1:46 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. It’s been a while. For those of you who don’t remember, my name is Ned Price. I’m the spokesperson here. It’s good to be back with you all. We have a few items at the top, starting with Belarus.
The United States has looked to improve the tenor of our bilateral relationship with Belarus; that effort has received broad bipartisan support across administrations. We still want to see Belarus succeed as an independent, prosperous, democratic country.
However, the events surrounding the conduct of the fraudulent 2020 presidential election, the violent and repressive tactics in its aftermath, and over 300 political prisoners cannot be ignored. Many American officials have conveyed these sentiments directly to Belarusian authorities since those elections.
In 2015, the Department of Treasury issued – and has since extended annually – a general license authorizing transactions with nine state-owned enterprises in Belarus. We did this because of notable progress at the time in the field of human rights and specifically due to the release of all political prisoners.
Regrettably, we find the human rights situation has deteriorated to arguably the worst point in Belarus’ independent history. With more than 300 political prisoners currently detained in Belarus, the department is unable to recommend another extension at this time, particularly in light of the sense of Congress expressed in the 2020 Belarus Sovereignty and Democracy Act. The current extension will expire on April 26th.
This step is reversible, and we call on Belarusian authorities to take steps to allow us to do just that, specifically by releasing all political prisoners.
The Lukashenka regime is still able to take these necessary steps to reverse course, release all those wrongfully imprisoned simply for peacefully disagreeing with the authorities, espousing different views, or daring to compete in an election.
We call for the full and unconditional release of all political prisoners and the cessation of violence by the authorities against the Belarusian people.
Further, we continue our call for the authorities to commit to a meaningful dialogue with the leaders of the political opposition under the auspices of the OSCE leading to free and fair elections under independent observation.
The United States will continue to support the Belarusian people in their aspirations for a democratic future.
QUESTION: Do you want to take questions on that, or go through all —
MR PRICE: We’ll have a couple more; we can come back to it.
As you may have seen in the Secretary’s recent statement, the Department of State is required by law to submit the Hong Kong Policy Act report and accompanying certification to Congress annually.
This year’s report details the actions taken by PRC and Hong Kong authorities to further erode Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and freedoms during the reporting period, which entailed June 2020 to February of 2021. Based on the report’s findings, the Secretary has certified to Congress that Hong Kong does not warrant treatment under U.S. law in the same manner as U.S. laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1st of 1997 – the date, of course, of the handover from the UK to the PRC.
Today, therefore, we submitted the Hong Kong Policy Act report to Congress and certified for the second time that Hong Kong does not warrant differential treatment to the PRC under U.S. law because of the PRC and Hong Kong actions taken to dismantle Hong Kong’s autonomy.
We also want to take this opportunity to strongly condemn the actions taken on March 30th by the PRC National People’s Congress Standing Committee to further erode political participation and representation in Hong Kong. We are also deeply concerned by the delay of the September Legislative Council elections for the second time.
These changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system defy the will of the people in Hong Kong, deny Hong Kongers a voice in their own governance. The changes, which will establish a committee to vet candidates for office based solely on their loyalty to Beijing and diminish the proportion of directly-elected members of the Legislative Council, will severely curtail meaningful pluralism and representative governance in Hong Kong. These changes are inconsistent with Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which states that universal suffrage is the ultimate objective for the people in Hong Kong.
The United States stands united with our allies and partners in speaking out against the human rights and freedoms – speaking out for the human rights and freedoms of Hong Kongers, and we call on the PRC to uphold its international obligations and commitments under the Sino-British Joint Declaration. The voices of the people in Hong Kong must be heard and the Legislative Council elections should proceed in a free and fair manner that allows candidates to run for election irrespective of their political views.
Moving on to Syria. Yesterday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, represented the United States at the fifth Brussels Conference: “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region.” It was co-chaired by the European Union and the United Nations.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield announced more than $596 million in new humanitarian assistance for the Syria crisis response, continuing longstanding U.S. leadership in alleviating the suffering of vulnerable people in line with both our values as a nation and our national interests. This brings U.S. humanitarian assistance to more than $13 billion since the start of the crisis.
This new assistance will help some of the 13 million Syrians who have been forced out of their homes, fleeing the horrific effects of the Assad regime’s vicious campaign of unjust detention and violence. It will help those displaced inside Syria and those who sought refuge in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey and support the generous communities hosting them.
