2:08 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. It’s been a long time. Good to see everyone.
Just one thing at the top. The U.S. Government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development, has airlifted emergency medical supplies to Maldives, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka to help save lives, stop the spread of COVID-19, and continue to meet the urgent health needs across South Asia.
In Maldives, this emergency assistance will deliver – this emergency assistance delivery will provide 600 pulse oximeters and 292,000 vital pieces of personal protective equipment to support frontline healthcare workers and people most affected by the current outbreak.
In Pakistan, this flight will bring 1,200 pulse oximeters, and 340,000 pieces of personal protective equipment for healthcare professionals on the ground.
In Sri Lanka, this assistance includes 880,000 vital pieces of personal protective equipment and 1,200 pulse oximeters to support frontline healthcare workers and others most affected by the current outbreak.
USAID is coordinating additional shipments for South Asia in the coming weeks, and we’ll have more details on that in the days and weeks ahead.
So with that, I am – just by habit I will start there.
QUESTION: I’m Matt today. On Iran.
MR PRICE: Yeah. Congratulations.
QUESTION: Thank you. On the Vienna talks, what can you tell us about the outcome of the latest round? There were signs of optimism from both the EU as well as the Iranians. Does the U.S. share that optimism that the next round could be the last?
MR PRICE: Well, we have tried to leave emotions aside. We are neither optimistic nor pessimistic about this. We’re clear-eyed. We’re clear-eyed about the stakes; we’re clear-eyed about our objectives. And ultimately our objective here is to ensure that Iran is once again subject to the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated. That’s what the 2015 JCPOA imposed. That is the benefit that it accrued to us. And of course, we have been discussing indirectly with the Iranians on the ground, via our allies and partners, the modalities by which we might re-engage in mutual compliance with the terms of the 2015 JCPOA.
Special Envoy Malley is, I believe at this moment, on his way back to Washington. You are right that the fifth round has now concluded. We’ve always said that this will be a set of negotiations that spans multiple rounds. We expect there will be a sixth. I think there’s just about every expectation there will be subsequent rounds beyond that.
The fact is that we have made progress. The past rounds have helped to crystalize the choices that Iran would need to make, the steps that Iran would need to take to resume its own compliance with the nuclear deal, the steps that it would need once again to be subject to the stringent verification and monitoring regime, the limitations on heavy water, the limitations on centrifuges, the limitations that permanently – and again, verifiably – prevents Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon. And on our end too, it has helped to illuminate for us what we would need to do, including with our own sanctions, to resume our compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.
This progress notwithstanding, challenges remain. And there remain questions as to whether there is a seriousness of purpose and a determination on the part of all parties to resume compliance with the deal. Again, that is a proposition the President has laid out; it was – is what we would like to see happen, given the benefits that are accrued to our national interest by ensuring that Iran is once again subject to these. But we’re not there yet and a ways ahead remains.
QUESTION: So after the previous round you said that it has helped crystallize, et cetera, et cetera. So what has changed in this sixth round, precisely? And would you say that there is some kind of – I don’t know if it’s a draft or a mutually agreed basis about sanctions to be lifted and actions to be taken by Iran and the only things that remains to be decided is this political decision in Tehran to sign that agreement, or there are still details on the sanctions and on the actions that have to be negotiated?
MR PRICE: Well, I would never want to say that what is ongoing in Vienna now is easy. And I think my colleague Rob Malley would take grave offense, as he rightly should, were I to say that. I will say what makes this – what is different about this set of negotiations versus 2014 into 2015 is the fact that we have a text, and that text, of course, is the text of the JCPOA. The fact is that we know precisely what would be required, at least generally, on all sides, because we have this text. And that text has been the – really the North Star as we have engaged indirectly with the Iranians.
Now even though we have a text in the form of the 2015 JCPOA, that doesn’t mean that we have all the answers. On the Iranian part, on the Iranian side, there have been now five rounds of indirect discussions about the steps they would need to take to comply, once again, with that 2015 nuclear deal. On our end, there have been discussions about sanctions that may be inconsistent with the 2015 nuclear deal, sanctions that have been imposed subsequent to the last administration’s abandonment of the JCPOA in 2018.
None of this is especially black and white; that’s what makes it so challenging in some ways. But again, the baseline document is that 2015 deal, both for us to determine what sanctions we may have in place currently that would be otherwise inconsistent with the deal, and what Iran would need to do on its part to resume its nuclear compliance.
