2:39 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Very sorry for the delay. We had a rather catastrophic technical failure with the most important piece of technology in the building, and it’s the iPad, of course, so now we’re back to the analogue book, at least for today. So bear with me.
With that, I have one announcement at the top, and then I look forward to taking your questions.
QUESTION: It wasn’t some kind of a hack?
MR PRICE: No, and I wish there were a more interesting explanation for it, but the technology just decided to fail us. But that is neither here nor there.
We’ll start with this: Today the Secretary announced Richard Nephew is our coordinator on global anti-corruption. This position, announced last International Anti-Corruption Day, will integrate and elevate the fight against corruption across all aspects of U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance, working closely with interagency and international partners. This position demonstrates the importance the United States places on anti-corruption as a core national security interest and reiterates the central role global partnerships play in this fight.
So with that, happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: That’s it?
MR PRICE: That is it.
QUESTION: After like a week away or 10 days away on the road and then the holiday?
MR PRICE: That is it.
QUESTION: All right.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: So let me start in the Middle East. There is an old expression in our profession that if you produce something that pisses both sides off, you’re probably doing the right thing. That’s a good job. You guys seem to have taken this —
MR PRICE: Seems we may have succeeded.
QUESTION: Yeah. You guys seem to have taken this to a new level with the statement yesterday about the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. No one is happy with this. The Palestinians are upset, her family is upset because you didn’t take a conclusive stand, and the Israelis are upset because you kind of blame them but you don’t have any conclusive evidence to assign that blame. So this seems to be another case of the administration trying to please everybody and then pleasing no one. Can you explain what it is that makes you think that the preponderance of evidence that you’ve seen shows that it was an – that the shot that killed her was fired by an Israeli? And then, after that, can you also explain why it is that you’re – that if you believe that, then why are you not assigning blame? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Sure. So first, Matt, to one of your points, our goal in this was not to please everyone. Our goal in this was not to please anyone. Our goal in this was to put forward what the U.S. security coordinator had found in his summary of the investigations to date.
And just to take a step back, there were two elements in the statement that we put out yesterday. The first dealt with the forensic analysis of the bullet that killed Shireen Abu Akleh, and as you saw from the statement, the bullet was damaged to the extent that the independent third-party examiners weren’t able to come to a conclusive judgment regarding the origin of the bullet.
Now, the second element of that statement is broader. The second element of that statement deals with the summary of the investigations – that is to say, the summary of the Israeli, the IDF, and the Palestinian Authority, the PA, investigations that have been undertaken to date that the U.S. security coordinator put together in his role. The security coordinator over the course of several weeks had been granted access to both of those investigations, and in summarizing them, the security coordinator concluded that gunfire from an IDF position was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh. The security coordinator also found no reason to believe that it was an intentional killing but rather the result of tragic circumstances during the course of an IDF-led raid in Jenin against factions of PIJ, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, on May 11th that had followed a series of attacks in recent weeks.
So in terms of the USSC, the U.S. security coordinator, came to that conclusion, as I said before, the security coordinator was granted access to the investigations of the two parties. The security coordinator also visited the site of Ms. Abu Akleh’s death in order to garner additional information. So putting all of these pieces together, it led to the determination that gunfire from an IDF position likely resulted in her death. It also – in the course of the investigation, given the totality of circumstances, given the totality of facts that became available and that were made available to the U.S. security coordinator and his team, they found no reason to believe that it was an intentional killing, but rather the result of tragic circumstances in the course of a raid.
QUESTION: How – okay. One, who was the independent third-party examiner that looked at the bullet?
MR PRICE: These were members of the USSC team. Together, they have 42 years of combined forensic experience. As we said, the bullet was damaged to such an extent that it precluded a conclusive determination as to the type of gun from which the bullet was fired. But these are some of the most experienced ballistic experts in the business.
QUESTION: Okay. But they’re American officials?
MR PRICE: No, the USSC – it’s a multinational organization.
QUESTION: Okay. So can you be a little bit more specific?
MR PRICE: Well, I don’t want to bring in specific countries, but the USSC – it’s a multinational organization. It includes several of our close NATO Allies. And so we brought in, as part of that team, two officials from that multinational team with extensive – as I said before, 42 years of – combined forensic experience.
QUESTION: Okay. And then how did they come to a determination that there – that they could not conclude that there was intent or a lack of intent? And how did they come to a conclusion that it was – I mean, they basically didn’t come to any conclusion.
MR PRICE: What they did —
QUESTION: Right? I mean, and so can you explain how it is that you’re so – that you’re able to say that there’s no evidence of intent, no matter who did the shooting?
MR PRICE: Right. Well, that’s exactly what they find, what they found, or precisely what they didn’t find.
QUESTION: Isn’t that – exactly, that’s finding nothing.
MR PRICE: What – well, they found no reason to believe this was intentional. But again – but again – but —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) they didn’t find any reason that it wasn’t intentional, right?
MR PRICE: Again, the totality —
QUESTION: So why do you —
MR PRICE: The totality of the circumstances based on the two investigations to which they were granted access, based on the site visit to the site of Ms. Abu Akleh’s death, led them to the conclusion that this was the result of tragic circumstances during this IDF-led operation.
QUESTION: So how does one determine intent? How do you determine what was intentional or not intentional in this case? Did you talk to the person that fired the gun? I mean, you’re saying likely – likely – from IDF sources. I don’t know what that means, because —
MR PRICE: This is – it’s important to note this is a judgment —
QUESTION: Allow me just to finish my question, please. When you say “likely,” I mean, it either happened or it did not happen. What is “likely?” I mean, it did not come from outer space.
