregious that it means you can no longer negotiate in good faith with them in Vienna on the nuclear issue?
MR PRICE: Well, there are two separate issues here, and one of which we’ve spoken to in recent days. As I’ve made very clear, the United States is prepared to resume indirect talks with Iran, to resume that seventh round of negotiations. We are ready to go if and when the Iranians signal they are as well. And that’s precisely because we want to see Iran’s nuclear program once again verifiably and permanently constrained and Iran permanently barred from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Now, on the question of – on that front, this process is not indefinite, as the Secretary has said, as you’ve heard me reiterate. There will come a point where our calculus will change, where the gains that Iran is able to make in its nuclear program, the benefits it accrues might one day outweigh the benefit that the international community would accrue from a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. We’re not there yet, but that is why we believe we should – the international community, the United States together with our closest allies and some of our partners in the form of the P5+1, should return to Vienna for these talks just as soon as we can.
Now, there’s a broader issue that you raise that suggests that because Iran is engaging in this behavior in other realms, does that implicate our view of nuclear negotiations. Our view continues to be that every single challenge that Iran poses in the non-nuclear realm is made more difficult when Iran’s nuclear program is unconstrained, when it is potentially uncontrolled. So to us, if we are able to control and see Iran’s nuclear program once again permanently and verifiably constrained, that will enable us to better in some cases diplomatically take on, in other cases confront in other ways, the challenges that – the broader set of challenges that Iran poses. It may not be a coincidence that, as I said before to Matt, the challenges that Iran has posed to us in the non-nuclear realm have not gotten better since the United States left the JCPOA. In fact, in most cases, they’ve gotten far worse.
QUESTION: Just staying on this, on the plot, the four that – the four Iranian officials that were indicted are never likely to see the inside of a U.S. courtroom. So I know you’ll say that that’s a law enforcement matter, but what more is the administration willing to do to respond to the Iranian Government because of this plot, for this plot?
MR PRICE: Well, you saw DOJ make light of this. You have seen them unveil these charges. You’ve also seen this administration make very clear that we will always take action when it’s in our interests and when it’s appropriate to do so. We have used the tools available to us, from sanctions to, in a couple cases, military force. So again, we don’t preview any steps that we may take, but we do have a pretty expansive toolkit and we have made no secret of the fact that we’re prepared to use it.
QUESTION: This administration launched a policy specifically for this kind of activity. The Khashoggi Ban is for —
MR PRICE: That’s right.
QUESTION: — counter-dissident, extraterritorial – why wouldn’t this warrant sanctions, then?
MR PRICE: I’m not ruling anything in, I’m not ruling anything out, but you’re exactly right that we do have a number of tools at our disposal, including the Khashoggi Ban. We have just announced the Khashoggi Ban in February, I believe it was. It’s already been used in – applied in dozens of cases. But we are always reviewing cases that may implicate the Khashoggi Ban and may be appropriate to use it.
QUESTION: Are we done with the Iran portion?
MR PRICE: Anything else on Iran? Yeah. Sure, please.
QUESTION: One real quick on Iran. The president today – Rouhani – more or less acknowledged that negotiations will go to his successor, that they won’t be able to finalize a deal on the JCPOA in the next few weeks. Is that the U.S. assessment as well?
MR PRICE: These questions are best addressed towards Iran. As we’ve made very clear, we are prepared to return to Vienna for a seventh round of talks. We understand that the Iranians are still undergoing consultations. As we’ve always said, Iran will have to make tough political decisions, including the strategic decision of whether it’s willing to entertain a mutual return to compliance. Only Iran can tell us that. I understand Rouhani also said that the collective approach to negotiations has been serious and businesslike. We wouldn’t take issue with that, but again, if and when there’s a seventh round – and we certainly hope there is one – that is a question that is best addressed to Tehran.
QUESTION: Could I just follow up on your remarks at the beginning?
