2:03 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Well, good afternoon, everyone. I’m sorry to surprise you since we are running so on time today. I would not – would not get used to it. You have already heard from her once today, but really pleased to have in the briefing room once again Dr. Kari Johnstone. Dr. Kari Johnstone, as you know, is acting director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. You had an opportunity to hear from her, from Secretary Blinken, from one of our heroes this year, but we wanted to bring Dr. Johnstone here to answer some of your questions on this year’s 2022 TIP Report. After that, we’ll resume with our regular scheduled programming, so Dr. Johnstone, over to you.
MS JOHNSTONE: Thank you so much, Ned. Good afternoon. I’m pleased to be with you today. Earlier today, Secretary Blinken did in fact release the 22 – 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report, or the TIP Report, which examines government efforts to combat human trafficking using a 3P framework of prosecuting traffickers, protecting victims, and preventing the crime. This is the 22nd TIP Report that the department has released, and as in every year, it reflects the U.S. Government’s commitment to global leadership on this key human rights, law enforcement, and national security issue. It remains our principal diplomatic and diagnostic tool to guide our engagement with foreign governments on human trafficking.
We are grateful to our colleagues at our embassies around the world and throughout the department who worked diligently to gather data and analyze the trafficking trends and efforts. I also heartily thank our team in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons for its dedication to our mission and to objectively assess governments’ efforts to meet the minimum standards as called for in the Trafficking Victim Protection Act. As we did last year, we were careful to assess consistently and fairly the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on governments’ anti-trafficking efforts.
The introduction to this year’s TIP Report highlights and emphasizes the importance of meaningful engagement with survivors of human trafficking and shares lessons learned and guidance for governments, international organizations, civil society, private sector entities, and other stakeholders who wish to further their survivor engagement efforts. This year’s introduction also establishes a solid foundation on reasonably engaging – sorry, responsibly engaging and reasonably engaging trafficking survivors, specifically experts with lived experience of human trafficking for whom sufficient time has passed since their exploitation, through trauma-informed approaches that promote transparency, trust, equity, inclusivity, and commitment to collaboration.
Survivors of human trafficking play a vital role in combating this crime. Their perspectives and experiences should be taken into consideration to effectively address human trafficking and to craft a better response to it. Survivor engagement is a central tenet of the U.S. Government’s and the department’s approach to combating human trafficking.
I also sincerely thank the Human Trafficking Expert Consultant Network – or the Network – through which the department engages experts, particularly survivors of human trafficking, who provide expertise and input into the development of Department of State anti-trafficking policies, strategies, and products, both in the United States and abroad. Network consultants provided content and feedback throughout the process of the drafting of this year’s introduction to this year’s report. These consultants have a range of expertise related to human trafficking, marginalized communities, trauma recovery and resiliency, mental health care, and survivor leadership. I thank them for their thoughtful and meaningful contributions to this year’s TIP Report.
The TIP Report also sought to elevate other important cross-cutting issues, such as the impact of the climate crisis, which exacerbates insecurities that directly increase trafficking risks for vulnerable populations. Vulnerable communities, such as displaced populations, migrants, indigenous communities, women, children, and minority populations, are more likely to experience impacts of climate change and, consequently, are even more vulnerable to exploitation, including human trafficking, largely due to lost livelihoods, displacement, and disrupted family arrangements.
As environmental conditions worsen, the number of those vulnerable to exploitation will increase. The United Nations Environment Programme, for example, indicates that human trafficking has the potential to increase by up to 30 percent during humanitarian disasters.
This year’s TIP Report also highlights corruption. Trafficking-related corruption by – is committed by a range of government officials. They also assist unscrupulous or unlicensed recruitment agencies during the recruitment of workers for employment, including providing false documentation and enabling illegal movements across borders. They fail to report suspected trafficking victims and the perpetrators, and they facilitate or turn a blind eye to ongoing illicit activities such as commercial sexual exploitation. They also accept bribes to hamper trafficking-related criminal justice proceedings by obstructing the reporting and gathering of evidence, influencing witnesses, tipping off traffickers of pending raids and investigations, or otherwise interfering with prosecution of traffickers.
Tackling corruption helps to combat human trafficking because corruption facilitates trafficking and perpetuates impunity for traffickers. Our reporting and diplomatic engagement aims to shine a light on these activities, encourage governments to address official complicity, and advance efforts to combat human trafficking, while simultaneously combating the corruption that enables it. This year’s TIP Report continues to focus on corruption through a feature box in the introduction, which complements this administration’s increased focus on tackling corruption.
We also included a special segment on the forced labor that occurs under the auspices of the PRC’s Belt and Road Initiative, a loose brand encompassing a broad assortment of infrastructure and development projects. In at least a dozen participating countries, PRC and host nationals alike are subjected to forced labor, a trend COVID-19 travel restrictions have exacerbated. Separately, the TIP Report’s continued focus on forced labor in Xinjiang and Tibet is part of this administration’s whole-of-government approach to address forced labor in the PRC and globally.
The U.S. Government has taken concrete measures to promote accountability in Xinjiang, including visa restrictions, Global Magnitsky and other financial sanctions, export controls, withhold release orders and import restrictions, the release of a business advisory on Xinjiang, and the adoption of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, or the UFLPA, in December 2021. The United States encourages allies and partners to take joint action to prevent and address forced labor and global supply chains, including those connected to the atrocities in Xinjiang.
This year’s report assesses 188 countries and territories, including the United States, which has been included in the ranking since 2010. Overall this year, there are 21 upgrades and 18 downgrades, compared to 17 upgrades and 20 downgrades last year. On a positive note, there are several upgrades due to tangible progress that governments made to combat human trafficking around the world during the reporting period. Three countries were upgraded to Tier 1, which is the highest ranking. Sixteen governments received upgrades to Tier 2 for increasing efforts to address trafficking with tangible achievements, and two countries were upgraded from Tier 3, which is the lowest ranking.
We saw notable progress on forced labor, which is a longstanding concern in many countries, including the United States. Around the world, governments identified more labor trafficking victims and prosecuted more labor traffickers this year. For example, in Bahrain, which remained on Tier 1, the government convicted labor traffickers for the first time since 2018 and it identified forced labor victims for the first time in two years. In Thailand, the government reported identifying 233 victims of labor trafficking, and it finalized standard operating procedures for government officials to pursue forced labor cases. Thailand was upgraded this year to Tier 2.
