2:35 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Thank you very much, and good afternoon, everyone. We have just a couple items at the top before we get started. We’ll start with World Refugee Day. Yesterday, of course, was World Refugee Day and I’d like to underscore the message shared by the Secretary as well as the department, a message reaffirming a commitment we have every day to alleviate the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable people through our global leadership in humanitarian assistance and diplomacy.
We stand in solidarity with refugees and we recognize the courage and resilience of the more than 26 million refugees forcibly displaced worldwide.
We also recognize the generosity of communities that host them, and the united global response of international humanitarian partners who work diligently to help them.
The United States is once again taking up the mantle of leadership on refugee resettlement, including through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, which has settled more than 3.1 million refugees since 1980.
As the world’s largest single humanitarian assistance donor – providing more than 10.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2020 globally, including for refugees – we play a crucial role in promoting and fostering the international response to displacement crises.
The United States will maintain our diplomatic efforts to promote access to international protection for people in vulnerable situations regardless of their location. We’ll be a reliable partner to address the drivers of forced displacement and instability to create conditions for people to prosper instead of fleeing for their lives.
Next, we’ll move on to Belarus. And today, the United States, in close coordination with Canada, the EU, and the UK, we have taken action to impose costs and to promote accountability on the Lukashenka regime as well as on its enablers for the forced diversion of a commercial Ryanair flight but also for the ensuing repression.
Jointly with the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, we have taken action against a total of 62 Belarusian individuals and five entities. We continue to demand accountability from the Lukashenka regime until the repression stops.
We have been very explicit about the steps that must be taken. We call for an end to the crackdown, the immediate release of all political prisoners, a genuine dialogue with the opposition and civil society as called for in the OSCE Expert Mission report, and free and fair elections with international observation.
We stand with the Belarusian people in their aspirations for a democratic, prosperous future and support their call for the regime to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
And with that, we will move on to questions.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1, then 0 on your telephone keypad.
MR PRICE: Let’s go to the line of Francesco Fontemaggi from AFP. Do we have you?
QUESTION: Hello? Can you hear me?
MR PRICE: Yes. Go ahead. We hear you, yes.
QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thank you. I wanted to ask you about the travel ban with the presidential proclamation for people coming from Europe due to COVID restrictions. I know the administration has now these working groups, but can you give us any idea of a timetable on when a decision could be made on reopening? Because Europe has now reopened to Americans who want to go to Europe. The pandemic is much more under control on both sides of the Atlantic. Vaccination is getting progress on both sides of the Atlantic. And moreover, we knew what the criterias were on the European side because they set a number of cases for 100,000 inhabitants to reopen. We don’t know what the criterias are on the American sides to reopen, so then we have no perspective.
And moreover, again, it’s not only about tourists, but it’s also about all those people who are in the U.S. with a visa who doesn’t make them residents, and even though they pay taxes, have children here, work here, they can’t go back to Europe because they can’t come back to the U.S. to work if they get stuck. So it’s much more than only tourism. It’s a lot of people in a very difficult situation. Do you have any idea when that will change? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thanks for the question. And I would start by saying that of course, we look forward to the resumption of transatlantic travel as soon as the science permits, and that’s really the key. That’s also why I’m not able to offer a precise sense of timing for when that would be. As we said all along, even before the creation of the working group that President Biden announced following the EU summit, that our decisions when it comes to travel would be guided by the science, by the best medical and expert advice from places like the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Of course, the Department of State is also engaged in this working group, but I’m not able to put a specific timeframe on it only because it will depend in large part on the course of the epidemiology, on the response to the virus around the world, developments including the impact and the presence of variants. And so the working group will take a close look at all of the factors. It will, again, make those decisions in a way that puts the health and safety not only of Americans, but all travelers, including in this case European travelers, first. And as soon as we have a better sense of when that might – when we’ll have updates or what any sort of reopening would look like, we’ll let you know.
We’ll go to the line of Jennifer Hansler, please.
QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?
MR PRICE: We can.
QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thanks for doing this. Firstly, can you tell us when Ambassador Sullivan will be heading back to Moscow, if you have a specific date?
And then separately, what are the status of the talks in Vienna? Did the Iranian presidential election have any impact on the future of those talks? And Foreign Minister Zarif said over the weekend that he expected the talks to be concluded while Rouhani is still in office. Does the U.S. share this assessment? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thanks Jenny. So when it comes to Ambassador Sullivan, he will return to Moscow this week, and that’s in part because we remain committed to open channels of communication with the Russian Government, both as a means to advance U.S. interests but also to reduce the risk of miscalculation between our two countries. And that’s precisely why President Biden thought it was so important to meet with his counterpart, President Putin, in Geneva last week.
And after such an important summit like that, we look forward to Ambassador Sullivan returning to Moscow to lead the very strong team at U.S. – at our embassy in Russia as we implement President Biden’s policy directives outlined in Geneva. And those, as we’ve discussed, include strategic stability, human rights, and ultimately, testing the proposition that we can arrive at a relationship with Moscow that is more stable and that is more predictable. I’ll also add that we’re aware of and we welcome Ambassador Anatoly Antonov’s return to D.C. I understand he returned to D.C. to take up his post within the past day or so.
When it comes to Iran, what I would say is that we will continue discussions with our allies and partners on what we’ve been aiming for this entire time, and that, of course, is a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA. As you know, the sixth round of Vienna talks adjourned on Sunday and delegations are returning to their respective capitals for consultations. That includes Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley and the delegation. I understand that Rob is currently in transit back to the United States. The timing for the seventh round has not yet been announced, but I will – I would expect the team will return to Vienna in advance of that.
Look, the broader point is that our Iran policy is designed to advance U.S. interests, and that is regardless of who is chosen as Iran’s president in a policy – in a process that we consider to be pre-manufactured. This was not a free and fair election process in which Iranians were denied their right to choose their own leaders. And when it comes to our diplomacy, we’ve always said that it is absolutely in our interests to arrive at a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA precisely because it would allow us to once again permanently and verifiably prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That was in our interests before the Iranian election. It is manifestly in our interests after the election.
And then finally, I would make the point that even though Iran will have a new president in the coming weeks, ultimately it is Iran’s supreme leader who determines Iran’s policy on a range of important issues. Iran will have, we expect, the same supreme leader in August as it will have today, as it had before the elections, as it had in 2015 when the JCPOA was consummated for the first time.
So as I said before, the seventh round of negotiations – indirect negotiations with the Iranians we expect will take place in Vienna in the coming days and we’ll remain engaged in that process going forward.
Let’s go to the line of – let’s see – Arshad Mohammed, please. Arshad, do we have you?
QUESTION: Yeah. A couple of follow-ups on Iran: You just said that you expect the seventh round of Iran nuclear talks in Vienna to take place in the coming days. Normally, that would mean within the next week. Is that right? Because you had just said that the timing had not yet been announced.
Secondly, are there any circumstances under which the Biden administration could give Iran an assurance that a future U.S. administration would not leave the JCPOA, as the Trump administration did? Unless you were to sign a treaty – and even treaties typically have exit clauses – it’s not clear to me that the Biden administration could make any such assurance. But I’d like you to be on the record on that.
And then finally, bearing in mind what the White House has said about President-elect Raisi being held accountable for human rights violations going forward, he has of course been sanctioned by the United States in the past for past such violations. Does the administration yet have any position on whether it might grant a visa to, once he’s in office, President Raisi to attend UNGA, given the U.S. host nation obligations but also given his past sanctioning? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Let me start on your last question first, Arshad. And you may have heard this from the White House, but I think it bears repeating, and that is that we strongly urge the Iranian Government, regardless of who is in power, to release political prisoners and to improve respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Iranians. We have been very consistent in that. We have also been consistent in saying that we will continue to hold the relevant Iranians accountable for the human rights abuses that take place under their jurisdiction or on their watch.