MR PRICE: Said —
QUESTION: It came from a particular direction. So I want you to respond to the question: How do you determine intent?
MR PRICE: Said, this was a judgment based upon all of the information to which the USSC was granted access. And we said before the USSC, over the course of several weeks, was granted access to the IDF-led investigation, to the PA-led investigation. They visited the site as well. So I am not standing here – nor would the USSC be able to stand anywhere – and to say conclusively with 100 percent certainty exactly what happened. But the conclusion that the USSC came to over the course of that several-week summation of the various investigations and the site visit as well was that the bullet likely – as you said – emanated from an IDF position. Similarly, the USSC, based on those same inputs, found no reason to believe that this was intentional and concluded it was likely the result of the tragic circumstances surrounding a counterterrorism raid.
QUESTION: Was there any conversation with the likely shooter? Was there any conversation with any group of soldiers? Because we know, Ned – I mean, we know how the Israelis operate. We know that they keep everything on record. They keep every fire that gets shot. It’s recorded. Everything that is done by Israeli soldiers on a raid is completely recorded and completely registered and so on. So why can’t you talk to the Israelis in this case and talk to the group of soldiers who were actually there?
MR PRICE: There was extensive coordination and consultation with our Israeli partners on this.
QUESTION: You say likely. Somebody was there. They know who exactly they are. So why can’t they talk to this group of soldiers?
MR PRICE: Said, there was extensive consultation and dialogue with our Israeli partners, just as there was extensive consultation and dialogue with the PA as well. As I said before, the USSC was granted access to the IDF investigation, just as the team was granted access to the PA investigation. So this summary of the investigations that led to this analytic conclusion – not scientific, but analytic – led the USSC team to this finding, that the bullet likely emanated from an IDF position and that the killing, the tragic killing, of Shireen Abu Akleh was not, in fact, intentional.
QUESTION: Are you still committed to holding whoever committed this accountable?
QUESTION: It was not intentional? Or you can’t determine intent?
MR PRICE: The – what we said in the statement yesterday, the USSC found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances.
QUESTION: So this ends right here? I mean, it’s over? Is this investigation over?
MR PRICE: Well, you heard from us similarly in the statement yesterday that we will remain engaged with Israel and the PA on next steps and to urge accountability. We do want to see accountability. We would expect accountability in any case involving a wrongful death, and this clearly was the case of a wrongful death. Our goal – and what we believe is the collective goal of the parties – is to see to it that something akin to this, the killing of a journalist in a conflict zone, can’t happen again, must not happen again.
QUESTION: But it happened again. It happened again in Hebron.
MR PRICE: And —
QUESTION: It happened again only two weeks after.
MR PRICE: And Said, the IDF, as a professional military outfit currently in the midst of its own investigation, is in a position or soon will be in a position to consider steps to further safeguard non-combatants. That is something we have consistently encouraged not only to the IDF, but in conflict zones around the world. And as part of accountability, the IDF will be in a position to consider additional steps that would safeguard civilians and non-combatants in the case of a conflict zone.
QUESTION: Ned, how long was the USSC involved in this process?
MR PRICE: The USSC was granted access to the investigation over the course of several weeks.
QUESTION: Several weeks. Are there any lawyers, any criminal lawyers, any people with experience in investigating murders or homicides on that team?
MR PRICE: I can’t speak to whether there is – there are lawyers with that background, but again, there are forensics experts on the team. There are security experts on the team. After all, this is the team that coordinates security assistance with the PA, that works closely with Israeli authorities as well. But this was not a law enforcement investigation. This was a summation of investigations.
QUESTION: But the reason I ask is because the U.S. Government is arguing that it was not able to assess intent. And yes, people with experience in forensics can take a look at physical evidence, but determining intent is usually the role of someone with legal experience, usually someone who has to either argue the case or defend the accusation in a court of law. And so it raises questions about how this conclusion has been raised if people who can only deal with fragments and shrapnel and physical tissue are able to determine intent, especially if they have not actually interviewed the people who were involved, the people who fired the weapons, the people who were eyewitnesses to the weapons. This isn’t the way that a criminal investigation here in the U.S. would be carried out, and so it is – it’s reasonable to ask: how can you come to that sort of conclusion?
MR PRICE: So —
QUESTION: It seems as if it’s a rush to judgment when actually we know that the FBI has not been involved in this. And then my follow-on question is – and it’s really a sidebar question – is: is this the work of the USSC? Have they been involved in other investigations where the Palestinians and the Israelis have had massive disputes about what happened on the ground?
MR PRICE: So a couple points on this, Rosiland, to your questions. Number one, as I said before, I believe to Said, this was not a criminal investigation. This was an effort on the part of the USSC to summarize the findings that the PA have – has devised and the findings that the IDS – the IDF has come to in their own respective investigations. Yes, there was a site visit to the site of Ms. Abu Akleh’s killing, but this was primarily a summation of the investigation on the part of the two parties. I didn’t intend to suggest that the entirety of the USSC team is comprised of forensics experts. The forensics experts with the 42 years of experience, those were the individuals that conducted the testing of the bullet in question.
The USSC team, of course, is much broader. It has a much more expansive set of backgrounds and expertise. This is a team that is fully capable of working with both the PA and the IDF, as they routinely do in the course of their business, to take a look at their investigations, to take a very close and careful look with an exacting eye at the conclusions that both parties have arrived at to date, to supplement that with a visit to the site where Ms. Abu Akleh was so tragically killed, and then to form conclusions based on that.
