2:06 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: Yes, it’s raining.
MR PRICE: I can feel the enthusiasm.
QUESTION: It’s raining.
MR PRICE: Well, as you see, we have a very special and surprise guest with us today. I am very pleased to introduce Gayle Smith. As you know, Gayle is our coordinator for global COVID response and health security. As you might surmise, she is here today to speak about the announcement the President has just made and to take your questions.
So without further ado, I will turn it over to Coordinator Smith.
MS SMITH: Thank you, and hi, everybody. So as you know, the President has just announced that we will purchase and donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to start a real push to get the world vaccinated. This is, I think, American leadership at its best, and it is part of a broader plan that includes the 80 million doses that we are sharing that the President’s already announced, and efforts to get producers to produce more supply this year, even as we invest in local manufacture in a number of countries that we think can bring more vaccines online by the end of the year.
It’s our very strong view that given the lack of coverage around the world, it was absolutely critical to make a big move like this to get more vaccines into the system as quickly as possible. These vaccines will become available as of August even as we are pushing out the 80 million doses that have already been announced. As you know, the President is going to be in the G7 summit. We’ve been working closely with our allies for the last several weeks on this and look forward to further announcements at the summit itself.
Happy to take any more questions on this. I think I would simply say as somebody who has worked on a lot of viruses in my life and this pandemic since it started, we think this is going to be a game-changer in finally starting the flow of vaccines around the world in order to bring this pandemic to an end.
MR PRICE: Said.
QUESTION: Yes, ma’am.
MS SMITH: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, ma’am. How would you prioritize? I know – I mean, no one country is more needy than —
MS SMITH: Right.
QUESTION: — the other and so on. How would you prioritize and distribute these vaccines around the world?
MS SMITH: Right. Of the 500 million new vaccines that the President just announced, as you rightly suggest, there is need everywhere. So these are going to be allocated to the 92 COVAX AMC countries – advance market commitment countries – and countries in the African Union. That’s a total of approximately 100 countries. These are the lower-income countries; that it’s harder for them to procure vaccines on the market and to self-finance, and we’ve got real problems with under-coverage of vaccines in those countries. So that’s the universe of countries to which the 500 million vaccines will go.
MR PRICE: Humeyra.
QUESTION: I just want to make the 4 billion vs 3.5 billion clear. So U.S. had committed $2 billion through COVAX and then said there would be another 2, and then when it comes to the half million doses, the cost was set to be 3.5. So is that 3.5 as part of that 4 or is it on top of it?
MS SMITH: Yeah. We’re entering into the final stages of the contract now, and the funding will come out of already appropriated funds. And as we get it finalized, I’d be happy to go through that with you.
QUESTION: Right. And on Latin America, I’m just wondering if you will be directing doses to specific countries in Latin America, or you will allow COVAX to do so.
MS SMITH: Yeah. So there’s two flows of vaccines in addition to those vaccines that will come through COVAX on the basis of our financial support. There are the 25 million first tranche of the 80 million, and then these 500 million. In those cases, we will work with COVAX, but we will also have some weighing in on what countries we want to focus on, and that’s based on several things.
We want to get global coverage. We want to be able to focus on countries where there is a surge or they may be considered a hot spot, where there’s a real risk because of incidence. And we also want to be responsive, particularly in our own hemisphere, to the many requests that we’ve had.
MR PRICE: Mouhamed.
QUESTION: Yes, hi, thank you.
MS SMITH: Hi.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this. My name is Mouhamed Elahmed with Al Jazeera Arabic. I have couple of questions. So what type of vaccines are we talking about? Are we talking about Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, or a mixture of all of those vaccines? And also, are we talking about first step that would be followed by other steps? And how do you assess the global response to COVID? Does it a require a more U.S. engagement, or do you think that the world response so far is doing pretty good?
MS SMITH: Sure. So on your first question, the doses that we are sharing from our national supply – so that’s the 80 million doses – those are a combination of J&J and Moderna. And then the 500 million that the President just announced are Pfizer.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MS SMITH: So that’s your answer there. I think what this means – and the President’s been very clear about the role of American leadership in this response from the first announcement he made on sharing doses, and it is absolutely his intention to lead. But as he has pointed out, that for us to be successful and operate at scale, then it’s got to be more than just the United States. We’re prepared to be out front leading, but we certainly need to work with our partners.
Our partners have in general been very, very supportive of the international response. We’ve been working with them and we’re quite hopeful that what will come out of the G7 is an even more extensive response from our partner countries. So we’re looking for more there.
I think that over time, this is going to demand continued U.S. leadership. This is a pandemic that affects the entire planet. We are still at the emergency level in too many countries. As we all know, the humanitarian and economic impacts of an unchecked pandemic create further damage to lives and livelihoods. So this is going to be an extensive response and we’re prepared to stay fully engaged.
QUESTION: And talking about the origin of the vaccine. Does this mean that China has to step in and do more in terms of vaccine distribution to the world?
MS SMITH: Well, I think – we believe and I think the G7 believes that it is our role to do two things. One is make these vaccines available, to donate them, particularly those countries that can’t afford them. And the second to provide them on the basis of no expectation. These are tools for ending a pandemic. These are not tools for creating pressure or trying to exert influence.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Francesco.
QUESTION: You said that the rest of the world needs to do more. What would be, for you, a good outcome from the G7, in terms of target of doses donated to the world, after the 500 million announcement by the President?
MS SMITH: Yeah. You’ll forgive me if I don’t want to get ahead of the summit itself, but I think we need a forward-leaning commitment through the remainder of this year and into next year. And additionally, whatever we may announce collectively at the G7, we’re all going to have to continue to up our game to get this pandemic to an end.
