1:05 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. A couple things at the top.
We join Norwegians and others around the world in remembering the horrific July 22nd, 2011 attacks in Utoya and Oslo. On that day, Norway experienced its deadliest attack since World War II. And since then, our thoughts and prayers have been with the victims, as well as with their family, their friends, and the first responders as well.
These types of attacks remind us of the threat we all face from violent extremism and terrorism. The entire international community has a stake in preventing this kind of violent extremism and terror going forward.
Next, the department released the 2021 Investment Climate Statements. These reports analyze the business climates of more than 170 countries and economies that are current or potential markets for American companies. U.S. businesses can use the Investment Climate Statements to inform their international investment decisions in any one of the covered economies. The Investment Climate Statements are, also, points of reference for foreign governments. looking to improve their business climates and attract U.S. investment.
The reports include information on barriers to investment U.S. companies are likely to encounter. They also highlight progress made on reducing these barriers and creating a fair, open, transparent market that’s attractive to foreign direct investors.
The Department of State works with our foreign government partners to build business environments that are not only economically sound, but also adhere to high standards such as protecting the environment and respecting human rights.
The Investment Climate Statements are one of the many ways in which the department connects our foreign policy work to the needs and the aspirations of the American people and U.S. companies as well.
With that, happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Really? That’s it?
MR PRICE: That is it.
QUESTION: You have nothing else to say? Okay. All right, well, I was going to start with Sesame Street and —
MR PRICE: Grover asked some hard-hitting questions.
QUESTION: My daughter – yes, exactly. My daughter —
MR PRICE: You might want to take a cue.
QUESTION: My four-year-old daughter is an enormous fan, and I’m sure she’ll love to see it. But I won’t start with that, because there are other, more pressing matters.
MR PRICE: I would welcome it.
QUESTION: I’m sure you would. Toria, up on the Hill, just a while ago said that you guys have reached an agreement with the Germans on Nord Stream 2, and so I’m wondering if you – recognizing their – that this joint statement that she talked about hasn’t come out, yet/ I’m just wondering if there’s any more you can add to what she said ahead of the release of that statement.
MR PRICE: There is not more that I’m prepared to add right now. We talked about this some yesterday, and we talked about our rationale in approaching this challenge, and I made very clear yesterday, as did the President in his meeting with Chancellor Merkel earlier this month, that we continue to oppose Nord Stream 2. We continue to view it as a Kremlin geopolitical project whose goal is to expand Russia’s influence over Europe’s energy resources. We continue to believe it’s a bad deal for Germany, it’s a bad deal for Ukraine, it’s a bad deal for Europe and Europe’s broader energy security goals.
QUESTION: And yet you’re prepared to allow it to go ahead without —
MR PRICE: And —
QUESTION: — without trying to – without trying to stop it, even at this late hour?
MR PRICE: And to demonstrate that opposition, we have consistently applied sanctions and examined potentially sanctionable activity, and acted on that. And of course, we have in May imposed sanctions on 19 entities and vessels, and at the same time – as you’ve heard from the Secretary, as you’ve heard from the President – we have come to the conclusion, as any rational observer would, that sanctions are unlikely to stop, to stand in the way of the completion of the pipeline, to prevent the pipeline’s construction. And so, that is why this administration determined that it was not in our interest to significantly undermine, to weaken our bilateral relationship, our ally, the relationship we have with our ally, Germany, for a —
QUESTION: Okay, but it’s really – no need —
MR PRICE: — but if I could just —
QUESTION: There’s no need to repeat everything that you said yesterday.
MR PRICE: — no, no, no, but if I could just finish a couple points – for a pipeline whose construction would continue, nonetheless.
Now, to your question – and I mentioned this yesterday, or I alluded to it – the Germans have put forward useful proposals, and we’ve been able to make progress on steps to achieve our shared goal, and that shared goal is very important. That shared goal is ensuring that this pipeline cannot be weaponized against Ukraine, against any other European partner. That is our goal in doing so. I do expect we’ll be able to share more details on this today.
MR PRICE: But one other point I want to really emphasize here: We are committed to following the law; we are committed to continuing to examine entities that have engaged in potentially sanctionable activity. Any decisions on sanctions or sanctions-related decisions, those will be made on a case-by-case basis consistent with the law.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, just three very quick points. One. If you’re committed to following the law, then you would actually follow the law, right? Which says that —
MR PRICE: And we have, correct.
