2:02 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: We’ll go ahead and get started.
We condemn in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack in Baghdad yesterday. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack in Sadr City which killed at least 30 people and injured dozens of others. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and hope for a speedy recovery for all of those wounded.
This vicious act of terrorism came the evening prior to the holy day of Eid al-Adha, a time of joy for millions of Iraqi families. The U.S. reaffirms its commitment to support the Iraqi people and their government in these difficult times, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to the efforts of the Global Coalition to degrade and to defeat ISIS.
Next, the United States congratulates the people of Peru for making their voices heard in free and fair presidential and legislative elections. The United States and Peru enjoy deep bonds between our peoples, and we have mutual interests in democracy, security, trade, and respect for human rights. Cooperation between the United States and Peru has improved the health, the livelihood, safety, and environmental protections for both our countries and throughout the region as well. We are eager to work with President-Elect Castillo’s administration to strengthen the U.S.-Peru relationship and move our nations towards an even better and brighter future.
So with that, Matt, I’m happy to take questions.
QUESTION: Thank you. Let’s start with the Middle East and the ice cream war that is churning between Israel and Ben & Jerry’s. Does the administration have any position on this, or do you regard this as kind of a private matter to be – that you don’t need to weigh in on?
MR PRICE: Well, I don’t have a reaction to offer regarding the actions of a private company. But more broadly, what I will say is that we firmly reject the BDS movement, which unfairly singles out Israel. While the Biden-Harris administration will fully and always respect the First Amendment rights of our citizens, of the American people, the United States will be a strong partner in fighting efforts around the world that potentially seek to delegitimize Israel and will work tirelessly to support Israel’s further integration into the international community.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, does that mean – do you regard this decision by the company not to sell its product in the occupied Palestinian territories as an element of the BDS movement or as an element of the broader BDS campaign?
MR PRICE: What I will say is that this company I believe has issued a statement regarding its motivations and its objectives. I would let this company speak for itself.
QUESTION: So, you would not expect, then, there to be any – this to be some kind of a flashpoint or a touchstone issue for a speeding up or producing a broader – the broader review of your policy, of the administration’s policy on the legitimacy or lack thereof of settlements and/or of any potential federal – support for any federal move for or against BDS? No?
MR PRICE: Look, our position on BDS has been clear. This is not something that we need to review.
MR PRICE: Again, the BDS movement unfairly singles out Israel. We will, consistent with the First Amendment rights of the American people, always work to be a strong partner to Israel and work with Israel to counter efforts to delegitimize it around the world, just as we work with our partner Israel to further its economic prosperity.
QUESTION: But you do not necessarily think that this decision by this one company unfairly – quote-unquote “unfairly singles out” Israel? Or you do?
MR PRICE: I am just not going to weigh in on the objectives, the motivations of a private company. I’ll let the company speak for itself.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: There is a – there’s news of a working group on remittances. Can you explain a little bit about that? Is there an intention at all to restart remittances in some way, even if it’s in a different way from before?
MR PRICE: Sure, let me give you a little more context. And you heard this from the White House, and my colleague at the White House I believe spoke to this earlier today. But as you know, we have consistently stood with the Cuban people, including in the context of the recent protests across the island nation. We will continue to support the Cuban people in their legitimate aspirations for human rights, for democracy, for the values that have for far too long – since 1959 at least – been denied to them.
As part of that, we will always look for ways to support them but also to the Cuban regime accountable. This includes our efforts to build international pressure against the abuses of the regime, designating sanctions against those responsible for the violence, for the repression that has followed the recent protests. And when it comes to assisting the Cubans, we’ll look at any number of ways. And that includes – you mentioned both remittances, and we also spoke to helping to facilitate internet access as well.
When it comes to remittances, as you heard, we will form a remittances working group to identify the most effective ways to get remittances – this is important – directly into the hands of the Cuban people. Beyond that, we are also reviewing our plans to augment staffing at our embassy in Havana to facilitate the consular activities, the engagement with civil society, and to make sure we have an appropriate security posture as well.
When it comes to internet access, we are working with the private sector as well as with Congress, which, of course, has a keen interest in all of this, to identify viable options to make the internet more accessible to the Cuban people and will also leverage our international partners, including international organizations, to do what we can to increase humanitarian assistance flows to Cuba.
Now, when it comes to the other side of the equation, holding the regime accountable, the Treasury, specifically via their Office of Foreign Assets Control, will continue to explore designating Cuban officials who are responsible for what we have seen – namely the violence, the repression, the human rights violations – again, against these peaceful protestors in Cuba who were and are doing nothing more than exercising their universal rights.
We’re also working diligently with the international community to collectively condemn this repression and support the Cuban people, who very clearly are demanding the freedom and the rights that have long been denied to them.