MR PRICE: Was this Iran? No, one more question on Iran. Yeah.
QUESTION: I just – thank you, I just had one more quick follow-up on your exchange with Matt about the kidnapping plot specifically. Do you think that this is a matter – there was – you made a comment about how we don’t negotiate with our friends as a rule. Is this a – is this kidnapping issue a matter where you think some kind of negotiation needs to take place to put the Iranian habit of – penchant for kidnapping in a box? Or is that something where more punitive action would have to take place to change their calculus on that file?
MR PRICE: As we’ve said, we’re engaged in indirect discussions with the Iranians on an urgent basis to try to secure the release of the Americans who are unjustly and outrageously held against their will in Tehran. But look, we don’t think, as – taking a step back, that this is something as a broader issue or tactic that we should be negotiating over. This is a practice that is abhorrent. It is a practice that the United States, together with many of our closest allies, have condemned in the strongest possible terms.
The Canadians, our Canadian partners – our friends and neighbors – have put together an effective campaign to put attention on the practice of some nation-states for hostage taking, kidnapping, abductions, whatever you want to call it for political leverage. We are working concertedly with the international community to do all we can to see to it that this is a practice that is relegated to the dustbin of history and that doesn’t continue to occur. The fact that Iran has done this is something that is deeply abhorrent and outrageous, and as we work on the broader challenge, we are working on what we hope is the nearer-term challenge of seeking to effect the return, the release of these Americans who are unjustly detained in Iran.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on your comments at the beginning on Egypt? You voiced the concern about detentions of civil society leaders. What effect will that have on U.S. policy? It’s been widely reported the administration is considering further arms sales to Egypt. Are those – do you see a linkage with that? Is that – are those in jeopardy if there isn’t action on human rights?
MR PRICE: Well, human rights is an issue that we have consistently and very clearly raised repeatedly with our Egyptian partners. In his first phone call with Egyptian President Sisi, President Biden raised the issue of human rights. As you know, Secretary Blinken has spoken with his Egyptian counterpart on a number of occasions; human rights have featured in those discussions. Secretary Blinken met with President Sisi in Cairo; human rights were on the agenda in that discussion as well. The United States signed on to a statement at HRC 46 calling for Egypt to improve its human rights record. And President Biden even before he assumed office was very clear as a candidate that even when it comes to our closest security partners, we wouldn’t overlook human rights in the name of security, stability, any other interests that we might have. Our values and our interests are both of tremendous importance to us, and this administration is not prepared to sacrifice one for the other.
So, of course, I’m not going to get ahead of where we are in terms of any bilateral relationship or any funding or assistance announcements, but human rights across the board is something we look at very closely in making those decisions.
QUESTION: Sure. Could I switch to Afghanistan?
QUESTION: The operation that’s been announced today – I realize it’s probably more of a Pentagon issue in terms of logistics. But first of all, in terms of Ambassador Khalilzad, he said in May when he was testifying on the Hill that – he didn’t oppose this, but he said one of the – one of the – I’m paraphrasing him – says one of the concerns was that this would set off potentially a panic, that people will be flooding out, et cetera. What has changed since then? Is there a sense that the situation has deteriorated to the point that this became necessary? Why – is there a concern that this will affect the stability of Afghanistan in terms of people coming out?
MR PRICE: Well, I think what you heard today from the White House is reflective of the priority that the entire administration places on fulfilling what we’ve called a special responsibility. It’s a special responsibility that we have and that we owe to the many brave Afghans who, oftentimes at great personal risk and sometimes at great risk to their families, have assisted the United States in different ways over the course of some two decades.
So in announcing some of the details behind Operation Allies Refuge, today you heard from the White House how we are organized to tackle this effort, and it is something that the State Department has long been working urgently on, and the SIV program, of course, well predates the President’s announcement of the military withdrawal from Afghanistan. In recent months, the State Department – and we’ve talked about this in recent days – has added additional resources to that effort, again, to move as urgently as we can to process as many of those who are eligible for this program as we can.
