Department Press Briefing – October 11, 2022
2:39 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Hello.
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Happy Tuesday. Very sorry for the delay today. It may be Tuesday, but it feels like a Monday. The good news is it is Jen McKewan’s birthday, so wish a happy birthday to Jennifer.
QUESTION: Happy Birthday. (Applause.)
MR PRICE: Let the transcript reflect the applause. (Laughter.)
MR PRICE: We have a couple items at the top, and then we’ll turn to your questions.
Yesterday and today’s horrific strikes against Ukraine again demonstrate the lows to which President Putin and his enablers will sink. These missiles hit playgrounds, universities, apartment buildings, and city streets during rush hour traffic. Kremlin spokespeople claim the attacks destroyed their intended targets. These are their words: they hit their intended targets. Try wrapping your minds around that for just a moment: playgrounds, schools, apartment buildings, city streets, intended targets.
They look to have been designed to destroy power grids, heating, and electrical infrastructure leaving Ukraine in the cold and the dark as winter approaches. We have always said this is a brutal war of aggression, and these strikes seem to suggest that brutality – and brutality alone – is the point. The Kremlin’s attacks were brutal and absolutely unjustified, but they are also signs of weakness and desperation.
As we’ve said, there is one aggressor in this war: it is Russia. Only Russia is escalating this war in search of profit and ambition, leaving death, destruction, atrocities, and countless trampled futures in its wake. There is one person who can stop this war now and withdraw Russia’s forces, and that of course is Vladimir Putin.
As we come up to another important United Nations vote to condemn Russia’s attempts to annex parts of Ukraine, the international community has a responsibility to make clear that President Putin’s actions are completely unacceptable. Ukraine, like every other sovereign country around the world, has the right to choose its own future and live peacefully inside its own internationally recognized borders.
And for the rest of the world, there can be no such things as neutrality for countries that subscribe to the principles of the UN Charter. This war is about Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, but in some ways the stakes are even larger. The core principles of the UN Charter are at stake.
Next, as you’ve heard from the President and as you soon will hear from the Secretary, today the Governments of Israel and Lebanon have announced consensus on a historic deal to end their maritime boundary dispute and establish a permanent maritime boundary between the two countries. This is a remarkable diplomatic achievement.
This monumental breakthrough in Middle East diplomacy promises to usher in a new era of regional cooperation while also promoting prosperity, security, and stability through unleashing vital energy resources to the world.
As we thank the leaders of Israel and Lebanon for their willingness to negotiate, and for U.S. Presidential Coordinator Hochstein’s leadership in bringing the parties together, we urge a quick finalization and implementation of the agreement to the benefit of the region and the world.
Today’s announcement is a testament to the President’s vision for the Middle East: one that is more secure, more integrated, and prosperous – an outcome achieved through diplomacy and cooperation.
It is also reflective of the transformative power of American diplomacy. Through active engagement, we were able to help bring about an outcome manifestly in the interest of Israel, Lebanon, the countries of the region, and those well beyond.
And finally, today, the United States recognizes the 10th anniversary for the International Day of the Girl Child. Suffice to say, ten years into recognizing this day, we are not where we should be or could be. Today, we recognize girls’ tremendous achievements and unique challenges they face.
Empowering girls is a priority for the United States, and that means we must prioritize their education, their future leadership, and the prevention and response to the disproportionate gender‑based violence they face, including female genital mutilation and cutting, and child, early, and forced marriage.
The United Nations Children Fund reports up to 10 million additional girls will be at risk of child marriage and 2 million additional girls will be at risk of female genital mutilation due to the impacts of COVID‑19. Last year, we issued the first ever U.S. National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality to advance the rights and empowerments of women and girls in all their diversity. This year, we’ll release an action‑oriented update to the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally. It will include an emphasis on girls, the unique risks they face, and their role as agents of change in preventing and responding to gender‑based violence.
We also remain committed to the rights and empowerment of girls as evidenced through – as evident through our annual contribution to UNICEF and the UNFPA Joint Programme to End Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting through our ongoing core funding to UN Women and the Office of the UN Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, including an additional $400,000 for the SRSG’s office that was – that the Deputy Secretary was pleased to announce just a few weeks ago during UNGA, and through support for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, the DREAMS Partnership, which support programs focused on economic – on economic strengthening, gender‑based violence prevention, post‑violence care, and sexual and reproductive health services.
Today, Deputy Secretary Sherman along with the Secretary’s Office of Global Woman’s Issues will host a small reception with Too Young to Wed, an organization whose mission, like ours, is designed to empower girls and put an end to gender-based violence.
With that, I’m happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Great, thank you and welcome back.
MR PRICE: Thank you. It’s good to be here.
QUESTION: I’m sure we’ll return to Israel-Lebanon later in the briefing, but if that is – that deal is testament to the President’s vision for the Middle East, I’m wondering how the whole situation with Saudi Arabia right now fits into that vision. Because certainly calls from the Hill and the White House saying that it’s ready to recalibrate or looking at recalibrating the relationship don’t particularly bode well or necessarily bode well for that. So how – I know that they’re two completely different things, but the vision for the Middle East is a broader – is a broader thing. So what does it say about it (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: It is, and it says it’s a work in progress. When it comes to Saudi Arabia, we’ve had an occasion over the past several days especially to speak to our relationship with Saudi Arabia, but it’s really something that we’ve spoken to since the earliest days of this administration. You remember when this administration came into office we spoke of the need to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia in a way that serves our interests, those direct national interests, the interests we have in the region, the interests we in some instances share with the Saudis and other regional partners.
The President has been clear all along and actually going back to the time before he was elected president that we need a different sort of relationship with Saudi Arabia. I think the events of the last few days just put that in fairly stark relief. The decision last week on the part of OPEC to align itself and to align its energy policy with Russia’s war aims and against the interests of the American people, it underscores what we have said all along. It underscores what the President has said for years now.
To the proposals that we’ve heard from the Hill, from other corners, we are reviewing where we are. We’ll be watching very closely, talking to partners and stakeholders over the course of the next weeks and months. We’ll consult with allies. We’ll continue to consult with Congress. And the decisions on what that relationship should look like, how it might need to change, those are decisions that we’ll reach in a deliberative, consultative fashion. But just not going to get ahead of where we are now.
