2:02 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Janne, that was a quick commute. I just saw you down the street.
QUESTION: That’s right.
MR PRICE: Wow. (Laughter.) That’s impressive. We either have some cub reporters with us today or some interns in the back. I suspect they’re State Department interns. Welcome. Well, we have a couple of things at the top and then we’ll take your questions.
The United States congratulates FIFA, Israel, and Qatar on the historic step of opening direct flights between Tel Aviv and Doha for the duration of the World Cup and commends the efforts that went into arriving at this arrangement. Today’s announcement is a historic development and an important step that also holds great promise to bolster people-to-people ties and economic relations. As President Biden has said, building regional integration – in the Middle East and beyond – brings prosperity and security to the people of the region. We welcome the statement that this move will benefit Israeli and Palestinian soccer fans alike, as a step towards expanding greater freedom of travel for all consistent with Qatar’s pledge that all are welcome at the World Cup. The United States will continue to engage with Israel and our partners across the region for the benefit of all, and we commend Qatar and Israel, both close partners of the United States, for their leadership and spirit of sportsmanship that they have demonstrated with this important development.
Next, as you may have seen, USAID Administrator Samantha Power traveled to Lebanon this week where she met with Lebanese citizens, refugees, the speaker, and caretaker prime minister, as well as with officials from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United Nations to discuss the country’s economic crisis and the urgent need for reforms.
Administrator Power announced several new support initiatives for Lebanon, including an additional $72 million in emergency – in emergency food assistance benefiting more than 650,000 vulnerable people in Lebanon, through the United Nations World Food Program.
The Lebanese economy is in crisis because of decades of corruption and mismanagement. This crisis has been exacerbated by President Putin’s brutal war against Ukraine, which has driven up food prices and threatened food security and critical supplies such as fertilizer and grain.
The United States continues to support the Lebanese people as they grapple with the effects of a historic economic crisis and we remain committed to addressing the immediate needs of vulnerable Lebanese and refugee families inside of Lebanon.
And finally, as you saw this morning, we announced that Secretary Blinken will be travelling to Egypt, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Thailand on November – starting on November 11th.
While in Sharm El-Sheikh, on November 11, Secretary Blinken will join President Biden at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP27, to advance United States efforts to strengthen global climate ambition. The Secretary will support the President in urging countries to implement their climate commitments, encouraging all nationally determined contributions to be aligned with the 1.5 degree Celsius goal of the Paris Agreement, and ensuring COP27 is responsive to the priorities and needs of the African continent and of vulnerable developing countries and communities everywhere.
While in Phnom Penh, on November 12th and 13th, Secretary Blinken will support President Biden’s participation in the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and East Asia Summits. The President and Secretary will reaffirm our partnership with ASEAN and support for ASEAN centrality and they’ll discuss regional and global challenges, including the ongoing humanitarian and human rights crisis in Burma. The United States will underscore the importance of U.S.-ASEAN cooperation in ensuring security and prosperity in the region and the well-being of our combined 1 billion people.
While in Bali, on November 13th through the 16th, Secretary Blinken will support President Biden’s participation in the G20 Leaders Summit. The President and Secretary will commend President Widodo’s leadership of the G20 and highlight the U.S. commitment to this premier forum for economic cooperation with countries representing more than 80 percent of the world’s GDP. The United States will reinforce our commitment to work with G20 partners to address key challenges such as climate change and the global impact of President Putin’s war on Ukraine, including when it comes to energy and food security and affordability, as well as a range of other priorities important to the global economic recovery.
And finally, in Bangkok, on November 16th and 17th, the Secretary will advance economic policies in the Asia-Pacific region to promote free, fair, and open trade and investment and advance inclusive and sustainable growth with other foreign and trade ministers at the APEC Ministerial Meeting. He will also support Vice President Kamala Harris’s participation in the APEC Economic Leaders Week, where she will underscore U.S. economic leadership and outline U.S. goals for our APEC host year in 2023, which will build on the progress from Thailand’s host year.
We look forward to sharing more about the Secretary’s travel in the coming days. So we encourage you, all of you who are not joining in person, to follow along virtually.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I was going to start with Iran, but actually, since you opened with the FIFA-Qatar-Israel thing, I understand that you think this is a great opportunity for Palestinians who can afford a plane ticket to fly from Tel Aviv to Doha, but what about Palestinians who want to fly from Tel Aviv elsewhere? This is a wonderful month-long opportunity, I suppose, but it’s for a game. Okay? And so there are Palestinians who want and need to get out of Ben Gurion to fly to Europe, to visit relatives for family issues, to fly to the U.S., and can’t. So what are you doing about that?
MR PRICE: Matt, I understand your point, and it’s well taken. I think what I would say, however, is that this is an incremental step. It is an important incremental step.
QUESTION: But —
MR PRICE: This is not —
QUESTION: But it’s also —
MR PRICE: This is —
QUESTION: But it’s also temporary, and it’s for —
MR PRICE: This is —
QUESTION: — one destination.
MR PRICE: I don’t think I said anything at the outset of this briefing to lend the impression or that would lend the impression that this would be a panacea for some of the obstacles that the Palestinian people face.
QUESTION: I’m not saying you did. I’m just saying that if you think that this is such a wonderful thing, wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if this could be, like, expanded to – so that Palestinians could actually travel to wherever, not just to Doha?