When it comes to remittances, Shaun, the administration, as I said before, is focused on allowing such transfers only if we can guarantee that the money flows directly into the hands of the Cuban people. We are going to, as we explore this issue, make sure that we are doing everything we can to see to it that those proceeds go to the Cuban people and that they do not go into the regime’s coffers. Again, this is a regime that has denied its people of resources and of rights, and I think we have seen that come to the fore in Cuba in recent days. And we’re, as you heard from the White House, very closely studying how we might affect this going forward.
QUESTION: Can I just press you on one point about – you were saying planning to augment staff at the embassy. Is that something that’s going to happen imminently? And what have you done specifically to engage civil society? Could you explain a bit more what these extra people will be doing?
MR PRICE: Sure. The staffing at our embassy will serve to enhance our diplomatic, our engagement – our diplomatic activity, our engagement with civil society, our consular service engagement, all of which will be in service of helping the Cuban people to secure greater degrees of human rights, of freedom, of the universal rights that have been denied to them for far too long.
So I don’t have anything to offer in terms of time frame, but we do know that if we are going to be doing all we can to support the aspirations of the Cuban people we need to have a presence on the ground that will appropriately position us to do just that.
QUESTION: Yeah, I have two follow-ups. Last week, President Biden said pretty clearly that he was not going to consider remittances. I’m wondering what changed between that conversation with Chancellor Merkel and today. I think you flicked at it a little bit by saying that you want to make sure that the money is going to go to the Cuban people, but that was something that could have been considered last week as well. So, what’s changed in the last few days?
And then also when you’re talking about augmenting staffing in Embassy Havana, what kind of precautions is the State Department taking to make sure that they are not victim to some of the illnesses that we’ve seen in years past there? Thanks.
MR PRICE: Thank you. So, what you heard from President Biden last week was the concern that I expressed today, and that is namely the fact that we are going to do everything we can as we study this issue to devise ways to ensure that these remittances – that in many cases are hard-earned funds from Cuban Americans and their associates back here in the United States to Cubans on the island – to ensure that they go directly to the people. That has been the concern with remittances in the past.
Look, we are all about devising ways that we can support the Cuban people, but we have to make sure that these tactics, these tools, these procedures in this case, do, in fact, support the Cuban people. We’ve engaged in a number of consultations, including with senior members of Congress on this. And we are confident that through studying the issue we may be able to devise ways to do just that, to affect these remittances, to ensure that the funds get into the hands of the Cuban people, while ensuring that they do not, on the other hand, go into the coffers of the regime.
QUESTION: Is it fair then to assume – sorry – that after the President’s comments members of Congress and others in the government said, “Hey, let’s take another look at this. There is a way we could at least study getting the money directly to the Cuban people, as opposed to it going to the regime”?
MR PRICE: As we have seen these peaceful protests take place on the island, the Cuban people demand the legitimate aspirations for human rights, for greater degrees of freedom, for liberty. We have made clear that we are going to thoroughly investigate any, and all ways that we can support those legitimate aspirations. We have been in regular contact with members of Congress, of course both before the protests of recent days and in the aftermath. We have heard good ideas from members of Congress; we’ve shared our ideas with members of Congress and other important stakeholders as well. So, this idea – of course, there’s nothing new about this particular idea. It’s always been on the table. But what is new is the announcement that we are going to study it very carefully, very closely to determine what and how we might be able to move forward in a way that supports the Cuban people without adding to the coffers of the regime.
QUESTION: And —
MR PRICE: To your second question —
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you.
MR PRICE: — and staffing at the embassy, of course we have spoken very clearly about the priority we attach to the safety, the security, the well-being of our personnel around the world. We have also spoken just yesterday of the unexplained health incidents that have plagued our personnel around the world, and it’s no secret that Havana was a site of some of these incidents. So, as you know, I am not in a position to detail security precautions or measures that we may take, but every time we deploy our personnel overseas, we do so taking into account precautions and doing everything we can to see to it that our people are protected, that they have what they need to do their job effectively, and that their safety, well-being, and welfare is an utmost priority.
QUESTION: So, in other words, you have confidence that Embassy Havana and its environs are safe for diplomats in order for them to return. There’s not a concern that this – these illnesses could crop up again. There’s —
MR PRICE: Well, so what we said is that we’re going to review planning to augment personnel back at the embassy. We are taking every consideration into account, as you expect we would. The safety and security concerns are certainly one of those issues we’re going to take into account. But we’re just starting this process, so I don’t want to prejudge it right now.
QUESTION: Ned, on the remittances, I’m just a little confused about how you – when you say you want it to go directly to the Cuban people. Well, obviously that’s what – every administration has wanted that. But is there a percentage fee or a percentage of an amount that is sent to Cuba that you’re okay with that is taken by – a processing fee, administrative fee, whatever you want to call it – by a bank, which is obviously state-run, or a state-controlled enterprise, or one that has to pay the government, like Western Union or something like that? Is there a maximum percentage that you’re prepared to allow?
Because short of flying remittances – cash, from remittances into the embassy and then having people come to the embassy to hand it out to people, I don’t see how you’re going to get – it’s got – there’s a transaction here that doesn’t involve – unless you are going to do that – that doesn’t involve U.S. officials. So, when you say you want the money to go directly to the Cuban people, is there an amount that can – that is acceptable to go to a Cuban Government-owned or controlled entity?
