2:56 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: Well, a very Lurch-like “good afternoon.” No?
MR PRICE: I just want to make sure everyone is paying attention.
I obviously want to stop – start with the situation in Haiti. The United States strongly condemns, as you heard from President Biden earlier today, the assassination of President Jovenel Moise and the attack on First Lady Martine Moise in Haiti. We extend our deepest condolences to President Moise’s family and his loved ones and to the people of Haiti in the midst of this tragedy.
Those who seek to accomplish their political goals through violence and by subverting the rule of law will not succeed in thwarting the Haitian people and their desire for a better – for a brighter future. We urge Haitian authorities to bring those responsible to justice. The United States calls on all political parties, civil society groups, and stakeholders to echo what we’ve heard from Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph’s call for calm and to work together in the wake of this tragedy to ensure peace and democratic governance.
So with that, I am happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: So I – just before returning to Haiti, I got a extremely brief thing. It’s something else, but it’s a logistical thing, kind of, and that is the Hong Kong consulate, which has been closed for a couple days now because of a COVID case. Do – has that spread, do you know? Is there anything more you can say about that?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position —
QUESTION: And I only ask this now because I’m going to forget about it if I —
MR PRICE: I understand. I’m not in a position to offer an update on the operating status there. As you know, our embassies and posts around the world are constantly calibrating their operations given the state of COVID or any other issue that may affect the workforce. But I don’t have an update to offer.
QUESTION: Okay. On Haiti, then. Is there any – this isn’t exactly – it’s bad, but it’s not exactly a coup. I mean, it’s a – not a – the government hasn’t been overthrown or anything like that. So is there any implication, assistance-wise, or any other wise, for Haiti related to – the administration policy towards Haiti?
MR PRICE: There is – Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph has assumed charge. What we know and what we will continue to do is to preserve Haiti’s democratic institutions. We know that by preserving Haiti’s democratic institutions, that is key to restoring peace. At this time, we don’t have any updates to announce in terms of our assistance, but I can assure you that our partnership with the Haitian people and with their elected government will continue. As you know, that partnership has taken many forms in recent months; in, of course, recent years. In January of this year we announced 75.5 million for – in support for a wide range of issues, and that includes democratic governance, health, education, agricultural development, strengthening pre-election activities through the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening program.
We have also been a strong partner for Haiti and the Haitian people when it comes to security and when it comes to law enforcement as well. And much of that has been overseen by our Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. They have provided direct assistance to the Haitian National Police over the years, and as a direct result of this INL support the Haitian National Police have trained officers from a number that was less than 10,000 in 2010 to nearly 15,000 Haitian National Police officers today. We have continued to encourage Haiti to take a holistic approach to countering violence and to countering gangs, and we provided $5 million to strengthen the Haitian National Police’s capacity to work with communities to resist gangs as well.
And I would remiss if I didn’t note our support to Haiti’s pre-election activities. And USAID is providing more than $3 million to the consortium I mentioned before. And those activities for which these funds are earmarked include focusing on improving electoral administration, strengthening the competitiveness of political parties, educating voters on electoral processes, promoting electoral transparency, and ensuring inclusive voter participation as well. So this is just one – these are just several metrics of our support for the Haitian people, and that will not waver in the wake of this.
QUESTION: Given, Ned, the history of U.S. intervention in Haiti – it’s been numerous times over the course of the last century and a half – is there any appetite in this administration for some kind of – to intervene if the situation gets to be dire? This is a relatively close neighbor that has in the past seen massive outflows of people trying to escape, so if it – the situation deteriorates – and I realize this is a hypothetical – but is there any appetite for a return?
MR PRICE: To us, Matt —
MR PRICE: — Haiti is a partner, and that is how we will treat this relationship. It is how we have treated Haiti, it is how we will going forward. We would echo what we have heard from the acting prime minister, Claude Joseph, in his calls for calm, his calls for the Haitian people to work together to ensure peace, to ensure democratic government. The United States has and will continue to stand by to provide assistance to the Haitian people.
QUESTION: So on Haiti, the ambassador told us that they – he has been in touch with the State Department and a number of different agencies in U.S. Government. Can you at least say – you just said that you can’t give an update on the U.S. assistance, but can you at least say perhaps a new package is being formed and you guys are working on something new on top of these quite little numbers – $5 million, $3 million – that you’ve just mentioned?
