Department Press Briefing – March 9, 2023
- ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
- AUSTRALIA/UNITED KINGDOM
- NORTH KOREA
- HUMAN RIGHTS
- SAUDI ARABIA/REGION
- NORTH KOREA
2:02 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy budget day. It’s a very special day every year. Today, to help commemorate the occasion –
QUESTION: A very special day?
MR PRICE: A very special day every year. And to help commemorate the occasion, we have two very special guests. I am very pleased to introduce to you Ambassador John Bass – he, of course, is the Acting Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources; and our colleague Paloma Adams-Allen – she is the USAID Deputy Administrator for Management and Resources. Both will offer some opening remarks on the FY 2024 budget request for Department of State and USAID, and then we’ll take your questions, and then we’ll proceed to our normal programming.
So with that, Ambassador Bass.
UNDER SECRETARY BASS: Great. Thank you, Ned, colleagues. Good afternoon. Great to be with you. And before I start, I just want to take a minute to thank Ned for his remarkable –
MR PRICE: This was not part of the program.
UNDER SECRETARY BASS: — service and leadership. It’s not Ned Price Day, but maybe it should be. And I –
QUESTION: No, that’s every day. (Laughter.)
UNDER SECRETARY BASS: But I know I speak for all of our colleagues in wishing you all the best with your next adventure. And as Ned mentioned, I’m joined today by my friend and colleague Paloma Adams-Allen, Deputy USAID Administrator for Management and Resources. And we’re here, of course, to present the highlights of the Fiscal Year ’24 budget request for the department and for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The resources detailed in our combined Fiscal Year 2024 budget are essential to the Department of State and USAID’s work to advance the Biden administration’s vision of a free, open, secure, and prosperous world, while delivering on issues that matter most to the lives and livelihoods of our fellow Americans.
The President’s FY 2024 budget request requests $63.1 billion for State and USAID. This is a $4.9 billion increase, roughly 9 percent increase, above what Congress enacted for comparable State and AID programs in Fiscal Year ’23. And we deeply appreciate the support and partnership from Congress in resourcing this department and USAID to meet the moment that we face.
First, as you have heard so often from the Secretary, our approach towards the generational challenge posed by the PRC focuses on investing in our own domestic capabilities, aligning our efforts with those of allies and partners, and competing with the PRC where interests and values differ.
Our competition with the PRC is unusually broad and complex, which requires a different approach than traditional budgeting. And to meet this challenge, therefore this budget requests mandatory spending on top of the traditional discretionary resources within the budget. As part of an interagency mandatory proposal, the State/AID budget request includes in mandatory spending: $2 billion to strengthen Indo-Pacific economies and supporting our partners in pushing back against predatory and opportunistic competition by China; $2 billion to support high-quality, strategic hard infrastructure projects globally; $2 billion for a new revolving fund at the Development Finance Corporation to boost equity investments; and $7.1 billion over 20 years to support the renewal of the Compacts of Free Association.
We believe that discretionary resources alone cannot meet the needs posed by this generational challenge. And we believe it is imperative to have mandatory, reliable funding to prevail in this competition with China.
The second priority is to ensure that we continue to carry forward our pivotal work as part of the broader administration efforts to ensure that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine remains a strategic failure, while supporting the Ukrainian Government and the people of Ukraine. The FY24 budget will advance that commitment while promoting oversight and accountability to ensure taxpayer resources are appropriately spent and accounted for.
Third, we are mobilizing and enhancing resources to address shared global challenges, including economic challenges, energy challenges, food security, health security, the climate crisis, and other challenges that defy national borders such as irregular migration. And we will continue to work together to shore up fellow democracies and build resilience against authoritarians’ efforts to undermine democratic states and democratic norms.
Fourth, the budget will continue our work to ensure U.S. interests and values are protected in the digital and emerging technology sector, including through the CHIPS International Technology Security Innovation Fund, for which we are grateful to Congress for providing us with $500 million over five years to empower the department to work with our partners and allies in securing and expanding our crucial semiconductor supply chains and promoting the adoption of trustworthy telecom architecture and technologies.
Fifth, we will continue the Secretary’s ambitious agenda to modernize American diplomacy and our diplomatic operations globally to ensure we’re equipped to address the challenges and seize the opportunities presented to us in the coming years.
In addition to these five major priorities, I just want to take a minute to highlight several other critical investments that the budget proposes.
To support all that we are doing globally, our request includes over 500 new staff positions for the State Department. And these will focus primarily on expanding our footprint in the Indo-Pacific region, increasing professional development and training options to ensure our personnel are best prepared to meet some of these complex challenges, and bolstering our consular staff to meet unprecedented demand for passports, visas, and other services.
We will also continue to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility initiatives, to include our broader efforts to recruit and retain a diverse workforce that reflects the true breadth of representation and diversity across this nation.
We also are requesting $6.3 billion to protect our diplomats, our embassies, and our data, which will help us to secure our global workforce from a wide array of threats to their health and safety, help us address infrastructure vulnerabilities, and ensure that we are securing sensitive data.
And finally, I want to address one component that I know matters to many of our fellow citizens and to people around the world. As the department takes over responsibility from the Department of Defense for key aspects of our ongoing relocation of Afghan partners under Operation Enduring Welcome, we are requesting that Congress establish an Enduring Welcome program account to provide a consolidated, flexible funding source to meet our commitment in the months and years ahead to those who served alongside us in Afghanistan.
So with that, I would like to turn the podium over to my colleague, Paloma Adams-Allen, to preview the top lines for USAID.
DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ADAMS-ALLEN: Thank you, John. Thank you, Ned. Good afternoon, everyone. The President’s FY24 budget request reflects the decisive juncture at which the United States finds itself, with an opportunity to lead the world in extending the reach of human dignity to all. The requested funds will allow the United States to continue to support our country partners on the front lines of multiple overlapping crises, including responding to climate change and food insecurity.
The FY24 budget request for USAID is $32 billion in fully and partially managed accounts – an increase of 3 billion or 10 percent above the FY23 Adjusted Enacted levels.
It includes vital assistance to support American foreign policy priorities, including: additional resources to assist the people of Ukraine and all of those impacted by Putin’s brutal invasion; and confronting the rise of autocracy and anti-democratic threats posed by the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China.
There is significant funding to help our partners and allies bolster democracy, fight corruption, strengthen global health security, and combat infectious diseases, and much more, so I’ll highlight some of them now.
As the United States Government’s lead on humanitarian assistance, USAID responds to more than 75 crises in 65 countries on an annual basis, including currently in Ukraine and the recent earthquake in Türkiye and Syria.
This year’s budget requests 10.5 billion in humanitarian assistance, 6.5 billion of which will be administered by USAID.
To assist Ukraine and manage the aftershocks of Putin’s invasion, the request includes 469 million to bolster the economy and ensure the continuity of government services, strengthen their energy infrastructure and cyber security, and ultimately promote the resilience of the Ukrainian people.
It also includes 1.11 billion for our Feed the Future programs to address the global food security crisis resulting from Putin’s unprovoked war and the ongoing impacts of climate change.
We know we can’t tackle all the world’s challenges alone. To lower the barriers for the private sector to partner with us and particularly to scale our efforts to expand economic opportunity for all, the budget requests 60 million for USAID’s Enterprises for Development, Growth, and Empowerment Fund or EDGE Fund.
This funding is one part of our request for 2.6 billion for economic growth programs to address persistent needs in the global economic system, including double digit inflation, slow growth, and financial systems weighed down by corruption and economic headwinds.