QUESTION: Well, I think that a lot of people think that’s debatable. The second thing is that you say “any rational observer” would realize that sanctions wouldn’t stop this. Well, are you saying that members of Congress, who are Democrats as well as Republicans, are irrational?
MR PRICE: We have looked at this —
QUESTION: Are you saying that Senator Shaheen is irrational, that Senator Menendez is irrational —
MR PRICE: We —
QUESTION: — because they think that this could actually be stopped?
MR PRICE: We’ve looked at this issue very closely, and we have examined —
QUESTION: And they haven’t?
MR PRICE: I’m speaking for us.
QUESTION: Oh, right. So you —
MR PRICE: I’m the spokesperson for the Department of State.
QUESTION: So you know more than they do? That’s the idea?
MR PRICE: I’m saying I can speak to the Department of State, and what I can say is that we have looked at this issue very closely. We examined a range of options, a range of tools at our disposal. We came to the conclusion that for a pipeline that was 90 – more than 90 percent complete, on the day this administration assumed office, to potentially undermine our relationship with Germany, and to send a signal to our allies and to our partners the world over that the United States is willing to throw asunder important relationships, that’s not something that we were eager to do, certainly.
We also know that perhaps now more than ever we need our allies, we need our partners, across a range of challenges to confront a host of threats. And in this briefing room, we’ve discussed our cooperation with Germany on any number of fronts, from the PRC, to Afghanistan, to the climate crisis, to the shared values that we have more broadly.
I will also say that even as we came to this conclusion and going forward, we have shown that we are going to always follow the law. We enacted sanctions, as I said, in May on 19 entities and vessels. That is in contrast to two sanctions that were levied by the previous administration under which more than 90 percent of this pipeline was completed.
QUESTION: All right. The last thing, and it’s kind of a minor thing, but you keep referring to this – to the pipeline as a Russian geopolitical project, as if in some way the phrase “geopolitical project” is pejorative. Why?
MR PRICE: Well —
QUESTION: There are innumerable U.S. policies that are geopolitical projects.
MR PRICE: Of course. Our —
QUESTION: So why do you —
MR PRICE: No, no. I don’t – we have not intended the term “geopolitical project” to be —
QUESTION: Yeah, you have. You use it constantly. It’s, like, in the talking points along with —
MR PRICE: It is – to us, it is more than a pipeline.
MR PRICE: It is more than a pipeline that carries —
QUESTION: Well, so is your campaign against Huawei and 5G, so is your campaign against any number of things.
MR PRICE: I don’t think you’re going to find – I don’t think you’re going to find – I didn’t —
QUESTION: So “geopolitical project” is not intended to be a —
MR PRICE: A geopolitical – a —
QUESTION: — and not intended to be pejorative?
MR PRICE: Oh, no, no, no. It is —
QUESTION: You’re not saying that Russia can’t have geopolitical projects because you don’t like them.
MR PRICE: States have geopolitical projects.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MR PRICE: This is a geopolitical —
QUESTION: That’s all.
MR PRICE: No, no, but you asked the question.
QUESTION: Well, I did, but —
MR PRICE: This is a geopolitical project intended to exert, and to expand, Russia’s influence over Ukraine and other parts of Europe.
Other questions. Shaun.
QUESTION: Let me pursue that. One of the things that Toria mentioned was that there’s a pursuit of a tenure extension of – after 2024 of the transit rights in Ukraine. What’s the enforcement mechanism for that? I know you said at the beginning that you’re not going to get into the details, but if I can pursue that, what – how could this actually be enforced?
MR PRICE: There are a number of good questions about this. We are going to have an opportunity today to speak to this in some detail. I would expect today you will see an official release as well, so I’m going to reserve comment until we’re in a position to do that.
Other questions? Yeah.
QUESTION: Different topic. News reports say that the U.S. is putting pressure on the Israeli Government to stop all settlement activities in the Palestinian territories. Is that accurate, and do you have any time for the reopening of the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem?
MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to the reopening of the U.S. consulate, Secretary Blinken was clear on this when he visited Jerusalem and Ramallah, earlier this year. He noted then that the United States will be moving forward with the process to reopen our consulate in Jerusalem and will do so as part of our effort to re-establish that partnership with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority precisely because it allows us to engage with them, it allows us to execute our assistance programs, it allows us to execute our public diplomacy mission, and to conduct the sort of diplomatic reporting that we need. I don’t have a timeframe to offer for you, but we’ll be happy to keep you posted.