Several countries initiated their first human trafficking prosecutions or secured their first trafficking convictions. In the Comoros, officials initiated the country’s first trafficking prosecution and identified trafficking victims for the first time since 2013. Comoros was upgraded from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List this year. Barbados significantly increased investigations, initiated two prosecutions for the first time since 2013, and identified a victim for the first time since 2016. Barbados was also upgraded from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 2 this year. Of note, Iceland for the first time in 12 years prosecuted and convicted a trafficker. Iceland was upgraded from Tier 2 to Tier 1 this year.
Unfortunately, not all countries made such progress. One country was downgraded from Tier 2 to Tier – sorry, from Tier 1 to Tier 2. Ten countries were downgraded from Tier 2 to Tier 2 Watch List, and seven countries and territories were downgraded to Tier 3. The department also made the determination that 11 countries continued to have a government policy or pattern of human trafficking and inadequate enforcement mechanisms. Some government officials in these countries were themselves part of the problem, directly compelling citizens or foreign nationals into sex trafficking, forced labor, or use as child soldiers.
We found that some officials use their power to exploit their citizens or foreign nationals, ranging from forced labor in local or national public works projects, military operations, economically important sectors, or as part of government-funded projects or missions abroad, or sexual slavery in government compounds. This year 12 countries were included on the 2022 Child Soldier Prevention Act list for having governmental armed groups or supporting nongovernmental armed groups that recruit or use children in armed conflict.
Finally, I would like to include, on a inspirational note, as Ned said this year, the department is recognizing six TIP Report Heroes who have devoted their lives to the fight against human trafficking. The 2022 TIP Report Heroes come from Bangladesh, Jordan, Liberia, Poland, Thailand, and Ukraine. We hope you saw the livestream this morning with the award presentation and Mohammed Tariqul Islam’s speech on behalf of this year’s TIP Report Heroes. These individuals inspire each of us to do more to advance the global fight against human trafficking and protect the victims and survivors of this crime.
The honorees will engage with American communities and organizations committed to ending human trafficking through the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. I hope you’ll join us to heed their call to do more to advance our shared fight against human trafficking and elevate survivors.
MR PRICE: Great, thank you very much. Matt.
QUESTION: Hi. I’ve got a couple but they’re really brief. Just on one, is it – the definition that you used that all forced labor is a form of trafficking, I’m just curious because when you talk about Xinjiang, when I think – or what I think – when a lot of people think of trafficking, they think of moving people to faraway locations across borders and stuff like that. But when you talk about Xinjiang, so – is that – you mean that that forced labor is trafficking, yes?
MS JOHNSTONE: Yes.
MS JOHNSTONE: The short answer is yes, and it’s a really good question, if I can follow up a little bit more.
MS JOHNSTONE: There is a common misperception that movement is required for the crime of human trafficking. What makes it human trafficking is exploitation through force, fraud, or coercion for labor or commercial sex. So there may be movement, but unfortunately we’re seeing increasingly movement is not necessary. Some people may become trafficking victims even in their own home, as we’re seeing increasingly online sex trafficking occurring. So it’s the exploitation of forced labor as a form of human trafficking. Sex trafficking and forced labor are the two most common.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, that’s not – trafficking may be another word that —
MS JOHNSTONE: It’s a bit of a misnomer, but under U.S. law and international law, movement is not required.
QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, secondly, you made a big point at the very beginning of your presentation about how it’s important to hear from survivors – their voices, their experiences – and need to – but hasn’t that always been the case with these reports going back to when they first started? Why is it – how is it different this year?
MS JOHNSTONE: So I think this year we have really highlighted the importance of not only highlighting survivors’ experience but actually listening to them as experts. And we see more and more in the community, the broader anti-trafficking community and governments, including our own, that are through more and more formal mechanisms actually soliciting their advice on how do we improve our anti-trafficking policies and treating them not only as someone that can tell their story to raise awareness but actually integrating their expertise for how we can do better to fight this crime.
QUESTION: And the last one. On the child soldiers issue, how many countries that have been identified as using child soldiers are actually subject to U.S. sanctions, and how many have received presidential waivers?
MS JOHNSTONE: So this year the way that the process works for the child soldier protection act list – sorry, Prevention Act List, that list is published in the TIP Report like we’re doing today. And then at the beginning of the next fiscal year, so in October, the President determines whether to waive —
QUESTION: Right. So approximately how many?
MS JOHNSTONE: So for last year there were 15 countries —
QUESTION: And how many countries actually –
MS JOHNSTONE: Of those 15 last year that were on the 2021 TIP Report list – and I know I have it somewhere – the number – let me get back to you on that. The number – I know that I have it, but I don’t have it at the tip of my fingertips right now. The number that received – it was approximately – someone can correct me – I think that it was four that were fully waived, seven – thank you. Four that were fully waived, seven received partial waivers, and five did not receive any waiver and full restrictions were imposed. Thank you.
QUESTION: Okay. So – and those five were the usual suspects that are always – that are under already existing stringent U.S. sanctions for numerous other things, correct? Like Eritrea, Iran, Sudan, North Korea?
MS JOHNSTONE: So the five that were fully restricted last year, that were on the 2021 CSP list, were Afghanistan, Burma, Iran, Syria, and Venezuela. Eritrea was not on the list last year.
QUESTION: Okay. Okay, thanks.
MR PRICE: Said.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Thank you, Dr. Johnstone. First, you mentioned 11 countries.
MS JOHNSTONE: Yes, that are —
QUESTION: Are they published anywhere?
MS JOHNSTONE: I mentioned 11 countries that the department determined there is a government policy or pattern.
QUESTION: Right, that involved – yes.
MS JOHNSTONE: Yes, it is published, and I can also find —
QUESTION: Okay. And then I have a question on how do you classify – in certain Arab countries like Iraq or Syria under rebel control areas they have something called pleasure marriage, pleasure marriage, where poor families or families in general marry off their young daughter – 12, 13, 14. Is that classified as trafficking? Because normally they will move the – for three, four days, five days, whatever. Sometimes it can be longer. How is that classified?
MS JOHNSTONE: So the issue of early or child marriage is related to human trafficking, and the pleasure marriage —
QUESTION: If you allow me, yes, they call it pleasure marriage, actually. That’s exactly what it is, which is very (inaudible).
MS JOHNSTONE: Indeed. We are quite worried that that is indeed a practice that does facilitate and exacerbate human trafficking. Again, it comes down to the exploitation. If that marriage occurs for the purpose of essentially commercial sex, and there is an exchange for that, then it may very well be a form of human trafficking. Not all early marriages under U.S. law, but the cases that you mentioned generally are, yes.
MR PRICE: Shaun.
