2:43 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. A few items at the top. And I’ll start, of course, by highlighting Secretary Blinken’s speech outlining this administration’s vision of a foreign policy that delivers for the American people.
Our foreign policy will be entirely focused on making the lives of all Americans more secure, creating opportunity for them and for their families, and tackling the global crises that are increasingly shaping our collective futures.
The Secretary outlined a number of key priorities that get to the heart of those efforts: contain COVID-19 and strengthen global health security more broadly; turn around the economic crisis and build a more inclusive global economy; renew democracy at home and abroad; work to create a humane and effective immigration system; revitalize our ties with partners and allies; and tackle the climate crisis and drive a green energy revolution; secure our leadership in technology; and to manage the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century, and, of course, that is our relationship with China.
We will approach these priorities, as the Secretary said today, through the lens that diplomacy is the best way to deal with today’s challenges. Our strategy recognizes that American leadership and engagement matter because America is uniquely capable of bringing countries together to solve the problems that no other country can solve on its own.
We will adhere to clear principles, standing firm on our commitment to human rights, to democracy, to the rule of law.
We will balance humility and confidence.
We will build a non-partisan national security workforce that reflects America in all its diversity, because we represent all Americans. We believe that diversity is a core source of strength.
And we will hold ourselves accountable to a single, overarching measure of success: Are we delivering results for the American people?
Next, in keeping with our commitment to stand firm on support for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, the United States is deeply concerned by Russia’s increasingly repressive efforts to clamp down on the exercise of freedom of expression, including by members of the press.
In particular, we are concerned by today’s denial of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s appeals of fines unjustly imposed under Russia’s repressive foreign agent registration laws.
These laws are a further transparent effort to impede the work of RFE/RL outlets, which are already severely limited in their ability to broadcast on television and radio in Russia, and to prevent them from bringing real and objective news to the Russian people. This is unacceptable, and we will continue to support the presence of independent and international media outlets in Russia.
And finally, before we go to questions, I wanted to be sure to take a moment to state that as reports and shocking images continue to stream in, we are appalled and revulsed to see the horrific violence perpetrated against the people of Burma for their peaceful calls to restore civilian governance. We call on all countries to speak with one voice to condemn brutal violence by the Burmese military against its own people and to promote accountability for the military’s actions that have led to the life – loss of life of so many people in Burma.
So with that, Matt.
QUESTION: Thanks. Let’s just stay on Burma for a second. I want to get – I want to see if you can be a little bit more specific about this, because as you may know, we have – the AP has a journalist who has been arrested and detained under this Section 505 law. And he’s not the only one, but he is in this batch of people that was – that were picked up, is the only one who works for a foreign news outlet – in this case, an American one. And I’m wondering if you have anything you can say specifically about his case and what you might do.
And I just want to point out also that I and others asked similar questions about Reuters correspondents who have – were arrested several years ago and charged under the same law for reporting on the situation in Rakhine with the Rohingya.
MR PRICE: Thank you for the question, Matt. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this. We are, of course, very familiar with these reports that the military has charged additional journalists with crimes. We are deeply concerned about the increasing attacks on and arrests of journalists. We call on the military to immediately release these individuals, and to cease intimidation and harassment of the media and others unjustly detained merely for doing their jobs, for exercising their universal rights. A free and independent media, as we have said in other contexts, plays a critical role in ensuring that people are able to make informed decisions. We call upon the military to allow journalists and – journalists to work independently, without harassment, intimidation, or fear of reprisals. We’ve taken, of course, as you know, a number of measures against the military leaders responsible for this coup and related violence, including visa restrictions and asset-blocking sanctions. We will continue and we will expand those efforts to promote accountability for what we have witnessed over the past few weeks.
QUESTION: Okay. Are you aware of or have you – are you aware of any efforts that have been made on his behalf or on behalf of the other – I believe it’s five others, journalists who were detained? Anything specific on them?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to get into specifics. What we have said broadly is that, of course, we stand with the people of Burma. We support their peaceful exercise of their universal rights, including the right of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly. And, of course, when it comes to these journalists, we have spoken out as I just did here, forcefully, making clear that it is unacceptable that journalists who are merely furthering their rights, furthering their obligation to an informed citizenry be detained for undertaking that activity.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I continue with —
MR PRICE: Humeyra. Yep.
QUESTION: — Myanmar?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: So in response to this escalation, are you guys thinking about further action? I have another one.
