Department Press Briefing – July 21, 2022
2:47 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, or good evening, as the case might be. Very sorry for the delay.
MR PRICE: Well, it’s later than we had hoped, for which I’m very sorry.
Before we begin, let me just say a brief word about someone you all know well. Nick Barnett has been the director of the press office for nearly two years now. That means for nearly two years, Nick has been dealing with all of you day in, day out. Beyond thanking him for his service, I think that may actually call for beatifying him for all that he has done.
But in all seriousness, his service in this role is coming to an end tomorrow as he transitions to his next assignment in the Foreign Service. From the start of this administration, no one has done more than Nick to help revitalize, to help run our daily Public Affairs operations. He helped get me up to speed and he’s continued to work with me every single day to make sure I stay on the right path. That in and of itself is no easy feat.
And so just as we bid farewell to Nick and to thank Nick for everything that he has done, I want to welcome Jennifer McKewan. Jennifer is – will assume the role of director of the press office starting on Monday. She joins us from CENTCOM, where she served as the foreign policy advisor to the commander. Prior to that, she served in the Office of the Vice President as a foreign policy advisor. She’s served overseas as well, including as our deputy spokesperson in London, and prior to that as a special assistant to then-Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken. So she is no stranger to this building, she is no stranger to our operations, she is no stranger to many of you, and I know all of you will enjoy working with her and getting to know her.
So again, thank you, Nick. Welcome, Jen. And with that, I’ll turn it over to Matt.
QUESTION: Oh, that’s it? Nothing else?
MR PRICE: Nothing else.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I’m not quite sure about sainthood for Nick, but —
MR PRICE: I don’t know, Matt. You were —
QUESTION: Pretty – comes – he comes close. I mean, the number of times that I called him at, like, 6:00 a.m. were frequent. But anyway, thank you, Nick, and welcome, Jennifer.
I have a couple things. One, just because of the way we are these days, can you fill us in on the Secretary’s contacts with the President over the last couple days, simply because of the COVID diagnosis?
MR PRICE: Sure. Let me say a couple things on that. First, the Secretary is tested regularly. He was tested again this morning. You all may have seen him this morning. Of course, the fact that he was here indicates that he tested negative. He feels just —
QUESTION: I didn’t see him this morning.
MR PRICE: He feels just fine. He was last with the President on Tuesday. It is also the case that the Secretary tested positive for COVID in May. That is within the 90-day window where, according to the CDC, it is unlikely that he would contract COVID due to his combination of immunity from his recent infection as well as the four doses of COVID-19 vaccine that he has received over the past 18 months or so. So he will continue to test regularly, but he’s feeling well.
QUESTION: Okay. But he is not – he wasn’t in close proximity or was not a close contact with the President as —
MR PRICE: You heard from the White House press secretary and —
QUESTION: No, I did not.
MR PRICE: The White House press secretary – the White House announced that the White House medical unit is doing contact tracing and that the White House medical unit will be in touch with any close contacts.
QUESTION: And they have not been in touch with him?
MR PRICE: As of earlier today, I’m not aware that he has been contacted by the White House medical unit.
QUESTION: And then secondly, and I’m sorry if this is a little bit flip given all the serious nature, but given the fact that the Secretary does have a senior, if honorary, position with the Kennedy Center, I’m going to be very curious to know – to hear his explanation as to why it has taken so long for Gladys Knight to be recognized by them. So please put that to him.
MR PRICE: I suspect, Matt – I suspect, Matt, on this the Secretary will agree with you.
QUESTION: Well, first of all, also wanted to express my thanks to Nick. It’s been great working with him on behalf of the association. So we’ll miss him, but look forward to working with Jennifer as well.
Could I – I know you’ve been asked this before in a different context, but Speaker Pelosi – the President himself, he made some remarks to reporters last night saying that the military has concerns about her visiting Taiwan. She was asked about it today and, of course, said she doesn’t have anything to announce, but is that a concern that’s shared by the State Department, by U.S. diplomacy, about a potential visit to Taiwan by the speaker?
MR PRICE: Well, Shaun, it’s not for me to speak to any potential travel the speaker may or may not make. In fact, I saw a statement from her office making clear that her office as a matter of course does not confirm or deny potential travel before it takes place. So this remains a hypothetical. We’ll need to defer to the speaker’s office in the first instance to speak to any plans that they may have.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: So what the President said, is it the official stance of this administration? Would you advise Speaker Pelosi against her visit?