QUESTION: Multiple countries that are at Tier 3, quite a few of them are in Asia, Southeast Asia in particular. And then Macau, of course, was added there. It’s not a country, I think, but it was added there.
MS JOHNSTONE: A territory.
QUESTION: A territory. Do you see any structural or regional peculiarity why there’s such a problem there? Is it – are there particular factors in the past 12 years why there’s been the – there have been these issues? I know that other countries in that area in the past have had concerns. But why in particular, and what issues – are there any issues regionally that they can take together to combat this?
MS JOHNSTONE: Yeah, thank you for that question. So there were this year, as I mentioned, several countries within – and as you asked – within East Asia that were downgraded to Tier 3 as well as other tier rankings within the region.
Each year, the TIP Report assesses government efforts based on the efforts that that individual government made during the reporting period from April 1 through the end of March of this year for this year’s report. We saw that unfortunately there was – there were a number of countries this year within that region that did not make the increasing efforts and receive tangible results to stay on the tier that they were on last year and did, in fact, face downgrades.
One issue that I would point out, particularly among the countries that you asked within East Asia and Pacific region that were downgraded to Tier 3 this year, several of them had been on the Tier 2 Watch List for several years, and under U.S. law there’s a time limitation for how long a country can stay on the Watch List. And unfortunately, we saw that several of those countries did not make enough progress to support an upgrade and therefore the department was required to place them on Tier 3 this year.
MR PRICE: Kylie.
QUESTION: I am wondering why China was taken off of the state sponsor of trafficking list.
MS JOHNSTONE: So I’m not quite sure which – so Tier 3 is the tier within the Trafficking in Persons Report that is – we don’t use the word “state-sponsored trafficking” exactly the way that you phrased it. Tier 3 means that a government is not making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards.
China remains on Tier 3 not only because it has – is not making those efforts, but also because the Government of China does indeed have a policy or pattern. So it is on the list of countries that – in which the government is involved in perpetuating trafficking, largely because of the issues that we just discussed within Xinjiang and the government policy of perpetuating forced labor in Xinjiang and beyond.
QUESTION: So sorry, I’m just looking at the report here, and there is a – there’s a page where it says when the government is the trafficker, state-sponsored trafficking in persons, and then it lists those.
MS JOHNSTONE: China is definitely among those countries, of the 11.
QUESTION: China is not listed here, but maybe —
MS JOHNSTONE: That could be an error on the website. We’ll check that.
QUESTION: But Yemen is on here, which wasn’t on the list last year, but China isn’t on this. It says —
MS JOHNSTONE: We’ll check on the website, but China –
QUESTION: So China should be —
MS JOHNSTONE: Absolutely, yes. China remains on Tier 3 and —
MS JOHNSTONE: — the department did determine that it continues to have a government policy or pattern of human trafficking.
QUESTION: Hmm, okay. And then just one more question?
So in the remarks that Secretary Blinken wrote to open this report, he talks about the Ukraine war and the impact that that could potentially have, is expected to have, on human trafficking in the next year. And so I’m just wondering, with that awful expectation, what the Biden administration is doing to proactively prevent that from becoming a reality.
MS JOHNSTONE: Yeah, thank you very much for that question. That is one that we are seized with here at the department, as are our colleagues at our embassies throughout the region.
Even before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February, we began meeting with both the Ukrainian Government as well as governments of neighboring countries and our international partners, including international organizations, urging them in advance of the war to put anti-trafficking measures in place in their planning. Unfortunately, that became necessary, and we have continued through our embassies and through our office and our senior officials at the department to engage both the Ukrainian and other governments in the region. We are also realigning our foreign assistance efforts and working with international experts, including with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the EU, and Council of Europe and others who are very focused on this.
We believe that we have a historic opportunity to prevent a trafficking crisis amidst this broader humanitarian and refugee crisis, and we are seized with doing everything we can to prevent that.
MR PRICE: Humeyra, and then Alex.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for doing this. Just a quick one. I am reading the story from last year where U.S. had put Turkey to a list of countries that are implicated in the use of child soldiers, and that was the first time that a NATO country had actually – was actually in that list. I don’t see Turkey’s name in the list this year, so can you explain what made you remove them from that list and whether there are still ongoing concerns about whatever – the reasons that put Turkey there in the first place last year?
MS JOHNSTONE: Yeah, thank you for that question. Last year, Turkey was on the list of governments that – in the case of Turkey last year – supported a nonstate actor. This year, there were no reports that the Government of Turkey provided support to nonstate armed groups inside of Turkey, including the Syrian armed opposition groups that operate under the umbrella of the Turkish-supported Syrian National Army that recruited or used child soldiers.
As a respected regional leader and a member of NATO, as you point out, Turkey has the opportunity to address the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Syria given its influence there, and the U.S. hopes to continue to work with Turkey to encourage all groups involved in the Syrian conflict not to use child soldiers.
QUESTION: Right. Can I be very specific? Was it because of any lack of reports that they were out of the list or was there, like, specific conversations between the Turkish Government and the U.S. Government where you have told them, like, here is, like, a roadmap of how you can get out of this list, and they basically worked towards there and they’re no longer on the list?
MS JOHNSTONE: We certainly have conversations with the Government of Turkey – again, as a leader in the region and a member of NATO – urging them to stop supporting nonstate actors in Syria that use or recruit children. And there were no reported cases during this reporting period, from April 1 through the end of March this year.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MR PRICE: We’ll take a few final questions. Alex.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Dr. Johnstone, thanks for being here.
MS JOHNSTONE: Thank you.
QUESTION: Great to see you. One line comes up in the report repeatedly, which refers to COVID – you also mentioned it in your introduction this morning and also now. Azerbaijan was in the list of Tier 2-plus and could upgrade to Tier 2, but it’s not fully met minimum standards. But then you mentioned that – well, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity, what exactly do you mean? I just want to make sure you did not lower the bars just to let those countries to slide and get out of sanctions list. Thanks so much.
MS JOHNSTONE: Yeah, thank you very much for that question. For the last couple of years we have worked with our colleagues throughout the State Department and our embassies around the world to understand the impact of the pandemic specifically on governments’ efforts to fight anti-trafficking. Now, the report assesses governments’ efforts on trafficking. We know that in many places the pandemic has affected many lives and many issues in each country. But what we’ve really tried to do is be very careful about understanding and only taking into account consistently and fairly the ways that the pandemic may have affected governments’ anti-trafficking efforts specifically.
So for example, if courts were closed for a considerable amount of time, that might explain why convictions that year were down, for example. So we really honed in on the trafficking-specific impact of the pandemic.
MR PRICE: Pearl.