MR PRICE: Matt.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you, are you seeing the same kind – anywhere near the same level of vaccine hesitancy or outright rejection overseas that you’re – that we’re seeing here? And is there a component of this program for education, for kind of encouraging people in countries, in the countries that are going to be getting these vaccines to actually take them?
MS SMITH: Right. No, it’s a really good question. The fact is we’re seeing vaccine hesitancy pretty much in every country, for different reasons, but I think it’s a common feature, just as we’ve seen it here. And then there’s also both misinformation and disinformation. And in its role in the humanitarian global health response, the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, has programs that are for, among other things, vaccine readiness – so how do you get a country really ready to implement. And part of that programming is to work with local trusted interlocutors, to work with local journalists, to work with others, to try to get information out there, just as we have done here, about the safety and efficacy of vaccines so that we can make sure that as many people as possible are vaccinated.
QUESTION: Right. But that’s USAID. I’m talking about in the G7 context. Is there something – is there similar – something similar that’s going to be attached to this kind of —
MS SMITH: I think what you can assume is attached to this is all the G7 members are involved in the provision of assistance that supports – right? Supports delivery and distribution.
QUESTION: So supportive delivery is – that include – that would include education, and that kind of —
MS SMITH: In most cases, yes. I can’t speak to every member of the G7, but that’s something – and that’s something that countries themselves are very focused on, because they want to make sure they get the coverage that is going to protect them for the long term.
MR PRICE: We’ll take a couple more questions.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up? I’m curious about the decision-making behind which countries are getting these. And you said you’ll be focused on countries where there is a surge and, of course, Western Hemisphere. But I am wondering if countries that China has already given vaccines to – are you looking at that at all as you game out, decide where the U.S. is going to be giving these vaccines to?
MS SMITH: I’d say two things. The reference to Latin America and so on – we have two streams of vaccines, right? We have the 80 million doses with the 25 we’re in the process of moving. In that, we have looked very much at global coverage, at being responsive to surges, but also to the requests of our friends and neighbors. In this 500 million dose allocation or contribution, we will work with COVAX on that. And our goal here is coverage, is to get the kind of coverage that’s needed. There’s methodologies that you can use to figure out how you narrow the scope and the opportunity for the virus to replicate and mutate. We’ll be taking those things into consideration. We will be looking at countries, whether they have supply or not, whether they can add a particular kind of vaccine. So there are going to be a number of considerations that we’ll put in place, along with COVAX and countries in the regions to make sure we got the smartest allocation.
MR PRICE: Michele.
QUESTION: Follow up real quickly on that. Yeah, there’s been criticism on the right about this administration working too much with multilateral institutions or groups like the WHO, which just has Syria now on its board. I just wonder how you counter that. Why does it make sense to work through these international organizations?
MS SMITH: Yeah, I’d say a couple things. And some of these allocations out of the 80 million we’re going to do bilaterally. But COVAX is built on a platform, the Global Alliance for Vaccines, which is something the United States and both parties in Congress have supported for almost 20 years. It’s the main provider of childhood vaccines around the world; it was the provider of the vaccines in outbreaks of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. So it’s a known entity. That’s number one.
Number two, we think it’s quite important, in addition to whatever we might do bilaterally, that there be a multilateral commitment in this as well, that the world is standing together to say, “We’re going to end this pandemic.” And organizations like COVAX are critical for that, similarly with WHO. We can always look at improvements in organizations, but we need these international institutions to solve global problems. And so it’s certainly our intention to do what we can multilaterally, but also act bilaterally.
MR PRICE: Michael.
QUESTION: Forgive me if you addressed this already and I missed it. You said the vaccines will become available in August. Can you talk about the timeline from August for them getting into arms around the world?
AMBASSADOR SMITH: Yeah. It’s a bit hard to predict how long that will take, but they will come available and start moving in August, and then be available on a monthly basis through the end of the year and into 2022. Our intention is to work with COVAX to move them as quickly as possible into the countries where they’re needed, and then obviously to deploy them as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: How do you mean monthly – I’m sorry – how do you mean monthly basis?
AMBASSADOR SMITH: I mean that 500 million vaccines are not going to be appear in August.
AMBASSADOR SMITH: Right? It’s going to be a subset of those. I think it’s in the range of 50 million will be the first availability. And there will be more vaccines every month.
QUESTION: I see.
AMBASSADOR SMITH: As they come available, we will move them out, and then as they land in country, there will be plans to deploy them through national vaccine plans.
QUESTION: Thanks. You said earlier you think this is going to be a gamechanger in finally starting to bring an end to the pandemic. Should the U.S. have done something like this sooner, and is it enough?
AMBASSADOR SMITH: Well, I think there’s more for the world to do. There’s no question. And I think that – look, I as an American citizen am enormously grateful for what the President has done to bring the pandemic under control in this country, and that’s his first and his primary obligation. But he’s been very clear since the start that once there was a level of comfort with where we are with the pandemic in the United States, we would immediately turn to leading on the global stage, and he’s done that. And I’d remind you that one of his very first moves was the provision of $2 billion to COVAX to move that forward.
I think all of us are going to have to continue to stay on the case. As the President has said, we’re going to continue to lead on this. We will continue to do more. We’re going to expect and work with our allies and others so that they do more as well. But I think we’re in this for the long haul.
MR PRICE: Abbie.
QUESTION: Apologies if I missed this as well, but is there any specific effort or attention being made to help refugee populations, particularly in refugee camps where COVID-19 has obviously been such a problem?