MR PRICE: I’m not going to be offering any advice from this podium in part because any travel, potential travel, remains a hypothetical. Whether it is this question or any other question, I have a practice of not entertaining hypotheticals. If and when the Speaker’s office, or any other member, for that matter, were to announce travel, we’d be in a position to speak to something then, but that day is not today.
QUESTION: But you do have coordination with the – with Pentagon and also with the speaker’s office?
MR PRICE: Well, we work closely with Congress across the full range of issues. We have policy discussions, we have logistical discussions. We do have discussions about how to best achieve our shared goals. The fact is that Congress is a separate and coequal branch of government. We ensure that across every issue Congress is informed of what we are doing, and it is a close and continuing dialogue across all issues of concern.
QUESTION: And just one lastly on Taiwan. Yesterday the Chinese ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, he blasted your “one China” policy. Basically he’s saying that the United States is hollowing out, blurring out the “one China” policy. What’s your response to that?
MR PRICE: Our position is that our “one China” policy continues to be the policy we follow. We are guided – that “one China” policy, our “one China” policy, is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances. Under the rubric of our “one China” policy, we are committed to maintaining cross-strait peace and stability. We don’t have, as you know, diplomatic relations with Taiwan or support Taiwan independence, but we have a robust unofficial relationship as well as an abiding interest in maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
QUESTION: Yeah, I wanted to get your response to the Ukrainian grain talks, the UN-brokered deal that Turkey says is going to be signed tomorrow. What’s your take on what – the hopes – how hopeful are you that this will resolve the issue? What are you still looking out for in terms of what needs to be done to make sure that this – that this is followed through?
MR PRICE: Well, we would welcome any such agreement. We applaud the hard work of the UN secretary-general. We applaud the diligent work of our Turkish allies. This is something that not only the United States has called for – in fact, Secretary Blinken called for it most recently in the context of the G20 ministerial in Bali earlier this month – it is something that – for which we were joined by other members of the G20, other members of the international community.
The fact is that, to date, Russia has weaponized food during this conflict. They have destroyed agricultural facilities. They prevented millions of tons of Ukrainian grain from getting to those who need it. As I said, we welcome the announcement of this agreement in principle, but what we’re focusing on now is holding Russia accountable for implementing this agreement and for enabling Ukrainian grain to get to world markets. It has been far too long that Russia has enacted this blockade. It is a reflection of Russia’s wanton disregard for lives and livelihoods not only in the region but well beyond that we even had to reach this point.
So what we’ll be looking forward to and holding Russia accountable to is the implementation and grain, most importantly, leaving Ukrainian ports.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: To what extent was the United States involved in these discussions? Obviously it was Turkey and Secretary-General Guterres. But was the U.S. kept abreast of this? And how much detail do you have on this? Is it – are you sure that it’s going to be a substantive agreement? How much level of detail does the United States have on it?
MR PRICE: Well, this is very early going. Of course, reports have just emerged. But I can say that throughout these discussions we have supported the UN secretary-general; we have supported our Turkish allies; we of course supported our Ukrainian partners in their efforts in this as well. We’ve been briefed by the UN at various stages. Our experts have compared notes and shared notes with their experts. The same goes with our Turkish allies and our Ukrainian partners.
Again, we should never have been in this position in the first place. This was a deliberate decision on the part of the Russian Federation to weaponize food. What we have heard within the past couple of hours is a welcome development, but what will really matter is the implementation of this agreement. We, of course, will continue to work with our partners to hold Russia accountable for its implementation.
QUESTION: There are reports that there’s new pressure from Congress for Secretary Blinken to designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, and that if he doesn’t, Congress is just going to do it themselves. Is the State Department thinking about designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, and is it worried that if it does do that, that there will be drawbacks down the line, if it gets to the point of negotiations?
MR PRICE: So let me make a couple broad points on this, some of which may be self-evident. First, it goes without saying, but in all cases we are obligated to follow the law. And when it comes to the state sponsor of terrorism statute, there are criteria against which the Secretary must make such a determination. Those criteria are – because they’re in statute, they are defined by Congress.