The United States will continue to be a leader in the humanitarian response and to advocate for unhindered humanitarian access to Syrians regardless of where they live. To that end, we will work with the UN Security Council to renew and expand the UN’s authorization for cross-border access to deliver humanitarian aid to Syrians in need.
I’m sure many of you heard Secretary Blinken’s impassioned plea during the UN Security Council session the other day to do just that.
In other news, yesterday, the United States and Cabo Verde participated in our third bilateral Partnership Dialogue, reaffirming cooperation between our two countries that will strengthen our economic ties, expand our educational exchanges, and further enhance our security coordination.
The United States is proud of its long friendship with Cabo Verde, which is a model of human rights and democracy, and we deeply value our rich history of relations over the past two centuries.
As yesterday’s Partnership Dialogue underscored, we will continue to closely work with Cabo Verde to expand trade and investment and cooperation on secure telecommunications networks, as well as pressing challenges including recovering from the pandemic, confronting the climate crisis, and improving maritime security.
Focusing on the global pandemic for a moment, the U.S. announced on Monday that the U.S. Government will co-host a Vaccine Alliance event with Gavi, our partner in COVAX which is working to provide COVID-19 vaccines to 92 low- and middle-income countries. In February, President Biden announced the United States is providing an initial $2 billion, out of a planned $4 billion, to COVAX.
This event will bring together world leaders, the private sector, and partners from around the world to mobilize additional resources and commitments needed to end the pandemic. Secretary of State Blinken, U.S.Acting Administrator Gloria Steele, and Gavi Board Chair Jose Manuel Barroso will all deliver remarks.
While we continue to distribute vaccines for Americans as quickly as we can, it is also imperative that we contain the global spread of COVID-19 and emerging variants. We must win the race between getting all of humanity vaccinated and the emergence of new and even more dangerous variants that have the potential to threaten us all. While the U.S. – through USAID – is the world’s largest donor to global COVID-19 vaccination effort, no nation can act alone in a global pandemic, and that includes the United States. Equitable access to vaccines is critical to reduce the tragic loss of life, end the pandemic, recover the U.S. and the global economy, and keep Americans safe.
And finally, in recognition of Transgender Day of Visibility, the United States stands with the international community to celebrate the courage and resilience of transgender and gender non-conforming persons around the world and to acknowledge their efforts to achieve equality and justice in the face of adversity.
The United States is committed to continuing to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms around the world. We call on all governments to honor their commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to promote and protect the human rights of all individuals, which, of course, includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: I think that was close to a record for the number of toppers – six, almost nine minutes.
Anyway, so I’ve got two very brief ones on the Middle East, but I want to start with Belarus, because I have some very quick questions about your opening on that. One, you said that these nine state-owned businesses are basically at risk of losing their authorization. Is there any indication that they have taken advantage of the authorization since it was – I mean, what do they stand to lose here? Do you know, or could you find out?
Secondly, you said that the department is – at the moment, is unable to recommend another extension of this. Isn’t it the case that this is a Treasury decision, so Secretary Yellen could basically say, “Yeah, well, that’s a nice recommendation, but I don’t agree with it,” right, and then do it anyway?
And then lastly, I just wanted to – what’s the status of the ambassador who has been kind of bouncing around in the region a bit?
MR PRICE: Yeah. Well, you’re referring to Ambassador Julie Fisher. As you know, she continues to be our ambassador to Belarus to represent our interests and our values when it comes to the challenges in Belarus, when it comes to America’s support for the people of Belarus who are standing firm against the repression of the Lukashenka government. She has traveled in the region. She was in Europe, I believe it was, just last month meeting with some of our allies and partners to explore and to coordinate our collective action to support – and collective efforts, I should say, to support the people of Belarus. And so she continues to do that important work.
When it comes to the general license, as we —
QUESTION: But wait, there’s no progress in actually getting her to Minsk?
MR PRICE: She is not in Minsk. She is based here at the moment. When it comes to the general license, as I alluded to at the outset, this is in fact something that we hope does not come to pass. We have put forward, as I said just a moment ago, various demands that, if they were to be met, this would not go into effect. And in fact, it is our hope that we will be able to renew this general license before it is set to expire on April 26. You’re right, this is a Treasury decision. The United – the Department of State works closely in all matters, including this, to coordinate providing recommendations, providing input to that Treasury decision.