MR PRICE: We are. We are always looking at policy options that are available to us and that are appropriate given the circumstances. The loss of life, especially the loss of life in recent days, is abhorrent. As I said today, it is repulsive. We are evaluating policy measures that may be appropriate and relevant to respond, and to ensure accountability for the military’s actions, including their overthrow of the democratically elected Burmese Government on February 1st. We are doing this both within our own system, but we are also closely coordinating with our likeminded partners and allies around the world.
We have, as I said just a moment ago, encouraged the world to speak with one voice, but we have also sought to pursue ways that we can act consistent with one another. We’ve been heartened by the measures that some of our close partners, including the Canadians and the Brits, have taken in this context. We will look to what else might be appropriate for us to do and we will continue to work closely with our allies and partners as to what they might do.
QUESTION: So let me read you something from UN special envoy on Myanmar who spoke to Myanmar’s military, that basically highlights the difficulty of having any leverage with those policy tools. She says – she talks about how she spoke with the Myanmar military and they told her, “We are used to sanctions. We survived. We can just keep going with fewer friends.” So how do you deal with that? What action could the U.S. possibly take in the face of this that would actually improve things for Myanmar people?
MR PRICE: Well, as I’ve said more recently in a different context, but also in this context as well, in our policy response to the Burmese military’s coup, its overthrow of the civilian democratically elected government, in the first instance, we are not going to do anything that worsens the suffering, the humanitarian suffering of the Burmese people. We are not going to institute measures that would redound on them. Our measures are going to continue to be very tightly targeted at the members of their – of the military. And you have seen this in the steps we have taken to date. We have enacted policy measures against senior members of the junta as well as entities controlled by the military. Some of our closest allies have done the same as well.
And I think it is fair to say – I know it is fair to say, in fact, that these targeted measures have a significant impact on the Burmese military, on their ability to wield power and influence. In all of this, we are continuing to stand with the people of Burma, and the people of Burma, as we have seen, have made very clear in their own actions and words and deeds that they do not support, of course, this military junta that has overthrown their own democratically elected government. We are standing with them, with our word, with our deed to advance their aspirations to restore a democratically elected government in Burma.
QUESTION: Still on Burma, and then I have an Afghan question for when you switch topics. Secretary Blinken today talked about working with China when there was a common cause. How much discussion is there with them about Burma? And also India and Japan, since they are the other two major trading partners. Can you elaborate at all on that?
MR PRICE: Well, what we have said throughout is that our focus has been on working closely, cooperating, and coordinating with our likeminded allies and partners. We’ve spoken about that in the context of our European allies, as well as with our allies in the Indo-Pacific and our partners in the Indo-Pacific. Now, you are right that China does have influence in the region. It does have influence with the military junta. We have called upon the Chinese to use that influence in a constructive way, in a way that advances the interests of the people of Burma.
And again, we know what the interests of the people of Burma are because they have told us. They have demonstrated with their own two feet by taking to the streets peacefully to protest what the junta has attempted to do. So we continue to call on China to act constructively in this context, even as we focus our coordination and cooperation with our likeminded partners and allies.
Anything else on Burma before we go to Afghanistan?
QUESTION: It doesn’t – India and Japan – and it doesn’t sound like you’re in direct communication with Beijing actively working this problem right now.
MR PRICE: Well, we have had a number of engagements with the Chinese. Of course, Secretary Blinken has taken part in a call with Director Yang that we have read out. There have been other engagements with the Chinese at various levels. The message we have sent to them has been pretty simple, in fact. It is that we are looking for China to play a constructive role in the restoration of civilian-led government in Burma.
QUESTION: And India and Japan?
MR PRICE: And India and Japan as well, of course. The Secretary has had an opportunity to speak on a bilateral basis with his Indian and Japanese counterpart. The Secretary has had an opportunity to speak with the Quad on – at the ministerial level, where Burma, of course, was raised as well. So India and Japan are key partners in the Indo-Pacific and key partners that we will continue to work with towards our collective goal of seeking a restoration of Burma’s democratically elected civilian government.
Elsewhere on Burma?
QUESTION: Sure. Do you – just let me follow up on the UN ambassador. I know you spoke to it yesterday, but Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun. Any update on his status, whether the United States is able to help him and ensure that he stays there?