AMBASSADOR SMITH: Yes. Yeah, we’ve got a focus on that in two ways. Through the State Department and our Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration we are providing assistance that is targeted towards refugees and the impact of the pandemic on those populations. As well there is what’s called a humanitarian buffer available so that there are ways to reach, say, refugee populations in a given country. So that is something that between our international partners, the State Department, and USAID, we’re focused on those disenfranchised populations that are hard to get to. So yes.
MR PRICE: Let’s take a final question in the back.
QUESTION: Hi. Good afternoon. It’s Sebastian Fest from Infobae, Argentina. I would like to know whether there was any reflection in the government about giving some vaccines to Venezuela, even knowing the big political differences between both countries.
AMBASSADOR SMITH: I think our view has been that vaccines need to be available to citizens everywhere if we’re going to end the pandemic. Whether or not we are the ones that provide them is a different story. So I can’t speak to the specifics of that, but I do think in principle it’s our view that vaccines need to be made available everywhere.
QUESTION: There was no debate? This was not even an idea? I mean, there was no debate?
AMBASSADOR SMITH: I’m not going to go into what the internal discussions have been about how we allocate vaccines. But to tell you where the guard rails are, one is that we think vaccines need to be made available everywhere. And as the United States, we’re going to do everything we can to maximize coverage.
QUESTION: Thank you.
AMBASSADOR SMITH: But also coordinate with other countries and also other donors so that we can make sure the world’s in fact covered.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much, Coordinator Smith. Appreciate it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
AMBASSADOR SMITH: Thanks, everybody.
MR PRICE: Please come back any time.
QUESTION: Well, actually, we hope she doesn’t, right? Because if she does come back, that means the pandemic is continuing, right?
AMBASSADOR SMITH: Oh yeah, I’ll have this wrapped up by Monday. (Laughter.)
MR PRICE: Before we get into your questions, a couple things we wanted to do at the top.
The United States continues to be the world’s largest single donor of humanitarian assistance in responding to the needs of refugees, to vulnerable migrants, internally displaced persons, and other vulnerable people.
U.S. humanitarian assistance is a concrete example of our commitment to meeting the President’s vision for safe, orderly, and humane migration in Central America.
Leading the U.S. delegation of senior National Security Council and Department of State officials, Assistant to the President Amy Pope today announced more than $57 million in new humanitarian assistance at the Solidarity Event for Forcibly Displaced Persons and Host Communities in Central America and Mexico.
Through our international organization partners, it will help meet the immediate humanitarian needs of forcibly displaced persons and to support access to protection in line with the national action plans of the Comprehensive Regional Protection and Solutions Framework countries – that is to say, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Panama.
International cooperation will continue to be essential for efficient, humane migration management. We urge others to join us in our commitment to respond to the needs of vulnerable people across Central America and Mexico.
The United States condemns the ongoing suspension of Twitter by the Nigerian Government and subsequent threats to arrest and prosecute Nigerians who use Twitter. The United States is likewise concerned that the Nigerian National Broadcasting Commission ordered all television and radio broadcasters to cease using Twitter.
For 60 years, the United States has been proud to partner with Nigeria on a broad array of issues and objectives, with the cornerstone of this relationship being premised on the vibrancy of democracy, a principle embraced by our two nations. Unduly restricting the media and all Nigerians from reporting, gathering, or disseminating opinions and information has no place in a democracy and it undermines our partnership. Freedom of expression and access to factual and accurate information provided by independent media are foundational to prosperous and secure and democratic societies.
We join the Human Rights – the UN Human Rights Office and partner nations who call for Nigeria to respect freedom of expression online and offline.
So with that, I would be happy to take your questions.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: One, do you make anything of the – of these warships that are now – that have now reached the Atlantic? Do you have any comment about – concern about that?
MR PRICE: We have seen the press reports regarding this movement. What I would say from here is that we’re prepared to leverage our applicable authorities, including sanctions, against any actor that enable’s Iran’s ongoing provision of weapons to violent partners and to proxies. This is a concern that we’ve talked about broadly in the context of Iran, even as we work with our allies and partners in the P5+1 context, to attempt to put Iran’s nuclear program back in a box. We will continue to apply pressure on Iran if it attempts to transfer any weapons to violent partners and proxies.
QUESTION: Yeah, but mere presence, is there that they’re trying – that that’s what they’re doing?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to go into it from here. I’m not going to try to surmise what may be going on here. But what I will say is that if this is an effort to transfer weapons or otherwise to violate its international obligations, we would be prepared to respond.
QUESTION: So their mere presence isn’t a problem for you guys?
MR PRICE: As we’ve said in many different contexts, we believe in the rules-based international order. Maritime passage is something that – freedom of navigation is something that we espouse for ourselves and for international partners. But again, if Iran would seek to effect the transfer of weapons or other illicit materials, we would be prepared to hold Iran accountable. And we – in the – before that were to take place, we are prepared to do what we can do attempt to eliminate such activity.
QUESTION: So can I just –
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: I just want to make sure I understand this correctly. So as long as the Iranian navy or any other Iranian ship follows the international rules and respects navigation, international navigation norms, you don’t have a problem with them sailing through the Atlantic up to the U.S., up to U.S. territorial waters or up to —
MR PRICE: Well, they’re not there, and so I —
QUESTION: No, I know they’re not. But I just want to make sure you don’t have an issue. Unless they’re doing something that you find to be illegal, the rules of international maritime commerce apply? As long as they’re respecting them, you don’t —
MR PRICE: I’m not going to speak to what the destination of these ships might be, what their intentions might be, what Iran may or may not be up to. But the broader principle is that freedom of navigation is a principle we defend for ourselves. It is an element of the broader rules-based international order. It’s a rules-based international order that we believe and we defend and we promote not only because it applies to us but because it applies to the rest of the world.