Even when we announced a change in staffing at our embassy in Kabul earlier this year, we made the point that we would be in a position to send additional individuals to help with the SIV processing, and that’s precisely what we did. And even in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak in Kabul that affected our post there, in-person interviews were suspended for a time, as we said, but the processing continued. And I can say that because of those increased resources, we managed to increase the pace of that processing over time.
As you may know, we issue quarterly reports that detail our ability to process SIV applicants. And just to give you a snapshot of that, the embassy in Kabul issued 299 special immigrant visas in March, 299. Three hundred and fifty-six were issued in April, and 619 in May, the most recent month for which data is available. And now I know relationships are not always causal, but in this case we are confident that it is. We are confident that the additional resources that we have put towards this issue has resulted in the increased pace of this processing. We will continue to do all we can consistent with this program that is enshrined in legislation and that involves more than a dozen steps to continue to accelerate the processing time. And as you heard, the White House again today reiterated that flights from Afghanistan will begin later this month for a group of these SIV applicants if they so choose to be relocated outside of Afghanistan.
QUESTION: And just briefly, the – do you have numbers on how many people will be potentially affected by this, how many people will be taken out, and on where they would be temporarily living, housed, until – as their applications are being processed?
MR PRICE: So as we’ve said, we have identified a group of SIV applicants who have served in any number of roles – translators, interpreters, as well as other individuals who have assisted us who may be at some risk. These are individuals who at the moment have the option to be relocated outside of Afghanistan before we complete that military drawdown in order to complete their special immigrant visa processing. Importantly, these are individuals who are already in that SIV processing pipeline. You’ve heard us say that our top priority in all of this is the safety and security of these SIV applicants. They have already – in many cases at great risk to themselves – assisted the United States over the years. And so we don’t want to do anything that might potentially jeopardize their safety and security going forward. And so there are going to be some details that we may not be able to provide.
And so right now we don’t have anything to offer in terms of the size of that group, areas to where they may be relocated, but it is safe to say that we are planning for a range of contingencies. We are moving as swiftly as we can in the processing, and you heard from the White House again today that those flights will begin later this month.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a kind of logistical question? That quarterly report that you were referencing, my understanding was that that was months late giving it to Congress. So when is the last time that you provided that report to Congress, and when can we expect the next report?
MR PRICE: These – the numbers that I cited are available online. So they’re available publicly. When the next report may come out, we’ll see if we can get that information for you.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just following up on CNN’s reporting and video of the Taliban fighters executing 22 unarmed Afghan commandos as they tried to surrender – what is your response to that, and has the State Department directly been in contact with the Taliban about this?
MR PRICE: Well, the video – which I should say we don’t have any reason to doubt – depicts horrifying scenes. The killing – in this case, the slaughter – of unarmed individuals is – it’s an atrocious act, it’s an outrageous sight, and of course we condemn it. We have been very clear about this, that we continue to believe the Islamic Republic – that is to say, the Afghan Government continues to believe that diplomacy is the only durable and just way to reach a political settlement here. I won’t speak for the Taliban, but they continue to engage in that diplomacy in Doha. The Islamic Republic, the Afghan Government is sending a senior delegation to Doha. The special envoy and his team are engaged, supporting these intra-Afghan discussions in Doha. We continue to believe – and the international community continues to believe, including, if you look at recent statements from some of our closest allies, but also from countries with whom we share little else – that this diplomatic path is the most effective, and certainly the best path to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, to afford and offer the Afghan people what has eluded them over the course of not only the past 20 years, since 9/11, but really the past 40 with the violence they’ve endured in their own country.
QUESTION: And can I just follow up? Last week you said, however, that you – it’s the United States position that the Taliban, their efforts to engage in Doha demonstrate that they understand that diplomacy is the path forward here to gaining legitimacy. Do you still believe that, and are you on the same page as the Pentagon who has said some different things about the intentions of the Taliban?
