Department Press Briefing – June 9, 2021
2:11 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Good to see everyone. A few things at the top.
The United States calls on President Daniel Ortega and the Nicaraguan government to immediately release presidential candidates Cristiana Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, Felix Maradiaga, and Juan Sebastian Chamorro, as well as other civil society and opposition leaders who have been arrested over the past week in an increasing wave of repression.
The United States condemns these actions in the most unequivocal terms and holds President Ortega, and those who carry out his authoritarian orders, responsible for their safety and wellbeing. The regime’s repressive actions, including a number of arrests even last night, have sent independent journalists, activists, and student leaders into hiding for fear of reprisals.
In response – and we just announced this, the Department of Treasury – the United States is imposing sanctions on several members of the Ortega regime who are complicit in the regime’s repression, and that includes for its failure to implement the electoral reforms called for by the Organization of American States and the UN Human Rights Council. Today, the United States announces sanctions on Camila Ortega Murillo, an advisor and daughter of Daniel Ortega; Leonardo Ovidio Reyes Ramirez, the President of the Central Bank of Nicaragua; Julio Modesto Rodriguez Balladares; a military general, and Edwin Ramon Castro Rivera, a National Assembly deputy. As these sanctions demonstrate, there are costs for those who are complicit in the regime’s repression. The United States will continue to use diplomatic and economic tools against members of the regime engaged in this wave of repression.
QUESTION: Good accent, by the way.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Mike Hammer (inaudible).
MR PRICE: I just had a chance to see Ambassador Hammer. He will be – I’m very flattered you compared me to him.
The United States condemns in the strongest terms the senseless killings – killing of at least 160 civilians, including children, in Burkina Faso on the night of June 4-5. We stand with our Burkinabe partners in the fight against violent extremism. We extend our sincere condolences to the families of the victims of this heinous attack, and we call for those responsible to be held accountable.
And finally, we condemn in the strongest terms today’s horrific attack in Baghlan, Afghanistan, which killed ten and injured at least 16 humanitarian deminers with the international NGO The HALO Trust. The HALO Trust has conducted demining operations in Afghanistan for many years now – essential work that benefits all Afghans. As Ambassador Wilson said, “mine clearers are the bravest of the brave” and they risk their lives to make Afghanistan a safe place where all people can prosper. We offer our condolences to all those affected and call for an immediate investigation into this heinous attack.
So with that, we’ll turn to your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I have a couple that relate to testimony that the Secretary gave over the course of the last couple days, but I’ll split them up and I’ll just do one at a time, and let others – so let’s just start with Nord Stream 2. It was not exactly a pleasant time for the Secretary on Nord Stream 2 – his testimony, his hearings. He got pretty much roundly criticized by both – people on both sides of the – lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for the last round of sanctions and the waivers.
In response to that criticism, he made the same point that – he made the same points and said that you don’t want to poison the well with Germany for something that’s a fait accompli, and then noted, as I think you have done as well, that the Germans have already come to the table with a proposal. I’d like to know what your understanding of the German proposal is, because my understanding of it is it is exactly the same thing that they offered two years ago. That would be reverse flows of gas into Ukraine, payments to Ukraine – and not insignificant payments to Ukraine to make up for the loss of revenue – and also a snapback measure or a shutting off of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if it is determined that Russia is using energy as a political weapon.
So I – is your understanding of what the Germans have come – the German proposal, is it any different than that, and if it’s not, it’s a two-year-old offer. It has nothing to do with the waiver or poisoning or non-poisoning of the well.
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, let me start with our overall goal, and you’ve heard this from us before, but it bears repeating because this is something for which there is actually great bipartisan agreement, including in the halls of Congress. And our goal remains to ensure that Russia cannot use energy as a coercive tool against Ukraine or anyone else in the region. And that’s why our position on Nord Stream 2 has been clear and very consistent over time. It is a Russian geopolitical project that threatens European energy security and undermines the security of Ukraine and the eastern flank NATO Allies and partners.
And so that is why, including most recently in May, we have continued to assess potentially sanctionable activity and to impose sanctions as a result of that. Last month we imposed sanctions on four Russian entities that engaged in these sanctionable activities under PEESA, and we listed four Russian vessels as blocked property. We also listed as blocked property nine vessels belonging to the Russian Government’s Marine Rescue Service, all of which are part of the Nord Stream 2 construction fleet. This, in fact, was the largest sanction action taken to date in an effort to stop Nord Stream 2.
QUESTION: Hold on a second. I understand all that and I know that that’s what the talking points are, but the fact of the matter is is that the Secretary said that it was a fait accompli, it’s going to be done anyway. So you’re not really trying to stop it with these sanctions. If you were, you wouldn’t have issued the waivers. And when you say that there is great bipartisan agreement on Nord Stream 2, that is precisely the reason why there was great bipartisan – excuse me – great bipartisan criticism of the Secretary’s decision that he heard personally from Democrats and Republicans over the course of the last two days on the Hill.