QUESTION: You’d say that at the working level, at the Vienna talks level, there is a mutual understanding on sanctions and actions? There are still points that you disagree on?
MR PRICE: So there is a mutual understanding as to generally what would need to happen, and at the very highest levels it’s – the shorthand is compliance for compliance. Both sides are engaging in this. I can speak for our side, presumably for the Iranian side too, because they are willing to entertain the proposition of returning to compliance.
Now, obviously there are some challenges that remain. There are some hurdles that remain that we haven’t been able to overcome in those five rounds. And the cause of that are – is many, including the fact that, once again, these are indirect negotiations, these are complex issues, there is no lack of distrust between and among Iran and the other partners and allies with whom we’re working on this.
But look, I will leave it to the Iranians to answer the question as to whether they are – they have made a strategic decision about their willingness to re-engage with the Iran deal in a way that we would need to see happen were we to resume our own compliance.
QUESTION: Verify Ned. So you’re saying you are not demanding any new provisions, that what you guys signed on to back in 2015 would suffice to get back to where things were? You’re not demanding other provisions, except maybe for the sunset clause, that’s where you might have some flexibility? Is that what you’re saying?
MR PRICE: Well —
QUESTION: There would be no other demands like some countries that are – like Israel, like the Saudis and so on, are calling for?
MR PRICE: Well, what we have said is that as a necessary but insufficient step, we are looking to return to mutual compliance. We are willing to return to compliance with the deal, knowing that, again, the benefits we would accrue from Iran doing the same would profoundly be in our own national interest. I say it’s necessary but insufficient because there are follow-on steps that we would like to see from there: a longer and stronger nuclear deal to address some of the issues that you raised, and follow-on agreements that address the broader set of threats, challenges we see from the Iranian regime – support for proxies in the region, support for terrorism and terrorist groups, its destabilizing activities, its human rights abuses.
So again, right now we are focused on a potential mutual return to compliance because Iran moving closer to having the capacity to quickly develop a nuclear weapon, if it so choose, would make every single challenge we face with Iran all the more difficult. We see halting Iran’s nuclear program and rolling it back in significant, deeply significant, ways as this first line of business, because it is so important.
Now, I will also say that just as we continue with the nuclear issue, we have remained resolutely focused on the issue of Americans who are unjustly detained in Iran. At every opportunity we raise those Americans. We have done so in the context of these talks, and we will continue to do so until and unless those Americans are safely reunited.
QUESTION: Just one more. Did Malley talk with some of the other JCPOA partners about Iranian support for Hamas?
MR PRICE: I don’t know that that has – what I will say is that in Vienna, Special Envoy Malley and his counterparts have been focused on the nuclear issue. Now, as I said before, we have a number of very significant concerns with Iran. Its support for proxies, its support for terrorist groups like Hamas is certainly among them, but of course Special Envoy Malley’s primary focus in Vienna has been on the nuclear issue.
QUESTION: What guarantees can you offer Iran that any sanctions relief you give them, if there is an accord, will not simply be undone if a Republican administration comes into office in 2024? And how do you also ensure that they see the benefits of any of that relief, given concerns in the business community also that they could still face sanctions should a successor administration undo the deal a second time?
MR PRICE: Right. Well, look, what we know and is what the – what guided the previous Democratic administration as well and, in fact, guided previous administrations before that, is that the only way to permanently address Iran’s nuclear program, to permanently and verifiably ensure that Iran is never able to acquire a nuclear weapon, is through diplomacy.
And the formulation that the JCPOA struck is really, in many ways, the only formulation under the sun. It is verifiable and permanent limits on Iran’s nuclear program in return for relief of nuclear-related sanctions. Again, what we are talking about is a return to that formula, and it’s a basic formula that has been around ever since this iteration of Iran’s nuclear program has been on the table.
Now, of course, we can speak for this administration. We wouldn’t dare to speak for a subsequent administration. I think what we can say, however, is that this has been widely and broadly recognized not only by previous American administrations, but also by our allies – our closest allies, including those in Europe, around the world – but also partners with whom we share fairly little in terms of other mutual interests. The Russians and the Chinese, of course, are original signatories to the 2015 JCPOA because they too understand that this construction – verifiable and permanent restrictions and, in fact, a profound rollback on Iran’s nuclear program in return for limited sanctions relief – is not only in their interests, but in our estimation, it is certainly in our interests.
