1:37 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Thanks very much. Before we get to your questions, we just have one thing at the top today.
This week the department welcomes teachers and educators to a virtual edition of our annual Global Teaching Dialogue, featuring opening remarks from Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry. This event draws approximately 500 educators from a diverse spectrum of communities across the country and some from overseas. It provides strategies and methods to connect students of all subjects and grade levels to the global challenges we face – like climate change, migration, or human rights issues.
The dialogue also showcases resources, such as online courses for teachers and study abroad opportunities that teachers and students can access from anywhere. Alumni of the department’s Teacher Exchange Programs and other global education leaders will show how integrating global issues has improved their teaching and inspired students to expand their horizons. We encourage teachers to learn about our Fulbright Teacher Exchanges and related resources at the U.S. Department of State through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
With that, we will turn to your questions. Why don’t we start with Michele Kelemen?
OPERATOR: Ms. Kelemen, your line is open.
QUESTION: Oh, sorry. I didn’t – thought I just got myself into the queue. Apologies. I just wonder, there are some websites, including Iran’s Press TV, that says that they’ve been seized by the U.S. Government. I don’t know if that’s a hacking thing or if it’s real, and I just wonder if you have anything to say about the U.S. Government’s responsibility with that. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thanks for the question, Michele. We don’t have anything to say on that from here. I do understand the Department of Justice will be able to provide some information on that shortly, so I would refer you to the Department of Justice.
We’ll go to the line of Nike Ching.
OPERATOR: Ms. Ching, if you could please to press the * – I mean the 1,0.
MR PRICE: I’m sorry. We’re having some technical difficulties. Let’s go to the lines of Jiha Ham.
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thank you for doing this. I hope you can hear me well today.
MR PRICE: I can, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Good. I’d like to ask your comment on the statement released by Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader. She yesterday rejected the administration’s hopes that North Korea could respond positively. If North Korea decides to act not in the way you hope to see, what can you do?
Also the South Korea’s foreign ministry said that the U.S. and ROK have agreed to terminate a joint working group on North Korea. This is a channel between the two countries to discuss sanctions and inter-Korean project. Can you confirm this? And if so, how are you going to coordinate or enforce sanctions with South Korea? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thanks for those questions. Let me start with your second, and it’s a critically important one, because coordination with the ROK – trilateral coordination among the ROK and Japan, it’s really indispensable to our approach to the DPRK, and to the threat that it poses to the United States, as well as to our treaty allies in this case, and that’s precisely why Ambassador Sung Kim, our special envoy for the DPRK, is in Seoul at the moment, where he is coordinating with our South Korean and Japanese partners on this very issue.
On the issue – on the working group, what I would say is that consultation and coordination with allies, including the Republic of Korea, is a key part of the implementation of our DPRK policy. We will continue this engagement. It is most certainly not ending, far from it. And we’ll continue it through a variety of diplomatic mechanisms at all levels of our government. We’re constantly looking for ways to strengthen our cooperation as we work towards what is the end goal of the policy that we have put forward, and that is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Whatever we label, any diplomatic mechanism, we’re committed to that close and constant coordination with the ROK and also, as appropriate, with Japan and of course trilaterally with the ROK and Japan together.
When it comes to the comments you mentioned emanating from North Korea, we’ve seen them; we’re aware of them. They have not changed our view on diplomacy. We remain prepared to engage in principal negotiations with the DPRK to deal with the challenge of its nuclear program. You heard from Ambassador Kim the other day of our offer to meet anywhere, anytime, without preconditions. We continue to hope that the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach, and we’ll have to wait and see if these comments are followed up with any more direct communications about potential paths forward.
Again, our policy is not aimed at hostility; it’s aimed at solutions. And it’s ultimately about achieving the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And to do that, it takes a calibrated, practical approach it’s open – that’s open to and will explore diplomacy with the DPRK to make progress that above all increases the security of the United States, of our allies, of our deployed forces as well.
So we will go on to the line of Tracy Wilkinson, please.
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you. Ned, sorry I missed the top, so forgive me if you – if this came up. But I was wondering if there’s any comment on the latest developments in Nicaragua, where the Ortega-Murillo people have arrested even more potential opposition candidates, and if you’re encouraged Mexico and Argentina did not go along with the OAS condemnation, but now have recalled their ambassadors. So do you see any movement in the sort of international efforts to build some kind of coalition against that government? And again, any comment on the latest? Thanks.