Now, these are analytic conclusions. Again, that is why we have caveats in there. Likely fired from an IDF position; no evidence to suggest this was intentional. So we need to be clear about what this was and what this wasn’t. But the USSC is confident in its findings, and we have confidence in turn in the USSC.
QUESTION: The family, though, is very displeased with what the State Department is saying about the killing of their loved one. How does this government respond to the family of a U.S. citizen that they don’t have all the answers, that they believe that there’s much more to be known about how she was killed, and that they are asking for justice for her killing?
MR PRICE: Well, we continue to urge both the Israeli investigators and the Palestinian investigators to bridge their investigations. You may recall prior to this past weekend we had been calling publicly for the IDF and the PA to bridge their respective investigations, because it was our belief that by doing so would provide both sides with the clearest indication and the clearest route to accountability.
We will continue to work both with Israeli investigators, with the PA as well, to continue to encourage them to bridge this investigation because, yes, as we said in our statement, we do want to see accountability. We would want to see accountability in any case of a wrongful death. That would especially – and is especially the case in the wrongful death of an American citizen, as was Shireen Abu Akleh. So we will continue working with the two parties to see to it that they continue, to the best of their willingness and ability, to bridge their investigative efforts and, in the aftermath of that, to consider steps that would render a degree of accountability. And we believe it is in the interests of all of the parties – Israelis as well as Palestinians – to put in place steps that further safeguard civilian and non-combatant life.
QUESTION: And one more from me. Have U.S. officials in Israel been in touch with her family?
MR PRICE: We —
QUESTION: It seems as if they were side – blindsided by this announcement yesterday.
MR PRICE: Senior American officials have been in close touch with the Abu Akleh family.
QUESTION: Have they been in touch since the investigation, since this – these conclusions were reached?
MR PRICE: We have been in close touch, including in very recent days.
QUESTION: Could I ask one more about the bullet? The Palestinians said that they handed it over to the U.S. with the understanding that it wouldn’t be given to the Israelis. The IDF says that they actually were – did the – did forensic research on the bullet, that it was in an Israeli laboratory. Do you think this is consistent? Is – does the United States believe that it’s – that the deal was true to its word in terms of the United States handling it and not the Israelis handling —
MR PRICE: We believe both parties operated in good faith. And just to be clear about this, the examination was conducted by two members of the USSC. These were the two forensics experts with a combined 42 years of experience. Local experts, whether they were Israeli or Palestinian, did not conduct USSC’s examination of the bullet. The USSC had full custody of the bullet from the moment it was provided by the PA to the USSC until the moment it was returned by the USSC to the PA.
QUESTION: So the Israelis have been talking about doing research about – that is simultaneous to what the USSC was doing.
MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to what they intended to say. But I can tell you that no other party had possession of this bullet during the examination.
QUESTION: And it was returned to the PA?
MR PRICE: And it was returned to the PA.
QUESTION: Can I ask one more question on the Palestinian issue? Very quickly, on the E1, we understand that the Israelis put it off till September. Have you pressured the Israelis to put off the expansion of the E1 settlement?
MR PRICE: We have consistently spoken to both sides to encourage them not to take steps that would exacerbate tensions in that – in the case of something like this would put a two-state solution further out of reach. That’s been a consistent message since the start of this administration.
QUESTION: And my last one, because I promised the family. Two years ago – two years ago 22nd of June – a young cousin of mine was killed by the Israelis. They still hold his body. I don’t want to go into who was at fault and so on and all these things. Why in God’s name will they continue to hold corpses and not allow for a decent burial? Do you believe that the Israelis ought to free those corpses and give them to the families – there are many of them – so they can have decent burials?
MR PRICE: Said, it’s very difficult for me – and I’m aware of this case —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Ahmad Erekat.
MR PRICE: I’m aware of the case. I know you’ve raised it before. It is difficult for me to speak to specific cases, but you have also heard from us, including in the context of Shireen Abu Akleh, that we believe that families of the deceased should be in a position to mourn in peace and in dignity and to do so in a way that respects the tragic ordeal that they have endured.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: The – when you mentioned accountability – the statement that you had yesterday, there should be accountability – do you think the Israelis should have a criminal prosecution into this? The Israelis say they’re investigating it. Should it be criminally prosecuted?
MR PRICE: We are not going to be prescriptive about this. Again, it was the considered judgment of the USSC that this was not intentional, and nothing to suggest that this was anything more than the result – than the tragic result of a counterterrorism operation in which a non-combatant, in this case an American-Palestinian journalist, was killed. At the same time, we do want to see accountability. The IDF is in the midst of its own investigation. As a professional military force, the IDF will be in a position or is in a position to consider steps to see to it that something like this can’t happen again, to consider steps that would safeguard civilian and non-combatant life.
QUESTION: And if they just say we can’t figure out anything more, that’s the end of it, that’s —
MR PRICE: We are always going to encourage steps to safeguard civilians and non-combatants in a combat zone. This is a message we have discussed with our Israeli partners prior to this, and we believe that based on the findings of the USSC that there does need to be accountability. We have consistently called for accountability in the case of Ms. Abu Akleh’s killing. Again, we’re not going to be prescriptive in terms of what that looks like. We’ve said what this appears to be and what it appears not to be. But regardless, we believe there needs to be accountability to see to it that something like this does not happen again.
QUESTION: Is it okay if I move to Brittney Griner?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: She sent a letter to President Biden pleading with him to stand up for her. Can you give an update on what the administration is doing to secure her release? And has Blinken had any more contact with her wife?
