2:18 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR PRICE: Happy Monday. Happy Halloween to all who celebrate or will be celebrating.
A couple things at the top. As the Secretary said on Saturday, we deeply regret Russia’s decision to suspend its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which is having immediate harmful impacts on global food security.
Russia should return to full participation in the initiative, and we urge all parties to swiftly agree to sustain this crucial program through the months to come.
Any disruption to the initiative risks spiking food prices, lowering the confidence of insurers and commercial shippers who have returned to Black Sea routes, and further imposing hardships on lower-income countries already reeling from dire humanitarian crises and global food insecurity.
The initiative that went into effect on August 1st has been a great success. It has brought more than 9.5 million metric tons of grain to world markets. It has enabled lifesaving food aid to reach vulnerable people in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Ethiopia, and elsewhere. The initiative helped decrease global prices of grains and oils and reduced food insecurity in lower- and middle-income countries.
Russia is again weaponizing food in the war that it started. The most effective step to address the ongoing food security crisis would be for Russia to immediately return to the arrangement and to end its war against Ukraine.
Next, we were deeply saddened by the tragic deaths due to a crowd surge in Seoul on Saturday. We can confirm that 2 U.S. citizens were killed and at least 3 more were injured. We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of all those impacted. As allies, partners, and friends, the United States stands with the Republic of Korea during this incredibly difficult time.
And finally, we are deeply saddened by the news of the collapse of a suspension bridge in Morbi, Gujarat that occurred yesterday. Our condolences go out to the victims of this terrible tragedy and their families, and the United States stands with our Indian partners and has offered support to the Government of India.
So with that, happy to turn to your questions.
QUESTION: Right. Thanks, Ned. Happy Halloween. Just on the first – your first topper there, you said that the Russian announcement is having immediate harmful impacts on global food security. Have you seen any evidence that shipments, in fact, have stopped?
MR PRICE: So a couple things on —
QUESTION: So, I mean, the question is what are these immediate harmful impacts? Is it just the fear that –
MR PRICE: So a couple things on this. Ever since this initiative, there was a degree of uncertainty added to its future since senior Russian officials began making noises about potentially not renewing it later next month. Global food prices, which had fallen, in some cases markedly since their highs because of this initiative – futures contracts have risen. These prices have risen in places because there was uncertainty associated with the longevity of this Black Sea Grain Initiative.
We understand that today, there have been some ships that had already gone through a certain stage of the process that have continued to flow inbound, to go outbound, but of course we want to see this initiative renewed. We want to see its future not in doubt. With additional certainty, as I said at the top, shippers, insurers, those who have a stake in the free flow of grain and foodstuffs to countries around the world, particularly to lower- and middle-income countries, will feel more comfortable operating in the Black Sea. If that is the case, prices will continue to come down. We need these prices to continue their downward trajectory.
It offered much-needed relief, much-needed support to people around the world. As I mentioned, as of yesterday, the initiative had moved more than 9.5 million tons of grains and other foodstuffs from Ukrainian ports with about 400 total voyages. The vast majority of the wheat exported under this initiative, 66 percent or two-thirds, has gone to developing countries, with 19 percent of those 9.5 million tons going to the least developed countries of the world.
It is not in anyone’s interest – it is not in Russia’s interests, it is not in the interests of the international community – to see what could be akin to a form of collective global punishment for this to remain suspended.
QUESTION: So I’m not trying to suggest that there haven’t been any. I’m just wondering what immediate impacts, immediate harmful impacts of the announcement on Saturday. Can you point to any?
MR PRICE: Well, the uncertainty associated with the – with the future of this —
QUESTION: Well, that – you said that predates – that predates the announcement Saturday.
MR PRICE: But of course there was the specter, the looming specter, that Russia would withdraw from this. And now, with Russia’s stated announcement that it’s suspending its participation —
QUESTION: So it’s a case of just the uncertainty has gotten worse?
MR PRICE: Of course. That is – that is absolutely true. And if there is a standstill in ships that are taking part in this, of course prices will rise. As of yesterday, there were 97 loaded vessels; 15 inbound vessels had registered for the JCC; an additional 89 had applied to join the Joint Coordination Center, had applied to join, to be a part of this program.