The budget also requests funding for what we call our Bright Spots Initiative, which will position us to be more nimble – we hope – and effective in supporting partner governments and local stakeholders in countries experiences promising democratic openings.
And we’re committed to continuing our work to combat democratic backsliding and pervasive authoritarianism. This is why the budget requests 2.8 billion for USAID’s fully immersed partially managed accounts to foster democratic governance, counter corruption, and deliver on our commitments under the Summit for Democracy and the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal.
To support democratic strengthening and economic resilience in Central America, we’re requesting more than 1 billion across the U.S. Government, including 739.6 million for USAID’s managed accounts. This funding will help us advance the administration’s Root Causes Strategy and deliver on the President’s 4 billion, four-year commitment to strengthen the region as a coalition of resilient democracies that can deliver security, development, and economic opportunities for its people.
To reaffirm continued U.S. global health leadership, the budget requests 4.1 billion for USAID managed accounts to combat infectious diseases, prevent child and maternal health deaths, bolster nutrition, control the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and provide dedicated funding to support and protect the global health workforce through the President’s Global Health Worker Initiative.
This includes 745 million for USAID to prepare for, prevent, detect, and respond to future infectious disease threats.
The global challenges I’ve outlined here continue to disproportionately impact women and girls, especially in crisis and conflict settings, including limiting their access to educational, economic, and leadership opportunities.
The budget will support implementation of the National Strategy for Gender Equity and Equality through our historic request of 3.1 billion for State and the USAID to uplift the role of women and girls in all of their diversity.
Specifically, the request includes 200 million for the Gender Equity and Equality Action Fund to advance women’s economic security.
In addition to providing USAID with critical programmatic resources, the budget recognizes that in order to continue to advance critical foreign policy priorities and ensure accountability of U.S. taxpayer dollars, the agency must be fit for purpose.
In light of this, we’re requesting 2.3 billion for USAID to build a responsive and resilient workforce and strengthen its operations globally. These funds will position us to increase the size and diversity of the permanent career workforce by 230 positions, provide flexibility to hire non-career, direct-hire staff for our crisis response, and address shortages in key technical and operational functions.
In sum, the FY24 Budget Request demonstrates American values and identifies priorities that will strengthen the national security through investments in development and humanitarian assistance.
Thank you for your interest and happy to take questions.
MR PRICE: Excellent. Thank you both. We’ll take questions. Matt.
QUESTION: Yeah. So I guess, Deputy Secretary, this is for you. And I realize this is kind of the drop in a bucket of $63 billion budget request, but I’m curious about the 150 million you’re asking for to – for UNESCO. Because although there had been talk about rejoining, it had never been official. This seems to me – maybe I’m wrong, but this is the first time that you guys have sought money to pay these arrears. And I’m just wondering, how serious are you about this, because apart from the broader question of how – what a lot of people think is that the entire federal budget is DOA on the Hill anyway, but how serious are – is the State Department about wanting to rejoin UNESCO? And how will you overcome the legal challenges – the legal hurdle to do it?
UNDER SECRETARY BASS: Well, thanks, Matt. I’d say a couple of things. First of all, we appreciate the waiver authority we received in the omnibus for this fiscal year that gives us a path to begin the process of rejoining UNESCO, should we elect to do so an administration. We’re currently considering carefully those options. I would also say, if we do rejoin – if we do choose to rejoin – it will help address a critical gap in our global leadership toolkit and capacity, and it will also help us address a key opportunity cost that our absence is creating in our global competition with China. I think a lot of the focus on UNESCO overlooks the extent to which that entity is an essential element of setting and shaping standards for, among other things, STEM education around the world.
So if we’re really serious about the digital-age competition with China, from my perspective, in a clear-eyed set of interests, we can’t afford to be absent any longer from one of the key fora in which standards around education for science and technology are set. And there are a number of other examples in that space of UNESCO’s mission where our absence is noticed and where it undercuts our ability to be as effective in promoting our vision of a free world.
MR PRICE: Andrea.
QUESTION: Under Secretary Bass, how will this – beyond Enduring Welcome, how will this help address the problems of repatriating more Afghan SIVs and others, and some who are caught in third countries? If you could give us some detail as to what the commitment in this budget is compared to last year’s.
UNDER SECRETARY BASS: Sure. So in specific budget terms, you will not see new money in the State Department’s budget. That’s because we assess that the resources that we are receiving through a transfer from DOD and the OHDACA account gives us enough to work with for the current fiscal year and for Fiscal Year 24 to sustain a robust effort to continue to relocate Afghans who wish to leave Afghanistan to the United States or other third countries. In addition to that financial piece, we have a set of positions, a set of people in the department and at a number of locations overseas who are continuing to work full-time on this vexing challenge.
I have to say, in 35 years in this business, this is one of the most complicated, challenging problems to deal with, and it is going to continue to take a really sustained focus, which Secretary Blinken, myself, and many colleagues across this department are absolutely committed to.
QUESTION: I mean, you know this better than anyone, having been on the ground, so you’re in a unique position to assess. The criticisms at the hearing yesterday were pretty direct. I mean, could we just ask how you feel the State Department is addressing this? Because a lot of us are still getting appeals from people, including some who’ve come here and just can’t get jobs.
UNDER SECRETARY BASS: So I’d say a couple of things. Like many, I was moved by the testimony yesterday of people across this country representing people across this country who care deeply about Afghans and Afghanistan. And that’s a reflection of the breadth and depth of a 20-year commitment, of which thousands of my colleagues here in the department were also a part.
That depth and breadth of commitment for such a long time is manifested in so many different ways for individuals. And we see the reflection of that, both in the continued scale of need, the outreach, the individual stories of Afghans who are still looking for support. We’re not going to be able to meet that need in the moment as quickly as all of us wish we could. But that does not mean we are not going to do everything possible to do right by as many people, to keep faith with as many Afghans to whom we have an obligation, as we can. And it’s why we are continuing to build out that capacity and ensure that we have sustainable capacity in the department to keep at this for as long as it takes.
MR PRICE: Kylie.
QUESTION: Thanks for doing this, Ambassador. I have a quick question on the funding related to competition with China. And this proposal includes two billion to support high-quality, strategic hard infrastructure projects globally, and that’s part of the portion of the budget where it speaks about outcompeting China. But obviously when you look at what China has done with its Belt and Road Initiative over the last year, reports are that it invested more than 19 billion in direct investments in countries for the Belt and Road Initiative. 19 – more than 19 billion and two billion are just numbers that are completely at odds with one another. So how do you outcompete China, particularly in this space of infrastructure investment, when the U.S. Government just isn’t putting down the funds that appear to be competitive?
UNDER SECRETARY BASS: Thank you. I think it’s important to differentiate between quantity and quality. We are not looking to match China dollar for dollar, in part because any number of Chinese investments – or, quote/unquote, “investments” – don’t make a lot of commercial sense. And so if we’re trying to do this in a thoughtful way that reflects economic norms and good business practice, we need to be supporting a proper evaluation of some of this on the merits.
By the same token, what we are finding as we are looking to support infrastructure development in many different countries and markets and sectors is that in an enormous number of places, partners – whether they’re governments, whether they’re companies – prefer to work with the United States or with our Western allies and friends. And often they are willing to do so at – on the face of it, at a disadvantage, in terms of what might be an offer from the PRC.
So it’s a matter of finding what in that particular transaction, in that particular infrastructure is a need that they are looking for, where a contribution that’s from the U.S. Government or supported by the U.S. Government would make the difference to them and give them the reassurance that we’re going to be present and we’re going to be partnering with them, and therefore tip the scales in their decision calculus, if you will, towards an investment other than one made by a Chinese state-owned enterprise.