So there is an overwhelming international consensus that – on a couple fronts: Number one, that Iran’s nuclear program must not only be halted but rolled back in these important ways. And number two, that diplomacy is the way to do that on a durable and permanent basis. And number three, that this formulation, the formulation that really is quite simple in what it – in how it goes about it but is hugely meaningful in what it does for global security, that that remains on the table.
QUESTION: A new topic?
MR PRICE: Let me move it around a little bit. Yeah.
QUESTION: I have a new topic if —
MR PRICE: Yeah, sure. Anything else on Iran or —
QUESTION: Just one quickly on Iran.
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: On this follow-on agreement, is that a precondition to rejoin the JCPOA that the Iranians will commit to sitting down for this follow-on agreement?
MR PRICE: What is a precondition is that – before we turn to other matters – is that we have a compliance for compliance deal if that is, in fact, going to be achievable. And we certainly do hope that it will be achievable because, once again, it is in our interest to place these verifiable and permanent limits on Iran’s nuclear program by rolling back the progress that Iran has made when it comes to its nuclear program since 2018.
Others on —
MR PRICE: Yeah, I will – yes.
QUESTION: Yeah, Belarus. The – President Lukashenka’s government is now saying that they want to limit the American diplomats at the embassy. I wonder if you’re rethinking where to place U.S. Ambassador Julie Fisher. And then also, just if you have any comment on the ongoing repression because there have been some pretty gruesome scenes, especially yesterday in a courthouse in Minsk.
MR PRICE: Yeah. Well, you are right that today, Belarus informed the United States that it is imposing new limits on American diplomatic and technical personnel at our embassy in Minsk in Belarus. This will take effect on June 13th, just a little over a week from now.
Unfortunately, the Belarusian authorities have brought our relationship to this point through relentless and intensifying repression against their citizens, culminating, of course, most recently in something we all saw – in the outrageous forced diversion of the Ryanair flight and the arrest of the Belarusian journalist and his companion who were on that flight.
In response to these events, and as you’ve heard from the White House in recent days, the administration announced a series of actions on May 28th late last month, including reimposing sanctions, restrictions against nine Belarusian state-owned enterprises previously granted relief under a general license by the Treasury Department. We know that a sovereign, independent Belarus that respects the democratic aspirations of its citizens, their human rights, and their country’s international obligations is not only in their interests; it’s in our interests as well.
And we’re disappointed, to put it mildly, to be where we are now, but we’ll continue to work with our allies and our partners to promote our shared interests and really not only our shared values, but universal values that remain the aspirations – the unfulfilled aspirations of the people of Belarus.
Now, when it comes to Ambassador Fisher, it goes without saying that we, again, are a steadfast supporter of a free, independent, and democratic Belarus. Ambassador Fisher will be in a position to continue to support the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people, and she’ll continue to engage with them from outside of Belarus, including leaders of the pro-democracy movement, media professionals, students, and other members of civil society to express our support. She’ll also continue to engage with our allies and partners, and, of course, Ambassador Fisher has been traveling in Europe in recent weeks, and I expect she will continue to do so going forward.
QUESTION: I’d like to ask about the vaccines, on the U.S. plan to send 25 million doses globally. Twenty-five percent will go to, quote, “countries experiencing surges, those in crisis, and other partners.” Brazil is currently experiencing a surge and a huge crisis, one of the worst. Why is Brazil not among those that will receive doses from that 25 percent? And also, are those 6 million doses that are going to Latin America and Caribbean enough to share among more than 12 countries that are doing really bad?
MR PRICE: Well, let me first start by saying that the scale and the scope of the outbreak in Brazil is truly heartbreaking to see, and the United States, as we’ve said before, has and will continue to provide support to the Government of Brazil to help it recover – first staunch the outbreak and to recover from this outbreak as quickly as possible. We’ve done that in the context of non-vaccine supplies, supplies that are critical to Brazil’s health sector, public health sector. But we’re also now doing it in the context of vaccines, and Brazil is in fact receiving vaccines as a result of the announcement that came out of the White House today.