It demonstrates the strength of this initiative, but it also demonstrates the great demand for grain and for foodstuffs around the world. We want to see to it that this flow continues unimpeded.
QUESTION: Just on that, what is your sense of the movement today? Do you think it’s going to keep happening, or was that just like some of the ships that were already in Turkish waters? And what is your sense of Russia coming back to it, and is there any hope that it might?
MR PRICE: So a couple things. The Joint Coordination Center has released a statement on the ships that were transited inbound and outbound today. We’re closely following the Joint Coordination Center’s planned ship movements to get much-needed grain to the world.
Broadly, we of course urge Russia to honor the commitment that it has, not only to the parties to this agreement – Ukraine, the United Nations, and Turkey – but also the obligation it has to the rest of the world not to stand in the way of the delivery of much-needed grain and other foodstuffs.
We understand and we are deeply appreciative of the efforts of the UN secretary-general to engage with the parties. We understand that he has put off travel to be focused on this. The UN was instrumental in bringing about this initiative in the first instance, and we are going to support the secretary-general in any way appropriate, any way that we can, as he seeks to have this grain initiative resume and to add a degree of longevity to it.
I’ll just put a finer point on it. Any act by Russia to disrupt critical grain exports is essentially, would be essentially, a statement that the Kremlin doesn’t care if people and families around the world pay more for food or go hungry. We’ve seen Russia engage in what appears to be collective punishment for the people of Ukraine – again, ironically and cruelly in the context of a war that Russia itself started. But Moscow’s suspension of the initiative would be tantamount to collective punishment for the rest of the world, but especially lower- and middle-income countries that so desperate needed this grain. The vast majority of grain associated with this initiative has gone to the developing world. We need – we want – to see that continued.
QUESTION: Right. Given what they’ve been saying since this morning, is there – like, is the U.S. looking at an alternative if they actually go ahead and suspend their participation for good? Like, are you at all talking with any countries about transferring this grain, this food, overland or any other alternative potential route?
MR PRICE: Well, the ability of Ukraine to export its wheats – its wheat, even since the grain initiative went into effect in August, it has been an all-of-the-above approach. So it, of course, has not only been Black Sea, but there also have been overland routes that have been functional since the start of this – of Russia’s war against Ukraine to some degree. We of course will work with our Ukrainian partners to see to it that those overland routes continue to be effective, but there is no substitute for the ability of Ukraine to export wheat through the Black Sea. And I think you see that in the metrics that we’ve already talked about during the course of this briefing: 9.5 million metric tons of grain through the Black Sea Grain Initiative, the vast majority of which is going to the developing world.
Infrastructure for overland routes, that is something that – it is certainly difficult to construct. It is difficult to maintain, not to mention in the context of ongoing brutal attacks by the Russian Federation. So there is no substitute for the Black Sea, for Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, and any effort by the Russians to stand in the way of the ability of the rest of the world to be able to eat, to be able to live, that is something that would earn tremendous condemnation from countries around the world.
QUESTION: Ned, I just —
MR PRICE: Shaun, and then I’ll go to Said. Sure.
QUESTION: Could I just follow-up? The Russians are saying that they want guarantees from Ukraine on Crimea over this, that – basically don’t attack Crimea and then the grain will go through. That’s what the Russian military is proposing. Is that something that’s – is that something that could be in the cards? Is that something that could be under discussion?
MR PRICE: Shaun, what you are describing appears to be either collective punishment or collective extortion. This is not a bilateral issue between Russia and Ukraine. It is not an issue between any two countries on the face of the earth. This is an urgent imperative on the part of much of the world – all of the developing countries of the world need this grain. This is the breadbasket of the world. We all remember what a dire position the world was in before the start of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, the way food and commodity prices had skyrocketed. Those prices had – have fallen with the onset of this initiative, but all of that progress hangs in the balance if Russia doesn’t resume its participation in this. This is not something that would just strike out at Ukraine. This is something that would be a painful blow to the rest of the world.
QUESTION: Yeah, I just wanted to follow up on what Shaun just asked about – are you drawing any connection between the attack on Sevastopol and what the Russian – and the Russian decision?
