2:14 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Hope everyone had a very good Fourth of July weekend, hopefully back ready and refreshed.
Just one thing at the top today, and that is today we wish a happy birthday to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, whose grace and compassion have served as an inspiration to all of us. We commend his dedication to the global Tibetan community and to all those around the world who share in his important message of peace and kindness and his commitment to equality and, importantly, to human dignity. We join all of those in wishing His Holiness many more years to come.
Matt, would you like to —
QUESTION: Is that it?
MR PRICE: That is it.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I thought I was going to be asking a follow-up, because I thought you were going to top – do a topper about the Ethiopia call. Let me just ask that Ethiopia question very briefly and then move on to something else. In the call that you guys read out with Prime Minister Abiy, it talked about Tigray and the troops and all that, but it didn’t mention anything about the GERD, about the dam. And as you probably know, the Ethiopians have begun filling it again, and I’m wondering if that came up in the call. And whether it did or not, do you have anything to say about that?
MR PRICE: Well, we did issue a readout of the call with Prime Minister Abiy. We’ll let that readout speak for itself. When it comes to the GERD, what I will say is that we have continued to support collaborative and constructive efforts by the parties involved – and that’s Ethiopia, it’s Egypt and Sudan – to reach an enduring arrangement on the GERD. We understand, of course, the importance of the Nile waters to all three of these countries, and we continue to encourage a resumption of a dialogue that we hope is productive, and substantive, and constructive. In doing so, all along we’ve supported the AU-led process, a process that aims to lower tensions, that aims to facilitate productive negotiations and to enhance regional cooperation.
We do call on all parties to refrain from unilateral action, any unilateral action, that would raise those tensions, that would put greater distance between where we are now and a peaceful, constructive resolution to this. And we call for all parties to commit themselves to a negotiated solution that is acceptable to all sides.
QUESTION: Well, so – and this is – this would be a unilateral action that raises tensions, yes?
MR PRICE: We have continued to encourage all parties to avoid unilateral actions that would raise tensions.
QUESTION: And this is or isn’t a unilateral action that raises tensions?
MR PRICE: I think it is fair to say that this has the potential to raise tensions.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. If no one – I just want to go very briefly. You – it’s tangential to the Dalai Lama —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — although it doesn’t – it has to do with China, but not Tibet. And that is just I’m wondering if you can tell – the meeting with – that the Secretary was having today with the Uyghurs, the Xinjiang internment camp people – it should be over by now, no? Is there anything you can tell us about that?
MR PRICE: So we will have a readout of the meeting later today. It started just a little bit – a bit ago, about an hour ago. And so I do expect we’ll be able to offer a readout later today. This was an event that the State Department put together. It was with a number – I believe there were seven participants. These were survivors of the internment camps; these were family members; these were advocates on their behalf. This was something the Secretary wanted to do, to provide him an opportunity to reaffirm the administration’s emphasis on human rights when it comes to our China policy and to reaffirm our engagement with individuals from groups the government of the People’s Republic of China has repressed in Xinjiang. It will also enable – and I suspect it did enable – the members of the advocacy community who were present during this meeting to provide recommendations to the department for responding to the ongoing atrocities in Xinjiang. But again, we will have a readout of this later today.
Humyra. Humeyra, sorry.
QUESTION: Okay. Just want to follow up on Tigray, because he started with it. When Secretary Blinken asked Abiy for the withdrawal of the Eritrean troops and – what kind of assurance did he get? Or did he get one?
MR PRICE: Well, again, we’re not going to go into the conversation beyond the readout that we did issue. But what I will say broadly is, of course, we all saw the announcement of the unilateral ceasefire late last month, June 28th I believe it was. What we know is that unilateral announcement needs to be followed up with concrete changes on the ground to end the conflict, to stop the atrocities, and importantly to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian assistance. The people of Tigray have and continue to suffer tremendously, and the ability of this humanitarian assistance to enter the region unimpeded and unhindered is of paramount importance to us. We call on all armed actors to commit to an immediate, indefinite negotiated ceasefire, so as to achieve the shared objectives, and they include to end the violence, to restore stability to Tigray, and going forward to create a context for inclusive dialogue that preserves the unity, the sovereignty, and the territorial integrity of the Ethiopian state. We further urge all actors and all parties to focus efforts toward resolution of the conflict through – as I said before – inclusive dialogue, and to allow fully unhindered humanitarian access to, in fact, expedite the delivery of that humanitarian aid. And access must include – but, of course, not be limited to – open transportation corridors and telecommunications infrastructure that would allow for the delivery of this humanitarian assistance for the civilian population. And that includes the ability of journalists to move about freely in the region as well.