MR PRICE: Well, of course, there’s not an amount that is acceptable to us to go into the coffers of the Cuban Government. After our – after all, our goal is to support the Cuban people and to help them achieve their aspirations, the aspirations that this very regime has, for far too long, denied to the Cuban people. So again, what we are doing is forming a remittance working group to identify the most effective ways to get remittances directly into their hands.
QUESTION: I get that. But does that mean that no fee is the only thing that’s acceptable? No percentage cut of whatever is sent is – there can’t be any —
MR PRICE: Again, when it comes to this working group, which was just announced yesterday and spoken to today, when it comes to our planning for Embassy Havana, these are – they are just now – the planning for these are just now underway, so I don’t want to get ahead of where we are. But it’s something we’re looking at very, very closely.
Simon. Sorry, yeah.
QUESTION: Staying on Cuba, you mentioned you’re trying to – working with Congress and the private sector to try and help expand internet access. Does that mean you’re sort of looking towards a private sector solution to this rather than, say, the U.S. military? (Inaudible) happen in other countries often (inaudible) private sector (inaudible) want to go through that route.
MR PRICE: Well, we’re working closely, yes, with the private sector, but we’re also working with Congress, as we are across many of these lines of effort, to identify viable options to make the internet more accessible to the Cuban people. We’re – we will be actively collaborating with our private sector partners to identify ways that may, in fact, be creative to ensure that the Cuban people have access to the free flow of information on the internet.
You’ve heard us say this before, but in the interim and right now – today – we call on Cuba’s leaders to reinstate and to maintain access to all internet and telecommunications services for all people within its borders. We support, just as in Cuba as we do around the world, unrestricted access to the global, open, interoperable, reliable, and secure internet, and we condemn actions by the Cuban Government to restrict this access.
Not only in Cuba but across the board, we very carefully examine and provide funding to support the development, the global deployment, and operation of the latest available secure and reliable technical solutions to internet censorship, to content blocking, and shutdowns. Our programming makes secure circumvention and communication tools available to internet users everywhere who may be – who may seek access to blocked websites and social media platforms, and that includes on Cuba.
We currently provide over $60 million in funding worldwide each year for programs to support that unrestricted access to the global, open, interoperable, reliable, and secure internet. These programs are so important to us precisely because they can help to promote human rights, fundamental freedoms, the free flow of information online, regardless of national boundaries or frontiers, consistent with international human rights norms and standards. We believe that the Cuban people deserve what people around the world deserve, and we’ll be looking at ways to assist that going forward.
QUESTION: On Cuba.
MR PRICE: Staying on Cuba, let’s – sure, yeah.
QUESTION: One more. NBC News has confirmed the administration is looking at over 200 possible cases of these unexplained health incidents. Has the administration gotten any closer to determining who or what is behind them?
MR PRICE: Well, we have spoken to this in some detail, knowing that there’re going to be certain details that we’re not in a position to share broadly. But you heard me, in fact, say this yesterday, that the State Department is committed to ensuring the health, the safety, the well-being of our personnel and their families, and we are working diligently with our partners in the interagency to determine the cause of these incidents. The Secretary was asked about this on the Hill. Other members of the administration have been asked about that. We’re not in a position – we don’t yet know, precisely, the cause of these incidents, but we continue to encourage members of our mission communities around the world to report a potential UHI, or unexplained health incident, to their post’s security and medical personnel.
We are investigating and reviewing reports of incidents from all around the world. We’re also not in a position to confirm numbers. But as you know, Ambassador Spratlen, whom Secretary Blinken appointed to head the Health Incidents Response Task Force, along with our Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Brian McKeon, have been deeply engaged in this. And there have been communications to the entire workforce, to targeted members of the workforce; they have met with members of our workforce who have been – who have suffered from these unexplained health incidents. We are going to continue to do all we can to ensure that we are providing these employees with all the support they need as they deal with this going forward.
Yes. Yeah, Jenny.
QUESTION: Can I go to Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: There are reports today that the U.S. is near an agreement with Qatar and Kuwait to house SIV applicants on military bases in those countries. Can you comment on those reports? Are they accurate?
MR PRICE: Well, let me, again, just give you a little bit of context. And of course, yesterday we spoke of our plans to relocate to the United States about 700 principal – Afghan principal SIV applicants and their immediate families. And we spoke yesterday about the plans per a State Department request to the Department of Defense to relocate them in the coming days and coming weeks to Fort Lee in Virginia. In all, we estimate that that group of some 750 principal applicants plus their family members will total about 2,500 Afghans in this group. These are individuals who have completed their security processing and – where they will undergo at Fort Lee the final step in the process, and that is the medical exam to qualify for special immigrant status.