When it comes to settlement activity, we have also been clear and consistent on that. We believe it’s critical to refrain from unilateral steps that increase tensions and make it more difficult to advance a negotiated two-state solution. This is a message we have conveyed in public, as I have just now, but also in private. And it has been the longstanding position, certainly the position of this administration and had been a longstanding position of prior administrations.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Could we go to a new topic?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: To Deputy Secretary Sherman’s visit to China that’s coming up. You’ve been saying in recent days that the United States will only – only goes ahead with a visit such as this one if there is a point to it, if it’s constructive, the lines that you’ve given on that.
So what made you think – what made the department think that it was the right time for her to go to China? Is there something that she – specifically she hopes to achieve there?
MR PRICE: Sure. So as we announced this morning, and I’m sure you all have seen the announcement, the deputy will travel to the People’s Republic of China on July 25th. She will travel there after her stops in Tokyo and Seoul and Ulaanbaatar as well. In the PRC, she will take part in meetings in Tianjin where she will meet with PRC officials, including State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. These discussions, as we’ve said, are part of an ongoing U.S. effort to hold candid exchanges with PRC officials, designed to advance U.S. interests and values; and overall to allow us to responsibly manage this incredibly consequential bilateral relationship.
We said earlier this week before we were in a position to confirm the trip that, as you alluded to, the deputy would be prepared to travel if her engagement there would be substantive, constructive; if it were indeed to be a forum and a venue for us to accomplish what we seek to accomplish, and that is to advance U.S. interests, to explore and to discuss how we can manage this relationship responsibly, and how we can address the competition and responsibly manage the competition – and the stiff competition, that we welcome with the PRC.
And so the PRC has confirmed an in-person meeting with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. We’ve said all along that we seek for our senior-level engagement with PRC officials to be substantive and constructive, and we believe this meeting has the potential to be just that.
Look, when – in the context of relationships that are complex, that are challenging, that are dynamic, we believe it’s important to maintain open lines of communication between high-level officials, and that includes in times of, as in the case with the PRC, sustained competition, even when the PRC is taking actions that challenge our interests, that challenge our values. And these are shared interests. These are shared values, And so, I think it’s important in that context to note that the deputy will be traveling to the PRC, after having visited Japan, after having visited the Republic of Korea, after having visited Mongolia as well. She’ll be traveling there, as we have said, from a position of strength, not unlike how Secretary Blinken met with Director Yang and other PRC officials in Anchorage on the way back from the Indo-Pacific region, where we had engaged in consultations with our Japanese and South Korean counterparts as well.
I think broadly speaking, the deputy intends for this engagement to show and to demonstrate to the PRC what responsible and healthy competition can look like. As I’ve said before, we know this relationship is going to be competitive. We welcome that competition. We welcome that stiff competition. But we also want to make sure that the playing field is level, and importantly, that competition doesn’t veer into conflict. We want to make sure that this is a relationship that has guard rails there – where there are clearly defined parameters to the relationship as well. And we believe, again, that engaging in practical, substantive, and a direct manner, as we expect this visit will be, will help us achieve those goals.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that quickly?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: When you talk about wanting responsible and healthy competition with the PRC, has there been any indication that they are interested in engaging in that kind of competition since President Biden has taken office or since Secretary of State met with Chinese officials earlier this year?
MR PRICE: Much of what we’ve done in the early months of this administration is to test the – test various propositions. We want competition with China where we’re competing against one another. This is a relationship that is fundamentally predicated on competition, it’s fundamentally competitive at its core, in our estimation, but again, where the playing field is level, where the rules of the game are clearly defined and enforced, and where there are guard rails to ensure and to see to it that competition doesn’t spill over into something more dangerous, including, at worst, conflict.
So we have tested that proposition in a number of ways. The Secretary and National Security Advisor Sullivan met with Director Yang, met with other senior PRC officials in Anchorage, where we had our first senior-level engagement with the PRC. Of course, Secretary Blinken has had an opportunity to speak to Director Yang on a couple of occasions since then. President Biden, I would be remiss to add, has had an opportunity to speak to President Xi.