QUESTION: All right. Then secondly, on the sanctions that were announced today, that Treasury and you guys announced today, the – I mean, I’m curious about the removals, though. There’s two managing – or the managing director of the National Iranian Oil Corporation and managing director of one of its subsidiaries who have been taken off. Those sanctions were first imposed in 2013. The statement says that they were being removed because they are no longer in violation of what they had been in violation for.
Are these – is that the case? Has the – has NIOC stopped trying to export Iranian oil in violation of – or did they die? Have they retired? What’s the – what is it exactly that they are no longer doing?
MR PRICE: Well, let me, Matt, start at the beginning. And today, both Treasury and the Department of State issued statements on that noting that we designated Sa’id Ahmad Muhammad al-Jamal and other individuals and entities involved in an international network that this individual has used to provide tens of millions of dollars’ worth of funds to the Houthis in cooperation with senior officials in the Qods Force. Those in this individual’s network of front companies and intermediaries have been selling commodities, including Iranian petroleum, throughout the Middle East and beyond, and they channel a significant portion of those revenues to the Houthis in Yemen.
As I’ve said already in a different context during this briefing, we are going to continue to use all tools available to us to restrict Iran’s support to proxies, to terrorist groups, to other malign actors in the region or even potentially beyond.
Now, you are right that this action also included a reference to delisting. These delistings, as noted in the statements today, are a result of a verified change in behavior or status on the part of the sanctioned parties.
The broader point here – and we have always maintained this – sanctions are not an end to themselves. Sanctions are a means to an end. Every time we impose sanctions, it is our hope that through a verified change in behavior, a verified change in status, we’ll one day be able to remove those sanctions, because that means that through one way or other our policy objectives have been met.
The delistings that we reference today again demonstrate our commitment to lifting sanctions in the event of a change in behavior or status for sanctioned persons. Now, delisting is a normal practice. It is a practice consistent with good sanctions hygiene and administrative processes. And just to be clear, there is no linkage, there is no connection to the delistings that we announced today to the JCPOA or to negotiations that are ongoing in Vienna.
QUESTION: I get the broader point, but that’s not what I’m asking. What specifically did they do? What was the change in – the change in behavior or the change in status? I don’t want the – I understand the broad goal is to – you put sanctions in place to change behavior, and once the behavior changes then you lift them. So what did these guys and the other entities that were delisted – what did they stop doing?
MR PRICE: Treasury can give you, I imagine —
QUESTION: Well, no, they can’t, actually.
MR PRICE: — additional detail —
QUESTION: They haven’t. So —
MR PRICE: — on this. But again —
QUESTION: Do you know if they’re still alive?
MR PRICE: I —
QUESTION: Or have they been removed because they died or left their positions?
MR PRICE: So this is what – this is the result – it is a result of a petition for delisting. The petitions are reviewed very carefully. They are verified by experts to ensure that the information put forward is factual, that it is accurate. And only after we have verified the information put forward in petitions would we undertake a delisting.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that they are still in the their position – the positions that they had been sanctioned for in the first place?
MR PRICE: It is —
QUESTION: And if not – because I wonder if – NIOC itself has not been delisted. So if they’re still engaged in – if they’re still working in those jobs, then – and the company itself hasn’t changed its behavior, what exactly did the – why are they being removed? That’s – I’ll ask Treasury.
MR PRICE: They are being removed because of a verified change in behavior or verified change in status.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: So I’m going to have to keep asking on this. Are you able to give any information about this petition that you’re talking about? When was it received? Was this something that if these are processes, was this received in the previous administration or did it start during your time?
MR PRICE: These petitions are routinely received. They’re routinely reviewed by our experts. Again, only if and when the information in these petitions are verified would we undertake an action like this. In the case of these three individuals, it was the result of our ability to verify that there was a change in status or a change in behavior that allowed us to undertake this delisting.
QUESTION: And how long did this process took?
MR PRICE: You’re asking technical questions about a very technical process —
QUESTION: Well, the —
MR PRICE: — that takes place at the Department of the Treasury, so there’s only so much I would be able to say from here.
QUESTION: Yeah, I understand. But there is a lot of commentary out there that this is like a first step in a broader campaign to ease pressure on Iran as you move forward in the negotiations —
MR PRICE: Well, there’s a lot of commentary out there that is routinely wrong on these subjects. And it is —
QUESTION: — and you are not —
MR PRICE: — wrong, as I said, because —
QUESTION: Yet you are not able to tell, like, what they stopped doing, so, like – I mean, for example, is this characterization correct? Like, if you’re not able to tell what they’re doing precisely differently – which you say is technical, but I don’t think it is – then this kind of commentary is just going to keep continuing.
MR PRICE: What is absolutely true is that there is absolutely no connection between the JCPOA and ongoing negotiations in Vienna. This is a routine technical practice consistent with sanctions hygiene, with administrative processes that the Department of the Treasury routinely reviews and undertakes as appropriate.
QUESTION: If it’s routine, should we expect to see more of these delistings, then?
MR PRICE: Again, it is a – it is something that is part and parcel of good sanctions hygiene. I would expect that delistings – you may be seeing more of them in the months and years to come.
QUESTION: Okay. One final thing on this: Would you expect to see – is there any chance of a deal by Friday, before the election?
MR PRICE: By a deal, I assume you mean —
QUESTION: Yes, like on the nuclear talks.
MR PRICE: On the nuclear talks. So as you know and as I spoke to yesterday, Special Envoy Malley at the end of this week will be returning to Vienna along with his team to undertake the sixth round of negotiations. We have always said we expected this to be a multi-round set of negotiations. They have been able to make progress in the preceding five rounds.
I think on the part of the Iranians, it has been an opportunity for them to crystallize the steps they would need to undertake to resume compliance with the JCPOA, again, the – to resume compliance with the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated.