MR PRICE: A couple points on that. Number one, this is important for a couple reasons. Regional integration – regional integration and furthering the ability of countries in the region to have relationships with one another is something that this administration has invested heavily in. We saw that on full display in the Negev earlier this spring where a number of ministers – five ministers representing five countries, including the United States – were on stage and I think were a testament to the promise and opportunity that comes with regional integration. That’s something we want to see continue.
QUESTION: Okay. But I don’t remember there being any – I was there, and I don’t remember there being any —
MR PRICE: But if —
QUESTION: — Palestinians on the stage.
MR PRICE: But because you were there, you will also —
MR PRICE: You will also remember – you will —
QUESTION: Yes, you – yes, he was in Ramallah meeting with —
MR PRICE: You will —
QUESTION: — President Abbas just before then.
MR PRICE: Well, but I was going to —
QUESTION: But the —
MR PRICE: — a different point. I was going to go to the point that several of these ministers said while speaking at the Negev that this process of normalization is no substitute for progress when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We fundamentally believe that. We can welcome incremental steps when it comes to progress —
MR PRICE: — between Israel and its neighbors while also acknowledging that there needs to be significant progress when it comes to relations between Israelis and Palestinians, when it comes to tensions between Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank, between Israel and Gaza. That of course remains a focus. This is not a replacement for that, but at the same time, when we see progress, when we see important progress like this, we will welcome it and we will continue to encourage it.
QUESTION: Okay. I’ll come back to it on the —
QUESTION: Can I just —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — just follow up on Matt’s questioning. I mean, sure, you say incremental and so on when you’re talking about integration – incremental integration in the region, but then it – doesn’t that really ignore the big elephant in the room, which is the Israeli occupation? I mean, everybody seems to want to make peace with those who are – they are not at war with. The Israelis are at war with the Palestinians. That is the elephant in the room; don’t you agree?
MR PRICE: Said, we think there can be progress on both fronts. We think there has to be progress on both fronts. As we’ve discussed – you and I have discussed in fact a number of times – this administration is fully and wholly supported – supportive of a negotiated two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Ultimately, that is how this conflict will be solved.
Now, there are many surmountable obstacles that stand in the way to a negotiated two-state settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. What we’ve seen in recent years is the ability of Israel to forge closer relations and in some cases official ties with its neighbors. Doing so is good for the region, it’s good for Israel, it’s good for those Arab and Muslim countries. But what we want to do is to translate the progress that we’re seeing in terms of Israel’s bilateral relationships and regional relationships into progress for the Palestinian people.
The point I made to Matt applies here: when we were in the Negev in the spring, a number of ministers, including Secretary Blinken, including, as I recall, Foreign Minister Lapid – at the time Foreign Minister Lapid – made the point that we cannot allow this to be a substitute. We will continue to work on progress between Israelis and Palestinians. Of course there remains a wide distance and quite a ways between Israelis and Palestinians when it comes to that two‑state solution. What we are trying to do incrementally, step by step, is to make progress, to alleviate some of the humanitarian plight that the Palestinians face in places like Gaza and the West Bank, and to work together with Israel, to work together with the Palestinian Authority, to work together with partners in the region to do what we can to achieve progress on that front.
QUESTION: But you know exactly where Matt began. Palestinian Americans, citizens of this country, they cannot fly in and out of Ben Gurion because there is a new law that has been implemented for four – for months – for weeks now or maybe longer. I don’t know exactly how long. And you have not – you have not done anything to ensure that your ally and your benefactor, basically, Israel, is adhering to basic human laws and human rights laws and rights that should —
MR PRICE: So, Said —
QUESTION: — that should be available to all Americans.
MR PRICE: But I have to stop you because that’s just not true. It is just not true. This law was introduced on October 20th.
MR PRICE: The pilot procedure was published —
MR PRICE: — before that.
QUESTION: 20 days ago.
MR PRICE: We had an opportunity to speak with the Israeli Government, with our Israeli partners, about some of the concerns we had. And what ultimately went into effect on October 20th had several improvements when it came to the ability of American citizens, dual citizens to transit. We are continuing to discuss this with our Israeli partners. We remain concerned about the potential for adverse impact that some of these procedures could have on Palestinian civil society, on tourism, investment, academia, and health care. We continue to raise those concerns, but it’s just not true that we haven’t done anything. In fact, we have worked concertedly with our Israeli partners on this.
QUESTION: And lastly, I mean, you keep saying that this is not a substitute, opening up – normalization is not a substitute. Their words. I mean, they – these words are said all the time. You talk about two-state solutions. We have not seen in the last – since this administration came into office, we have not seen any push for negotiations, for instance. Or you had difficulty with the former Israeli Government, the current one, and so on. I think that we are likely to have more difficulty in the future with the kind of government that is being formed in Israel.
So there has not been really any effort or any strong statement on, let’s say, the need to renegotiate these things, or to start negotiations, or for you to sponsor such a negotiation. Am I wrong?
MR PRICE: You’ve seen very strong statements and more than statements from us about the importance about ultimately the imperative of a two-state solution forming the basis of a long-term settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. When we take these jobs, we take something for a diplomatic Hippocratic Oath. Of course, we want to better the lives and livelihoods, the welfare of people around the world. At the same time, we want to ensure that we’re doing no harm. And if a foreign government, if this government were to go in – especially when tensions are high, as unfortunately they have been, between Israelis and Palestinians – and to move aggressively or suggest, put forward a diplomatic approach to the two-state solution at this moment, I’m not certain that that approach would be effective. I’m not certain that approach would serve to de-escalate tensions. And in fact, I think there’s reason to believe it would only exacerbate tensions.