QUESTION: Hi. Can I move on to Afghanistan if that’s all right with everyone?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: So —
QUESTION: Hold on. Did you answer my – whether the dam came up in the call, or did it not? Or do you not know?
MR PRICE: I said we issued a readout, and we’ll let that —
QUESTION: I know, but it’s not in the readout.
MR PRICE: We’ll let the readout speak, and I did offer a quick —
QUESTION: I know you did. I just want to know whether he talked to him about it in the call.
MR PRICE: I will – I did offer a quick synopsis of our policy.
MR PRICE: If we have more to say on the call itself, we will be happy to let you know.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan, I’m sure you’ve seen the reporting about, like, water being cut off and power being cut off following the departure of U.S. troops. I’m just wondering if U.S. has any response to all of this. And what kind of message does this send to continued – the U.S. pledge of continued engagements in Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: Well, that is our message, and that has not changed, and that will not change. The President, from the day he announced that the U.S. military would be withdrawing, except for the troops necessary to protect our diplomatic compounds, was very clear that we have partnered with the Afghan people and with the Afghan Government over the course of some 20 years now; that partnership would not diminish in any way with the withdrawal – with the military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Again, we retain a diplomatic compound in Kabul; that is what we intend to retain going forward as well. We will be able to continue that partnership with the people of Aghanistan, with the Government of Afghanistan going forward, even as the military retrograde takes place.
QUESTION: Are you making some updates to your evacuation plans for the embassy, given that Taliban has seized, like, a lot of provinces?
MR PRICE: The department is always taking a close look at security conditions around the world. The safety and security of our diplomats, of Foreign Service nationals, of others who are present on our diplomatic compounds is of paramount importance to us. So we are always taking a close look at that.
QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up on Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Are you surprised – is the State Department surprised with the speed with which the Taliban have taken over outposts and roads and entire provinces in Afghanistan? Do you have any assessment on whether the Afghan Government can withstand that onslaught, and will it be viable?
MR PRICE: I am not going to offer an assessment or any sort of feedback of our reaction from here. I will say as a matter of policy – and that’s where our focus has been, as a matter of policy – we have continued to call for an end to the ongoing violence, which of course has been driven largely by the Taliban. A negotiated settlement between the parties – in this case, the Islamic Republic and the Taliban – is the only way to end 40 years of war and to bring to Afghanistan the peace that the Afghan people both want and deserve. That’s why we continue to urge all sides to engage in serious negotiations to determine a political roadmap that leads to what we have called for all along and what the international community has called for all along, and that is a just and durable political settlement.
What we know is that the world will not accept an imposition by force of a government in Afghanistan. The legitimacy of any future Afghan government, the ability of that government to receive international assistance – which will be of critical importance – the durability of any future Afghan government can only be possible if that government has a basic respect for human rights.
It’s also worth noting, I think, in this context that it is not just the Government of Afghanistan, it is not just the United States, it’s not just a broad swath of the international community that recognizes that there is no military solution to this conflict. The fact that the Taliban continues to engage in Doha, to engage in intra-Afghan dialogue, is itself most likely a reflection of the fact that the Taliban too understands that only through diplomacy can they garner any sort of legitimacy, can they expect to be accepted by the international community. And it is, in fact, true that dialogue does continue in Doha. The parties have continued to meet (inaudible) goal in mind. And that was to disrupt and ultimately defeat the network of al-Qaida that conducted the 9/11 attacks. Osama bin Laden was brought to justice more than 10 years ago, 10 years ago in May.