MR PRICE: So on the second part, the Secretary has had a couple of opportunities in recent days, in recent weeks to speak to Cherelle Griner. He has had opportunities in recent days, in recent weeks to speak to the families of other Americans who are wrongfully detained or held hostage around the world. I can tell you that he has no higher priority than seeing the release of these Americans – Americans who are either unjustly detained, or Americans who are held hostage. This is something on which he’s personally engaged on a daily basis, whether it is a discussion with a family, as he did the other week; a discussion with the families of Americans who are held hostage or wrongfully detained; or whether he is in close contact with our embassy in Moscow, for example, with our representatives around the world, as he has given his team a charge to do all that we can to see to it that these Americans are released as soon as possible.
At the same time, we also are engaged in work with our allies and partners around the world to create and to reinforce a norm that would relegate this horrific practice to where it belongs, and that’s, of course, the dustbin of history. We want to see Americans released. We want to see this practiced – this practice banished, whether it is in the case of Russia or any other country that engages in the practice of wrongfully, unjustly detaining Americans or third-country nationals for political benefit.
QUESTION: Has he spoken to Cherelle or – sorry, has Blinken spoken to Cherelle Griner since June 22nd?
MR PRICE: They spoke – they had an opportunity to speak last month, and we acknowledged that at the time. The Secretary will remain in close contact not only with Brittney Griner’s family and loved ones, but also here at the State Department we remain in close contact – I would say almost daily contact – with her broader network. That includes her legal representation, that includes others who are working diligently day and night to see her release.
QUESTION: We’ve yet to get a reaction to that letter that Brittney Griner sent from the administration. Can you offer just any reaction, any visceral sense that you got from reading the – reading the letter, reading any of the excerpts? And secondly, Brittney Griner’s wife, she says she’s no longer going to stay quiet; she said that silence is getting her nowhere. We do know that traditionally families of hostages have been advised – or the wrongfully detained have been advised – to stay quiet to avoid compromising any negotiations. Is this still the advice that you’re giving to Americans who are detained abroad and their families?
MR PRICE: So first, on the letter and on the case more broadly, as you know, our chargé d’affaires had an opportunity to see Brittney Griner on the first day of her trial last week. She was able to speak to Brittney Griner. Brittney Griner asked her to convey the message that she is keeping the faith. And I think you see that to a remarkable degree in that remarkable handwritten letter that Brittney Griner sent to the administration. Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan, Americans around the world who are held hostage or unjustly detained, they are always on our thoughts, they are always weighing on everything it is that we do. We regularly engage with families, we regularly engage with the representation of those who are wrongfully detained or held hostage.
But I think all of you can understand at the same time that while we update families, and certainly in broad strokes, on our efforts, it is not something that we are in a position to speak to publicly in any detail. And I point to the case of Trevor Reed. I was often asked from this podium about updates for Trevor Reed’s case, and I have said things very similar to what I just said about Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. Of course, we were able to find a way to secure Trevor Reed’s release, and we were able to do so, I would say, in large part because we were discreet about what we were doing at the time. We do not want to do anything, we do not want to say anything that would potentially jeopardize the chances of seeing an American released or that would delay by a single day, a single hour, or a single minute the safe return of an American to her or his family and loved ones back here in the United States.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on that. Just to be clear, the Secretary and the President, neither of them have had a conversation with Cherelle Griner since this letter was received by the administration. Is that right?
MR PRICE: I believe the letter was just received yesterday or overnight.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, I’m just making sure. Understood, okay.
MR PRICE: And I can’t speak for the White House, but of course, when it comes to the State Department, we do engage regularly, if not daily, with Brittney Griner, her loved ones, and her networks as well.
QUESTION: And just one more question: The coach of the Phoenix Mercury, who’s – that’s the team that Brittney was playing on here – made a comment just yesterday saying, “If it was LeBron, he’d be home, right? It’s a statement about the value of women. It’s a statement about the value of a black person. It’s a statement about the value of a gay person. All of those…[we] know it, and…that’s what hurts a little more.” What is your response to that? Just the fact that the administration, the State Department handles so many cases abroad – do you think that this situation is unique because of who Brittney Griner is?
MR PRICE: Well, as you said and as the coach said, the hurt here is immense. The hurt here is profound. And I say that as someone who can’t even begin to imagine what Cherelle Griner is going through, what Brittney Griner’s coach, what her teammates are going through; all of those who love her, not only in this country but around the world, are going through. The same could be said for the family, the loved ones of Paul Whelan; the same could be said for the family, the loved ones of Americans who are wrongfully detained around the world.
Now, of course, Brittney Griner was perhaps a household name before she was unjustly taken into detention and held unjustly, wrongfully, by the Russian Federation. So there certainly is a spotlight on this case owing to who she is, owing to what she has accomplished over the course of her professional career, but I can tell you that our commitment to seeing every single American who is held hostage, wrongfully detained, unjustly detained – that commitment is the same.
When it comes to our engagement with the families, we regularly engage with them. We do pass on advice. We pass on suggestions. We don’t pass on directives. It is our goal to work with the family to see to it that we are doing everything we can to place their loved one in the most advantageous position to be released. We don’t – we ourselves don’t want to do anything, don’t want to say anything that could jeopardize that. We have had conversations with families about how they too could avoid doing anything that would further complicate the release of their loved ones.
Certainly understand the inclination on the part of families to bring as much publicity as they can to their cases. I think all of us – if we were in the position that Cherelle Griner is in, if we were in the position that the Whelans are in, if we were in a position that many other Americans who are held hostage or wrongfully detained, we would want to do the same thing. We have collaborative, good working relationships between our special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, his office, and the families, and that contact is regular. That dialogue is iterative, and together we seek to pass on guidance, we seek to provide them with what they need to know and to provide them with suggestions on how to go about handling the publicity that they might receive.