We have focused since January 20th of last year on de-escalating tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. We’ve done that at times of acute tension, like in May of last year between – during the war between Israeli and Gaza, a war that was significantly shortened, a war that saw far fewer lives lost than in previous exchanges between Israel and Gaza, we think because of the role we played, the quiet diplomacy, the quiet diplomatic role that we undertook.
We’re doing the same thing right now, as we’ve seen heightened tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. In the interim, that is not to say that we are standing still when it comes to the humanitarian concerns of the Palestinian people – far from it. You have seen us re-engage with the Palestinian Authority; you’ve seen us re-engage with the Palestinian people; you’ve seen us re-engage with important international institutions, including UNRWA. And we have provided nearly, as I recall, about a billion dollars worth of humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people in Gaza, in the West Bank, since January of last year.
We believe ultimately – as you’ve heard us say – that Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve equal levels of security, of stability, of democracy, of freedom, of dignity, and of opportunity. And the humanitarian assistance that we are providing and the approach that we are taking attempts to afford greater levels of dignity, greater levels of opportunity for the Palestinian people.
QUESTION: Ned, can I just clear up one thing?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: When you opened and you said congratulations to FIFA, Qatar, Israel for this, but is it your understanding that the Palestinians had nothing to do with this agreement?
MR PRICE: I would refer to —
QUESTION: So this is based —
MR PRICE: — those two countries and that institution. This is –
QUESTION: Okay. So it was – so your understanding is this was just between Qatar, FIFA, and Israel; the Palestinians had nothing to do with it. So this is something they should be grateful for, even though it’s like kind of table scraps, right?
MR PRICE: Matt, you’re putting words into mouth. I –
QUESTION: No, no, no, I’m not. I’m just asking –
MR PRICE: I commended this – I commended this as –
QUESTION: Yes, I get it.
MR PRICE: I did not say anyone in particular should be grateful for this.
MR PRICE: I said the United States welcomes this. We see this as an important step.
QUESTION: Yes, okay. All right. Secondly, the Hippocratic Oath that you just mentioned –
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: This applies everywhere? The U.S. wants to do no harm anywhere? I just want to make sure we’re talking about –
MR PRICE: Matt, that is a statement I would subscribe to everywhere, correct.
QUESTION: Okay. And for – hold on, wait.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: Historically as well?
MR PRICE: Matt. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yeah? Okay. And then the last thing I just – because Said brought up the new Israeli government, and I – it looks like the internal security minister, the police minister, whatever it is, Mr. Ben-Gvir, has gone and made a visit to the Kahane memorial. And I’m just wondering, you guys have been loath to talk about this before a government has been formed, or talk about the new Israeli government before it has been formed, but I’m just wondering if you have any comments on that.
MR PRICE: Well, of course I’m not commenting on any government that hasn’t yet been formed. But what I can say is that we’ve seen these same reports. Celebrating the legacy of a terrorist organization is abhorrent; there is no other word for it. It is abhorrent. And we remain concerned, as we said before, by the legacy of Kahane Chai and the continued use of rhetoric among violent, right-wing extremists. We’ve condemned incitements, we’ve condemned violence and racism in all of if its forms. There is a good reason why Kahane Chai remains designated as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist organization. We urge all parties to maintain calm, to exercise restraint, and to refrain from actions that only serve to exacerbate tensions, and that includes in Jerusalem.
QUESTION: But it’s no longer an FTO, right?
MR PRICE: My understanding is that it’s still designated as an SDGT.
QUESTION: But it’s no longer an FTO?
MR PRICE: That is my understanding. That’s correct.
QUESTION: I understand, Ned, that Rob Malley will meet with E3 next week in Paris. Could you confirm that, and can you talk a little bit about what’s going to be discussed?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any meetings of him to confirm at the moment, but as you know Rob and his team have been in regular dialogue with our European partners, especially our E3 partners, the French, the Germans, the Brits. Of course, the nature of their conversations have changed quite a bit since – well, over the past several weeks. We have spent a good deal of time at senior levels, including at Rob’s level, including at Deputy Sherman’s level, including at the Secretary’s level speaking about ways that we can demonstrate our support for those brave Iranians, including many women and girls, who are peacefully demonstrating, taking to the streets, to call for the reforms that they’re demanding.
So again, I – if we have any engagement to announce, if we have any travel to announce we will. But the conversations between the United States and our European allies have continued.
QUESTION: I just want to quickly ask about Brittney Griner as well. The President yesterday said he hoped and guessed that Putin would be more seriously engaged. I’m just wondering if there is any base for that hope, whether you guys have picked up any signs in your dealings with the Russians, that they were waiting for the midterms to weigh in on this. Like, what is his hope based on basically?
MR PRICE: Well, the fact is, and what the President was alluding to, is the fact the Russians, up until now, have not engaged with the seriousness of purpose and the constructive approach that we would have liked to have seen. We put forward this substantial proposal, as Secretary Blinken announced a number of months ago now, for the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner. The fact that Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner remain behind bars – Brittney Griner for some ten months now, Paul Whelan for more than three years now – is a testament to the fact that this process has not moved as quickly as we would have liked. You’ve heard us say that from our end this process has not been static. We put forward this substantial proposal. We’ve had discussions with the Russians. Those discussions are continuing. We’re continuing to look for ways that we can secure as quickly as possible the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner so that they can be returned to their loved ones here in the United States.