And the other important point is that, of course, when we came into office in January there was already an existing agreement between the United States Government and the Taliban. And so like it or not, on May 1st the status quo that would have been in place on April 30th was going to change. And so the administration, the President, was confronted with a situation in which on May 1st, because of an agreement that the previous administration negotiated – I think if you recall, the President said in his remarks when he announced the military withdrawal that it’s not an agreement that this administration necessarily would have designed, but it’s one we inherited – that American troops would potentially come under attack starting on May 1st if they remained in the country.
And so the President faced a decision: potentially recreate the cycle of violence and escalation, or change strategy and continue our partnership with the Afghan Government, continue our partnership with the Afghan people, but removing American service members as bargaining chips, because to President Biden that’s not who they are. Our service members went into Afghanistan; they were successful in the mission they were asked to do by successive U.S. presidents. Of course, a small contingent will remain to provide security at our diplomatic compound. But to continue to have a larger number of U.S. military forces in harm’s way was not something that the President was willing to commit to. It’s not something that the administration felt was necessary to achieve the collective ends there.
QUESTION: But Ned, the problem with the – the problem with that – did someone else want to ask about Afghanistan?
QUESTION: Afghanistan, yes.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering if the Taliban continues with its military offenses in the north, will the U.S. continue to diplomatically engage with them?
MR PRICE: Well, right now we are supporting the intra-Afghan dialogue, and a couple things can be true at the same time. It is absolutely true that a political solution is the only way, again, to achieve that just and durable outcome that all parties want and all parties seem to understand is the only end to 40 years of conflict. It’s also true, again, that any government that comes to power at the barrel of a gun, through force, is not one that will have popular support, it is not one that will accrue assistance from the international community, it is not one that will have international legitimacy. And for all those reasons, it is almost certainly not one that will have durability. And what we seek, again, is a just and durable political outcome, and only through dialogue – in this case intra-Afghan dialogue – can that be achieved.
QUESTION: So I guess the answer is yes, as they continue with their military offenses you will continue to engage with them diplomatically.
MR PRICE: Again, wouldn’t want to entertain a hypothetical. But we know in this case —
QUESTION: Well, it’s not a hypothetical. It’s going on right now.
MR PRICE: Well, you’re asking about something that could continue. We have also seen the statements from the Taliban that I referred to just a moment ago that they intend to intensify that diplomacy. So again, we’ll see if they make good on that.
QUESTION: And one quick question. If they take their military offenses to Kabul, will that change the calculation diplomatically between the U.S. and the Taliban?
MR PRICE: Again, I don’t want to entertain the hypothetical. We have – what will remain is our partnership with the Afghan Government, with the Afghan people. We will continue down that path and wouldn’t want to entertain a hypothetical like that.
QUESTION: But I mean, there’s going to be – your current assessment, like, things are happening on the ground and they’re seizing district after district. You must have some sort of an assessment, like a cutoff point: if this happens then we’re going to stop disengaging. And the same goes for the evacuation plan as well.
MR PRICE: Well, of course, the State Department, the Department of Defense, these are planning organizations. We’re always planning for any contingency. And so when it comes to the safety and security of our people on the ground, when it comes to our diplomatic approaches, when it comes to our policy, of course, we’re planning for any number of contingencies.
QUESTION: Ned, I don’t understand three things. One, I don’t understand how you’re able to make this claim that the Taliban actually want international acceptance and aid when there is nothing in their history that suggests that they do. I’ve asked you about this before, and I – there is no good answer other than, well, a bunch of them are in Doha talking. But that doesn’t mean anything. They never wanted or cared about – they were perfectly happy when Pakistan was the only country on the planet that recognized them. That’s number one.
Number two, the argument that you guys inherited an agreement with the Taliban that the previous administration concluded and that you had no choice, I don’t understand that either. This administration inherited plenty from the previous administration that it absolutely reversed. Are you saying that you’re not – you have a – you’re not confident in your negotiating skills that you could have renegotiated with – that you couldn’t have renegotiated a deal with the Taliban and that the – and are you saying that the President, in fact, didn’t want to take troops out, didn’t want to withdraw?
And then lastly, the thing I don’t understand – well, maybe not understand, but you don’t want to talk about the historic analogy that Said made to Vietnam. Let’s go next door to Cambodia. Are you familiar at all with the letter that Sirik Matak wrote to John Gunther Dean, who was the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia in April of 1975?