QUESTION: Well, based on the analysis so far, and presumably there has been some since it’s not like this OPEC decision was yesterday – it’s been several days now – based on the preliminary analysis at least, is there any way to recalibrate this relationship without it benefitting Iran?
MR PRICE: As I said, Matt, there are interests that we have in the region. That is the reason why America has been engaged in the region. That is the reason, the principal reason, why this administration has been so engaged in the region. There are security challenges, some of which emanate from Iran. Certainly, we won’t take our eye off the threat that Iran poses not only to the region but in some ways beyond. You have seen us, separate and apart from any single bilateral relationship we have with the region, respond and take action, in some cases multilaterally, in some cases unilaterally, against the malign actions and malign influence that Iran has perpetrated, that Iran has attempted to export throughout the region.
We are not going to cast aside any of the important tools that we need to wield to ensure that Iran does not pose a threat to American people, to American interests, and to our broader interests in the region. That certainly won’t change.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, that then suggests that the calls coming from some people in the Hill to cut off or suspend arms sales to Saudis are just a nonstarter for the administration.
MR PRICE: Matt, we – our north star, our guiding principle, will be to see to it that we have a relationship that serves our interests. This is not a bilateral relationship that has always served our interests. Since we came into office, we have sought to recalibrate it, to make changes to the relationship. And we’ve spoken to some of those changes that – some of which we took in the earliest days and weeks of the administration – but we are going to continue to consult with stakeholders, to consult with Congress, to consult with partners around the world, about what more we can and should do to see to it that this relationship is optimized in terms of how it can serve our interests.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up really quick on Matt’s question? Now, you said that OPEC lined up behind Putin – in essence, that’s what you said – and against the interests of the American people. Isn’t that really a little bit – I mean, it’s not the refinery’s fault, it is the reduction of OPEC production that is really putting Americans into some sort of a hardship in the gas stations out there?
MR PRICE: I didn’t hear the first part of your question.
QUESTION: Is that – okay. The first part of my question: You are saying that the decision of OPEC to reduce its production is what’s causing pain for the American people. And it’s not, let’s say, refineries that are inoperable, it’s not domestic issues, it’s not supply, chain supply, whatever it is. Is that what you’re saying?
MR PRICE: Our position, well before the decision that was announced last week and still to this day, is that energy supply needs to meet energy demand. That is the simplest rule of economics. It applies today, just as it has applied previously. But it is especially important today because of where we are in terms of the global economic recovery, a recovery that in some corners of the world is facing headwinds, facing head – continued headwinds from COVID, facing renewed headwinds from President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Now, of course, we’re not a member of OPEC, but OPEC had an opportunity to take a step to see to it that supply better met demand. They chose not to do that. They chose to take a step that would not serve our interests, does not serve the longer-term interests of countries in the region, but it certainly serves the shorter-term interests of countries like Russia, a country that stands to gain, at least in the near term, from elevated oil prices.
But as we said last week, this is – this was a misguided decision. It was a deeply disappointing decision. And over the longer term, it is a decision that won’t work to the benefit of OPEC; it won’t work to the benefit of OPEC’s individual member countries. In fact, this will lead countries around the world who are not members of the cartel to take steps to become even more resilient, to become even more energy independent, to explore steps to lessen the grip that the OPEC cartel has on global energy prices. This was, to that end, a shortsighted decision that over the longer term won’t serve anyone’s interests.
QUESTION: Was – in retrospect, was the President’s trip in July or his visit to the GCC meeting in July, was it a mistake perhaps?
MR PRICE: It wasn’t a mistake, because – Said, as we’ve said all along, it was not about merely one interest. It was about a multiplicity of interests. The President’s visit to Jeddah was in the context of a GCC summit, GCC+3. There are a number of interests that we have with the GCC; there are a number of interests, shared interests, that we have with the Saudis. All of those – or at least many of those, I should say – were explored in the context of that GCC+3 engagement.
Now, what was a mistake, as we’ve said before, what was disappointing for us, what was shortsighted, was the decision that OPEC announced last week.
QUESTION: Can I just move to a lateral? Russian foreign minister —
MR PRICE: Anything else on —
QUESTION: Can we stay —
QUESTION: Yeah, on —
MR PRICE: Let me take a couple final questions here. Leon.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Can you say here now for sure that the administration would oppose any sort of legislation calling for cutting the arms or deals to Saudi Arabia? Are you in a position to say that? And then just a follow-up to that, has there been – there have been some reports that certain high-level meetings between the United States and the Saudis have been canceled. Is that correct? Can you confirm that?
MR PRICE: I’m just not going to weigh in on specific legislative proposals today. What I will say, what I already have said, is that we will engage very closely with Congress. There are members of Congress who have ideas about how we can change this relationship, how we can fashion this relationship into one that better serves America’s interests. We want to hear those ideas; we want to explore those ideas; we want to pressure-test those ideas. We’ll continue to consult with Congress; we’ll consult with our partners around the world. This is a process that will take place over the course of weeks and months, and it will be deliberate. It will be deliberative, and it will be consultative, as it should be.
When it comes to our engagement with the Saudis, I don’t have any meetings to confirm, I don’t have any meetings to speak to. I think you may be referring to reports that we have canceled certain engagements. I would expect that the multilateral, midlevel engagements you are referring to will be rescheduled at some point. And as you know, our travel plans and circumstances often change. We have to be responsive to that. They’ll be adjusted as we determine what’s in our national interest, as our engagement in the region needs to be. The President, as we said before, will review our bilateral relationship with the Saudis; he’ll review that with Congress. We’ll review it with countries around the world and take steps that we believe are in our interest.
QUESTION: Specific meetings aside, would you say that the U.S.-Saudi diplomatic relationship is unchanged today versus where it was before this OPEC oil decision was made?
MR PRICE: The decision that the OPEC member states, including Saudi Arabia, announced of course have an impact on our relationships. Of course it has an impact on our bilateral relationships. We’re going to take into account what we heard last week, what we’ve seen over the first 20 months or so of this administration, and contour and shape a relationship that, again, we think best serves our interests.