MR PRICE: Well, we are aware of notification to the UN regarding the permanent representative, Kyaw Moe Tun. That said, we also understand that Kyaw Moe Tun remains in his position at present. Obviously, this is a credentialing issue that we will look to the UN to resolve.
QUESTION: Sorry, that’s pretty much the same thing you said yesterday.
MR PRICE: Right. There has been no update. Of course, I would also point to what we said on Friday with the heroic words that we heard from inside the UN chamber that we continue to commend and applaud.
Elsewhere on Burma or can we move on? One more?
QUESTION: Just one more. We haven’t talked about the issue of the Rohingya in Burma. And I’m just wondering – you just mentioned discussions about the interests of the people of Burma, and I’m wondering if the issue of the Rohingya have come up at all in the context of these discussions.
MR PRICE: Discussions with our likeminded partners and allies?
QUESTION: That’s right, or in – as you talk to people inside Burma and trying to figure out the path forward.
MR PRICE: Well, of course. Look, the plight of the Rohingya has been a priority of us. It was a priority of ours before February 1st; it remains a priority of ours after February 1st. Right after February 1st, of course, our concern has broadened for the people of Burma, not just the Rohingya, but also those that are seeking to have their voices known when it comes to their desire to see a restoration of the civilian-led government.
The United States has been the most generous contributor to humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya in the region. Over the course of recent years, I believe that has totaled $1.2 billion, with hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years alone. We will continue to work to support the Rohingya in Burma but also in the broader region even as we now work to show our support for all the people of Burma who have taken peacefully to make clear that they seek a restoration of their democratically elected government.
Should we go to Afghanistan, Kim?
QUESTION: Yeah. It’s about the worst-kept secret in D.C. and Kabul that Envoy Khalilzad has been talking about some sort of a Bonn 2 get together, perhaps in a place like Turkey, where you get the Taliban and the Afghan Government and other elements of power in the same room to talk about divvying up power in some sort of interim government setting. Critics – is the Taliban not being encouraged to go to the ballot box?
MR PRICE: Well, I think in the first instance what I would say is that this is an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process. The United States, of course, is seeking to support a diplomatic solution to help Afghans achieve a political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire. To that end, as we announced over the weekend, the special representative and his team are now in the midst of their first travel to the region since January 20th.
SRAR Khalilzad and his team wrapped up today three days of productive consultations with government officials in Kabul. They met with civil society leaders. They met with other Afghan political leaders focused on accelerating progress towards peace. In all of this, Ambassador Khalilzad emphasized our focus on diplomacy as I mentioned and garnering wider international support for – to help Afghanistan achieve that political settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire that I mentioned before. I think it is fair to say that they found and over time have found widespread support for the need to move quickly and to deliver that just and durable peace that has been at the center of our diplomatic efforts and the center of what Afghans are demanding and in fact what they deserve.
Ambassador Khalilzad is now in Doha. He will continue engagements in Doha. I expect there may be additional travel from there, but he is hard at work – not at dictating anything, but in facilitating this Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process the United States is firmly behind.
QUESTION: Switch topic? Yemen? Any readout for —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Afghanistan actually.
MR PRICE: One more question on Afghanistan. Sure.
QUESTION: I’m just curious. When you say they found widespread support for the need to move quickly, what exactly are you referencing?
MR PRICE: I am not talking about our internal evaluation, if that’s what you’re alluding to. I am speaking generally to the need to arrive at a diplomatic, just, and durable diplomatic solution to this longstanding conflict. That is what we’re talking about in this context.
QUESTION: And just one more, there were three female journalists that were reportedly murdered in Afghanistan, and the Afghan police chief said that the person who was suspected to be the gunman was connected to the Taliban. Do you have any response?
MR PRICE: Well, we have seen the devastating news that you reference that three female media workers were gunned down in Jalalabad. Our charge d’affaires in Kabul stated that Afghans across the country are facing threat. We know that these attacks are meant to do one thing. They are meant to intimidate. They are intended to make reporters cower. The culprits hope to stifle freedom in a nation where the media has in many ways flourished for the past 20 years.
This cannot be tolerated. We do not tolerate it. We seek to end the impunity with open and transparent investigations into these vicious murders. We call on the government to defend press freedoms and to protect journalists. The perpetrators must be held accountable and to stop their terrorism against Afghan civilians, including in this case journalists. We offer our sincere condolences to the families, to the friends, to their loved ones of three – of these three journalists. When it comes to the culprit, I’ve seen the report you referenced. We have called for an investigation. More broadly, we continue to believe that levels of violence in Afghanistan remain unacceptably high.