MR PRICE: Well, on your second question, I don’t believe we said – we have said different things at all. What I said the other day is that, quote, “The Taliban too understands that only through diplomacy can they garner any sort of legitimacy.” My Pentagon colleague certainly didn’t say anything different from that. And it is the opinion of this government, it is the opinion of the international community that any government – the international community broadly I should say – that any government that comes to power through the barrel of a gun, that comes to power through force in Afghanistan, any government that doesn’t respect fundamental and universal rights is not one that will have legitimacy in the eyes of the broad international community. It is not one that will have the support of the Afghan people.
And now I’ve heard quite a few of you ask, “Well, so what?” Well, it’s very important because any government, future government of Afghanistan that wants durability will have to be one that governs justly, and what we seek is a just and durable outcome. And only through diplomacy, only through the Afghan people having a say will any future government be able to accrue that legitimacy, will be able to accrue assistance from the international community, which has been vital – indispensable, I would say, to the Afghan Government. And that’s why only through that process will any future government be able to achieve that durability.
QUESTION: Let me ask again, “So what,” that same question, because I’ve been harping on this for days now and I just – what does it say? How do you square your idea that they might care about international legitimacy with the idea, one, of what Kylie asked about, slaughter of these commandos who were trying to surrender, the fact that the Indians have closed their consulate in Kandahar, the French are organizing – are basically telling all French citizens to get the hell out and organizing a evacuation flight, and you are sending these visa seekers to other places because, precisely because you know that it’s not safe for them and your allies know it’s not safe for their people. So I just don’t understand how you can get up here with a straight face and try and say, oh, well, it’s all going to be okay because the Taliban want international legitimacy, when there’s no indication even within this government you don’t really believe that.
MR PRICE: Matt, to be clear, it’s a tremendously challenging set of circumstances, but a couple points, and this is important, President Biden has emphasized this ever since he announced the military withdrawal, the United States is not abandoning Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Yeah, you are. You basically said – he said, as it had been for ages and ages, for 20 years it was a condition – it was supposed to be conditions-based withdrawal. The White House got up and said when he made the announcement that it no longer —
MR PRICE: I – I would – I will have to —
QUESTION: — the conditions-based – it no longer mattered what the conditions —
MR PRICE: — stop you right there.
QUESTION: — were and that you guys were going.
MR PRICE: I will have to stop you right there because —
QUESTION: Is that not correct?
MR PRICE: That is not correct. That —
QUESTION: Did Jake Sullivan not say that the President had decided that it would – that the withdrawal did not have to be conditions-based and would not be – and that it didn’t matter what happened afterwards?
MR PRICE: Matt. Matt, as you know the previous administration signed an agreement with the Taliban. That – well, am I wrong? So that —
QUESTION: Well, I’m sorry, who is doing the withdrawal right now? It’s not the previous administration.
MR PRICE: That – that agreement – that agreement dictated that should our military personnel remain in Afghanistan past May 1st of this year, the status quo would have been eradicated. Our forces, American servicemembers, would have starting – could have starting that very day come under dire threat from a Taliban that would once again start targeting Americans. This President, this administration has no higher priority than the safety, the well-being of Americans around the world, and that certainly includes our service members. So the idea that we could have ignored an agreement that the previous administration arrived at, even if, as the President said, it may not have been the agreement that this administration would have made, it would have had dire implications for American service members. So the idea that the status quo could have endured until now, that’s just wrong.
Again, we intend to maintain a partnership with the Afghan Government, with the people of Afghanistan. It’s certainly our intent to maintain a diplomatic presence so we can carry out that partnership. And beyond that, we will remain focused, just as this administration has since the earliest days, on the diplomatic process that currently is ongoing in Doha right now.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: I have two questions, one on DAS Hady’s meetings, if you have any readout for his meetings in Israel and Palestinian territories. And can you confirm the reports that the U.S. consulate will be reopened in September in Jerusalem?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to confirm any reports of that nature at the moment. When it comes to Deputy Assistant Secretary Amr, as you know, he’s in the region. He’s meeting with Israeli officials, with officials from the Palestinian Authority, but he is also meeting with elements of civil society.