Now, you are referring to another group of Afghan SIV applicants, and these are applicants who have not yet completed that step, the security – the rigorous security vetting procedures. So, there are about 4,000 principal applicants in this group. Our plan for this contingent is to relocate them and their immediate families to locations outside of the United States, where we can help to ensure their safety and security. For this group, we will be providing accommodation during the processing period. It can last several months, although, of course, we are going to continue to strive to condense and to shorten that process as much as possible.
Once we have confirmed agreements with third countries, and once we are confident about the security of individuals who will be relocated to those third countries, we will share more with all of you regarding where these applicants will be temporarily relocated, but always, always, always with an eye to ensuring that we’re not doing anything that would jeopardize the safety or security of these individuals. What I can say now is that when we do relocate these individuals to a location outside of the United States, it will be to a location that is safe and there – and from where they can await their visa decision. Every location we’re considering is appropriate, and will be appropriate to keep these families safe, secure, and well cared for.
As you know, we have engaged in discussions with a number of countries. Those discussions are ongoing, so I’m not in a position to preview plans for this contingent. But consistent with the safety and security of these applicants, we will reveal additional details as we’re able.
QUESTION: Will that relocation happen before the end of August, when the President says that withdrawal will be complete?
MR PRICE: So, I don’t have a timeframe for you there, but what I will, again, emphasize is that the President said that these relocation flights will begin this month. And so, we certainly expect relocation to the United States for that first group of applicants, who have cleared that rigorous security vetting procedure, to start later this month.
I think the other point, though, is that we are not – we will maintain a diplomatic presence on the ground in Afghanistan. So just as we will continue to move as expeditiously as possible in the processing of SIV applicants at every stage of the process, this opportunity, this program will not come to an end with withdrawal of the U.S. military from Afghanistan in the coming weeks. We will maintain that diplomatic presence, precisely so that we can continue to support the Afghan people – and we have done that through any number of tools and with humanitarian assistance – but also to administer this program going forward as well.
QUESTION: I have just a couple follow-ups on Afghanistan. So, I may have misheard you. Did you say that the – that larger group of 4K principal applicants, they’re going to be relocated to the location outside the United States while the security step is being conducted? Okay.
MR PRICE: That’s right.
QUESTION: And then is – will they be put exclusively on American military facilities at those third countries or just wherever?
MR PRICE: We have not offered details on that yet. We’re in discussions with a number of countries who may be suitable relocation sites for these individuals.
QUESTION: Okay. Just two more things then. And there are some proposals from Congress to waive certain aspects of the application process. Are you guys going to do that?
MR PRICE: Well, again, we have been in regular communication with Congress regarding this, knowing the interest – legitimate an interest, of course – that Congress has in this program. We’ve been very grateful to find such a willing and eager partner in Congress for this. The relevant point here is that the SIV processing, it’s written into law; it is statutorily prescribed. And as we’ve said before, there are more than a dozen steps. So it is not a simple process, and it probably is fair to say it shouldn’t be a simple process, but we’re always looking for ways that we might be able to streamline it.
And we have spoken in recent days about how using our own authorities and our own resources we’ve been able to do that, including by surging personnel to help adjudicate these applications, including by moving some of this activity from Kabul to Washington, D.C., and we have been able to shorten the SIV processing time by a pretty significant margin, even if you look from where we were in March to where we are – where we were in June, which I believe was the date for the most recent quarterly report. But we are going to continue to work with Congress. We’re going to look for ways that we can responsibly shorten the processing here, and we’ll continue to have those discussions on the Hill.
QUESTION: And then just last question on Afghanistan. There was a rocket attack right near the presidential palace in Kabul today while there were – President Ghani was leading, I guess, an Eid celebration. Can you just comment on what that says about the security situation or the prospects for peace and security in Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: Well, let me start with the recent attack. And it is – goes without saying, but we condemn the rocket attacks on Kabul that occurred today. We continue to call for an accelerated path to a political settlement and an end to the violence. What we have been consistent in saying is that the people of Afghanistan are united in their desire for a just and for a lasting peace, and that is what the diplomacy we are supporting and much of the international community is supporting is geared to effect.
On the violence more broadly, the senior leader talks that took place in Doha just a few days ago, July 17th and 18th, were a positive step. As we’ve said, there was a joint declaration that emanated from that. The sides committed to accelerating their diplomacy. That indeed was positive. But we know that more must be done and most must be done urgently, and we say that because we know that Afghans are suffering terribly from this violence. They have been suffering terribly for far too long. Credible reports of atrocities are emerging. The parties’ commitment to prevent civilian casualties, something that we heard in the most recent round of diplomacy, is a start. But again, only a negotiated political settlement can end this senseless violence in any sort of durable and sustainable way.
And so as Afghans come together to celebrate Eid, we urge the negotiating parties to consider all that unites them. And that is everything from their shared history and traditions to the desire for a unified and independent Afghanistan, as well as productive relations with neighbors and the international community. And so along with the rest of the international community, we continue to call for an accelerated path to a political settlement and an end to the violence, and we do that because the Afghan people have borne the brunt of this conflict. Again, it hasn’t been 20 years; it’s been 40 years that the Afghan people have been largely deprived of the safety and security that they deserve, and it’s something that we seek to do all we can to establish in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. Ned. Eid mubarak as Muslim community is celebrating Eid al-Adha today, and this is my first briefing in person after the pandemic.