QUESTION: Look, you expect that this building’s recommendation would be accepted by Treasury, right?
MR PRICE: Well, we work closely together. We coordinate —
QUESTION: You’re not aware of any pushback from —
MR PRICE: We coordinate closely together. I know when it comes to supporting the people of Belarus, supporting their aspirations for democracy, we have worked incredibly closely together not only with Treasury, but also with our partners throughout the government.
QUESTION: I can either do the two brief Mideast ones now or I can wait, however you want to do it.
MR PRICE: Let’s come back to that. Shaun.
QUESTION: Sure. I’ll go to the Middle East if you don’t mind. Following up on yesterday, I know you had an entire briefing yesterday on the Human Rights Report, but the question of occupation – there’s been quite a bit of attention to that, that the U.S. didn’t use “occupied territories,” that the State Department didn’t in the report. Does this indicate a type of permanent change in policy? Is this a continuation of the policy under the Trump administration? How do you —
MR PRICE: Well, I addressed this from the podium several weeks ago now. What I said then, of course, remains true today, and that is it is a historical fact that Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights after the 1967 war. You mentioned the Human Rights Report that we rolled out yesterday. In fact, the 2020 Human Rights Report does use the term “occupation” in the context of the current status of the West Bank. This has been the longstanding position of previous administrations of both parties over the course of many decades.
QUESTION: To follow up on that, what are the implications for U.S. policy? Does the U.S. consider, for example, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories to be illegal as a result of this stance?
MR PRICE: This doesn’t change our position. We – as you have heard me say before, we continue to encourage all sides to avoid actions – both sides, I should say – to avoid actions that would put the two-state solution further out of reach. Again, our ultimate goal here is to facilitate – to help bring about – a two-state solution because it is the best path to preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state while bestowing on the Palestinians their legitimate aspirations of sovereignty and dignity in a state of their own.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on – just on assistance to the Palestinians? There have been some reports on that, but I know you had a statement – I believe it was last week – on COVID assistance to the Palestinians. Can you give an update on what the total assistance has been since the resumption under this administration?
MR PRICE: Well, as – you are right, we announced last week that we had granted $15 million in COVID assistance to the Palestinian people. USAID, I believe it was, made that announcement. We continue to believe that American support for the Palestinian people, including financial support – it is in – it is consistent with our values. It is consistent with our interests. Of course, it is consistent with the interests of the Palestinian people. It’s also consistent with the interests of our partner Israel, and we’ll have more to say on that going forward.
QUESTION: Do you have a cumulative total?
MR PRICE: I don’t have a cumulative total on me, but we can look into that for you.
QUESTION: Does that mean that the “no comment” that I got earlier about my question on the Congressional notification stance? You don’t have anything to —
MR PRICE: I don’t have anything for you. As I mentioned, we announced $15 million in COVID aid to the Palestinians. I believe it was last week.
QUESTION: Can I just get this – I know that you’re not going to have an answer, but I want to get it out there, and then that is – and I realize that ambassadorships haven’t been named yet and certainly not an ambassador to Israel, but that’s going to happen at some point, and currently whoever it is doesn’t have a place to live. So I’m just wondering, are you actively looking for a new property for the ambassador’s residence – ambassador to Israel residence? And if so, have you found one? It’s going to take time to get something up to the security needs and all that kind of thing.
MR PRICE: You’re right, Matt, I don’t have anything for you on the identity of that —
QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking for who. I’m asking where they’re going to live.
MR PRICE: — the forthcoming ambassador or the issue of the residence. I don’t have anything for you on that side.
QUESTION: Ned, I have two questions, one on the U.S. delegation that visited Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, and the Congo. Do you have any update on this visit? And another question when you answer my first question.
MR PRICE: If we do, we’ll let you know. We’ll get back to you on that.
QUESTION: You don’t have —
MR PRICE: I don’t have anything for you right now.