And as we talked about the other day, it’s that element of his engagements that is also quite important to him, it’s quite important to us, making clear that the United States is engaging broadly with our Israeli partners. And we are re-engaging and building back that partnership with the Palestinian people, again, knowing that at the end of the day, our policy is one that seeks to achieve equal measures of safety, of security, of prosperity, and, importantly, of dignity for Israelis and Palestinians alike. If we have a fuller readout of DAS Amr’s trip, we’ll be sure to provide it.
QUESTION: One more on Lebanon. Will Lebanon be a topic of discussion between Secretary Blinken and his French counterpart this afternoon? And does the U.S. support the EU sanctions on Lebanese political leaders?
MR PRICE: I have every expectation that Lebanon will, in fact, be a topic of conversation between Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Le Drian later today at the French embassy. As you know, earlier this month, the – or late last month in Matera, the Secretary had an opportunity to meet with Foreign Minister Le Drian and Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan to discuss this subsequent to that. Our ambassador to Lebanon, Ambassador Shea, French Ambassador Anne Grillo, they met with the Saudi Ambassador Walid Bukhari in Beirut for diplomatic consultations as part of and a follow-on to that trilateral engagement on the dire economic situation currently in place in Lebanon, and to discuss how together we can most effectively support the needs of the Lebanese people.
QUESTION: And on the sanctions, EU sanctions on political leaders?
MR PRICE: I don’t have anything for you there.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Who will care for the Afghans once they are removed from Afghanistan? Will it be State or DHS? And how many flights will this involve? How much will this operation cost?
And then it appears that many of the Taliban’s fighters have been allowed by Pakistan to cross into Afghanistan to join the fighting. Pakistan reportedly also is allowing Taliban fighters to be treated in Pakistani hospitals. It also continues to provide sanctuary for the Taliban’s political and military committees and leaders. Is this acceptable to the United States? While Pakistan has facilitated the peace process, does the U.S. believe it continues to provide any form of military support for the Taliban offensives?
MR PRICE: Well, we have said before that this conflict is not one that the United States alone either can or should solve. This is a conflict that the international community needs to be engaged on. For many years, the international community – some corners of it, at least – were content to let the United States and our NATO allies take the burden in Afghanistan. Now, however, is the time for the international community to show support for the people of Afghanistan, to be constructively engaged in the diplomatic process. When it comes to Pakistan, we know that Pakistan has much to gain from an Afghanistan that is peaceful, that is stable, that’s secure. And Pakistan has the potential to have a critical role in enabling that outcome. We do appreciate Pakistan’s efforts to advance the peace process and stability in South Asia, including by encouraging, as Pakistan has done, the Taliban to engage in substantive negotiations.
When it comes to various details of the SIV applicants, where they will go as they await their processing, who will care for them, we don’t have any further details for you at the moment. Again, some of those details may be ones that we won’t be in a position to share given operational security concerns.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV, Pakistan. Sir, I hope you have seen some recent interviews of Prime Minister Imran Khan and his articles in American media. He said that Pakistan will not allow any American base in Pakistan to carry out counterterrorism operations. So I just wanted to request you to clarify: Has the United States asked Pakistan to provide any military base?
MR PRICE: Well, again, the United States and Pakistan share any number of interests. We have interests in the realm of counterterrorism; we have interests in the region. And those regional interests certainly include an Afghanistan that is stable, that is peaceful, that is secure. We have worked very closely with Pakistan over the course of many years in pursuit of some of those mutual interests, and I think I would leave it at that.
