2:09 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Good to see everyone. Two announcements at the top and then we’ll turn to your questions.
First, the United States congratulates the people of Nigeria, President-elect Tinubu, and all political leaders following the declaration by Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, or INEC, on the results of the February 25th presidential election. This competitive election represents a new period for Nigerian politics and democracy. Each of the top three candidates was the leading vote-getter in 12 states, a remarkable first in Nigeria’s modern political era, reflecting the diversity of views that characterized the campaign and the wishes of Nigeria’s voters.
We understand that many Nigerians and some of the parties have expressed frustration about the manner in which the process was conducted and the shortcomings of technical elements that were used for the first time in a presidential election cycle in Nigeria. Nigerians are clearly within their rights to have such concerns and should have high expectations for their electoral processes. We join other international observers in urging INEC to improve in the areas that need the most attention ahead of the March 11 gubernatorial elections.
There are well-established mechanisms in place for the adjudication of electoral disputes, and we encourage any candidate or any party seeking to challenge the outcome to pursue redress through those mechanisms. We call on all parties, candidates, and supporters to refrain from violence or inflammatory rhetoric at this critical time.
We commend the active participation of civil society and the media for advocating electoral – for advancing electoral norms and political discourse on issues of importance to Nigeria’s citizens. We note with concern reports that numerous members of the media were attacked during the course of the election, and we urge the government, security forces, political actors, and all citizens to respect the media’s critical role by refraining from any damaging acts against them and ensuring accountability for such acts when they do occur. Meanwhile, we also congratulate the Nigerian people, especially the large number of youths who are relatively new to the political process, for demonstrating their strong commitment to their country’s democracy.
Next and finally, as we continue to see the death toll rise, I want to offer our sincere condolences to the people of Greece for the tragic loss of life in the train collision that happened overnight in the town of Tempe. At this time, 36 fatalities and 85 injuries are reported, making this the deadliest train collision in Greece’s history. We send our heartfelt condolences to the loved ones of those who were lost and our best wishes for a speedy recovery to those injured. That was precisely the message that Secretary Blinken conveyed earlier today to his Greek counterpart when they spoke over the phone.
The United States stands with our friend Greece, and we commend the incredible dedication of first responders who are working tirelessly to save lives and attend to the injured.
With that, happy to take questions. Yeah, Janne – or Nike, go ahead.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the three-year anniversary of Doha Agreement, and do you have anything to the Taliban statement where it says that it’s going to reopen the universities but only for male students?
MR PRICE: Well, first, to your question on the three-year anniversary of the U.S.-Taliban agreement, I believe this was just yesterday that we marked three years. And in the three years since the former administration signed this agreement with the Taliban, I think the implications have become clear. The agreement empowered the Taliban, it weakened our partners in the Afghan government, and committed to withdrawing our troops a few months after President Biden’s inauguration with no clear plan for what should come next, despite imposing a deadline.
That said, we have seen Mullah Baradar’s own statement, and we of course disagree with the key points in his own statement. Namely, the Taliban have not fulfilled their own commitments – the commitments that they made in the Doha Agreement. While they have taken some unsatisfactory steps regarding certain terrorist groups in Afghanistan, it is well known that the Taliban sheltered then-al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, which flies in the face of the agreement. It was only because the United States Government was resolute in our commitment to take decisive action in the face of such threats that we removed Ayman al‑Zawahiri and he is no longer the leader of al-Qaida.
Similarly, the Taliban also have not fulfilled their Doha commitment to engage in political dialogue leading to a negotiated settlement. That remains to be done. We shouldn’t forget that the Doha Agreement envisioned a peaceful settlement, not a takeover on the part of the Taliban. In fact, it was titled, quote, “An Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan.” We continue to call on the Taliban to fulfill the commitments that they made to not only the United States in the context of this document but, most importantly, to their own people, the Afghan people that are still waiting for the Taliban to make good on those commitments.
Relatedly, we are watching very closely to see what happens later this month when we expect Afghanistan’s schools to reopen. We stand with the Afghan people in calling on the Taliban to allow women and girls to have access to education and to participate fully in society. The Taliban’s decision to close secondary schools to girls last March violated again the very promises the Taliban made to their own people. It’s had a significant impact in turn on our engagement with Taliban representatives.
After this decision, the Taliban claimed this was a matter of procedure and arrangements. They claimed it would be quickly reversed. Instead, an order came on December 20th from the so-called Higher Education Ministry stating that women cannot attend universities either. And with the implementation of this decree, half of Afghan’s population – fully half of Afghanistan’s population will be unable to access education beyond primary school.
Education is an internationally recognized human right. It’s essential to Afghanistan’s growth, to its economic stability, to its potential for prosperity as well. There’s a very simple reason why no other country on the face of the Earth bars women and girls from obtaining an education. No country, simply put, can thrive when half of its population is arbitrarily held back.
MR PRICE: A follow-up on this? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, sir. SIGAR just released their statement as well yesterday, and one of the major things that they had pointed out was the corruption made in different organizations. And one of the commitment President Biden when he was taking power was that he was going to do accountability of this corruption. It’s been a year. I – we do not see any accountability there. And two of the most popular individuals in this corruption, and they’re named in the SIGAR’s report as well, are President Ghani and his ambassador here in Washington, D.C., who later on became national security – Mohib. They are both U.S. citizens, and they – according to many reports, they have outside the country millions of dollars of – worth of assets. What accountability has been done in one year?
MR PRICE: Well, you’re talking about two distinct issues. One is the issue of anti-corruption, and the focus that the United States had on anti-corruption with the previous government in Afghanistan. That of course was a longstanding focus of the United States over the course of our 20-year engagement in Afghanistan. That chapter, of course, came to a close at the end of 2021, and since then the United States Government has been under no illusions that the Taliban will be responsible stewards of their country’s economy, of the finances that are now in some cases under their control.
That is why rather than focus in precisely the same way in anti‑corruption, we are very focused on channeling the humanitarian support, channeling the macroeconomic stability and macroeconomic support that we’re providing to Afghanistan in ways that in essence bypass the Taliban. You see that very clearly in the trust fund that the United States and our international partners with the assistance of Switzerland established for the $3.5 billion in frozen assets – previously frozen assets that we announced last year. You see that very clearly in the hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance that has not gone through the Taliban’s coffers but has gone directly to our operational partners on the ground, humanitarian partners that are doing the work that is so vital to Afghanistan’s people, and especially vital given what the Taliban have been unwilling or in many cases unable to do for their own people. So that’s been our focus now.