MR PRICE: Sure. Thanks. Thanks, Tracy. So just generally, we continue to call on President Ortega and the Nicaraguan Government to immediately release presidential contenders Cristiana Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, Felix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastian Chamorro, and Miguel Mora, and other journalists, civil society, and opposition leaders arrested in the current wave of repression. We condemn this ongoing campaign of terror in the most unequivocal terms, and consider President Ortega, Vice President Murillo, and those complicit in these actions responsible for their safety and for their well-being.
We were – to your second question, we were very pleased that 59 countries joined together at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to condemn the harassment of journalists and call for the immediate release of the political prisoners. The international chorus condemning Ortega – Ortega and Murillo’s actions, it grows louder every day. And with the strong June 10th EU declaration on behalf of the EU 27, the overwhelming vote in favor of the June 15th OAS resolution you mentioned, which was supported by 26 OAS members, and the Human Rights Council statement signed by 59 countries, over 79[i] countries in the region and around the world have made clear that Ortega and Murillo’s actions are unacceptable.
In response to these arrests and due to Nicaragua’s failure to implement electoral reforms called for by the OAS and backed by the Human Rights Council, we imposed sanctions on four members, you’ll recall, of the Ortega regime. As those sanctions demonstrate, there are costs for those who carry out repressive acts on behalf of President Ortega and Vice President Murillo, and the United States will continue to use all diplomatic and economic tools at our disposal to support Nicaraguans’ calls for greater freedom, for greater accountability, as well as for free and fair elections.
We’re alarmed, of course, by the events of the past few days and the past few weeks, but the courage of the people of Nicaragua is admirable, even if it is an equally heartbreaking ordeal for the people affected. You mentioned the OAS resolution; the June 15th vote did, in fact, send an overwhelming signal and a very clear message of support for the Nicaraguan people and for their fight for free and fair elections, respect for human rights, and for accountability. But again, the OAS vote was just one element of the signal that we’ve seen from countries around the world and in the region in recent days, and we’ve been gratified that countries are speaking with moral clarity. They’re speaking up firmly, they’re speaking up loudly, and in some cases, as we have, taking action in response to the repression that we’re very clearly seeing in Nicaragua over the past days and weeks.
We will go to the line of Conor Finnegan, please.
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hey, can you hear me?
MR PRICE: Yes, we’ve got you.
QUESTION: Great. So, Ned, I’m just wondering if you can provide an update on the administration’s efforts to promote a peace process for Afghanistan. With more than 50 districts now in Taliban hands since the President announced the U.S. military withdrawal, do you still believe that the Taliban is not interested in seizing power through force, as Ambassador Khalilzad has testified before previously? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thanks, Conor. We continue to call for an end to the ongoing violence that has been driven largely by the Taliban. We continue to believe the negotiated settlement between the Islamic Republic and the Taliban is the only way to end 40 years of war and to bring Afghans the peace they seek. We urge the sides to engage in serious negotiations to determine a political roadmap for Afghanistan’s future. That leads to what we have consistently called for, and that’s a just and durable political settlement.
What we know to be true – and you’ve heard this from Ambassador Khalilzad; you’ve heard this from Secretary Blinken and from others – is that the world will not accept the imposition of force by force of a government in Afghanistan. Legitimacy and assistance for any Afghan government can only be possible if that government has respect for human rights, if that government has credibility, if that government has legitimacy, including in the eyes of its own people.
We, for our part, will continue to support the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces; it’s a strong, standing force of more than 300,000 Afghan personnel. While our support will transition, as you’ve heard from the President, we’ll continue to provide security assistance to the ANDSF.
But most importantly and above all we will continue to support the diplomacy, the process of diplomacy, that remains ongoing. As you know, the parties not all that long ago agreed to resume discussions in Doha. We’ve continued to support that process. We’ve been gratified by the support, the constructive support, of the many friends of Afghanistan that have been engaged in one way or another in our efforts in Afghanistan in supporting these negotiations, and we’ll continue to support that process going forward in effort to arrive at that just and durable political settlement.
Let’s go to the line of Missy Ryan, please.
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
QUESTION: Oh, hi, Ned, thank you. I just wanted to follow up on the last question and ask a related question. The related question is: Could you tell us what the State Department participation or role is going to be in the visit on Friday from Ghani and Abdullah? And if you could just speak to – understanding that the State Department and Ambassador Khalilzad are trying to support the political process, can you just talk about how the current offensive and the deteriorating security situation affects the strategy for trying to get the – a substantive peace negotiation underway in earnest? Thanks.