MR PRICE: It’s —
QUESTION: If you’re not familiar with it —
MR PRICE: It’s been a while.
QUESTION: — I suggest you familiarize yourself with it because it may end up being sadly prescient. But if you could answer the first two, that would be great. Thanks.
MR PRICE: Sure. Well, on your second question, Matt, I think you’re actually confusing different things here. These are apples and oranges. Yes, we changed quite a few U.S. policies across a number of fronts, but I think you would be hard-pressed to find an international agreement that the United States signed on to during the last administration that this administration has jettisoned, done away with. This is the point that we have made in any number of different —
QUESTION: How about the Geneva protocol on the anti-abortion stuff?
MR PRICE: This was the point that we have made on any number of steps about the importance of the durability of American foreign policies – American foreign policy across administrations.
QUESTION: How about the agreements with the Northern Triangle, with Mexico and the Northern Triangle? Those are international agreements that you guys jettisoned.
MR PRICE: These are – Matt, I think —
QUESTION: I mean, you just challenged me to come up with an international agreement that the previous administration signed that you guys have walked away from, and I just gave you, I think, three.
MR PRICE: The previous administration had its own policies. This administration has different policies across a number of fronts. But this administration also understands the importance of when the United States signs its name and gives its word in the context of a formal international agreement, especially one where the stakes are profound for American – the American people, including our service members, deployed service members, that’s something that we take very seriously. So the idea that we could have done away with the U.S.-Taliban agreement and that American service members could have remained in Afghanistan on May 1st, as they were on April 30th as they were on December 31st of 2020, is just not something that would have been feasible given where we were.
The idea – your first question, the notion that the Taliban don’t believe in a negotiated political solution – you yourself said that they are engaged in Doha. Again, it’s not just the process. It’s the outcomes that we’re interested in, and that’s what we’ll be watching for. As I said, we have seen statements that at least purport – with which the Taliban at least purport to seek to accelerate that diplomacy. Again, we’ll see if it comes to fruition.
But I think the broader point is that whether the Taliban or any other future Afghan government likes it, they are going to need international assistance; they are going to need international legitimacy; they are going to need the popular support of the Afghan people; and any Afghan government that comes to power at the barrel of a gun, that comes to power through the use of force, is almost certainly going to lack those critical ingredients.
And so when we talk about a just and durable outcome, it is hard if not impossible to envision an outcome that is just, that is durable, without having arrived at – having been arrived at through negotiations and, in this case, through diplomacy.
QUESTION: Just on those negotiations, because since they first met last September, they’ve yet to yield anything except an agenda at this point. What are you doing to accelerate that process, especially after the Istanbul conference didn’t happen?
MR PRICE: So we have supported this process. Of course, we are not a party to these negotiations. All throughout we have played a supporting role. We have supported the parties in Doha. We have galvanized the international community. We have done so in the context of the UN as well, all the while continuing our partnership with the Government of Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan.
So again, believe me, I am not out here to offer false hope when it comes to what the Taliban may seek or what they’re up to now. We have seen their statements. We certainly encourage them to follow through on their statements. But again, process is one thing. What matters most is the outcome. And the outcome we seek, the outcome the international community seeks, is a just and a durable political solution, and really, the only way to achieve that, again, is through diplomacy – in this case, diplomacy between the parties – that is now taking place in Doha.
QUESTION: But why even reference their statements when what is happening in Afghanistan is so directly opposed to what they are saying in paper statements?
MR PRICE: Again, we will see. They have an opportunity ahead of them in the coming days, in the coming several weeks, to make good on what they have said. I am not here, again, to offer optimism or to characterize what we make of their statements. That’s to them to make good on.
QUESTION: Just one last question: Is Zal in Doha still? Is he playing any sort of shuttle diplomacy role in any of this to try to accelerate the process?
MR PRICE: Members of the team have been engaged on the ground in Doha. As I understand it, the – Ambassador Khalilzad is here in Washington, but if there is a need for him to go back to Doha, he will be prepared to do so, yes.