MR PRICE: Said, you would —
QUESTION: Because they’re saying that their flagship was hit. They’re justifying this because of the attack.
MR PRICE: Said, you would need to speak to the Russians for any justification that they would cite for pulling out of this Black Sea Grain Initiative, but I will just say this from our perspective and from the perspective of countries around the world, there can be no justification for this. Whatever argument the Russians put forward doesn’t take into account that this would block – this would impede the ability of grain to reach countries around the world that’s desperately in need of it. You can listen to Russian justifications for the actions they’ve taken throughout the course of this war. They in many cases have been entirely devoid of facts, increasingly detached from reality.
In this context, it is also a relevant fact that Russia itself has attacked Ukrainian ports – Odessa and the port of Pivdennyi – since the start of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. So whatever justification Russia wishes to offer, whatever justification it wishes to offer today, there is no justification for the action that it’s taken.
QUESTION: On the percentages, Ned – on the percentages, they’re saying that 20 percent of this grain goes to Europe – Western Europe – with very little really going to sub-Saharan Africa.
MR PRICE: That is just false, Said – 66 percent or two-thirds is going to developing countries; 19 percent of the overall grain is going to the world’s least developed countries. There is a ship that is loaded in a Ukrainian port right now, a ship that was paid for by the World Food Program, destined, if it is permitted to leave by the Russians, for Ethiopia, a region that – a country in a region that desperately needs this.
The Russians can distort the data in any way they wish, and I’m sure they will. When they point to some of this grain going to countries in Europe, some of this grain does go to Europe, where it is refined and then sent on to developing middle-income, lower-income countries as well. But the fact remains, the vast majority of this grain – 66 percent – is going to developing countries; 19 percent – nearly 20 percent – is going to the world’s least developed countries, the countries that need this the most.
QUESTION: Wait, wait, Ned, just simply because you mentioned it several times in your answers before, when you talked about collective punishment, is it the case that the administration opposes collective punishment in all contexts?
MR PRICE: Matt, I’m not going to offer a blanket statement.
QUESTION: Well, okay, so there’s some areas – some places where collective punishment might be okay, acceptable?
MR PRICE: I think, Matt, collective punishment is – it would be hard to imagine a scenario in which it would be appropriate – collective punishment.
MR PRICE: Punishment that —
QUESTION: Okay. I just wanted to make sure.
MR PRICE: — exacts a toll on civilians and those not associated with the matter.
QUESTION: Thanks so much, Ned. Another punishment (inaudible). You just called Russia to return to the full participation in the grain deal. Can you also, please, speak to what you are going to do if Russia refuses to do so, given the scope of the damage that is being done?
MR PRICE: Alex, this is something that, in the first instance, the secretary-general is working very closely with the Ukrainians, with the Turks, and in turn with the Russians. It was the secretary-general who played a very – who had a very heavy role in negotiating this in the first instance. It’s the secretary-general that is leading the diplomatic efforts to see to it that this initiative resumes as soon as possible. So I don’t want to get ahead of that. Of course, it’s our hope that his efforts will be successful in the coming days, just as they were over the summer in what culminated in the start of the Black Sea Grain Initiative in August.
But I will say a couple things: I think you all remember over the summer, as Russia was dragging its feet, as Russia was blockading Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, prohibiting ships from coming and going full of grain, that Russia felt quite a bit of pressure from the rest of the world. There was a memorable meeting of the G20 where Foreign Minister Lavrov was in attendance, at least for the morning session. He didn’t show up for the afternoon session. I couldn’t say exactly why he wasn’t there, but he certainly heard condemnation, concern, criticism from many of the countries that were represented around that table, many of the G20 countries, who were not shy in offering their criticism of Russia’s efforts to prevent food from getting to the people who needed it most around the world.
If this continues – if Russia does not resume its cooperation – we’re going to have another G20 session quite soon, this time at the leader level. It is quite likely that countries around the world will voice their condemnation, voice their criticism, and they have every right to do that, because Russia would be exacting a toll on the rest of the world. This is not a toll that is unique to Ukraine. This is a toll on the rest of the world, and Russia would hear about it from the rest of the world.