QUESTION: Yeah. So on child protection, Ghana had with the U.S. this initiative which – I’m not quite sure had – did that expire in 2020? And if not, have you selected other countries on the African continent?
And secondly, because you’re pointing out that this report is part of your diplomatic toolbox, how do you operationalize this report to advance your interests, for example, with these countries that may be using child soldiers? I’m trying to understand from having the report published, how do you operationalize it? Through your foreign missions? Through State Department senior officials? How can you – how do you do that?
MS JOHNSTONE: Yeah, thank you so much for those questions, Pearl. On the child compact – sorry – Child Protection Compact Partnership with Ghana, we did have a multiyear partnership that is a timebound partnership, so it has concluded. Our ongoing support and engagement and our foreign assistance to protect children from trafficking and increase the capacity within Ghana to also hold traffickers accountable – that work continues. The official partnership has concluded. We continue to expand our Child Protection Compact Partnerships with new countries around the world, and you will see another one on the continent soon.
To your broader question about how we use the tool – I’m sorry, we use the report as a tool to prompt progress – we, with our colleagues throughout the State Department, both senior officials here as well as at our embassies, have regular conversations with government officials and civil society, international organizations about the prioritized recommendations in each individual country narrative as a starting point so that we can understand how can we partner, how can we support those governments’ efforts, those civil society efforts to increase both capacity and achieve greater results within their country each year.
MR PRICE: Janne.
QUESTION: Thank you. About the North Korean defectors trapped in China – and North Korean defectors are sold to China and forced marriage and work. Has the United States discussed this with China recently?
MS JOHNSTONE: Yeah, thank you for that question. We have raised for many years, both in our diplomacy and in the Trafficking in Persons Report, our concern about trafficking – forced labor specifically – of North Koreans within China. We have documented that for many years, and we will continue to do so, as long as the practice continues.
MR PRICE: We’ll take a final question.
QUESTION: Yeah. You mentioned a conversation with Turkey on the nonstate actors in Syria, and in the report we also see that YPG in Syria, which is supported by the United States, is using child soldiers widely, both in Iraq and in Syria. Do you have a specific recommendation or – for the State Department as well to – what to do about the group? Because United States is supporting group on the ground.
MS JOHNSTONE: So we certainly work with our partners, including within the U.S. Government, to raise awareness about challenges of child soldier issues, and we’ll continue to work with our colleagues throughout the U.S. Government to make sure that we are also not supporting them.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much.
MS JOHNSTONE: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Appreciate it, as always.
MS JOHNSTONE: Thank you all for the good questions.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Okay. Before we turn to your questions, I just have one element at the top, and it’s something you all saw earlier today, when the President signed a new executive order which provides the U.S. Government expanded tools to deter and disrupt hostage-taking and wrongful detentions.
This executive order, among other actions, creates a comprehensive sanctions program as a tool to bring U.S. nationals held hostage and wrongfully detained home. The new sanctions authority enables the U.S. to impose financial sanctions and entry restrictions on those who are responsible for taking hostage or wrongfully detaining U.S. nationals and can apply irrespective of whether their captor is a terrorist network or a state actor.
It also reinforces the U.S. Government’s efforts to support families by instructing U.S. officials to expeditiously share, as appropriate, information and strategies for securing their loved one’s release.
Today, in a parallel effort, the State Department is introducing a new risk indicator to our Travel Advisories, what we call the “D” indicator. This new indicator warns U.S. citizens of the risk of wrongful detention by a foreign government. We are adding this indicator to highlight elevated risk of wrongful detention in particular countries that have regularly engaged in this practice. Obviously, we released more information on this earlier today.
And with that, I look forward to taking your questions. Humeyra.
QUESTION: So on this, I have a couple of questions.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: I’m sure you are aware of the criticism by the families that this is just a bureaucratic step, that in its substance it doesn’t achieve much. Some of these mechanisms that you’re putting out there has already been there, like sanctions-wise. And they also complain that there isn’t enough there to do something about the existing detainees and that it’s a little bit too much focused on deterring this kind of action. So just overall, what do you say to that?
MR PRICE: So a couple of points. Number one, this is an important, if incremental, step in our effort to achieve our top priority, and that is reuniting Americans who are held hostage or wrongfully detained with their loved ones. There is no single step we could take that would be a panacea. If that step existed, we would have taken it a long time ago and all detained Americans would have been released a long time ago. But we do see these as important tools, important tools that we will be a position to wield quite effectively.
On the questions of sanctions, we have previously used a patchwork of sanctions authorities to pursue those responsible for holding Americans, unjustly detaining them or for taking them hostage. We now – and sometimes that has been human rights authorities; sometimes it has been counterterrorism authorities. We now have a direct authority that allows us to pursue – with sanctions, with visa bans – those who are directly or, in some cases, indirectly responsible for ordering the detention, for orchestrating the detention, for maintaining the custody of an American, or for playing a role in the support network that does so. So this is an important authority.
On the question of whether this is all retrospective, it is very vitally important to us, I should say, that we have the ability to communicate fully and effectively with the families. There are – there is no one out there who has a better sense of the unique circumstances, the unique factors attributed to each case of an American hostage or wrongful detainee. Several years ago, in 2015 I believe it was, you may remember Presidential Policy Directive-30, and that gave us the ability to share information with families, but all of that was done primarily under the rubric of Americans who are held hostage. With this executive order, essentially a codification in some ways of the Robert Levinson Act, we now have a greater ability to communicate effectively, including otherwise sensitive information, not only with families of American hostages but also with wrongful detainees.
So these are important tools. These are important tools for – when it comes to the cases of Americans who are held hostage, who are wrongfully detained, but these are also important tools to pursue those countries that – or entities that – take part in this heinous practice, and when it comes to a separate tool – the “D” indicator, which in parallel we also announced today – to inform Americans of the risks of traveling to certain countries for – where they might find themselves at the mercy of a government that engages in this horrible practice.
QUESTION: So, I mean, when we look at some of those countries, some of them are top U.S. adversaries, and this was a point that was raised before, I think by Matt. Like, some of those countries you’ve already sanctioned all across the board on a number of different things – Venezuela, Iran, North Korea. What makes you think that these specific sanctions are going to make a difference? You haven’t been able to change their behavior with previous sanctions.
MR PRICE: Again, this is another important tool, and whereby previously we had to pull from human rights authorities, we had to pull from counterterrorism authorities, we now have a tool that our colleagues here at the State Department, in close coordination with our colleagues at Treasury, at OFAC, and elsewhere, can wield directly and effectively on individuals who directly or indirectly play a role in this heinous practice.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you this, then, because yesterday in the call they said State Department is going to take the lead on that. Have you guys already identified potential individuals – state, nonstate actors – around this issue to sanction?