QUESTION: So – no, I’m sorry, I think I’m – maybe I’m not clear in my point. U.S. citizens who were officials in Afghanistan, the accountability has not taken place in last one year except State Department official Mr. Olson was just – he went through some harsh things. But beside that we do not see any accountability of millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayers’ money that was robbed by these citizens, and they have stashed it across – on the other side of the borders. Any accountability which President Biden had promised that he will be taking? No action has been taken about that.
MR PRICE: There have been a number of reports about corruption on the part of the former government. We’re of course doing everything we can to look into those reports. Many of those reports we have not been able to substantiate, but working with allies and partners around the world, if we are able to substantiate those significant reports of corruption, we of course will seek accountability, as you would expect.
MR PRICE: Alex, I can confirm there has been an – the exchange of a diplomatic note between Russia and the United States. I think it is fair to say that what we have learned from that diplomatic note did not tell us anything we didn’t already know from the public statements that have emanated from Moscow.
Our position remains the same. Russia’s decision to unilaterally suspend its participation in New START – it is unfortunate, but more so it is irresponsible. It is the responsible thing to do for nuclear powers to engage in arms control, to engage in other tools of strategic stability that, throughout the height of the Cold War and since the dawn of the nuclear era, have prevented an exchange between nuclear powers. Russia is not better off in a world where the two largest nuclear powers are – no longer engage in bilateral arms control. And Russia’s willingness to promote instability and use irresponsible nuclear rhetoric endanger every nation on this planet.
Russia’s purported suspension of New START will, at the same time, not stop the United States from continuing to support Ukraine. We are doing precisely what we told President Putin and the Kremlin and the rest of the world that we would do should Moscow continue with its aggression last year. Mutual compliance with New START, we believe and we are confident, strengthens the security interests of the United States, our allies and partners, but also of Russia, the Russian people, and the rest of the world.
That is why we are working to preserve the treaty. We continue to urge Moscow to resume full compliance with the treaty. Even as we explore our next steps, we are demonstrating that responsible leadership that we think ought to be replicated in Moscow. We remain in full compliance with the treaty, including New START’s numerical limits, and we’re examining exactly what impact this purported suspension will have on the state of the treaty. But how Russia chooses to respond, how Russia chooses to proceed will help inform considerations of appropriate U.S. responses.
Regardless, we are going to continue to see to it that we are postured appropriately. And if we see Russia take steps that require any sort of change in our own nuclear posture or approach, we will make those adjustments as is appropriate.
QUESTION: I’m sure you have seen Sergei Ryabkov’s statement from this morning saying that they will not review their position on this unless the U.S. changes position on Ukraine. How did you read that?
MR PRICE: I’m not going to parse the Russian statement. I – Alex, I can only tell you that we are – we continue to be prepared to engage meaningfully with Russia on arms control and on New START specifically. We want to work constructively with Russia on this; we believe it’s in our interests. We also believe it’s the responsible thing to do. It’s the responsible thing to do for the American people. It’s the responsible thing to do for the Russian people. It is the responsible thing to do for people around the world. Just as we were last year when we were set to meet with representatives of the Russian Federation in Cairo, we remain ready to meet in the Bilateral Consultative Commission to discuss U.S. and Russian concerns related to compliance with the treaty and to discuss all other issues related to implementation of this treaty. We believe it is that important.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have two questions. Regarding Russia, South Korea has expanded export sanctions to Russia. Meanwhile, Russia warned South Korea about the threat to peace on the Korean Peninsula. Can this be seen as meaning that peace on the Korean Peninsula depends on Russia?
MR PRICE: I think principally peace on the Korean Peninsula is under the purview of the countries on the Korean Peninsula. This is principally a matter between the ROK and the DPRK. Of course, the ROK is a treaty ally of ours. We have a steadfast commitment to the security of the Republic of Korea, of our other treaty ally that is consistently threatened by the DPRK – Japan. We are going to stand by those commitments in the face of the DPRK’s continued provocations, its testing of ICBM systems, its launches of ballistic missiles, its other malign and provocative activities. You have seen us in word and in deed underscore the commitment we have to our South Korean allies, to our Japanese allies, even as we have also underscored our willingness and our readiness to engage in serious dialogue and diplomacy.
It is the DPRK that has consistently turned down those offers; it has consistently failed to pursue the outstretched hand that we have extended. It is the DPRK that has consistently ignored our very simple statement that we harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK. Our only intent is to find ways to meaningfully advance what is our ultimate policy goal, and that’s the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
QUESTION: On the North Korea – are there any concrete actions regarding the redesignation of North Korea as a State Sponsor of Terrorism?
MR PRICE: Janne, these are issues that we’re always looking at. We’re always looking at two things – we’re looking at facts, and we’re looking at the law. When it comes to facts, we are keeping a close eye, of course, on all of the provocations, on all of the threats that the DPRK poses to our allies in the ROK, to our allies in Japan, to our allies and partners throughout the Indo-Pacific, and of course to the United States and our people as well.
When it comes to the State Sponsor of Terrorism, that is a statute that was written into law by Congress. It is our task to apply the facts that we see and we observe to the law as it was written by Congress. There are cases where the conduct of countries around the world have merited that designation and have qualified for that designation as it is written within the law. If that is the case with the DPRK, we’ll act accordingly.
MR PRICE: Follow-up on this? Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: The U.S. has stressed the importance of cooperation between the United States, South Korea, and Japan in dealing with North Korea. But South Korea-Japan relations have not – have been less than great over the past few years. Yesterday, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol made an apparent overture toward Japan, calling it a partner who shares the same values. So I was wondering if you have any comments or reaction to the South Korean president’s message or remarks.
MR PRICE: Absolutely. So first, let me say generally that bilateral cooperation between the United States and our treaty allies is important, but so too is trilateral cooperation. And trilateral cooperation is an area in which we have invested much of our energy. President Biden and his South Korean and Japanese counterparts sat down at the leader level – the first time a leader-level trilateral engagement has taken place in some five years. Secretary Blinken, Deputy Secretary Sherman, our Special Envoy for the DPRK Sung Kim, and others have participated in trilateral engagements precisely because this is such an important forum for us collectively to address the threats and challenges that the DPRK poses. But this is also a forum that is so valuable for broader challenges as well as opportunities within the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.