And so our task is to take the criteria that Congress has written into law and to compare that to the facts on the ground. Whether it’s the SST statute, or any other authority available to us, that’s what we’ve done throughout the course of this war. That’s what we’re doing as part of our fulfillment of our pledge, of the pledge that we’ve made with many of our closest allies and partners around the world, to impose massive costs and massive consequences on Russia.
There is another relevant data point here, and that is the fact that we have aligned and remained aligned with more than 30 countries across four continents on our multilateral sanctions, as well as export controls and other measures. We have additionally curtailed international assistance and foreign aid. In short, the costs that we’ve imposed on Russia are in line with the consequences of an SST designation.
More broadly, we have worked with partners to methodically eject Russia from the international economic order, to deny Moscow the privileges and benefits it once enjoyed. That includes its most-favored-nation trading status and its borrowing privileges from international financial institutions. We also restricted Russia’s ability to access its frozen central bank funds to make debt payments.
So all told, these unprecedented set of measures, they’re having a drastic impact on Russia’s economy and on Russia’s financial system. And you can look at any number of metrics – Russia’s stock market has lost a third of its value; inflation is rising up to 20 percent; Russia’s GDP is forecasted to decline by some 15 percent; Russia’s imports of goods from around the world could fall by 40 percent. It was recently reported that due to the pressure of the U.S. and our partners, Russia defaulted on its foreign currency and debt for the first time in quite a while. And just this month – or just within recent weeks – we announced additional actions together with our G7 partners to target Russia’s military supply chains, to ban the import of Russian gold, which is Russia’s second-largest export behind energy, and to explore ways with a price cap to push down the revenue that President Putin is in a position to accrue from energy generation.
So as we always do, we will follow the law. We will examine the facts, and we will take the steps in accordance with the law and the facts to continue to hold Russia accountable.
MR PRICE: So in every case, when the United States over the years, over the course of administrations –
QUESTION: Just yes or no.
MR PRICE: — over the course of administrations –
QUESTION: Do you believe that it still meets the criteria?
MR PRICE: The fact pattern that led a previous administration to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism is in the public record.
QUESTION: Well, and —
MR PRICE: It is in the public record.
QUESTION: And an administration before that to remove it, right?
MR PRICE: That’s right. So –
QUESTION: So what is this administration —
MR PRICE: Matt, this gets back to the point that we are always examining the facts and applying them against the law. That applies –
QUESTION: So are you saying there’s a review now about taking them off?
MR PRICE: That applies equally to Ukraine as it does to Cuba, as it does to North Korea.
QUESTION: Well, Ukraine, I wasn’t aware that Ukraine was —
MR PRICE: Excuse me, Russia. Thank you. Sorry.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Okay.
MR PRICE: Russia.
QUESTION: Well, but – so are you saying that there is an active – an active look at whether – at taking Cuba off the list?
MR PRICE: I’m not saying that, Matt, but our charge with all statutes, with all authorities, is to ensure that we’re using those authorities appropriately, consistent with the facts and consistent with the law.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Do you have any update about U.S. relationship with the Taliban, because Taliban would like to compromise with the United States? And number two, lot of Afghan – your friends, the people who work with the United States – they would like to come to United States. The process is very slow. Any new idea to bring them or give them more facility to process get expedite?
MR PRICE: So Nazira, in terms of engagement with the Taliban – we spoke about this a few days ago, but late last month our Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West had an opportunity to lead a delegation, accompanied by a senior Treasury Department official, a senior USAID official to Doha, which was, at the time, the first in-person engagement with a high-level Taliban representative since the Taliban’s egregious decision on March 23rd to limit the ability of girls to attend secondary education. We made clear, as we do in all of our engagements with them, that the United States expects the Taliban to uphold the commitments they’ve made to the international community, but even more so in some ways the commitments that they have to the Afghan people.
The decision – we made clear our stark opposition to that decision that was announced on March 23rd, a decision that is inconsistent with the commitments that the Taliban has to the Afghan people. This is an area where our Special Envoy Rina Amiri has also been deeply engaged, working with our likeminded partners around the world to use the tools that are available to us, whether that is humanitarian assistance, whether that is tools at the UN, to not only hold the Taliban accountable but to support the people of Afghanistan and their humanitarian needs.