For our part, too, it has helped us to crystallize the decisions and the steps we would need to take in order to resume compliance with the JCPOA. And that entails what sanctions would need to be removed, what sanctions would be inconsistent with the JCPOA, if we were to resume.
QUESTION: In other words, practicing good sanctions hygiene.
MR PRICE: Good sanctions hygiene.
QUESTION: Who exactly came up with that phrase?
MR PRICE: I will send —
QUESTION: Because it sounds like you’re washing your hands, right? So if you’re washing your hands of sanctions, that means —
MR PRICE: I will send the – your compliments to the team.
Look, we have always said that we are engaging in these negotiations because we believe that diplomacy – principled diplomacy in concert with our partners and our allies – is the most effective and really the only durable means to restrict Iran’s nuclear program and to ensure once again that Iran is verifiably and – importantly – permanently prohibited from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We’re not dragging our feet. We are not accelerating beyond the point of what is appropriate. We are going at the speed that these negotiations need to move at.
Again, these are complex negotiations. These are technical details. These are not strategic talks because we have a strategic framework in the context and the form of the 2015 JCPOA. These are also indirect negotiations, and as I said before, there is no small amount of distrust between the United States and the Iranians, as well as between the Iranians and some of the other negotiating parties.
So I wouldn’t want to put a timeframe on it. We are engaged in this in an effort to achieve that compliance for compliance. Whether the Iranians and whether Tehran has made the calculation that they will resume compliance, that’s not for us to speak to. That would be for the Iranians to speak to. It is certainly something we hope to be in a position to achieve, but we don’t yet know.
QUESTION: Just to rephrase what Humeyra asked, you know where you are after five rounds of negotiations, you know the work that remains to be done. Is one week enough to meet that work if there is the will on both sides to go back to compliance?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to be categorical about it. What I would say is that we have made progress. But – and you’ve heard this before – challenges do remain, and big issues do continue to divide the sides. So again, we are certainly not dragging our feet. We are moving at a principled pace. We’re moving at a pace that is consistent with our desire to see Iran’s nuclear program once again restricted and to see Iran once again subject to a permanent and verifiable ban on ever obtaining a nuclear weapon. That’s our goal in this.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can I switch gears?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Ned, can I ask a technical question really quickly?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: I promise it’s actually – I’m just wondering about numbers here, because the State Department statement said that there were three former Iranian officials and two companies who the sanctions have been lifted on, and then there’s a different report out from The Wall Street Journal saying that there are more than a dozen former Iranian officials. So can you just clarify exactly kind of numbers that we’re looking at here?
MR PRICE: Well, the Secretary issued a statement today, and what the statement says we’re “lifting sanctions on three former Government of Iran officials and two companies previously involved in the purchase, acquisition, sale, transport, or marketing of Iranian petrochemical products as a result of verified change in status or behavior on the part of sanctioned parties.”
QUESTION: Okay, so it’s not 12?
MR PRICE: What our statement says is three former officials and two companies.
MR PRICE: Said.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. It seems that you guys have adopted the term used by the Trump administration about the Abrahamic Accords. And my question to you is why, because that term seems, on the face of it, a bit phony. I mean, when you talk about Camp David Accords, they happened in Camp David. The Versailles Treaty happened in Versailles. The Ghent Treaty happened in Ghent. But was these accords sort of sponsored by a guy named Abraham that we’re not aware of? Unless it’s a nom de guerre of, let’s say, the former ambassador to Israel, Mr. Friedman. So I’d like your comment on that. I have a couple of questions on Mr. Pompeo’s interview and on U.S. aid to UNRWA.
MR PRICE: Well, this question has come up a number of times in this room. Again, we are not focused on terminology, we are focused on the underlying policy, on the underlying idea behind these agreements. And, as we’ve said before, we welcome, we support the recent agreements between Israel and countries in the Arab and broader Muslim world. And we will –our goal is to build on them, to urge other countries to normalize relations with Israel, and look to expand opportunities for cooperation between Israel and its neighbors in the region and beyond.
At the same time, we have also said that even as we work to build on these agreements, to deepen them where we can, to add additional countries to the list, we also recognize that they’re no substitute for progress when it comes to the Palestinians. And so that is why we have demonstrated the President’s commitment and Secretary Blinken’s commitment to re-engage with the Palestinian people, with the Palestinian Authority, again, to meaningfully improve lives for Palestinians and Israelis alike. What we’ve said before is absolutely true: that we believe that Israelis and Palestinians should enjoy equal measures of security, of safety, of prosperity, of democracy, and, of course, of dignity. And that’s what we’re going to continue to strive to achieve as we simultaneously seek to build on these agreements.
QUESTION: Although they really are no more than transactional agreements. I mean, the UAE seems to have gotten the F-35, but I don’t want to discuss this forever. I want to ask you about UNRWA. I know that there was an interview with Philippe Lazzarini. He talked about what happened last year and so on – they were on the verge of collapse. Also, there’s a great deal of demand to look into Palestinian textbooks. My question to you: Has the State Department ever looked into Palestinian textbooks? Did you – do you do your own reviews? Because what the Israelis want these texts to do is be completely devoid of any Palestinian history, as though the Palestinians lived on Mars or some other planet.
MR PRICE: Well, we discussed this at some length as well yesterday. But what I will say is that in our communications with UNRWA, the agency has made firm commitments to the United States on issues of transparency, issues of accountability; importantly, issues of neutrality. And that’s what we’re talking about here. That commitment to neutrality includes zero tolerance for racism, for discrimination, and importantly, for anti-Semitism. Lazzarini, who was appointed, as you know, just last year, conveyed his utmost commitment to these principles, and it’s something we will continue to demand. We take this very seriously, and because we take it so seriously, it’s something that we do closely monitor.