MR PRICE: What you heard yesterday from the Secretary is that the pipeline, by the time this administration took office, was about 90 percent complete, more than 90 percent complete. And so, yes, as the Secretary said yesterday, the physical construction of the pipeline would be difficult to impede. Our goal remains the same, though, and that is to ensure that Russia cannot use energy as a geopolitical tool against Ukraine or any other country in the region. And there is great bipartisan agreement on that.
Sanctions are one tool. They are an important tool, and we have used sanctions to good effect, including last month in the largest sanctions ever announced in the context of this project. But they’re not the only tool. Diplomacy is another important tool. That includes diplomacy with our close allies, and that includes Germany in this case.
QUESTION: Well, it’s —
MR PRICE: And I will just say that Secretary Blinken has had a number of occasions to meet with Foreign Minister Maas, to speak with Foreign Minister Maas. We have, of course, met on a couple times now with Foreign Minister Kuleba of Ukraine, with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine, and in every one of those conversations Nord Stream 2 has been a focus. And the focus continues to be how the United States can work with our allies, work with our partner Ukraine to make sure that this project is not used to coerce our friends and allies. That’s what we’re concerned about. That’s what we are determined to work to prevent.
QUESTION: Well, it sounds, though, then – it sounds as though what you’re hoping to do is to have a situation where the pipeline is completed physically, but nothing goes through it except for maybe like air or – water. I mean —
MR PRICE: We are certainly not hoping to have the pipeline completed. In fact —
QUESTION: But it’s too late. You already basically – he – you’ve conceded the point that it’s going to be finished already, so —
MR PRICE: Well, you are right, and the President and the Secretary did yesterday.
QUESTION: But I just wonder how realistic that is. It’s like watching the Turks buy the S-400 and asking them not to take them out of the crates, or not turn them on. So you think that the Russians and the Germans are going to spend all this money to build a pipeline and you’re going to convince them somehow not to send any gas through it?
MR PRICE: Our goal remains to see to it – to do everything we can through – yes, through sanctions, but also through diplomacy and engagement with our close ally Germany, with Ukraine, with other affected countries in the region – to see to it that this pipeline cannot be used as a geopolitical weapon. That’s what we’re committed to.
QUESTION: Last one, then: Do you think that operationalizing the pipeline – in other words, sending energy, gas, whatever through it – is allowing Russia to have geopolitical – to apply pressure on Europe?
MR PRICE: We are going to do everything we can to ensure that Russia cannot do that. Again, I don’t want to get ahead of diplomacy. Of course, the President will have an opportunity to engage with our German counterparts.
QUESTION: But the mere fact of turning it on, do you think – does that constitute Russian pressure?
MR PRICE: Again, I don’t want to get ahead of where we are. This has been the topic of concerted discussion, concerted diplomacy, and it will continue to be the topic of concerted discussion and concerted diplomacy, including in the coming days as the President and Secretary are in Europe.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: The – in the wake of the violence, the – Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office has given the green light, for now, for the march that has drawn a lot of controversy among nationalists. What’s – does the United States have any take on this, about whether it should be held? Has the United States engaged in any diplomacy on how to go forward on this?
MR PRICE: Well, this gets back to what we have been saying both publicly – including from this podium, including from the White House – but also privately in the context of our diplomacy with the Israelis, with the Palestinian Authority, with other regional stakeholders over the past several weeks. And it’s very simple. We believe it’s essential to refrain from steps that exacerbate tensions.
We have worked – the United States, working closely with our Egyptian counterparts, of course, engaging in concerted diplomacy with Israel, and also with the Palestinian Authority – we worked intensively behind the scenes, if almost always quietly, to bring about this ceasefire, this ceasefire after more than a week of violence that was horrifying, violence that was devastating, that cost the lives of innocent civilians, innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians. And it is our goal, working with those same parties – the two parties, as well as other regional stakeholders – to see to it that the ceasefire holds, and that we do not see a return to violence.
Now, part of that is about what we’re doing over the medium term and the long term, and we have spoken to that in some detail by, in the first instance, seeking to rebuild, seeking to provide humanitarian relief to the Palestinian people as a way to offer a degree of opportunity and hope that the Palestinians, including those in Gaza, have not had for some time now. Our goal in all of this remains the same: to see to it that Israelis and Palestinians enjoy equal measures of safety, of security, of prosperity, of democracy, and importantly, of dignity, in order to try and break this cycle of violence.
Now, of course that is something that will be a long-term effort, and we have spoken of the millions of dollars in humanitarian relief and aid that we are – that we have allocated towards this project. And we continue to work with the international community in an effort not only to rebuild, but also to improve structural conditions for the Palestinian people in an effort to break this cycle of violence.