MR PRICE: Welcome.
QUESTION: And congratulations for your role as spokesperson.
MR PRICE: Thank you.
QUESTION: On Bangladesh, as you know, Biden administration is moving forward putting human rights at the center of the U.S. foreign policy. I am wondering how about Bangladesh as we are observing extreme violation of human rights – disappearances and extrajudicial killings are going on. Everything is controlled by the regime, including freedom of expression, political opposition, civil society, judiciary; now they are trying to control international community-wise because, as we see, Bangladesh authorities summoned UK envoy over rights report in the report that mentioned that – UK mentioned that country’s main opposition leader Khaleda Zia is in house arrest. He is also mentioned in the U.S. – last State Department’s report as it’s a political ploy to remove her from the political process.
So I am wondering what is U.S. position on Bangladesh, and Biden administration will be critical on current authoritarian prime minister in Bangladesh?
MR PRICE: Well, you are right in the sense that human rights are indeed at the center of our foreign policy, and they are for the simple reason that societies that respect and defend human rights and fundamental freedoms, societies that enshrine and protect them for all of their citizens, are societies that are more stable, more secure; societies where the rule of law is prevalent and citizens are able to reach their full potential. So it is indeed a universal aspect of our foreign policy to put human rights at the center.
When it comes to Bangladesh, we work closely with Bangladesh to address common challenges. Those include climate change. We regularly discuss the importance of respecting labor and human rights as well. Bangladesh has shown improvement in protecting some human rights over the past year. Given Bangladesh’s own challenges – the decision, for example, to host more than 800,000 – I think it’s 860,000 Rohingya refugees and to provide protection to them since 2017, that deserves special recognition.
So this progress is commendable, but we do remain concerned about the infringement on media and press freedoms. We have noted an increase in reports of charges filed and arrests made under the Digital Security Act against persons expressing personal opinions. Bangladesh’s security forces allegedly continue to suppress, to intimidate, and detain civil society, members of the media, and political opposition. Since the first reported COVID-19 cases early last year, the Government of Bangladesh has aggressively applied the Digital Security Act, leading to dozens of arrests for comments critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic, including using the act against academic professionals for the first time.
And so freedom of expression, including online expression, is a key component of democratic governments – governance. We recognize that in the context of Bangladesh just as we do around the world, and we urge the Government of Bangladesh to protect freedoms of expression, association, including for members of the press, and to ensure fair trial guarantees for all of those who have been detained under the Digital Security Act.
QUESTION: Hi, I’m Suzanne Lynch from The Irish Times. I have a couple of questions about Northern Ireland, wondering does the State Department have a view on the proposal last week by the British Government to introduce a statute of limitations in relation to incidents that took place during the Troubles. So this effective amnesty has been condemned by victims’ groups and human rights organizations and indeed by members of Congress here in Washington, so wondering what is the State Department’s view on that.
MR PRICE: If we have something to offer there, we will – we’ll provide that to you.
QUESTION: Also, Britain tomorrow is going to introduce new proposals about the Northern Ireland Protocol. Is that something you’re watching here in the State Department?
MR PRICE: Well, it’s something that we’re watching. And as we’ve consistently said over time, we do support a close relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, and we encourage them to negotiate within the existing mechanisms when differences do arise. We’ve consistently said that we welcome the provisions in both the trade and cooperation agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol between the UK and the European Union, which, importantly, help to protect the gains of the Belfast and Good Friday Agreement.
You’ve heard President Biden speak of his commitment to these landmark agreements, and that, of course, remains. As the UK and the EU implement Brexit-related provisions, the Biden administration encourages them to prioritize political and economic stability in Northern Ireland.
QUESTION: And just a final one more generally on Europe. Is there any update on when we may hear about changes to the travel restrictions on Europeans coming into America? Obviously, the President suggested that was forthcoming quite soon. Any update on that?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, it was a topic of discussion when President Biden had the opportunity to meet with several of his European counterparts at the G7 and then more of them at the U.S.-EU Summit as well when the President was in Europe last month. As you also know, as a consequence of some of those discussions, there are working groups that are looking at these very issues.
The broader point here is that for us this is not about politics, it’s not about geopolitics; it’s about one thing and it’s about one thing only, and that’s public health and public safety. And so these decisions are ones where medical experts, including from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here in the United States, will have an important say.
And so I’m not for that reason able to offer any sort of time frame, offer any estimate there, but I can assure you that the administration wants to see travel resume between the United States and Europe, between the United States and other parts of the world, just as soon as we can safely do so.
Yes, sir, in the back.