QUESTION: So who should be the final say on these things, whether they pass or they don’t pass, they fail – on these issues that you just mentioned? Is there like an entity that you would like to designate to look into these things to make sure that in fact these textbooks have no anti-Semitism, have no racism and so on, as you suggested? Or maybe you can sponsor some sort of an entity that can look into these things?
MR PRICE: Well, again, we – our review of these is predicated on principles, and the principles that we believe in, the principles that we have insisted upon, and the principles that in turn UNRWA has agreed to adhere to, are those of transparency, accountability, and neutrality, especially when it comes to zero tolerance for racism, discrimination, and anti-Semitism. That’s what we’ll continue to monitor very closely.
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you, Ned. A quick follow up on Said question. You said that this administration wants to build on Abraham Accords, but they don’t substitute any peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. So don’t you think that that requires a plan? So the question is: Do you have a plan to boost or revive the peace talks, or are you planning to launch a plan to revive the peace talks in the Middle East? And I have other questions.
MR PRICE: Thank you for the question. It’s – what I would say, a couple things. We’ve been very clear both before the recent violence, during it, and in the aftermath of it that we are realistic about where things are between Israelis and Palestinians at the moment. I don’t think anyone in this building is of the mind that right now would be an opportune time, that the moment is ripe for direct negotiations between Israel – Israelis and Palestinians towards a two-state solution. We absolutely stand by that two-state solution as the only means to ensure Israel’s identify as a Jewish and democratic state and to fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for security, safety, prosperity, democracy, and dignity, importantly, in a state of their own. And so what we’re focused on now is an effort to lay the groundwork and to attempt to pave a road that could, over the longer term, take us to a point where it would make more sense and it would be opportune to engage in direct negotiations and to support direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians towards that ultimate goal of a two-state solution. And we’re already engaged in that.
As you’ve heard from President Biden, as you’ve heard from Secretary Blinken, we are committed to deepening our partnership, our stalwart alliance with Israel, and we have reasserted our commitment to Israel’s security, including when it comes to replenishing the Iron Dome. When it comes to the Palestinian people, we are determined – and we already have taken concrete steps – to re-engage the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority. We have done so in any number of ways, including by committing some $363 million of – including in humanitarian aid and support to the Palestinian people. As you’ve heard from Secretary Blinken in both Ramallah and Jerusalem the other week, we are also moving forward with our plan to reopen the consul general in Jerusalem as well, as a means to engage diplomatically with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority.
We believe that – over time – that our deepened partnership with Israel, that our re-engagement with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority will be able to improve lives, and on the Palestinian side, to create a sense of opportunity, a sense of confidence, a sense of hope that has not been there previously. And we are doing this not only to improve lives – although that is critically, critically important – we are doing this in an attempt to break the cycle of violence. We have made significant commitments to rebuilding and to repairing Gaza. What we don’t want to see happen is to see Hamas put the people of Gaza, to put the Palestinian people in Gaza in a position where the progress that we hope to be able to achieve in the coming weeks, months, and beyond is once again destroyed by a flare-up that Hamas precipitates.
And so that is why we are engaging with the Palestinian people; we are having discussions with Israel, as well, to try and pave a path to get us to a point where negotiations between the parties would make sense.
QUESTION: I have three quick questions on Yemen, Afghanistan, and Morocco. On Yemen, there are unconfirmed reports that Special Envoy Lenderking would replace the UN Envoy Griffiths as a UN Envoy to Yemen. So do you have any information that would confirm or deny that the Special Envoy Lenderking is being considered for such a position?
And on Afghanistan, the Afghanis will meet in Doha this week, so the question: What happened to Istanbul conference? Is there any update about that conference and whether it’s going to take part or not – take place or not?
And second and lastly, how is the U.S. following the current tension between Morocco and Spain over a couple of issues – Western Sahara immigration, some enclaves there? And in this regard, can you update us about the review towards the Western Sahara recognition, the U.S. recognition of Western Sahara as Moroccan land? And does this administration plan to honor the previous recognition of the Western Sahara as Moroccan land? Thank you so much.
MR PRICE: Well, thank you. So when it comes to Special Envoy Lenderking, we understand from the UN that there are several candidates in contention to replace Special Envoy Griffiths. Mr. Lenderking is not one of them. He will remain in his position. We are gratified and grateful that he will be able to remain here at the Department of State in his role as special envoy, a role that was created by President Biden in an effort to prioritize American efforts to seek an end to this devastating conflict, a conflict that has contributed to what was already the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. So we are gratified that Special Envoy Lenderking will be able to stay in that role going forward.
When it comes to Afghanistan, Special Representative Khalilzad recently wrapped up a four-day visit to Kabul. He was accompanied there by an interagency delegation, including representatives from the National Security Council staff, as well as from the Department of Defense, and USAID. While there on the ground, the team reaffirmed our commitment to an enduring partnership with Afghanistan and with the Afghan people, including through security, civilian, and humanitarian assistance. They met with President Ghani. They met with High Council for National Reconciliation Chairperson Abdullah, and other senior political and security leaders and affirmed that the United States would remain a partner and – with the Afghan people and would continue robust diplomatic efforts in support of peace.
He – Ambassador Khalilzad – is now in Doha, where he will continue to urge the negotiating parties to make progress in their negotiations toward a political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire. As we’ve said the other day, we are gratified that the parties have committed to returning to Doha, to engaging once again in diplomatic discussions. And Ambassador Khalizad will be there with his team to support that effort as part of our broader goal to bring about a political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.