MR PRICE: $75.5 million.
QUESTION: Okay. I missed that, sorry.
MR PRICE: We have been in regular contact with the acting prime minister, Claude Joseph. We are prepared to respond to requests for assistance. Our ambassador to Haiti, Ambassador Sison, has been in regular contact with a range of Haitian officials. She has spoken to the acting director general of the Haitian National Police. Of course, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield at the UN this morning spoke to Haiti’s permanent representative to the UN. We have been, as I said before, in regular contact.
Secretary Blinken started his day this morning with a comprehensive update on the situation on the ground, including the latest developments as we knew them at the time, the security situation. He was briefed by Ambassador Sison, who at this moment happens to be in Washington. He was also on the phone with the DCM, who is on the ground in Haiti right now, DCM Nicole Theriot, as well as other members of his team. So we are prepared to receive additional requests for assistance from Haitian authorities.
QUESTION: Can you also confirm if first lady is being flown to Miami for – to receive medical treatment?
MR PRICE: Well, we, of course, are familiar with the reports that the First Lady Martine Moise was injured in the attack. We know that she was taken to receive medical treatment. Out of respect for her privacy, we’re not in a position to comment on – to provide further comment. But as I said, we have made very clear to Haitian authorities the United States is standing ready to provide assistance and we are prepared to provide any and all forms of appropriate assistance to our Haitian partners.
QUESTION: Can you speak to the DEA element of all of this? You – the ambassador also talked about this footage where they’re identifying themselves as DEA agents, and he said that he doesn’t believe in it. I mean, can you say that that’s not the case, that you have an assessment that those are not DEA officials? Can you sort of set the record straight on that?
MR PRICE: Well, as you said, the Haitian ambassador himself has dismissed these allegations. These reports are absolutely false. The United States condemns this heinous act. These false reports are nothing more than that, just false reports.
QUESTION: Could I just follow up on that? Is there any sense of what the motivation would have been for this? And is – do you think there’s any truth to what the government – to what the acting government is saying, that these were mercenaries, that these were foreigners who were in there?
MR PRICE: Well, Shaun, we just don’t have clear answers at the – at this time. What we do know and what I have said is that Haitian authorities are investigating. We stand ready to offer assistance to that investigation, but obviously, we’re going to let that investigation play out. And, of course, the Haitian authorities are in the lead on that investigation.
QUESTION: Just one more thing on that. You – earlier this year, you were mentioning about the elections in Haiti and you called for them to go on – go ahead and schedule later this year. Is it still the view of the United States that elections in September are a good idea?
MR PRICE: It is still the view of the United States that elections this year should proceed. We know that free and fair elections are the democratic path towards ending Haiti’s irregular and prolonged rule by decree and restoring its parliament, which as of now has lapsed. Free and fair presidential elections will facilitate a peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected president as well.
We’ve – as you know and as you have heard me say and others say, we have urged Haitian Government and political stakeholders repeatedly both in public and in private to reach a political accord in order to ensure those legislative and presidential elections take place later this year.
QUESTION: Thank you. Nazira Karimi, Afghan independent journalist.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Haiti?
MR PRICE: Sure. Let’s stay on Haiti for just a moment.
MR PRICE: I will come back to you.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ll – I’ll come back to you if that’s okay.
MR PRICE: We’ll take a couple more on Haiti.
QUESTION: Yeah, just two questions on Haiti. I want to ask this a slightly different way. Can you confirm that there currently is a pending request for defense equipment from Haiti?
MR PRICE: We expect to be in receipt of formal requests. We stand ready to receive them. But as of right now, I’m not in a position to confirm that we’ve received a formal request.
QUESTION: Okay. And what was the administration’s position on the president’s legitimacy as a leader of the country? Obviously, the opposition says his five-year term expired last February.
MR PRICE: The Haitian constitution is clear on this point. As we’ve said, we’ve supported elections later this year. We still support those elections later this year, believing and knowing that President Moise’s term was to end next year.
QUESTION: Quick question on Haiti. The current U.S. ambassador to Haiti has been nominated to a different position in the State Department. Is there any plan to speed up the process to naming a new ambassador to that country?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, Ambassador Sison is still in that role. She was actually supposed to travel back to Haiti today after consultations here in Washington. She expects to go back to Haiti just as soon as she is able to travel there. We also are very fortunate to have a very capable DCM in Haiti, Nicole Theriot, whom I mentioned before. So if and when Ambassador Sison moves on to her next role, I can assure you we will have a very capable leader in charge of our post in Port-au-Prince.