When it comes to President Yoon, he has articulated a vision for a more cooperative, future-oriented relationship with Japan based on the shared values that those two countries have together. We very much support this vision, and we further believe U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral cooperation is critical to addressing the challenges that our three countries collectively are confronting in the 21st century. We’ll continue to move forward trilaterally to embrace opportunities to advance our common regional and international priorities, and we applaud – we do applaud – both the Republic of Korea President Yoon and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida for their efforts to improve bilateral relations in recent months. We’re encouraged that Japan and the ROK are working together to resolve their history-related issues in a way that promotes healing and reconciliation, and we’ll continue to be a stalwart ally to both bilaterally, but again, in the trilateral context as well.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) talking about the Japanese making another unreasonable claim that Takeshima, Dokdo, is Japanese territory. How do you think Japan’s assertion will affect the trilateral cooperation between the U.S. and South Korea and Japan?
MR PRICE: There remain issues for our allies to work out among themselves, to discuss among themselves, and we hope to find a productive way forward that will allow us to continue the progress that we’ve seen in the context, in the bilateral context between Japan and the ROK in recent months, and that will allow us to build on the progress that we’ve seen in the trilateral context between Japan, the ROK and the United States over the course of the past two years.
MR PRICE: So Michel, we have been – we have expressed a tremendous amount of concern in recent days. As you know, we have seen far too much violence, far too much bloodshed. We have roundly condemned and rejected the terrorist attacks that Israel has suffered in recent days. Of course, on Monday we noted the death of a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen who was killed outside Jericho in the latest terrorist attack that we forcefully condemn. In recent days we’ve also seen violence from settlers in the West Bank, violence that has resulted in the loss of life, the destruction of property, and only exacerbated the tensions that we’ve spoken to a great deal in recent days.
All of this comes in the context of the agreement between the parties that was reached in Aqaba, Jordan over the weekend. That is an agreement that is an – important in and of itself in that the parties sat down together, Israelis and Palestinians together with their American, Egyptian, and Jordanian counterparts, to devise a way forward. But again, what is most important is implementation of what resulted from Aqaba, to see to it that the parties themselves actually fulfill the commitments they have made to one another, the commitments that they made in that broader context.
We’re continuing to watch that very closely. We’re continuing to urge the parties to take steps that concretely result in de-escalation, that serve to ease the tensions that have only escalated in some ways in recent days. It’s important that the parties take these steps; only the parties themselves are the ones who can embark on these steps.
QUESTION: Meanwhile, Israeli finance minister called the Israeli Government to wipe out Huwara village, the Palestinian village. Do you have any comment on that?
MR PRICE: I want to be very clear about this. These comments were irresponsible. They were repugnant; they were disgusting. And just as we condemn Palestinian incitement to violence, we condemn these provocative remarks that also amount to incitement to violence. We call on Prime Minister Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials to publicly and clearly reject and disavow these comments. We condemn, as we have consistently, terrorism and extremism in all of its forms. And we continue to urge that there be equal measures of accountability for extremist actions regardless of the background of the perpetrators or the victims.
We’ve already noted our concern, as I did just a moment ago, about the widescale, indiscriminate violence by settlers against Palestinian civilians in this very town, in Huwara, that led to the death of one Palestinian man, more than 300 residents injured, four seriously, and the torching of an estimated – of numerous Palestinian homes and cars. It is imperative, in some ways now more than ever, that Israelis and Palestinians work together, again, to de-escalate these tensions and to restore the calm that both Israelis and Palestinians deserve.
QUESTION: I have two more on Israel. Two Israeli officials are coming next week to Washington to meet White House officials and Secretary Blinken to discuss Iran. Can you confirm that? And do you have anything new to say regarding the U.S. strategy towards Iran?
MR PRICE: So I don’t have any meetings to confirm or to preview at this time, but I suspect we’ll have more to say in the coming days. When it comes to Iran, Michel, our position on this has been clear. It’s been consistent. President Biden has a solemn, steadfast commitment to the fact that Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon. We will never allow that to happen. We continue to believe that the way to address this challenge in a way that is durable, in a way that is permanent, is through diplomacy. We want to see a durable, lasting resolution to the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear program. We continue to believe that diplomacy is the most effective way to achieve that, but every time we’ve been asked, we have been very clear that we will, through all means necessary, ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: And there are calls from Congress for the administration to change its policy towards Iran. Are you considering that?
MR PRICE: Our policy towards Iran is that Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon. It’s as simple as that. We are going to fulfill that solemn commitment in the most effective way that we can. We continue to believe that the most effective way to do that is through diplomacy. Only diplomacy can achieve a durable, permanent solution whereby Iran is never in a position to acquire a nuclear weapon, but we haven’t taken any tools off the table. As we’ve said consistently, we are going to pursue this in the most effective way that we can.
QUESTION: Ned, follow-up on Iran, thanks.
MR PRICE: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: IAEA’s report has been distributed among the members and some parts have been leaked – doesn’t look good for Iran. Is the U.S. thinking about censuring Iran at the board of governors?
MR PRICE: So, Guita, the – we have seen the IAEA’s February 28th report on verification and monitoring in Iran. We can’t comment on the details of a report that has not yet been made public. But we’re aware of reports that the IAEA has found highly enriched uranium particles of up to 83.7 percent purity. What I will say now is that we are in close contact with our allies and partners in Europe and the region, the broader region, as we await additional details from the IAEA. There is a meeting of the board of governors next week – the board of governors of the IAEA. We are going to continue to consult very closely with our partners to do what we believe will be most effective to address this challenge together with our allies and partners in Europe.
QUESTION: Two more, please. About the poisoning of high school girls in Iran, it’s been going on for a few – quite a few months, and over 1,000 students have been affected. Does the State Department have any comments on that?
MR PRICE: We’ve seen these reports. These are very disturbing, these are very concerning reports. They are so concerning because women and girls everywhere have an innate right to an education, and education is a universal human right. It is a right that women and girls in Iran should have, a right that women and girls in Afghanistan should have, a right that women and girls around the world should have. It is essential to advancing women’s economic security and to realizing gender equality.
To – as these reports suggest, to poison girls who are simply trying to learn is simply abhorrent. It’s an abhorrent act. We expect Iranian authorities to thoroughly investigate these reported poisonings and to do everything that they can to stop them and to hold accountable the perpetrators.
QUESTION: Given Iran’s track record on everything, do – would you accept an investigation by the government? I mean, is it to be trusted?
MR PRICE: What we want to see is these reports – is these reported poisonings come to an end. We want to see this stop. We don’t have any additional details beyond what we’ve all read, and these very concerning and disturbing reports that we’ve all read in the press. But it is incumbent on Iranian authorities to respond. It is incumbent upon them to put an end to these reported attacks. It is incumbent on them to hold accountable those who may be perpetrating this.