QUESTION: And also there was another report, John Dobbinson – Jim Dobbinson, a former U.S. representative in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a week ago. Now he’s member of RAND Corporation. He said that United States should compromise with the Taliban; otherwise there is no solution to Taliban to open even the school for women and bring the peace. Do you think that RAND Corporation expert’s idea is going to be useful? You guys listen to them?
MR PRICE: Nazira, I haven’t seen that particular report. But what I can say more broadly is that there is no compromise when it comes to the basic commitments that the Taliban has put forward in private, that the Taliban has put forward in public, and even more importantly that the Taliban has made to its own people. These are, in some ways, very simple commitments respecting the basic rights of all of the people of Afghanistan – its women, its girls, its minorities, its religious minorities – respecting the right of free passage for those who seek to leave, upholding its counterterrorism commitments, including in the context of al-Qaida, including in the context of the ISIS branch in Afghanistan, forging a government that is representative of the Afghan people.
And when it comes to our concerns, we are committed to the proposition that we cannot have a normal relationship with any entity that continues to hold an American citizen – in this case, Mark Frerichs – hostage.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you.
Yes. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. A cargo plane which crashed in northern Greece last Sunday was carrying 11 tons of weapons, including landmine to Bangladesh from Serbia. And Greece asking for explanation to Serbia. So what is your comment on that, and is – the U.S. is doing any investigation as eight Ukrainian crews, all members, had died?
MR PRICE: I’m not aware that we have any role in the investigation. If we do have a role we will – we can follow up with you. But on this question, I would need to defer to Greek, and Serbian, and Bangladeshi authorities.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Ned, the Belgian parliament approved a treaty on prisoner swap with Iran. And this is after in February Iran detained a Belgian citizen, and just recently Belgium convicted a former Iranian diplomat of planning to carry out an attack on an opposition group in Paris. Do you – does the Biden administration think that this is a good course of action to exchange – to bring back their detained citizens, especially when the other side for Iran is – would be a diplomat and has the tag of a terrorist on him?
MR PRICE: So Gitte, I’ll refer you to the Government of Belgian – Belgium to comment on developments within their own system. But let me make a couple broader points. Number one, Iran has a long history of unjust imprisonment of foreign nationals for use as political leverage. Iran continues to engage in a range of human rights abuses. That includes large-scale arbitrary or unlawful detention of individuals, many of whom have faced torture and execution after unfair trials. These practices are outrageous. Iran continues to hold Americans, Iran continues to hold third-country nationals unjustly, wrongfully. It remains a priority of this administration and will continue to be a priority of this administration to see to it that the Americans are released and that we will continue to work together with our partners to address Iran’s heinous practice of wrongfully detaining third-country nationals as well.
QUESTION: Could this be a course of action for the United States, as you are talking with Iran about those U.S. dual nationals in Iran alongside the JCPOA?
MR PRICE: Well, as I said, we and our allies are committed to doing everything we can to see to it that our respective nationals are reunited with their families. In too many cases, these individuals have been separated from their families from – for years. Put this way, we have twin imperatives. Again, first and foremost, it is seeing the release of our nationals. At the same time, we want to – and we are working to – underscore, to reinforce the norm against this heinous practice. That’s why Secretary Blinken has commended Canada for its leadership in obtaining international support for what’s known as the Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations. We’ve called on likeminded countries around the world to work together to pressure nations, including Iran in this case, that engage in detentions, such detentions, to put it into this practice and to release those detained under such conditions.
QUESTION: Two short questions on the JCPOA. The British – the chief of the British intelligence agency today said at the Aspen Institute that he doesn’t believe Khamenei has made a decision to cut a deal. Has that opinion been shared with the United States?
And the British ambassador to Iran today has a – has visited one of the provinces, the chamber of commerce, with their own delegation, and in a tweet he says that plenty of great companies Fars province with opportunities for quality UK products and services to boost UK-Iran trade, JCPOA or not. Does this mean that Britain might go its own way, given whatever the fate of the talks?
MR PRICE: So on your first question, Gitte, it is no secret that the United States and our British partners have an extraordinarily close intelligence-sharing relationship. It’s not for me to speak to the contents of that relationship. But I also don’t think you need a security clearance to discern the fact that Iran at this point doesn’t seem to have made the political decision – or decisions, I should say – necessary to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. The fact is that a deal has been on the table for months now. We have continued to engage in indirect diplomacy with Iran, courtesy of the efforts of the European Union and other partners, but Iran, to this point at least, has not displayed an inclination to seek that deal. So certainly, those comments ring true.