And so these open lines of communication are important in their own right because we believe – and especially at times of stiff competition – that we need dialogue. We need constructive dialogue, but it’s also important for us to – for the PRC to hear from us, and for us to hear from the PRC, perspectives on the relationship. And that will help us test the proposition, and arrive at a conclusion as to how we can most effectively ensure that the relationship is conducted on a level playing field, that those guardrails are there, and that it is managed responsibly.
So this is an ongoing endeavor for us. The deputy’s travel and engagement in PRC will be the next phase in that process.
QUESTION: Yes, if I – UK-EU – you wanted to ask on the —
QUESTION: Could I – just one more thing on the PRC? Sorry.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Just briefly, the – you also mentioned – the State Department mentioned that she’s going on to Oman. Oman obviously has had a key role in indirect diplomacy with Iran. Is that one of the key elements there of going to Oman?
MR PRICE: Oman has played an important mediating role in the region. We’ll have more on her travel and engagements in Oman as that gets closer, but certainly we’ve worked closely with Oman on a range of regional priorities. Iran is one of them, Yemen is another, and we’ll have a fuller description of that visit as the time comes.
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask on the UK-EU agreement on Northern Ireland. The – Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to renegotiate parts of that. The E.U. today has rejected that attempt at renegotiation, just saying that it imperiled the Good Friday Agreement, among other things. Just wanted to know where the U.S. stands. Are they – is the U.S. worried about the Good Friday Agreement or is the U.S. worried about the flow of goods between the UK and – between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK – things like sausages, medicine, even seeing eye dogs – that London says have been obstructed by the current deal?
MR PRICE: Well, we have seen the reports of the UK’s command paper proposal on the Northern Ireland Protocol. We would refer you to the UK and to the E.U. for questions on the negotiations. Of course, the United States is not a direct party to them. But we do and we have encouraged all parties to prioritize political and economic stability in Northern Ireland in the context of these discussions.
To your question, President Biden has been nothing but unequivocal in his support for the Belfast and the Good Friday Agreement, which was an historic agreement at the time, remains significant and incredibly important. We support a close relationship between the UK and the EU, and between all communities in Northern Ireland as well. And we continue to encourage the parties to negotiate within existing mechanisms, and to avoid unilateral actions.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Just further to that, do you have any comments on how the implications of this might impact a future U.S.-UK trade deal?
MR PRICE: Look, I – what we’re going to focus on now is what we would like to see broadly, and that is we would encourage all the parties to prioritize political and economic stability in Northern Ireland in these discussions while continuing to negotiate within existing mechanisms and avoiding unilateral actions. I’m not going to entertain hypotheticals, what might happen. Right now, we’re focused on what is happening between the parties.
QUESTION: Ned, on Varosha in Cyprus, are you planning to impose sanctions on Turkey after the steps that it has taken?
MR PRICE: Well, we are looking at a number of steps, but let me just back up, and I’m sure you saw the statement from the Secretary that was released last night. In it —
QUESTION: A little late last night.
MR PRICE: Well, again, we operate under the assumption that you all like information at the —
QUESTION: That we’re all awake at 10 o’clock? Okay, okay.
MR PRICE: You like information at the speed of news, so we’re happy to hold things.
QUESTION: Well, it was news about four hours earlier, so – or five. Just to point that out.
MR PRICE: It’s – we think it’s news when the Secretary speaks.
The – as you heard last night, we condemn the announcement by the Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar and Turkish President Erdogan regarding the transfer of parts of Varosha to Cypriot – to Turkish Cypriot control. Such a move is clearly inconsistent with UN Security Council Resolutions 550 and 789, which are very explicit in their calls for Varosha to be administered by the United Nations.
Since last year, since October of 2020, Turkish Cypriots and Turkey have ignored calls from the international community and from the UN Security Council to reverse their steps on Varosha. The – we view Turkey – Turkish Cypriot actions in Varosha, which have the support of Turkey, as provocative, as unacceptable, and incompatible with their past commitments to engage constructively in settlement talks.
We continue to support efforts to refer this situation, which we deem to be very concerning, to the UN Security Council, and we will urge a strong response from the international community. Again, to go back to the basics, we support a Cypriot-led comprehensive settlement to reunify the island as a bizonal, bicommunal federation to benefit all Cypriots and the wider region. We continue to encourage efforts to de-escalate tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, and to call for the resolution of issues through dialogue and in accordance with international law, not unilateral action.