QUESTION: Ned, were you meaning to suggest a little while ago that this letter was passed to the chargé in the courtroom and then sent back?
MR PRICE: No, no, that’s not my understanding. And I can’t speak to the modalities of transmission for any specific correspondence —
QUESTION: Are you telling us that, I mean —
MR PRICE: Well, what I can say is that, of course, we do have contact with Americans held in detention, be it pretrial detention or detention during their trial. We seek to ensure, to see to it that that contact is regular, is consistent – consistent with the Vienna Convention. But I will also say —
QUESTION: Understood. And I’m not trying to make light of this, but I mean, it’s like if you’re in a Russian prison and you write a letter to the President and put it in the mail with a Lenin stamp on it or something like that and address it to the White House, it ain’t going to get there, and if it does get there, it’s certainly not going to get to the President, right?
MR PRICE: So there —
QUESTION: So it had to have come – it had to have been transmitted somehow.
MR PRICE: The State Department is not necessarily the only channel. And again, I’m not speaking to —
MR PRICE: — the modalities for any specific piece of correspondence, but many detainees, including those held in pre-trial detention and detention during their trials do have access to their legal teams as well.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Staying on the hostage issue, Belgium parliament is about to ratify a treaty of prisoner swap between – with Iran. This – the fear now is that a convicted terrorist can be released from Belgium and sent back to Iran; this can get broader, more European countries can join, and who knows how – what is going to happen there.
So my question is then: How do you assess Europe’s handling of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s hostage policy? And does this mean that Europe is separating its way from U.S. when it comes to hostages, and they don’t want to – they don’t want a collaboration with the U.S.?
MR PRICE: So this goes back to what I was saying before. We have a near-term goal when it comes to Americans who are held hostage or wrongfully detained around the world, and we also have a longer-term goal. Our near-term goal is to see to it that those who are – at the present moment – held unjustly, wrongfully, against their will or held hostage, to see to it that they’re released. But we also have a longer-term goal, and that is something that Secretary Blinken has made a priority, working with a number of our partners around the world, including our Canadian allies, including many of our partners and allies in Europe as well. And that is to create and to reinforce a norm against this horrific practice, to see to it that the international community speaks with one voice and acts together to see to it that those countries are held accountable for what it is that they’re doing.
Now, the reason I say “to create and to reinforce” is because, of course, we want to see this norm strengthened. We want to see this norm put in practice by countries around the world. We want to see our Americans released; countries around the world want to see their citizens who are held hostage or wrongfully detained released. And over the longer term we want to see to it that countries feel a tremendous pressure not to engage in this sort of practice.
We continue to monitor several egregious cases of European and dual citizens who are unjustly detained in Iran, including Swedish-Iranian doctor Ahmadreza Djalali, and we echo concerns from UN experts that the situation that this individual faces is truly horrific, and we join the Swedish Government as one example in calling for his release.
We know that when it comes to Iran, this is one of those countries that does have a long history of unjust imprisonment of foreign nationals, seeking to use them as political leverage. And all the while, Iran continues to engage in egregious human rights abuses as well, which include – for its own citizens, in many cases –large-scale, arbitrary, and unlawful detentions of individuals, many of whom have faced torture and execution after being denied due process. These practices are outrageous. We too are working with our allies and partners around the world to condemn them and to do what we can to counteract them.
We are also aware of reports that the Belgian Government is considering a prisoner swap, but we’re not going to comment on bills or treaties pending in Belgium’s legislature.
QUESTION: Okay. And is there any negotiations at the moment going on about Iranian Americans being hostage in Iran, like Namazi or Shargi?
MR PRICE: This is a dialogue, this is a priority for us that is always ongoing. And we have consistently made the case that we treat the case of Americans who are unjustly, wrongfully detained in Iran on a separate track as the nuclear negotiations with Iran for a very simple reason. Even when we started down the path in Vienna early last year, in the spring of last year, we said that a mutual return to compliance, a potential mutual return to compliance with – to the JCPOA with Iran was not a certain proposition. So of course, we did not want to tie the fates – and we do not want to tie the fates – of Americans who are unjustly and wrongfully detained to something that remains far more uncertain than it was when we first embarked down this path.
But we have consistently been engaged in this, even when we have not had discussions in Vienna, even when we have not had nuclear discussions through other channels, including most recently in Doha. We have been working assiduously on this. We have no higher priority than seeing the safe return of these Americans, of these dual nationals, as soon as we can manage it.
QUESTION: And Ned also – I’m sorry – about Doha you mentioned, NPR published an interview with the Special Envoy Bob Malley today in which he says that Iran introduced a set of new extraneous demands. And also he says now it’s Iran’s turn to give an answer. My question is that: What are those new demands? Did we know about this before? What are they exactly? And what is this answer that America is waiting for? Is it related to NPT concerns? Is it related to Iran’s regional activities? Is it related to ballistic missiles program? What is – in what field? What are you looking for?
MR PRICE: The answer that not only the United States is waiting for but also that our European allies are waiting for is a decision on the part of the Iranian Government to fully return to compliance with the JCPOA. It is not clear to us, based on what we have heard from the Iranians indirectly from our European allies, that they have made that political commitment. There has been a deal on the table that has been more or less finalized for several months now. This is a deal that was worked out, in large part, due to the concerted efforts of our European allies, who have played the role of middlemen, first in Vienna, most recently in Doha.