QUESTION: Marcin Wrona, TVN Discovery from Poland, and this question is on Poland. Could you comment, please, on the attempts of the ruling party in Poland to change the media law in the country in such a way that the changes would force Discovery, which is an American company, to sell its Polish TV network, TVN Discovery? And that could, of course, lead to silencing free media in Poland.
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve spoken about this. I think I commented on this last week, and the point we made then is the point that remains important for us, and that is we believe that strong democracies welcome a free and independent press. Diverse voices and independent viewpoints keep the public informed, and importantly, keep the government accountable. They’re essential to democracies, and that includes to Poland and the United States. So media pluralism, independent media – that is something we support around the world, including here in our own country.
QUESTION: Will Derek Chollet talk about this during his visit to Poland?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, Counselor Chollet is in the region. He is – he arrived I believe in Kyiv earlier today. He will from there travel on to Poland. I wouldn’t want to preview his discussions, but I do expect that upon the conclusion of his stop in Poland we’ll have more details to share.
QUESTION: Can I —
QUESTION: On his trip, is he going there to bring the bad news to the Ukrainians that you guys have reached a deal with the Germans over Nord Stream 2? A lot of chatter about that today and yesterday.
MR PRICE: Was that a question, or is that —
QUESTION: Yes. Is it – is he going to be —
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: You said in the statement that he’d be discussing Nord Stream 2.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: But is he going to be telling them the details of this agreement?
MR PRICE: Well, take your point on the chatter. I have seen it myself. Look, we have consistently discussed Nord Stream 2 with our European allies and our European partners. President Biden of course had an opportunity to discuss this with Chancellor Merkel when they met just last week. Secretary Blinken has discussed it with the Germans, with the – with his Ukrainian counterpart, Foreign Minister Kuleba. We met with President Zelenskyy as well, where, of course, this was a topic of discussion.
So we have consistently and long discussed this really since the beginning of this administration, and of course even before that, with our European partners. President Biden couldn’t have been any clearer when he met with Chancellor Merkel last week. He said that we continue to oppose the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. We view it as a Kremlin geopolitical project that is intended to expand Russia’s influence over Europe’s energy resources and to circumvent Ukraine. We have made no bones about the fact that it is a bad deal for Germany, it is a bad deal for Ukraine, and for Europe more broadly.
Now, it’s also worth a reminder of what this administration inherited, and that is a pipeline that was over 90 percent complete when we assumed office on January 20th. So yes, we have continued to oppose the pipeline, and most recently in May a couple months ago now we imposed sanctions on 19 entities and vessels connected with Nord Stream 2. And I think it’s noteworthy that in total we have levied these 19 sanctions compared to only two targets that were sanctioned by the previous administration.
We recognize all along, however, that sanctions were unlikely to prevent the pipeline’s construction. And so that is why the Secretary issued the waivers in – on May 19th in line with President Biden’s commitment to rebuild relations with our European allies at a time when we need our allies and partners perhaps more so than ever for the challenges, the threats, the opportunities that together we face with our diverse set of shared interests and shared values.
But importantly, the waivers also created space for diplomacy with Germany to address those very risks that I just mentioned, those very risks to Germany, those very risks to Ukraine, those very risks to our other European partners.
And so as the President said last week, it did not make sense to sanction our allies over a project that was more than 90 percent complete on day one of this administration. We did not believe that sanctions could stop the completion of the pipeline, and so we made the determination that it made more sense to address Russia’s use of energy – potentially as a weapon and other malign activity – together with our allies and partners, and that includes Germany.
And so the waivers that were issued were in fact instrumental in bringing Germany to the table to discuss how together we might be able to address the risk Nord Stream 2 poses to Ukraine and to broader European energy security. The President in his July 15th joint press conference with Chancellor Merkel stated that Germany and the United States were, quote, “United in [the] conviction that Russia must not be allowed to use energy as a weapon to coerce or [to] threaten its neighbors.” That’s what President Biden said. We heard the same message privately from our German partners, and we’ve heard that same message consistently from our German partners.
And so in the context of this diplomacy – and as the President said, it was a topic of discussion when he met with the chancellor – the Germans have put forward useful proposals and we have been able to make progress on steps to achieve that shared goal – again, that shared goal being to ensure that Russia cannot weaponize energy flows. We have consulted closely with Ukraine, with Poland. As you rightly noted, Counselor Chollet is in Ukraine now. He’ll be going to Poland shortly. We’ve spoken with other countries who may face harm due to Nord Stream 2 and we’ve taken their ideas into account in those ongoing conversations with Germany.
So we don’t have any final details to announce yet, but I expect we will be able – in a position to say more soon. In the meantime and going forward, we will continue to fulfill our legislative obligations. It’s very important to us that we continue to follow the law. As you know, there was a Nord Stream 2 report submitted to Congress in May. There will be another one 90 days later submitted in August. And so in all of this, we have been in regular contact with our allies, with our partners. Again, Derek Chollet is in Kyiv today. He’ll travel to Warsaw tomorrow. He will continue those diplomatic conversations with Ukraine and Poland on a range of issues, and so that does include Nord Stream 2 and energy security more broadly, as well as the broader set of mutual interests and values we have.