QUESTION: In new report with the board of governors in the IAEA, the Director General Grossi today announced that Iran intends to use uranium enriched up to 20 percent. How do you comment on that?
MR PRICE: Well, as I understand it, this report remains restricted until it’s released by the IAEA board of governors, but we’ve seen the media reports that characterize this document. It is worrying that Iran is choosing to continue to escalate its nonperformance of its JCPOA commitments, especially with experiments that have value for nuclear weapons research. It’s another unfortunate step backwards for Iran, particularly as we for our part have demonstrated our sincere intention and willingness to return to the JCPOA and to find more productive and durable ways to deal with the nuclear issue.
We have made clear that such provocative steps would not and will not provide Iran with any leverage in negotiations. Instead, they would only intensify our concerns with Iran’s activities, and we continue to urge Iran to stop this brinksmanship, to return to Vienna prepared for real talks, and to be in a position to be prepared to finish the work that we have started in April that has now taken place over six rounds.
QUESTION: Are you considering a new approach? You said diplomacy is the best way. You said now it’s unfortunate step, but you did six rounds of talks. There was an attack against a U.S. airbase yesterday, and also, for example, in Yemen there is no progress. You said you are fed up with the Houthis. How you would proceed?
MR PRICE: Right. Well, the talks in Vienna that have now completed six rounds, they’re about one thing and they’re about one thing only, and that is a return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA. And for us, the important consequence of that is a reimposition of the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated. So you are right that there are a whole host of other concerns – profound concerns – we have with Iran’s behavior in the region, but we also know that as long as Iran has distanced itself from its JCPOA commitments, as long as Iran is in a position to undertake these provocations, including these nuclear provocations, that all of the other challenges we face with Iran – whether it is its support to proxies, its support to terrorist groups – all of them will be more difficult to confront.
So right now in Vienna, we are focused on seeing if we can effect that mutual return to compliance. The window for diplomacy remains open. The Secretary himself has said that that process won’t be open indefinitely, but for now we continue to see the diplomatic route as the best way and the most effective way to, again, ensure that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon. It’s what the JCPOA did. It’s what the JCPOA can once again do if we’re able to effect a return to mutual compliance.
QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up on that quick?
MR PRICE: Yeah – yep.
QUESTION: What do you mean by – when you’re stating that the process won’t be open indefinitely? Is there something that Iran is doing now that makes you think that window of opportunity is closing? Do you have a set timeframe or a concern after which Iran does something then the process closes? Can you elaborate a little bit?
MR PRICE: Well, we know a couple things. One, the JCPOA, when it was in full effect, lengthened that breakout time – that is to say, the time it would take Iran to acquire enough fissile material necessary to produce a nuclear weapon if it chose to do so and if it successfully undertook a weaponization process. Right now, as Iran has distanced itself from the JCPOA, as it has installed higher-tech centrifuges, as it has taken other provocative steps, including enriching to a higher level, we know that that breakout time has shrunk. And according to public reports, that breakout time has gone from a year, as it was with the JCPOA, to something closer to perhaps a few months, and it will get to a point where Iran’s provocations, Iran’s nuclear steps, that that breakout time and the concern that we have associated with it will potentially cause us to reconsider.
The Secretary has said this process won’t be open indefinitely. We don’t have a set timeline. We’re going to continue to assess the implications of Iran’s steps. We are going to continue to coordinate closely with other members of the P5+1, with other regional partners who, of course, also have their own profound concerns, as do we, about Iran’s nuclear activities. But again, for us, we see negotiations and diplomacy, indirect diplomacy in Vienna, as for now the best means to put Iran’s nuclear program back in a box, to ensure that once again Iran is permanently and verifiably prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: So – but I mean, essentially, what you’re saying is there comes a point at which Iran advances so far technologically, whether with centrifuges or know-how, that the one-year breakout time enshrined in the JCPOA just becomes irrelevant and you’ll basically have to start over.
MR PRICE: Well, we’re – look, again, we’re not imposing a deadline for negotiations. But as you’ve heard from the Secretary, we are, as you alluded to, conscious that as time proceeds, Iran’s nuclear advances will have a bearing on our view of returning to the JCPOA. And it will have a bearing because one of the chief advantages of the JCPOA was the elongation of that breakout time. If those advantages start to disappear, we’ll have to reassess where we are in this process.