MR PRICE: This is a priority issue for us, and by “this” I mean this abominable practice, but also our objective to see the safe and expeditious return of Americans who are held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas. So we’re always looking at actors, countries, entities who are responsible for this.
We did not announce sanctions today using this authority in part because we wanted to have discussions not only with partners throughout the U.S. Government but also with the families. We wanted to determine whether sanctions would be the appropriate next step. In some of these cases, sanctions might be; in other cases, sanctions won’t be, at least at this stage.
This gets back to the point I was making before: No one knows these cases better than the families. So in taking these steps, in considering various steps, we want to make sure that we have the ability, we have the authority that we need to engage in the kind of constructive and comprehensive conversations with the families that we feel that this EO will enable us to do.
QUESTION: Right. And my final one on this is, like, a minute ago you said there is no one move or action and we would have done it. Actually, in certain cases there is, and that’s a prisoner swap. And several families say in some of the cases that is basically the answer, and some of them don’t understand why handing over a criminal back to their country to secure the freedom of an American has to be a tough choice – like, you might see some family members on the record about this.
So, I mean, is the administration in any way more open to the swaps, given that this issue has gained prominence and there is, like, quite a lot of people now out there without, like, a clear strategy on how to bring them home? Is this something that you guys are more prominently thinking about?
MR PRICE: Well, Humeyra, this gets back to my first point. We are committed to doing everything we reasonably can to secure the release of Americans who are held hostage or unjustly detained overseas. That includes making tough decisions. You heard from the President directly earlier this year when one of those tough decisions confronted him and he decided to engage in a swap when it comes to securing the release of Trevor Reed.
Now, the distinction that we always make is that we have due process in this country. Those who are serving prison sentences in this country are doing so for good reason after being afforded and accorded that due process and convicted and sentenced by a jury of their peers. Of course, that is not always the case overseas, so these choices can be very difficult. That was the case when it comes to what ultimately led to Mr. Reed’s freedom.
But as we’ve said before, we are prepared to make these tough decisions. The President, I should say, is prepared to make these tough decisions because the President is committed to seeing the safe release of Americans who are held hostage or otherwise unjustly detained overseas.
QUESTION: New topic, if you don’t mind. This is somewhat of a general topic, but we see the record heat in Europe today and elsewhere in the world. We’ve seen severe heat. I know you don’t comment on what’s happening in Congress, but in light of what’s happening right now with the administration’s efforts, can you say the United States is still committed to take action against climate change? Or do you think that the United States is still on the right track with reducing its emissions in the way that it’s laid out as of last year?
MR PRICE: We remain absolutely committed, and it just so happens that, as record heat waves are striking the world, including in Europe, Secretary Kerry is in Berlin today where Germany, along with many of its neighbors, are experiencing this record heat wave.
The point is this, and it’s the point that Secretary Blinken, Secretary Kerry, and others have consistently made: This has to be the decisive decade. We have to change our trajectory if we are going to meet the goals that have been set out for us, the goals by which we can forestall irreversible damage to our climate and to the broader planetary ecosystem.
This is something we remain absolutely committed to. You saw this from us in terms of our commitments at COP26, but you saw this much earlier on in the administration when we made an ambitious pledge to reduce our own greenhouse gases by, I believe, 52 percent in the coming years.
We do this for a couple reasons: Number one, of course, we are one of the world’s largest emitters and what we do does have a material impact, but number two, we do it so that we can be a galvanizing force for the rest of the world. Because if it is only the United States and a smaller collection of countries acting, we are not going to be able to meet the climate targets that have been set out for us. If the United States continues to demonstrate its leadership, which we will, and we see commitments and cooperations – and cooperation from countries around the world, including other major emitters, we are fully capable of meeting the targets that have been set out for us.
We don’t have a choice in this matter. This is an existential question for the United States. It’s an existential question for the international community as well. The dire warnings I think are being seconded by the weather systems that we’re experiencing now, and we are committed to taking advantage of this moment and doing everything we can, including on the world stage, to see to it that we use this moment to change that trajectory and to do what we need to do to ensure that this decisive decade does not go by without us taking appropriate action.
QUESTION: Sorry, just to go back to the executive order again.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: The – I just – how much of a heads-up did the families get about the executive order announcement in terms of, like, days, weeks? And also, CBS understands that there was a call with the families yesterday giving a heads-up and that there was no ability for the families to ask questions on the call. CBS also understands that State was involved in organizing that call and that this sounds uncharacteristic of State to not give an opportunity for the families to ask questions. Is that correct? And was it a mistake that they weren’t able to ask questions on this particular call yesterday?
MR PRICE: Well, I wouldn’t want to speak to the logistics of our engagements with the families, specific logistics. But I’ll say a couple things: Secretary Blinken, Roger Carstens, our special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, and others throughout this government very consistently speak with hostage families. Secretary Blinken has no higher priority. Not a day goes by where he is not focused, in one way or another, on a particular case of an American who is separated from his or her loved ones or the broader systemic challenge. The same is true for other senior administration officials in our government.
As part of that, Secretary Blinken often speaks one-on-one with families. He has – he’s had occasion on multiple times now to speak with the families – all of the so-called SPEHA families, that is to say the families of Americans who are held hostage or wrongfully detained around the world. It is oftentimes in those larger group calls where, of course, we’re not discussing specific cases or strategies or hearing updates from families or relaying updates from our end, but imparting our prioritization, imparting elements of our broader policy.
And I can tell you that the hostage families were apprised of – and wrongful detainees’ families were apprised of these pending policy changes before they were announced. I wouldn’t want to get into the specifics, but those group calls are just one element of our engagement with the family.
And again, going back to what the EO does, it will position us to communicate with the families on a one-on-one, individualized basis much more effectively going forward. This is an authority that we have used to good effect when it comes to Americans who are held hostage, and now we’re in a position to use it to good effect for Americans who are wrongfully detained around the world as well.
QUESTION: And just one more. The Bring Our Families Home Campaign, which is many of these families that came together after the release of Trevor Reed, that – one of their main priorities is that they want to meet with the White House, with President Biden. The announcement of this executive order, is that – does that mean that any such meeting with groups of these families or individual families is likely not to go ahead anytime soon, or is it independent of that, or is this something you’re going to defer me to the White House about or —
MR PRICE: Of course, I am not in a position to speak to the President’s schedule. I am in a position to speak to his commitment to doing everything we reasonably can to bring Americans who are held hostage or wrongfully detained home.