QUESTION: Just a couple of days ago you said that legitimacy and assistance for any Afghan government can only be possible if that government has the consent of the Afghan people. So we all know that Taliban has no democratic system; they just hand-pick their leaders. There is no voting; there is nothing. So is the world ready to accept any hard-core, nondemocratic Islamic state in that part of the world now?
MR PRICE: Well, I will tell you what the world is not ready to accept, and it is not ready to accept a government that comes to power only by force, that has no respect for the human rights of the Afghan people, for the universal rights of the Afghan people. And this gets back to the point before. That is not a government that will have legitimacy in the eyes of much of the international community, and importantly, it’s not a government that I would suspect will have the assistance of the international community. And any government that has a concern for its own durability would obviously do well to keep that in mind.
MR PRICE: Special Envoy Khalilzad —
MR PRICE: — is there. They’re traveling there tomorrow, I believe.
QUESTION: Right, but is anyone – are you aware of anyone else going? And is there any – I mean, this is obviously focused on one issue, but clearly the Afghanistan withdrawal looms large, in the background. Is there a concern here within the administration or in this building – which I guess would be the same thing – that the Central Asian nations might not be so receptive to U.S. entreaties or appeals for help in stabilizing Afghanistan given the fact that you are leaving? I stopped myself from saying “cutting and running.” So since you’re withdrawing, is there a concern? And – but also, I – a logistical point on anyone other than Zal going?
MR PRICE: Well, Special Envoy Khalilzad is our senior —
MR PRICE: — department official responsible for certainly diplomacy towards what we seek in Afghanistan. So he will be there with, as the NSC announced, Liz Sherwood-Randall. Together they will represent the United States in a conference hosted by the Government of Uzbekistan. It will discuss a number of issues, but include – that includes regional cooperation and regional connectivity.
As you know, the Secretary has had an occasion now to meet both in person with some of our Central Asian partners and virtually with the C5. It is – these are countries, again, with whom we share any number of interests. We have sought to engage them to deepen that cooperation, and importantly, to deepen that regional connectivity that is so important to many of our shared mutual interests.
QUESTION: But is there a concern that they might not be so receptive now —
MR PRICE: These —
QUESTION: — now that you’re pulling out?
MR PRICE: These are countries that will make sovereign decisions about what and how – about their level of cooperation with the United States, what they are prepared to do vis-a-vis support for a stable and secure and peaceful Afghanistan. I think what I said before applies across the board, that the international community has a constructive role to play to support that goal. It’s not only in our interests, and in fact, it is much more – it is certainly in the immediate interests of Afghanistan’s neighbors that Afghanistan see a future that one day is stable, peaceful, and secure.
Conor. Sorry, let me – I’ve – let me come back to – yeah. Sorry.
MR PRICE: Yep, yep.
QUESTION: The Department of Homeland Security’s Secretary said today that Haitians and Cubans fleeing political violence and arriving on U.S. shores will not be permitted to enter the United States and instead will be sent to a third country. Given the State Department is responsible for third-country referrals, are you in discussions with third countries? Has a third country agreed to take in Haitians and Cubans who are seeking refuge in that instance?
MR PRICE: Well, what Secretary Mayorkas was illustrating yesterday was our sincere concern with the reality, and that is that anyone who takes to the seas to seek refuge in the United States, be it from Cuba or from Haiti, would put their life at own risk – at their own risk and would not gain entry to the United States. This is a journey that is dangerous and not one that would allow them to secure entry. That was really the humanitarian concern that Secretary Mayorkas was voicing yesterday. I don’t have anything for you on third countries. Obviously, we work very closely with DHS when it comes to issues of asylum, but I wouldn’t want to comment beyond that.
QUESTION: Can I have one more on Haiti? You said, I believe, the other day – it might have been yesterday – that you were waiting for consular access to all three Americans who’d been arrested in Haiti. Have you since had consular access to all three Americans?