QUESTION: Can I move to another topic?
MR PRICE: Anything else on Iran? Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. Speaking of timelines, when do you expect the seventh round to happen? And why is there a holdup?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, the parties are back in their capitals for consultations. We understand that those consultations are ongoing. As you know, there is not yet an announced date for the seventh round. But again, we are committed to diplomacy. When there is a seventh round, I would expect that Special Envoy Malley and his team will be present.
QUESTION: But what is the U.S. assessment that it is taking some time?
MR PRICE: Again, consultations are ongoing in capitals, so I wouldn’t want to speak to other parties engaged in this.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. A couple of quick questions on the Palestinian issue. It’s been reported that Israel and Hamas are edging towards an agreement on a mechanism to dispense or receive the money and distribute it and so on. First, are you part of this? Will you allow, for instance, if Hamas insists on controlling where this money goes or part of it and so on? Would you oppose sending money or sending the funds and so on? What is your position on it? And then I have one more question.
MR PRICE: As we’ve said, Said, we are committed to helping the Palestinian people rebuild from the recent violence. We are committed to providing the Palestinian people with the humanitarian assistance that they need both in the aftermath of the most recent violence, but from years of mismanagement, of neglect, of abuse by Hamas, the de facto governing authority. So we are committed to seeing to it that the humanitarian – that the Palestinian people receive that humanitarian relief, but we’re equally committed to ensuring that whether it’s – that certainly American aid does not in any way empower Hamas – empower Hamas financially, empower Hamas politically. And we have – we will continue to work with our partners, whether that’s Egypt, whether that’s the UN and its institutions, to see to it that we can do those two things: to provide that relief to the Palestinian people without that relief making its way into Hamas coffers.
QUESTION: But you will insist on having the UN do it or even the PA for that —
MR PRICE: What is what is very clear is that U.S. funds will not be going to Hamas, and we will work with partners to see that it’s distributed effectively.
QUESTION: And another thing on the Palestinian Authority issue. Since June 24, there’s been demonstrations every day, lots of arrests, a great deal of a rough sort of response by the Palestinian security agencies and so on. And Abbas, for all practical purposes, has been basically besieged and isolated. Are you in touch with him? Do you see – are you pressuring him to sort of relent a little bit this iron-fist kind of approach by the Palestinian security forces?
MR PRICE: The administration has been in regular contact with our Palestinian counterparts, as well as with our Israeli counterparts, of course. We’ve also taken a consistent position that the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, that’s a matter for the Palestinian people to determine. We strongly encourage the Palestinian Authority, as we do around the world, to respect the right of free expression and the work of civil society.
QUESTION: Are you demanding that they release journalists, for instance, that have been arrested in the last few weeks, in the last couple – couple weeks?
MR PRICE: Human rights and civil liberties, including freedom of information, freedom of expression – those are principles that we defend, that we promote around the world in every context. When journalists are detained, when freedom of expression is limited, we will voice our concerns over that.
QUESTION: Ned, on Hong Kong and then on Georgia. On Hong Kong, a group of companies, including Twitter, Facebook, and Google are warning that tech companies could stop offering their services in Hong Kong if the authorities there proceed with plans to change privacy laws. Do you have anything on that move?
MR PRICE: Well, I would need to refer you to the companies to speak to their positions and their plans going forward. What I will say – that these reports, if verified, they’re yet another example of actions taken by Beijing and by Hong Kong authorities in recent months, over the past year, to undermine transparency, to undermine the rule of law, which have in turn eroded Hong Kong’s status as an international business hub and jeopardized Hong Kong’s long-term stability and prosperity. We have voiced our serious concerns over this. We have voiced those concerns in the context of the decreasing space for civil society and for the rights and freedoms to which the people of Hong Kong are entitled and to which they – and which they deserve, but would need to refer you to any private companies to speak to their plans.
QUESTION: Right. At the beginning of this briefing, you mentioned that there are some recommendation provided by the survivors of the Xinjiang internment camps. How did the firsthand discussion between Secretary Blinken and those survivors pave the way for further U.S. actions? What else is in the U.S. toolbox?