QUESTION: One more, Ned. The threat reduction – the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act says that the U.S. has to submit to Congress a list of Iranian officials who have been involved in so many different things: weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, human rights abuse. The latest which – list which was released yesterday, 18 are missing as compared to the previous year’s. On what basis are people removed from this list?
MR PRICE: So this is a list that we have briefed to Congress only in recent days. I understand that a version was released yesterday. We’re taking a close look at the list that was released yesterday and we’ll be able to provide some more information on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can we do a housekeeping question on reports —
QUESTION: Can I —
MR PRICE: Let me – let me go back to Iran. Sure.
QUESTION: So you mean you have no explanation why those people are deleted from the current list? Because some of them are related to Iranian judicial system, the very entity who was in charge of mass arrests and execution. And during the last five months from here, you always said that you support human rights in Iran. Why those people, including Mr. Ejei, Mr. (inaudible), all these people are being named in Iranian judicial system – why they were deleted? And why, too, deceased men are among your people in that list?
MR PRICE: We’ll have more information to provide to you on this. Right now we’re comparing the list that was released yesterday to the list that we have briefed Congress privately on in recent days. But I can tell you unequivocally that we are using every authority we have at our disposal to pursue those who are responsible for the atrocious human rights abuses that the Iranian regime has perpetrated against its own people since September of last year. We are using every tool we have at our disposal to pursue those who are responsible for the repression that the regime has exercised against the Iranian people over the last year. We’re going to use every tool at our disposal to pursue those who have attempted to cut off the ability of the Iranian people to communicate with one another and with the rest of the world. Our commitment is rock-solid. We are going to continue to hold accountable those who are responsible for all of these acts.
QUESTION: And Ned, talking about this cutting off, I want to ask a question about Starlink. Mr. Amir-Abdollahian said, I think yesterday during the Disarmament Conference in Geneva, that U.S. Government is illegally supporting Starlink and they keep their right to protect themselves. Do you have any comments on that?
MR PRICE: I do. When these protests started in September, Iranian authorities attempted to disrupt the ability of the Iranian people to communicate with one another and to communicate with the rest of the world. In response, the United States took swift action, took very swift action to support the free flow of information to the Iranian people through a number of steps, including by releasing what was known as General License D-2 in September, the very month that these protests really started en masse, and that license expands and clarifies the scope of authorized software services and certain hardware available to the people in Iran.
This expanded authorization in turn allowed U.S. companies to provide tools to the Iranian people, to ordinary Iranians, and to assist in their efforts to resist these repressive internet censorship and surveillance tools that the Iranian Government had deployed against the Iranian people – the Iranian people who were peacefully taking to the streets to make their demands known. These general licenses, as we’ve said before, they are self-executing. That means that anyone who meets the criteria outlined in the general license and General License D-2 can proceed with their activities without coming back to the government, without coming back to the Treasury Department in this case; and several U.S. companies have in turn taken advantage of the expanded authorization that we’ve provided.
We are committed to helping the Iranian people exercise their right to freedom of expression and to freely access the internet as well. In all of this – as we hear these comments from the Iranian foreign minister, we note the irony in Iranian officials’ complaints that the lifting of restrictions on technology companies providing services to Iran, in turn expanding the ability of services to expand – of companies to expand their services and their offerings to the people of Iran through this general license could somehow violate Iran’s sovereignty. What this general license does is allow the Iranian people to speak to one another, to communicate with one another, to communicate with the outside world. This is in no way a violation of Iran’s sovereignty. This is just the latest indication that Iranian authorities aim to prevent the people of Iran from communicating with another and sharing accounts of the brutal crackdown, the brutal repression, the brutal violence that they have faced – far too many of them have faced in September.
QUESTION: Thank you, and I have one more. I’m so sorry. About the Iranian warships in Brazil. Despite U.S. pressure, Brazilian Government let two Iranian warships to dock in Rio. Do you have any comments on that?
MR PRICE: This is something that we are discussing with our Brazilian partners. We want to make sure that the IRGC – that Iran more broadly is not able to acquire a foothold, is not able to take advantage of others in this hemisphere. It is certainly not the case that the Brazilian Government or the Brazilian people would want to do anything that would in turn assist, that would aid a government, a regime that is responsible for a brutal crackdown and violent repression against its own people.
QUESTION: Ned, do you view as an alternative – (inaudible) as an alternative for the Iranian regime in the future? And do you have any contacts with them?
MR PRICE: Michel, that is not a question for us. It’s a question for the people of Iran, to determine what it is they seek for their country in terms of their leadership, in terms of their aspirations. What we do as a matter of course is engage regularly with a wide variety of stakeholders, of prominent Iranians, including members of the Iranian diaspora in this country. There are members of the diaspora who maintain close ties with the people of Iran, who are regularly in touch with the people of Iran, who have family, who have friends, who have networks back in Iran. That is a valuable resource for us to meet with, to hear from them what they in turn are hearing from those who are in Iran.
QUESTION: You see one of them —
MR PRICE: Just as a general matter, we don’t confirm with whom we meet. But Rob Malley, others across this building and across this government do regularly meet with prominent Iranian stakeholders to make sure that we are hearing and in receipt of the information and the perspective that they may have.
QUESTION: I want to ask about the Intelligence Community’s assessment on AHI, also known as Havana syndrome, incidents, it being unlikely that they were caused by a foreign adversary. Can you just speak to the State Department’s role in this assessment, if you guys agree with this assessment, and any ongoing efforts to further probe these incidents from this department specifically?
MR PRICE: Sure. I think what is most important is for me to reaffirm what you’ve heard from Secretary Blinken, what you’ve heard from senior officials across this department since the onset of this administration. We are determined to support our workforce, to support our colleagues, and certainly to support all of our colleagues who have reported these incidents over – in recent years. The findings that the Intelligence Community have spoken to today in no way call into question the experiences, the symptoms that our colleagues and their family members have reported in recent years.
For the part of the Secretary, he has repeatedly met with individuals who have suffered, who have reported these incidents. He knows that their pain is real. He has heard their stories. He has sat down with them and has conveyed to them the solemn commitment he has to do everything we can to support their needs and to support their continued care. The Secretary’s top priority remains the health, the safety, and security of all of these colleagues of ours who have reported being subject to this, but also has a broader commitment to the department’s fuller personnel and family members as well.