QUESTION: And then just to follow up on that, Assistant Secretary Barbara Leaf is heading to the region; she’s actually in the region right now. Is she specifically not visiting Saudi Arabia because of the OPEC decision?
MR PRICE: She is specifically visiting the countries in the Gulf that we highlighted in that media note because she has important business to do there. I wouldn’t read anything into it more than that.
QUESTION: On Russian foreign minister —
QUESTION: Hold on. Sorry. (Inaudible.) So are you – in response to Leon’s question, are you confirming that yes, there have been – at least one meeting has been canceled?
MR PRICE: No, I’m not confirming that meetings have been canceled.
QUESTION: The one that the report is talking about is a GCC meeting —
MR PRICE: It is a —
QUESTION: — having to do with – what was the name of the country that I asked about the first time? That would – that any recalibration you could take wouldn’t go to the benefit of Iran?
MR PRICE: And, again —
QUESTION: This is a meeting about Iranian missiles, at least the one that’s reportedly been canceled.
MR PRICE: And again, there have not —
QUESTION: And now you guys aren’t going to go?
MR PRICE: There have not been any cancelations. I assume the meeting you’re referring to – you can – it is a meeting that will be rescheduled. As you know, we often have to change our schedules given circumstances. And it is a meeting that I imagine will be rescheduled at the appropriate time.
QUESTION: Well, what circumstance other than the OPEC decision would you say —
MR PRICE: Matt, our principals are on the road constantly.
QUESTION: I don’t think this was a principal-level meeting.
MR PRICE: Mid-level officials are on the road all the time, and their travel plans change all the time. We will engage, as I said, when and how it is – when it is in our interests, and we will continue to do that.
QUESTION: And just to be clear —
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: — the circumstances that caused you to reschedule this meeting have nothing to do with the OPEC decision?
MR PRICE: Again, I’m not speaking to the circumstances behind this particular engagement. It is a meeting that I imagine will be rescheduled at the appropriate time.
QUESTION: Thank you. (Inaudible) last week Mr. Javed Qamar Bajwa, chief of staff of Pakistan, that officially visit with the high official of the United State. Could you please share with me that – what topic he discussed with U.S. authority, specifically about Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: The Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman did have an opportunity to meet with the chief of the army staff Mr. Bajwa. We value our longstanding cooperation with Pakistan. There are a number of areas where our interests are aligned. Of course, the stability and the future of Afghanistan, of the Afghan people, the security challenges that the region and potentially beyond face there always are on the agenda when we have high-level engagements with our Pakistani counterparts. We meet with and speak with them regularly on a range of issues. But as is standard practice, we don’t delve into the details of those engagements always.
QUESTION: What did you make of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s comments about that Moscow is open to talks with the West on Ukraine, but has yet to receive any serious proposal to negotiate? What do you make of that? What do you make of the timing?
MR PRICE: Well, you went where I was going. I think the timing is notable, and the timing is notable because this statement came within hours of a barrage of Russian missiles that targeted the capital city in Ukraine, that targeted other Ukrainian towns and cities, and that, as I said at the top of this briefing, struck playgrounds and schools and apartment buildings, roads, bridges, heating infrastructure. When you assess those comments, you have to take that context into account. And I think when you do that context into account it tells you everything that you need to know about the Russian position and the Russian posturing. We see this as posturing. We do not see this as a constructive, legitimate offer to engage in the dialogue and diplomacy that is absolutely necessary to see an end to this brutal war of aggression against the people and the state, the Government of Ukraine.
In the G7 call today that President Zelenskyy joined, the G7 leaders, as you saw in the readout, again welcomed President Zelenskyy’s very clear statements that this is a war that must end through dialogue and diplomacy. The United States stands ready to support Ukraine in the first instance because, as we’ve consistently said, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. We will be there to support Ukraine when that negotiating table emerges. Until it does, it is our primary task to provide Ukraine with the assistance that it needs in terms of security assistance, economic assistance, humanitarian assistance, and we’ll continue to do that.
QUESTION: So you don’t take it seriously and you said, like, it’s not constructive. What would a constructive proposal look like? Do you have, like, the precondition of a ceasefire before any talks that U.S. or West can engage —
MR PRICE: Well, again, we are not going to be prescriptive for the very reason that this is ultimately going to be a negotiation and dialogue and diplomacy between Ukraine and Russia. But I can tell you what gives us great pause or very little confidence that this is legitimate on the part of the Russian Federation: It’s the bombed-out playgrounds, it’s the bombed schools, it’s the dead Ukrainian civilians who were killed in what appeared to have been, in some cases, indiscriminate strikes within hours of this proposal.
If the Russians want to signal that they’re serious about dialogue and diplomacy, perhaps – and again, without being prescriptive, but perhaps a good first step would be to stop the kind of brutal assault followed by what appear to be nothing more than empty words.
QUESTION: Ned, thanks so much. Just the flip side of this story: You just painted a very grave picture of Russian bombs are targeting playgrounds, schools, hospitals, apartment buildings. But then you also stopped short at calling it brutal and brutality alone. Let me give you a quote from the Secretary yesterday. He said, “Russian bombs hit children’s playgrounds and public parks in Kyiv; wave after wave of missiles struck Kyiv’s city streets.” And then he mentioned “without military purposes throughout Ukraine.” It sounds like the Secretary was painting a different picture. It’s about an act of terror, isn’t it?
MR PRICE: It is – let me say a couple things on this. We know that Russia’s forces – we have come to the assessment that Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine. I am always going to be careful in speaking to specific acts from the podium because these are assessments based on facts, based on international humanitarian law. And I can’t and won’t be in a position to determine from here, within hours, whether a single missile or bomb constituted a war crime, a crime against humanity, an atrocity of some sort.
We know that the Russians have perpetrated a campaign that, in many cases at least, has intentionally targeted civilians. That is the very definition of a war crime. That is why we have been clear, as have allies and partners around the world, that Russia’s forces have engaged in war crimes.