MR PRICE: Could I amplify one point there? Where John started, I think, is a critical point because we are never going to match the PRC dollar for dollar in state capital, in a state-run economy like the PRC’s. But where we can compete, and in fact outcompete, is by harnessing the power of the American private sector, of private sectors in our closest allies and partners. That is precisely the objective of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, the initiative that President Biden launched with his G7 partners in 2021. You talked about $19 billion that the PRC has put forward. This is an initiative that is going to bring together hundreds of billions of dollars over the next five or so years.
So it is a whole-of-society effort. It is what we can put forward in our budget, it is what our private sector can put forward itself, and it’s what our closest partners and allies can do, again, with their private sectors as well.
QUESTION: Do you know how much of those hundreds of billon dollars have actually been committed up until this point? Because some of these projects are in countries where U.S. business might not be all that interested in the returns they might get.
MR PRICE: We can get you a list of current projects.
QUESTION: Yeah, I wanted to drill down on some of the funding that is mentioned for – it’s also related to China, but for Indo-Pacific partnerships and alliances. I think it’s 2.3 billion for this – towards the Indo-Pacific Strategy. It mentions especially the Pacific Islands. How much of that 2.3 billion is for the Pacific Islands? And I wonder if you could say how much of that is new, I guess, in relation to the summit that happened last year. There was some new funding pledge, but it’s unclear exactly how much of that is sort of additional to previous funding that was there and how much specifically for the Pacific Islands.
UNDER SECRETARY BASS: Let us get back to you in terms of differentiating between commitments last year and this particular funding. I can’t recall precisely how much of that was future projections last year.
But what I would say is we are envisioning this as a flexible instrument that allows us to, again, mobilize partnerships with individual allies and with constellations of countries in the region, and those partners who also have enduring interests and support for the Indo-Pacific, to maximize our ability to support those nations and work on common problems, whether that’s climate change adaptation, whether that’s energy security going forward, things like that.
MR PRICE: Alex.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. I thank you both for coming down here. I was wondering how much of your programs that are designed to help on Ukraine’s reconstruction and other impacted countries have a rule for potentially relying on seized Russian money, and if there’s any backchannel work going on in terms of how much to focus on it and also how to allocate that funding.
UNDER SECRETARY BASS: So the resources we’ve described today in general terms are coming from the U.S. budget. So anything that might involve Russian assets would be an entirely separate conversation, and I would defer to some of my colleagues who are much more conversant with those issues at this time.
MR PRICE: Excellent. We’ll take one more question. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Ms. Allen, you talked about 10.5 billion for humanitarian assistance, and you mentioned also responses to more than 75 crises in 65 countries on annual basis, including the recent earthquake’s impact on Syria and Türkiye. Is there anything for Türkiye and Syria earthquake-impacted areas in the current budget, proposed budget for the next fiscal year or not?
DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ADAMS-ALLEN: So the budget was put together prior to the earthquake, so we’re responding to the current situation using our existing resources, including resources in FY23. We do have always built-in contingency funding for unplanned crises, and so that is built into our FY24 ask. And so if that’s needed, we would deploy those as needed.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: About the PREDICT program, yes? DNI is set to declassify from 18 agencies, including State, information that indicts the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but not other information which might indict other institutions, including U.S. institutions. I asked last month about USAID’s PREDICT program funding bioweapons agents discovery research through EcoHealth Alliance. You funded such bioweapon agents discovery research done by Ralph Baric at the University of North Carolina and the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Meanwhile, USAID has not released unclassified information as FOIA’d by U.S. Right To Know, a transparency group, from 2020, going on three years, causing the group to start litigation against USAID.
Question: Why does USAID fund bioweapons agents discovery research? In particular, why has USAID funded bioweapons agents discovery research performed in collaboration with China, which may have caused the pandemic?
DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ADAMS-ALLEN: You want to take that one?
MR PRICE: Sure. Thank you both very much, Deputy Secretary, Deputy Administrator.
DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ADAMS-ALLEN: Yes, thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much for —
QUESTION: Are you going to answer the question?
MR PRICE: — for your time.
QUESTION: Talk about the PREDICT program. How much are you funding the PREDICT program this year?
DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ADAMS-ALLEN: I’m happy to get you a response on that.
MR PRICE: We can —
QUESTION: Can you say how much you’re funding a program that could have caused the pandemic?
MR PRICE: We can respond in writing on a question that specific.
QUESTION: In writing? I’m not asking about some obscure subject, Ned. I’m asking about –
MR PRICE: We – Sam, thanks.
QUESTION: — a program that you ran, that you continue to run, that could have caused the pandemic. Can you answer? Can she answer? She’s walking out of the room.
MR PRICE: Sam, our – what we fund around the world is biosafety programs. We are working around the world with partners to prevent the sort of thing that we have suffered over the course of the past two years.
Now, there is an effort underway, as we’ve talked about, to determine the origins of COVID-19. That is an effort that lives with the Intelligence Community. You heard from our Intelligence Community leaders last – yesterday the current state of those assessments. We’re going to let them speak to the assessments. The short answer is we don’t know the origins of COVID-19. There are two primary theories; our Intelligence Community continues to look into that.
But our priority around the world when it comes to our funding, and including when it comes to the program you’re referencing, is biosafety, Sam. I’ve —
QUESTION: Ned, you may well know –
MR PRICE: Sam, we need —
QUESTION: — and well have the information, but you’re refusing to disclose it. Why —
MR PRICE: Sam, I ask that you be respectful to your colleagues.
QUESTION: I asked last month, why have you refused to disclose information to U.S. Right To Know? They FOIA’d documents relevant to this issue in 2020, going on three years. They’re in litigation, and you want to hide this fact. You and the rest of the U.S. Government wants to pin this solely on the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and you –
MR PRICE: Sam, I would ask that you be respectful of your colleagues.
QUESTION: I am being very respectful.
MR PRICE: You’re not, in fact.
QUESTION: I’m being respectful of all of the people and all of the suffering from the pandemic. Will you release the information?
MR PRICE: Sam, as –
QUESTION: Why are you continuing to fund a program that could have caused the pandemic?
MR PRICE: Sam, as I told you last time, you are welcome to send these types of detailed questions in writing —
QUESTION: I did that last month, and I haven’t received anything.
MR PRICE: — and we will get back to you. Let –
QUESTION: You’ll get back to me? After the Senate passes a resolution saying we’re going to put out all the information on the Wuhan Institute of Virology and none of the other information. It’s deny and delay.
MR PRICE: Sam, we need to –
QUESTION: It’s deny and delay. And meanwhile, you’re endangering the world with these programs.
MR PRICE: Let me start with one thing at the top, and then we’ll –
QUESTION: And you’re smiling.
MR PRICE: Sam, because you’re engaging in conspiracy theories. And these –
QUESTION: It’s not a conspiracy. That’s the exact same rhetoric that we got three years ago. “Oh, it couldn’t come out of a lab; it’s a conspiracy.” Bunk. Bunk.
MR PRICE: Okay, Sam. I —
QUESTION: Release the documents. Why aren’t you releasing the documents, Ned?
MR PRICE: I think your colleagues here – I think your colleagues want to hear about and ask about matters that are not conspiratorial, that are in fact –
QUESTION: This is absurd. It’s absurd after all we’ve been through, after all we’ve been through and after all of the government’s denies and delays about COVID origins, that you’re saying –
MR PRICE: Sam –
QUESTION: — that it’s a conspiracy theory when all I asked – I asked last month, “Why aren’t you releasing the documents,” and you’re not releasing the documents. And meanwhile, the DNI –
MR PRICE: We will take – as I said before, we will take a look at the specific question you asked, and we’ll get back to you. I don’t want to waste any more of your colleagues’ time.