QUESTION: That was a very, very long and defensive answer for a question that could have been answered with “We don’t have anything to announce for you today.” So —
MR PRICE: Matt, if —
QUESTION: Thanks for the —
MR PRICE: If you prefer —
QUESTION: Thanks for tipping us all off that the deal is done and it’s – (laughter).
MR PRICE: If you prefer going forward that I say we have nothing to offer it would make my job a lot easier. So I’m happy – to happy to oblige.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can we please move to Northeast Asia? So Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is visiting Northeast Asia and she’s meeting with senior officials in Japan and Korea. As you have – may have already seen in the media reports, there are new emerging rifts between these two countries, Japan and Korea, two close allies of the United States, over some wartime history. For example, the Korean President Moon Jae-in is canceling his planned travel to Tokyo and to meet with the Japanese prime minister. First, I would like to know, do you have any comment on the latest development?
MR PRICE: So I don’t have any comment on travel plans or potential meetings between those countries. I would need to refer you to them for comment. What I would say broadly – and as you know, Deputy Secretary Sherman will have an opportunity to engage in a trilateral conversation with our Japanese and Republic of Korea counterparts later today Washington time, early tomorrow morning Tokyo time. But the broader point that we have made all along is that a robust and effective trilateral relationship among the United States, the Republic of Korea, and Japan – it is critical for our shared security and common interests in defending freedom and democracy, upholding human rights, championing women’s empowerment, combating climate change, promoting regional and global peace and security, and bolstering law – bolstering the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific region and across the globe.
And so I know that Deputy Secretary Sherman is engaged in a series of conversations in Tokyo now. The trilateral agenda will be literally on the agenda for her in the coming hours. We did issue a readout of her meeting with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Mori Takeo and we’ll continue to issue readouts as her trip goes forward.
QUESTION: Does the United States has a position over the so-called comfort women issue?
MR PRICE: Well, we have long encouraged the ROK and Japan to work together on history-related issues in a way that promotes healing and reconciliation. Secretary Blinken, who was then Deputy Secretary Blinken, has spent a lot of time working and tending to the trilateral relationship, knowing just how important it is. As we stated at the time in 2015, we welcome efforts such as the 2015 agreement between the two countries as an example of their commitment to forging a more productive and constructive bilateral relationship. And so even while addressing sensitive historical questions, cooperation on our common regional and international priorities must proceed.
QUESTION: Can I —
QUESTION: If I may move – I’m sorry.
QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on Nike’s question about the deputy secretary’s travels to the region. Has there been any decision about whether she will go on to China? I know that was discussed, in the air, and was going to be a game-day call.
MR PRICE: Well, we discussed this a bit yesterday. I don’t have an update to offer you from what we said then, but we have been consistent that we will continue to explore opportunities to engage officials from the PRC, including at senior levels as we did in the context of Anchorage, as part of our efforts to advance U.S. interests and responsibly manage this very consequential bilateral relationship. Whether it is this travel or any travel abroad by a senior State Department official, we make announcements only once, and, of course, if we determine that a visit has the potential to be substantive and constructive for our purposes.
And so we’ve been clear that when it comes to the PRC, we will engage when it’s in our interests to do so, and we do remain interested in doing so in a practical, substantive, and direct manner. That certainly remains the case.
QUESTION: Well, have you gotten any feedback from the Chinese that they’re interested?
MR PRICE: I am not going to detail any discussions we may be having in diplomatic channels. What I’ll say is what I said yesterday: If we have updates to our travel schedule, we’ll be sure to provide them.
QUESTION: If I can just follow up on Deputy Secretary Sherman’s travel. You mentioned the readout. You mentioned supply chains. Did the U.S. and Japan discuss any new initiatives on supply chain security, particularly with semiconductors or things of that nature?
MR PRICE: Well, technology and emerging technology often is a topic on the agenda. We did issue a readout of that, of her discussion with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Mori Takeo. They discussed their commitment to the U.S.-Japan alliance, which remains the cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity in a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and their commitment to, importantly, the rules-based international order, as well as to those shared values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
The deputy secretary, as we said, reiterated our commitment to the immediate resolution of the abduction issue. She and the vice foreign minister discussed efforts to support the people of Burma in their efforts to see their democracy restored. And they also highlighted the importance of U.S.-Japan-ROK cooperation, as we’ve said before, to meet global challenges of the 21st century. There also was a discussion of ensuring strong supply chains. These are – it’s especially important to us that we work together with other democracies and other advanced economies to ensure we’re doing all we can and redoubling our efforts, but I don’t have any more to offer you on that front.