QUESTION: But was there ever, like, a mention of the U.S. midterms? Is that why the President —
MR PRICE: Again, I’m not going to get into the back-and-forth. The fact is that the Russians have not taken an approach to date that we think is sufficient. We have continued to press them to engage seriously and in good faith on the original proposal that we put forward, the alternatives we’ve put forward. We have continued to look for ways to secure as quickly as possible the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, and we continue to work on those efforts.
QUESTION: And lastly, do you guys have any information about the exact whereabouts of Brittney Griner? Have Russians informed you about that?
MR PRICE: Well, you saw the Secretary put out a statement on this earlier this week. Her transfer to – her transfer from the detention center in Moscow follows a sham trial, follows her unjust sentencing. It is – it only compounds the original injustice of her wrongful detention.
It has, unfortunately, become standard practice on the part of the Russian Federation not to inform us ahead of time when American citizen detainees are transferred from one detention center to another. That is – that was the case in this instance as well. We did not receive a heads-up. Ultimately we had seen press reports and we had engaged very closely with Brittney Griner’s representatives, and we continue to do that. As soon as we learned of her transfer, we requested formally from the Russian Government – we requested more information about her transfer. We are also engaging to do all that we can to ensure that her conditions are as safe, as healthy as can be during this time. That is something that we do for all detained American citizens in Russia and really around the world. We are, as I said before, in frequent contact with her representatives, with her legal teams. And ultimately, we’re in contact with the Russians, one, on the conditions of her confinement, but, two, and importantly, to do all we can to see her and Paul Whelan released.
QUESTION: Ned, on Russia – on this topic —
QUESTION: Staying on – as you know – same topic.
MR PRICE: Same topic? Sure.
QUESTION: Lavrov will be replacing president in Indonesia. Is it the Secretary’s belief that he should be isolated, just like he was a couple of months ago during the ministerial?
MR PRICE: It’s our belief that it can’t be business as usual with the Russian Federation. It’s not only our belief; I think we all saw in Bali during the G20 ministerial in July that Russia was isolated. We heard that from statements from a number of ministers representing the majority of the G20. We heard that. Clearly, Foreign Minister Lavrov heard that as well. The fact that he couldn’t deign to return in the afternoon after hearing condemnation from a number of his peers and counterparts around the table I think speaks to the scorn and to the criticism that he very clearly heard and internalized.
I suspect that Foreign Minister Lavrov, who will be representing his country by public accounts at least, will hear something very similar. Countries around the world have continued to condemn Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine. This goes well beyond the G7 countries. We’ve heard a number of countries in the region, including countries that have at least initially sought to hedge, countries that have more recently been much more direct and pointed in their remarks, calling for an end to this aggression, making clear that this is not an era of war, that borders cannot and must not be redrawn by force.
And then of course, there are all the attendant implications of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and I suspect the G20 will be an opportunity for a number of these countries to speak, in some cases to speak firsthand of the implications of rising food prices, rising energy prices, the undermining of the rules-based international order. Those are messages that we heard before – during the G20 and before the Black Sea Grain Initiative went into effect on August 1st. Now that the Black Sea Grain Initiative seems to be again in doubt as the Russians have continued to refuse to make explicit statements that they will extend it, I expect we’ll hear that again.
And it’s only called for, as we hear the Russians essentially asking the rest of the world, “What’s in it for us? What’s in it for us when it comes to renewing the Black Sea Grain Initiative?” They continue to falsely claim that they are not able to export food and fertilizer. That, of course, is totally untrue. We have gone to extraordinary lengths to make clear that our sanctions regime has clear carveouts and clear exemptions for Russian food and fertilizer. We have issued formal guidance – the Treasury Department has. We’ve issued FAQs. We’ve issued public Fact Sheets. We have engaged privately with countries around the world. We’ve even established a call center here at the Department of State for countries or entities who may have questions about any potential sanctions implications of transactions to make sure that countries and entities around the world know that food and fertilizer are exempted from our Russian sanctions regime.
So again, we hear the Russians resorting to these false allegations, and I think the world will again react unkindly when Moscow asks, “What’s in it for us?” when the rest of the world is at risk of going hungry.
QUESTION: And the Secretary has no plan of interacting with him?
MR PRICE: We don’t have any plans for any sort of formal interaction at this point.
QUESTION: Ned, on Russia too.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: A Russian court has ordered the deportation of a U.S. citizen who spent 11 months in detention in Russia. Do you have anything on this?
MR PRICE: We are aware of reports that Russia has ordered the deportation of a U.S. citizen. We continue to insist that Russia, as you heard me say a moment ago, allow consistent, timely consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees. We take our role in assisting U.S. citizens abroad seriously. We’re closely monitoring this situation, but of course I’m limited in terms of what I can say due to privacy.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: So did you have consular access to her previously when she was convicted for – or when she spent 11 months in jail for assaulting her partner?
MR PRICE: My understanding is that we did not have consular access in this case. We have made clear to Russia that consistent with their obligations under the Vienna Convention, under international law, that we seek regular, consistent consular access. That’s certainly the case for our wrongful detainees Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, but it’s true for all American citizen detainees in Russia and around the world.
Staying on this? Yes, Shannon.