The new president will be accountable for gross violations of human rights on his watch going forward. You heard this very forcefully from the President last week in a different context but making the point that the United States of America will always stand up, we will always champion human rights, we will always champion universal values, including those we share with like-minded democracies around the world. Of course, President-elect Raisi is not even inaugurated yet. It would be premature for us to speak to any sort of travel he might undertake once he assumes that office.
When it comes to the broader point of the United States going forward, I would start by making very clear that successive administrations of both parties – although perhaps with the exception of the last – have long agreed that we must find a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear program, that only through diplomacy can we permanently and verifiably prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. It was with that understanding that the Obama-Biden administration embarked on the diplomacy that culminated in the 2015 nuclear deal. It was an arrangement that had, of course, not only the backing of the United States but also our closest allies in the world as well as important partners – in this case, the other members of the P5+1.
Those were just the parties formally involved in the negotiations. Dozens and dozens of other countries around the world – the vast majority of countries around the world – supported the JCPOA in 2015, and, of course, it was enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution that was passed by the UN Security Council.
And that is because it was an arrangement, again, that addressed a concern, a shared concern on the part of the international community. Iran’s nuclear program is not only of a challenge to us, it’s not only a challenge to Israel, it’s not only a challenge to those in the region. In some ways, it is a challenge to countries well beyond the region because a nuclear program that is unconstrained would give Iran a greater degree of impunity to take on the kind of actions that we also find so objectionable and seek to counter. We’ve already talked about human rights abuses, Iran’s support for proxy groups in the region, Iran’s support for terrorist groups, and Iran’s ballistic missile program.
And so that is why while, of course, this administration can only speak for this administration, it is not immaterial that the rest of the world has largely been behind this arrangement before. The rest of the world is largely behind a return to compliance for compliance now. And the rest of the world will, I would expect, be behind this going forward.
Once again, there is no other means to verifiably and permanently prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. There may be ways to set it back temporarily, but only through diplomacy can we achieve our goals for the duration that we need to do so. That’s why we support diplomacy, that’s why the rest of the world supports diplomacy, and that is why we hope and seek to achieve a return to compliance with the JCPOA – a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, I should say.
And just very quickly on your question about the seventh round, you’re right; the timing for it has not been announced. But as soon as we do have travel to announce for Special Envoy Malley and his team, we will be sure to let you know.
Let’s go to the line of Missy Ryan, please.
QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thanks. I just wanted also to follow up on Iran. And forgive me, my phone went out for a second, so if somebody asked this specific aspect. Can you just comment on the comments that he has made since becoming the president-elect about the – their missile program and their proxy activities being non-negotiable or sort of suggesting that they wouldn’t allow that to be part of an eventual expanded discussion? Thanks.
MR PRICE: Happy to. So President Biden, even before he was inaugurated as president, has held that his first goal is to return to a mutual compliance with the JCPOA, chiefly for the reason I was alluding to, because it is a means to permanently and verifiably prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. It is a means to verifiably ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is no longer galloping forward in ways that we have seen it during the course of the last administration and since Iran has distanced itself from the nuclear deal in recent years.
As we’ve said, every challenge we face with Iran becomes more difficult if Iran’s nuclear program is unconstrained and if Iran is able to become closer and closer to the breakout point that would allow it to build a nuclear weapon should it choose to do so in short order.
But the President has also been clear that with the return to mutual compliance he would seek to address those other areas of concern, including Iran’s ballistic missile development and proliferation and its support for terrorist groups and proxies throughout the region with follow-on diplomacy. And we are consulting closely with our allies, with our partners in the region, on ways to address this going forward. It’s very important to us that our partners in the region be a part of this.
Now, ultimately – and I made this point before – it is Iran’s supreme leader who determines Iran’s policy on a range of important issues. This is the same supreme leader who was in place in 2015; he was the same supreme leader who was in place before the election; and presumably, he’ll be the same supreme leader who is in place in August when the new Iranian president is inaugurated.