On your second question, look, the UK is and has always been a member of the P5+1. The UK is also committed to the principle that President Biden has reiterated and underlined, namely that Iran must not be able to acquire a nuclear weapon. Our sanctions will remain in place unless and until there is a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. And I fully expect our allies around the world, including our close allies in the context of the P5+1, will continue to maintain strong pressure – economic, financial pressure – on Iran unless and until Iran changes course.
QUESTION: Well, he is saying that we’re going to do business no matter what, deal or no deal.
MR PRICE: Well, again, I can’t speak for these specific comments, but I can speak for our airtight cooperation with the UK in the context of the P5+1, in the context of our joint and shared efforts to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.
QUESTION: So kind of on this same thing – and I hesitate to ask you for any kind of analysis from the podium – but is there any concern that two of the G7 leaders who the President met with just a couple weeks ago are gone now? And any concern that that will impact broader G7 cooperation or broader G7 policy directed at Russia, Ukraine, China?
MR PRICE: I think the only small bit that I will wade into this is to say that each – both of these cases were predicated upon unique circumstances, and I’m not going to go beyond that except to say that our alliance with the UK, our alliance with Italy, again, is predicated not on personalities, not on political parties, but on decades of shared interests, shared values. We won’t comment on government formation or domestic politics within either context, but I am confident that when leadership – when new leadership potentially emerges in both countries, that they will continue to be stalwart partners in the context of the G7, in the context of our shared and collective challenges (inaudible).
QUESTION: Right, but surely your people in Rome and in London are checking out the possibilities for – is there any concern that new leadership might be less inclined to support the – what has been the G7 or the Western position?
MR PRICE: This coalition – and there are a number of coalitions that have come together, including on the challenge of Russia-Ukraine – has proven remarkably resilient. I think I said yesterday that it has defied expectations. Long before this – the advent of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, we are confident in the strength, we’re confident in the durability of this coalition and of the commitment on the part of our allies and partners to continue to support Ukraine and to continue to hold Russia to account.
QUESTION: Ned, is the U.S. ready to go back to Doha to negotiate with Iran regarding the JCPOA, especially that Qatari foreign minister has a phone conversation today with his Iranian counterpart who said that they are ready to go back to the agreement and to put the ball in the U.S. field?
MR PRICE: The short summary of the Iranian statement to us, unfortunately, sounds like more of the same. Rather than put this in the context of going back to Doha, let me say that the United States and our partners within the P5+1 are committed to the course of a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, but the key adjective there is “mutual.” To date, we have not seen any indication that Iran is ready or willing at this stage to return to the JCPOA. As I said before, a deal has been on the table for months now. If Iran wanted to avail itself of that deal, it has had any number of opportunities – in Vienna, in Doha, through our partners in the Middle East, through our partners in the EU. Iran, again, to date has chosen not to do so.
QUESTION: But are you ready to go back to Doha for a new set of talks with —
MR PRICE: We are fully prepared to return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA. I think it is probably more appropriate to focus on our overarching goal rather than the tactic to get there. We continue to believe that diplomacy is the most durable approach to contain Iran’s nuclear program. We continue to believe that within that diplomatic rubric, a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is the most effective, is the most feasible option that has been within reach for quite some time now: to reapply those stringent limits on Iran’s nuclear program, to reimpose the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever peacefully negotiated, and, in the case of Iran, to see to it that appropriate sanctions relief is applied if Iran once again curtails its nuclear activity.
QUESTION: Two more things. One, U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary Blinken noting their concerns about Israel’s designation of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist groups. Do you have anything on this letter?
MR PRICE: You know that we don’t comment on congressional correspondence. I’m familiar with it, but let me just say we’ve made clear to our Israeli Government and Palestinian Authority counterparts that independent civil society organizations in the West Bank and in Israel must be able to continue their important work. We value the monitoring of human rights violations and abuses that these independent NGOs undertake in this region and around the world, and we strongly believe that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible or responsive and democratic governance around the world.