QUESTION: Same topic. In regards to Brittney Griner, since that transfer got underway and you reached out to the Russians, have you heard anything back from them? And on the topic of consular access, given that’s been such a problem in Brittney Griner’s case, are you hopeful that U.S. diploments will – U.S. diplomats, rather, will have any access to her once she is transferred to that penal colony?
MR PRICE: So on your first question, my understanding is that we have not heard anything substantive from the Russians since we put forward our formal request seeking additional information on her whereabouts and making clear our expectations that her conditions, the conditions of her confinement, be sufficient and as improved as they can be.
When it comes to other American citizens, what I can say is that American citizens who have been transferred from Moscow, we have in the past been able to secure consular access to them. Many of them do have somewhat regular access to the telephone and they can place calls to the Department of State, place calls to others, but in-person consular access is something that we have sought and something we have secured in the case of other Americans who have been transferred to prison camps outside of Moscow.
QUESTION: Can we just stay on Americans?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: And I won’t go to Cambodia yet. This is Saudi —
QUESTION: Wait, can we stay on Russia before we go away from Russia?
MR PRICE: Okay. Go ahead, Kylie.
QUESTION: I just want to ask about the prospect of a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine war. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Milley said this morning that the U.S. is seeing the beginning of forces withdraw from Kherson, and went on to say, “We think there are some possibilities here for some diplomatic solutions, so we’ll see where that leads us.” Does the State Department agree with that possibility being in the offing now?
MR PRICE: We agree with what President Zelenskyy has said, that —
QUESTION: No, no, no, I’m asking if you agree with what Milley said.
MR PRICE: I know you are, but we agree with what President Zelenskyy has said. Look, we know, as President Zelenskyy has said, that this war will have to end through diplomacy and dialogue. President Zelenskyy in his address even earlier this week made clear once again that Ukraine is ready for peace, ready for a fair and just peace, the formula of which we voiced many times: respect for the UN Charter, respect for our territorial integrity, respect for our people.
The Ukrainians have made clear their belief that this war will ultimately end at the negotiating table. The Russians occasionally have voiced that same sentiment. Unfortunately, we’ve only seen the Russians pair that sentiment with brutal aggression against the Ukrainian people, now targeting more and more Ukrainian infrastructure, targeting food, targeting food storage throughout the country; heating, water, sanitation services.
So, again, the onus remains on Moscow to demonstrate not only through word but also in deed that it is ready to negotiate, it is ready to meet what the world has very clearly heard from our Ukrainian partners, and that they are ready and willing to sit down and engage in good faith.
QUESTION: But if there is some possibility for a diplomatic solution here, as Milley is saying, why is that? Why does the United States feel that at this point specifically? Is it because these troops are starting to pull back from Kherson? Is it because we may be entering a time where there is a lull in fighting in the winter? Why?
MR PRICE: Kylie, the broader point here is that it is not up to us to dictate to the Ukrainians what that diplomacy will look like, the contours of it. It is up to us as we continue to seek and continue to support our Ukrainian partners to do just that – to provide them with security assistance, to provide them with economic assistance, to provide them with humanitarian assistance as well, so that if and when that negotiating table does develop, they’re in the strongest possible position.
But no one here is intending to signal to the Ukrainians that they must do X or they must do Y. Ultimately, these are decisions that they are going to have to make. President Zelenskyy has made clear at a very high level consistently and repeatedly that Ukraine is prepared to engage in dialogue, in diplomacy. Unfortunately, the Russians have yet to meet and yet to match that sentiment with actions that demonstrate the same on their side.
QUESTION: So there’s no increased boost for a diplomatic solution coming from U.S. diplomats in this building at this time?
MR PRICE: We are supporting our Ukrainian partners with precisely what they need at the moment. And what they need at the moment is security assistance to defend their country. It’s economic assistance to remain economically viable to provide services to their people, and it’s humanitarian assistance for the Ukrainian people who have been so brutalized by this war. All of that has a near-term impact, but all of that too will have a longer-term impact, because if and when a negotiating table develops, all of those elements will strengthen Ukraine’s hand at the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Ned, how do you —
QUESTION: Just back to – just back to Americans detained. The Saudi – the woman in Saudi Arabia, the American woman, Carly Morris, who we spoke about on Monday, has now apparently been released. Are you aware of that? But also apparently, she has been barred from leaving the country. Do you have anything on that?
MR PRICE: We are aware of reports that Ms. Morris has been released after a brief detention by Saudi authorities. We take our role in assisting U.S. citizens around the world, including in Saudi Arabia, extremely seriously. We’re continuing – our embassy in Riyadh is continuing to follow the situation closely and to provide all appropriate assistance that we can.
QUESTION: Are you – is it correct, though, that she is not allowed to leave?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to confirm those reports, but the embassy continues to follow up and support as they can.
MR PRICE: Yes, please.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that. I guess my question is: Why isn’t Saudi Arabia assigned the “D” risk travel indicator for wrongful detentions given cases like this of U.S. nationals reportedly under travel ban or in prison on what seem to be free speech-related charges?
MR PRICE: So the “D” indicator is a travel indicator that we rolled out a number of weeks ago now to make American citizens aware of the risks they may face of wrongful detention should they choose to travel to certain countries. The “D” indicator applies to the usual suspects where Americans are wrongfully detained, where they are held as political pawns for political leverage.