QUESTION: “Waste.” “Waste.”
MR PRICE: I have one thing at the top, and then we’ll turn to your questions. First, today marks 16 years since Robert “Bob” Levinson’s abduction from Kish Island, Iran. The past 16 years have caused unspeakable grief for Bob’s family, and Iranian authorities have yet to account for Bob’s fate. We once again call on them to do so.
Bob Levinson’s legacy endures through the Levinson Act, which bolsters our ability to bring home hostages and wrongfully detained U.S. nationals held overseas. In July of last year, President Biden signed a new executive order that builds on the Levinson Act and reinforces the tools available to deter and disrupt hostage-taking and wrongful detentions.
Iran continues to wrongfully detain citizens of other countries for use as political leverage. This practice is outrageous, and it must end.
We remain committed to securing the release of Morad Tahbaz, Emad Shargi, and Siamak Namazi from their wrongful detention in Iran. We are working tirelessly to bring them home. It is time for all three to return to their loved ones, who have suffered for far too long.
With that, Matt, would you like to kick us off?
QUESTION: Sure. I was going to ask about the PREDICT program, but – (laughter). But I think we’ve exhausted that topic, or at least as much as you’re going to –
MR PRICE: You’re probably right, yes.
QUESTION: — as much as you’re going – you’re going to ask. I actually only have one question, and I know that you’re not going to be able to answer it, so I ask it with hesitation. But I still do, and it has to do with the Israeli finance minister and whether or not the administration has any issue with him visiting the United States. I’m not – I’m specifically not asking you about a visa issue that you can’t discuss for legal reasons, but I’m asking you about whether the administration has any – has any thoughts about whether he should or shouldn’t come.
MR PRICE: Well, you’re right; we can’t discuss the specifics of individuals’ visa, anyone’s eligibility, ineligibility, or visa status. What I can say, however, is that we’ve been clear about the remarks we heard from the minister a couple weeks ago now. We have since heard very clear responses from senior Israeli officials, from Prime Minister Netanyahu, from President Herzog, from others across the Israeli Government. We very much appreciate those denunciations. We have noted too that the minister has attempted to walk back his comments.
Our position remains this is a time for de-escalation, not for rhetoric that serves only to escalate tensions. But I’m not aware that the minister has announced any particular travel plans. We wouldn’t comment on any hypothetical travel.
QUESTION: Well, no, but I’m not – that’s not what I – just, do you have a position on whether he should or shouldn’t? Not whether he is allowed to necessarily, but – no?
MR PRICE: Matt, individuals are free to make their own travel plans. We have a role in that. I can’t speak to that role when it comes to the specifics.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR PRICE: Stay on this? Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: And Liam, are you the same topic?
QUESTION: Yeah, no, no.
QUESTION: Yeah. I just wanted to follow up on this because the minister himself issued a statement saying that he did not realize that his call for wiping out could be given as a direct order to pilots to go ahead and bomb them. That is not an apology. Is that considered an apology in your judgement?
MR PRICE: I’m not going to characterize what the minister has since said. I did characterize our reaction to what he said initially, and you know where we stand on that. We now know where senior officials across the Israeli Government stand on that because we’ve heard them distance themselves, condemn, denounce these remarks. The minister has since made remarks. I can’t speak to his intent. But our position is clear: Now is not the time for escalatory rhetoric; now is not the time for any comments that can only serve to exacerbate tensions.
QUESTION: I promise to be brief. Now, your French counterpart today, Anne-Claire Legendre, called on the Israeli Government to provide protection to Palestinian civilians. Would that be something that as the governing authority, the occupying authority, would – is that something that the United States would consider, also calling on Israel to protect the Palestinian civilians under its authority?
MR PRICE: Our overriding objective, Said, is to see to it that Israelis and Palestinians alike live with equal levels of stability, of security, of prosperity. That is – that has been at the crux of our policy, of our approach. So this is very much what we seek to effect.
QUESTION: And lastly, the Knesset today, the Israeli parliament foreign relations committee and security committee, approved this morning in a parliamentary reading a bill that cancels the 2005 disengagement in the north of the West Bank and allows Israelis to enter the area again. The bill violates the Israeli Government’s commitment to the Bush administration and so on. Do you have any comment on that?
MR PRICE: We remain deeply concerned, as I said before, by the sharp escalation of tensions we’ve seen over the course of many months now. Our call to refrain from any unilateral steps remains, and those steps certainly could include any decision to create a new settlement, to legalize outposts, or to allow building of any kind deep in the West Bank adjacent to Palestinian communities or on private Palestinian land.
Again, what we want to see is de-escalation. We want to see both parties take the steps that only they can take, the steps that are incumbent on them to take, to see a de-escalation of tensions and to see to it over the longer term that Israelis and Palestinians are able to work together, and work together cooperatively towards what has been the approach of successive American administrations. That is a negotiated two-state solution, Israelis and Palestinians living side by side with equal measures of security, of stability, of democracy, of dignity as well.
QUESTION: Following up on that, does that admonition extend to daytime raids such as the raids that have taken place? And more broadly speaking, the U.S. commitment to Israelis and Palestinians having equal opportunities and eventually a two-state solution – how do you see that affected by the proposed changes in the judicial system and the independence of the supreme court?
MR PRICE: So a couple things on that, Andrea. First, when it comes to Israel’s right to defend itself, that is a principle that Israel of course have – has. We have seen far too many demonstrations – vivid, awful demonstrations, including of late – of the need for Israel to – oh no.
MR PRICE: I suppose a should cede the podium.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: What question were you addressing there?
QUESTION: He was doing great, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So I don’t want to interrupt the flow. (Laughter.)
MR PRICE: I don’t think you want to take this one.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Oh yeah, probably not. Or any one for that matter. Thanks for letting me crash the party.
Listen, I just wanted to come by to say a couple of things today. And I don’t want to take too much time to do it, but I want to say first of all that, Ned, you have been a remarkable spokesperson. You all know this better than just about anyone: Ned was instrumental in restoring the daily briefings here at the department, something that I felt very strongly about, the President felt strongly, but Ned has really been driving. And if nothing else, I am so glad that we have restored that dialogue between us. It really matters.
You’ve had a chance under Ned’s leadership to ask tough, albeit multi-part, multi-prong, multi‑person questions, not just to him, but to me, to other senior officials in the department. By our count, during his tenure, he’s conducted more than 200 briefings and traveled to more than 50 countries with me.
Now, I can’t say that I’ve watched every single briefing from start to finish. (Laughter.) That would not be accurate. But I know that we’re all going to miss some of the more memorable moments. (Laughter.) Like the time that Ned sparred with Matt Lee about the JCPOA, or the time he sparred with Matt Lee about the JCPOA – (laughter) – or, more recently, the time that he sparred with Matt Lee about the JCPOA. And I have to tell you, this is true. This is not hyperbole. (Laughter.) The number of times I’ve got asked on foreign travel, “Do you know Ned Price? Is Ned Price here?” (Laughter.) If I had a dollar for each time, I’d be doing very, very well. And yes, I do in fact know Ned Price, and I am so much the better for it.
Over the course of my time as Secretary, I have constantly benefited from his counsel, from his deep understanding of our foreign policy, and from the integrity that he brings to this job. I could not have asked for a better traveling companion, a better advisor, a better friend over these last two years.