MR PRICE: So as we noted in the travel announcement, Special Envoy Lenderking is traveling to several Gulf countries. He’s been meeting with senior government officials and UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths during his trip to the region. Special Envoy Lenderking is now back in Riyadh for further consultations with Saudi Arabia on resolving the conflict and bringing relief to the humanitarian plight of the Yemeni people. I believe it is true that Special Envoy Lenderking has visited every GCC country except for Bahrain, but on the way over to the region several days ago, the first call he made was to the foreign minister of Bahrain. So he has been in contact with officials in every GCC country. I believe it is also true that NEA has issued readouts of these – some of these key meetings, and so I would refer you to those readouts for additional details.
QUESTION: And what about his meetings with the Houthis? Can you confirm that he met with the Houthis in Oman or not?
MR PRICE: He has been meeting with senior government officials and UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths during his trip. NEA has issued readouts of key meetings. I don’t have anything for you beyond that.
QUESTION: Sorry, can —
QUESTION: Did you mean that he didn’t meet with them?
MR PRICE: I am saying that he has been in the region, where he has undertaken consultations with senior government officials, with Martin Griffith – Martin Griffiths, but we don’t have any additional readouts beyond the —
QUESTION: But there is a story in Reuters today confirming, based on two sources, that U.S. officials have met with Houthis in Oman. Is this story accurate or false?
MR PRICE: I’m just not going to comment on that story. What I’m going to say is that he has been in the region. He’s been undertaking consultations. We’ve issued readouts of key meetings. I don’t have anything for you beyond that.
QUESTION: Wait, hold on. Just on that, on the meetings, because you’re – I don’t know what this other story that he’s talking about is, but we’ve heard that the Houthis rejected a meeting with Special Envoy Lenderking. But what I want to ask about, going back to something that I’ve been asking you about for two weeks now: The removal of the Houthi leadership from the SGT – SDGT terrorism list, not the other one related to – the main difference, the main thing that was – that changed because they were taken off that was that U.S. officials were allowed to meet with the Houthi leadership who had been previously, under the previous administration’s order, they had – that was verboten. It was not allowed.
Is that why they were taken off, the three were taken off that – this list? And did Special Envoy Lenderking attempt to or meet with any of them?
MR PRICE: Matt, I think you’re continuing to mischaracterize —
QUESTION: No, actually, Ned, I think you are mischaracterizing, because you still refuse to say that you’ve taken these guys off that list.
MR PRICE: Matt —
QUESTION: And you did.
MR PRICE: — we have been very clear —
QUESTION: You did. You notified Congress that you’ve moved them off the list.
MR PRICE: — that we revoked – that we revoked the broad designation for Ansarallah.
MR PRICE: For the benefit of this room —
QUESTION: I’m talking about the specific three leaders who you kept on the list because they were destabilizing Yemen, but you took off the terrorism list. And there are —
MR PRICE: What you are – what you are omitting —
QUESTION: There is – there is – and you’re going to call this picayune or whatever you want to do, but —
MR PRICE: What you are omitting, Matt, is the fact that these three individuals, now plus two additional Houthi leaders whom we sanctioned earlier this week, have always remained subject to U.S. and to UN sanctions. We have an executive order —
QUESTION: Is it prohibited for U.S. officials to meet with any of them?
MR PRICE: — regarding the conflict in Yemen to which these —
QUESTION: Is it – is it —
MR PRICE: — individuals have always been subject.
QUESTION: Is it —
MR PRICE: Any property they have has been subject to – subject to U.S. jurisdiction has remained blocked. U.S. persons cannot do business with them.
QUESTION: Of which they have – of which they have none.
MR PRICE: U.S. persons cannot do business with them.
QUESTION: They don’t have any. It’s —
MR PRICE: We’ve talked about the reasons why we revoked this broad designation of Ansarallah. Again, it had nothing to do with the reprehensible conduct of Houthi leaders, of these three Houthi leaders, of any other Houthi leaders, now five of whom are subject to U.S. sanctions, several of whom are subject to UN sanctions. It had everything to do with the fact that in the first instance, what we did not want to do was to add to the humanitarian plight of the Yemeni people, some 80 percent of whom live under Houthi control in Yemen. That was the reason —
QUESTION: Yeah, but you still —
MR PRICE: — for the revocation.