MR PRICE: We have continued to have consular access to detained Americans. I confirmed the other day that we’re aware of three Americans who have been detained as part of the investigation. I’m not able to provide additional details given privacy considerations.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) This gets to what you were discussing yesterday, but reportedly Cuba, the internet restrictions have been eased slightly. But there – the Cuban foreign minister yesterday accused the United States of orchestrating the protests again through Twitter campaigns, through social media campaigns. Do you have any further comment on the situation there with the internet, and also about the detention of a journalists for the Spanish newspaper ABC, ABC?
MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to the detention of Camila Acosta of ABC, we know that the world is watching as Cuban authorities arrest and beat dozens of their own citizens, and that includes journalists and independent voices. We know that many remain missing. We join their families, Cuban human rights defenders, and people around the world in calling for the immediate release of those detained or missing for merely demanding freedom by exercising what is a universal right to free assembly and free expression. Violence and detentions of Cuban protesters and disappearances of independent activists remind us, constantly remind us that many Cubans pay very dearly for exercising rights that should be universal. And universal means everywhere around the world and anyone.
When it comes to the internet shutdowns, we spoke about this yesterday indeed, but we do condemn the use of partial or complete government-imposed internet shutdowns. We call on Cuba’s leaders to demonstrate restraint and urge respect for the voice of the people by opening all means of communication, both online and offline. The abuse of journalists, of independent voices, the attempted suppression, including through technological means, of the voice of the Cuban people, this is not something that could ever silence or quell the legitimate aspirations of the Cuban people for freedom, for human rights, for what their own government has denied to them for far too long.
Let me – everyone – yes, I don’t think I’ve called on you.
QUESTION: This is going back again to Afghanistan. What kind of role do you anticipate China to play, especially now after the withdrawal? Are you worried about – at all about what China might do after the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: Well, our relationship with China, as we say, is multifaceted. It is in some areas adversarial. It is in many, if not most, areas competitive. It is in some areas – there are some areas in which our interests align and where there is the potential for cooperation. We’ve talked about that in the context of climate, of course; in the context of Iran’s nuclear program, China – the – China being a member of the P5+1.
But there is the potential for constructive engagement on Afghanistan, and this goes back to the prior point, that an Afghanistan that is more secure, that’s more stable, that is peaceful – that is not only in the interests of the United States of America. It is certainly in the interests of Afghanistan’s neighbors. It is in the interests of the broader international community as well. So we look to China, as we do other regional countries, to play a role that is constructive and that helps bring about that outcome that is in our collective interests.
QUESTION: Follow-up on that. So are you saying that you’re not worried at all about China working exclusively with Taliban? Not – you’re not necessarily worried about other countries or governments in that area trying to basically further destabilize that area or that region?
MR PRICE: I’m saying that China – as do other countries, but China being, of course, an important country in the region – has the potential to be a constructive force when it comes to the cause of an Afghanistan that is more secure, that is more stable, that ultimately is peaceful. This has the potential to be one of those areas because it is an area where our interests do align, where the United States and the PRC can find some area of agreement and can work together constructively. The ability to do that would certainly be not only in our national interest but also the collective interest as well.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you one question on passports? I know we had the briefing this morning, but the State Department says that over 150 staffers are returning to the office this summer. But given the interest in travel – the rise in vaccination rates, the reopenings around the world – why wasn’t the State Department more prepared to deal with this rush of passport applications?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, Conor, we are weighing our important mission sets and also the safety, health, security of our personnel. And the department is still, in Washington here, we are still subject to occupancy restrictions owing to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. We have been able both here at main State and around the world to gradually resume operations, some operations that had been slowed over the course of the pandemic, and we certainly expect to be able to do more of that as conditions here in this country continue to improve. And it’s certainly our hope that we’ll be able to do more of that in our overseas installations as well.
QUESTION: What’s your message to Americans, then, whose passports are expired and had anticipated traveling this summer or even in the fall, given the fact that they wouldn’t be able to have their passport renewed?