The other part of this, however, is to see to it that – do everything we can to try to prevent escalations or provocations that might provide a spark to renewed violence. And so that is why we continue to speak privately, to engage privately with Israelis and with Palestinians and with others in the region to avoid steps that exacerbate these underlying tensions.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that? You said, “provocations that might provide a spark to renewed violence.” Could the march be among those?
MR PRICE: Well, look, we all saw what precipitated the last flare-up of violence. And we know just how delicate this situation is. So I don’t want to put an undue spotlight on any particular escalation, but I think to us it is important that all sides refrain from steps that exacerbate tensions, and that they actively take steps to avoid provocations or escalations.
QUESTION: Ned, just I have two questions. Axios has reported that a U.S.-Israel working group on Palestinian affairs met on Monday for the first time to discuss the Biden administration’s intentions of reopening the consulate in Jerusalem. Is it accurate, and did you take any decisions in this regard?
MR PRICE: Well, what I would say broadly is that the President, the Secretary of State, they are committed to working towards equal measures, as I said before, of freedom, of security, prosperity, and of dignity for Israelis and for Palestinians alike. We intend to do so in tangible ways in the immediate term. In that regard, the United States is working closely with both Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the United Nations, to advance that vision. We have – Secretary Blinken, when he was in the region, in Ramallah and in Jerusalem, spoke of our commitment to reopening the CG, the consulate general, in Jerusalem, for the Palestinian people to be able to re-engage diplomatically with the Palestinian people and with the Palestinian Authority.
QUESTION: And anything on this meeting?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any specifics to read out.
QUESTION: And my second one is on this topic too. Israeli foreign minister has said that the Biden administration is likely to appoint a Middle East envoy who will focus on strengthening the normalization agreements between Israel and the Arab world, and The Washington Post reported Friday that former Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro was being considered for the envoy role. Is it accurate, and do you have anything on this?
MR PRICE: Well, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that I have nothing to say when it comes to personnel announcements. But the general idea is one that we’ve spoken to before, and we believe that we can be a constructive force, the U.S. can be helpful, and that we intend to build on these normalization agreements because they are in Israel’s interest, they are in the interests of the region. But we also know, and Secretary Blinken has spoken to this, that they are no substitute for demonstrable progress when it comes to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. And so yes, we do support these normalization agreements. We do intend to build on them, just as we remain engaged with the Palestinian people, with the Palestinian Authority, with our Israeli counterparts in an effort, again, to break the cycle of violence and to provide that sense of hope, that sense of opportunity and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
QUESTION: But you still don’t want to call them the Abraham Accords?
MR PRICE: They are completed agreements – the Abraham Accords. We are focused —
QUESTION: Right, that’s – I —
MR PRICE: I —
QUESTION: Very briefly, does the —
MR PRICE: But can I say one thing? And I know this room tends to be fixated on what we call things.
QUESTION: No, I’m just —
MR PRICE: You – you’re a stickler for terminology. I think that what we would say is we pay a lot more attention to the underlying idea and the motivation and the objective rather than what we call them.
QUESTION: Fair enough. Does the administration subscribe to the argument that a lot of the – in the Palestinian community have that the consulate general must be in Jerusalem, shouldn’t be – there have been some suggestions that you may put it – put one in Ramallah or somewhere else, Jericho, I mean, even Bethlehem. But the argument is that it needs to be in Jerusalem because the Palestinians still regard or still claim at least East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state. Is that something the administration agrees with?
MR PRICE: Well, so a couple of things. The status of Jerusalem is a final-status issue to be negotiated —
QUESTION: Yeah, but Ned —
MR PRICE: — between the parties. But previously, before the previous administration closed it, it, of course, was in Jerusalem. I don’t want to get ahead of where we are. Secretary Blinken has committed that we will reopen the consulate in an effort to re-engage with —
QUESTION: In Jerusalem?
MR PRICE: — to —
QUESTION: You say – I’m just wanting to know, do you think that it’s important for the consulate general to reopen in Jerusalem?
MR PRICE: That’s where it was before. Secretary Blinken —
QUESTION: Yeah, but things move.
MR PRICE: Correct. But Secretary Blinken has committed that we will reopen the consulate.
QUESTION: Secondly, the administration has committed – you mentioned all the money going to the restoration of relations with the Palestinians and aid going there. Does the administration think it’s realistic to put a whole bunch of money into Gaza, into the reconstruction of Gaza, that actually completely avoids Hamas? It seems to be a – it seems to be an unrealistic goal to try to – I mean, any – everything in Gaza is run by Hamas. How do you – how, exactly, do you end —
MR PRICE: Well, what we know, Matt, and what the Israelis know and what the Palestinian people know is that Hamas has wrought nothing but destruction and engendered violence within Gaza. And so that is why it is important to us that in providing this humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, we don’t inadvertently perpetuate the cycle of violence by further empowering or enriching Hamas.