QUESTION: You’re still not answering the question about whether you actually reversed these sanctions.
MR PRICE: Let’s move around so we —
QUESTION: That’s fine.
MR PRICE: Yes, and I’ll go in a line here. Yes, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. After taking charge, Secretary Blinken talked with India’s leadership (inaudible). And I was wondering, did he also talk about the human rights situation in Kashmir? My second part is, what is Biden administration’s foreign policy towards Pakistan given that it borders Afghanistan and India?
MR PRICE: Sure. So your first question was, has Secretary Blinken addressed Kashmir?
MR PRICE: Yes. So, as I think we have said from this room before, as a government, certainly as the State Department, we continue to follow developments in Jammu and Kashmir closely. Our policy when it comes to – when it comes to it has not changed. We welcome steps to return the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir to full economic and political normalcy consistent with India’s democratic values. As we’ve said before, Secretary Blinken has had now a couple opportunities to speak to his Indian counterpart, both bilaterally and in the context of the Quad.
When it comes to our relationship with Pakistan – was that your other question? Look, I think the point we would want to make is that United States has important relationships with India, as I said, but also with Pakistan. These relationships stand on their own in our view. They are not a zero-sum proposition when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. We are – we have productive, constructive relations, and productive and constructive relationships with one does not detract from the relationship we have at the other. It does not come at the expense at the relationship we have with the other.
When it comes to India, we have a global comprehensive strategic partnership, and we’ve talked about that. When it comes to Pakistan, I addressed this the other week: We have important shared interests in the region. And we will continue to work closely with the Pakistani authorities on those shared interests.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on his question first. You mean to say the Secretary of State, when he spoke to the Indian counterpart (inaudible) Jaishankar, he raised the issue of Kashmir with him, right?
MR PRICE: We issued a readout of that call, so I would refer you to the readout of that conversation.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) had any mention of Kashmir in that.
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to go beyond the readout.
QUESTION: Don’t you – do you think that Kashmir region is not controversial anymore, it’s not – it’s like – because – after the 370 in August 2019? So do you still want to revoke that? Do you still – do you think it’s – the territory is India’s territory? Is it still a disputed territory between India and Pakistan?
MR PRICE: What we have done is we continue to support direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and other areas of – and other issues of concern. Of course, we’ve continued to call for a reduction of tensions along the line of control, returning to that 2003 ceasefire.
QUESTION: Going back again on China, the previous administration had a policy on 5G and Chinese predatory economy. Does that policy continues, or they will change in the policy of the new administration?
MR PRICE: Well, the Biden administration views 5G as a high priority, of course. We advocate for a vibrant digital economy that enables all citizens to benefit from the promise of 5G wireless networks. We also know that the stakes for securing these networks could not be any higher. 5G, of course, is transformative and will touch every aspect of our lives, including – and this is important – critical infrastructure sectors: transportation, electrical distribution, health care, public health, and many more. And so that is why we are concerned about the dangers of installing networks with equipment that can be manipulated, disrupted, or even controlled by the People’s Republic of China, which as we know, of course, has no regard for human rights or privacy.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I have one more question. In last – about a month or so, Secretary has spoken to around 60 world leaders, his counterparts. What’s the general common message that he is receiving from them?
MR PRICE: Well, I think the number is even higher now. I think it is veering towards 100. The Secretary – in terms of total calls – the Secretary has often remarked that it is a good thing that we are on the friends and family plan here at the State Department, because he has been burning up the phone lines. He spoke to this a bit in his speech today. He spoke to – he has spoken to it publicly in other fora as well. I think what he is hearing broadly speaking is that the world is glad America’s back. America is now re-engaged. We are re-engaged bilaterally in terms of important relationships. We are re-engaged multilaterally in terms of international bodies. We are working cooperatively and closely with allies and partners around the world. And I think there has been – that has been greeted with a good degree of welcome. And so I think that has been the overriding message that he has heard from many of our closest friends and partners.
QUESTION: I have one more, a small quick one. The administration is reviewing several of the arms deal that the previous administration had done with other countries like UAE. Is those with the U.S. had with India is under review, like the arms drones to India?