MR PRICE: Well, the session with the Xinjiang survivors, family members, and advocates – I didn’t have a chance to sit on it, and it was – it only briefly disbanded, from what I understand, but the Secretary thought it important to meet with these individuals, to hear firsthand their stories, to hear firsthand their impression of the ongoing atrocities in Xinjiang and the interment of a million Uyghurs. As I also mentioned, it’s an opportunity for these participants to offer any recommendations they may have. I don’t have a sense yet as to what they may have passed along, but again, we will issue a readout as soon as we’re able to this afternoon.
When it comes to the U.S. Government’s actions on Xinjiang, we have a pretty full toolkit. We have used a number of those tools effectively, whether that is atrocity determinations; whether that is financial sanctions, including financial sanctions that we have announced in conjunction with our partners and allies; whether that is visa restrictions; whether it’s export restrictions; whether it’s withhold release orders, including the recent withhold release orders that we announced just a couple weeks ago; of course, UN side events, joint statements, and other tools.
This administration – and, frankly, there’s been some continuity across administrations – America has spoken out very clearly and consistently about the abuses, about the atrocities, about the ongoing genocide that is taking place in Xinjiang. And as we deem appropriate, I suspect we’ll be employing additional tools going forward to hold to account those officials responsible for what has taken place there.
QUESTION: On Georgia quickly.
MR PRICE: Sure, sure.
QUESTION: Yesterday you tweeted about – you had a tweet to – about the attackers in Georgia against the LGBT community and the Pride parade. Do you have more to that? Because only three people were arrested. They were those who attacked the campaigners. Do you think the Georgian Government is doing enough? Do you have more to that?
MR PRICE: Well, as you heard me say yesterday, we do condemn the violent attacks in Georgia that took place on July 5th on civic activists, on community members, on journalists. Georgia’s leaders, its law enforcement officials – they are obligated to protect the constitutional rights to freedom of expression, to freedom of assembly, and to prosecute those perpetrating violence. Georgians, as do people around the world, have a right to express their views, even when in a particular context they may be seen as unpopular or controversial, and we remind Georgia’s political leaders, we remind its law enforcement officials and institutions of that responsibility to protect all of those exercising their constitutional rights, to protect journalists exercising freedom of the press, and to publicly condemn the violence.
The United States Embassy in Georgia signed on to a joint statement along with several other missions on the ground. So it’s not just the United States speaking up about this; it’s several of our likeminded partners as well.
QUESTION: My sources tell me that the Iraqi prime minister is visiting Washington at the end of this month. Can you confirm that? And will he be meeting with President Biden?
MR PRICE: So I don’t have any meetings to confirm at the moment. Of course, any White House meetings, any meetings with President Biden I would need to refer you to the White House for that. But of course, Prime Minister Kadhimi is an important partner. Our partnership with the government, with the people of Iraq is incredibly important to us. We have a number of shared interests, including the continued prosecution of the counter-ISIS campaign. But again, I would need to refer you to the White House for any —
QUESTION: What about the strategical dialogue? Should it start also the end of this month here in Washington?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any updates for you there. If we do, we’ll let you know more.
QUESTION: Can you update us on the Saudi deputy defense minister’s visit, and has he met with State Department officials (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: Sure. And I think you heard this from my colleague at the White House earlier today, but we can confirm that the Saudi deputy secretary of defense, Khalid bin Salman, is in Washington for a series of meetings with U.S. officials, and that includes State Department officials as well as NSC and DOD. They’ll be discussing important issues to the bilateral relationship. We do expect some readouts will be issued over the course of that visit, and I can confirm that Khalid bin Salman will be at the Department of State tomorrow.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Lara.
QUESTION: Thanks. On Syria. Ahead of the July 10 deadline to renew the cross-border humanitarian access lanes, I’m just wondering what the discussions look like up in New York at the Security Council right now, what efforts are being made to convince the Russians to not block this, what kind of carrots and sticks might be offered. And then finally, if Russia does block this, how does the United States and the rest of the international community expect to get humanitarian aid to people in Syria?