QUESTION: The question is how do you pour all this money in to help reconstruct Gaza, the infrastructure, everything else, improve people’s lives, give them hope – what you say – how do you do that without —
MR PRICE: Well —
QUESTION: — having any of that money go to Hamas?
MR PRICE: — how we do it is how we do it around the world in different contexts. We will provide assistance in the West Bank and Gaza through experienced and through trusted independent partners on the ground who distribute directly to people in need, not going through de facto government authorities. Our development and humanitarian partners in the West Bank and Gaza have aggressive risk mitigation systems in place aimed at ensuring that taxpayer funds are reaching those for whom it is intended: the women, the men, the children most in need of that assistance. We’ll be working closely with the United Nations. We’ll be working closely with our Egyptian partners in this effort as well.
QUESTION: So you believe that it’s possible to build a building, to construct a road, to repair a sewer without Hamas have anything to do with it? I mean, it sounds like —
MR PRICE: We believe that it is possible —
QUESTION: — garbage collection in New York in the 1950s.
MR PRICE: — to provide assistance —
QUESTION: All right.
MR PRICE: — and in fact, in our benefit and to the benefit of Israel, and, of course, to the benefit of the Palestinian people, to provide them with much-needed humanitarian assistance.
QUESTION: Last one. Yesterday or the day before, the Secretary mentioned concerns about UNRWA textbooks and that you guys were looking at it very closely. I just wanted to – does that concern – has that translated into any diminution or suspension of the resumption of funding for UNRWA?
MR PRICE: Well, in our communications with the agency, UNRWA has made firm commitments to the United States on various issues. That includes transparency, accountability, and neutrality in all of its operations. And that commitment to neutrality specifically, it includes zero tolerance for racism, for discrimination, and for anti-Semitism. UNRWA’s head Commissioner-General Lazzarini conveyed his utmost commitment to these principles, and we’ll be watching very closely.
QUESTION: But there has been no – it hasn’t affected any of the assistance, the money going to UNRWA now, stuff that’s been announced already. All that’s still going?
MR PRICE: We have made very clear the risk mitigation measures, both publicly and in our conversations with Congress, when it comes to UNRWA.
QUESTION: Yeah, but there hasn’t been – it hasn’t – the concerns that you have about this have not impacted the aid so far, correct?
MR PRICE: Our – what we have announced, there’s been no change in that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yes.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Beatriz Navarro with La Vanguardia, Spain. Speaking on the – about the Abraham agreements, President Biden and Secretary Blinken are starting their trip to Europe today, where I think they will convey to the allies their message about the U.S. being back in the world. Diplomacy is back; multilateralism is back. But how does this approach fit with the decision to so far stick to the policies which made by Donald Trump concerning the sovereignty of the Western Sahara, to support Morocco’s aspirations instead of the United Nations position? How do you conciliate both statements? Or is maybe the State Department about to review its position on this policy switch?
Secondly, also regarding President Biden and Secretary Blinken’s trip to Europe, will the U.S. reconsider the travel restrictions currently in place for the European Union countries and the UK? These measures actually do not apply to other travelers coming from countries where the infection rates are much higher and the vaccination rates much lower.
And third and finally, regarding Latin America and specifically Nicaragua, we saw the acting assistant secretary message of condemnation on Ortega’s regime latest actions, but she said that the U.S. would like the world to act, that the international community would act. What do you want the international community to do? And also, would the U.S. support the activation or enforcement of the charter of the Organization of the American States to Nicaragua? Thank you very much.
MR PRICE: I will start with your question about travel restrictions that remain in place. As you know, this is a question of public health. And recognizing the importance of travel to our citizens and their families as well as the critical role of trade as well yesterday the Biden administration announced the launch of a series of expert working groups with four key partners – Canada, Mexico, in the case of Spain, the EU, as well as with the United Kingdom – to determine going forward how best to safely reopen travel. Through these working groups, we will be able to chart roadmaps to reopen international travel safely.
Importantly, this is not a political question. Of course, our ties with all of these countries and all of these entities are profoundly deep. This is about public safety, and so decisions going forward will be based on public health concerns. It will be informed by CDC. The State Department will take part in these expert working groups. But ultimately, these will be questions about public health.
When it comes to Western Sahara, we’re consulting privately with the parties about how best to halt the violence and achieve a lasting settlement. I don’t have anything further to announce at this time, but I would certainly take issue with the characterization that there’s been a continuity, including when it comes to our approach towards the region, from the last administration. And even in this briefing alone, in some detail we’ve talked about our efforts to bring equal measures of safety, of security, of prosperity, of democracy and of dignity to Israelis and to Palestinians alike. And if you take a look at what we have said and, more importantly, what we have done in the context of this region, I think you will see any number of very important and, in fact, profound differences.