QUESTION: When Ukrainians woke up today by another wave of missile attacks, not only – not actually – there was no military target at all. It was all about infrastructure, energy, hydrocarbon, easy targets. British foreign minister said that Putin’s own aim is to spread terror. I know you’re not using that word, but do you think the reason why Putin is doing what he is doing is – because he’s not being called out for terrorizing Ukrainian people?
MR PRICE: There is no question, Alex, that President Putin is exacting brutality, death, destruction across the country of Ukraine. It is certainly not always clear that the targets that are pursued by Russia’s missiles and bombs have any military purpose whatsoever. There are and we’ve all seen a number of strikes and bombardments that appear to be nothing more than an effort to brutalize the people of Ukraine. This is a tactic that we’ve seen since the earliest days of the war, when at every turn when President Putin has faced a setback, when he has been thwarted or stymied, the people to have paid the price – sometimes the ultimate price – were Ukrainian civilians, the innocent people of Ukraine, not military targets, nothing associated with Ukraine’s armed services – its security services – but the Ukrainian people.
QUESTION: Can we just —
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: You’ve talked about the UN efforts to revive the deal, obviously, but what about the Turkish efforts to revive the deal? They have obviously said over the weekend that they want to see this back up and running. Do you have faith in the Turks and their capabilities to do that? Are you supporting them? Can you just speak to that?
MR PRICE: We have the utmost confidence in the Turks when it comes to the Black Sea Grain Initiative. The parties to this agreement – Ukraine, the United Nations, Turkey, and, up until the weekend, Russia – had worked effectively together over the course of several months to facilitate the passage of 9.5 million metric tons of grain to the rest of the world. We appreciate the efforts of Turkey, the – and the role Turkey played when it comes to the JCC, when it comes to the – this initiative more broadly; appreciate the role that the UN secretary-general played in bringing this together and helping to oversee this initiative. Of course, Ukraine has been an active participant in this initiative, and up until the weekend, Russia, too, was cooperating with this mechanism and was allowing grain to transit to the countries and to the people around the world who need it most.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. On North Korea, I would like to (inaudible) on the recent arms control dialogue with North Korea mentioned by Ambassador Jenkins, who is in charge of disarmament at the State Department. North Korean Kim Jong-un says that after the U.S. recognized North Korea as a nuclear state, then arms control negotiation can take place. But the denuclearization of the North Korea the U.S. wants and the arms control dialogue that North Korea wants totally different stories. So would United States agreed if North Korea wants only arms control dialogue aside from denuclearization talks?
MR PRICE: I had an opportunity to comment on this on Friday. I was clear at the time, want to be clear now, that there has been no change to U.S. policy. Our DPRK policy remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we continue to be open to diplomacy with the DPRK. The complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula has been our objective since the conclusion of our DPRK policy review last year. That has not changed. I don’t foresee that changing going forward.
We continue to reach out to the DPRK and are committed to pursuing a diplomatic approach. That policy review also found that, in our estimation, a diplomatic, practical, pragmatic approach is the best means by which to effect that overarching objective, the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We of course would like to see the DPRK engage in serious, substantial dialogue on this. Up until now, they have not done so. We have made clear we don’t have preconditions to dialogue. It sounds like the DPRK may be in a different position. But we believe that by engaging in dialogue and diplomacy, we can most effectively bring about what is our ultimate objective, and that’s the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
QUESTION: Is there any possibility that the United States will eventually recognize North Korea as a nuclear state?
MR PRICE: That is not our policy. I do not foresee that ever becoming our policy.
MR PRICE: Yes.
MR PRICE: We both issued readouts following the call that took place yesterday evening Eastern time. There were a range of topics discussed, but ultimately it was an opportunity for Secretary Blinken and State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi to demonstrate that we mean what we say when we have a commitment to maintaining open channels of dialogue. We believe that this is a bilateral relationship that has to be managed responsibly. We are committed to responsible management of this relationship. We believe in high-level dialogue. The call last night spoke to that as well. There are a range of issues in the bilateral relationship. There are a range of concerns in the broader region as well. I’m not in a position to go beyond what was in the readout, but we believe we have a responsibility to engage our PRC counterparts regularly regarding this.