QUESTION: And I have a quick question asking slightly different way. So the prime – Haiti’s prime minister and ambassador said the attackers were foreigners. If that is so, does the U.S. have any measure in place to prevent them from escaping to the United States?
MR PRICE: So this is another investigative question and, unfortunately, the investigation of course is in the early phases. We are ready and willing to support Haitian authorities in that investigation which they are leading, but we will have to refer investigative questions to Haitian authorities, again, reiterating that we are willing to cooperate with any requests they may put forward.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thanks. Yes. Haiti still?
QUESTION: No —
MR PRICE: Anything else on Haiti?
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Nazira Azim Karimi, Afghan journalist. As you know, sir, since U.S.-NATO withdraw their soldiers in Afghanistan, it’s very complicated. The Afghan people, they are very worried. And recently, Iran hosted the Taliban and Afghan official for a meeting today. They already had a meeting. Any comment about that? In the meantime, Taliban attacked to Badghis Province. Of course, it’s very dangerous. Do you think that it’s not against the agreement between U.S. and Taliban in Doha, Qatar?
MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to the Iran-hosted talks, we’re of course aware that Iran has hosted a meeting between the Taliban and the Islamic Republic negotiating teams. This is what we’ve always said, that Afghanistan’s neighbors and countries in the region, they too have a stake in Afghanistan’s future. They need to use their influence in ways that are positive, in ways that are constructive, in ways that promote the cause of peace, in ways that support the people of Afghanistan. We know that regional consensus and support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process is important for an enduring peace.
When it comes to the recent violence, this is something obviously we have spoken to quite a bit, and the point remains that no government that might come to power in Afghanistan through the use of force, at the barrel of a gun, will have legitimacy or the support – and that can be especially critical – from the international community, nor would a government that comes to power by force have the support of the people of Afghanistan. And what we ultimately hope to help support and will seek to help support is a just and durable settlement. Every party has an interest in a settlement being durable. The Afghan people are – have been burdened and in many cases brutalized by 40 years of civil war. The United States is supporting the efforts ongoing in Doha right now between the parties, where the parties are, in fact, still meeting, still talking, to see to it that we can have a just and durable settlement and a comprehensive ceasefire to finally see an end to this violence.
QUESTION: I understand the conference is still postponed. Are you still optimistic?
MR PRICE: Well, obviously the talks in Doha are ongoing. The parties continue to meet in Doha. We’re grateful for Qatar’s role, and Qatar’s role in hosting that talk – those talks. We do welcome Turkey, Qatar, and the UN’s outstanding offer to host negotiations between the parties, but I don’t have any updates to share at that time, especially knowing that talks are ongoing in Doha.
Will. Or – yes. Yes, please. Go ahead, Will.
QUESTION: On Iran.
QUESTION: Could —
MR PRICE: Any – sure.
QUESTION: Well, it’s sort of on Iran. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Could I just follow up briefly? You mentioned about the Iranian role.
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Could I just pursue that a little bit?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: After September 11th, obviously, there’s some coordination between the United States and Iran regarding Afghanistan. What’s your assessment now of Iran’s role in Afghanistan? Are you at all hopeful for a positive – from the U.S. perspective, a positive role for Iran in Afghanistan in the future?
MR PRICE: Well, look, I wouldn’t characterize us hopeful. I wouldn’t characterize us as pessimistic. I would characterize us as knowing that in order for there to be a just and durable peace in Afghanistan, Afghanistan’s neighbors need to play a constructive role. What Iran is trying to do or in the – is in the process of doing by hosting this meeting may well be constructive. I think the jury is still out. This is obviously not something we are – we have discussed with the Iranians other than by making the point very publicly that Afghanistan’s neighbors need to be responsible stakeholders.
For too long, many of Afghanistan’s neighbors have been happy to see the United States engaged, and the United States alone engaged. If there is to be a just and durable settlement and a comprehensive ceasefire, it needs to be supported – supported by Afghanistan’s neighbors, and we hope to see them act responsibly.
QUESTION: Just on that.