When it comes to Nicaragua, I said before today the Treasury – Department of the Treasury announced sanctions against some of those responsible for enabling the crackdown on democracy and for limiting the free will of the Nicaraguan people, and we have taken action accordingly. It has become clear, including in the past few days alone, that under President Ortega Nicaragua is becoming an international pariah moving farther away from democracy. This was something that we had an opportunity to discuss, that Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to discuss in the context of our travel to Costa Rica just the other day.
Nicaragua is, of course, a member of SICA and we discussed this in both bilateral and multilateral settings with some of our partners – our shared concerns, the shared concerns on the part of other SICA members, other close partners in the region, about what we see happening – in many cases, right before our eyes – when it comes to Nicaragua. We announced our own measures of accountability. They – we have additional tools at our disposal to hold members of the regime or those who enable them to account, and we will not hesitate to do so.
Secretary Blinken also had an opportunity on the sidelines of the SICA meeting to make some of these points directly to the Nicaraguan foreign minister, and the message that Secretary Blinken conveyed to him is one that he has also noted publicly. The Nicaraguans often talk about the progress that the Ortega regime has affected in Nicaragua, what they have brought for the Nicaraguan people. And Secretary Blinken’s message was very simple: If you have accomplished all of these things for your people, if you have improved lives in the way you say you have, let the people exercise their free will. Let a free and fair election go forward. That is what we are striving to help bring about: nothing more and nothing less than the ability of the Nicaraguan people to choose their own destiny and to exercise their own free will. It’s a right to which the Nicaraguan people are guaranteed and to which all people are guaranteed.
QUESTION: Follow-up question – sorry – on my – just also for the sake of clarity concerning the Western Sahara. I was referring specifically to the policy switch concerning Morocco. Are we wrong to assume that there is continuity in the U.S. position on the issue?
MR PRICE: It’s one – it’s an issue that we have discussed directly with our counterparts in Morocco, our counterparts in Spain and elsewhere through the region. But I think more broadly, there is a very little continuity, I think it is safe to say, when it comes to our approach to the broader region.
QUESTION: But she’s specifically asking about recognition of Western Sahara.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: And you’re saying that it’s not – there’s no continuity between this administration and the last administration?
MR PRICE: What I’m saying is I don’t have any —
QUESTION: Have you revoked the recognition of —
MR PRICE: What I’m saying is I don’t have anything to announce at the moment, but I think if you look at Western Sahara as part of a – the previous administration’s broader approach to the region in the context of the Abraham Accords, that is where you see quite a bit of discontinuity between the approach we have pursued and we have enacted versus what the previous administration did.
QUESTION: On COVID, there are several states now that have growing stockpiles of unused vaccine doses. A State Department spokesperson said this morning that if states have additional vaccines, the U.S. Government is, quote, “committed to working to make sure that vaccine is utilized.” Does that mean that you are actively considering working with states to coordinate with them and provide those doses overseas?
MR PRICE: Well, as you heard from us this morning, it’s incredibly important not only to the State Department but also to this full administration that we make maximum use of the vaccine supply that we have in this country. And you have heard of us talk of our plans for that excess vaccine supply so far, and President Biden made very clear and pledged to donate 80 million doses before the end of this month to countries around the world. And just a few days ago, we laid out the framework for doing so.
I think you may have heard from President Biden this morning that he’ll be speaking in greater detail to what the United States will be positioned to do beyond what we have already committed, and it’s a great deal to which we have committed. It’s not only those 80 billion – 80 million doses, but it is the $2 billion to COVAX with $2 billion additional over time. It is our focus on increased manufacturing capacity, including in the context of the Quad. It’s a sharing arrangement that we have spoken to in the context of our relationship with Canada and Mexico, as well as any number of other steps that demonstrate that the United States will help to lead the way out of this pandemic.
We have said before that as long as the coronavirus is left in the wild anywhere, as long as it is free to mutate, it poses a threat to people everywhere, including Americans here at home. But now that we are confident in our own vaccine supply here at home, that we have made significant progress with our own efforts, we are in a position to do more. That’s precisely what we said in the context of those 80 million doses. If there are unused vaccine supply that would otherwise go to waste, we’re going to do everything we can to ensure that those doses are used and put to good use. But I don’t have specific details to share.
QUESTION: Does that include those doses that have been provided to states already, though? Is it possible to coordinate with state governments to return those to the federal government and then provide them overseas?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to go into that from here. The White House – I would refer you to the White House when it comes to the potential logistics of doing so, but we have spoken to our commitment to lead the world out of this pandemic. Even now, with the 80 million doses we have allocated for sharing – 75 percent through COVAX, 25 percent bilaterally – we are sharing five times more than any other country around the world. And we’re – again, we’re not doing so because it is a function of trading favors or diplomacy. We’re doing so because we know that we have a unique capacity to help lead the world out of this pandemic. It’s the right thing to do and it’s precisely what we’re doing.