Before I get into that, let me just offer a bit more context as to how we think about this, because there has been a lot of attention placed on vaccines, and, of course, they’re profoundly important. But really this is a three-pronged strategy when it comes to how we seek to help the world and lead the world in stopping the pandemic, stopping it in its tracks, and putting the world back on track to recovery. The first is an emphasis that we have placed here at home on increasing our production domestically of vaccines, and that’s precisely why – our success in doing so – that we are now in a position where we are confident in our own vaccine supply, confident enough to be able to make this really ambitious and meaningful pledge of 80 million vaccines shared with the rest of the world by the end of June.
In parallel to that, we are also seeking to increase manufacturing capacity abroad, and we’ve spoken to that effort in a number of different contexts, including with the Quad, in the partnership that the Quad countries have developed, including in the context of India and the increased manufacturing capacity there.
And the third prong of this is what you asked about, and that’s the dose sharing, and that’s what we detailed a bit more today. Today, the announcement that the first 25 million doses would be going out, with 75 percent of those going to COVAX, the remaining 25 percent of that going directly to countries. And we arrived at that knowing that we set a goal of maximizing the use of multilateral mechanisms, particularly COVAX, to provide U.S. Government-owned vaccine supplies internationally. Our goal is to further strengthen these international institutions, including COVAX, which we know will continue to play a pivotal, indispensable role in helping the world to, one, stop this pandemic, and two, get back on the road to recovery.
Now, the 25 million doses that we spoke about today, that is only a fraction of the 80 million doses that the administration has committed to send out the door to the rest of the world by the end of this month. And as you mentioned, 75 percent will go – at least 75 percent will go through COVAX, supplying these doses to countries in need. Doing so will maximize the number of vaccines available equitably for the greatest number and for the most risk of countries around the world. And for those doses shared through COVAX, we are, in fact, prioritizing Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as South and Southeast Asia and Africa – in coordination, in that case, with the African Union. The 25 percent, we are also prioritizing a number of regions that have been especially hard hit in recent months.
Now, when it comes to those COVAX allotment, 6 million of those doses will go to Latin America and the Caribbean, as we know that the region has suffered tremendously as other regions have as well from this pandemic.
And ultimately, I would just note that we’re doing this for two reasons. One, we know that as long as the virus is spreading anywhere it is a threat to people everywhere. And in order to get this virus under control, whether it is protecting against a resurgence here in this country, whether it is protecting against flareups in other countries around the world, that we need to have global coverage and a global response.
But two, we’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do. We have the resources now from our own increased domestic production, and this is something that it’s in – sure, it’s in the interests of the American people and of the United States, but it is the right thing to do now that we are in a position to do so. And we’ll be sharing more details on that in the weeks ahead.
MR PRICE: So what we’ve spoken to today are the shares per region. And so there is a breakdown by region, but we don’t have specific dose numbers to offer per country at this point.
QUESTION: And when will the next round of vaccine distribution will be announced? Do you have a timeline for that?
MR PRICE: Well, what we said – let me make one point that this 25 million – of course, not a paltry sum – will be going out the door imminently, as soon as we can muster. Now, the distribution of vaccines, of course, it depends somewhat on the manufacturer, but it is not as simple as putting a stamp on an envelope and sending it around the world. So there are logistical challenges associated with this, but we are moving as quickly as we can in an effort to get these vaccines to their destination countries as soon as we can.
The other part of your question is that this is 25 million. There remain some 55 million doses that the administration has committed to send abroad by the end of this month, and so I expect you’ll be hearing more from us on that in the coming days.
QUESTION: These are mostly AstraZeneca, Pfizer, or Moderna? Do you know that?
MR PRICE: So what we have said is that 60 million AstraZeneca doses. And of course, those 60 million are awaiting FDA approval, with the remaining 20 million a combination of vaccines that are available here in the United States.
QUESTION: Can I have one more on vaccine itself? As the decision was taken during the Quad to increase India’s capabilities of vaccine manufacturing, can you give us a sense where we are on that and how much time it will take for India to increase its capabilities to produce more vaccines?
MR PRICE: Well, it is immensely important to us for two reasons. Number one, the increased manufacturing capacity in India, the volume of capacity that is – has potential there, has the potential to be a game changer well beyond India’s borders, and that’s precisely why this arrangement was reached and announced in the context of the Quad.
But two, it’s important to us because India has suffered immensely from the outbreak there. Virtually no element of Indian society has been left untouched by this horrible, horrible scourge. And so that is why we have – even before this announcement today, we have spoken of the focus on increased manufacturing in India but also the bilateral support that we have provided to India as a means to help the country address this. A hundred million dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars in total – half a billion dollars, I believe, 500 million – has been put towards this, including by the U.S. Government.