The really good news from my perspective, though, is that after a little bit of well-earned time off to rest and refit, Ned is going to be prepared to reattack and bring his wisdom again to the department and to me, so more about that later. And I’m also very grateful to Vedant Patel for picking up the baton now so that we continue to provide the customer service for which we are increasingly renowned.
So, Ned, my friend, thank you. Thank you for your incredibly hard work, for your service, and thanks to all of you for letting me crash today. And then back to the – back to the show. (Laughter.)
MR PRICE: Thank you, sir.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, everyone.
MR PRICE: I will —
QUESTION: Who’s the next spokesperson?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’m sorry? Oh, more to follow.
MR PRICE: More on that.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: More to follow. And I’ll be happy to answer any of your questions at the Gridiron. See you there. (Laughter.)
MR PRICE: If I could just say one thing with – I promise I will be answering questions, but, sir, what has really stuck with me over the past two years is what you said in your first staff meeting, and I think it was the first thing out of your mouth. I think it was January 26th of 2021, and at the senior staff – the first time we all congregated with you there – you gave us our first instruction, and that is to lean forward and to always be out there making the case about America, what we’re doing in the world, how we’re doing it, and with whom we’re doing it. And you added the corollary point that sometimes when you’re operating on your toes, you’re going to fall flat on your face.
And I know I have made very clear that that is true, and each time where I’ve gotten ahead of my skis or I’ve fallen flat on my face, you have been nothing but gracious about it. And I’ve heard nothing but support from you and this team, and it’s just an incredible, incredible group of people. And as I said to the Secretary this morning, he makes what are very difficult jobs about as easy as they can be because we have you as a model and we get to work with you day in, day out and such a tremendous team. So thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, Ned.
MR PRICE: Thank you. Appreciate it.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, everyone.
MR PRICE: Thank you. Where were we?
QUESTION: Let’s go to the JCPOA. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I think Ned was answering the question about how the supreme court proposals —
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: — would affect your – the American – the U.S. goals —
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: — for equity between Israelis and Palestinians.
MR PRICE: So Andrea, this is something – speaking of Secretary Blinken – that he has had an opportunity to speak to. President Biden has spoken to this as well. As we often do, we don’t speak about specific proposals. We’re not going to weigh in on the merits of individual proposals, but as a democracy ourself, as a democracy that is witnessing what is happening in democracies around the world, including in Israel, we have perspectives on the process.
And the point we’ve consistently made in the context of Israel and other fellow democracies around the world is that the most effective way to build consensus for – the most effective way to ensure that proposals are embraced is to build consensus for them, and that is something that we have heard from Israelis as well. We know there’s an ongoing dialogue between the prime minister, between the president. This is a conversation that the people of Israel are having, as they rightly should.
But from our perspective, that process of building consensus is always going to be key to durability. In some ways, you can’t have durability without consensus, but ultimately the path forward is going to have to be one for the people of Israel to decide.
QUESTION: And that said, understandably, but is the level – the extraordinary level of U.S. support for Israel in all regards, isn’t that intricately related to their being a democracy?
MR PRICE: Well, of course it is. Of course it is, Andrea. And that is why we have the relationship we do have with Israel. We have interests, but just as importantly in some respects, we have values. And the fact that Israel has been a thriving democracy in the Middle East since its founding in 1948 has connected our two countries, has connected our two peoples. It’s precisely the reason why the U.S. president was the first to recognize Israel within eight minutes or so of its founding in 1948.
So this has always been at the crux of our relationship. It is always going to be at the crux of our relationship. There are difficult questions every democracy has to grapple with. We have been no exception to that, of course. And so as a friend to Israel, as a fellow democracy ourselves, we have offered this advice in private. We’ve also offered it in public as well about the imperative of finding, of achieving that consensus as proposals are being debated, even heartily debated.
QUESTION: I admire your capacity to – (laughter) – to switch immediately to the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict. But my question arguably will be a bit simpler. I – so the Secretary evidently spoke to the – his French counterpart today. There was a readout. Could you expand on that readout, on that conversation? Specifically, there was a mention of the Indo-Pacific, and therefore looking forward to Monday’s summit, the AUKUS group. I wonder what the Secretary told his counterpart. Any reassurances? And particularly on the issue of nonproliferation, which is – which will be key, obviously, in these submarines.
MR PRICE: So, Leon, on this question let me say that we did issue a readout. I’m not in a position to go beyond that readout, but as they often do, the Secretary and the foreign minister had an opportunity to discuss some of the issues that we care about deeply, some of the issues on which we’re engaged. The situation in Ukraine of course always features in those discussions, or has of late, I should say.
But – and this goes back to what I was saying to Andrea in a very different context – France is our oldest ally, and at the heart of that relationship is shared values. And what we enjoy with France is a global partnership, a global alliance. It is a partnership that allows us to work together in Europe, in Africa, others parts of the world, and yes, in the Indo-Pacific. And we’re able to do that because we share the same values and we share the same vision. When it comes to the Indo-Pacific, we very much share the same vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific. These values of freedom and openness, they are critical to what we’re trying to support in that region, just as they’re critical to what we’re trying to preserve when it comes to Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine.
I’m not in a position to go beyond that. You asked about nonproliferation standards when it comes to AUKUS. As you know, when the AUKUS agreement was announced in September of 2021, we said at the time there would be this 18-month consultation period to provide a conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarine – and I emphasize conventionally armed; these submarines are nuclear-powered, but they are conventionally armed – to deliver that capability to Australia at the earliest possible date and, critically, in a way that meets the highest possible nonproliferation standards. We are committed to that. We are committed, as we know our Australian partners are, our British partners are, and we’ve been closely engaged not only with them but also with the IAEA on this question as well.
MR PRICE: Janne, I think you saw from our colleagues at Indo-Pacific Command that we condemn the most recent ballistic missile launch. This launch, like previous launches, is in violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions. It poses a threat to the DPRK’s neighbors and the international community. And we remain committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK, and we call on the DPRK to take us up on the offer that we have put forward consistently in multiple venues and in multiple forms. Just as we are committed to diplomacy, we are likewise committed to the defense of our treaty allies. And our security commitments to the ROK, to Japan, those are ironclad. We’ve talked a lot in recent days about the bilateral relationship we have with both of those countries, the trilateral relationship that the three of us have, and the work we’re doing bilaterally and trilaterally on the challenge that the DPRK poses to the region and beyond.
QUESTION: Okay. The Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the Senate Intelligence Committee recently that North Korea – Kim Jong-un would never give up their nuclear weapons programs. Will the U.S. keep its diplomatic doors open and continue to wait for dialogue with the North Korea, or will you seek for other measures?
MR PRICE: Janne, our policy approach – and I think it’s important to differentiate between intelligence and policy. Director Haines was speaking to our current intelligence assessment, our current analysis of the DPRK regime. Our policy is something separate, and our policy approach is predicated on what we would like to see happen, what would be in our interests. And it would be profoundly in the interests of the United States and countries around the world if we were to fulfill the objective that we set forth, and that is an objective for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
We have made very clear that these programs pose a challenge, not only to our treaty allies but to the United States. We want to achieve this and make incremental progress towards this through dialogue and diplomacy. Now, of course, the DPRK hasn’t responded to that outreach. That offer remains, and we do hope that the DPRK changes its position, it ceases with the provocations, and demonstrates a willingness to engage in the genuine offer of diplomacy that we put forward.