QUESTION: Thank you. Just to follow up first, U.S. vaccines have started arriving in South Asia. Do you know when the first lot of U.S. vaccine will arrive in India? And do you have a figure on how much was the number of vaccines that U.S. – India will be receiving this first lot?
MR PRICE: Thank you. So I don’t have the specific details on when the shipment of vaccines will be arriving in India. Of course, India will be in receipt of a share of those 80 million vaccines, and through COVAX I believe there were some 6 million vaccines destined for the region. We know that India has suffered tremendously at – with this pandemic, and as we have done in the case of these vaccines but also as we did even prior to this vaccine-sharing announcement, we have demonstrated our commitment to work closely with our partners in India to help see the way out of this epidemic.
We have spoken of our commitment of seven planeloads of life-saving supplies, worth approximately $100 million, that went to India in recent weeks. But this is also in addition to the tremendous generosity that we have seen from the private sector and the diaspora here in this country that has donated some 400 million additional dollars. So that’s half a billion dollars that the United States Government and the people here in the United States have committed to help our friends and to help our partners in India recover from this pandemic.
QUESTION: While the private sector, as you mentioned, and the Indian Americans continue to raise funds for India COVID-19 assistance, is the U.S. Government still continuing with the COVID-19 assistance to India or has it stopped now?
MR PRICE: We are absolutely continuing with our commitment to help the government and the people of India emerge from this pandemic. When it comes to the private sector, Secretary Blinken, Coordinator Gayle Smith, others within the administration helped to spearhead some of those commitments on the part of the private sector. We remain engaged with the private sector as we have spoken of our commitment of vaccines to India, of our commitment of planeloads of life-saving supplies, doing all we can not only on our part, but also to galvanize action on the part of other non-governmental actors here in the United States to help our friends in India.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yes.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: So you completed the policy review on North Korea last month, but we haven’t heard much about it since then. So I’m wondering if you could give us some updates on your current effort dealing with North Korea. I assume that you’ve shared the final policy with North Korea, so I also would like to know if there was any responses from North Korean side. If not, how long can you wait? I mean, like what’s next? Also, the IAEA director general a couple days ago said the DPRK’s nuclear activities remain a cause for serious concern. The director general signaled that there are still ongoing activities in North Korea’s nuclear facilities, so do you have any comment on that as well?
MR PRICE: Well, the concern that you heard from the IAEA about North Korea’s nuclear program is precisely in large part what animated our policy review. We know that North Korea’s nuclear program, North Korea’s ballistic missile arsenal poses a threat not only to the United States, but also to our allies, including our treaty allies in the region. And it’s precisely why we undertook this review with a great deal of urgency, but with also a great deal of care. And you’re right that we did – we have completed the review. It was thorough, it was rigorous, it was inclusive.
As I’ve said, we consulted with those very same treaty allies, including those in Seoul, those in Tokyo, but also more broadly throughout the Indo-Pacific. And we also have had a chance to discuss it with other global allies and partners. Similarly, we consulted with outside experts, including those who have worked this challenge in the context of previous administrations. We recognize with some degree of humility that what the United States has attempted before with North Korea has not in large part made the challenge any better. That includes the threat that emanates from North Korea or for the conditions for the people inside North Korea.
So the policy that we have spoken to calls for what we have deemed a calibrated practical approach that explores diplomacy, that is predicated on diplomacy with the DPRK to make tangible progress that increases the security for our people, for the – for our allies in the region, as well as for deployed forces. And we did announce that Ambassador Sung Kim will serve as the special representative for the DPRK. And Ambassador Kim will, for our part, continue to be deeply engaged in this, and we’ll be heading our efforts to explore that practical, principled diplomacy to make progress where we can.
I wouldn’t want to speak to any DPRK reaction to this policy. We have said before that we have reached out to the North Koreans. I don’t have any update for you there, but we have focused our efforts on consulting closely with our allies and with our partners, knowing that this is a challenge that we can’t address alone, that if we are going to make the demonstrable progress that we seek to make in the context of our own security, in the context of the security for our treaty allies, and for our deployed forces, it’s something we need to tackle together with our allies and partners in the region.
QUESTION: I have a few questions in regards to Iran. With President Biden travel to Europe and – along with Secretary Blinken, so my question is: What is his – meeting with Britain, Germany, France, and Russian leaders – all of them are still in JCPOA. So my question is that: Will they take this opportunity to tell them to do something with Iran to expedite Iran complying with the JCPOA? And my second question is that in his latest press conference, IAEA DG Grossi said that it was becoming increasingly difficult to extend a temporary inspection arrangement with Iran. So does the U.S. feel pressure to join the JCPOA and – with Iran’s election coming up? And I promise this is my last question: Can you tell us when Special Rep Malley is going back for the sixth round of talks in Vienna?