MR PRICE: Yeah.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: You mentioned the talks in Vienna yesterday, the interrupted talks. Are you certain those talks are going to resume? Have they hit a snag? You mentioned consultations. What are the consultations about? Is it about the new President-elect Raisi or some of Iran’s behavior in the region or some of the political backdrop and concerns that are bubbling up? Can we absolutely commit that those talks are going to continue, and when do you think we might see that?
MR PRICE: What I would say is I would need to direct you to the Iranians for feedback on their consultations, what’s going on in their capital. I can tell you from our part, the team has been back here at the department meeting with officials throughout the building, including with Secretary Blinken, updating him on the progress of those talks. Of course, nothing is certain in the world of diplomacy, but I think we have every expectation that there will be a seventh round of talks at the appropriate moment, at the right time, and our team looks forward to being engaged in that next round of talks when it does begin.
QUESTION: So can you –the consultations with the U.S. team in its capital, those are finished now?
MR PRICE: We are, I think —
QUESTION: Or you’re just waiting for the Europeans to say, okay, come on, guys, let’s go back to Vienna?
MR PRICE: Well, of course the team continues to remain here, continues to engage in discussions, continues to do important work from the department, but that team will be ready, will be prepared to travel back to Vienna when there’s a seventh round of talks.
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken met with French and Saudi counterparts on the sidelines of the G20 regarding Lebanon. But apart from his tweet, new, further details have been provided. Tomorrow the U.S. and French ambassadors to Lebanon are heading to Saudi in what seems to be a rare diplomatic move. Where does this trilateral coordination stand and what’s the U.S. – what’s Washington hoping to convey during these meetings?
MR PRICE: Well, you’re right and I can confirm that our Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea, will in fact travel alongside the French ambassador to Lebanon, Anne Grillo, to Saudi Arabia for meetings with Saudi officials on July 8th. This visit does follow the trilateral consultation that Secretary Blinken had with his French and Saudi counterparts, Foreign Minister Le Drian and Saudi Foreign Minister bin Farhan on June 29th, when we were in Matera for the G20. During her meetings in Saudi Arabia, I expect Ambassador Shea will discuss the gravity of the situation in Lebanon. She’ll emphasize the importance of humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people as well as increased support for the Lebanese Armed Forces and international – internal security forces, excuse me.
In partnership with her French and Saudi counterparts, Ambassador Shea will also continue to develop that trilateral diplomatic strategy, and that strategy is focused on government formation, it’s focused on the imperative of undertaking urgent and necessary reforms that the people of Lebanon so desperately need. As we have said before, Lebanon’s leaders need to come together, need to do the right thing, need to put aside political bickering and squabbling for the benefit of the Lebanese people.
Ambassador Shea will also use the occasion to reiterate the commitment of the United States to helping the people of Lebanon, and she will highlight some of the good work of the over $3.7 billion in economic, humanitarian, and security assistance that the United States has contributed since 2016 and what that has supported.
QUESTION: And separately, yesterday you mentioned the Saudi deputy defense minister would be at State today. Could you confirm any meetings he had or will have today and how those discussions went, or what they’re expected to touch on?
MR PRICE: Sure. So as we did confirm yesterday, the Saudi deputy defense – Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman is in Washington for a series of meetings. He has so far met with our special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Ambassador Feltman. He’s also met with Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking. In terms of the former, Special Envoy Feltman and KBS discussed the situation in Ethiopia, in areas where the United States and Saudi Arabia could potentially cooperate to address the crisis and to mitigate instability in the broader region. They also agreed to continue a dialogue on mechanisms to promote peace, security, and prosperity in the Red Sea. As you know, Ambassador Feltman was recently in the Gulf discussing the situation in the Horn of Africa, and this was a continuation of that.
With Special Envoy Lenderking, he took part in a meeting yesterday to discuss steps to mitigate the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen and steps necessary to end the conflict there, including steps that would ease restrictions at Hudaydah port and Sana’a Airport. Special Envoy Lenderking stressed the need for continued Saudi engagement on Yemen, allowing space for nationwide comprehensive ceasefire followed by a transition to a Yemeni political process that would lead to a permanent solution to this conflict.
Additionally, Special Envoy Lenderking recognized Saudi Arabia for its efforts to improve implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, and he agreed that both the Republic of Yemen Government and the Southern Transition Council must continue to negotiate so that the Yemeni Government can return to Aden to provide the essential services the Yemeni people need and deserve. The deputy defense minister will be in the building later today. He’ll be meeting with a couple senior State Department officials during that session.