And I made this point yesterday, but I’ll make it again. We have designated the PFLP as a foreign terrorist organization for more than 20 years now, going on 30 years. It’s an SDGT as well. It remains designated today. When it comes to these six NGOs, we’ve not designated any of them, but neither have we funded these groups.
QUESTION: And one more on Iraq. The Iraqi authorities have asked Turkey to withdraw from Iraq territories and they will ask the Security Council to do so. Will you support Iraq in this demand?
MR PRICE: This is a question for the Government of Iraq. For our part, you heard this from us yesterday. We reaffirm our position in support of Iraqi sovereignty, in support of Iraq’s territorial integrity, but would need to refer to our partners in Iraq on that question.
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask a couple questions on behalf of a couple of colleagues who aren’t here. One is: Apparently Secretary Blinken met this morning with AfghanEvac. It’s a nonprofit that’s trying to bring interpreters out of Afghanistan. Wondering if there’s anything you could say about it. Did he make any additional commitments, any assurances on speeding up processing or relocation?
MR PRICE: Sure. You have heard us say for the better part of a year now that the United States has an enduring commitment not only to the people of Afghanistan but, of course, to American citizens, to lawful permanent residents, some 1,300 of whom we have helped transport out of Afghanistan over the course of the past year, but also to Afghans to whom we have a special commitment. And today, as part of a regular engagement, the Secretary met with representatives of a self-organized coalition of more than 180 organizations, including veterans, frontline civilians, social workers, attorneys, nonprofits, congressional staff, and private sector employees, all of whom we have worked with to support relocation and resettlement of our Afghan allies and partners over the better part of a year now.
The meeting was part of the department’s ongoing collaboration with this coalition and a recognition of the commitment that we have as a country made to supporting our new Afghan neighbors. The Secretary during the course of this meeting today – he’s now met with this coalition multiple times, but today he listened to stories of Afghans beginning their new lives here in the United States. The coalition we think represents the extraordinary contributions of individuals and communities across the country that are helping to make good on that commitment that we have to our Afghan allies, including by welcoming tens of thousands of them into our community.
MR PRICE: Yes. Go ahead.
QUESTION: This is unrelated —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — on behalf of a colleague. Apparently there’s a State Department employee who was killed yesterday in a bicycle incident near the building. Is there anything you could offer on —
MR PRICE: I can confirm that a Foreign Service officer, Shawn O’Donnell, was killed yesterday. We extend our deepest condolences to her family, to her loved ones. We need to refer you to the Metropolitan Police Department for additional information.
QUESTION: Sorry to hear about that.
So Ukraine’s state nuclear company has accused Russia of storing explosives within the heart of one of its active plants, the largest atomic energy center in Europe. Is this something the State Department is investigating? And, if verified, what kind of response might we expect to see given the potential for a widespread catastrophe?
MR PRICE: So I’m not immediately familiar with those reports. We have spoken in the past of Russia’s irresponsible behavior in the vicinity of Ukraine’s nuclear power generation facilities. If we have anything particularly on this angle, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Turkish President Erdoğan has said that his country is considering an offensive campaign in northern Syria, so I’m wondering what you think about this news. And also, is the administration reconsidering its sale of F-16 jets to Turkey in light of this development?
MR PRICE: So we spoke yesterday regarding the importance and the concern that we’ve expressed regarding the stated plans for an incursion in northeastern Syria by Turkish forces. It is important to us that existing ceasefire lines be preserved. Any new operation, any new Turkish offensive in the region would have the potential to set back some of the tremendous progress that the coalition has made in the face of Daesh’s so-called caliphate in recent years. It would have the potential to be detrimental in the context of the ongoing political process pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 2254. We have expressed this concern publicly, as we did again yesterday and today. We have expressed it privately with our Turkish allies as well.
When it comes to F-16s, we made the point – and you heard this from the President in the aftermath of his bilateral meeting with President Erdoğan of Turkey on the sidelines of the NATO summit earlier in June – we strongly value our partnership with Turkey. Turkey is an important NATO Ally. We and Turkey have longstanding, deep – longstanding and deep bilateral defense ties, and Turkey’s continued NATO interoperability remains a priority for us. As a matter of policy, we don’t publicly comment or confirm proposed defense transfers until they have been formally notified to Congress. But what I can say is that we continue to engage Congress on this question.