To your question, the “D” indicator applies to countries where the U.S. nationality was and has been at play in the detention of any particular individual. So to put a little more meat on the bones, if an American is detained in a particular country but we don’t have reason to believe that that person’s nationality or American citizenship in some cases was directly tied to that detention, the “D” indicator may not apply to a particular country.
Anything else on Russia-Ukraine?
QUESTION: Yeah, Russia, Russia.
MR PRICE: Let me try and move around because you’ve had a question.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: I don’t have an unlimited time today, unfortunately.
QUESTION: Yes, following up on the negotiation theme, so the President said yesterday that it remains to be seen if Ukraine is willing to compromise with Russia. And you – obviously, you say that it’s up to Ukraine to choose if to do that. But so – but are you committed to continue supporting Ukraine even if it decides to not engage in talks? And you say you’re willing to support Ukraine how – what – how – as long as it takes, but what does that mean in practice?
And secondly, President Biden also said yesterday that the U.S. refused to provide longer-range systems to Ukraine because he doesn’t want Ukraine to strike on Russian territory. But given the record so far, is that something you really worry about? Because I’m not aware of any such strikes, even though Ukraine does have the ability to do that. And if Iran is providing Russia with long-range systems, why shouldn’t the U.S.?
MR PRICE: So a couple things to your questions. First, we are committed to Ukraine for as long as it takes. We want and the Ukrainian Government wants to see a Ukraine that is independent, that’s sovereign, that’s prosperous, that’s free, with the ability to defend itself against this type of aggression going forward.
In the first instance, that is going to be protected and defended with security assistance – security assistance that is complemented with economic assistance, that’s complemented with humanitarian assistance. But ultimately, a Ukraine that is independent, sovereign, prosperous, democratic, with the ability to defend itself – that is going to have to be something that over the longer term, as President Zelenskyy has said, is sought and achieved at the negotiating table. President Zelenskyy knows this. The Ukrainian Government knows this. So we are providing these elements to our Ukrainian partners now at the present for the near term to fight off and to fend off this Russia aggression, but, as I said a moment ago, ultimately, to strengthen Ukraine’s hand at the negotiating table so that they can be in the strongest possible position.
When it comes to the types of systems we’ve provided to Ukraine, at every step we have provided our Ukrainian partners with the systems and the weapons and the resources they need for the battle that they are facing in the moment. So you’ve heard us say this before, but in the earliest days of the war, we provided our Ukrainian partners with what they needed for what was then the Battle of Kyiv – anti‑aircraft, anti‑tank, anti-armor systems, small arms. As the battle has moved to the south and the east, we have provided artillery, we’ve provided anti‑air systems, we’ve provided anti‑ship systems, we have provided our Ukrainian partners what they need to take on that particular battle.
Just today, you heard Jake Sullivan announce several hundred more million dollars’ worth of security assistance. This is the type of assistance that the Ukrainians need now as they take on their counteroffensive and as they are effective in that counteroffensive. So that’s what we’ll – that’s the approach we’ll continue to take.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions —
QUESTION: Can we stay on —
QUESTION: — one Russia and one —
MR PRICE: I need to move around a little bit.
QUESTION: One Russia and one North Korea. It is reported that Russian military uniforms made in North Korea are being exported in large quantities. Do you think this is a violation of sanctions or do you have anything on this?
MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak specifically to the potential export or transfer of military uniforms that are —
MR PRICE: — fabricated in the DPRK, but what we have said is that Russia has sought security assistance from the DPRK. They have discussed the possibility of providing a significant amount of artillery – millions of rounds of artillery – and that the DPRK is seeking to provide that to Russia, masking those supplies through third countries. So that, of course, would be a violation of sanctions that are in place. Whether the export of military fatigues would violate sanctions, that’s – I can’t confirm that.
QUESTION: So one more on North Korea. North Korea has spent a lot of money on a series of missile launches. This is the cost of food for the North Korean people for several years. What measures is the United States taking with respect to financial resources for North Korea to develop missiles and WMD, weapons of mass destructions?
MR PRICE: So a couple point – a couple points. The premise of your question is absolutely correct. At every step, the DPRK regime has prioritized its own interests over the interests of its people. That includes through the development of its WMD programs. That includes through – by engaging in other illicit activities around the world. This of course has had consequences for the DPRK regime. Unfortunately, it is – also led to consequences for the North Korean people.
Around the world, even when we have differences with a particular government or a particular regime, even when we have profound differences with a particular regime – and that of course applies in the case of North Korea – we are always looking for ways that we can support the humanitarian needs of a particular people. So with our DPRK sanctions regime, similarly, there are appropriate humanitarian carveouts to see to it that the robust international and U.S. sanctions that are in place against North Korea don’t lead to unnecessary suffering on the part of the North Korean people.
Ultimately, however, the onus has to be on the DPRK regime to change course to put the interests of its people first and to cease with the provocations that have only led to more pressure, and ultimately to more isolation on the part of the DPRK.
QUESTION: Ned, is Syria one of the countries that Russia is —
MR PRICE: I’m —
QUESTION: — using to transfer arms from North Korea?
MR PRICE: I’m just not in a position to confirm the – those countries.
QUESTION: Ned, I want to go back to something you said when answering Humeyra’s question on Special Envoy Rob Malley’s plans. You said that the U.S. is trying to show its support for women and girls who are taking to the street to call for reform. Is that what the U.S. is seeing now out of Iran when people are burning the Islamic Republic’s flag and the pictures of the supreme leader?