But in recent weeks, in recent months, rather than make that commitment, that political commitment, to return to compliance with the JCPOA, Iran has consistently introduced extraneous demands, demands that – or issues that go beyond the four walls of the JCPOA. The JCPOA is about one thing, it’s about one thing only, and that’s Iran’s nuclear program. To introduce anything that goes beyond the narrow confines of the JCPOA suggests a lack of seriousness, suggests a lack of commitment. And that, unfortunately, is what the team saw once again in Doha.
We were disappointed that Iran, yet again, failed to respond positively to the EU’s initiative, and no progress was made. As you’ve heard, this – we are at a point where the lack of forward momentum, the lack of progress, is tantamount to backtracking. Time is of the essence. We have said that because this is not a deal that will be on the table indefinitely. It is a deal that will be on the table only as long as it is in our national security interests. And the fact is that since Iran distanced itself from the commitments it made with the JCPOA that was implemented in January 2016, Iran’s program has galloped forward in ways that are wholly concerning to us.
There is a deal on the table that would mitigate many of those concerns and that, most importantly, would once again verifiably and permanently see to it that Iran is prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That is our goal. It is our goal because President Biden has made a commitment that Iran must not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: It’s pretty close to being indefinitely put on the table.
QUESTION: Malley approved that today. He said a few weeks.
QUESTION: It’s been January when you first started to say the window is closing and the runway was shortening.
MR PRICE: So —
QUESTION: And it’s now July.
MR PRICE: So this will be a deal that we will pursue as long as it is in our national security interest. This is an assessment —
QUESTION: I mean, but this idea that it’s not indefinite is belied by the fact that you keep putting it – putting off a decision. What do the Iranians actually have to do for you to say, “That’s it, we’re done.” What do they have to do? Nothing?
MR PRICE: It’s – Matt, it is – the fact is that if they continue down the path they are on —
QUESTION: But they’ve been continuing down this path for the last seven months.
MR PRICE: — we will reach a point where the nonproliferation benefits that the JCPOA affords —
QUESTION: All right. Well, I’m not going to —
MR PRICE: — are obviated by the advances that Iran’s nuclear program has made.
QUESTION: Okay. I’m not expecting you to say exactly when that point is going to be, but can’t you just look at this objectively, at least from the position of where we’re sitting right here? You have been saying the same thing for the last seven months, that time is running out, this table – this deal is not going to be on the table indefinitely. And yet you keep stringing it out. And every single time you go back, like in Doha, it results in nothing. And you say you’re disappointed, and you say the Iranians are raising extraneous things and they’re moving the goal posts and you’re not. Okay, well, there has to come a point, if you’re going to be taken seriously by them or anyone else, where you say enough is enough. So you do realize that, right?
MR PRICE: Matt, what I can tell you is the reason it is difficult, the reason it is impossible for us to put a timeframe on it is because this is not based on a political decision, it is not based on a temporal decision. It is based on a technical assessment – a technical assessment of the state of Iran’s nuclear program versus the nonproliferation benefits that the JCPOA – at least the deal that’s been on the table for several months now – would convey to us, would convey to our allies and partners.
This building, our Intelligence Community, the U.S. Government, international weapons inspectors continue to be of the assessment, have – right now have an assessment that the deal that is on the table is far preferable to where we are now.
QUESTION: It just seems like we’re getting to the point of the “Assad’s days are numbered.”
QUESTION: Is there going to be another round of talks in Doha? Because Bloomberg reported that EU is actually trying to do something after Biden’s trip to the region, so probably we’re going to have another round of talks in Doha. Is that true?
MR PRICE: We are grateful for the EU for its efforts. There is not another round of talks currently on the books. We remain committed to exploring a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. We are committed to returning to compliance with the JCPOA if Iran makes that same commitment. Unfortunately, Iran, as I said before, continues to raise issues that are extraneous, continues to demonstrate that it has not yet made that political commitment.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) with G20, just a couple —
MR PRICE: Okay. G20 and then we’ll —
QUESTION: Yeah. Did – what can you tell us about the U.S. supporting or not supporting the G20 inviting Lavrov to the foreign ministers’ meeting in Bali this week?
MR PRICE: We are committed to two propositions. The first, we are committed to the success of the G20. We are committed to the success of Indonesia as the host of the G20. But we are equally committed to the proposition that it cannot be business as usual with Russia. And we have heard the international community speak out against Russia’s brutal, unprovoked war against Ukraine. I suspect you will hear members of the G20 do that from Bali in the coming days. But we believe we can fulfill those twin imperatives, seeing the success of this G20 summit without offering any semblance of business as usual with Russia.
QUESTION: And can you just be a little more explicit about the Secretary’s plans when it comes to seeing the foreign minister at the G20? Will he attend all of the meetings that Lavrov is in? Will he leave the meetings where Lavrov makes remarks? What are your plans?
MR PRICE: The Secretary intends to engage fully in the G20. I’m not going to speak to any plans on the part of Foreign Minister Lavrov or any other ministerial-level participant, but I can tell you the Secretary will be a full and active participant in the G20, which we see as a valuable forum, and again, we are committed to the success of this G20 and the success of Indonesia’s stewardship of it.
QUESTION: And just one last question: What does it say about the global community right now that Lavrov was even invited to attend this conference?