So we are going to continue to see to it that our colleagues who report these incidents are treated with respect and compassion, receive timely access to medical care, and we’ll continue to process Havana Act payments based on the eligibility criteria that’s been spelled out in the law.
In terms of the assessment, I would leave it largely to the Intelligence Community to speak to the assessment. As you know, we don’t often go into details of the Intelligence Community’s work from here. They did put out a rather extensive statement detailing their conclusion; these were conclusions that our own Bureau of Intelligence and Research also fed into. Our INR bureau has been a part of this process from the very start. And this is the process that we have committed tremendous resources to from the very start to look into potential attribution for these incidents, but also, going back to my first point, to ensure that our colleagues are getting the care, the support, the recognition, and the compassion that they need and should expect from their colleagues and certainly from the leadership of this department.
QUESTION: And so will INR continue that work? Like the group that was working with the IC on this, is it still intact or is it a smaller group now that this task force is presumably kind of moving on?
MR PRICE: As with every intelligence assessment, the book is never fully closed. We are going to – as a government going to continue to look at every single input and source of information that is available to us. An assessment like this is an assessment based on the best information available to us at any particular time. The Intelligence Community today spoke to the assessment that they have arrived at as of this date, but of course if new information becomes available in any form INR, other elements of the Intelligence Community are going to factor that into their analysis and into their assessments. But most importantly, we’re going to continue to provide the care and the support to our colleagues who have, we know, we are confident, have suffered so tremendously.
QUESTION: And just last thing. Could you speak to the reported incidents that have occurred this year thus far and if any of those incidents have happened in Havana since diplomats have been sent back to Cuba?
MR PRICE: I can’t speak to specific cases or to specific locales, but what I can tell you is that the number of reported cases of anomalous health incidents have declined fairly precipitously since 2021. There was a decline between 2021 and 2022, and so far this year there has been a decline between those cases that were reported as of this date last year and as of this date this year.
Yes, go ahead. Or – go ahead, actually.
QUESTION: I just have one last question on the Havana syndrome. Given that not only did the intelligence review found that there was no link to a foreign adversary, they couldn’t identify a single set of causes. So how is the State Department making sure that men and women of this agency, other agencies, are safe when they’re abroad if no cause has been determined?
MR PRICE: So there are a couple factors at play. Number one is attribution, and what the Intelligence Community assessment primarily spoke to today was attribution. Care and support is another element to this; but also a third element, the safety and security of our workforce around the world.
Now, given the conclusion that the Intelligence Community has reached, of course that has a bearing on the steps that we’ll look to take going forward. But I can tell you that over the course of this administration, we have put in place various steps that we have designed and implemented to reduce and to mitigate the potential risks to our people. Of course we’re going to take a close look at reports that have been made to date, any reports that come forward in the weeks and months ahead, to determine if there are other prudent steps that we can take to protect our workforce.
The protection and the safety and security of our workforce is our top priority. And if there – we identify anything that we can do to mitigate the risk to our workforce across any arena, any realm, we’re going to do that.
QUESTION: And I have a question on the 2021 countries terrorism report. Obviously the changing threat assessments were outlined there. But I was wondering if you could speak to specifically the ways in which, or not, COVID impacted terrorism around the world, especially with regard to traveling across borders and also some of these groups moving more in the online digital space.
MR PRICE: So the Country Reports on Terrorism that we released last year again were a snapshot in time. They were from 2021, of course a year that – in which the world was changed by COVID and the world was a different place because of it. I think, as you take a look at the top line summary from the document that we released, and as you go through the individual country reports, you will see the conclusion that the terrorist threat has evolved – in some ways it has metastasized over the course of years now – and a recognition that our efforts to counter it will have to evolve and adapt as well.
The reports – and throughout the course of this administration we’ve highlighted three core counterterrorism principles that are driving our approach. First, we are committed to keeping pace with the changing landscape through a clear-eyed recognition that the terrorist threats we face today are not the same ones we faced several years ago. The threats of tomorrow will also undoubtedly pose new challenges. We have to remain flexible and agile to meet them. Factors like COVID, of course, factor into that, as do technology, as do counterterrorism legal regimes, as do conflicts and instability in parts of the world.
Second, we recognize that we need to integrate our global counterterrorism efforts into the broader range of evolving national security challenges, from countering cyber attacks on critical infrastructure to managing pandemic disease and biological threats – to your question – to strengthening an international system based on democratic values.
And third, this administration has called for greater investment in a broad set of tools and capabilities, including diplomacy, development, and prevention efforts that leverage international, bilateral, and multilateral partnerships in capacity-building to avert threats to the homeland and our interests abroad before they become imminent.
We have, over the course of many years now, demonstrated our leadership in working with countries around the world, galvanizing action on the part of countries and coalitions around the world to recognize extremist and terrorist threats, and to confront them with this full set of – full set of tools.
So we’re going to continue to remain engaged with partners and allies around the world, just as we engage with nongovernmental and private sector partners as well. We recognize that includes working with community and religious leaders, technology companies, all of whom have unique perspectives, expertise, and opportunities relating to this challenge.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) You said it was released last year; it was actually this week. It’s about 2021.
MR PRICE: It was released this week about 2021, yes.
QUESTION: Okay, but why is that? I mean, I was going to ask about that. Why (inaudible) wait for an entire year to talk about 2021? And why is it incomplete? I couldn’t find anything on Azerbaijan, Armenia, Ukraine.
MR PRICE: So there are a number of reports included in the country reports. All of them are available online. This is a extensive and comprehensive bit of analysis. Just as our annual reports all take some time to put together, this report is no exception, and it does take some time for our posts around the world and our experts here in Washington to collate that information and put it together.
QUESTION: And the reason for the delay was —
MR PRICE: I need to move on, Alex.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Do you think Secretary Blinken will have a chance to discuss with his counterpart about regional democratic and human rights situation in his upcoming visit to India, as country like Bangladesh is struggling for voting rights, democracy, and human rights?
MR PRICE: The Secretary is – he just landed in New Delhi a couple of hours ago. He is there for the G20. He will take part in the Raisina Dialogue, but he’ll also have an opportunity to engage on a bilateral basis with his foreign secretary – counterpart, Foreign Secretary Jaishankar, and other senior Indian counterparts.
Our relationship with India is a global strategic partnership. It is a partnership that is broad; it is a partnership that is deep and comprehensive. So they’ll have an opportunity to discuss the issues that will dominate the agenda within the G20. They’ll have an opportunity to discuss some of the new areas of partnership between the United States and India, including when it comes to technology, including when it comes to the cyber realm, including when it comes to the ways in which we are attempting to integrate our partner, India, into our broader set of partnerships across the world – including through I2U2, the partnership we talked about on Monday that brings together the United States, India, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates.