MR PRICE: Again, we are not going to characterize what it is that the people of Iran are calling for. One of the strengths of this movement is the fact that this movement is organic; it is in many ways leaderless; it is the product of the passion and the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people for a better life. Ultimately, that is what they are calling for: a better life. We are doing what we can to support them – in the first instance by holding the regime accountable, but also by providing them with certain tools or certain authorities that they can use to express what it is that they’re calling for, to have their voices heard, to communicate with one another inside of Iran and ultimately, to connect with the rest of the world.
QUESTION: About two weeks ago the White House said that the Biden administration believes that Russia is – may be helping Iran to suppress the demonstrators. Can you give us some details based on what this comment was made? Are you seeing images of transfer of equipment?
MR PRICE: Unfortunately, there’s nothing more I can provide. In some instances we’re able to provide additional detail, including as we’ve done with the transfers of weapons. In this case it was the broader point that there are indications that this knowledge may be shared.
Ultimately, the fact is that these two countries unfortunately have a good deal of experience when it comes to repression. They have both demonstrated their effectiveness when it comes to their ability to repress their people, to repress the legitimate aspirations of their people, and to suppress the ability of, in some cases, their people to exercise peacefully rights that are as universal to them as they are to people around the world.
So we’ve seen – our concern is that they will share this knowledge and that they will attempt to optimize those practices.
QUESTION: Well, don’t you think talking about the evidence that the administration may have seen would help the people demonstrating and others to – I don’t know, somehow help them in one way or another? Because U.S. policy in general towards sanctions, for example, is naming and shaming to effect change of behavior. Now, if you were to open up the ways – the basis of this comment, wouldn’t that also be just one way to say, hey, here’s proof?
MR PRICE: In some cases we’re able to do that. In many cases we are not just given the nature of the information. We seek to be transparent. We seek to provide as much color and detail as we can. But in this instance I’m just not able to go any further. But I will add that it is not just naming and shaming that we’re doing in this case. We’re talking about the repression, but we’re also providing through action the issuance of General License D-2 that follows a general license that was issued in 2014 that allows the people of Iran to access certain tools, hardware, and software that they can use to communicate with one another and with the rest of the world so that the world can hear their voices and their fellow citizens can hear their voices.
QUESTION: Ned, I’m sorry, I have an Iran question – Iran IAEA question. But first, when you talk about the aspirations of the Iranian people and you don’t want to speak for them, well, I mean, you have spoken to the aspirations of other – of people in other countries who are protesting authoritarian repressive regimes. In Burma, you’ve called – you’ve said that you support the aspirations for a return to democracy. Presumably, you think that the Palestinians aspire to a state. Why is it that you can’t say what you think the Iranians aspire to? Do you not think that there is a common aspiration?
MR PRICE: This goes back to the point I was making just a moment ago to Gitte. One of the strengths of this movement is that it is organic. It is – to the extent it’s organized, it is only loosely organized.
QUESTION: Okay. So you’re – okay. But – so you’re saying you’re not —
MR PRICE: There is not a single individual or a single movement that’s leading this.
QUESTION: No, I know there’s not. Okay, that’s fair. But you’re saying you can’t – you don’t know what they aspire to?
MR PRICE: We are going to let them speak to what those aspirations are.
QUESTION: All right. Can I just ask you about the IAEA report?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: And the – and without getting into a whole thing, which I suspect you will, about how awful it was that the previous administration withdrew from it and this is all the fault of that, the IAEA has found that the Iranians have increased their stockpile of highly enriched uranium. What do you say about that?
MR PRICE: So there’s not much I can say, Matt, because we’re not in a position to comment on the details of a report that has yet to be made public. But we are familiar with this court – report. We have been clear that we support the independence of the IAEA, and we echo concerns that there has been no progress in clarifying and resolving Iran’s outstanding safeguards issue – issues. Iran needs to answer the IAEA’s questions, per its legal obligations under the NPT and its comprehensive safeguards agreement.
What we have seen instead is only more foot-dragging by Iran. We urge Iran to fully cooperate with the IAEA’s safeguards investigations so that the agency can be confident that all the nuclear material in Iran is under those safeguards.
QUESTION: Well, what about the increase in the holding of stockpiles of highly enriched —
MR PRICE: So again, I’m not in a position to comment on any particular findings. But what we have talked about for some time now is the ability, the ability that Iran has – not to fall into the trap that you laid out for me – but the ability that Iran has had since —
QUESTION: I would never, never lay out a trap for you.
MR PRICE: — since May of 2018 to make advancements in its nuclear program that previously would have been prohibited under the JCPOA. It’s, of course, a concern to us the way in which Iran has advanced its nuclear program. It’s, of course, a concern to us the way Iran has become emboldened when it comes to its support for regional proxies, for terrorist groups, for other malign actors. It’s, of course, of concern to us the way that Iran continues to repress its people and now continues to brutally repress the protesters who have been out in the streets marching peacefully, many of them women and girls, demanding and seeking their aspirations.
QUESTION: Yeah, seeking – seeking their aspirations. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: On this issue – on this issue —
QUESTION: Reuters is reporting that —
MR PRICE: I’m going to (inaudible).
QUESTION: Reuters is reporting European diplomats saying that the U.S. and the E3 are thinking about presenting a resolution at the IAEA Board of Governors next week. Can you confirm?