When it comes to the relationship between Spain and Morocco and Western Sahara, we discussed this a bit yesterday. The United States is a partner to both countries. We are – don’t have anything additional to say when it comes to our recognition of the Western Sahara, however.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: One, I saw your strong statement yesterday on the situation with Navalny’s party and his supporters. I wonder if that’s a sign that that’s going to be an issue that’s brought up in the summit next week. And my second question is whether there are any plans to send Ambassador Sullivan back to Moscow.
MR PRICE: Well, let me start with your second question. We have always said that Ambassador Sullivan will return to Moscow in the coming weeks. And just as a reminder, Ambassador Sullivan returned to the United States from Moscow several weeks ago not because he was expelled, not because he was forced out of the country, but because he came here in advance of the summit. He came here to consult with members of the new administration, many of whom he had met – he had not met in person. As you recall, Ambassador Sullivan was kind enough and gracious enough to remain in his position after serving in that role during the previous administration and the Obama-Biden – and the Biden-Harris administration asked him to remain, and he very graciously agreed to do so.
But also Ambassador Sullivan had not been back here in the United States for quite some time, and had not seen his family for quite some time. So Ambassador Sullivan has been deeply engaged in the preparations for the upcoming meeting between President Biden and President Putin. He’s been deeply engaged with senior White House officials. He’s been deeply engaged with senior State Department officials here as well, and we have every expectation that he’ll return to Moscow in the coming weeks.
When it comes to the content of the summit, it will be an opportunity for President Biden to review with President Putin the totality of the relationship. And as you know, one of the issues that we consistently note is the egregious human rights situation in Moscow, in Russia, and the steps that the Russian Government has taken, including and even in recent weeks and recent days in the case of labeling Mr. Navalny’s organization an extremist organization – recent hours – to close further political space, and to restrict political space for Russian citizens, denying them in many cases the fundamental rights and fundamental freedoms that are guaranteed not only by the UN Declaration of Human Rights, but also by Russia’s own constitution.
It is of great importance to us, it is of great importance to President Biden, and I have no doubt that human rights broadly will feature in the summit, as well as the detention of various individuals, including Mr. Navalny, and of course the Americans who are being unjustly detained in Russia and who should be and who must be reunited with their families at the – as – immediately.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you keep saying that you guys want Russia to be predictable. That’s a term that we hear. What does that mean, you want Russia to be – to have a predictable policy, or to be predictable?
MR PRICE: What we want, and what we have consistently said, is that we want to see this relationship become one that is marked by stability and predictability. It has been anything but so far, and it is not because of anything that Washington has done; it is because of actions that have emanated from Moscow. And of course, we need not go through the litany here, but we have spoken in recent months to the – our concerns. The actions that Moscow has taken to threaten the American people and our partners and allies around the world, that will certainly feature in the conversation between President Biden and President Putin, as will those areas for potential cooperation, including in the area of strategic stability and where we might explore and test the proposition as to whether we can deepen cooperation in some areas, just as we’ve very clear with Moscow that President Biden will not accept a proposition, will not accept a – will not accept continuing attacks on American – the American people or our partners and allies around the world.
QUESTION: Rene Pfister with Der Spiegel. I have a question on Nord Stream 2. You issued a couple of days ago a waiver not to sanction the Nord Stream company and its CEO Matthias Warnig. And the German Government’s sees this as a sign that the U.S. Government has accepted that the pipeline can be finished, that the construction of the pipeline can be finished without further sanction.
Is this an interpretation that reflects the reality, in your view?
MR PRICE: Is it the interpretation – sorry, what was the —
QUESTION: Of the German Government. It’s the interpretation of the German Government that the pipeline can now be finished without further sanction.
MR PRICE: The fact is that our position has not changed, and we have been very clear about our position. And that is that we are opposed to the pipeline, that we view it as a Russian geopolitical project, a project that threatens European energy security, and in fact, that undermines the security of some of our close partners, including Ukraine and other countries on NATO’s eastern flank.
Our goal in all of this remains to ensure that Russia cannot use energy as a coercive tool against Ukraine or anyone else in the region. And this position is precisely why even in recent weeks the United States imposed sanctions on four Russian entities engaged in sanctionable activities under our legislation and listed four vessels as blocked property. We will continue to take action as appropriate against entities and individuals engaged in sanctionable activity to demonstrate our continued opposition to this pipeline.
In every conversation that I’m aware of between senior State Department officials, Nord Stream 2 and our opposition to it has been a feature in it. And of course, President Biden will have an opportunity to meet with Chancellor Merkel and to review our close and deep relationship with Germany. But any relationship as important and as expansive as this one is going to have areas of disagreement, and this is one of them.
QUESTION: Let me ask: Why did you issue the waiver for Nord Stream and Warnig? Why the waiver for Nord Stream and the CEO Mattias Warnig?
MR PRICE: Well, as we have said, when we took office this pipeline was over 90 percent complete, perhaps even more than 90 percent complete. And as the Secretary said on the Hill earlier this week, there’s a low likelihood of being able to prevent or to forestall the pipeline’s physical construction using sanctions. And as I said just a moment ago, we do have a very close relationship with our ally Germany. It is a relationship that is tremendously important to us. It’s a relationship that spans not only the region but a broader swath of the globe. It’s something we value.
We did not want to arrive at a situation where the pipeline was – the physical construction of the pipeline was completed while also putting our relationship with our ally Germany on footing that was perhaps less stable or undermining that relationship in any way. We feel that other tools are more appropriate to engage our German allies, including the tool of diplomacy, and that is a tool we’ve been wielding ever since this administration took office. Again, every conversation that I’m aware of that has taken place at a senior level, our opposition to Nord Stream 2 has been raised. It’s something we will continue to raise and we’ll continue to discuss, not only with the Germans but also with Ukrainians and other partners how we might be able to ensure that Russia cannot use energy as a coercive tool against Ukraine or any other country on NATO’s eastern flank.