He will have an opportunity to discuss our shared vision for a free and – Indo-Pacific, and broadly he’ll have an opportunity to talk about what is a bedrock of the partnership between the United States and India. And to your question, this is our shared values. What unites our two countries are common interests. We all share an interest in a free and open Indo-Pacific region. But our people and the deep people-to-people ties are also predicated on the shared values between our two countries. And of course, as two of the largest democracies in the world, we always discuss these issues knowing that we can learn from one another, and our engagement puts us in a position to strengthen our own democracies.
QUESTION: One more on G20 for my colleague of the global (inaudible). At the recent G20 finance ministers meeting, the group was unable to issue a joint communique because Russia and China were opposed to the use of the word “war” in the communique. What is your reaction to Russia and China politicizing the G20, and what your hope for the G20 foreign minister meeting that is set to take place?
MR PRICE: Well, negotiations regarding a final communique or a final statement from the G20 foreign ministerial are ongoing, so I wouldn’t want to get ahead of that. But what I will say is that the G20 is an important forum. We are supportive of India’s leadership and its effective stewardship of the G20 this year, and it’s an important forum where, as guided by the Indian leadership this year, participants will be able to talk about the issues that matter most to the people that is represented by this forum. They’ll have an opportunity to talk about food security, to talk about energy, health security, common challenges like fentanyl and narcotics that, of course, pose a challenge not only to people in this country but to people around the world.
The G20 is not principally a security forum, but the G20 – as the leaders recognized in Bali under Indonesia’s leadership last year, security issues do have implications for all of these issues that the G20 countries care about. And I think what we saw coming out of the G20 finance ministers’ meeting last weekend was a very clear manifestation that the G20 is determined to make progress, to address and confront these common challenges, and to the extent there are divides within the G20, it is Russia, it is China that find themselves isolated. You saw that very clearly reflected in the statement that emanated from India last week, but we’ll have to see what comes out of deliberations this week.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Ned. Got a question about the NATO application process of Finland and Sweden. And earlier this morning, the Finnish parliament has approved the whole application process that was the last hurdle on the path of becoming a NATO member, and the United States – you from that podium – has been insisting that Sweden and Finland become NATO members at the same time, simultaneously, but Ankara has made their intentions known that they might actually split up that process and they might approve Finland before Sweden. Are you considering dropping that insistence, or like, are you going to be welcoming Finland if they actually become NATO members before Sweden?
MR PRICE: So two points. First, we welcome – we welcome the fact that Finland’s parliament voted by a large majority to approve Finland’s accession to NATO. We also welcome the announcement of talks between Türkiye, Sweden, and Finland regarding Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership bids. You’ve heard from me extensively the view on the part of the United States that Finland and Sweden are both ready to be NATO members, that their accession to the world’s leading defensive alliance would not only strengthen European security, it would strengthen security across the Euro-Atlantic region as well. These are advanced democracies with capable militaries with whom our own military has exercised over the course of many decades now.
What is important to us, first and foremost, is that Finland and Sweden are swiftly approved as NATO members. It is, of course, the responsibility of each member of the Alliance to approve that, to take the steps within their own national systems. Within our system, you’ve seen the Executive Branch but also the U.S. Congress act swiftly and decisively to move along the applications of Finland and Sweden so that now there are very few steps left for Finland and Sweden to become NATO members.
This ultimately is not a question for the United States. If it were a question for the United States, we would like to see Finland and Sweden admitted today, tomorrow, together. Ultimately this is a question for the Alliance. It is a question for Türkiye, the – one of the two remaining countries that is pending action to admit Finland and Sweden.
MR PRICE: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Go back to the COVID-19 origins. Now that FBI Director Wray has confirmed that his bureau assessed the origins were likely coming from a lab incident in Wuhan, China, does that change the calculation or assessments from Biden’s State Department? And then do you have anything to update the overall U.S. assessment?
MR PRICE: The assessment has not changed since I was last asked about this on Monday. What I said on Monday is – remains true today. There are a variety of views within the Intelligence Community. There are some elements of the Intelligence Community that have reached conclusions on one side, there are some elements that have come to a different conclusion, there are some that say they simply don’t have enough information to reach a firm assessment on the origins of COVID-19.
What we do know is that for more than two years now, the PRC has been blocking international investigators and members of the global public health community from accessing early disease information. It is important that the PRC demonstrate transparency not only for the benefit of people around the world but also to the benefit of the people of China. Only by fully understanding the origins of COVID-19 will we be best able to prepare ourselves should another outbreak turn into an epidemic and turn, ultimately, into a pandemic. We want to learn and to harvest every single lesson we can from COVID-19 to best position the international community to effectively prevent the outbreak of another similar pandemic.
QUESTION: Ned, as you know, the Mexican president was not happy with your statement earlier this week on Mexican electoral institutions, and openly called Secretary Blinken and the U.S. State Department to stop commenting on Mexican issues. Will you stop taking questions on Mexico that are relevant for the U.S.?
MR PRICE: It’s my responsibility to answer the —
MR PRICE: It is – it is my responsibility to take the questions that are asked of me. And when we talk about Mexico, we talk about Mexico with a tremendous amount of respect, recognizing that Mexico is an equal partner, Mexico is a sovereign country that will make its own sovereign decisions. When we spoke about Mexico in this context, we were speaking as we do when we’re asked similar questions about other countries around the world, and we extrapolate and talk about the values and principles that are important to citizens of fellow democracies around the world. Mexico has a vibrant democracy. We’ve seen that over the course of recent days as well. And we were offering those comments in that spirit.
QUESTION: And at the same time, the president was commenting about – well, he was accusing the U.S. ambassador to Peru of giving support to the – for the removal of former President Pedro Castillo back in December. He has repeated this at least five times during the past three months. Has the State Department come out in defense of Ambassador Kenna?
MR PRICE: Of course. Ambassador Kenna is – just as I am performing my job, Ambassador Kenna is performing her very important job. Whether it is our ambassador in Lima, Peru, or our ambassador anywhere around the world where we have an embassy, our ambassadors, our diplomats do not take sides in political disputes. They do not back particular candidates. They recognize that these are sovereign decisions on the part of people around the world, and in this case, the Peruvian people.