MR PRICE: Well, I believe as of this year, the United States has authorized over $20 billion in defense sales to India. It’s these offers of advanced U.S. defense platforms that demonstrate our commitment to India’s security and sovereignty. It demonstrates our commitment to that global, comprehensive, strategic partnership.
I don’t have anything for you on pending sales or the review process for them. As I understand it, they’re – we are – there is nothing currently in train that India has accepted. But if there is any change in the status of pending transfers, I’m happy to let you know.
QUESTION: On Yemen.
MR PRICE: Iraq, Yemen – I just want to make sure we have some —
QUESTION: There’s ICC too.
MR PRICE: Let’s cover the ICC.
QUESTION: ICC. Not Iraq.
MR PRICE: Sure.
MR PRICE: As you wish.
QUESTION: Okay. Good. (Laughter.) Thanks. So can I – I’ll go with Iraq. I’m sure ICC’s going to come up as well. So there was another round of rocket attacks in Iraq yesterday. You’ve previously said that you won’t lash out, but these attacks are definitely on the rise, so what will you do to stop them? And you had talked about an investigation for the previous attacks to see who was the perpetrator. What is the latest in that investigation?
MR PRICE: Well, this was an investigation that was principally undertaken by our Iraqi and Kurdish partners. Of course, we cooperated closely. There was good sharing of information when it came to their investigation.
Look, we said this in the aftermath of the heinous attack on Erbil, I repeat it today: We won’t preview any particular or specific response. But we have demonstrated our resolve to take necessary and proportionate action in self-defense where appropriate. Whatever response we take, we will act with appropriate coordination with the Government of Iraq and of our – and with our coalition partners. We responded to recent attacks by Iran-backed militias on coalition U.S. forces in a manner that was calculated, proportionate, and fully covered by legal authorities. I think you will see the same hallmarks of any forthcoming responses.
QUESTION: Yeah, Ned, on that – and just broadening out a little bit, since you guys said that you were ready to go back to talks with Iran over the nuclear deal – I mean, in the context of the P5+1 with a European invitation – since you lifted the FTO thing on the Houthis and the others which we already talked about, Iranian-backed militia in Yemen have stepped up their offensive in Marib. They have increased the number of rocket attacks going into Saudi Arabia – that you condemned now, like, three times just in this last couple days – and also attacked in Saudi Arabia. On top of that, they also rejected your offer to get back into the talks and have stepped up their violations of the JCPOA.
So if you were going to give a grade about how your approach to Iran has been since the administration began, what kind of grade would you give it?
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, I think our work with Iran is yet incomplete, and it won’t be complete until —
QUESTION: Okay, can I – the one-word answer, then, is the grade is “incomplete”?
MR PRICE: No, our answer is that our work won’t be complete until we have what we are seeking, and that is a verifiable, permanent prohibition —
MR PRICE: — on Iran ever obtaining a nuclear program. But there’s one other –
QUESTION: Are you —
MR PRICE: — there’s one other —
QUESTION: Are you getting closer to that goal —
MR PRICE: — there’s one other —
QUESTION: — or further away from that goal?
MR PRICE: — there’s one other historical point that you didn’t mention —
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MR PRICE: — in your history lesson, Matt. And that is the fact that these attacks —
QUESTION: My history lesson only went back, like, three weeks.
MR PRICE: — these attacks – well, again, you’re looking a slice of history that may not be fully representative, and in fact, it’s not.
QUESTION: It’s your slice of history.
MR PRICE: Because these attacks, including on coalition and certainly U.S. forces in Iraq, they did not start three weeks ago, Matt.
QUESTION: No, I know they didn’t.
MR PRICE: They did not start a month ago. They started in the aftermath of the so-called policy of maximum pressure, a policy of maximum pressure that did not avail itself of a diplomatic opening of any sort. So to attribute what we have seen over the past several weeks to this administration, I think you are missing – anyone, I should say, would be missing the forest for the trees.
QUESTION: Okay, hold on. I’m not attributing it to this administration. You guys aren’t the ones who are doing the attacks. I’m saying the – Iran and its proxies are doing the attacks. I’m not —
MR PRICE: I think it’s an important —
QUESTION: I wasn’t asking you if you —
MR PRICE: It’s —
QUESTION: — if there is any concern.
MR PRICE: And I am just telling you that it is an important historical point to recognize when these escalations and these provocations began. Because again, as I said I believe it was last week now, maximum pressure sought to do a few things.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, when you —
MR PRICE: It sought to deliver a so-called better deal. It sought to unite the United States with our closest partners and allies. It sought to cow Iran and its proxies into submission. And in fact, the opposite of all of those things has happened.