QUESTION: What about the sanctions at the UN and is the U.S. prepared to take such actions against Turkey too?
MR PRICE: As I – as you have heard us say before, we don’t preview policy actions, and certainly not any sanctions, but we do support efforts to refer this to the UN Security Council and we will urge the international community to muster a strong response. The United States would be certainly a part of that.
QUESTION: A Russian hacker named Peter Levashov was freed yesterday on time served for his hacking activities. There was some speculation that he could be part of a prisoner exchange for either Paul Whelan or Trevor Reed. Did the administration have any role in his sentencing and freeing, and is there a prisoner swap underway?
MR PRICE: Conor, you won’t be surprised to hear that I don’t have anything for you on that. We have made very clear – and President Biden was clear with President Putin, Secretary Blinken was clear with Foreign Minister Lavrov, other U.S. officials at multiple levels have been unambiguous with their Russian counterparts – that Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, their release from their unjustified detention is an absolute priority for us. We are working very hard and doing everything we can to see to it that they are reunited with their families as soon as is possible. They have been held against their will, of course, away from their families. They’ve missed birthdays; they have missed anniversaries. They have missed important life occasions and, importantly, their families have missed them. And so we will continue to do all we can. As you know, we don’t often speak publicly of our efforts to effect the release of Americans who are unjustly detained around the world, but we are always, always working on these cases.
QUESTION: So just no denial, then, that the administration maybe played a role in the judge’s decision here?
MR PRICE: I don’t have anything for you on that. I’m just not entertaining the question.
QUESTION: Yeah. You speak publicly all the time. We just went through this on Monday, after you —
MR PRICE: We say —
QUESTION: — went after the Iranians for talking about —
MR PRICE: Well – no.
QUESTION: — about a prisoner swap.
MR PRICE: What – and what I said on Monday is that we have made it a priority.
QUESTION: No, but don’t say that you don’t talk about it, because you do.
MR PRICE: We don’t detail it. We don’t detail it. I think —
QUESTION: Well, you talk about it all the time.
MR PRICE: — Matt, you – I think, Matt, you would agree with that, that we do not detail our efforts to release – to seek the release, to effect the release of Americans who are unjustly detained around the world. And we don’t do that for the simple reason that their release, expeditious release, is our top priority. And we wouldn’t want to do anything that could complicate, that could delay their potential freedom.
QUESTION: Okay. Is there anything new on either Haiti or Cuba? And please don’t repeat the statement from last night or your comments yesterday about the Cuba review. I’m just asking, is there anything new that you can report to us today on either of those Caribbean situations?
MR PRICE: Well, we did release a statement on the new —
QUESTION: Go ahead and read it for us, all 20 minutes of it.
MR PRICE: Well, I – well, I am not going to – I’m not going to read the statement. But I will just say very briefly that the formation of a new government in Haiti is a positive, it’s a necessary step to respond to the Haitian people’s needs and to begin Haiti – to begin restoring Haiti’s democratic institutions. We do welcome efforts by Haiti’s political leadership to come together in choosing an interim prime minister as well as a unity cabinet to chart a path forward in the wake of the assassination of President Moise, and we’re committed to working with Haiti’s new government to support its investigation into the assassination, to expand our COVID-19 vaccination efforts, and to promote security and the rule of law.
And we’ll continue, as we have done, to coordinate with Haitian and international partners to support efforts to establish the conditions necessary for Haitians, importantly, to vote in free and fair elections – in free and fair legislative elections and presidential elections as soon as possible.
We urge, in the meantime, members of Haiti’s new government to work with civil society to find solutions to the many pressing challenges facing Haiti and to facilitate that return to long-term stability and prosperity.
QUESTION: On the investigation, Haitian authorities said today that —
QUESTION: You couldn’t not do it, could you? It was just impossible for you not to re-read the entire – okay, sorry.
QUESTION: No, you’re good. The Haitian authorities said today that they arrest – that they have in mind three foreigners who they believe helped to fund the operation that assassinated the president. Is the U.S. Government aware whether or not any of those three are American citizens? And they asked again for further FBI help in tracking down those three potential suspects. What is the FBI doing? Can you provide any sort of update on the assistance?