But I would make one final point, and that is that we are confident that after – if we are able to return to JCPOA compliance, from there we will have the tools, additional tools we need to address issues outside of the nuclear deal, and in fact, we’ll be better positioned than we are right now while we’re out of compliance with the JCPOA. We know that our other concerns have not gotten any better and, in fact, in many cases they have been exacerbated. But if we are able to achieve a mutual compliance, a mutual return to the JCPOA, and Iran’s nuclear program is once again constrained and subject to the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated, that will allow us – working, again, with our regional partners, with our P5+1 partners and allies in this case – to take on in a concerted and unified way the other areas of concern that we’ve spoken to.
And unified here is very important because for too many years the United States was not at the negotiating table together with our closest allies and partners. We were sitting on opposite sides of the table. If we are able to achieve that mutual return to compliance, we will have done so in lockstep, in partnership, with the P5+1, with those important allies and partners who will be so important to working with us to address through follow-on diplomacy these other areas of concern, as will our regional – as will our regional partners.
Let’s go to the line of Nick Wadhams, please. Do we have Nick? It does not sound like we have Nick.
QUESTION: I am here.
MR PRICE: Ah, great.
QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me? Hello? Hey. So just to follow up on the Iran questions, if Iran refuses to agree to enter into negotiations or follow-on negotiations on a longer and stronger deal, would that mean that the U.S. was unwilling to sign a deal to return to mutual compliance? You guys have suggested in the past that Iran would need to agree to follow-on negotiations as part of that deal, but what happens if they don’t?
MR PRICE: Yeah, thanks for the question, Nick. What I would say there is, as I just did, we have made very clear publicly but also privately that we deem the JCPOA to be necessary – necessary to once again ensure Iran’s program, nuclear program, is back in a box, once again subject to the most stringent verification and monitoring regime every negotiated. But we’ve also made the point that to us it’s insufficient. It is insufficient because we need to ensure that these other areas of concern will be able to be addressed. That includes the ballistic missile program. That includes Iran’s support for terrorist groups and for proxies in the region. It includes the human rights abuses that we’ve spoken to.
So the Iranians have no doubt about how – where we stand on the issue of this follow-on diplomacy and the need to address these other – these other areas. It will – it will not come to a surprise to them. They have heard it and they have heard it in no uncertain terms as well.
Let’s go to the line of Said Arikat. Do we have Said? It doesn’t sound like we have Said. Let’s go to the line of Barak Ravid. Operator, do we have these callers?
OPERATOR: One moment while I try to locate —
MR PRICE: Okay. Yes. Could you identify yourself?
QUESTION: Ned? It’s Barak Ravid.
MR PRICE: Yeah. Hey, Barak. Okay, great.
QUESTION: Great, thank you. I’m not sure that this is a term that was used before the State Department briefing, but the head of opposition in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, said today that Foreign Minister Lapid in his phone call with Secretary Blinken last Thursday committed that Israel will not take military action against Iran without notifying in advance the U.S. and asking for permission. Can you confirm that such a commitment was given and comment about Netanyahu’s remarks?
And second question is: What does the U.S. see as a no-surprises policy? What does it mean when it comes to Israel and Iran?
MR PRICE: Thanks very much, Barak. I wouldn’t want to – what I would say is that we issued a readout of the call between the Secretary and the Israeli foreign minister. And, in fact, the answer to your two questions is one and the same: We have an incredibly close relationship with Israel. Israel is, of course, among our closest partners in the world. We share any number of values, we share any number of security concerns, and it’s on those questions of security where our relationship has and will continue to be rock solid.
This administration is seeking ways to deepen that relationship and, in fact, that cooperation. We, as you know, have provided in the aftermath of the recent conflict assurances that the United States will work with Israel to replenish the Iron Dome, for example. This is in addition to the security assistance that successive American administrations have provided to Israel under the most recent MOU, which was signed under the Obama-Biden administration and that we are proud to stand by.
So when it comes to your question of no surprises, when it comes to the comments from the opposition leader, what I would say is that Israel is a close security partner. We share information, we work together across a range of shared concerns and shared challenges, and it is in that context that we work together and will continue to do so, again, across a wide array of mutual threats.