QUESTION: Just a clarification, Ned. I have heard you say many times – you used the term “ceasefire lines.” Could you just remind us where those lines fall and when was that ceasefire, between whom and whom? Because I have been following the case and I don’t remember that Turkey – Turkey has signed or anything with YPG in that sense.
MR PRICE: So our position has long been that we support the maintenance of current ceasefire lines. We condemn any escalation. Of course, I don’t have a map in front of me, but we also expect Turkey to live up to the joint statement that it signed on October 17th, 2019, including as part of that joint statement to halt operations in northeast Syria. We’ve consistently said that we recognize Turkey’s legitimate security concerns. No other NATO Ally has faced as many terrorist attacks as our Turkish allies. But any new offensive would run the risk of further undermining stability, would put U.S. forces and the coalition’s campaign against ISIS potentially at risk.
QUESTION: So you say there’s a ceasefire line that is, like, even if you don’t have a map in front of you, there is a line where Turkey and United States or whoever agreed that it will not pass – one. The second thing, you are talking about a joint statement in 2019. That joint statement was about Turkey ending its operation in the current – like, the Peace Spring operation. It is – it doesn’t give any commitment that it will not launch another operation in another part of northern Syria. So can you just clarify this point for us? You over and over mentioned that joint statement. Does it say specifically that Turkey is not going to launch any other operation in northern Syria?
MR PRICE: As part of that joint statement from October of 2019, it is our contention that Turkey needs to halt offensive operations in northeast Syria. That is a point that successive administrations now have made, this administration and the last administration. But more broadly, we continue to support the maintenance of these current ceasefire lines. Again, any offensive would put at risk some of the tremendous gains that we have achieved together in recent years.
QUESTION: Is there a line, like really, between the United States and Turkey, a line that’s really physically that you are not going to go from there to there? I am just trying to ask: ceasefire line, what do you mean by that?
MR PRICE: Existing, current ceasefire lines.
QUESTION: There’s a report coming out saying 16 U.S. officials were sent to quarantine in China against their will. Can you confirm that?
MR PRICE: I am not immediately familiar with that, but we’ll get back to you.
QUESTION: Just one more on Lavrov. He is addressing the Arab League on Sunday. I know, as we saw in the G20 and in other places, we’ve – the United States has been looking to isolate Russia. Is there any concern that he’s going to address the Arab League? Has there been any discussion with the Arab League about his appearance?
MR PRICE: As I said before, we are less concerned with whom Foreign Minister Lavrov and his colleagues are communicating and more focused on the messages that they’re hearing. And when it comes to the G20 in Bali – and you alluded to this – the message that Foreign Minister Lavrov heard was loud and clear. It was one in condemnation of Russia’s illegal, unprovoked, unjustified, brutal war against Ukraine. It was a message that was largely in support of our Ukrainian partners. It was a message that was nearly unanimous in its condemnation of what Russia has done when it comes to global food security.
We understand that countries around the world have individual, unique relations with Russia, but there are basic principles at play that apply equally in the Middle East, as they do to Europe, as they do in the Indo-Pacific and everywhere else. Those are the central tenets of the rules-based international system: the idea that might in the 21st century can’t make right; the idea that a large country shouldn’t be in a position to bully a small country; the idea that no other country should be able to dictate the foreign policy orientation or the foreign policy choices of any other country. Those are principles that we seek to preserve and to promote, again, when it comes to the Middle East, in Europe, the Indo-Pacific and everywhere else.
QUESTION: The UK’s intelligence chief said today that they predict Russia’s military is about to hit a wall – “run out of steam” was the exact phrase – giving Ukraine a chance to strike back. Does the U.S. share this assessment?
MR PRICE: What we are doing is putting Ukraine in the best position to defend its territory against this naked aggression. That is what we have done well before the start of Russia’s invasion. After all, the first drawdown for Ukraine was nearly a year ago – it was, as I recall, Labor Day of last year. There was another $200 million drawdown in December of last year, and then in the run-up to and, of course, during the course of this invasion, billions of dollars’ worth of support to our Ukrainian partners, so that together, with our partners around the world, we can put Ukraine in the strongest possible position on the battlefield and, by extension, in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table if and when any such negotiating table develops.
All right. Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:33 p.m.)