QUESTION: And I don’t think the readout mentioned Chinese cyber activities, but given the statement put out by the White House yesterday, was cyber activities by the PRC also discussed during their bilateral?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to go beyond the readout in terms of what they discussed. But what I will say is that, broadly, we have discussed the PRC’s malicious cyber activity with a broad range of countries. And that is precisely why yesterday we were in a position to include so many of our partners and allies in that response. The response included all 30 NATO Allies, all 27 EU members, non-NATO allies like Australia, Japan, and New Zealand. I think all of this underscores the point that shared concerns regarding the PRC’s malicious cyber activities are in some ways bringing countries around the world together to call out those activities, to promote network defense and cyber security, and to act in unison and in tandem to disrupt threats to our economies and national security.
QUESTION: Different topic, Belarus. You had the readout, of course, last night of the Secretary’s meeting with Ms. Tsikhanouskaya. She afterward was talking about a desire for further sanctions on the Lukashenko government. Do you have any details about other – about the discussions on that topic in particular? Is that something that’s under consideration, to expand the range of sanctions there?
MR PRICE: Well, broadly, as you know, yesterday, Ms. Tsikhanouskaya did meet with Secretary Blinken, who stopped by a meeting that Ms. Tsikhanouskaya was having with Under Secretary of State Nuland, along with Department Counselor Derek Chollet. The level of engagement that we saw yesterday with Ms. Tsikhanouskaya was an unprecedented level of engagement with a Belarussian leader in this century.
Look, when it comes to sanctions, we – as you know, we don’t preview sanctions actions. But as evidenced by our most recent joint sanctions announcement on June 21st, we know that sanctions are a powerful tool and one that the United States continues to use in an effort to change the behavior of the Lukashenko regime. On May 28th, moreover, the White House announced that the Treasury Department would develop for the President’s review a new executive order that would provide increased sanctions authorities to address precisely what we see going on in Belarus: the repression, the crackdown, the continued imprisonment of political prisoners and political opponents.
We stand with the people of Belarus and members of its civil society. We support their aspirations for a democratic, free, and prosperous future. We also echo their calls for the regime to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. And so we are committed to close coordination with likeminded allies and partners on next steps, just as we have been in demonstrating our response to the crackdown, to the outrageous actions in recent weeks of the Lukashenko regime. We support international efforts to independently look into Belarus’s flawed election, its human rights abuses surrounding the election, and the crackdown that followed. And the United States will remain actively engaged in this going forward.
QUESTION: May I quickly follow up? She said she gave the administration a specific list of targets she would like to see sanctions. Knowing that you can’t preview sanctions, can you say whether the administration is taking that list into account as its next steps?
MR PRICE: So again, I’m not in a position to speak to private discussions. She did say publicly that it was a very good discussion. I think we would certainly agree with that characterization.
QUESTION: Let me follow on that a little bit real quick. Can I ask you very quickly about Jordan, the meeting with the king this morning and the Secretary? I just want to know if the Tamimi extradition issue came up. As you’re aware, last year the then-ambassador nominee but now the ambassador told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that withholding aid or aid could be used as leverage to secure her extradition to the States to face murder charges.
MR PRICE: Well, I expect we’ll have a readout of the Secretary’s meeting with His Majesty the King later today. When it comes to Ms. al-Tamimi, she is on the FBI’s most wanted list for her role in the 2001 Hamas attack in Jerusalem. We continue to seek her extradition. We’ll continue to work to ensure that she faces justice.
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, did it come up?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to speak to the meeting, but we’ll have a readout —
QUESTION: Well, are you – I mean, are you – has this administration yet raised it with – raised the matter with Jordanian authorities, the King or not? Or is this something that would have just come up for the first time today?
MR PRICE: This issue has been raised with our Jordanian partners.
QUESTION: Just one thing following on from yesterday. Sorry I didn’t ask yesterday, but you mentioned the Strategic Dialogue coming up with Iraq. One question to ask: The issue of troop levels, is that something that’s going to be under discussion, do you think, on Friday?
MR PRICE: Well, what I will say is that our sole mission in Iraq is to secure the enduring defeat of ISIS. We are in Iraq at the invitation of the Government of Iraq to enable the Iraqi Security Forces as they lead the fight against ISIS. As you said, we will have an opportunity to engage in a Strategic Dialogue with our Iraqi partners later this week, but I wouldn’t want to preview that session before it starts.
QUESTION: Can I ask on Haiti?
MR PRICE: Yes. Quick final question.
QUESTION: Now do you know if Secretary Blinken has spoken to Dr. Ariel Henry, or any senior administration official from this building has spoken to Henry since his being sworn in as the new prime minister? And is there any plan to invite him over to visit the United States? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Well, I think you have all seen that we are expecting an installation ceremony later this afternoon. I would similarly expect that after that installation ceremony you will see a statement from us. We have continued to be in regular contact with political actors in Haiti at various levels. Secretary Blinken, in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of President Moise, did take part in several calls. The embassy in Port-au-Prince continues to maintain a dialogue, as have senior department officials here in Washington. I would expect that we will have opportunities for additional senior – high-level communications going forward. But obviously we’re going to be watching today as we expect the installation ceremony to take place.
Thank you all very much. We’ll see you tomorrow.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:01 p.m.)