QUESTION: No, no, but you’re – but you’re —
MR PRICE: Of course, Iran has advanced key elements of its nuclear program. Of course, it was the United States, not Iran, that became isolated under the previous policy. And of course, as we’ve been talking about now, these escalations and these provocations by Iran and its proxies started in the aftermath of this maximum pressure policy that did not have any sort of diplomatic offramp.
QUESTION: Okay. But all of your overtures that have been made since the – since January 20th, the situation has not gotten any better. Can you at least – can you at least acknowledge that?
MR PRICE: What —
QUESTION: It hasn’t gotten any better from where it was three, five months ago.
MR PRICE: What I would acknowledge is that we are measuring in terms of our overarching objective. Our overarching objective is to have a – to impose verifiable and permanent limits on Iran’s nuclear program. That is what we are seeking here.
Yes, in the back, please.
QUESTION: I’d be happy to have someone else – can someone else ask about Israel and the ICC?
MR PRICE: Matt, they’re welcome to ask whatever they would like.
QUESTION: I don’t want to – I’m not saying that I have to ask it, but it needs to be asked.
MR PRICE: Please.
QUESTION: A follow-up question?
MR PRICE: No, sorry, let’s go to the back and then we’ll come back.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. My question is about Ethiopia. As you all know, since the war broke in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, it has caused wider spread of – widespread suffering to the people of Tigray, and my heart bleeds for the Tigray people who are suffering. Right now, urgent steps are needed to alleviate suffering in Ethiopian – Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Is there any plan by the State Department or by the U.S. Government to provide significant humanitarian assistance to the people of Tigray region in Ethiopia? I have a follow-up question after this.
MR PRICE: Well, thank you. Thank you for the question. As we have said, we are gravely concerned by reported atrocities and the overall deteriorating situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. We strongly condemn the killings, the forced removals, the sexual assaults, the other human rights abuses by several parties that multiple organizations have reported on in Tigray, including recently the Amnesty International investigation.
We have repeatedly engaged with the Ethiopian Government on the importance of ending the violence, on ensuring unhindered humanitarian access to Tigray, and allowing a full, independent international investigation into all reports of human rights abuses. We continue to contend that anyone responsible for human rights abuses must be held to account. You may have seen that – it was earlier this week – that USAID announced that they would be deploying a so-called DART – a Disaster Assistance Response Team – to help with the humanitarian suffering in Tigray. Of course, the United States has called for unhindered humanitarian access so that we can continue to alleviate – do all we can to alleviate the enormous humanitarian suffering that has taken part in Tigray.
QUESTION: Yeah, my second question is: Recently, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for Ethiopia to immediately withdraw troops from Tigray. Then the Ethiopian Government responded, “It should be clear that” – sorry – “It should be clear that such matters are the sole responsibility of the Ethiopian Government.” “No foreign country should try to dictate a sovereign nation’s internal affairs.”
What is your thought regarding the response of the Ethiopian Government?
MR PRICE: Well, we issued a readout of Secretary Blinken’s recent call with Prime Minister Abiy. It was a conversation where the Secretary made very clear our profound concerns with the reports that are emanating out of Tigray. He emphasized his concern about the humanitarian and the human rights crisis that is ongoing in the region. He noted many of those credible reports that have emerged from the region, and as I just said now, the Secretary urged the prime minister to take immediate, concrete steps to protect civilians, including refugees, and to prevent further violence. He pressed for an immediate end to the hostilities in Tigray and for the withdrawal of all outside forces from the region, and that includes the Amhara regional security forces and Eritrean troops. He asked that the Government of Ethiopia work with the international community to facilitate independent, international – again, credible investigations into the abuses that have been reported in Tigray.
And he also acknowledged the fact that we have heard positive signs from the Ethiopian Government – of course, the recent announcement of full and unhindered humanitarian access into Tigray. What we are looking for now are signs on the ground that those pledges will come to fruition so that the United States together with the international community can do all we can to alleviate the humanitarian suffering of the people of Tigray.
MR PRICE: Please.
QUESTION: Thank you. So does the State Department have a reaction to the ICC investigation into war crime allegations in Palestinian – excuse me – in Palestinian territories? And also, the prior administration had imposed sanctions against the ICC prosecutor and two of her aides who were conducting this investigation. Are those sanctions still in place? What does this administration plan to do about them?