You’ve heard from Beth Van Schaack, our Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice. She has a team; she oversees a team here at the department that is reviewing evidence of atrocities, that is helping to preserve that evidence, that is sharing that evidence, and that, at least in the first instance, is focused to a great degree on supporting the efforts of accountability that the Office of the Prosecutor General in Ukraine is overseeing. So we are keeping very close watch at what Russia does. We know that it has conducted war crimes, and unfortunately, it has given us no reason in recent weeks or days that it intends to stop anytime soon.
MR PRICE: Yes. Anything else on Russia-Ukraine before I move on?
QUESTION: Could I at least (inaudible)? What about the bridge? Is that – do you think that is like a civilian facility that may have been targeted by the Ukrainians?
MR PRICE: I just don’t – I don’t have anything to add when it comes to – as I said, about what are very clearly Russian operations. I don’t have anything to add about the Kerch bridge. But again, without speaking to any particular incident, our Ukrainian partners have every right to defend their territory, to defend their sovereignty, to defend their independence, and ultimately, to defend their freedom.
QUESTION: Ned, on —
QUESTION: Can you get us up to date on the efforts —
MR PRICE: Let me come back to you. But I’ll go to Shannon who hasn’t had a question.
QUESTION: So you’ve said repeatedly that the U.S. strategy for supporting Ukraine evolves as the work continues on. I’m just wondering if you could say if this latest spate of attacks has caused the administration to re-evaluate what its strategy should be going forward. For instance, we saw Germany moved to quickly send air defense systems to Ukraine. Will the U.S. follow suit and fulfill some of those requests that President Zelenskyy’s made?
MR PRICE: We have provided our Ukrainian partners, oftentimes at the request of those very Ukrainian partners, with a massive amount of the most sophisticated air defense systems that we have available, and in some cases, we’ve helped to facilitate the transfer of sophisticated air defense systems in the possessions of – in the possession of our partners. We’ve transferred more than 1,400 Stinger anti‑air systems to Ukraine. We’ve also transferred air surveillance and multi‑mission radars. As I alluded to a moment ago, we have enabled our partners to transfer air defense systems of their own, including you may recall Slovakia transferred an S-300 system in April. We announced a significant package under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. We’ve placed orders under that authority for eight new NASAMS that we’re working to manufacture and to deliver as quickly as possible. We also announced a USAI package in September, the most recent one. It included orders for more radars and counter drone capabilities.
So from the earliest phases of Russia’s war against Ukraine, we have prioritized what our Ukrainian partners need to defend themselves from these sorts of attacks. You’ve seen the open source reports, the public reporting that Ukraine’s air defense systems were effective in some of these cases. Of course, we want to continue to do everything we can to build up that capacity even further, because even one Ukrainian death from this sort of Russian attack is something that is the cause of – cause for great concern, cause for great regret.
QUESTION: Ned, on this, was the UAE president’s visit to Moscow coordinated with Washington? And do you expect any results?
MR PRICE: I would refer you to the UAE for details about this trip. What I can say broadly is that we have been clear that it is President Putin, as I said at the top of this briefing, that is directly responsible for the Russian Government’s unprovoked and unlawful invasion and war in Ukraine. We do encourage the UAE as a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council to continue to help build a strong, international response to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and support its territorial integrity.
We do appreciate the position that the UAE has taken, including its vote as one of the 141 UN member states who voted in favor of the General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s war against Ukraine in March and its recent vote in the Security Council to condemn Russia’s attempts to annex parts of Ukraine. And we hope that the UAE will speak with and add to the strong chorus – unified chorus – of voices against Russia’s illegal annexation attempts in the UN General Assembly this week. But beyond that, I would refer you to the Emiratis to speak to it.
QUESTION: Can you just bring us up to date on efforts out of this building to get UN member countries to vote in support of that resolution we’re expecting later this week at the UN General Assembly?
MR PRICE: Well, you have heard from us at every stage of this war the importance of the international community speaking with one voice. We made that point repeatedly in the aftermath of February 24th. We made it repeatedly in the leadup to the UN General Assembly vote in March, and we’re making it now in the leadup to the General Assembly vote that we expect to take place this week.
We – our contention is that the international community has a responsibility to make clear that President Putin’s actions are completely unacceptable. We believe the time has long passed for neutrality; there is no such thing as neutrality in a situation like this. The time has long passed for abstentions. The time has long passed for placating words or equivocations under claims, again, of neutrality. This is about Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine, but it is also about the principles that are at the very core of the UN Charter, the very core of the UN system, at the very core of the international system for some eight decades now. And one of those principles is that Ukraine like any other country around the world has a right to exist, to live peacefully within its own internationally recognized borders.
We’ve had a number of conversations with countries around the world in the most senior-level travel from this building, including when the Secretary has traveled recently. Other senior officials from this building have been on the road. To give you one more example, Secretary Blinken and Under Secretary for Political Affairs Toria Nuland today convened virtually more than 165 participants representing more than 100 countries of the D.C. diplomatic corps. During this call with members of the diplomatic corps, they underscored the importance of holding Russia accountable for its sham referenda and illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory. They called for all UN member states to repudiate those actions this week in the General Assembly and to reiterate strong global support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations.
Again, this is about collectively saying no to a direct violation of the UN Charter, to saying to an attempt to steal land through the threat of force and to steal land through the use of force. The reverberations of what happens in the UN and ultimately what happens in the course of this conflict will be felt far beyond Ukraine for a very long time.
QUESTION: Well, wait a second. Just on that call, did anyone else other than the Secretary and Toria speak? Or were they really just kind of telling all 165 other countries how you think they should vote?
MR PRICE: This was a consultation, Matt. I think you —
QUESTION: Oh, so it was like the verbal equivalent of verbal demarche.
MR PRICE: Our style – and you have – you have —
QUESTION: I’m not – no, I’m not —
MR PRICE: No, no, no, but I know. It’s an important point.
QUESTION: I just want to know if anyone else spoke.
MR PRICE: You have traveled with us enough to know that our style is not to lecture. You have traveled with us enough to know —
QUESTION: Well, it sounds like this was, right?
MR PRICE: It was not. It was not.