MR PRICE: Yeah. So on the first part of your question, as you know, the White House announced over the weekend that President Biden looks forward to welcoming President Ghani to – Chairman Abdullah to the White House on June 25th, this Friday.
Their visit is illustrative of the enduring partnership between the United States and Afghanistan, as we’ve consistently said. Even as our military presence in Afghanistan comes to an end, the partnership between our governments, and critically, the partnership between our peoples and the support that we will continue to offer for the Afghan people will remain. And we are deeply committed to providing diplomatic, economic, humanitarian assistance to support the Afghan people, including, of course, Afghan women, girls, and Afghanistan minorities.
We’ll remain deeply engaged with the Government of Afghanistan to do all we can to see to it that the country never again becomes a safe haven for terrorist groups who pose a threat to the U.S. homeland. And as I said before to Conor, we continue to fully support the ongoing peace process and encourage all Afghan parties to participate meaningfully in those negotiations to bring an end to the conflict. We’ll have – I expect the White House will have more details on what that visit will look like later this week, but of course, the State Department, through Secretary Blinken, through Ambassador Khalilzad and his team, have been at the forefront of what we know must continue, and that is the diplomacy to bring about that just and durable political settlement.
Of course, the violence – the levels of violence have – and we said this repeatedly – have long been too high. The violence must cease. We know that the Taliban is responsible for much of the violence that we have seen in Afghanistan in recent days and recent weeks. But the point remains that any government that – or any entity that seeks to establish rule at the barrel of a gun or with the use of force will never be able to have credibility, will never be able to have legitimacy, will never be able to have the relationships and the assistance that comes with that that any durable, viable government in Afghanistan would need.
And so that is why we have continued to prioritize that diplomacy, doing that in Doha where the parties have recently recommitted to that dialogue. And even in the face of this violence, we’re continuing down that path, knowing that it is the only means to ensure a just and durable settlement to this conflict that has gone on for too long and claimed far too many Afghan lives.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can you hear me?
MR PRICE: We can, yes.
MR PRICE: Hey, yes.
QUESTION: Okay, great. Thank you, Ned. Sorry about yesterday. Very quickly, Ned, on the issue of the vaccine, the Palestinian Authority turned back the Israeli vaccines last week because they were close to expiration. I wonder if you have any comment on this. And also, you guys gave 2.5 million, I think, vaccines to Taiwan a couple of days ago, which is great, but there are probably – how do you determine which country needs what? What is the level of urgency?
And second, if you have any comment or if you have anything to tell us about the timetable as far as reopening the PLO office here in Washington and reopening the consulate in Jerusalem. Thank you, Ned.
MR PRICE: Thanks very much. So on the vaccine agreement between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority, we would need to refer you there for further information. This was a bilateral arrangement. What we would say is that we encourage them – both parties, the Israelis and the Palestinians – to do whatever they can to maximize vaccinations of Israelis and Palestinians. And we say that knowing that it is crucially important that we continue to both facilitate, to lead, to support a global effort to see to it that as many people around the world are able to be vaccinated as quickly as possible.
It is in our national interests, knowing that as long as COVID-19 is uncontrolled anywhere, it is a threat to people everywhere, including Americans at home, but also knowing that it’s just simply the right thing to do. And, of course, you’ve heard from the White House and the State Department in recent hours, even, regarding the details of our leadership on this. And yesterday we spoke to the allocation of the remaining 55 million doses of the 80 million doses that the President announced would be allocated by the end of this month.
When it comes to your question as to how we allocate those vaccines, of course, 75 percent of them go through COVAX and we work in partnership with COVAX to determine the recipient countries there; 20 percent will be targeted for regional priorities and recipients, and in doing so we look at a variety of factors. Those include case rates, death rates, hospitalizations. It includes current vaccination rates in a particular country. It includes responses to surges that may be ongoing. It includes a country’s ability to receive vaccines and to put shots in arms. And it includes U.S. national and economic security.
In all of this, I think the point remains that we are not doing this as a means to secure political favors or concessions. We are seeking to put shots in arms, not to twist arms. And that applies around the world with our vaccine distribution effort.
When it comes to the consulate general in Jerusalem, as the Secretary noted, we are moving forward with the process of reopening the CG in Jerusalem. I don’t have a timetable to offer you at this time, but it is something that we are working on, as we have discussed, with our Israeli and Palestinian partners, both when we were in Israel the other week and in continued discussion since.
Let’s go to the line of Nike Ching, please.