But also, the U.S. Government, as you may recall, Secretary Blinken, Gayle Smith, Kurt Campbell and others have led an effort to galvanize the private sector to chip in and to do so in a very meaningful way, knowing that this has to be something that, if we’re going to staunch the outbreak and the epidemic there, that we will need this partnership with the private sector, and we’ve been really gratified to see that. Together between U.S. Government contributions as well as private sector contributions, we have seen some half a billion dollars in support go to India in its time of need.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I change topics?
MR PRICE: Let me just move around a little bit. Yep.
QUESTION: I have a couple of questions about Central America. The first one is Secretary Blinken has been earlier this week in Costa Rica, and he met with the foreign ministers of the SICA. Was there any kind of agreement or compromise after seeing the situation in the region?
And the second one is while Central America is supposed to be a priority for this administration, especially in terms of the fight against corruption and improving governance and institutionality, the rule of law, but the fact is that in last – last month President Bukele in San Salvador has removed the constitutional court, in Nicaragua opposition leaders has been arrested, in Guatemala the former prosecutors against corruption has been arrested. Is the United States strategy working, failing? What is happening?
MR PRICE: Well, what I would say – let me first start with the second part of your question when it comes to El Salvador. And we said at the time, and we’ll reiterate now, that the actions by President Bukele and the Legislative Assembly, they undermine the independence of El Salvador’s judicial system as well as its attorney general. Secretary Blinken actually had an opportunity to speak to President Bukele shortly after these moves were announced on May 2nd. He placed a call to the president and made very clear that United States is deeply concerned by an effort to erode the separation of powers, and noting that the rule of law, anticorruption, taking aim at impunity – these are essential to a functioning democracy. And so we continue to look to President Bukele to restore strong separation of powers where they’ve been eroded and to demonstrate his government and his party’s commitment to transparency and to accountability to the people of El Salvador.
And now, we have – you’re right that we were just in Costa Rica for the SICA meeting, and I will tell you that the meeting focused on, in large part, at least, the patterns of irregular migration that have affected, of course, not only this country but countries in the region. But in order to – the conversation focused in large part on these very underlying issues: corruption, lack of accountability, lack of adherence to the rule of law, impunity, because these are precisely some of the most important drivers of that irregular migration.
And our goal ultimately is – and one of the – I will say that in the meeting, one of the participants, I think, put it quite well when he spoke of a right to remain, a right to remain for the people of Central America. And what he meant by that is that we, of course – I think much of the public focus has been on the flow of irregular migrants, but our goal needs to be – and our goal, this administration’s goal, in fact, is – to create a right to remain, the conditions so that the people of the region, the people of Central America need not feel that their only option is to undertake an incredibly dangerous and futile journey to the United States rather than remain in their home countries. And that’s really the focus of our approach. That is one of the focus of the President’s proposed $4 billion comprehensive regional strategy, to create that sense of opportunity for people of the region, to instill and to reinforce that right to remain.
You asked about the – some of the recent setbacks. What I would say is that this – these are challenges that won’t be solved overnight, that can’t be solved overnight. Our strategy, including the President’s $4 billion-over-four-year comprehensive vision, is one that will be developed over four years. Even in the early weeks of this administration, we’ve announced significant aid and humanitarian relief for the people of the region. Vice President Harris just within the recent days has spoken of more than $300 million that the United States is committing to address some of these challenges.
But again, these are these are longstanding issues: poverty, violence, corruption, extreme weather, climate change, and, of course, the two major hurricanes that hit the region in late 2020, and compounding all of that – and this is something that we talked about too – the severe economic downturn that COVID-19 has wrought on the region as well. So we have moved out, and it was an early priority of this administration on the part of Vice President Harris, on the part of Secretary Blinken, on the part of our Special Envoy Ricardo Zuniga to make progress on this and to do so in important ways. And we’ve done that.
But just as we do that, we know that this will be a process that will – and this will be a strategy that unfolds over time with the goal of creating better lives, creating better conditions for opportunity, and ultimately creating that right to remain for the people of Central America.