QUESTION: Okay. On China/Iran, did you review the agreement between the two countries? And what is your comment on it? And —
MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to our broad posture, our current Iran-related sanctions remain in effect unless and until they are lifted as part of a diplomatic process. We will address any efforts at sanction evasion. Of course, our policy when it comes to sanctions has not changed at the moment. We won’t comment on any specific bilateral discussions in this regard, though.
Competition, as you know, does define our relationship with China, but we do have in some cases rather narrow areas of tactical alignment. We’ve spoken to some of those in recent days, and it so happens that Iran is one of them. China has been cooperative in efforts to constrain Iran’s nuclear program. Of course, China is an original member of the P5+1. Beijing, of course, has no interest in seeing Iran develop a nuclear weapon and the profoundly destabilizing impact that would have on a region upon which China does depend.
We have been engaged with all parties, to include China, on the question of the JCPOA and what comes next. We remain ready to engage in meaningful dialogue with Iran, as we have said, to find a mutual return to the JCPOA and a mutual return to those commitments. And, of course, we’ll continue to engage China and other countries to discourage them from taking steps vis-a-vis Iran or any other issue that threaten our interests.
QUESTION: Ned, one follow-up: Will this agreement change your approach to the Iranian nuclear file and to the region as a whole too?
MR PRICE: No, it doesn’t, precisely because of what I said earlier, and that is that we are aligned in our interests by and large with Beijing on this question. Beijing has no interest in seeing Iran either acquire a nuclear weapon or have the ability to acquire a nuclear weapon. That’s precisely why China, Beijing was a member of the P5+1. It’s precisely why we have this alignment of interests that we’ll continue to pursue as we look to ways to find that mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.
QUESTION: Just to follow on Iran. Politico reported that the Biden administration plans to put forth a new proposal to jumpstart talks with Iran maybe as early as this week. Can you give us an update on timing and comment on that?
MR PRICE: Well, we have been clear for a number of weeks now – almost two months, I believe it has been – that we are ready to pursue a joint return to compliance with the JCPOA. We have been open that we are talking with our partners in the P5+1 and elsewhere about the best way to achieve this. We did so in Europe last week. Secretary Blinken met several of his counterparts at the NATO summit in Brussels, where Iran was a topic of discussion. We had a meeting with the E3 in the multilateral format last week as well. And those discussions have been ongoing about the best way to achieve that return to compliance, including through a series of initial and mutual steps.
We’ve been looking at options for doing so, including with indirect conversations with our European partners. We’re not going to comment on the details of our diplomatic conversations, but of course, we’ve been very clear that we want to see Iran constrained permanently and verifiably so that it can’t produce or acquire or obtain a nuclear weapon. That remains our goal.
QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Anthony Zurcher with BBC News.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: Does the department have a reaction to Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny announcing that he’s going to go on a hunger strike because of what he says is a lack of proper medical treatment in the Russian penal colony where he’s incarcerated?
MR PRICE: We’ve been very clear that Alexey Navalny, Mr. Navalny, is a political prisoner. His detention is politically motivated. We have continued to call for Mr. Navalny’s release. We have done so both ourselves and in tandem with our allies and partners around the world. We’ll continue to do that. We will continue to hold accountable – seek to hold accountable those in Russia who may be responsible for the attempt on his life, for the repression against his peaceful supporters who have taken to the streets, and we will continue to find ways to support Mr. Navalny and to call for his release.
QUESTION: And then you talked about that $600 million in aid to Syria. Is there a concern that either Russia or China is going to veto the renewal of safe passage into northwestern Syria at the Security Council in July?
MR PRICE: Well, you heard Secretary Blinken speak to this in the UN Security Council meeting earlier this week that he chaired on humanitarian access in Syria. He was impassioned, I think rightly so. He invoked his own two children in speaking about the 13 million-plus Syrians who are food insecure at the moment, the Syrian children that have been affected by this humanitarian suffering. I think his words were “shame on us” if we are not able to address this. There is absolutely no reason any country, and that includes China or Russia, should stand in the way of offering humanitarian access to the people of Syria who have long suffered at the brutal repression and violence perpetrated by the Assad regime.
QUESTION: Hi. This is Muath Alamri from Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. I have two questions about Iran and Yemen. So when you talked about the nuclear agreement about Iran, there is a multiple statement by U.S. officials. They haven’t talked about the human rights abuse and the hostage swap. So any update on that?