QUESTION: Is he —
QUESTION: And with the Secretary?
MR PRICE: I expect the Secretary will have a chance to take part in part of that meeting, yes.
QUESTION: When you talk about urgent and necessary reforms needed in Lebanon, could you give us an example or two of what the most urgent and most necessary reforms are?
MR PRICE: Well, it’s certainly urgent that Lebanon’s leaders set aside their political differences to form a government that is cohesive and a government that is responsive to the needs of the international people. Corruption, impunity, lawlessness have dogged successive governments, and ultimately and most importantly have drained the Lebanese people of much needed resources. So as an initial and necessary step, Lebanon’s leaders need to put the interests of their people first. That’s what we’re calling for. That’s what we hope to see.
QUESTION: But does that mean – I mean, what you talked about, ending or at least trying to fight corruption and the other – impunity and that kind of thing, those are pretty tall orders and can’t be really done overnight. So am I wrong in thinking that what you’re saying is that the first order of business needs to be the formation of a new government that is – that represents and can respond to the demands of the people?
MR PRICE: It’s – it’s —
QUESTION: Is that the first thing that needs to be done?
MR PRICE: It’s certainly necessary, but not sufficient. We know that Lebanon’s leaders, to the point of government formation, need to show flexibility to form a government that is willing and capable of true and fundamental reform. And this gets to the next step. Government formation is one element, but true and necessary reform is the next, again, so that the people of Lebanon can realize that full potential. They deserve, they need a government that will urgently implement those necessary reforms, including to rescue Lebanon’s deteriorating economy. Lebanon’s economy and the economic condition of the country has imposed huge costs, huge burdens on the people of Lebanon. The inflation that has occurred in recent days and weeks has taken a really profound toll on the people there.
And so, yes, government formation is necessary, but yes, so too is reform.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary discuss Lebanon with the pope when he saw him last week?
MR PRICE: I – we issued a readout of that meeting. As I do recall, it was addressed, but I would have to refer you to that readout.
QUESTION: Can I just ask about Iraq? There has been quite a bit of an increase in rocket attacks. Iraqi army officials say the pace of recent attacks against U.S. bases and with rockets and drones is unprecedented. Why do you think that is on the rise at this particular moment? What is your assessment on who is behind it?
MR PRICE: Well, I’d have to correct one thing you said. There are no U.S. bases in Iraq.
MR PRICE: There are a limited number of U.S. and other coalition advisors —
QUESTION: U.S. and coalition, yeah.
MR PRICE: — at Iraqi bases, at Iraqi Government invitation that, in turn, assist and enable Iraqi Security Forces to confront the remnants of ISIS. Look, I wouldn’t want to speak to the motivation of these attacks. I will say that what we recognize is that these attacks reflect and are representative of the threat that Iran-backed militias present fundamentally to Iraq’s sovereignty and to Iraq’s stability. We —
QUESTION: Do you know for a fact that they’re carried out by Iranian-backed militias, these attacks over the past couple of days?
MR PRICE: So obviously there have been recent attacks, and I wouldn’t want to prejudge investigations that are ongoing. But as we have said in the context of attacks that have taken place in recent months, they have been carried out by Iran-backed militias and President Biden, in turn, has responded – responded in different ways. But of course, perhaps most visibly, by authorizing the military strikes – most recently late last month, but also before that as well – on Iran-backed militia infrastructure in Iraq and Syria.
QUESTION: Thank you. I want to confirm information that I got from Brazilian Government. Is the U.S. planning to send more vaccines directly to Brazil in the coming two weeks? If yes, how many vaccines? And when are they getting to Brazil? And also, I would like to know when is the U.S. planning to pick the new ambassador to Brazil and what is the profile that you are looking for, if a political pick or a diplomat – a career diplomat?
MR PRICE: Well, to your first question, we were very pleased to have been able to deliver 3 million doses of Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccines that arrived in Campinas, Brazil, late last month – June 25th I believe it was. Presently, as you know, we’re working to support the delivery of the 80 million doses from our own supply that President Biden pledged to allocate last month, mid-last month. We’ll donate additional doses throughout the summer months as supply becomes available.