QUESTION: Can you share how long is phone call and what – what’s the atmosphere like?
MR PRICE: It was a phone call that lasted over an hour; it was about 70 or so minutes. We would characterize the phone call as productive, as useful. It was professional. The two – Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister and State Councilor Wang Yi had an opportunity to discuss a number of issues, but Secretary Blinken for his part thought it was important to raise, once again, Russia’s continued war against Ukraine and the threat it poses to global peace and economic stability and prosperity.
This is something that the PRC has heard from us directly a number of times in recent months. They’ve heard it from us over the phone. They heard it from us in Bali when Secretary Blinken met with Wang Yi for over four hours, almost five hours at the time. They heard it in New York when Secretary Blinken and Wang Yi met at the time. But there were a number of issues also discussed, including Haiti, where the humanitarian situation there is unsustainable. The status quo is unsustainable. The Secretary made the point that, for the sake of the Haitian people, the humanitarian concerns on the island of Haiti, we need to set aside any political disagreements, any political issues, and really focus on that humanitarian plight and how we can help relieve what the Haitian people are enduring at the moment.
QUESTION: And in a Chinese statement, the readout, it says Wang Yi said the United States should stop trying to contain and suppress China and avoid creating obstacles to the relationship. What is the Secretary’s response to that?
MR PRICE: Well, the Secretary’s response is a point he’s made repeatedly. It’s a point that was really central to the speech he gave in May in which he outlined our approach broadly to the People’s Republic of China. He said at the time – and this has been true ever since – we don’t seek to contain China. Our goal is not to hold China back. Our goal is to uphold the rules-based international order that has helped to manage, constructively and effectively, relations between states for the better part of 80 years. Any idea that – any notion that our policy is directed against China or any other country around the world is not true.
It is true, of course, that we have profound disagreements with the PRC on a number of – in a number of areas. Ultimately, it’s a relationship that is predicated at its core by competition. Part of the reason why we believe it’s important to have regular dialogue and exchanges with the PRC is because we believe we have to manage this competition responsibly. But it’s competition, there are adversarial elements, as we know, and there are cooperative elements. And the two last night – certainly Secretary Blinken last night – did make the point again that we have shared interests in certain areas. It would be in the interest of each of our countries, but more broadly, in the interest of the international community if we were to find a way to cooperate and to coordinate in some of those areas of shared interest.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on that. Talking about the cooperation, what’s the next step? Would we see more engagement between Secretary Blinken and Wang Yi before the potential summit in Bali?
MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to any forthcoming phone calls. What I can tell you is that the Secretary has made clear to his counterpart on at least a few occasions now that he should feel free to pick up the phone anytime. The Secretary also adopts that approach. The Secretary believes that we need to maintain these open lines of communication. So if there’s a need from our side or from Beijing for Secretary Blinken and Wang Yi to speak before the upcoming G20 meeting in Bali, I have no doubt that will happen.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Just two things. So the Secretary has had the chance to speak to his Chinese counterpart throughout the course of Ukraine war many times, and U.S. has asked China to use its leverage with Russia to put an end to this war. Was there anything in this phone call that suggested that Beijing would cooperate on that particular point?
MR PRICE: I think it’s fair to say that Secretary Blinken last night did not hear anything when it comes to the PRC’s approach to Russia’s war against Ukraine that we haven’t heard before. I’m not going to characterize it, but of course the PRC has spoken publicly to its approach. Interestingly, President Putin has also spoken to the PRC’s approach, made an interesting comment, as I recall, that the Russians have heard privately from the PRC about concerns that the PRC has regarding Russia’s prosecution of this war against the people of Ukraine. It’s really no surprise that the PRC would voice these concerns, at least in private, because what Russia is doing – is attempting to do – in the context of Ukraine flies in the face of everything that we have heard from the PRC and the international system over the course of decades.
The PRC consistently emphasizes the role of sovereignty, state sovereignty; the inviolability of into borders; the right of countries around the world to determine their own foreign policy. That is what is at stake when it comes to Russia’s war against Ukraine. Russia is taking aim at the Ukrainian people, at the Ukrainian Government, but it’s also taking aim at those – at those very principles.