MR PRICE: And I would —
QUESTION: But no one else spoke that you’re aware of?
MR PRICE: I won’t speak for the participants, but this was an opportunity for them to hear from the Secretary and Under Secretary Nuland and for those taking part to share perspectives on this – important perspective on this.
QUESTION: Are you able to say if anybody actually objected, if anybody raised any concerns or anything like that? Because we understand that there were some participants who actually did speak.
MR PRICE: Then I would refer to them to speak to what was spoken. But I’m only going to —
QUESTION: But I mean, was there – I mean, at least we’re trying to get an assessment or like at least a feeling of, like, was there unity in that call, or were there any objections raised or any concerns raised.
MR PRICE: I’m not going to characterize what other countries may have said. I was just going to characterize what we said and what —
QUESTION: Can you characterize what U.S. has heard?
MR PRICE: What we’ve heard in that call?
MR PRICE: No, that would be for other countries to do. I’m going to characterize what we said.
QUESTION: Ned, the Kiel Institute just published an analysis of the financial, humanitarian, and military aid to Ukraine throughout the conflict, and they said that the U.S. is now committing nearly twice as much as all EU countries and institutions combined. Is the United States satisfied with this lopsided contribution when it comes to aid that’s going to Ukraine?
MR PRICE: Well, first, I don’t want to suggest that countries around the world are not providing generously what Ukraine needs in terms of security assistance, in terms of economic assistance, in terms of humanitarian assistance. It is true that we have been in a position to be extraordinarily generous through what we’ve been authorized to deliver to Ukraine from Congress through the emergency supplemental, through the continuing resolution, because Congress has certainly taken a keen interest, knowing the stakes as well as we do, to the costs of unchecked Russian aggression.
Our position has always been that the costs of this will be significant and they will be significantly more, one can assume, as this has the potential to go on. But the costs of inaction would be even more profound, and that’s a point that we’ve made to partners around the world. I’m not in a position to characterize what other countries have or have not delivered, but there are a number of countries, including some 50 countries who have stood with us to provide security assistance; there are dozens of countries that have provided humanitarian assistance; there are international financial institutions that have provided economic assistance, including in terms of direct budgetary support.
QUESTION: I just want to follow up. The unique aspect about this conflict is it’s happening on a continent that has many rich countries on the continent. And the Biden administration is prepared to unveil its National Security Strategy that talks about how this is an administration that has a foreign policy for the middle class in the United States. Obviously there’s a lot of European countries that have better and more robust social safety nets – health care provisions for their citizens. How do you make the case that this administration is pursuing a foreign policy for the middle class when there is such a big divergence between how the United States is spending and looking after this conflict and countries that are closer to the conflict are contributing?
MR PRICE: We make that case in a number of ways, one of which I just mentioned. The costs of this are not insignificant. In fact, to the contrary, they are significant. The costs of inaction would be far greater. We are taking steps to, in this case, make clear to the Russian Federation that a land grab, that a territorial conquest, that this kind of naked aggression and brutality against a peaceful neighbor is not something that the world will countenance in the 21st century. Were countries to – in Europe and the Indo-Pacific, were they to come away with the opposite impression, the costs of this would be far greater, including to the American people.
Second, it is of course, as you alluded to in your question, not just the United States that is providing generously in terms of security assistance, economic assistance, and humanitarian assistance to our Ukrainian partners. Our approach has been predicated on the indispensability of partnerships and alliances. And long before the specter of Russian aggression emerged late last year against Ukraine, that has been – had been the priority of the first year of this administration – re-establishing, refurbishing, repairing, modernizing our system of partnerships and alliances – because we knew on January 20th at noon that no matter what challenge or opportunity we faced that we would be in a better position to confront it or them with allies and partners by our side.
And I think you see the proof point in what has happened, what the United States has marshalled, what the United States has led, with Ukraine. And that is ultimately a strategy that has worked in this case to the benefit of Ukraine but ultimately works to the benefit of the American people. We are not alone in shouldering this burden. There are dozens of countries around the world who have given, who have given generously, and we will continue our efforts to keep this coalition together and to raise our ambition when it comes to support for Ukraine.
QUESTION: Ned, do you know if Russia and Ukraine come up during Secretary Blinken’s phone call with the Serbian president and Kosovo prime minister today? And can you give us an update on U.S. position regarding the disputes between Serbia and Kosovo?
MR PRICE: We will have a readout of these calls if it’s not out already. But I can tell you that the Secretary was planning – I haven’t gotten a readout myself of these calls – but the Secretary was planning to make the point to both countries of the importance of supporting Ukraine, the importance of standing with our Ukrainian partners in the face of this Russian aggression. This is a part of the world that knows better than most the consequences of Russian aggression. It’s a part of the world that has been a key partner in helping to provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need.
QUESTION: And can we move onto DPRK? After recent ballistic – frequent ballistic missile launches by DPRK and the imminent nuclear threats, does the U.S. have a view on debate within ROK to request Washington to redeploy the tactical nuclear weapons? Have ROK officials make such a request? Or can we say – is that the U.S. feels that it’s a nonstarter?
MR PRICE: Well, for questions on force posture I need to refer you to the Department Defense. For questions on requests that the ROK Government may have made, I would need to refer you to the ROK. But what I can tell you is that we have placed a premium on doing everything we can to ensure that our commitments to defense and to deterrence when it comes to our treaty allies, including the ROK in this case, remain ironclad. President Biden affirmed that U.S. extended deterrence commitment to the ROK – he confirmed that commitment to the ROK – using the full range of U.S. defense capabilities, including nuclear, conventional, and missile defense capabilities.
We have reactivated, including with the engagement last month, the high-level Extended Deterrence Strategy Group – Consultation group, excuse me – which, as I mentioned before, met last month. And we also committed to further strengthen deterrence by reinforcing the combined defense posture and reiterated our joint command – commitment to a conditions-based transition of wartime operational control.
When it comes to the DPRK’s recent provocations, you’ve heard from the Department of Defense, you’ve heard from our treaty allies – Japan and the ROK in this case – of the steps that we’ve taken in the aftermath of these provocations to ensure that readiness is where it needs to be, to ensure that our defenses are where they need to be, to ensure that our deterrence – deterrent capabilities are where they need to be.