MR PRICE: We – as you know, we don’t preview our actions at upcoming Board of Governors meetings. These are decisions and discussions that we’ll have with our European partners. We’ll consult closely with the IAEA. We’ll consult closely with the director general and all of our partners in that forum.
Abbie. Abbie, go ahead.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask about this statement you put out on Tuesday about a former employee of a State Department contractor who was just convicted of sexual assault and drugging a woman. In the course of the federal investigation, he admitted to doing the same to 17 other people, I think, from 2002 to 2016. Your – in the statement you say you’re following up with the – the case has been submitted to the OIG. But are you aware – were there complaints against this man during his time of employment for the State Department contractor?
MR PRICE: Abbie, I’m just not in a position to offer any additional detail beyond what’s in the statement. But as you did note, we referred the case to the OIG. We believe the OIG is the relevant and appropriate institution to look into this, so that’s underway.
QUESTION: Russia-Iran, one question. We need to cover that. Russia’s security chief is in Iran today. Is there any concern on your end that, first, it will further embolden Iran at home – back to a previous question? Secondly, in the region, you did urge the regional countries before to be concerned about Russian-Iranian cooperation. And third, in Ukraine, so do you have a concern that they actually go beyond supplying drones and missiles in Ukraine? Thank you.
MR PRICE: All of this is a concern, Alex. All of this is a concern in the context of the partnership – in some ways the burgeoning partnership – that we’ve seen develop in recent years and in different ways in recent months between Iran and Russia. This is a deepening alliance that the entire world should view as a profound threat. Of course, the people of Ukraine recognize this as a profound threat. They are the ones that are facing this threat in very real terms every single day. But this is a relationship that would have implications, could have implications beyond any single country.
And so that’s why we’re working with the international community, including at the United Nations, to address the threats that are posed by Russia and Iran separately and the cooperation, the bilateral cooperation that we’ve seen between the two of them, including Iran’s dangerous proliferation of weapon systems to Russia. We will continue to vigorously enforce all U.S. sanctions on both the Russian and Iranian arms trade. We’ll make it harder for Iran to sell these weapons to Russia. And we’ll stand with our partners throughout the region against the threat that they face from Iran. As I said before, when it comes to Ukraine, we’ll also continue to provide Ukraine the security assistance, including the surface-to-air systems, that it needs to confront the threat that it faces from some of these Iranian-made weapons.
QUESTION: There’s also increasing rhetoric from Iran to neighboring countries like Azerbaijan. They are – they’re threatening lately; also they put together some statement accusing Azerbaijan conducting some terror act in Iran territory. Will the United States be able to stand up and protect those neighboring countries in case Iran continues its rhetoric against them?
MR PRICE: We have important bilateral relationships with all of these countries. You mentioned Armenia. Of course, the Secretary just had an opportunity to see his Armenian counterpart earlier —
MR PRICE: You mentioned Azerbaijan. He had an opportunity to see his Azerbaijani counterpart earlier this week. We’ve been very clear that Iran represents a threat to the region. We will continue to stand with our partners, to support them, and ultimately to stand against the kind of destabilizing influence that Iran presents and – in its region and perhaps beyond.
QUESTION: And also on the protests, I know I asked it before, I just want to put it on the record: Is there any reason why the United States is not sanctioning Iranian supreme leader for human rights violations?
MR PRICE: We are looking at all appropriate tools. The Iranian regime is very heavily sanctioned, to say the least. There are sanctions for the full array of their nefarious activities, from their nuclear program to their ballistic missile program to their support for terrorism, support for proxies, for their cyber activities, and, yes, for our profound concerns when it comes to Iran’s human rights record.
Matt, what do you have for me?
QUESTION: Oh, right, I forgot. Yeah, no, going back to the question that I’ve raised with you numerous times.
MR PRICE: All right, good to see everyone. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Theng Seary in Cambodia – is there any change in this? Can you say – and I realize you can’t speak for the President, but the Secretary will also be in Phnom Penh. Will this case by raised?
MR PRICE: Matt, we have raised this case very clearly in our senior-level interactions, as we’ve talked about even this week. Secretary Blinken raised it directly with Hun Sen when we were in Phnom Penh —
QUESTION: This week?
MR PRICE: As we discussed this week, yes.
QUESTION: Oh, as we —
MR PRICE: Yes, as we’ve discussed this week, Secretary Blinken raised it very directly with Hun Sen when we were in Cambodia in August.
MR PRICE: We’ve been clear in our public messaging that she should be released. This is a case that has the utmost priority, and I expect that human rights, including systemic challenges when it comes to Cambodia and specific cases, will be raised in the context of the visit this —
QUESTION: Okay. So does that mean, broadly, that even if a case has not been referred to SPEHA as a wrongful detention that it is still – but you still think, for whatever reason – and I’m still not quite sure I understand the difference between an unjust detention and a wrongful one – are unjust detentions as big a priority as the ones that SPEHA deals with?
MR PRICE: The welfare, the well-being, the safety and security of American citizens around the world is our highest priority, regardless of how someone is classified in our system.
QUESTION: Right, I get that, but it doesn’t seem to make sense, because you —
MR PRICE: Now, it is true that in some cases we are calling for an individual’s release when we believe that he or she is being held wrongfully, when he or she is being held unjustly. In this case – in the case of Seng Theary – we’ve been very clear that she should be released. She is being held unjustly and we are prioritizing this case as we do the cases of all detained American citizens.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:01 p.m.)