In doing so, our principles are standard and transparent, and that includes maximizing the number of safe and effective vaccines available equitably for the greatest number of countries and for those most at risk within their countries. It includes preparing for surges and prioritizing health care workers and other vulnerable populations based on public health data and acknowledged best practices, and helping countries in need, including our neighbors. And, of course, Brazil is an important partner of ours in the hemisphere. We have provided non-vaccine support to Brazil in the context of the COVID pandemic as well.
And that brings me to your second question. Because Brazil is such an important partner of the United States, while I can’t give you a name or I can’t give you a timeframe, I assure you that the next U.S. ambassador to Brazil will be someone who has the trust and confidence of Secretary Blinken and the trust and confidence of President Biden. That person will be charged with an incredibly important relationship, and as soon as we have more details, we’ll be sure to share them.
QUESTION: But is there a timeline for this —
QUESTION: That’s as opposed to ambassadors to other countries, who don’t have the – who don’t have the support and – of the President?
MR PRICE: Well, I’m – I am speaking in the context of Brazil, an important partner.
Rich in the back.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said that any Chinese move against Taiwan would be catastrophic and that this administration is sending a clear message of deterrence. China’s Foreign Ministry today responded, warning the U.S. to tread carefully on this issue. Can we expect the U.S. to continue to send this clear message of deterrence or perhaps an even clearer message of deterrence going forward?
MR PRICE: Well, the United States will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues, consistent with the longstanding wishes and the best interests of the people on Taiwan. And we have repeatedly urged Beijing to cease its military, its diplomatic, its economic pressure against Taiwan and instead to engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan. Secretary Blinken has addressed the question. He has repeatedly said it would be a profound mistake by any party to try and remake that status quo with the use of force. Our commitment to Taiwan is rock solid, and we believe that commitment contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the broader region.
For four decades, American policy has been consistent. The “one China” policy is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiques, the Six Assurances provided to Taipei. That has not changed. As you know, Rich, we also did unveil a couple months ago now updated contact guidance that will allow us to deepen our partnership with the people on Taiwan, consistent with that “one China” policy, the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. seeing any evidence that Beijing is ready to cease this pressure?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to characterize discussions with Beijing or any other country on this. What I will characterize is what we are making very clear, and that is that our commitment to Taiwan is rock solid. We believe it is in the best interests of the people on Taiwan and the broader region as well.
MR PRICE: I believe you’ve heard from the White House on this, and I think they had an opportunity to discuss this again yesterday. U.S. officials are closely monitoring these talks, closely watching the progress. We’ve been in touch with several of the parties involved.
Let me move it around. Yes.
QUESTION: On Syria, can you give us an update on negotiations on the cross-border resolution? And given that this is an issue that comes up year after year, has the Biden administration as part of its Syria policy given any consideration to finding a longer-term solution to aid delivery?
MR PRICE: So to your second question, this is to us not a question about geopolitics or bilateral relations with any other member of the UN Security Council or political dynamics on the council. To us, this is a – fundamentally a question of the humanitarian interests of the Syrian people. This boils down to a question of livelihoods and a question of lives for the people of Syria, and that’s why we are and have been acting so urgently now that there are just a few days left until the last remaining humanitarian crossing is set to expire. We’ve been very clear, again, because of the human stakes, the human – the potential human costs of this – millions of Syrians – women, children, men – that the Security Council must renew and expand humanitarian access provided by Bab al-Hawa for 12 months. And we know we must do it now because, of course, the expiration is coming up.
The people of Syria have been brutalized by the Assad regime. They have been further buffeted by the COVID pandemic. What we seek to do – and again, this is not about politics. This is not about geopolitics. This is not about inter-state relations. This is not about great powers. But what we seek to do is to help the people of Syria, millions of whom are at risk of starvation if this last remaining humanitarian crossing is shamefully and tragically allowed to expire.
These discussions have been ongoing at the UN. Of course, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield spoke to this yesterday. She has been engaged privately with the Security Council. And I have every expectation that she will continue to be engaged, as will the broader department and the fuller administration.
As you know, this was one of the issues that President Biden raised directly with President Putin at the summit, again, putting it in terms not of great – not in terms of inter-state relations, but in terms of the human costs and the human toll of this.
QUESTION: On that, has the U.S. actually made any progress in convincing Russia to agree to a renewal?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to characterize discussions that have been behind closed doors. I would refer you to the Russian Federation for their position on this. But I think it goes without saying that any responsible country should be in favor of saving lives, and this is what this is about.