QUESTION: But the North Korean ambassador in Geneva recently stated that there will be no talks for denuclearization. How are you waiting for the dialogue because —
MR PRICE: Janne, we’ve seen periods of provocation from the DPRK and we’ve seen periods of engagement with the DPRK. I think it’s very fair to say that we are in the depths of a period of provocation at the moment. We’ve seen a record number of launches, of tests, of other forms of provocative behavior. We are seeking with our partners around the world, including action in UN, action that we’ve taken, including action this month and actions that our partners and allies are taking, to make clear to the DPRK that the costs are going to continue to increase until and unless it changes its approach.
We want to see the DPRK change its approach in the direction of dialogue and diplomacy. This is what we have put forward multiple times now. We believe that through dialogue and diplomacy we can make the kinds of incremental, real, practical progress towards that overall objective of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Before my two questions, just my personal views. I wish you all the best, first of all, and I hope this is for your best and better and promotion. You deserve that.
MR PRICE: Thank you.
QUESTION: I don’t want to say maybe next year ambassador or so somewhere. My question is that – two questions. One, Secretary was here, of course. Recently Secretary was in India, and was he carrying any message from the President? And he had met many, many foreign ministers, and Indian foreign minister of course, the Russian foreign minister, but also embassy staff and all that, which he always does that. So was he carrying any message from the President and what – where we stand now as far as the recent visit to India is concerned?
MR PRICE: So Goyal, the Secretary did have an audience with the prime minister when they were in New Delhi for the G20. He had a chance to speak to the prime minister. I’m just not in a position to detail what was exchanged between the Secretary and the prime minister.
But our message to India and about India is consistent. India is a global strategic partner of the United States. The engagements we’ve had with our Indian partners at the ministerial level, at the leader level, at all levels has been in furtherance of deepening the already extensive ties between our two countries. These are ties that are political in nature, diplomatic, economic, security, and importantly people-to-people ties. There is a vibrant Indian diaspora in this country. There is quite a bit of interest on the part of the American private sector in India, exchange students. There are various ways in which our two societies are intertwined.
So every time we have an opportunity to meet with our Indian counterparts, it is an effort to deepen what is that already quite extensive global strategic partnership.
QUESTION: Second question is that was actually as far as budget is concerned. Recently I have been interviewing or talking to many, many American Pakistanis in the area. What they are telling me is that as far as budget is concerned or any U.S. or global help to Pakistan is concerned that goes in the pockets of the corrupt politicians or military dictators. And U.S. especially or other countries when they are sending money to Pakistan for the development of the people that may be hurricane or earthquake or any other natural or internal disasters are concerned, it never reaches to the people more than 1 percent.
And the money should go directly to the people, not to the corrupt politicians or corrupt military dictators, because they said recently – and the – Mr. Bajwa, he may have taken billions and billions of dollars after retiring as military dictator, but now he’s said to the next one now it’s your turn. So and – question is that internally situation is so bad that it may happen a civil war within Pakistan because Prime Minister – former Prime Minister Imran Khan and all those things as you know going on. So can you make sure that I can tell them now to these, my friends, Pakistani friends, that next time any help or any money goes from the U.S. into the country will go to the – directly to the people for the development that’s supposed to be?
MR PRICE: A couple things, Goyal. So first, on political questions, those are questions for the Pakistani people to decide for themselves. The United States does not take a position. We only take a position in support of Pakistan’s democracy and its constitutional system.
Our goal for Pakistan is a country that is peaceful, stable, and prosperous, and you referenced this, but Pakistan has encountered economic headwinds of late. They – the Pakistani people are facing record levels of inflation. Of course, this comes on the backs – on the back of the extensive flooding through parts of the country, and it has only put a spotlight on our need to continue to work together to help the Pakistani people on a – put them – to help put themselves on a sustainable economic path and a durable path to the prosperity that we seek for the Pakistani people.
There are – there’s a reform agenda that the Pakistani Government is in the midst of. We encourage Pakistan to continue working with the IMF, especially on reforms that will improve Pakistan’s business environment, and we know that doing so will ultimately make Pakistani businesses more attractive and competitive around the world. This is a country with tremendous potential, and we have partnered with Pakistan. We want to make sure that the resources that Pakistan has itself, the resources that the United States is contributing, that other countries are contributing, and the resources that have and will continue to come from international financial institutions – they’re managed responsibly as part of responsible and responsive governance.
Let me move on just to – go ahead, Kylie.
QUESTION: Question on Siamak Namazi, who’s been wrongfully detained in Iran since 2015. He gave an interview today to Christiane Amanpour from Evin Prison, and he said a lot, but a few of the things he said is that he’s deeply worried that the White House doesn’t understand how dire his situation is. Obviously he’s been left behind multiple times when other prisoner swaps have happened. He called it “deeply upsetting” that Biden hasn’t met with his family.
I know there’s not much you can say about White House meetings for families of Americans wrongfully detained, but what is your response to the fact that he took this risk and went on CNN, gave this interview to make this plea so publicly from Evin Prison?
MR PRICE: Kylie, I think our response is less about the brave decision from Mr. Namazi and more about the cruel practice that we have seen from the Iranian regime to arrest, detain, and to hold wrongfully for, in many cases, years on end, as is the case with Siamak Namazi, for political leverage. This is a cruel practice. It is a practice that uses humans, human beings as political pawns. It is a practice that Iran has engaged in over the long term.
We have made very clear to the regime since the earliest days of this administration the priority we attach to seeing the prompt release of those Americans who are detained wrongfully. We are always going to stand up for the rights of our citizens who are wrongfully detained, and that of course includes Siamak Namazi. Senior officials from this building as well as from the White House meet and consult regularly with the Namazi family and will continue to do so until this wrongful and unacceptable detention comes to an end.
We are committed not only to this case but to continuing to work to free all of those Americans around the world who are wrongfully detained. In some cases, we have – the world has seen the fruits of those efforts and Americans have come home from Afghanistan, Burma, Haiti, Russia, Venezuela, west Africa, and other locations where they have been held. Our fervent hope is that Siamak and the other two Americans who are wrongfully detained in Iran will soon be among that list.
QUESTION: And do you believe that Siamak and those other two Americans are any closer to being released today than they were when the Biden administration came in more than two years ago now?
MR PRICE: I don’t think it’s helpful for us to characterize the status of our efforts to see these Americans freed, nor am I in a position to characterize what the last administration may or may not have done. But what I can tell you is that we made very clear in an unambiguous way to the Iranian regime within days of this administration the priority we attach to seeing the release of these three individuals. It is a wrongful practice. It is a practice that should be ended everywhere and anywhere. And the Iranians know that we are going to do everything we possibly can to bring back these Americans who they have kept from their loved ones for far too long.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? Thanks. In your topper, you talked about this. From your tone I got the sense that you sounded a little more optimistic than previous times. I know you’re not going to answer directly to this, but what can you say?
MR PRICE: There’s really not much I can say. Our overriding objective is to bring these Americans home, to bring home every American who’s wrongfully detained anywhere around the world. If we start to suggest where we are in negotiations, or where we aren’t for that matter, it certainly doesn’t help our efforts to fulfill that overriding objective.
We are working on it. We are working on it relentlessly. But that’s as far as we can say.
QUESTION: Could the Iranian New Year be a target date?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Could the Iranian New Year, 10, 12 days away, be a target date for the —
MR PRICE: The target date we have is today. It is tomorrow. That has been the case for the entirety of this administration. We want to see this practice of wrongful detention put to an end as soon as we can.
QUESTION: Ned, on this?
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: How do you view the Iranian authorities allowing Siamak Namazi showing up on CNN from the prison?