What I can tell you is that from this building, a building I can speak for, Secretary Blinken, Special Envoy Carstens, and others in this building are regularly engaging hostage families both as a whole and as individuals, and I know the same is true of the White House.
QUESTION: On Iran, Ned, the head of Strategic Council on Foreign Relations said in a few days Iran is able to enrich uranium up to 60 percent, and again, we can easily produce 90 percent enriched uranium. Isn’t there yet a specific deadline or date for the nuclear talks to come to a conclusion?
MR PRICE: There is a deadline. There is a deadline, and that is the point at which the deal that has been on the table for some months now, the deal that was negotiated in good faith in exacting detail by the United States together with our European allies, together with Russia and China, in this case, the point at which that deal is no longer in our national security interest.
Right now, the fact is that there is a deal on the table that would once again subject Iran to the most stringent verification and monitoring program ever negotiated. It would once again put limits on what Iran is in a position to do when it comes to its stockpiles of heavy water and enriched uranium, and that spells out exactly the steps that the United States would takes – would take when it comes to sanctions relief, if Iran were to re-engage and to resume its compliance with the deal.
In our assessment, and that is an assessment that is informed by not only this building but the Intelligence Community, what we’re hearing from the IAEA, international weapons inspectors, information that we’ve received from our allies and partners around the world, the deal that is on the table would put us in a better position vis-à-vis the challenge of Iran’s nuclear program than our present circumstance. Because the fact is that over – since May of 2018, when the last administration abandoned the deal, Iran has been in a position to do the things that are expressly forbidden by the JCPOA. And Iran’s breakout time has dwindled from months, up to a year at one point, down to weeks or less. That is unacceptable to us. The status quo is unacceptable.
That is why we’re continuing to determine whether Iran will resume compliance with the JCPOA. If Iran makes clear that it has no intention of doing so and the deal that’s on the table is obviated by Iran’s continuing advancements in its nuclear program, we will pursue another path.
We have long been engaging our allies and partners about alternatives to the JCPOA. We’ll continue to have those discussions, because with each passing day it is – we’re not just treading water, but we’re losing ground. And Iran is sending a signal to us and to the rest of the world that is has no interest in mutually returning to compliance with the JCPOA.
QUESTION: Yeah. So Iran is very confident that they will get a nuclear weapon, and the United States is also expressing confidently that Iran won’t get that; we heard President saying in Middle East. For Iranian side, we see that they are – they continue with their nuclear program. But for the United States side, we are in darkness. Like we don’t know what the United States is going to do if Iran continues to do so. What are we missing? Like, why are you so confident that Iran won’t get any – a nuclear weapon while the talks are stalled and Iranians continue to do whatever they are doing?
MR PRICE: Again, the President, as you alluded to, has made a commitment that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon. We continue to believe that diplomacy is the most effective, durable, and sustainable means by which to achieve that. We are continuing to see out the prospects that Iran will decide to resume compliance with the JCPOA.
But of course, that is not a foregone conclusion and, in fact, far from it. So we are having discussions – and we have been having discussions – with our allies and partners about the steps we could take if Iran makes clear that it will not return to compliance with the JCPOA.
Obviously, we’re not going to spell out exactly what that will look like, but you heard this from the President when he was in Israel just late last week that we are prepared to use all instruments of national power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you about the – your definition of a deadline doesn’t seem to comport with, like, certainly not my editor’s idea of a deadline. Your definition of a deadline is completely subjective and it can change depending on —
MR PRICE: Well —
QUESTION: — depending on whatever you feel like at the moment. Like, oh, all of a sudden it’s now – Iran’s gone past the line and it’s no longer in our national security interest.
MR PRICE: I suppose it’s a good thing I don’t work for the AP. But we can —
QUESTION: (Laughter.) I guess. But I mean, he asked you about a deadline and you said of course there’s a deadline.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: But it isn’t. It is completely fluid.
MR PRICE: It is – it is a point at which we will no longer pursue the mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.
QUESTION: Yeah, but that point could be tomorrow or it could be five years from now.
MR PRICE: That’s correct.
QUESTION: But that’s —
MR PRICE: I don’t think either of those are correct.
MR PRICE: Excuse me, I shouldn’t – I shouldn’t be so flip. No, it is – time is running out and —
QUESTION: Time has been running out for the – I don’t want to go back into that.
MR PRICE: Matt, we continue to believe that diplomacy presents the best opportunity to place Iran’s nuclear program back in the box where not only United States but our allies and partners believe it needs to be. There is a deal that’s on the table. It is a deal that is and remains far preferable to the status quo. We will continue to see out whether Iran is amenable to returning to that deal. But as soon as that deal isn’t preferable to the status quo, we’ll pursue these other means, and that will be sooner rather than later.
QUESTION: Yes. I mean, our colleague said, if I understood him correctly, that Iran is determined to have a nuclear weapon. I don’t think so. I think Iran said that they are not interested in a nuclear weapon. They say they have the capacity to do a nuclear, but they are not interested in weaponizing the program. Is that your understanding of what they – of what they say?
MR PRICE: I will leave it – I will leave it to Iran to characterize the status —
QUESTION: Yeah, but do you agree that’s what they said?
MR PRICE: — the status of their program.
QUESTION: Okay. And my other question is that is there any ongoing – any kind of ongoing talks right now, whether in Doha or Vienna, whether —
MR PRICE: We’ve – as we’ve said —
QUESTION: Are you engaged with the Iranians in any way?
MR PRICE: We have not engaged directly with the Iranians. That has not been our choice. We would have preferred to engage in direct diplomacy many, many months ago. In fact, when this process first started we were prepared to engage directly with the Iranians in coordination with our European allies and our other P5+1 partners. The European Union has been playing the role of effective middlemen in these discussions. We’re grateful for the role that Enrique Mora and other European officials have played.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Turkey, given the fact that —
MR PRICE: Anything else on Iran? Yes.
QUESTION: Iran. On Iran.
MR PRICE: Oh, okay, let me – go ahead, Shaun.
QUESTION: On Iran but a bit different from this.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction on Jafar Panahi, the celebrated filmmaker, who has been – the Iranian judiciary said he has to serve his sentence from the 2010 (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: I understand he’s a German national, so I’d need to refer you to the German authorities to speak to that.
QUESTION: Just a follow up. NATO member Turkey is currently present at the summit in Iran. Did you discuss Iran with Turkey? Recently we had presidential meeting with – between Erdoğan and President Biden.