MR PRICE: Well, our message is that —
MR PRICE: Our – do you want to come up here?
QUESTION: I don’t envy you.
MR PRICE: Our message, Conor, is that we are working just as expeditiously as we possibly can, knowing that the traveling public has legitimate interests in travel. We are gratified to see travel become possible once again given that the pandemic is easing, certainly in this country and in other countries – some other countries around the world. We will continue to contribute resources to this very important mission set.
QUESTION: Can I just ask one follow-up on Europe travel? Do you have any indication of when the travel restrictions against the Schengen Area might be lifted? And can you also just give a little of the logic behind why the Schengen Area continues to be listed on the travel ban but other countries with higher infection rates – Indonesia, Colombia, Mexico, parts of Africa, Eastern Europe, Russia – are not on the banned list?
MR PRICE: The various travel restrictions will be lifted as soon as we safely and responsibly can. The broader point here is that this is not a political decision. These are decisions that are informed by public health, that informed by the science, that are going to be and at the moment are being weighed by our public health professionals, including at the CDC. So as soon as those who are expert in the field determine that it is safe to repeal the various travel restrictions, I assure you there will be no delay in doing so. We understand the importance to the traveling public, to trade, to our relations and people-to-people ties with some of our closest allies and partners around the world.
Quick final question, (Inaudible.).
QUESTION: On security assistance to Haiti, is the U.S. still considering sending – sorry, considering the request to send troops to protect key infrastructure? If so, what size of force, how many soldiers is being analyzed? Are there discussions about a UN-led or multilateral force? And if so, what countries are you talking to about this with?
MR PRICE: Well, we continue to evaluate the Haitians’ – the Haitian Government’s request for assistance to determine how best the United States can address them. After close consultations, including in the context of the interagency delegation that was in Port-au-Prince 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, supporting the Haitian Government as it seeks justice in this case. Of course, the situation on the ground is evolving rapidly, and we continue to be in close contact with our Haitian partners about how we can best assist.
I should also add that the Department of Justice, together with the Department of Homeland Security, is providing assistance to Haitian authorities. The Department of Justice will continue to support Haitian authorities in their review of the facts and the circumstances surrounding this attack. We are also taking a close look at the Haitian Government’s needs in the context of critical infrastructure and how the United States might be able to assist the Haitian Government in protecting that critical infrastructure.
Just a moment to spend on the State Department. In response to a request from the Haitian Government and building on longstanding cooperation, the Department of State is deploying an advisor to the Haitian National Police Judicial Police and bringing on board an advisor to the Haitian National Police Inspector General. The advisor to the Haitian National Police Judicial Police will provide technical assistance to build the capacity of the Haitian National Police to investigate and to address serious crimes. The advisor to the police’s inspector general will help the HNP improve its capacity to address allegations of corruption, of human rights abuses, police misconduct.
We also currently support seven subject matter experts who advise the Haitian National Police on topics such as counternarcotics and community policing as well. We are also supporting training and procuring vehicles, radios, protective equipment to build the capacity of the Haitian National Police to protect Haitians from violence.
And then finally, in addition to the State Department support I just mentioned, as I alluded to before, DHS is sending experts from the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, to work with their Haitian counterparts in improving aviation and, as I mentioned before, critical infrastructure security as well.
Joel, quick final question.
QUESTION: Yeah, just – if I can, just one follow-up on Cuba, your comments about the internet, matter of internet access there. Senator Rubio has called for the U.S. to use satellite-based technology to provide internet access to overcome Cuban Government efforts to cut that. Is that something that the administration is considering?
MR PRICE: We are considering any number of ways and we have considered any number of ways to support the Cuban people – that is, to support them, their humanitarian needs; it is to support them in their broader efforts to secure greater degrees of liberty and freedom and human rights. But I don’t have anything specific to offer at this time.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:17 p.m.)