QUESTION: And the possibility of a meeting between President Biden and Xi, was that discussed? And based on that discussion, should we expect that meeting to happen?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any updates on you for that. Of course, I would defer to my White House colleagues to speak to any potential meetings that President Biden would have. As they have said before during their last conversation, the two presidents tasked their teams to look into the possibility of a meeting in the coming weeks, but I would need to refer to the White House on next steps there.
Yes, and I’ll come back.
QUESTION: Thank you. Despite Secretary Blinken’s effort to engage Prime Minister Kurti last week and urge him to extend the deadline for license plates, he refused to do so. What do the Biden administration and Secretary Blinken do if Kurti continues to say no to Secretary Blinken and United States and the EU ultimately?
MR PRICE: Well, our efforts are ongoing. You know that we released a statement last week to make very clear our belief and the belief of our international partners that the Government of Kosovo needs to extend the implementation period. Kosovo, of course, has the right to implement this change under the Brussels Agreement, but we’re disappointed, we’re concerned that the Government of Kosovo has rejected the request and advice of its closest international partners on implementation.
We encourage Kosovo and Serbia to continue to engage in the EU-facilitated dialogue. We will remain in close touch with our partners in the region. We will remain in close touch with the EU that is facilitating this dialogue. But I don’t have any additional steps to preview at this time.
QUESTION: Okay. Just one more, because Kosovo Government announced that they will start issuing first police warnings from tomorrow to November 21st, and then on November 21st they’re going to start these 150-euro fines against Serbs who refuse to comply. Does Secretary Blinken agree with Prime Minister Kurti with this step to fine Serbian population, and if not, what would you suggest as the best way to resolve this dispute?
MR PRICE: We’ve been clear in public and in private that the international community, including the United States, seeks a full delay in the implementation of these – of these matters. We don’t seek a partial delay; we don’t seek phased implementation. The international community has asked the Government of Kosovo for a full delay in implementation. And again, these discussions are ongoing – discussions with parties in the region, discussions with the EU as well. So I’m just not going to preview future actions before we’re – before we’re there.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. It’s obvious that fake news and disinformation is fueling the civil war in Ethiopia. And recently – I think they said – yesterday the Ethiopian Government released a statement regarding this fake news. Did you read that letter or did you get it?
MR PRICE: I’m familiar with it. I read the copy you provided me.
QUESTION: Yeah. It says Ethiopian condemns (inaudible) allegation of atrocities for sinister political agenda. Since I gave you the letter, I don’t have to read it all – to read all the letters. But at the end, the Ethiopian Government says, “The Government of Ethiopia is thus forced to weigh its [option] and consider its relations with some states and entities that are making unsubstantiated and politically motivated accusations of such gravity against the country.” What is your thought on this kind of allegation?
MR PRICE: Well, I couldn’t speak to the precise allegations in this document. I would have to review the underlying data and intent. But the goal of the United States, the goal of the AU-led mediation process, the AU-led talks, is really quite simple: there is no ulterior political objective. The objective is quite simple: to achieve an immediate cessation of hostilities, to achieve the delivery of humanitarian assistance to all Ethiopians in need, additional measures – securing measures to protect civilians, and seeing Eritrea’s withdrawal from northern Ethiopia.
To your question and to the statement that you provided to me, the third point about protection of civilians is important. There is no question that there have been a number of reports, many of them credible, of human rights violations and atrocities that have been uncovered in the course of this terrible conflict that has just spread such devastation across parts of northern Ethiopia. We’re deeply troubled the potential for mass atrocities. We reiterate our grave concern over reports of violence committed against civilians during the conflict. And we call again on all armed actors to immediately cease all such violence and to end hostilities to enable the space for peaceful – for a peaceful resolution.
We believe the ongoing talks in South Africa, where our Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer continues to – continues to be both as a participant and an observer – we believe this dialogue and these talks provide the best opportunity for the parties to sit down together and hopefully for the parties to bridge their differences and to make progress against these four goals.
QUESTION: Ned, we all want to see this war to end peacefully. But as you know, the first peace talks held between the Ethiopian Government and TPLF, these fell apart. And the second peace talks, as you mentioned, in South African supposed to be completed yesterday; however, it is announced that the talk will continue until Wednesday. I mean, is this indication of the peace talk starting to fall apart? I mean, they haven’t announced why they postpone it and why they want to continue until Wednesday. Do you have anything to say about it?