MR PRICE: So I would need to refer you to the White House to speak to the engagement between President Erdoğan and President Biden. What I will say broadly is that countries around the world have an interest in seeing to it that Iran is not able to acquire a nuclear weapon. That includes countries in the region, but it includes countries well beyond the region.
QUESTION: A different topic?
QUESTION: I have a few questions on —
QUESTION: We’ll – I’ll stick with Alex for one second. Sure.
QUESTION: Just on the Ukraine, and Kremlin says that when peace comes it will come on the Moscow’s terms because of its gaining ground, territories in Ukraine. Can you please respond to that? The quote came from Medvedev this morning.
MR PRICE: I didn’t understand the last part of your question.
QUESTION: Medvedev said that when peace comes it will be on our terms because we are gaining territories. Can I get your reaction to that?
MR PRICE: What we have seen is Moscow already thwarted in its strategic ambitions. It went into Ukraine now months ago with the intention of subverting the Ukrainian Government, of subjugating the Ukrainian people, and more broadly of dividing NATO, dividing the West, dividing the broader international community. On each of its strategic aims, Moscow has failed. Moscow has failed to achieve each one of them.
When it comes to what we’re seeing now, we are seeing heavy fighting in parts of Ukraine, heavy fighting especially in the Donbas in eastern Ukraine. Territory is going back and forth, is trading hands rather consistently. The incremental gains that Russia has been able to make, they have come at great, tremendous cost to the Russian Federation, both in terms of manpower but also in terms of treasure and supplies.
So our charge and what we are doing is supporting our Ukrainian partners in the interim, providing them with precisely what they need to continue to defend their territory, but also their democracy and their freedoms. Not only is this allowing and enabling our Ukrainian partners to be effective on the battlefield, but it is strengthening their hands at any negotiating table that will emerge. And I say “any negotiating table” because we’ve heard from President Zelenskyy that this conflict can only end diplomatically. But until this point at least, we’ve seen no indication from Russia that they are prepared to engage in genuine diplomacy.
So until Moscow changes its approach, together with dozens of countries around the world, we’ll continue to provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need on the battlefield, but ultimately to help strengthen their hands at that ultimate negotiating table.
Follow-up on that?
QUESTION: On Ukraine.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: The image of the Ukrainian fields of wheat burning are still a reality, despite of the extra military help that the U.S. is sending, and also despite of the strong statements from the State Department regarding the Russian invasion. So what you could address about this new reality, burning fields of wheat in Ukraine?
MR PRICE: Well, unfortunately, this isn’t exactly a new reality. It has been one of the heinous tactics that Russia has employed against not only the Ukrainian people, but the international community since the earliest days of this conflict. We have seen the rise in food prices affect countries not only in the region, but countries in many cases far afield. In sub-Saharan Africa, in South Asia, in Latin America, in virtually every region of the world, this is being felt. It is the practice of burning, of destroying wheat and other fields. It is the practice of attacking grain silos. It is the practice of pursuing Ukraine’s farmers and its harvesters. And perhaps most acutely, it’s the horrific practice of blockading Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. The Port of Odessa, were it to open, there are tens of thousands of tons – excuse me, there are millions of tons of grain that could be supplied to the world market in relatively short order.
So the UN secretary general has been – and we’ve been supportive of his efforts to work with our partners, Ukraine and Turkey, but also with the Russians to find a solution to this Black Sea blockade. Ultimately, the solution can and should be simple. It’s for Russia to end its blockade. We’re supportive of the UN’s efforts to advance that ultimate goal, and in the interim we’re working with partners around the world to try to address both the short-term and the longer-term challenges to food security that Russia’s invasion – but also longer-term factors, like climate change – have precipitated.
QUESTION: Questions on Taiwan. Is the State Department facilitating Speaker Pelosi’s upcoming trip to Taiwan?
MR PRICE: I am not aware that the speaker’s office has announced any forthcoming travel, so I would need you – to refer you to the speaker’s office to refer to any potential travel she might undertake.
QUESTION: So you must be aware of Chinese foreign ministry actually ask the U.S. Government not to arrange such trip. Would you consider this request?
MR PRICE: Again, there has been no such trip, no forthcoming travel announced by the speaker’s office. I would need to refer you to her office. Of course, in our country, Congress is a separate and co-equal branch, and would need to refer you to the speaker’s office to address any potential travel.
QUESTION: So they haven’t get in touch with the State Department asking for any assistance?
MR PRICE: We are regularly in contact with a range of offices. We have a close relationship with a number of different offices, and that includes House and Senate leadership. I’m not going to detail those conversations, but it is not for me to speak in any way to any travel or potential travel that has not been announced.
QUESTION: But would this complicate your relationship with China? Because yesterday the Chinese foreign ministry actually issued a very stark warning, saying this trip will have negative impact on the political foundation of U.S.-China relation, and this is going to send the wrong signal.
MR PRICE: Again, I believe the foreign ministry was weighing in on a hypothetical. That is something that I will hesitate doing here.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Thanks. So at the Atlantic Council that Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that he’s confident Ukraine will get longer-range weapons. And he also seemed to suggest that the Kerch Strait Bridge could be a target for them. So first, is – are the weapons, like longer range, forthcoming? And second, would the bridge be a legitimate target, in your view?
MR PRICE: Well, there is nothing that is legitimate in terms of being a target inside of Ukraine. Russia’s war against Ukraine, it was unprovoked, it’s unjustified, it’s illegal.
QUESTION: No, but I mean the Russian bridge that – the bridge that Russia built between Russia and Crimea.
MR PRICE: Again, there is nothing that we would consider a legitimate target. This is an illegal – excuse me, could you explain your question one more time? Am I missing your question?
QUESTION: No, the Ukrainian —
MR PRICE: I see.
QUESTION: So Russia built the bridge between the – between Russia proper and Crimea.
MR PRICE: I see.
QUESTION: And he indicated that he supports striking it.
MR PRICE: I see. I see. I’m not going to weigh in on any tactical or battlefield decisions that our Ukrainian partners would need to make. We are providing them with the supplies that they need to engage in self-defense.
QUESTION: And can I – okay.
MR PRICE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. He also said that Ukraine will come up soon with some kind of tracking process or mechanism to reassure those worrying about accountability in terms of the arms that are pouring into Ukraine. Is this something that’s being done in conjunction with the U.S. or – do you have something?