Let’s see here. We’ll go to Michele Kelemen.
QUESTION: Can you hear me?
MR PRICE: We can.
QUESTION: Okay, great. So first of all, just a point of clarification on the Iran story: Do you need assurances that Iran will discuss these concerns about missiles before you agree to lifting sanctions, or is that not a prerequisite?
And then on Russia, the ambassadors returning is just one of the many issues in this diplomatic relationship. Can you talk about the other issues that still need to be resolved? Who’s going to lead those negotiations? Is that Sullivan or somebody else?
MR PRICE: Thanks. So on your first question, what I would say is that for us, return to the JCPOA, a return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA is necessary, but it’s not sufficient. And it is not sufficient precisely because we do have these other areas of profound concern. I would hasten to add that if and when we are able to achieve that mutual return to compliance, we will be in a stronger position to, through diplomacy, take on these other areas that are – that have been such a challenge: the ballistic missile program, support for proxies and terrorist groups, and human rights, among others.
So we do see a return to compliance as necessary but insufficient, but we also do see a return to compliance as enabling us to take on those other issues diplomatically, working with, importantly, our P5+1 allies and partners as well as our regional partners, again, from a position of strength. If we are able to put Iran’s nuclear program back into the box, if we’re able to ensure it is once again subject to the strictest verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated, we will be able more effectively to take on these other areas of concern.
To your second question, when it comes to the outcome of the summit, of course, the President and President Putin of Russia were able to discuss a number of priority areas in a session that I think both sides described as practical, as constructive, as productive. I think it really underscored the President’s belief that there is no substitute for face-to-face diplomacy and there’s no substitute for us laying out American priorities and American values in a face-to-face setting.
There – as you heard from the President himself, as you heard from the National Security Advisor, as you’ve heard from senior State Department officials, there was a lot of ground covered during the summit with President Putin, but it is not akin to flipping a light switch with the Russian Government. It’s going to take some time to see if the areas of potential cooperation actually do produce results. In fact, I think you heard from the President himself that this meeting was about testing the proposition of whether we can achieve a more stable, a more predictable relationship. And that test will play out over the coming month – I think he said six to twelve months.
So again, I don’t think we have a dispositive verdict coming out of the meetings last week even though the sessions were practical and they were productive. As directed by President Biden, we are preparing a strategic stability dialogue with Russia. We’re in the process of scheduling the first meeting. A high-level Department of State official will lead the U.S. delegation, and we plan to discuss next steps and nuclear arms control and other strategic topics. And we’ll be guided by the principle, as you saw in the joint statement between the two countries, that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, even in periods of tension. And we are in one now. The United States and Russia can reduce the risk of armed conflict and the threat of nuclear war. This is precisely the principle that guided the discussion of strategic stability in the context of that summit.
We regularly, as you know, have diplomatic meetings with the Russian Government, and we welcome more open channels of communication between our governments, including through our respective embassies. And that’s why it was so important for us as well as for the Russians to have our ambassadors return to their respective capitals. As I said before, Ambassador Sullivan will travel out this week. Ambassador Antonov is now back in Washington.
There are a number of other areas that were touched on during the summit that will continue to be areas of discussion between the United States and the Russian Federation, a number of the priority issues – whether it was Ukraine, whether it was humanitarian access in Syria, whether it’s the fuller staffing posture of our respective embassies – those are issues that will continue to be the topics of discussion at the working level throughout our government, including in many cases being led here at the State Department.