MR PRICE: Look, I’m not going to weigh in on their thinking. I think we all may have theories about why they did this. The fact is that they are holding Siamak, Morad Tahbaz, and Emad Shargi for political leverage. They may think that they can exact additional leverage from these types of practices. Our message to them is that we want to see these Americans returned home, and this is a practice that with partners around the world we are working to eradicate around the world and to hold accountable those regimes who engage in it. There should not be this practice of holding human beings as political pawns in the 21st century.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. A couple of questions. Let me start with Georgia. I was wondering if you have anything to add to the U.S. embassy’s statement on the latest developments? And what’s your level of optimism – I can actually say cautious optimism – after all these developments? Can the Georgian Dream government be trusted? And also, how much have these latest developments damaged your relationship with Georgia?
MR PRICE: So, Alex – and I think you saw a statement that came from our embassy in Tbilisi as well, but it’s very clear that the Georgian people have once again spoken clearly that the only choice for Georgia is a secure and prosperous European future. We – while we welcome the decision to withdraw the draft law on, quote/unquote, “foreign influence,” we urge the ruling party to officially retract this bill and not to further this type of legislation, precisely because it’s incompatible with Georgian and Euro-Atlantic values and the protection of fundamental freedoms. We encourage Georgia’s political leaders to work together in earnest on the reforms urgently needed to obtain the EU candidate status that Georgia’s citizens overwhelmingly desire.
But the point of all this, Alex, is that over the course not only of the past couple weeks but over several decades now, the Georgian people have made very clear with their voices, with their expression that they seek a Georgia that is democratic, that is prosperous, and that is integrated into the Euro-Atlantic region. They did that again, and the United States will continue to be a partner to those aspirations.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. Moving to Ukraine, do you have anything on the last wave of Russian missile strikes? Is it your impression that Russia has become emboldened even more than last week, previous weeks?
MR PRICE: Alex, it’s difficult to speak to just how emboldened the Russians are when you have a starting point of this brutal aggression that is now well – we’re now well into the second year that sought to topple the government, subjugate the Ukrainian people, and erase Ukraine from the map. That was a bold ambition to start with.
It is also the fact that these types of strikes – Russia has tried to make them the new normal. It has only been a few weeks since we’ve seen strikes across the country on this scale. The fact that this has become, because of President Putin’s actions and decisions, what they would like us to view as the new normal speaks to that level of brazenness and the level of brutality that they are willing to perpetrate against the Ukrainian people.
So our charge is to work with the allies and partners around the world to make clear that this can’t be normal. We cannot become numb to this. Russia’s efforts to wipe out power-generating facilities, food and agricultural storage sites and agricultural infrastructure – it is part and parcel of an effort to hold the people of Ukraine hostage to President Putin’s objectives and to his will. The people of Ukraine, on the other hand, have demonstrated very clearly that they won’t be subdued, they won’t be held hostage, and they are going to continue to defend themselves with the support of the United States and our partners and allies around the world.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. And my final question, on a different region: Armenia-Azerbaijan. The U.S. intelligence yesterday announced that it predicts tension in their relationship in the absence of a peace treaty. I’m just wondering, moving forward, how much urgency does it add on in terms of the – your efforts to bring about peace to the region?
MR PRICE: There’s always been urgency with this, Alex, and there’s been urgency because this is a delicate situation. It’s a situation that is far too prone to violence, as we’ve seen in recent days in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, and it is a longstanding conflict that the United States would like to do everything we can to support its resolution. We’re going to continue to do that by working bilaterally with these countries, trilaterally with Armenia and Azerbaijan, supporting their own efforts at dialogue and diplomacy, but also through all appropriate mechanisms to help these countries themselves conduct the diplomacy and reach the agreements that we hope that they will be able to make.
QUESTION: Thank you. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News. It is about U.S. intelligence report released recently in which United States expressed concern about the peace and security of South Asia mainly because of Pakistan-India tensions. Pakistan offered a hand – like offered to have peace talks with India many times, but Indian Government tried to avoid that. So when you engage with Indian authorities, what reason they say – why they don’t want to talk to Pakistan on the pending issues?
MR PRICE: I will speak to the message we sent to both India and Pakistan. We support constructive dialogue. We support diplomacy between India and Pakistan to resolve, again, another set of longstanding disputes. We are a partner. We are willing to support that process in any way that they deem appropriate, but ultimately these are decisions that India and Pakistan themselves are going to have to make.
QUESTION: So many analysts believe that United States has the power and authority to mediate between the two partners; Pakistan and India is partners of yours. So why don’t you just mediate?
MR PRICE: Because these are decisions for the countries themselves. If they agree on a particular role for the United States, the United States is prepared to, as a partner to both countries, support that process in any way that we responsibly can. But ultimately, it is not for the United States to determine the modalities or the way in which India and Pakistan engage one another. What we support is constructive dialogue, meaningful diplomacy between India and Pakistan in the first instance to resolve longstanding conflicts.
QUESTION: This is the last question. I hope you’re aware about the police baton charge in the women – at the Women’s March. I know you try to avoid commenting on the domestic issues, but this is like brutal attack on the women during the Women March on the International Women’s Day.
MR PRICE: We’ve seen those reports, and unfortunately, we’ve seen reports of violence and repression against marches on International Women’s Day around the world. We condemn reports of police violence against peaceful protestors who took to the streets to defend their human rights and fundamental freedoms across the globe on International Women’s Day. It is to us reprehensible that some countries on International Women’s Day, a day for the international community to come together to celebrate the leadership and contributions and accomplishments of women and girls was marred in far too many places by violence and repression against the very persons we came together to honor.
Women and girls deserve the ability to exercise their freedom of expression, their right to peaceful assembly, and association without fear or retribution. We know from experience that governments that treat women and girls equally – that fail to treat women and girls equally and that don’t respect their fundamental human rights are societies that are not in a position to reach their full potential.
QUESTION: Ned, today the Israeli defense minister during a press conference with Secretary Austin said, “Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons requires Israel to be ready for any action and important decisions lie ahead,” he said. He signaled as if some military contingencies are not too far now. Does the administration share this sense of urgency with the Israeli administration regarding Iran?
MR PRICE: We share the assessment that Iran’s nuclear program is an urgent challenge. We have a solemn commitment that Israel – excuse me – that Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon. We are determined to make good on that commitment. We believe the most effective means by which to fulfill that commitment is through diplomacy. Only through diplomacy can we achieve a permanent and verifiable solution to the challenges that are posed by Iran’s nuclear program.
Diplomacy is always going to be our first resort, but if we aren’t met with a willing partner on the other end, it won’t be our last resort. So we’re always engaged in consultations with allies and partners around the world about this challenge because it is a challenge that has implications for our friends around the world.
QUESTION: You appear to share the sense of urgency, but you don’t appear to share the same method that should be addressed. You are saying diplomacy; Israelis are signaling or somehow implying military action. Do you think that you are on different pages with Israeli administration?
MR PRICE: I will leave it to my Israeli counterparts to speak for their own approach. We have discussed our approach with them at the highest levels. It was a discussion between Secretary Blinken and the prime minister and other Israeli counterparts when we were in Israel earlier this year. Our Israeli partners know, because we are transparent with them, the fact that we believe that only diplomacy can achieve a solution that is durable and that will provide a permanent resolution to the challenge of Iran’s nuclear program.
QUESTION: Also, a separate – a separate topic. I’m sorry. So Saudi Arabia – we have seen a report that Saudi Arabia is asking the United States to provide security guarantees and help to their civilian nuclear programs as Washington tries to broker diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Do you have anything on that? Can you just —
MR PRICE: I don’t have anything to offer on that specific report. Of course, it’s well known that we are a full and eager proponent of normalization between Israel and its Muslim-majority and Arab neighbors, both near and far. We have had conversations with countries almost literally around the world on this front, and we’re going to continue to support Israel’s efforts, our collective efforts to expand the set of bridges that Israel has been in a position to build with its Arab and Muslim-majority neighbors and also other countries. But I don’t have anything to offer on that specific report.