MR PRICE: So we are aware and we can confirm the detention of U.S. citizens in Haiti. We’re monitoring the situation closely. The Haitian Government has been cooperative in our requests for consular access to the detained U.S. citizens. Anywhere, anytime a U.S. citizen is detained overseas, the department works to provide all appropriate consular assistance. That has been the case here as well. I’m not able to go into further details given some of the privacy considerations.
In terms of the investigation, we have been very clear all along that, of course, this is a Haitian investigation. We’ve deferred investigative questions to Haitian authorities. We’ve also relayed to Haitian authorities and as well as publicly to all of you that in terms of our assistance, we do see the investigation as one area in which the United States can make potentially valuable contributions to this Haitian-led effort. DHS and the FBI have continued to do that. The State Department has provided other forms of assistance, as we’ve discussed previously, but I’m not in a position to detail where that is right now.
QUESTION: And you have nothing – there’s nothing new on the Cuba remittances or the embassy staffing review, correct?
MR PRICE: Nothing I’m in a position to add today.
QUESTION: Okay. And on the Iran prisoner thing, still – there’s nothing new on that either?
MR PRICE: We were very clear on this.
QUESTION: Okay, okay.
MR PRICE: We spoke over the weekend; we spoke on Monday.
QUESTION: Sorry, on Cuba.
QUESTION: Could I —
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Julie Chung put out some tweets about Cuba, and one of them mentioned, “We are going to focus on applying hard-hitting sanctions on regime officials.” Could you tell us a bit more about, like, what kind of sanctions you’re considering? Is this going to be GLOMAG? Or is there – is there – there are other ways that you could do this? And then is this a situation where you think sanctioning officials is going to make a difference?
MR PRICE: Well, so as not to repeat everything I said yesterday and to not face the ire —
QUESTION: The wrath.
MR PRICE: — the wrath, I will just make the very brief point that we spoke yesterday of steps that we are studying and looking into that would support the Cuban people, but also steps that would seek to hold to account Cuban Government officials responsible for the repression, for the crackdown, for the violence in the context of these peaceful street protests.
When it comes to sanctions, the Treasury Department’s OFAC, the Office of Foreign Assets Control, is exploring designating Cuban officials responsible for violence, repression, human rights violations against those peaceful protesters. We’re also working diligently with the international community to condemn the violence and repression that the Cuban people have faced. This is, as is almost always the case, one of those areas where U.S. action will be meaningful, it will be, we expect, effective, but it will be all the more meaningful if we are able to speak with one voice with the international community and we are able to make clear that the international community does not abide the regimes repression, crackdown, deprivation of human rights and civil liberties for the Cuban people.
So as you can expect, I’m not in a position to detail now what any potential sanctions might look like, what authorities we might use, but we are certainly looking at ways that we can hold accountable those Cuban regime officials who have been responsible for what we’ve seen.
QUESTION: So you don’t – there aren’t enough sanctions against Cuba already?
MR PRICE: Well —
QUESTION: You feel there’s still more room?
MR PRICE: Well, there – we are confident there is more room. There are broad sanctions imposed against Cuba, of course, with humanitarian carve-outs and tools we can use to ensure that much-needed humanitarian supplies can reach the Cuban people. But we are confident that we have policy tools available to us, to potentially include sanctions, that could be wielded against specific individuals who may be responsible for some of what we’ve seen.
QUESTION: Ned, what about helping the Cubans receive internet service? Do you have anything on this?
MR PRICE: We discussed this yesterday.
MR PRICE: I’m happy to give you the quick summary, but we are working with the private sector and with Congress to identify viable options to make the internet more accessible to the Cuban people. And when we talk about our collaboration with the private sector, we are actively collaborating to identify solutions and proposals that are creative and to seek to ensure that the Cuban people have access to that free flow of information. That’s so important to us in large part because we have seen the actions that the Cuban Government has taken in the context of these peaceful demonstrations — the internet crackdowns, the blockages, the efforts on the part of the regime to stifle the voice of the Cuban people, to stifle their access to information – and so we are exploring options with both Congress and the private sector to that effect.
MR PRICE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The opposition leader Freeman Mbowe was apparently arrested today. Does the United States have any comment on that?
MR PRICE: We have seen these reports. We are looking into them. If confirmed, it would be very concerning. As you know, Secretary Blinken had an opportunity earlier this month on July 6th to speak with Tanzanian President Hassan, and Secretary Blinken, in the context of that conversation, reiterated and spoke about the importance of political rights, civil liberties, as well as the importance of ensuring a democratic, peaceful, free, and prosperous future for all Tanzanians. That is what we continue to hope to see, and so we’ll be looking into these reports.