MR PRICE: Well, let me just start generally and say that we firmly oppose and are disappointed by the ICC prosecutor’s announcement of an investigation into the Palestinian situation. We will continue to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly. The ICC, as we have said, has no jurisdiction over this matter. Israel is not a party to the ICC, and it has not consented to the court’s jurisdiction. And we have serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel.
The Palestinians do not qualify as a sovereign state and therefore are not qualified to obtain membership as a state in or to participate as a state in or to delegate jurisdiction to the ICC. The current ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, indicated that her office would need to assess priorities and resources before determining when and how to proceed. We noted that.
The United States has always taken the position that the court’s jurisdiction should be reserved for countries that consent to it or that are referred by the UN Security Council. As we made clear when the Palestinians purported to join the Rome Statute in 2015, again, we do not believe the Palestinians qualify as a sovereign state and therefore are not qualified to obtain membership as a state or to participate as a state in international organizations and that includes in the ICC.
The United States – we are committed to promoting accountability, respect for human rights, and justice for the victims of atrocities.
When it comes to the sanctions you mentioned, look, much as we disagree with the ICC’s actions relating to the Palestinian situation and of course to Afghanistan, the administration – we are thoroughly reviewing sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13928 as we determine our next steps.
QUESTION: On Israel too. Israel has said today that Iran is linked to a recent oil spill off Israel shores that caused major ecological damage, calling the incident environmental terrorism. Do you have anything on this?
MR PRICE: I don’t have anything for you on that. If we do, I’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Do you have – and considering —
MR PRICE: Matt, let’s – I know —
QUESTION: Considering your position on the Palestinians now, so where – where do the – where should the Palestinians go to get accountability for what they claim to be problems? To Israeli courts? Where do they go?
MR PRICE: Matt, look, we – of course the United States is always going to stand up for human rights. We’re always going to stand up —
QUESTION: Where do they go? Where do they go?
MR PRICE: Matt, that is why I think you have —
MR PRICE: That is why you have heard us continue to endorse and —
QUESTION: Ned, where?
MR PRICE: — to call for a two-state solution to this long-running conflict. A two-state solution —
QUESTION: Should they go to the Israeli courts? Where do they go?
MR PRICE: — because it protects Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state, but also because it will give the Palestinians —
QUESTION: Where do they go?
MR PRICE: — a viable state of their own and fulfill —
QUESTION: Where do they go?
MR PRICE: — their legitimate aspirations for dignity and self-determination.
QUESTION: Where do they go? Where do they go?
QUESTION: Just following up on the ICC, of course the – Ms. Bensouda, her term is coming to an end, and there’s a new prosecutor who has been chosen. Do you have any message to – I believe Karim Khan is his name. Do you have any message to him? Are you expecting him to end these – to end these probes in the Palestinian territories and Afghanistan? Is there any leverage that the U.S. plans to exert with him?
MR PRICE: Well, we’re of course aware that the states parties to the Rome Statute have selected Karim Khan to serve as the next chief prosecutor of the ICC beginning in June of this year, I believe it is. As I just said, the United States did not join the court. We didn’t participate in this selection process. I think what we would say is that as member states consider reforms, including those recommended by independent experts to help the court better prioritize its resources and achieve its core missions, it will be critical to ensure that the next prosecutor has the time and support to conduct a careful review of reform proposals.
A final question here.
QUESTION: Final question. On Yemen, just a follow-up on Yemen. The special envoy acknowledged before that there is an active diplomatic or active back channel that the U.S. Government depends on to convey messages to the Houthis. I understand you don’t want to comment on the story of the meeting between the SE and the Houthi last month in Oman, but is the special envoy or any other officials, U.S. officials, open to the idea of having direct talks with the Houthis if they find that helpful to their efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Yemen?
MR PRICE: Look, of course we are working closely with our partners in the region on resolving this devastating conflict in Yemen. We have spoken of our coordination and our work with the UN envoy. Of course, we’ve read out meetings with members of the GCC. I would also add that the Houthis have no doubt about where we stand, about what we seek to do, about how we seek to do it. I wouldn’t want to go into any further detail. I know the special envoy has conveyed a similar message, and I think that’s where we’d leave it.
Thank you very much, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:32 p.m.)