QUESTION: On Saudi Arabia, Ned.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Saudi foreign minister visit to Moscow and the commitment to increase commerce between the two countries?
MR PRICE: I’d refer you to the Saudis for comment on the foreign minister’s visit. I would just add that the visit does follow a very recent visit of this foreign minister to Kyiv, where he announced that Saudi Arabia will deliver $400 million in critical humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, including $300 million in energy products. That was the first visit of a senior Arab official to Ukraine since the war began. We’ve also seen our Saudi partners vote repeatedly, including as recently as February 24th – just last month – in the UN General Assembly to support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the principles of the UN Charter.
QUESTION: Yeah, I just wanted to quickly ask on Poland. Do you have any comment about the Polish foreign ministry calling in the U.S. ambassador over this documentary critical of the late Pope John Paul II aired on a local broadcaster which is owned by Warner Bros. Discovery?
MR PRICE: I don’t beyond noting that the ambassador was at the foreign ministry for discussions. I’m not in a position to detail those discussions.
QUESTION: Can I ask a quick question on Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: Okay. The Washington Free Beacon claimed that the Taliban are in possession of $7.2 billion worth of American arms that were left behind, including airplanes, ground-to-air missiles, and so on that pose a threat to U.S. interests. Do you have any comment on that?
MR PRICE: I’m not familiar with that report, and that’s an issue that our colleagues at the Department of Defense would be in a better position to respond to. What I can say is that since August of last year, we have found that previous estimates – and I can’t speak to this one, because I’m not familiar with it – of material that may be in the Taliban’s possession that was left behind after the evacuation – those estimates were inflated by a large degree, but I can’t speak to this.
QUESTION: Thanks. Josh Keating at Grid. I was wondering, can you clarify at all the U.S. position on whether crimes committed by the Russian military in Ukraine fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court given that Russia is not a state party to the court? And do you anticipate that the U.S. will provide evidence or any other assistance to the court in investigating such crimes given that the U.S. is also not a member of the court?
MR PRICE: So first, a couple things. Over the past two years, the United States has worked hard to improve and to in fact reset our relationship with the International Criminal Court through, in the first instance, the lifting of sanctions that we think should never have been imposed in the first place, a return to engagement with the court and the Assembly of States Parties, and identifying specific areas where we can support ICC investigations and prosecutions, including steps to support the court’s work in Darfur and assistance in locating and apprehending fugitives from international justice, including the LRA leader Joseph Kony. We also offer rewards for information leading to the arrest, transfer, or conviction of foreign nationals accused of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide before the ICC.
But what we don’t discuss is the specific forms of support that we may or may not be providing to the ICC. We don’t want to do anything that could jeopardize the sanctity of an investigation, that could set back the pursuit of justice.
QUESTION: And your position now on the jurisdiction question over whether the court would have jurisdiction over Russian crimes in Ukraine?
MR PRICE: We support the investigation that the prosecutor has announced. Ukraine is a state party to the ICC.
QUESTION: North Korea-related question. Since March 13th, U.S.-South Korea military exercise will start. Do you think yesterday missile launch is something related with that?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry, could you repeat that?
MR PRICE: I couldn’t say the motivation behind the DPRK’s launch. If they are under the mistaken impression that the defensive exercises that we are conducting with our partners, the ROK and Japan, are intended to pose a threat to the DPRK, they’re mistaken. We are exercising only because the DPRK has engaged in provocations and has put us in a position to ensure that we’re capable of making good on the ironclad defensive security commitments that we have to our treaty allies, the ROK and Japan.
We’ve stressed time and again that we harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK; we’re ready and able to engage in dialogue and diplomacy to bring about what is our overarching policy goal. But the DPRK has met those offers with only additional provocations.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) is reporting is that those two dead American citizens who were kidnapped in Mexico are still in the morgue in Mexico. I was wondering if you could tell me if that’s the case, and if so, why it’s taking so long to get them repatriated.
MR PRICE: So our consular staff in Mexico are assisting in line with the wishes that the families have put forward with making arrangements to transport the deceased and their personal effects back to the United States. I think it’s fair to say that we are in the final stages of doing just that. We’ll continue to work around the clock until their remains are repatriated back to the United States. Of course, all throughout this we have offered our most sincere condolences to the families, the loved ones of the victims as we keep in mind the Americans who were released from captivity.
We are working on this as diligently as we can, but I can say as a general matter that there are oftentimes processes that need to be completed. Some countries require, for example, that an autopsy be conducted before the remains are repatriated. But as we do in all cases – in all similar cases – we are working around the clock to effect that repatriation.
QUESTION: And just a follow-up, if I can. A Mexican cartel appears to have taken credit or blame – however you want to put it – for these kidnappings and the murders. Can you say that – will the administration rethink its position on designating a cartel or more cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations?
MR PRICE: So as for the claim, I’ve seen that claim. This would be a claim that our law enforcement colleagues and our Mexican counterparts would need to speak to. We’re just not going to speak to the investigation or its status. We’re going to use every tool that is appropriate and that’s available to us to pursue these transnational criminal organizations, these drug trafficking organizations, to the fullest extent. They not only breed the insecurity that is pervasive in parts of Mexico that we’ve spoken to in our Travel Advisories, but they also of course have an impact on Americans in the United States across the border.
So it is a focus of ours. We have designated them and pursued them vigorously with the authorities that are available to us. But we’re going to continue with our Mexican partners to look at all the tools that may be available to make sure that we’re tackling this challenge as effectively as we can.
Yeah, final question.
QUESTION: About Syria. An estimated 8.8 million individuals have been affected by the earthquake, as you know, there. And 10,000, more than 10,000 buildings have been partially destroyed. About 55,000 households as displaced — leave them as displaced, either within or between assessed communities. Northeast Syria is different than Türkiye; Türkiye has a government and they are helping those people who have been affected by the earthquake. Do you have any plan to help those people who are looking for a hand to bring them out from this dire situation?
MR PRICE: So first, when it comes to the earthquake, we are committed to our Turkish allies. We are committed to the people of Syria. Nationality, of course, means nothing when you are suffering the implications of a natural disaster like this. And our commitment of resources, our commitment of focus, that is for both the Türkiye – the people of Türkiye and the people of Syria.
In these early weeks, we have put – when it comes to Syria – an emphasis on seeing to it that humanitarian aid is flowing from Türkiye into Syria so that when it comes to our contribution of $185 million, we can ensure or do everything we can to facilitate the passage and transfer of that assistance across the border into Syria. The rest of the world is stepping up as well, and we want to see the – we want to see the border crossings that have now been opened continue to operate, to have trucks and convoys continue to be able to transit from Türkiye into Syria so that people across Syria can receive this much-needed assistance.
Of course, our commitment to the people of Syria is longstanding. Over the course of the past 12 years, over the course of the Syrian civil war, we’ve contributed some $15 billion to the humanitarian response that’s been necessitated by what the Syrian regime unfortunately has perpetrated on the people of Syria. Far too many Syrians have been forced to flee from their homes and from their home country. Many of them have found and started new lives in Europe. Many of them have come to the United States, and we are prepared, as a country that has always not only welcomed but benefited from the integration of refugees into the fabric of American society, to continue to welcome those from around the world, including from Syria, who go through the appropriate procedures and arrive in the United States as refugees.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:32 p.m.)
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