QUESTION: Can I just have one quick question? I understand we might get more information on this today, but do you have a figure for the number of SIV applicants that will be relocated before the U.S. troop withdrawal?
MR PRICE: So what I can say is I can speak to the two groups that we have detailed to date. The first group is that group that has completed their security clearance – their security vetting procedures, the rigorous security vetting procedures, and that group, because they have completed that important stage in the process, will be relocated starting – flights will start later this month to Fort Lee in Virginia. And so there – we said there are 700 principal applicants along with their family members.
The other group of applicants entail applicants who have not yet completed that security vetting step. They will be relocated to third countries. And that group, if I have it here, I believe is 2,500 principal applicants and their families. But beyond that —
QUESTION: Wait, wait, no. Is it —
QUESTION: That was 4,000 —
QUESTION: No, is it 4,000? Did it go down 1,500?
MR PRICE: Sorry, sorry. I’m sorry. It was 4,000, 4,000, 4,000, I’m sorry. You’re right, 4,000 principal applicants and their families. Thank you for catching that.
QUESTION: So, I mean, previously you guys had been saying that the relocation effort would be complete before the U.S. military withdrawal. So does it just demonstrate how complicated this is, how grand this effort is that it may take a little bit longer, frankly? Because we’re talking about maybe 5,000 of these SIV applicants that you’re saying are in the works, but as we well know, there’s upwards of 10,000, maybe close to 20,000 who are in the full line here.
MR PRICE: That’s right. And we are working, as we have said, as quickly as we can to process as many of these SIV applicants as efficiently as we can, and we’ve done so consistent with the fact that this is a program that is written into law, it’s statutorily defined, more than a dozen steps that applicants need to go through, but we have surged resources, we have surged staff to help us process this. As I’ve said, we have increased the pace at which we are processing these applicants. And you see, if you look at the most recent quarterly report, a pretty marked increase between the early months of this year to mid this year in terms of what we are able to process.
The other important point, though, is that the SIV program will not come to a close when the military withdrawal is completed later this year, and that’s because the Department of State and our embassy intends to remain engaged on the ground. We intend to continue with our partnership with the Afghan Government, and in this case, importantly, with the Afghan people, and so we’ll continue to be in a position to process applicants.
I will add that last night we did begin notifying eligible SIV applicants and their families regarding the option they have to be relocated to Fort Lee in Virginia. This is the first of many steps the department is taking to honor the U.S. Government’s commitment to our Afghan SIV applicants, and it’s an important step in our effort to begin relocating them to the United States this month.
QUESTION: And on Iran, on the demonstrations over there —
QUESTION: I just want to – well, I guess maybe it can be answered in the – later on. But when you say 4,000 to these third countries, that’s the actual principal applicants.
MR PRICE: Principal applicants.
QUESTION: So once you factor in the families, do you have an estimate of the total number of people?
MR PRICE: It’s – it is a rough estimate.
QUESTION: I mean, if it’s 700 principal applicants for Fort Lee but that means 2,500 total, what does 4,000 – my math is from elementary or high school, middle school.
MR PRICE: It’s – it’s – it’s an extrapolation.
MR PRICE: It’s an —
QUESTION: But does it work —
MR PRICE: It is —
QUESTION: — if you do that extrapolation, like, the 700 over 2,500 and for —
MR PRICE: We’re not – when we talk about 2,500, obviously, that’s a round number. It’s not precise.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah, obviously not exact. But is there an estimate of the total number of people who will be – who are in —
MR PRICE: Well, one, we have to see how many people take us up on that offer. As you heard from the President —
QUESTION: Right. But if everyone, if all of them took it up, how many people are we talking about, including family members?
MR PRICE: So we have – we’ve talked about 2,500 for Fort Lee based on that —
QUESTION: No, not for Fort Lee. For the other, for the 4,000.
MR PRICE: So the SIV program allows a principal applicant along with a spouse and dependent children to come to the United States. And so 2,500 is, of course, the extrapolation based on 750. You – I don’t have my calculator in front of me, but —
QUESTION: Well, I just did it, but I – but I don’t – anyway. Whatever.