MR PRICE: Well, we have made clear early in this administration – and the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has spoken to it, Secretary Blinken has spoken to it, others within this administration have spoken to it – that we have no higher priority than the safe return of Americans who are unjustly detained around the world, and that includes the Americans who are unjustly detained or who are missing in Iran. We will continue to make clear to the Iranians that that practice is unacceptable. Secretary Blinken, of course, issued a very strong message about the state taking of hostages, using people for political pawns. He condemned it. Just as importantly, he condemned it in the context of dozens of other world leaders who made clear that this practice is unacceptable.
I don’t want to go into specific mechanics, but the Iranian – Iran’s leaders are – they have no misimpression about where we stand on this issue. It is of paramount importance to us. Just as we pursue a nuclear agreement that provides verifiable and permanent limits on Iran’s nuclear program, we will not – we will persist, we will not desist in our efforts to secure a safe return of Americans who are detained inside Iran.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Yeah, when Mr. Tim Lenderking, the U.S. special envoy to Yemen, returned from his second trip from the Gulf Arab region, he said he would go back if the Houthis are willing to speak or to talk. So now he is being there for the third trip. My question is: Did he met with them, and what happened to his ceasefire plan?
MR PRICE: Well, let me give you a little bit of context about Special Envoy Lenderking’s travels and activities in the region. You are right that he is back from his trip to Riyadh and Muscat. In Muscat he had productive meetings with senior officials in coordination with UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths. The U.S. special envoy’s discussions were and continue to be focused on joint international efforts to promote a lasting ceasefire, political talks, and an inclusive peace agreement, along with our effort to address the country’s dire humanitarian crisis.
To that end, we have been very encouraged that fuel ships continue to offload at Hudaydah Port, and we welcome Saudi Arabia’s announcement yesterday to provide over $400 million, $422 million, in support to fuel products in Yemen. In terms of Special Envoy Lenderking’s meetings in the region, he met with Omani, with Saudi, with Yemeni senior government officials, and as I said before, with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths during this trip. He and the UN special envoy continue to work side-by-side, and both, of course, are committed to bringing about a ceasefire and an end to this devasting conflict in the country of Yemen, which is now home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.
QUESTION: Meeting with the Houthis?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Did he —
MR PRICE: As I said before, he’s met with senior officials, including Omani, Saudi, and Yemeni senior government officials and, of course, with the UN special envoy.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions. One’s about Spain and another one about Brazil. About Spain, in the Human Rights Report yesterday, the report included some complaints of Reporters Without Borders and other organizations about the situation of freedom of the press in Spain. So my question is: What is the U.S. opinion about the situation of the freedom of the press in Spain and if the – what was the U.S. intention including this in the report, if the intention was to express concern or to criticize the government of Pedro Sanchez?
MR PRICE: Well, as we mentioned yesterday, this is now the 45th year that the Department of State has proudly produced the Annual Human Rights Reports. As it does every year, this document provides a report on the world’s countries; 198 countries were included in this year’s report. Of course, it’s no surprise that Spain was among them. Secretary Blinken was here yesterday rolling out this report himself because this administration is seeking to restore human rights and democracy to the center of our foreign policy.
When it comes to the issues that you flagged in the report on Spain, ensuring proper focus on media freedom and freedom of expression is a priority ourselves within our own programming and our own diplomatic engagement, but we’ll also continue to work with international partners in bilateral and multilateral fora to encourage strong and sustained support for media freedom and freedom of expression. That is around the world.
We consider freedom of expression, including freedom of the press, to be a critical component of vibrant democracies the world over. Peaceful, prosperous, and inclusive societies, in fact, do depend on the free flow of information and ideas, including the freedom to seek, to receive, to impart information. A free and professional press is a vital and core institution that undergirds healthy democracies, whether that is in North America, Asia, Europe, Africa, around the globe.
QUESTION: Let me follow up on that. It would be useful to get like a yes or no answer if the U.S. was intending to criticize the Government of Spain, if that was the intention when you included those complaints in the report, if that was the intention or not.
MR PRICE: These reports are factual reports. These are intended for countries around the world to report, of course, on issues pertaining to democracy and to human rights. So I would look at it through that lens.