These provocations are just that – they are provocations. But even so, they are dangerous. They are destabilizing. We made clear through early and regular dialogue with our treaty allies and other partners that our commitments to our obligations are ironclad. As you know, the Secretary spoke to his Japanese and to his ROK counterparts within a couple of hours of the launches, some of the launches that took place last week. President Biden engaged with his Japanese counterpart. And all the while, even as we focus on our defense and deterrence, we are making very clear that we want to make this transition back from an area of provocation to an era – excuse me – of pragmatic engagement.
The DPRK has – with the DPRK we’ve experienced periods of provocation. Clearly we’re in one of those now. We have experienced periods of engagement. It is our goal, through the various multilateral and U.S. tools we have at our disposal, to make clear that we are prepared to engage in dialogue and diplomacy and to make clear that we will continue to impose and to enforce costs unless and until the DPRK is ready to do the same.
QUESTION: Ned, I have a —
QUESTION: Could I follow up?
MR PRICE: A follow-up question on that?
QUESTION: Actually on North Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared yesterday that there was no need for dialogue with his enemy. In fact, he completely rejected the unconditional dialog with North Korea that the United States demands. And you said that you were – you’re going to – this solution is diplomatically. But what other tools are there, diplomatic solutions United States have?
MR PRICE: We view this as a challenge that can be best addressed through dialogue and diplomacy. We want to see the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We believe that the best way to do that is through diplomacy, is through principled, hard-nosed diplomacy with the DPRK alongside our allies and partners, including our allies in the region.
Now, clearly, the DPRK is not there, is not there yet in terms of seeking that same dialogue and diplomacy. To your question, we do have other tools at our disposal – sanctions, other forms of accountability – that we will continue to impose on the DPRK along the lines of what we mounted against the DPRK last week until and unless these provocations come to an end.
QUESTION: Ned, a quick question on Lebanon.
QUESTION: Hold on. One more (inaudible). And that Russia is planning a nuclear attack to Ukraine, also —
MR PRICE: I’m sorry. I didn’t hear that. Russia?
QUESTION: Russia is planning a nuclear attack on the Ukraine, also the South – North Korean Kim Jong-un trying to – willing to – tactical nuclear weapons using into the South Korea. Do you think North Korean leader Kim Jong-un willing to use these tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea and United States?
MR PRICE: I am not going to speak to that. I will speak to the steps we are taking with our allies in the region – in this case, the ROK and Japan – to see to it that our defense and deterrent capabilities are precisely where they need to be in the face of this challenge from the DPRK.
QUESTION: Ned, on the Israel and Lebanon agreement, first, Hizballah has agreed on the agreement. How do you view that? Did you get any guarantees from Lebanon that the gas revenue won’t go to Hizballah, and was Iran involved in the talks?
MR PRICE: So first, what this deal does and what the deal does not do, I think, is noteworthy in this instance. What the deal does is establish a permanent maritime boundary between Israel and Lebanon for the first time in history. This is something that successive administrations have focused on. The achievement that we announced today builds on the efforts of the previous administration. It very clearly protects Israel’s security and economic interests and supports Israel’s regional integration. Our commitment, we’ve always said, to Israel’s security is ironclad. That is a principle that was at the very backbone of these talks.
This deal also promotes critical foreign investment in Lebanon, investment that is necessary to stabilize the country in light of its precarious economic situation, in light of its political situation as well. And it allows the exploration and exploitation of known and future hydrocarbon fields, bringing new energy resources onto the global market in a manner that promotes greater regional stability. As you heard from the President earlier today, this is a deal that will lead to a region that is more stable, that is more prosperous, that is more integrated. All of those things are not only good for the region; they are also manifestly in the interests of the United States.
Now what this deal does not do: It does not constitute normalization between Israel and Lebanon. It does not sacrifice in any way Israel’s interests or security needs, and you’ve heard that very clearly from Prime Minister Lapid and others in his government. Nor does it establish or president – prejudice a future land boundary between Israel and Lebanon.
In terms of Hizballah and other malign actors, I will just say there are many steps that need to conduct – need to be conducted in order to assess the commerciality of these fields. It’s in the interests of the Lebanese Government to be a responsible steward of any profits related to its possible natural resources.
MR PRICE: No, no.
QUESTION: Can you stay on Iran?
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: A new topic in Iran?
MR PRICE: Said, you’ve had a chance. I’m going to move around a little bit.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can we stay on this topic?
QUESTION: Can we stay in Israel?
MR PRICE: Well, okay. Go ahead, and then I’ll come to you, sir.
QUESTION: Given this liquid political situation in both countries, in Israel and Lebanon – elections coming, leadership might change – how confident you are this deal will go through and when it will be announced officially?
MR PRICE: So both sides are now working to finalize the necessary steps within their governments to bring this agreement across the finish line. I think you can hear from and will hear from both governments that it is in their interest to see this deal move into effect just as quickly as possible. We are optimistic that we’ll soon be able to announce the final steps. The United States facilitated this deal, so we will receive a signed version of this agreement from both countries after it goes through their national processes. We will, in turn, notify both countries upon receipt of that signed agreement, at which point it will move to the next step.
QUESTION: And does it have any mechanism to solve any disputes in the future?
MR PRICE: That’s not something I can speak to right now. I know that the United States will continue to play a constructive role and to help ensure relations between Israel and Lebanon remain stable.
MR PRICE: We don’t have any meetings to read out. The meeting I referred to was between Deputy Secretary Sherman and the chief of the army staff.
QUESTION: So there are many media reports in Pakistan questioning the timing of General Bajwa’s visit to Washington, D.C. because his second three-year term as chief of army staff is going to be ended in next few weeks. Many believe that he discussed the chaotic political situation of Pakistan with the American administration and the possible appointment of new army chief. Would you deny or confirm any such kind of thing?
MR PRICE: I am just not going to characterize the meeting beyond what I said earlier. We have a number of shared interests with our Pakistani partners. There are security interests, there are economic interests, there are people-to-people ties and connections as well, but I’m just not going to speak to it. Of course, Pakistan has a civilian government that is democratically elected, and that is our primary interlocutor.