What we do back is Peru’s democracy, Peru’s constitution, and Peru’s constitutional processes that have been respected in this case.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Ukraine. Ukraine has sent an appeal to United Nations and Türkiye to start negotiations on extending a grain export deal. This deal will expire on March 18th. Ukraine wants at least one-year extension. Any new efforts from the United States side? Any talk with Turkish and UN officials?
MR PRICE: Absolutely. This is a priority of ours. I suspect you will hear Secretary Blinken talk about it in the course of the G20 tomorrow and when he concludes his G20 with a press conference tomorrow. We have heard these same pleas from Ukraine, but these are not just requests from Ukraine. These are pleadings from the rest of the world because this is a grain deal that has unlocked much-needed food and foodstuffs and grain from Ukraine’s ports that in turn have gone to the rest of the world.
The grain deal that was negotiated between Türkiye, the UN, with Ukraine and Russia as well has helped to feed the world. As the Black Sea Grain Initiative has been in effect, because of the additional food and grain that has come on the market, food prices have come down, hunger has been mitigated, and, put simply, people have been able to live. The challenge of food insecurity has been eased as a result of this important tool.
There is absolutely no reason any country should do anything but seek to extend but also to expand the Black Sea Grain Initiative, seeing just how important it’s been to the region, but also to the world as this grain and food has gone in large part to the developing world where it’s needed most. The Secretary had an opportunity to discuss the Black Sea Grain Initiative with UN Secretary-General Guterres when they met in New York just last week. He has discussed this with our Turkish counterparts as well. And we continue to call on Russia to do what is simply the right thing: to agree to renew and ultimately to expand the Black Sea Grain Initiative so that people around the world can continue to get the food that they need.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. Secretary Blinken said he has no plan for the meeting with Russian or Chinese counterparts at the sidelines of G20 ministerial meeting in India. Do you have anything to add on this? And also, regarding the U.S.-China relations, how do you describe the current tension with China given the U.S. concern over China’s potential lethal support to Russia?
MR PRICE: So on your first question, the Secretary did have an opportunity to address this just a few hours ago. I don’t have anything to add beyond what he added, namely that the G20 is a fairly small place. I expect that he’ll have an opportunity to be in the same room as his Russian and PRC counterparts, as is always the case in the G20 context.
When it comes to our relationship with the PRC, we believe it’s incumbent upon us to maintain channels of dialogue, and the issue that you raised – our concern that the PRC is considering providing lethal assistance to Russia for Russia’s use against the people of Ukraine – is part and parcel of that. We’ve spoken of that publicly, but when Secretary Blinken met with Wang Yi in Munich, it was also a dominant feature of the conversation – knowing that we want to be clear, we want to be direct with our PRC counterparts, knowing that dialogue is an essential element as we seek to responsibly manage this relationship. Dialogue is a key ingredient as we seek to establish these guardrails so that the competition that dominates our bilateral relationship with the PRC doesn’t and can’t veer into conflict.
The PRC, when it comes to this, ultimately is going to make its own decision. But consistent, again, with the point about dialogue, we want the PRC to be in a position to make an informed decision, to know that if it continues down this dangerous path that they would incur costs and consequences from the United States and from many countries around the world.
Yes, go ahead.
MR PRICE: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov said today that he doesn’t exclude contacts with U.S. representatives in Geneva during the arms control conference there. Do you know of any meetings planned with Russian diplomats there?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any meetings to announce, but just as I was saying in the PRC context, we believe that regardless of what is happening in the world or even in the state of our bilateral relationship, that the ability to engage in frank and candid dialogue is important. And it’s especially important on issues of strategic stability and arms control. It’s precisely why we had planned to meet with Russian counterparts in the context of the bilateral consultative committee in – commission in Cairo last year, and then again earlier this year. Unfortunately, Moscow pulled out of those plans.
But when it comes to issues that are of paramount importance to us, and we think to the Russian Federation, and to people around the world, it’s important for us to have the ability to have those discussions as we talk about what is the purview of responsible countries.
QUESTION: There is also a report, a quite recent report that the European Union will not support a joint statement of the G20 foreign ministers meeting if it doesn’t contain condemnation of the war in Ukraine. Does the U.S. support this position?
MR PRICE: These are discussions that are taking place in India. I wouldn’t want to get ahead of discussions, but I’m certain that the G20 member countries will have more to say tomorrow.
QUESTION: Yeah, a question on China. Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink testified yesterday at the House Foreign Affairs Committee about fentanyl. And he said that the discussions with China have not been very satisfactory about this issue, which – and you’ve said similar things from the podium, that there hasn’t been a ton of progress from direct engagement. He also referenced some concerns that China has about these discussions that are unfounded. So I was curious, can you speak to what those concerns might be? He didn’t elaborate on them. And then also, if direct engagement is not yielding much progress on this issue, what is it exactly that you are going to do going forward to try to get some results?
MR PRICE: Dylan, this goes to the core of our approach to the PRC. It is competitive in most respects. There are some respects that are adversarial, that have the potential to be conflictual, where we want to establish those guardrails to see to it the competition doesn’t veer into conflict. But there are also areas that we believe have to see elements of cooperation. And these are areas where there are common challenges, common threats that both of our people face. The United States is a responsible country; we want to act responsibly. We seek to act responsibly to, in the first instance, protect our people, to protect our interests, but also in a way that will protect people around the world. And narcotics like fentanyl is very much one of those issues.
We continue to see PRC-origin precursor chemicals being used in illicit fentanyl production through its – though its past action has helped to counter illicit synthetic drug flows, we do call on the PRC to take additional meaningful, concrete action to curb the diversion of precursor chemicals and equipment used by criminals to manufacture fentanyl and other synthetic drugs. The rise in this precursor diversion and the growth in synthetic drug production is a global problem. And we’re committed to working with the PRC to the extent we can to do what is in the interests, once again, of the American people, of the Chinese people, of people around the world.
By working together, we’ll be able to strengthen international cooperation and impede criminal organizations’ ability to easily produce and traffic illicit synthetic drugs around the world. It’s especially acute in this country, where fentanyl overdoses are the leading cause of death in Americans between the ages of 18 to 49. This is something that Secretary Blinken cares deeply about. He has instructed his team to do everything we can with countries near and far around the world. And we are determined to do what we can to work together with the PRC on what is indeed a shared challenge.
QUESTION: Can you speak more at all to whatever these concerns are that are holding up these talks? Because, I mean, you guys have characterized it as in China’s interest to help tackle this issue. Obviously, they’re not prioritizing it the way that you would like them to, so can you speak to why that is at all?