MR PRICE: This is – sure. This is something that we always do as a matter of course. We take very seriously our responsibility to ensure appropriate oversight of the assistance we provide. We’re actively engaging with the Government of Ukraine to ensure accountability of assistance, even amidst the very challenging circumstances in the context of Russia’s war against Ukraine. And we’ll continue to work with our Ukrainian partners to ensure that that assistance continues to be used properly, that it continues to be safeguarded as, again, our Ukrainian partners use that assistance to defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity against Russia’s ongoing aggression.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. On the Palestinian issue, in the last 24 hours, the Israelis arrested 15 Palestinians, among them at least one known journalist, Amer Abu Arafeh, who worked for Al-Quds press and so on. I wonder if you’re aware of that, and if so, if you would call on the Israelis to release the journalist or any other journalist that they may have arrested there. And also – and the group also includes a 15-year-old and so on, and the Israelis are in the habit of holding people indefinitely under the pretext of administrative detention. So I wonder if you have any comment on that.
MR PRICE: I’m not immediately aware of the details you’re referencing. If we do have a specific comment, we’ll be happy to let you know. What I will say generally is that our commitment to media freedom, to freedom of the press, it is universal, it is country-agnostic, it’s a principle that we uphold around the world.
QUESTION: And on the settlement issue, the Israelis have issued – I guess they legitimized a new outpost outside Ramallah, a new settlement outpost. And the settlement movement Nahala, or Nachala, has also announced that tomorrow, they will launch dozens – that’s what they said – dozens of settlement outposts all throughout the West Bank. I wonder if you have any comment. I know you say both sides and so on. In this last year, you issued a very strong statement against settlement. Would you do the same thing today?
MR PRICE: We have consistently spoken about – spoken out against any steps that undercut or – undercut the prospects of a two-state solution or that exacerbate tensions. We have spoken of settlement activity in that context, but again, if we have a specific comment on this development, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: And lastly, I want to follow up on Matt’s question yesterday on the Palestinian human rights organization. Now the Europeans thought that there was nothing there, that Israeli accusations were not based in reality, there was no evidence and so on. You’re saying that you are still looking into this matter. When will you come up with a final conclusion to your investigation?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to put a firm timeframe on it. What I can say – and I think you know this – we have not on our part designated any of these six NGOs. We have not funded any of these groups. We have long designated the PFLP as a foreign terrorist organization since 1997, I believe it was. But when it comes to these groups, we have neither funded nor designated any of them.
QUESTION: Sure. Could I follow up? We spoke recently about Afghanistan, about the talks with the Taliban that Tom West had in Doha. Just wanted to see if there’s any follow-up. I know that we talked about the – no deal being reached immediately on the reserves being put into the hands of the Afghan Central Bank. Just wondering if there’s been any further progress on that. Are there still discussions on that or is that just not – just moribund right now?
MR PRICE: So there are still ongoing discussions. We are urgently working to address concerns about the use of the licensed $3.5 billion in Afghan central bank reserves to ensure, to see to it, that they benefit the people of Afghanistan and not the Taliban. We’re working with Afghans, we’re working with local partners at the technical level, to address underlying macroeconomic issues, which will provide, we believe, necessary stability for the current humanitarian response to be more effective, and it will alleviate many of the issues that fueled the humanitarian crisis we see today. So these talks are ongoing. As soon as we have an update, be happy to let you know.
Yeah, a couple of final questions. Pearl.
QUESTION: Yes, on Russia’s influence on – in Africa. Ned, I guess I just want to have some understanding because – what do you hope to achieve to counter your great power competitors in Africa with this Russia, and including China as well, being purveyors of disinformation? I don’t recall seeing any line items on the FY 2023 budget in terms of what resources you’re going to have available or that you’re asking from Congress to take care of the Russia component. I did see the China. Maybe help me understand.
Do you have resources now, or are you going to go back to Congress and ask for those? I can tell you right now that there are reports even this week of Chinese embassy officials going after local media in southern Africa when they write – publish stories that are critical of China, for example. But I want to understand. I see what you – what the State Department wants to try and do. What resources do you have or plan to have to be able to counter this disinformation continuing on the continent?
MR PRICE: So this has absolutely been a priority of ours. We know that, far from being misinformation, this does veer into intentional disinformation. It’s important that the United States, that we work directly with our partners on the ground in Africa, in this case, to put a spotlight on misinformation and disinformation, including such information that’s emanating from state entities.
This is something that we’ve done in the context of Russia’s war against Ukraine. We have made very clear that disinformation – suggesting that, for example, U.S. or international sanctions are responsible for the rise in food and commodity prices – are nothing but disinformation. And so we – this is a an ongoing challenge. We do have budgetary authority to continue to do this, and it’s something that we know will continue to determine our effectiveness with communicating to audiences around the world.
QUESTION: Can I press you just a little bit more on that? Because, Ned, what we are seeing are groups that seem to have significant funding who may not come back and counter the issue about Ukraine, but yes, they may come after American sentiment that may be kind of anti-sanctions narratives and things of that nature. Do you think that you’re going to have the resources in time to counter those before they take root, as we’re already seeing them begin to take root? Like, how ahead of this issue are you really going to be?
MR PRICE: Well, we have to stay on top of this issue. It is something we know that is much more difficult to combat, much more difficult to address once a narrative has already taken root. So part of our task is to be there at the outset not with misinformation or disinformation of our own, but with information. And we’ve found that the best antidote to the pernicious forces of disinformation and misinformation is information. We’ll continue to work with our partners on the ground to make sure that audiences in Africa or around the world are able to access that to diagnose what is nothing more than, in some cases, state-sponsored efforts to mislead and to deceive.
Final question. Alex.
QUESTION: Ned, there are reports that EU is considering to unblock Russian bank funds to boost food trade. Have you seen those reports, and what – where are you standing on this? I’m asking because Ukraine has been for a long time asking the West to refrain from any temptation on loosening its sanctions or to give in to these demands no matter what.
MR PRICE: Well, what I’ll say generally, it’s very clear that the sanctions imposed by the United States and our partners around the world are having – imposing a severe cost on Russia. We are targeting our sanctions very closely to mitigate the impact on vulnerable populations and to ensure that trade, food, medicine is unimpeded, as well as to minimize the effects on global markets. These are conversations that we’re regularly having with our European allies and other partners as well, and we’ll continue to hone our approach, including our approach to financial sanctions and other economic measures, over the course of the coming days and coming weeks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:14 p.m.)
 Correction: Jafar Panahi is an Iranian national. We have seen the reports out of Iran. The United States condemns Iran’s continued efforts to prevent the exercise of freedom of expression. Societies are strengthened, not threatened, by expressions of opinion and dissent, including those directed at governments. We urge the Iranian government to release all media workers, activists, and peaceful protesters it has arbitrarily detained. ↑