QUESTION: The United States giving millions of dollars to help the flood victims in Pakistan, but there are report of massive corruption and looting of relief items, especially in the province of Sindh. According to a UN report, out of $150 million only $38 million has been converted into assistance. So what measures are being taken to make sure that these millions of dollars go and reach to the deserving people, not to the looters?
MR PRICE: This is something we take very seriously, not only in Pakistan but anywhere around the world where American taxpayer dollars are implicated and when there is an urgent humanitarian interest at stake, which is clearly the case, in terms of the response to the flooding in Pakistan.
A couple examples of what we do to monitor and to ensure that we have adequate tracking mechanisms in this context. First, USAID staff – they make regular trips to monitor our programs in the field. We have what’s called a DART – a Disaster Assistance Response Team – and their members travel to more than 10 flood-affected districts in Balochistan, in Sindh province. They did so between – around mid last month, so between September 14th and September 27th – to assess not only the humanitarian conditions but also the response activities and to make sure that those response activities were meeting the humanitarian need.
USAID partners work with local organizations that have extensive knowledge about the affected areas and their populations. We also are required to provide regular program updates on the progress of activities and any security concerns, and we require them – our partners – to immediately report any potential diversions, seizures, or losses immediately. So this is something we take very seriously.
QUESTION: I have one last question. A group of Pakistani Americans and Pakistani nationals recently visited Israel and met with the Israeli President Herzog there. This visit was in connection with the Abraham Accords and kind of good relations between Pakistan and Israel. Would you like to comment on that?
MR PRICE: I would refer you to our Israeli and Pakistani partners to speak to a bilateral engagement between those two countries. Of course, a goal of this administration has been to build bridges between Israel and its Arab and Muslim-majority neighbors, and even countries that are slightly further afield. But in terms of this bilateral engagement, I would refer you to those two countries.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Israel, please?
MR PRICE: Let me move around, and if we have time we’ll come back.
QUESTION: Protests in Iran four weeks later are still going very strong, and now we are witnessing strikes at oil and petroleum refineries. Any more support, any more actions for Iranian people and protesters?
MR PRICE: It is remarkable what we’re seeing on the streets of Iran. It is especially remarkable to note that on the International Day of the Girl. This is a movement, that at least in the first instance, was animated by the treatment – by the death of Mahsa Amini and what has become of her, what became of her. It is a movement that was animated further by the apparent death of another 16-year-old girl. What the women and girls of Iran are doing and have been doing over the course of weeks now is remarkable. It is a testament to the animating power of universal rights, rights that are as universal to them, rights that belong as much to them as they do to us in this country or to people around the world.
And so the United States Government has made very clear that – as we do all over the world – we stand with those who are exercising peacefully their universal rights. In this case, we have taken action to support those universal rights. We’ve now announced two tranches of sanctions and designations totaling 14 Iranian officials who are in some way responsible for the repression, for the brutality, for the attempts to disconnect the Iranian people from the rest of the world.
And on that last point, we have authorized – the Office of Foreign Assets Control has authorized a new general license to see to it that the Iranian people are able to access the hardware and the software that they need to make sure that their voice can be heard, that their voice can be heard inside Iran, and that the rest of the world can see what is happening very clearly inside Iran.
What started as a movement in response to the death of Mahsa Amini has clearly taken on broader significance to the people of Iran. This is a manifestation of their true expression of their own universal rights. The United States stands with them. We are going to do – continue to do – what we can to hold accountable those who are responsible for the violence, for the brutality, for the repression, for the efforts to stifle their voices. And our attention to this is not going to wane.
QUESTION: Can you elaborate more on when you say we’ll continue to do whatever we can? What more? Are you at the moment working on anything specific, or no? The GLD2 and the sanctions, that was it?
MR PRICE: We’re always looking at appropriate tools to support those who are peacefully exercising their universal rights. We said that before we announced the first tranche of sanctions. We said that before we announced the second tranche of sanctions. We said that before we announced the general license that we issued just a couple weeks ago. We said that before we issued the first general license in 2014, GLD-1.
So we are going to continue to work at all relevant and applicable tools to support these brave Iranians, now many Iranians across Iran’s cities and towns who are exercising peacefully their universal rights.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
MR PRICE: Yes, please. Is it on Iran, or –
MR PRICE: Iran? Go ahead.
QUESTION: So the U.S. Justice Department, the National Security Division, has unsealed an indictment against five individuals, Iranian intelligence services, from the Iranian intelligence services. They had been planning to kidnap a journalist. Do you have a statement about what this might – what this might imply in terms of U.S.-Iran relations or in terms of the other things that are going on with Iran?
MR PRICE: It implies a couple things. It implies that we will use every appropriate tool to counteract Iran’s malign influence. Its malign influence has taken many forms, from its support to terrorists and proxies in the region, to its repression of its own people, to its nuclear program, to its ballistic missile program, but also to its attempted export of repression.
We have made very clear from the earliest weeks of this administration that extraterritorial repression is something that we will not countenance. And in this case, the Department of Justice took action. We took action to make clear that there will be consequences for those that – those who engage in this activity, and we took action to protect the safety of those who might have been implicated by this activity.
Unfortunately, this type of extraterritorial repression is not unique to Iran, but Iran has certainly engaged in it, and we will certainly continue to respond appropriately.
Yes, Gitte. Yeah.
QUESTION: Since the beginning of the Biden administration, and twice today, you’ve been saying that Iran is a threat, is a challenge to the entire world on several fronts. I know you’ve also said –and other U.S. officials – that the Biden administration is not looking for regime change in Iran, but the people inside Iran and also in diaspora are calling for regime change. Would the Biden administration think about assisting, helping in one way or another? Because that way, with the Islamic Republic gone, most of the challenges you’re talking about – all of them should be alleviated.
MR PRICE: These are decisions that rest squarely and solely with the people of Iran. The principle that I was talking about earlier – in a very different context, in the context of Russia-Ukraine – applies equally to Iran. No outside influence, no outside entity, has the ability, has the right, has the right to tell the Iranian people or to tell any people what their government should like.