QUESTION: Yes, another question about Pakistan policy. Last week, Prime Minister Imran Khan was a little mad and he said that – he criticized United States that United States had been defeated in Afghanistan and he will not allow CIA base in Pakistan. And also he mentioned that we will not anymore control or – yes, control on Pakistan anymore if – if Taliban try to get the power by force, we will not support them. And I don’t know what’s the relationship. Still Pakistan has influence as to Taliban to bring them on the table in this sensitive time in Doha?
MR PRICE: Well, I think what is true is that Pakistan is an important partner across any number of fronts. Of course, we have shared interests when it comes to Afghanistan, when it comes to peace and stability in Afghanistan. We have – and this goes over the course of successive administrations now – encouraged Pakistan to be a constructive partner when it comes to Afghanistan and our collective efforts to bring about some semblance of peace and security there. Pakistan has been helpful in – recently when it comes to this shared interest. Our shared interests go well beyond that: broader counterterrorism interests as well, not to mention the people-to-people ties that unite our two countries.
But this also goes back to I think where we started with your earlier question, that what we know to be true is that all of Afghanistan’s neighbors need to play a constructive role in helping to bring about a just and durable political settlement as well as a comprehensive ceasefire. For far too long, some of Afghanistan’s neighbors have not played that role. They had been happy to let – content, I should say, to let other countries take responsibility. And right now, we have made clear that we are going to be working very closely to ensure that Afghanistan’s neighbors do play that constructive role, knowing that it will be a necessary ingredient to what I think we all collectively hope to see in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yes, Shaun.
QUESTION: Different issue, on China, WeChat, the popular social media forum. There have been reports that there have been the deletion of LGBTQ content from WeChat. Do you have any comment on that? Does this signal at all a worsening of the climate for sexual minorities in China?
MR PRICE: Well, we are aware of reports that WeChat has deleted several accounts carrying public views of LGBTQI+ topics, and we’re concerned by – that the PRC has restricted the social media accounts of LGBTQI+ student groups and NGOs that were merely expressing their views, exercising their right to freedom of expression and freedom of speech. We oppose the use of network restrictions to suppress freedom of expression online. It does not matter to us whether that it is in China or anywhere else; we oppose it universally. U.S. content moderation issues are addressed in line with the strong protections under U.S. law that align with international standards for, as I said before, that very freedom of expression. And we encourage other governments to develop similar policies respecting freedom of expression.
More broadly, we’re committed to fighting for the human rights of all people. And that, of course, includes LGBTQI+ people around the world. This administration is taking measures to ensure that U.S. diplomacy promotes and protects those rights. As you know, on February 5th, President Biden signed a presidential memorandum making it the policy of the United States to protect and to promote LGBTQI+ rights around the world.
QUESTION: Ned, does that – when you talk about universality of this and you oppose the use of network restrictions to block any content related —
MR PRICE: Well, I didn’t say any content. I —
QUESTION: Well —
MR PRICE: Consistent with the rights of freedom of expression.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. Well – and I know this is the State Department and you don’t – but you do speak on behalf of the administration. But domestically, today, I think somewhere out there a certain former president has filed lawsuits against several companies that are similar to WeChat and what they do for blocking his – so if that was taking place, if that kind of thing was taking place in a foreign – in another country where you had a remit or a responsibility, would you – would you oppose those kinds of restrictions by private companies on free speech?
MR PRICE: Matt, we believe deeply in the principle of freedom of expression, whether that is at home, whether that is around the world. Obviously, your question has a political tint to it, so I will —
QUESTION: I didn’t mean to be – have a political tint. It’s just that it’s kind of an obvious question to ask, even if the State Department doesn’t do things domestically. But when you speak on behalf of the administration and talk about the President signing legislation that applies domestically, I just wonder if this is the kind – if there was censorship of political views on the left or the right in another country, you would oppose it, correct?
MR PRICE: Well – well, what I mentioned was a presidential memorandum that contours our foreign policy.
QUESTION: No, no, no, I get that. But if you saw this kind of – when you’re talking about WeChat, if that was restrictions on political views either on the left or right or radical centrists – I don’t know, whoever – you would oppose it, correct?
MR PRICE: Freedom of expression is something that we protect and that we promote around the world. The right of people everywhere to live in safety and security is also something we believe deeply in. When it comes to U.S. social media companies or internet service providers, I’d have to refer you to them to speak to their policies.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:41 p.m.)