MR PRICE: Dylan, I can only speak to our commitment to this, and we are committed to working with the PRC in those arenas where our interests align. This is one of those arenas – narcotics, fentanyl in particular, is a threat to the American people. It’s a leading cause of death in this country, and we are committed to doing everything we can to address this with countries around the world, including the PRC.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Yes, sir.
MR PRICE: Go ahead, and I’ll come back – go ahead.
QUESTION: So over Iran, we have talked with you several times from this podium that you were talking about the deadline, and now we see that Iranians have reached out to 30 – 83.7 of uranium purity. So apparently all the tools up to date have failed, and you have said you were talking to the partners and allies. What are you really talking to the partners, and what are the tools right now at hand?
MR PRICE: So there are a number of tools we have at our disposal, and you’ve seen us wield some of them. We’ve continued to increase the costs on Iran in response for its malign activities, including its nuclear program that has continued to advance. We have used sanctions, designations, economic tools at our disposal to hold – to hold to account the regime and to deprive it of revenue that it would otherwise have. We are discussing our approach – the most effective approach to address, to contain, and ultimately to remediate this challenge with our European partners, with partners in the Middle East, and partners around the world as well, because Iran’s nuclear program, since the last administration withdrew from the JCPOA, has been in a position to advance in ways that are simply unacceptable to us.
And this goes back to a point I made earlier in the briefing that President Biden has made a solemn commitment to see to it that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. We continue to believe that diplomacy is the most effective means to make good on that pledge, because truly only through diplomacy can you achieve an outcome that is durable, that is lasting, that could even be permanent, as was the permanent prohibition on Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon that was entailed in the JCPOA.
Now Iran, of course, has consistently turned its back on our overtures and efforts on the part of the United States and our partners in the P5+1 context to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. That hasn’t been on the agenda, but even as Iran itself has killed the possibility for a swift return to compliance with the JCPOA, what remains very much alive for us is a determination to exhaust all avenues of diplomacy even as we consider all alternatives.
QUESTION: Yeah, but the question is, like up to date, you have implemented several – maybe dozens and scores of sanctions, and apparently it didn’t stop Iran. Right now, based – given the fact that they are enrich – continue enriching uranium. The question is: How confident are you that this new sanctions, new tools are going to stop Tehran to go ahead with its nuclear program?
MR PRICE: We are supremely confident in the commitment that we have made that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon. That is a goal we share with countries around the world in Europe, in the Middle East, and well beyond.
QUESTION: And also, on Havana syndrome, I have a follow up. So given the Intelligence Community’s assessment, and given the fact that these incidents only happened at – in U.S. diplomatic facilities abroad, is it possible that those ailments are caused by some of the U.S. national security capabilities installed at these facilities? And is there a discussion to check the U.S. kind of defensive capabilities installed at the facilities abroad?
MR PRICE: You will see in the report that’s been released today and in the documents that have been released previously that there is not one common denominator to all of those who have suffered, who have come down and reported anomalous health incidents. Were a pattern like that to emerge, of course we would take a very close look at that, but there are a number of cases that can be explained through natural causes, through environmental causes. And there are some cases that remain unexplained. Regardless, we’re determined to continue to provide our colleagues with the care, with the support, with the compassion that they need and they deserve.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: The Iranian foreign minister today, in an interview, again denied that Iran supplied Russia with drones, but he also added that a Ukrainian military delegation met with Iranian one in Oman, and the – Ukraine provided them with evidence. And after reviewing this evidence, he is one hundred percent confident that those drones are not Iranian made. Are you aware of such a meeting, and how confident you are that – of your assessment that Iran supplied Russia with the drones that have been used in Ukraine?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t speak to any such meeting. I would have to refer you to our Ukrainian counterparts to speak to that particular allegation, but I can tell you that we are confident that Iran has provided Russia with the UAV technology that it has used to perpetrate some of these horrific attacks against the people of Ukraine – pursing civilian targets, going after energy generation plants. We are confident in that information. Iran has denied this before. Ukraine has supplied to the world evidence of Iranian UAV technology being used to perpetrate such brutality and horror against their own people.
QUESTION: A Palestinian official yesterday said that Mahmoud Abbas had ordered Palestinian security forces to confront the Israeli military. Does that contradict what they’ve committed to you in Aqaba?
MR PRICE: We are aware that a senior Fatah official said that President Abbas made these remarks. We condemn, as I did before, any incitement to violence. We call on the Palestinian Authority, including President Abbas, to clearly condemn terrorism against Israelis and terrorism in all its forms. The Palestinian Authority and Israel should be leaning into security cooperation with each other at such a time. That is in the interests of both Palestinians and Israelis. It’s very consistent with what the parties agreed to at Aqaba.
Yes. Go ahead.
QUESTION: In yesterday report on terrorism, it has mentioned that at least two former Israeli cabinet members categorized the settlers’ violence as terrorism. Do you consider it as such, Ned?
MR PRICE: So the Country Reports on Terrorism that were released yesterday made a number of points about the region. It made the point that Israel has faced far too many threats from organizations like Hamas, like Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and ISIS in the Sinai. It went on at great length about the legitimate security threats that Israel does indeed face. It also did make the point about settler violence and trends that have become clear in that regard as well.
QUESTION: But it is terrorism?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: It is terrorism? Do you consider it as terrorism?
MR PRICE: Do we consider what as terrorism?
QUESTION: The violence, the settlers’ violence, as the Israeli themselves – some of them did consider it as such.
MR PRICE: It is far less important to us the terminology we use and far more important that we roundly condemn any effort to use violence, and certainly any violence that targets civilians.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. On the South Caucasus, if you don’t mind, I was hoping you have – if you could share some reaction to today’s first contact between Baku representatives and Karabakh Armenians. Any reaction from the State —
MR PRICE: Sorry —
QUESTION: It was the first meeting between Baku representatives and Karabakh Armenians today —
MR PRICE: If we have any reaction there, I’ll – we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Russia – Russia’s reaction —
MR PRICE: We’ve got to move on.
QUESTION: Ned, Pakistani supreme court has just announced the holding of the elections. Your comment on that? And former Prime Minister Imran Khan has been continuously winning the midterm elections. Are any grudges, are the – does this building have any grudges – the U.S. State Department has any grudges with Imran Khan if he were to come again and win the elections in Pakistan?
MR PRICE: These are questions for the people of Pakistan; these are not questions for the United States. As I’ve said before in a different context, the United States does not favor one candidate, one personality, one political party over another. We stand behind democratic institutions, democratic processes, and ultimately, the questions you raise are questions for the people of Pakistan.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:27 p.m.)