MR PRICE: It’s an indication that the parties arrived in South Africa with quite a bit of distance between them, but it’s also an indication that the parties continue to be willing to sit down together in what we hope to be a constructive atmosphere and ultimately an atmosphere when the parties can discuss their differences and continue to narrow the distance between them.
I know we will continue to be engaged in support of this AU-led process. Our special envoy will remain in South Africa for as long as the talks continue. At least that’s his plan as of now. We think it is a good thing that the parties continue to talk.
Let me move around a little bit. Michel.
QUESTION: I have a question.
QUESTION: Yeah, I have a couple of questions if you don’t mind. The first, any comments on the upcoming Chinese president visit and the summits that he will hold in Saudi Arabia? Will it add any tension to the relations with the U.S.?
MR PRICE: I’m not aware that both countries have confirmed the visit, so I would, of course, defer to Saudi Arabia and the PRC to speak to any impending bilateral visit between the two leaders.
The point that we have made consistently over the course of this administration is that we are not asking countries around the world to choose between the United States and the PRC. We’re not asking countries around the world to choose between the United States and any other country. Countries are going to make their own sovereign decisions about their foreign policy, about their relationships, about their partnerships and alliances. Our goal is to give countries around the world a choice and to make the choice of the United States and what we bring to the table the most attractive option available.
MR PRICE: We issued a statement a couple days ago. We congratulated and again we congratulate Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ Al Sudani on forming a new Iraqi Government, and we look forward to working with the prime minister and his government on the range of our shared interests. Those include improving services for the Iraqi people to ensuring a safe, stable, and sovereign Iraq as outlined in the Strategic Framework Agreement.
QUESTION: And two one more, one on Lebanon and one on Iran. The Lebanese president term came to an end, and there is no president yet – no government. Other than calling the Lebanese leaders to form a new government or to elect a new president, what can the U.S. do to press them or to help them form a new government and elect a new president?
MR PRICE: As I was speaking to the team before this briefing, it was my understanding that parliament was still in session and talks are ongoing. But as we’ve stressed, it’s for the Lebanese parliament to determine the next president in accordance with the demands of the Lebanese people to meet the urgent needs of the Lebanese people and to unlock critical international support.
Lebanon needs a government that can quickly implement much-needed and long-overdue reforms, and we call on Lebanon’s leaders to select a president willing to put the interests of the country first and able to implement those long-overdue reforms.
QUESTION: And finally, Iran has enforced sanctions on four U.S. entities and 10 individuals. Any reactions?
MR PRICE: I don’t have a reaction to that.
Let me go – let me spread around. Yes.
QUESTION: According to the report over the weekend, the United States and Japan are about to finally finalizing the deal about Tomahawk cruise missile procurement. Can you confirm such a negotiation is ongoing?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to confirm any potential arms transfers or granting of licenses before they’re notified to Congress.
QUESTION: Yeah, there’s no reporting out today on the Afghan commandos that were trained by the U.S., previously fought alongside the U.S. against the Taliban, being recruited by Russia to join their war against Ukraine. Man of these commandos have allegedly cited the fact that the U.S. didn’t give them visas to get them out of Afghanistan, the fact they couldn’t go home now of Afghanistan, and a fear of retaliation from the Taliban as reasons that they are going to fight with Russia. I just want to know if you have a response to that and a response to a former Afghan general that said leaving these commandos behind was the biggest mistake that the U.S. made when withdrawing from the country.
MR PRICE: I’m aware of those reports. I’m not aware, though, that we have been in a position to confirm that such Afghan commandos have actually been enlisted into President Putin’s war. Of course, it’s no secret that the Kremlin is casting a wide net looking for any able-bodied individuals to fight and potentially die in Ukraine, as they’ve done to so many Russian citizens, 300,000 in the most recent partial mobilization. But I’m just not in a position to confirm those reports.