And separately, on Ethiopia, do you have a fresh comment on the Ethiopia elections? And separately, there are reports of an American election observer who was found dead in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, in a hotel room. And if you have anything on that, that would be great. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thanks, Nike. So we did cover the reports that are appearing now at the top. For that, I would point you to the Department of Justice. I understand they will have more information to add in – later today, certainly.
When it comes to Ethiopia, what we know is that the June 21 elections will not resolve the nation’s increasing conflicts. They must be part of a broader political process that involves dialogue, cooperation, as well as compromise. And we urge all Ethiopians to commit to an inclusive political dialogue that strengthens democracy and helps to resolve inter-ethnic and inter-communal conflicts.
We know that numerous inter-ethnic and inter-communal conflicts are placing Ethiopia’s national unity, its stability, its territorial integrity at risk. And the flawed June 21 elections, as I said before, won’t change that and it won’t resolve those issues. And we urge politicians, community leaders to reject violence and to refrain from inciting others to violence. All political actors – all political actors – and community leaders should seek to resolve grievances through negotiation, through dialogue, and recognized nonviolent dispute resolution mechanisms.
The period following these elections will be a critical moment for Ethiopians to come together to confront growing divisions. Political leaders must commit to an inclusive dialogue that can address these challenges and find a path to a brighter future. As we have always been, we stand ready to assist and we stand with all Ethiopians working towards a peaceful, democratic, and secure future for their country.
When it comes to the death of a – reported death of a U.S. citizen, sadly, we can confirm the death of a U.S. citizen in Addis Ababa. Out of respect for the privacy of the family, we’re not able to offer anything further at this time, however.
Let’s go to the line of Michel Ghandour, please.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) for the conference call. I have two questions, one on Iran and one on ISIS. Will the elections of President-elect Raisi affect the talks in Vienna? And Raisi has said that the missile program is not negotiable, if you have any comment on that.
And what is the U.S. position towards ISIS foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq?
MR PRICE: Thank you very much for the questions, Michel. We – look, our Iran policy, it is designed to advance U.S. interests, and that is the case and will be the case regardless of who sits at the helm as president in a process that we have called premanufactured. We will continue with the diplomacy in Vienna. Of course, the sixth round just concluded, and we expect the seventh round – while the timing has not been announced, we expect to participate in a seventh round, chiefly because it is manifestly in our interest to once again see to it that Iran is permanently and verifiably prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
That was just as much in our interest before the elections as it is after the elections. And I’d also note that the key decision maker in Iran is the same person today as he was before the elections, as he was in 2015 when the JCPOA was consummated for the first time, and in January of 2016 when the JCPOA was implemented for the first time.
So we will continue in close coordination with our P5+1 allies, our P5+1 partners as well, to pursue what’s in our national interest, what is in their and our shared collective interest, and that is an Iran that is permanently and verifiably prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
When it comes to the recent statements emanating from Tehran about the missile program – we’ve discussed this yesterday as well – the President has always said that our goal is first to return to the mutual compliance with the JCPOA. But we have consistently said that a return to the JCPOA, while it’s necessary, it is not sufficient because we do have other areas of concern, and that includes Iran’s ballistic missile development and its missile proliferation. And we will consult closely with our allies and partners, including crucially our partners in the region, on ways to address this moving forward.
And in fact, we are also confident that after – if and when – we are able to return mutually to JCPOA compliance, will actually have additional tools to address issues outside of the nuclear deal; that is to say, issues that were never intended to be covered by the nuclear deal. We know that as Iran has distanced itself from the nuclear deal, as it has galloped forward with its own nuclear program, our other concerns have not gotten any better; and in many cases, they have actually gotten worse, and whether that includes Iran’s support for proxies, for militants in the region, its support for terrorists. When we are and if we are able to achieve a mutual return, we will have done so together with those P5+1 allies and partners.
We’ll continue to once again be seated on the same side of the table as opposed to the opposite side of the table with our key partners and allies. And we’ll be able – again, in concert with them, in concert with our regional partners as well to address these other concerns, knowing that first and foremost we want to ensure that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon and then work to address these other concerns.
When it comes to foreign fighters in various regions, as you know, the Secretary will be co-hosting a D-ISIS ministerial in Italy. This will be early next week. We’ll have a chance to speak to that issue broadly and a chance to bring together many in the important countries that form a part of the D-ISIS coalition to speak to this and to speak to the other important matters in the broader campaign.
Okay, I think we will call it there. As I think you all know, we are departing today for Berlin to start what will be about a week visiting Germany, France, and Italy for important bilateral and multilateral engagements. We’ll have updates from the road, and we will look forward to speaking with you then. Thanks very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:06 p.m.)