MR PRICE: So I’ll start with your final question first. We expect that Special Envoy Malley will be returning to Vienna in the coming days, probably late this week, to engage in that sixth round of negotiations – indirect negotiations with the Iranians, working through the other – working through the remaining members of the JCPOA.
When it comes to the IAEA, we are deeply concerned that Iran has yet to provide the IAEA with the information that the agency needs to resolve questions regarding its potential undeclared nuclear material. These questions relate to Iran’s fundamental obligations under its comprehensive safeguard agreement with the IAEA, which is required by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or the NPT, and it’s separate – it’s a separate issue from Iran’s JCPOA commitments. We fully support Director Grossi and the IAEA as it seeks this required information from Iran.
Iran must comply fully and substantively with the IAEA and it must do so without further delay. We understand that Iran and the IAEA may meet again in the coming days to discuss these issues and we’ll be watching closely, and again, fully supportive of the director general as he engages in this.
With regard to your first question as to whether Iran will be a topic of conversation when the President meets with his European counterparts in the coming days, I wouldn’t want to get ahead of the White House, but I think I’m on safe ground in saying I suspect Iran will come up. That said, Vienna – the negotiations, the indirect negotiations are taking place in Vienna, where we do have a forum to interact directly and in great detail with our allies and with our partners who remain a party to the JCPOA.
So Special Envoy Malley and his team, when they are on the ground in Vienna, which they, again, will be in the coming days, do have an opportunity as a routine matter of course to meet with and to speak with the French, the Germans, the British, the Russians, and the Chinese, who are – remain party to the JCPOA.
QUESTION: So a follow-up with Iran’s election coming up and – so the U.S. doesn’t feel any pressure with – to expedite these talks and get a deal with Iran?
MR PRICE: Well, we do recognize that this is a challenge that we need to treat and that we have treated with a good deal of urgency, and that is not dictated by any sort of electoral calendar. It’s not dictated by anything other than the fact that the longer Iran remains free from the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated, the more potentially dangerous Iran’s nuclear program could become.
And Secretary Blinken spoke to this in some detail over the past couple days in the Hill – on the Hill, making the point that when the JCPOA went into effect, its tremendous advantage was the fact that it extended Iran’s breakout time or the time it would take Iran to acquire the fissile material should it attempt to break free of the nuclear constraints from a few months at the time to 12 months, to a full year. Now that Iran has distanced itself from key provisions within the JCPOA, Iran has been able to use technology, including more advanced centrifuges, amass additional quantities of other nuclear materials, that have allowed it once again to shrink that breakout time to a level that we certainly are not comfortable with and we do not think our allies, our partners should be comfortable with either.
So that’s why we’re treating this with a great deal of urgency. We’re engaged in diplomacy in Vienna because we believe that diplomacy provides the most durable way to once again prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon. And that’s really what this is all about, the most effective way to ensure that Iran can never threaten the United States, can never threaten Israel, can never threaten other countries in the region or elsewhere with a nuclear weapon. That’s where we want to get back to.
QUESTION: I have one on Lebanon. Last month, the letter from Gregory Meeks, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee – led a letter signed by 24 other members to Secretary Blinken calling for the U.S. to take urgent steps with international partners to address Lebanon’s worsening crisis and prevent further instability. What was the Secretary’s answer to this letter? And did the department take any steps to address the Lebanese crisis?
MR PRICE: I will see if we can provide you with anything on Secretary – with anything on Secretary Blinken’s response to the letter, but I will just say that we have been very much engaged on this. Ambassador David Hale was in Lebanon not all that long ago, engaged on these issues, encouraging progress, and above all, seeking to provide humanitarian relief to the Lebanese people. And that remains something we’re – we remain deeply engaged in.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Does the United States have a take on the dispute between the UK and the EU regarding trade? Do you believe the British should go ahead with the trade agreement as negotiated with the EU? How concerned are you about a flare-up in Northern Ireland as a result of this?
MR PRICE: Well, it’s something that we’ve been watching closely. President Biden has been unequivocal in his support for the Belfast – for the Good Friday Agreement. It was an historic achievement. We continue to believe it is a historic achievement because it’s been central to peace and stability, which we know we must continue to protect and advance. We welcome the provisions in both the trade and the cooperation agreement, and the Northern Ireland Protocol between the UK and the EU, again, which will help to protect the gains of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement. And I think above all, we support a close relationship between the UK and the EU and between all communities in Northern Ireland. As the UK and the EU implement their Brexit-related provisions, we will encourage them to prioritize economic and political stability in Northern Ireland and to negotiate within existing mechanisms when those differences arise.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up briefly, like – do you think the British should actually go ahead with the terms as they’ve been negotiated now? Do you think that it’s been too much of a delay in terms of going forward with it?