QUESTION: Is there any concrete outcome you are expecting from next Vice President Harris travel to Guatemala? I mean, because, okay, this is a long-term strategy, but something expected to happen now, or —
MR PRICE: Well, I will leave it to the White House and specifically to the Vice President’s office to speak about – to her trip. But I think just as Secretary Blinken’s travel to the SICA meeting where he met with his counterparts from the region, it will be an important signal of American engagement and our partnership with the region. And that’s really how we see this. For us, this is not just a problem to be solved; it’s a partnership. And that’s why we have made and will continue to make important investments in the future of the region, knowing that only by improving lives, only by creating that right to remain will we be able to address some of those underlying challenges.
MR PRICE: Said.
QUESTION: Can I change topics?
MR PRICE: Yep.
QUESTION: Thank you. First, I want to pay tribute to our late colleague and friend, Tejinder Singh. May he rest in peace.
MR PRICE: Thank you for that, yes.
QUESTION: Jalina graciously did that yesterday. Second, of course, the Palestinian-Israeli issue, there is a whole smorgasbord of issues and topics that are going on there. If you care to comment on the new Israeli government or potential new Israeli government, that’s your thing, but let me ask you on two issues.
MR PRICE: I assume you’re referring to President Herzog.
QUESTION: President Herzog, you already congratulated him, but I’m talking about the government, the makeup, the new government, and how are you going to deal with Israel without Netanyahu after so many years. But let me ask you two – on two issues pertaining to the Palestinians. One – I asked this yesterday, but maybe you have more input on this today – Israel is preventing cancer patients from crossing the Erez Crossing, and it’s a really critical situation. I wonder if you have any comment on that. And my second is, of course, again, on the whereabouts of Mr. Hady Amr. What is he doing? What is next on his agenda? What is – will he be doing? Is he currently in talks, in negotiations? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yep. So on your first question, we of course are familiar with these reports, and it’s something that we document in many different contexts, including we document these concerns extensively in the West Bank and the Gaza Human Rights Report. We have encouraged all parties to work together to facilitate greater freedom of movement, including for humanitarian ends. And I can tell you, of course we were just in the region less than two weeks ago now. Deputy Assistant Secretary Amr was there; he joined up with our delegation. This absolutely was a topic of conversation with our Israeli counterparts. It was a topic of conversation with our – with the Palestinian Authority. It was something we heard from members of civil society with whom we also met.
The – our goal – and you’ve heard us say this now over the longer term, but it’s something we are attempting to make demonstrable progress on in the near term – is to ensure that both Israelis and Palestinians enjoy equal measures of security, of safety, of prosperity, and of dignity. And that is an important goal in its own right. It is important for the humanitarian well-being of – for – including Palestinians. But it is also important if we are going to be able to eventually make progress towards what remains our goal, and that is a two-state solution, a two-state solution that really is in our estimation the only way to preserve, importantly, Israel’s identity as a Jewish and a democratic state while bestowing on the Palestinian people their legitimate aspirations for statehood, security, and dignity.
And so that’s why ensuring that there is ample humanitarian assistance for the people of Gaza, especially in the aftermath of the recent violence, is incredibly important to us. It is why over the course of recent weeks, and starting before that on April 7th, right here I announced more than $100 million in support for the Palestinian people. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield just before that had announced $15 million in aid – in coronavirus-related relief for the Palestinian people. All told, I believe now we have announced some $360 million in assistance for the Palestinian people, knowing that, again, if we are to be able to help make progress towards that ultimate goal of a two-state solution, we need to provide this humanitarian relief and we need to be able to do so with some urgency, given the dire situation, especially there in Gaza in the aftermath of the violence.
QUESTION: Thanks. Do you have any comment on Norway summoning the U.S. ambassador regarding spying from 2012 and 2014? And can you say what message was conveyed on behalf of the administration in that meeting?
MR PRICE: Well, what I would say is that the charge, as I understand it, did have a meeting with the Ministry of Defense. Look, these are issues that long predate this administration. In 2014, the Obama-Biden administration rolled out a new document – I won’t bore you with the full name, but PPD 28 – that really put a policy framework around these issues, and that administration made very clear that if we want to convey a message to our closest allies and partners, if we want to hear a message from our closest allies and partners, we’ll pick up the phone and we’ll talk to them. And that’s precisely how we view this.
QUESTION: On Israel.
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on this new coalition government which is trying to – well, which will have to go through a vote in the Knesset without Netanyahu? What would it change for the U.S. policy, including defense assistance to Israel? And also, do you have any worry about Netanyahu reported effort to try to undermine this transition of power or to try to stop it or prevent it in either way? And have you shared any message that you want to – Israel to keep on with its peaceful tradition of peaceful transition of power?