QUESTION: Hi, Ned. I’m wondering if you can confirm a report in The Wall Street Journal that the Climate Envoy John Kerry will be traveling to India and the UAE, and if so, if there are any other countries as part of that trip.
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, Rich, Special Envoy for Climate Kerry has been relentless in his work, in his work to increase climate ambition around the world, knowing that we have the President’s Summit on Climate Change on April 22nd. That is quickly coming up. Of course, the White House issued invitations for that last week. Secretary Kerry has been working hard at that as well as working very closely on preparations for COP-26 that will follow on the April 22nd summit.
I believe his office later today will have some additional details on the next chapter of Special Envoy Kerry’s efforts, including some upcoming travel.
QUESTION: When the climate envoy is having these meetings trying to get countries to curb their emissions, what is he telling them that the United States is willing or can do as part of that?
MR PRICE: Well, the fact is very simple that the United States is the world’s most influential country. What we do in the realm of climate, of course, has implications for the broader globe because, of course, we are one of the world’s largest emitters. But we also set an example, and we are seeking to raise that climate ambition by not only asking countries to make these commitments themselves, but also to lead by example. And I suspect in the coming weeks you will hear more about the example we intend to set – the example we intend to set not to be virtuous, not to pat ourselves on the back, but to set this powerful example knowing that if we were to do this, we will see other countries raise their ambition. And more importantly, we will be able to make progress on this existential threat of climate change.
QUESTION: Is it a challenge given just the complicated nature of how things —
QUESTION: You don’t have any interest in being virtuous? Is that what I hear?
MR PRICE: We’re always interested in being virtuous —
MR PRICE: — but not just virtuous. Sorry, Rich.
QUESTION: Just the complicated nature of getting things through Congress or imposing certain mandates, what’s that challenge like for the administration as it looks to set this example?
MR PRICE: Well, Congress is always a partner for the Department of State and well beyond. Secretary Blinken has spoken of our partnership with Congress, not only on the landing, as he likes to say, but also on the takeoff. And so across every challenge, we have been working closely with Congress to keep them apprised of our objectives, of our goals, of our activities. That includes when it comes to climate ambition as well.
QUESTION: On Syria, you spoke of the importance of getting aid to Syrians no matter where they live. I’m wondering about Rukban. The Syrian Government is not allowing UN aid to get to the camp. Would the Biden administration consider providing direct humanitarian assistance to these people, given that they’re just miles away from an American military base?
MR PRICE: Well, I wouldn’t want to get ahead of that. Of course, you heard, as I mentioned earlier today, Secretary Blinken’s first and foremost focus on ensuring there is adequate humanitarian access, and including by doing so in the context of the UN Security Council system. We did that because we know that there is no viable alternative to meet the scope and scale of UN cross-border assistance into Syria. That is precisely why you’ve seen the emphasis that Secretary Blinken has placed on it, that Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield has placed on it, that USAID has placed on it, precisely because there is no viable alternative to meet that scope and scale. And we also know at the same time that the humanitarian situation in Syria is already dire and it continues to worsen.
And so I think that is why no one should be surprised that Secretary Blinken was so impassioned earlier this week when he spoke about the need to ensure this humanitarian access, again, making clear that shame on us, shame on the international community if we’re not able to do this, given the dire situation that so many millions of Syrians faced* today.
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken yesterday called on international companies to consider cutting ties to enterprises that support Myanmar’s military. U.S. company Chevron is still working in Myanmar and providing revenue to the junta. Isn’t Chevron now supporting the junta, and will the U.S. take action to prevent natural gas revenues propping up this junta?
MR PRICE: Our focus has been on ensuring – seeking to assist the Burmese people in their aspirations for the restoration of civilian-led government and democracy in their own country, consistent with the November elections last year in Burma. We have sought to hold accountable leaders of this military junta in a number of ways. USTR, of course, announced an action yesterday together with our partners and allies around the world. We have enacted a number of sanctions on individuals and entities affiliated with the military to make clear that the United States will not stand by. Just as importantly, we have done that together, oftentimes in tandem with other international allies and partners, knowing that when we work in concert our actions will have an outsized effect and an outsized role.