MR PRICE: It – look, I’m not going to speak to the decision-making process on the part of the G20 organizers, but Russia is, of course, a member of the G20. The upcoming G20 will be an opportunity for us, for the international community to discuss what Russia and its invasion of Ukraine has wrought – what it has wrought in terms of rising energy and commodity prices, what it has wrought in terms of food insecurity as well. And I suspect, again, over the course of a couple days in Bali, that you will hear a number of the G20 members express no shortage of condemnation for the actions on the part of the Russian Federation. I suspect you will hear the United States speak clearly with our allies and partners against what Russia is doing in terms of its invasion of Ukraine and the disastrous implications it is having for countries around the world in terms of rising food, commodity prices and other implications.
QUESTION: Is there a formula to (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: Let me move around. I know we’re —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the same topic.
MR PRICE: Okay, same topic.
QUESTION: It’s – quite frankly, it’s really hard to comprehend that the top diplomats of world leaders will allow themselves to be in the same room where, may I quote what the Secretary said, “war criminal” is going to lecture them about – what, like how to conduct war crimes and get away with it?
MR PRICE: Look, I think you will hear members of the G20 speak very clearly, will speak out against what we have seen from Russia. At the same time, the G20 is important forum – an important forum to discuss many of the issues that are at the forefront today, many of the issues that are at the forefront precisely because of Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine. We believe that we need to continue to engage our allies and partners. There’s one indispensable ingredient when it comes to the show of unity that the international community has mustered against Russia, and that is our engagement with partners and allies. That is that very international, strong international consensus that has emerged to condemn the actions of the Russian Federation and to stand with our partner Ukraine.
QUESTION: But can you assure us that there will be no handshake, photo op, or any meeting with the Secretary?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to walk through the choreography, but I would not – certainly not expect any meeting between Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov.
QUESTION: Choreography? That means – are you expecting kabuki theater?
MR PRICE: Nazira.
QUESTION: So on Russia – just very quickly – did you guys make any comment on the recent Russian advances in the Donbas region?
MR PRICE: We’ve said consistently that this would —
QUESTION: How do you read it?
MR PRICE: We’ve said consistently that this would be a conflict that would not be linear in terms of how it would play out. Right now, you are seeing Ukrainian and Russian forces trade territory in the Donbas. We have seen Russia make some incremental advances, but they have done so at a heavy cost – a heavy cost in terms of personnel, a heavy cost in terms of their supplies as well. But what we do know is that this has already been a strategic failure for Russia. When this started on February 24th, Vladimir Putin went into Ukraine, we think, with every intention of being the de facto leader of Ukraine within a matter of days, if not a matter of hours.
And you have seen those objectives thwarted. You have seen Ukraine, Ukrainians stand up to defend their country, to defend their freedom, to defend their democracy. And you’ve seen them do that with a massive amount of security assistance from the United States, nearly $7 billion from the U.S. alone since February 24th, and —
QUESTION: How much?
MR PRICE: Nearly $7 billion since the start of the conflict on February 24th, with dozens of allies and partners standing up and providing sums for security assistance and providing supplies as well. So even as this grinding battle goes on in the Donbas, what is already clear is that this has been and this will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin given its going-in position. Nazira.
QUESTION: Thank you. (Inaudible.) Two question, one question about the loya jirga or the religious leaders council meeting that Taliban prepared last week for three days. No women – Taliban not allow women to participate on that loya jirga leader event or meeting or conference.
And the second question is Balkhab, northern Afghanistan war between Mehdi, one of the former member of Taliban, with the Taliban. So many people displaced from their places. And the question is: No emergency assistant. As a lot of people killed and they’re displaced from their house, they want to – United States and international community send them emergency assistant. Do you have any comment and any opinion —
MR PRICE: So on your first question, the Taliban have made a commitment to the international community, but more importantly, to the Afghan people to be representative of the Afghan people, to fulfill the wishes and the aspirations of the people they purport to govern. At every step we have seen the Taliban fail to make good on those public and private commitments when it comes to securing the hard-won gains of the Afghan people over the course of the past two-plus decades. The United States, working with our allies and partners, we have consistently made clear that we want to see the rights of Afghanistan’s women, its girls, its minorities, including its religious minorities, protected.
And of course, we have seen very little from the Taliban to indicate that they are prepared to make good to that public commitment, to make good to what they have conveyed in private as well. So all the while, we are going to continue to lead the world in providing humanitarian assistance for the people of Afghanistan, including for Afghanistan’s minorities, including as we continue to place pressure on the Taliban, working with our allies and partners to do so.
QUESTION: Could I follow up on the talks in Doha last week with Tom West?
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah, I saw that you put out a statement on Friday, I believe it was. It implied that there was no progress on the central bank reserves issue. Is that still something in progress, that – the idea of (inaudible) in central bank reserves?
MR PRICE: Well, that’s something that we are still working on. We are urgently working to address – you’re talking about the 3.5 billion?
MR PRICE: We are urgently working to address concerns about the use of the licensed $3.5 billion in Afghan central bank reserves to ensure that they benefit the people of Afghanistan and not the Taliban. We are working with Afghans and local partners at the technical level to address underlying macroeconomic issues, which will provide necessary stability for the current humanitarian response to be more effective, and it will help alleviate many of the issues that fueled humanitarian crisis that we see today. We’re also working to help find an appropriate mechanism that can serve as a steward of that funding, the $3.5 billion that President Biden has set aside for the benefit of the Afghan people.
QUESTION: Could I ask you, if you don’t mind, two separate things on Africa? There’s a special part of the binder for that continent. The – Sudan. General Burhan said yesterday that he is, in his words, handing over to democratic rule, taking the military out. There’s a lot of skepticism and cynicism about that. What’s the U.S. take? Do you see this as a step forward in any way or do you – are you suspicious of the motives behind this?