Let’s go to the line of Nike Ching.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned, for the call briefing. My question is on Hong Kong and then on Taiwan. We took note of your comments last week on Hong Kong. I’m wondering if you had fresh comments on Hong Kong and then on Taiwan, given there are new developments. The pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily may be forced to shut down this week. How concerned is the United States on the chilling impact on media operation and democratic space in Hong Kong? Meanwhile, staffers working at Taiwan’s office in Hong Kong started leaving on Sunday after Hong Kong authorities demanded them to sign a document supporting Beijing’s “one China” claim to Taiwan. Do you have anything on that? Thank you very much.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much, Nike. As – you are absolutely right that we have spoken out very forcefully about what has and what is taking place in Hong Kong. We are – and we continue to be deeply concerned by the Hong Kong authorities’ selective use of the national security law. We’ve seen it used in appalling ways, including to arbitrarily target independent media organizations. These charges, which include, quote, “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security,” these are purely politically motivated. We are, I would say, broadly concerned by increased efforts by authorities to use this tool to suppress independent media, to silence dissenting voices, to stifle freedom of expression. All of this undermines Beijing’s own obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which, in fact is a binding international agreement. It’s an international agreement to uphold Hong Kong’s, quote, “high degree of autonomy,” what should be Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, and to protect the rights, freedoms, the universal values of all of those in Hong Kong.
And so yes, we continue to call on authorities to stop targeting the independent press, efforts to stifle media freedom, to restrict the free flow of information. It not only undermines Hong Kong’s democratic institutions, but it really does set back Hong Kong’s viability as an international business hub. We will continue to stand with the people of Hong Kong. We will continue to stand with those who are seeking to do nothing more than to exercise what should be a universal value: freedom of expression, as manifested in a free press. That is something we will always stand by.
When it comes to Taiwan, as you know, our support for Taiwan – it’s rock solid. We – as I think you have seen over the course of this administration, we’re committed to deepening our ties with Taiwan. It’s a leading democracy. It’s a critical economic and security partner. You, I think, saw our demonstration of the partnership we seek with Taiwan in the new contact guidance for interactions with Taiwan that the Department of State issued in recent weeks. That is something that is already put into practice. It provides clarity throughout the U.S. Executive Branch of how to implement our “one China” policy when it comes to Taiwan.
Of course, Beijing has continued its efforts to intimidate the people on Taiwan. We continue to stand with them. We will stand by Taiwan in the face of such intimidations, just as we will stand with the people of Hong Kong in the face of Beijing’s efforts to stifle freedom of expression and to stifle dissent in Hong Kong.
Let’s take perhaps the final question. We’ll go to Jiha Han.
QUESTION: Is my line open?
MR PRICE: Yes. Jiha, can you hear us? Well, we heard you for a moment. Why don’t we go to Soyoung Kim?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) special envoy for North Korea Sung Kim’s recent trip to South Korea. Did he try to reach out to the North by any chance? And it looks like both the U.S. and North Korea are playing kind of waiting games until one side takes a major step first. So what actions will the Biden administration take if there is no response from the North?
And just one quick follow-up question: Do you think Sung Kim will stay in both positions as an ambassador to Indonesia and then – and special envoy for North Korea for good, or it depends on the progress with the North? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thanks very much for that question. We have spoken to the outcome of our DPRK policy review. And the policy that we outlined, the resulting policy that we outlined, as you’ve heard, takes a calibrated, practical approach, but it’s an approach that’s open to and will explore diplomacy with the DPRK to make progress that achieves what we seek. And that is increased security for the United States, for our allies, and for our deployed forces.
We’ve said before that we have reached out to the DPRK in line with our policy of openness to diplomacy. We certainly hope the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach and our offer to meet anywhere, anytime, without preconditions. That is precisely what Ambassador Kim said as he – in his travel to Seoul, where he is emphasizing the fundamental importance of U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral cooperation in working toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, protecting our shared security and prosperity, upholding common values, and bolstering the rules-based international order.
When it comes to Ambassador Kim, he is actively engaged in his role as envoy for the DPRK. He is at the moment also serving concurrently as our bilateral ambassador in Indonesia. We don’t have any changes to preview or to announce, but certainly Ambassador Kim will be leading this policy effort for us. And if there is an opportunity for face-to-face or direct diplomacy with the DPRK, I expect Ambassador Kim will be deeply engaged in leading that going forward.
With that, I want to thank everyone for joining today, and we look forward to speaking to you tomorrow. Thanks very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:18 p.m.)