It is also true that the international community can do more, and we have made that clear in any number of contexts. We, of course, continue to call on China, on the government in Beijing to use its influence to hold to account those responsible for this military coup. What the junta has done in Burma is not in the interest of the United States, it’s not in the interest of our partners and allies, and it’s not in the interest of Beijing. I wouldn’t want to comment from here on any specific U.S. companies. The Secretary’s focus is on diplomacy, is on working with countries around the world to make sure that we are doing all we can, again, to support those aspirations for the restoration of democracy of the Burmese people.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR PRICE: Yep.
QUESTION: In Alaska – I know a lot happened in Alaska, but how much time, if any, did you get to address this issue with the Chinese? Were there any signals that they’re willing to help or speak out loudly? And to that effect, how much did this come up with the Japanese who have been criticized for not speaking out on what’s happening in – it’s attributed wrongly or rightly to their economic ties they have with that country?
MR PRICE: Well, you were with us on that very memorable trip, so, as you know, the topic of Burma did come up in both Alaska and in Japan, and as well as in South Korea. It also came up, for that matter, in Brussels because this is an issue where we know that, again, concerted action, action that is coordinated with and among our closest partners and allies, is likely to have an outsized effect on the junta. So we discussed it in Tokyo, we discussed it in Anchorage. I think when it comes to Beijing, the government in Beijing can certainly do more, it can say more knowing that the PRC does have a good deal of influence that we want the government in Beijing to use constructively, to leverage constructively, again, to support the aspirations, the legitimate, absolutely legitimate aspirations of the people of Burma to see their democracy restored.
QUESTION: But was that topic shifted into the bucket of things we think the two countries have in common and can work on, or is that still in the contentious issues we’re working through category?
MR PRICE: I would say that we do have overlapping interests when it comes to Burma. We would like to see the government in Beijing act on those interests and to do so constructively, again, in a way that supports the people of Burma. The government in Beijing has absolutely no interest in seeing instability in Burma. The United States has no interest in seeing instability in Burma. Just as importantly, the United States Government puts a premium on democracy, on human rights, on the legitimate aspirations for the restoration of democracy in Burma. Of course, the government in Beijing might see that slightly differently, but in many ways our interests are aligned in the end state that we would like to see in Burma, and we continue to encourage the government in Beijing to act in that regard.
QUESTION: Hi. Amanda Mars from El Pais newspaper. I’ve got a question regarding Brazil. I would like to know: Is the U.S. concerned by the resignation of several military chiefs yesterday, military chiefs that are knowingly opposed to some measures like the military rule?
MR PRICE: Well, of course, we’re aware of developments in Brazil but we’re not going to comment on it from here. We’d refer you to the government in Brazil. We continue to support Brazil’s democratic institutions.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on Brazil? The – one of the issues with the Bolsonaro government, of course, has been the supply of vaccines, and there have been agreements with China on the supply of vaccines. Do you have any concern about China’s effort there or elsewhere in terms of how they’re supplying vaccines? Do you see it as a conflict with what the U.S. wants strategically?
MR PRICE: Well, the United States has always stood by vaccines that are safe, that are effective, and with that in mind we remain a firm partner with Brazil in our joint fight against the pandemic. In the last couple months alone, the United States has delivered field hospitals to Brazil equipped with ventilators and other necessary equipment. We continue close cooperation and sharing information critical with Brazil’s health agency to support their vaccine approval process on more and more. Earlier this month on March 21st, Brazil received its first one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the COVAX facility. And this, of course, is a strategic multilateral mechanism to expand global access to vaccines that the United States has already supported to the tune of $2 billion, and pledged $2 billion more.
COVAX is an important mechanism when it comes to allowing Brazil that access to vaccines now, and it will continue to be in the coming months ahead. Our embassy in Brazil has also provided technical and financial support directly to public health and science experts in Brazil. So in all of these various ways, we continue to partner with the Government of Brazil on this challenge of the pandemic, and I would take it back to what Secretary Blinken has said before.
Of course, when it comes to this administration, our first priority is ensuring the vaccination of millions of Americans, and that campaign is well underway. But we know that as long as this virus continues unchecked, whether it is in the United States or around the world, all of us will continue to be threatened by it as it continues to mutate and as variants develop. So we all share an interest in seeing an end quickly to this virus in the United States, in Brazil, and around the world.
I’m sorry, I need to make that the final question. I have to run to a meeting but we will do this again tomorrow. Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:27 p.m.)
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