MR PRICE: Well, you heard from Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield on this earlier today. I believe she did a stake-out up in New York where she made several important points, and this is something that USUN, the Department of State, President Biden when he met with President Putin, have discussed at all levels, including the highest levels – not only with the Russian Federation, but with other UN Security Council members. Our diplomacy on this has always been concerted, but it has intensified because we have four days left before cross-border access into Syria officially expires. And it’s so important to us because that expiration risks millions of livelihoods and even lives.
Our message has been clear, and that’s that the Security Council must renew and expand the humanitarian access provided by Bab al-Hawa for 12 months. And we must do it now. We know that anything less than that period could severely complicate the ability of NGOs to reliably deliver aid while managing lengthy procurement processes associated with all of this.
We support all modalities of humanitarian aid in Syria. That includes cross-border, cross-border into Syria, and cross-line across the lines of control. And we’d offered to support expanding cross-line aid and we’ll continue to do so in good faith. And in fact, obviously we’re not going to read out all of our consultations in the Security Council or elsewhere, but we have put forward what I believe Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield called “a serious and credible proposal” to expand humanitarian assistance across Syria, and that includes cross-line and cross-border, and also includes much-needed COVID relief – again, to meet the urgent needs of the Syrian people.
We have heard repeatedly – including with increasing urgency from the UN secretary general, from UN aid agencies, from humanitarian organizations and NGOs operating on the ground – that there is no substitute for cross-border mechanisms. And cross-line aid alone we know cannot meet the needs of all Syrians, and those needs have only risen in the past year, including with the onset of COVID.
We also know that this is something the United States cannot do alone, and ultimately it will require the cooperation and active support of all parties on the ground, and that includes the regime, which has unfortunately used assistance to aid its allies and punish its perceived enemies. And so as the Syrian people continue to suffer, as COVID continues to spread, we cannot justify closing a reliable delivery route for humanitarian assistance, for vaccines. We cannot justify cutting off aid for innocent Syrians. And you heard Secretary Blinken address the UN Security Council on this several weeks ago now, but spoke of it in terms that were both urgent and personal, because it is a priority across this administration, it is an urgent priority on the part of Secretary Blinken. As you heard from Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield today, it is an urgent priority of hers and her team, and the administration is working and doing all we can to renew this mandate.
QUESTION: Just to clarify, the crossline aid that you’re mentioning to include the COVID aid – would any of that be delivered directly to the Assad regime?
MR PRICE: I – we’ll get back to you on that. Again, in any number of contexts, we are in a position through humanitarian organizations, through NGOs, to provide aid directly to those in need. I will say that this administration has no intention at present of normalizing relations with the Assad regime. It is the Assad regime that has brutalized its own people; it is the Assad regime that has weaponized humanitarian access and humanitarian aid deliveries; it’s the Assad regime that is responsible for much of the suffering on the part of the Syrian people. So again, our focus will be providing aid directly to those in need, working in concert with our partners and allies, and ultimately with the renewal, we hope, of the mandate at the UN.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Earlier today China’s foreign minister released a readout of a phone call that took place between Ambassador Sung Kim and his Chinese counterpart. And I don’t believe the State Department has put anything out, so could you just confirm that that phone call took place, and could you share anything about the conversation? Did the ambassador ask China to use its influence to try and get North Korea to engage directly with the U.S.?
MR PRICE: Well, I can confirm that a call took place. We don’t have a readout to share of the call. But as you know, we have discussed our DPRK policy with the Chinese Government before. Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to speak to Director Yang just a couple weeks ago now, in which Secretary Blinken offered a summary of our DPRK policy review.
Knowing that – I’ve said this before already in this briefing – that the DPRK’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, these are not challenges that we can take on alone, that we can address alone, that we will need to work in lockstep, of course, with our allies, Japan and the Republic of Korea among others in this case. But of course, China and the PRC has a role to play as well and obviously has influence with the regime, with the DPRK regime. But I wouldn’t want to further characterize the call.
QUESTION: And to date, so far North Korea has not reciprocated or contacted the United States to engage directly?
MR PRICE: We have made very clear to the DPRK that we are ready to engage in good-faith, constructive diplomacy. We have extended messages and we are awaiting a constructive reply.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:06 p.m.)