MR PRICE: I think there were three or four parts to your question. I’ll answer one of them. The – regardless of what happens – and obviously, we’re not going to speak to government formation while it’s in process. Regardless of what happens, regardless of what government is in place, our stalwart support, our ironclad support for Israel will remain. You have heard from President Biden, you’ve heard from Secretary Blinken of that commitment in recent days, including when it comes to replenishment of the Iron Dome. Nothing about that will change, even if there is a change in government.
QUESTION: So you agree with – there is I guess a proposal for a billion dollars for replenishing the Iron Dome. I think it’s been proposed by bipartisan group of legislators, like Lindsey Graham and others and so on. You approve of that?
MR PRICE: So what —
QUESTION: Is that happening? I mean, is that – are you doing —
MR PRICE: What the President has said is the United States will support the replenishment of the Iron Dome. We haven’t spoken in more detail. I know there’s a proposal that has been floated, but our commitment to the Iron Dome, knowing that the Iron Dome saves untold number of Israeli lives from the indiscriminate rocket attacks fired by Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza in recent weeks – it is an indispensable tool for the safety and security of Israelis. Again, we are talking about equal measures of safety and security for Israelis and Palestinians, and on the Israeli side, the Iron Dome is an important element of that equation.
QUESTION: So today, the Secretary – Secretary Antony Blinken – either met or already met or is meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz. I assume that they will be discussing all these issues. Will they also be discussing a long-term quiet or truce between Gaza and Israel?
MR PRICE: So I expect we’ll have a readout of this meeting. It took place this morning, and we’ll have a bit more detail to share. But I think what you will hear is that the meeting focused, one, on our security – on our commitment to Israel’s security, on our belief that Israel has a right to defend itself. But also I expect you will see a focus on some of the issues we’ve talked about: the humanitarian efforts to provide important humanitarian relief and assistance for the humanitarian recovery in Gaza.
And ultimately, we know that only if we are able to offer – again, in equal measures – a sense of opportunity, a sense of dignity, of security and democracy to Palestinians and Israelis will we able to break this cycle of violence. What we don’t want to see happen is for Gaza to be rebuilt with – in – with significant assistance from the United States and the international community only to see this occur in the coming weeks, months, or years. And so that’s why yes, we’re focused on the near term, but we’re also focused over the longer term on breaking that cycle of violence.
QUESTION: I was wondering if you have any updates on Special Envoy Feltman visit to Gulf and Kenya. And I was wondering if you are considering – if the U.S. is considering being – working on a mediation regarding the dispute over the Ethiopian Grand Dam?
MR PRICE: Well, as we’ve said before, we continue to support collaborative and constructive efforts by the parties – in this case, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan – to reach an arrangement on the GERD. We understand the importance of these waters to all three countries, and we continue to encourage a resumptive – the resumption of productive dialogue on the GERD under the auspices of the AU.
You’re right that Ambassador Feltman is in the broader region now. I expect we’ll be able to give you more detail on his travel upon his return.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up. Are you relying more on the African Union efforts and ideas regarding the dispute over the Grand Dam?
MR PRICE: Well, we know that the African Union is an important forum for conflict resolution, for mediation. We see ourselves as a partner not only to these three countries, but also to the African Union. And so we’re working very closely with the African Union in an effort to bring the parties together and to make meaningful progress towards a resolution of this dispute.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan, there’s a new UN report today that says the Taliban remains close with al-Qaida; despite efforts to mask their ties, they still have a close connection. Given the unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops, what’s to stop Afghanistan from falling to the Taliban, to becoming a haven for terrorism after the U.S. withdrawal? And do you have any update on efforts to get SIV applicants out of the country?
MR PRICE: Well, on your first question, we are – we absolutely have not taken our eye off the terrorist threat, far from it. And as we have said in the context of announcing our – the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, we will have the means to detect a re-emergence of a terrorist threat to the homeland from Afghanistan, and to take action should that occur. We’re going to reposition our forces and our assets to make sure that we guard against this potential re-emergence, and we’ve spoken of the over-the-horizon options.