MR PRICE: Well, I think it’s too early to tell, but you have consistently heard us voice our support for the Sudanese people desire – Sudanese people’s desire to advance their country’s democratic transition under full civilian leadership. When it comes to what we’ve heard over the past couple days, we took note of General Burhan’s address to the country and his commitment to dissolve the Sovereign Council once a civilian government has formed. We encourage all sides to re-engage, to find a solution that will keep Sudan moving towards a civilian-led government, democracy, and free and fair elections. We also urge that violence against protesters be investigated and that the perpetrators be held accountable.
QUESTION: And then separately in Mali, ECOWAS has agreed to lift the sanctions on the junta in return for a pledge on elections. Does the United States thinks this was warranted at this point? Is – would you rather wait and see about the elections upcoming?
MR PRICE: There’s been no change in our position. We continue to encourage a return to democracy in Mali, and I’ll leave it to ECOWAS to speak to their posture.
QUESTION: Could I just – a new topic?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Has nothing to do with Mali or Sudan. Abortion – I believe this is the first briefing we’ve since Roe v. Wade was overturned. I know the Secretary had a statement on that, but just to ask a bit more about what, if anything, that’ll change at the State Department, both in terms of how employees are treated but also in the Mexico City Policy and other reproductive health policies and so on.
MR PRICE: So let me just say something broadly about this and then I’ll come to your question. Look, I won’t try to elide the fact that America is the world’s most important piece, in many ways, of unfinished business. You’ve heard us say this before, but our charge from our – literally our earliest days was to form a more perfect union. And so, by definition, we are not perfect, never will be, but we don’t try to hide that either. And so we understand and appreciate that domestic developments here at home will have implications for us around the world.
Of course, I won’t get into questions of domestic politics, but we’ve heard questions, many of them understandable – and the Secretary alluded to this in his statement last week as well – from our close partners and allies in recent days. And they’ve posed them in good faith; they’ve posed them out of genuine curiosity. At the same time, we’ve also heard from some of our competitors, some of our adversaries. We’ve seen their efforts to seek to stoke questions – of course, not doing so in good faith, and it’s important to differentiate the two.
And so the way we look at this is that, in the face of these good-faith questions, it’s incumbent upon us to provide answers and to do so in ways that are unmistakable to people around the world, including the many millions of people around the world who have come to see and still do see the United States as the last, best hope, as the beacon on the hill.
So what does that answer look like? Well, it is still the case that no country does more to support human rights and freedom around the world than the United States. It’s still the case that no country does more to support the humanitarian needs of people around the world than the United States. It’s still the case that no country does more to advance public health and stand up for sexual and reproductive health around the world than the United States. And no country does more to stand up for repression and illiberalism around the world than the United States. These are traditions that have transcended administrations because it’s not about politics. It’s very much written into our DNA as a country.
When it comes to implications from the Supreme Court decision last week, it does not change the commitment on the part of this administration to advance and to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights at home and abroad. We remain fully committed to the longstanding U.S. goals of advancing global health and gender equity and equality, and this decision in no way changes our current programming overseas. We’ll continue to provide assistance for global health, for gender equity and equality, and women’s and girls’ empowerment. We’ll also continue to support evidence-based respect – excuse me, to support evidence-based policies and programs that advance public health, respect and promote human rights, and put gender equity and equality at the forefront of our foreign policy and engagements.
Now, of course, statutory restrictions related to abortion have been in place for many years on our foreign assistance around the world and our appropriated funds for the department and for USAID. We’ll continue to comply with these restrictions, as you might expect. And as Secretary Blinken has said, this department will do everything possible to ensure that our employees have access to reproductive health services wherever it is they live.
Final question? Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can you please expand a little bit on Richard Nephew’s appointment? Will he have similar status as the Secretary’s special representative? And will he be able to, like conduct – come up with sanctions list against corrupt foreign officials or who have anti-, let’s say, corruption index list? This is my way of asking: Will he have enough tools in his toolkit to actually move the needle when it comes to global corruption issues?
MR PRICE: So Richard Nephew, as you know, was announced today as the coordinator on global anti-corruption. What that means is that he and his team will be charged with strengthening U.S. Government alignment on our anti-corruption work and to work closely with international partners as well to advance our collective goals in the realm of anti-corruption. Part of this includes leading the Department of State’s implementation of, you may recall, the first ever U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption, advancing our efforts through the Summit for Democracy – we’re in the midst of the Year of Action right now – there are many strands of work that continue from the Summit for Democracy, as we bring together all of those resources – some of which are at the State Department but other tools, as you alluded to, through other parts of the Executive Branch – to advance the administration’s anti-corruption in our broader democratic renewal agenda.
QUESTION: And my last question, if you don’t mind. State Department sent out a diplomatic note on July 1st to the embassies, foreign embassies, asking them to refrain from, let’s say, transnational repression cases. I can come up with so many cases, but my colleagues asked about Iran earlier, Azerbaijan, the others – and others have been involved into this. Did you have any particular case in your mind in terms of timing? Why now? This has been an ongoing issue. And is there any response you have received? Thank you.
MR PRICE: There – this is a message that we have consistently conveyed to – in capitals around the world but also to embassies here in Washington – transnational repression, extraterritorial repression, including the repression of dissidents in a place like the United States – and we’ve highlighted some of those cases, or I should say the Department of Justice has highlighted some of those cases. It’s something about which we are profoundly concerned. So it is a message that we thought was – we considered was appropriate to reiterate, and we will continue to do so given the priority we attach to this issue.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:45 p.m.)