QUESTION: Not tell them what the government should look like. Would the Biden administration help them do what they want to do?
MR PRICE: We are standing with those Iranians and holding accountable those Iranians who are – let me start over. I don’t want the transcript to reflect –
QUESTION: That won’t help them. Sanctioning officials is not going to help them —
MR PRICE: — don’t want the transcript to reflect what I –
QUESTION: — change the regime, which is what they’re calling for.
MR PRICE: I understand, but this is a question for the Iranian people. We are standing against those who are exercising repression and brutality and attempting to cut off the Iranian people from the outside global internet in this case, and standing with those Iranians who are peacefully exercising their universal rights. We stand with people around the world who are peacefully exercising their universal rights because universal rights are universal.
A couple final questions. Said.
QUESTION: Yes. Very quickly. I mean, I had many questions, but I’ll put it all in one question. The situation has deteriorated a great deal in the West Bank. There are total closures of the West Bank. There’s been – in the last week alone, so many Palestinians were killed, including at least three under 14. I wonder if you have any – was there any – are there any efforts on your part to reach out and calm the situation down?
MR PRICE: We’re – Said, we are regularly engaging –
QUESTION: Something tangible, though. Not just —
NMR PRICE: — and we are regularly and tangibly engaging with our Israeli and Palestinian counterparts. Ambassador Nides, senior individuals from this building, Hady Amr, others – they are in regular contact with Palestinians and Israelis. We’ve made the point again and again that Israelis and Palestinians deserve to have equal measures of security, of stability, of justice, of dignity and democracy. That is what animates our approach, and we’ve been deeply concerned that the recent period has seen a sharp and alarming increase in Palestinian, Israeli deaths and injuries, including numerous children who have been implicated in this violence.
We have been underscoring to Israelis and to Palestinians the – how vital it is to take urgent action to prevent even greater loss of life.
Final question, Alex.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. My question is on Azerbaijan and Armenia, but before that, let me quickly go back to that new shot point you were making, your response to Humeyra’s question on UNGA. I’m just curious, will you – where will you draw the line or will you draw a line within the countries that will remain – abstain, those who will decline to vote in the first place? Like, it does concern the countries I am going to ask about, Azerbaijan and Armenia as well. Will you draw that line or will you consider both of them neutral and not in your (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: We think countries around the world should exercise their vote, exercise their voice in the General Assembly in a way that protects and defends and promotes the core principles of the UN Charter, of the UN system. By definition, every country that is voting in the General Assembly this week subscribes to the principles of the UN Charter. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be a member state of the UN. It is incumbent on them to use their voice in a way that protects and promotes that charter.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. And on conflict, we have seen the readouts from yesterday. The Secretary made a phone call to both Baku and Yerevan. He also had trilateral meeting – of course, virtual meeting days before that. Is it something we should expect to see in weeks and months ahead? Is the Secretary willing to put this conflict in front of his queue?
MR PRICE: What you can expect to see in the weeks and months ahead is continued American engagement, continued senior-level American engagement. I say that in the aftermath of the Secretary’s convening of the trilateral format of the ministers from both Armenia and Azerbaijan in New York City last month. It was the first time the ministers had come together in person since the most recent uptick in violence. You saw yesterday that the Secretary had an opportunity to speak to the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Phil Reeker, our senior advisor on this issue set, has remained in daily contact with individuals and stakeholders in both countries. So we will continue to remain engaged on this issue. I can’t promise a particular outcome, but I can promise that it will remain a priority for us.
QUESTION: Maybe next meeting in the —
MR PRICE: I don’t have any meetings at the moment to announce, but I’m sure we will have more to say on this in the coming days and weeks.
MR PRICE: Sure. This is important, so make sure you get a full answer. We have been closely following the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Haiti in recent days. As you know, it was a topic that was top of mind when we were in South America last week in Lima. Our Canadian partners convened a ministerial to discuss this with the head of the OAS as well. We note that the situation has grown even more dire, even more dangerous with the actions of criminal actors that impede urgent measures to address a threat posed by cholera to the Haitian population. So in that context, we will review the prime minister’s October 7th request in coordination with international partners to determine how we best can contribute to the removal of security constraints on medical and humanitarian measures aimed at spreading – aimed at halting the spread of cholera.
We strongly condemn all of those who stand in the way of the equitable and immediate distribution of much-needed humanitarian supplies. This is a status quo that cannot persist. And we will continue to work and to speak with international partners on ways that we can facilitate the delivery of vital humanitarian assistance to the Haitian people, including critical medical support to address the cholera outbreak. At the same time, we’ll continue to work at the UN on measures – including in the Security Council – on measures that the international community could take to impose costs and consequences on those who are responsible for the deprivation, for the loss of life, for the misery that has been compounded by the blockade that is ongoing in Haiti.
QUESTION: Okay. But the short answer is there’s no update to the review of —
MR PRICE: We’re —
QUESTION: I mean, you’ve been reviewing this since the 7th, so – four days, so, I mean, there isn’t any —
MR PRICE: I don’t —
QUESTION: There’s not going to be a decision been made —
MR PRICE: I don’t have anything to announce now, but we’ve been in regular contact with our partners, we’ve been in regular contact with the Haitian National Police, and we’ve been in regular contact with partners at the UN as well.
QUESTION: Just one last —
QUESTION: Okay. Well, you don’t think that, if the situation is as dire as it appears to be from the outside and as dire as you say, that there should be action sooner rather than later?
MR PRICE: Well, we also want to be prudent and responsible in terms of what any such action might look like. We are – we want to make sure that we are diligent in exploring ways that we can facilitate the delivery of that vital humanitarian assistance to the Haitian people given their urgent need.
QUESTION: Can you say if you’re considering sending U.S. forces, troops, police, like, unilaterally, or have you – can you rule out?
MR PRICE: I’m just not going to comment on a hypothetical that is very clearly in the realm of a hypothetical. What we are doing is working with partners, the OAS, the UN, to explore ways to facilitate the delivery of vital humanitarian assistance and to hold accountable those who are responsible for this blockade.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:49 p.m.)