Under the agreement, the Taliban committed not to allow al-Qaida or other terrorists to threaten the security of the United States or our allies from Afghan soil. We are going to hold them to that commitment. Our ultimate goal is an Afghanistan that finds an end to four decades of conflict through a just and durable political settlement. And in that situation, in that environment, terrorism is less likely to emerge. That’s why we continue to support the peace process and to encourage the parties to come together. And we were heartened to see in recent days that the negotiating teams are returning to Doha, and we’ve urged them to focus on the key issues surrounding a political settlement and permanent, comprehensive ceasefire. We know that this is a really pivotal moment for Afghan leaders and the Taliban to come together and to take responsibility for the future of the country.
We’re also committed to the peace process because of the knowledge that the world will not accept in Afghanistan – the world will not accept the establishment in Afghanistan of any government imposed by force. That’s why our focus is on diplomacy. That’s why we’re heartened to see the parties coming back together in Doha.
When it comes to SIVs, we’ve said this before, but we understand and we recognize that we have a special commitment and a special responsibility to the many Afghans who, over the years, have at great risk to themselves and even to their families – have assisted the United States in our efforts in Afghanistan. We are always seeking ways to improve the SIV process while ensuring the integrity of the program and safeguarding our national security and affording opportunities to these Afghans.
We’ve identified process improvements and directed additional resources to the program, including augmenting staff here in Washington to process applications. It’s – and I mention that because it’s worth noting that much of the processing of applicants at the chief of mission stage occurs not in Kabul but here in Washington. And the team has significantly increased its staffing in recent months. We’ve also approved a temporary increase in consular staffing at our embassy in Kabul to conduct interviews and to process visa applications, which allowed the embassy to address cases that were delayed due to COVID-19 staffing reductions and related closures.
You also heard last week, I believe it was our deputy secretary for management and resources, in speaking to the budget, that we have requested an additional 8,000 SIV funding for – an additional 8,000 Special Immigrant Visas from Congress. And of course, we know that it’s not only the department, it’s not only the Executive Branch that is deeply, deeply committed to this program, but again, we are heartened to know that we have a partner in Congress, and a Congress that is very focused, just as we are on this program as well.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that? Is there – are there any plans for evacuating people or doing this processing in a third country where it’s safer?
MR PRICE: So what’s important – and again, I think it’s important to understand is that even as we withdraw militarily, our commitment to the government, and in this case, the people of Afghanistan will remain; our diplomatic facility in Kabul will, even after the September deadline for troops to be – U.S. military forces to be out of the country, our embassy will remain, will be able to continue processing. And we will do that as quickly and efficiently as we can, knowing, again, the special responsibility that we have to these brave Afghans.
Thank you. We’ll do one more.
QUESTION: Thank you. A court in Myanmar on Wednesday jailed two journalists for incitement and spreading false news, their organizations said. What’s the U.S. doing to secure their release, and has anyone been able to visit them?
And if I may, EU’s Foreign Affair Chief Borrell said today that the EU will impose a new round of sanctions on Myanmar’s military junta and its economic interests in the coming days. Will the – is the U.S. planning a coordinated announcement?
MR PRICE: Well, you didn’t ask about this precisely, but let me also take an opportunity to note that we are deeply concerned over the detention of U.S. citizens Daniel Fenster and Nathan Maung, both of whom were working as journalists in Burma. We’ve pressed the military regime to release them both immediately – to release both of them immediately. And we’ll continue to do so until they are allowed to return safely to their families.
And this gets to your broader question. Free and independent media is indispensable to building prosperous, resilient, and free societies. We have seen the junta in recent days attempt to stifle freedom of expression, freedom of assembly. And they do that knowing that only by suppressing the will of the Burmese people might they be able to retain some semblance of control. And so we will continue to press for the release of journalists who are detained in Burma. We will continue to press for the release of these two Americans. Our consular officers most recently conducted a virtual visit with Nathan Maung on May 24th. We have also sought to visit Daniel Fenster, but we haven’t been afforded access to him by regime officials.
So as we attempt to ensure the secure – the freedom of these journalists, we will be pressing the case for all journalists who are wrongfully detained in Burma for doing nothing more than their job, and ultimately knowing that their job is the – protecting the freedom of expression in – of the people of Burma.
QUESTION: So super quick —
MR PRICE: Yeah.
MR PRICE: So the announcement today was grouped by region, and we spoke of broad allocations to regions. There were, I believe, 6 million doses going to the region. But we haven’t spoken in terms of allocations to countries.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:05 p.m.)
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