MR PRICE: I’m not going to speak to what the British should do. The United States continues to support a close relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union and all communities in Northern Ireland.
QUESTION: Can I just as a general question about cyber attacks and ransomware and all of that? I’m wondering if the Biden administration has made a determination as to if it’s in the U.S. interest to set international rules of the road for cyber attacks, for ransomware attacks, particularly given what we’ve seen over the last few weeks and the fact that the President is going to be meeting with international partners this week.
MR PRICE: Well, I would start by saying there are no international rules of the road to cyber crime. It’s criminal; it’s illegal. And it remains the obligation of every responsible state to do all it can to crack down on cyber criminals, on cyber gangs who may be operating from within a state’s territory. It doesn’t matter if that friend – if that country has a friendly relationship with us, has a more challenging relationship with us. Criminal activity is criminal, and states have a responsibility to do all they can to put a stop to it.
QUESTION: Right, but we do – the United States also engages in cyber attacks to a degree, and there are no international rules of the road for this. So are you saying the U.S. is not interested in developing those rules, because ultimately what we’ve seen recently is ultimately criminal, there’s no need for rules of the road here?
MR PRICE: I’m not saying that. Your question was about cyber crime. And my response was about cyber crime, which, by definition, in this case, at least, isn’t conducted by states. What we’re talking about are non-state actors who are conducting these cyber crimes. When it comes to states, each state, every responsible state has a responsibility to do what it can to put an end to this activity. When it comes to state operations, that is not something that I would speak to from here. But there is a place for the rules of the road, the rules-based international order that we speak to in the context of other realms. Some of those same rules would apply.
QUESTION: And just one more question. I’m wondering if the Biden administration has made clear redlines for ransomware attacks emanating out of any specific country in conversations with those countries. So, for example, if the United States has told Russia what the redlines are for ransomware attacks that emanate from their country against the United States.
MR PRICE: We have raised the issue of ransomware attacks with any number of countries and that includes Russia. I suspect, as you have heard from the White House, that this activity will be a topic when the two presidents meet next week in Geneva, but I wouldn’t want to characterize those discussions.
Take a final question. Yes, I don’t think you’ve asked one.
QUESTION: Okay. So we’re one month away from the expiration of the UN’s cross-border mandate for Syria, and I know it’s the U.S. preference for that aid mechanism to continue, but in a worst-case scenario where the border crossing is shuttered, can you give us a sense of what the contingency plan is? Is the U.S. talking with Turkey and coordinating with the aid community to bolster this – the capacity of NGOs on the ground, and is this something that President Biden would raise with President Putin?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to speak to contingencies right now, because right now our focus remains on one thing and that’s the reauthorization of these border crossings. It is of paramount importance to us that when the UN convenes and decides on this that the Security Council does the right thing. And the right thing in this case is to reauthorize these crossings so that Syrians who have been a victim to their own government, to terrorist organizations have the needed relief that these humanitarian crossings are able to provide.
I will tell you that when Secretary Blinken met with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Reykjavik just the other week now, this was a topic they discussed at some length and it won’t surprise you to hear that Secretary Blinken is quite passionate about this. You heard him address the United Nations six or so weeks ago now where he invoked not only the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people, but spoke of it in very personal terms; speaking of his own children in this context, speaking not only as the Secretary of State but also as a father, and asking how dare us should we not be in a position to reauthorize the – these border crossings. So of course, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield was in the region just last week to advance these discussions and to put a spotlight on it. We’ll continue to do that over the course of the next month when this very important matter comes to the Security Council.
Last question, yeah.
QUESTION: The administration moved to withdraw some executive orders that were trying to ban TikTok and WeChat, Chinese social media apps. This department in the previous administration talked quite a bit about the threat of Chinese apps and the kind of danger that these apps pose, and I think the department staff themselves weren’t allowed to have these apps on their phone – that was a specific policy that had been brought in. This move today to withdraw those executive orders, does that reflect some different conclusion that the State Department has reached about the risk of downloading TikTok? Is that – or are you still concerned about the risks of – to Americans’ privacy and security risks as a result of those?
MR PRICE: Well, there are a couple of specific things involved when it comes to TikTok, including litigation. But I will say as a general matter that we are committed to promoting an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure internet; protecting human rights online and offline; and supporting a vibrant and a global digital economy. And we’re taking strong steps to protect Americans’ sensitive data from collection and utilization by foreign adversaries through connected software applications. That’s what was at the heart of the executive order that you saw from the White House today. I’d refer you to the White House and the Department of Commerce for more details on that.
Thank you very much, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:09 p.m.)
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