Do you have anything on this drone attack at Baghdad International Airport yesterday? Were there any Americans injured, and was this a State Department facility?
MR PRICE: There were, as we understand it, two different attacks yesterday – one at Balad Air Force Base, an Iraqi base where there are U.S. contractors present. There was a second attack at a diplomatic facility, the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center at the Baghdad International Airport. There was no serious damage to the facilities or casualties attributable to the attacks, and an investigation is ongoing. A small number of personnel were treated and released for smoke inhalation, as I understand it. We’re still assessing those attacks and will reserve comment until we have a fuller understanding of them.
QUESTION: All right. Thanks, Ned.
MR PRICE: Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: First, I bring you back to Latin America. I mean, how would the U.S. Government define the current relation with Argentina? And in this context, I mean, President Hernandez has said many times that he would like to visit the White House, probably this year. how likely is it?
And also in this context, in a few days the president of the Chamber of Deputies of Argentina Sergio Massa is coming here for bilateral meetings. How big is his weight in the relation between both countries?
MR PRICE: Well, the United States is very happy to enjoy a positive and mutually beneficial relationship with Argentina. It’s a relationship that is rooted in shared values and shared interests. Our people, our governments, our universities, and our business communities – they all engage in reciprocal exchanges of ideas, of perspectives, information that benefits both of our people. It’s our shared commitment to democracy, our shared commitment to prosperity, to security for our citizens, and, importantly, the protection and promotion of human rights across the Americas – that’s what continues to guide our policy towards Argentina and our relationship with Argentina.
We’re really gratified by the fact that there is bipartisan support for a U.S.-Argentina bilateral relationship based on these shared values, including the importance of maintaining a democratic hemisphere and facilitating trade and tourism between our two countries. This is a consensus when it comes to Argentina, again, that we’re grateful to have witnessed span multiple administrations in both countries.
I wouldn’t want to preview any invitations or any visits that may be forthcoming. As you know, the White House has just started to be in a position to welcome visitors, but I wouldn’t want to be in a position to preview anything additional from here.
All right. Yes.
QUESTION: Just in the context of the Iranian warships, going back to the very beginning, It is this administration’s position that the UN arms embargo that had been imposed on Iran is no longer, correct?
MR PRICE: I believe it did expire last October. Nevertheless, it is in many ways a shame that an important tool was no longer available. I think at the time – and something we have taken note of and something we have tried to rectify is that when it came to issues vis-a-vis Iran, oftentimes over the past several years the United States had been at the opposite side of the table of many of our closest allies. When we came in, we recognized the utility of bringing our partners and bringing our allies along with us when it comes to Iran. That’s why we’ve been working in lockstep with our European allies and other partners in the context of the P5+1 – Russia and China, in this case – to explore the possibility of a mutual return to compliance.
QUESTION: Yeah. But even if they go back into compliance, the arms embargo would still be gone.
MR PRICE: The —
QUESTION: So anyway, my question – I raise it because you mentioned that – and I forgot to do it at the time, but you mentioned that one of your concerns would be is if they were sending weapons to malign actors, and I’m just wondering what exactly is illegal in international law about that right now, since there’s no longer any embargo stopping them or trying to prevent them or making it illegal or sanctionable for them to either buy or sell conventional weapons.
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, as we’ve said, we do have authorities available to us, including sanctions, that we would be able to leverage against any actor that enables Iran’s —
QUESTION: U.S. sanctions, but those are American. And you said as long as they’re not violating international maritime rules —
MR PRICE: Well, we have sanctions available to us that allow us to hold to account any actor that enables Iran’s ongoing provision of weapons to violent partners and proxies. That’s something we stand by.
QUESTION: Just one last thing. I just want to get you on the record on something that’s been circulating for the past couple of days. Was there ever a proposal from this administration to Turkey to deploy the S-400s in the NATO base in Incirlik?
MR PRICE: I am – our position on the S-400 —
QUESTION: I know your position on the S-400s. Was there ever a specific proposal to get them deployed inside Incirlik, from U.S. side or from Turkish side to the U.S.?
MR PRICE: The Russian – let me just state —
MR PRICE: — that Russian S-400s – and be very clear about this – are incompatible with NATO equipment. They threaten the security of NATO technology. They are inconsistent with Turkey’s own commitments as a NATO ally. We urge Turkey and we continue to urge Turkey not to retain this system. In fact, Turkey’s possession of this system triggered CAATSA sanctions under U.S. legislation.
At the same time, Turkey is a longstanding and valued NATO ally, and that is why it’s especially important to us that Turkey recognize the incompatibility of the S-400 system with its status of – status as a NATO ally.
QUESTION: Yes, but – yes.
MR PRICE: This is the message that Secretary Blinken has made. President Biden, of course, will have an opportunity to see his Turkish counterparts on the sidelines of the NATO summit in the coming days. I wouldn’t want to get ahead of that conversation, but our opposition to the S-400 system and our profound belief that it’s incompatible with Turkey’s status as a NATO ally is something we’ve repeatedly made clear to the Turks.
QUESTION: You still need an interim solution. Was this ever by this administration – because this was an idea with the previous administration, but by this administration was this ever floated as an interim solution?
MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to what the previous administration may have floated. What – and I wouldn’t want to speak to anything – to any private diplomatic discussions, but let me just say that we have never offered any indication that we are willing to accept Turkey’s possession of the S-400 system. Again, it’s incompatible with Turkey’s status as a NATO ally.
Thank you very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:09 p.m.)
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