MR PRICE: And of course, once we determine how many people, how many applicants do wish to take us up on this offer for relocation, we’ll have a precise figure.
QUESTION: Can I have one quick follow-up on all of that too?
MR PRICE: Yep.
QUESTION: Is this group, then, of 4,000 plus the 700 principal applicants – is that the total universe of people that you are willing to evacuate? Or are you going to do more down the line?
MR PRICE: We are looking at all potential contingencies. This is the group that we’re speaking to at the moment, the group that we’re – the groups that we’re actively making plans for. But we’re looking at all potential contingencies.
QUESTION: So of the 10,000 principal applicants who are waiting for their cases to be adjudicated, is – are all of those people going to be evacuated at some point, or – out of the 20,000 that are in the pipeline, are all of those people going to be – like, we still don’t have a sense of the scale from the administration of how many people you’re willing to pull out.
MR PRICE: We are looking at all contingencies. We have a commitment and a special responsibility to those individuals who have applied and who are able to complete the SIV processing, and we’ll have more to share on what that looks like going forward.
MR PRICE: I do. We are closely following reports of protests in Iran’s Khuzestan province, including reports that security forces have fired on these protesters. We support the rights of Iranians to peacefully assemble and to express themselves. Iranians, just like any other people, should enjoy without – should enjoy those rights without fear of violence, without fear of arbitrary detention by security forces. And so we’re monitoring this very closely.
MR PRICE: Yes.
MR PRICE: We’ll have more to say, I would expect, in the aftermath of the deputy’s visit to the PRC. I – what I would say broadly now is —
QUESTION: The aftermath? That sounds like it’s not going to go well.
MR PRICE: The – after the deputy’s visit to the PRC. What I would say broadly now is that, as I’ve already alluded to, this is a relationship for us that is predicated principally on competition. There are elements of this relationship that are adversarial, but there are also going to be elements where our interests are aligned. And in cases where our interests are aligned, we do seek to explore the potential for cooperation. We’ve talked about that in the context of climate, for example. We’ve talked about that in the context of Afghanistan, potentially. We’ve also talked about that in the context of the DPRK.
It is in no one’s interest for the DPRK to be a threat to the region and potentially beyond. It is in no one’s interest to see a humanitarian catastrophe potentially unfold in the DPRK, and so I think it is safe to say that we do have some alignment of interests when it comes to the DPRK and we’ll be in a position to explore that.
Secretary Blinken, the last time he spoke with Director Yang, spent much of that conversation speaking to our DPRK policy review, which had recently been completed, knowing that the PRC does have influence and a relationship with the regime in the DPRK that perhaps few other countries do.
QUESTION: Yeah, will the U.S. and China discuss about any way to bring North Korea to a dialogue?
MR PRICE: I don’t want to go any further into what they may discuss vis-a-vis the DPRK or any other issue. But they will certainly explore those areas where our interests are aligned because this visit is very much about advancing U.S. interests. It is about exploring ways in which – and areas in which we might cooperate, where that cooperation would be in service of U.S. and shared collective interests.
QUESTION: Regarding that also, the deputy secretary said during the trilateral meeting between Korea and Japan and the U.S. that the cooperation among three countries would be the big message to North Korea. So what could be the message?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry, what – what would be the message to —
QUESTION: Yeah, the – like, the meaning of the message.
MR PRICE: Well, the purpose of the trilateral meeting wasn’t so much to send a message to North Korea. It was to leverage the trilateral relationship. We know just how important the trilateral relationship is to that challenge. It is one that – it’s a relationship that we have sought to bolster and to reinforce over the years. Of course, when he was deputy secretary, then-Deputy Secretary Blinken spent quite a bit of time in the region seeking to strengthen this trilateral relationship. It was certainly – it’s precisely why Secretary Blinken met with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Europe not all that long ago as well.
We know across all these levels that a robust and effective trilateral relationship among these three countries 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 the rule of law and the rules-based international order throughout the Indo-Pacific region.
QUESTION: Yeah, just one more question. During the trilateral meeting, or before or after, did the deputy secretary make any suggestion for the improvement of Korean-Japan relationship?
MR PRICE: We issued a readout of this, so I wouldn’t want to go beyond that readout. But just to reiterate the importance we attach to that trilateral relationship, not just in the context of the DPRK but also in the broader regional context as well.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:54 p.m.)
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