What I can tell you is that there are a number of pathways for Afghans to travel to the United States to call the United States home. Of course, these SIV Program is intended for Afghans who partnered with, who worked with, the United States Government over the course of our 20‑year military engagement in Afghanistan, but there is also the so-called P-1 program, the P-1 program under the U.S. Refugee Admission Program, for individuals who may be eligible to travel to the United States with the appropriate referrals.
QUESTION: A follow up on Afghanistan.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: So what would your message to those Afghan commandos be if they are receiving these kinds of messages from the Wagner Group?
MR PRICE: Look, I’m not in a position to offer specific guidance to any individual. Our message has been to all Afghans that there are a number of programs that could facilitate their presence in the United States or a third country. I think the allegation here is that some of these commandos are already present outside of Afghanistan. But whether Afghans are in Afghanistan or in third countries, there are pathways, including the SIV Program, P-1 referral, P-2 referral, that could bring them to the United States if they so choose.
QUESTION: But a problem is that that process takes a long time. Some of these Afghans have crossed the border into Iran. That’s been reported. I believe you guys have confirmed that. So they’re in a tough spot where they can’t get to the United States quickly right now, and they’re being offered an alternative. So do you not have any sort of message that eventually they’ll get through the system or anything like that to them?
MR PRICE: Well, of course, we’re working as quickly as we can to process individuals through the various pathways, whether it’s the SIV Program, the P-1 Program, the P-2 Program. Again, without offering specific advice, I can’t imagine that the most attractive option that anyone could face would be to be conscripted into President Putin’s war effort in a sovereign country, the country of Ukraine, where thousands upon thousands of Russians have been injured, maimed, or killed fighting for what is ultimately a needless war and a losing cause.
Of course, we want to provide opportunity, as much opportunity as we and our partners around the world can, to those who are seeking to – who wish to depart Afghanistan or to Afghans who are already located in third countries and who seek to transit elsewhere.
QUESTION: Thank you so —
QUESTION: And just the last question on the on the relocation flights – Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: There are reports that Qatar has decided to suspend those relocation/evacuation flights, whatever you want to call them, through the end of the year because of the World Cup. So what’s the State Department’s message on that? Have you tried to convince the Qataris to keep these up and running?
MR PRICE: Well, we greatly appreciate Qatar’s partnership. We have been working together ahead of the World Cup to address any potential logistical interruptions. We remain prepared with alternative arrangements as needed to preserve our ability to carry out this important objective. As of right now, location flights, relocation flights, continue to depart. One departed today from Kabul. And we’ll continue to keep true to our word that we will do everything we can to facilitate the relocation of those who wish to depart Afghanistan.
QUESTION: How many were on the fight today?
MR PRICE: I don’t have numbers today.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV. Former prime minster of Pakistani Imran Khan is heading a protest march towards capital city Islamabad demanding fresh elections, but in his speech, he is once again blaming United States for regime change in Pakistan. We talked about this many times, but the question is that this is a concern that a popular leader in Pakistan leading an anti-American campaign.
MR PRICE: What we can do is counter disinformation, misinformation with information. And we’ve said many times now, including in this briefing room, that there is no truth to these allegations. We won’t let propaganda, we won’t let misinformation or disinformation get in the way of an important bilateral relationship, including our valued bilateral partnership with Pakistan. We value that longstanding cooperation between the United States and Pakistan. We’ve always viewed a prosperous and democratic Pakistan as critical to our interests. That remains unchanged.
QUESTION: Sir, general elections in Pakistan are expected in next few months. There were always question marks on the credibility of the elections process in Pakistan due to involvement of many factors. Have you ever raised this issue, like fair and – free and fair elections in Pakistan?
MR PRICE: I understand in the case of Pakistan, elections have not yet been scheduled, but we support the peaceful upholding of constitutional and democratic principles not just in Pakistan, around the world. These are issues that we discuss with all of our partners around the world.
QUESTION: Sir, last question, Afghanistan. According to latest media reports, Afghanistan is turning into a safe haven for the international terrorist groups. What measures are being taken to prevent Afghanistan turning into a terrorist state?
MR PRICE: Sorry, what was the last part of the question?
QUESTION: Sir, what measures are being taken to prevent Afghanistan to be a terrorist state? Because all the terrorists from all over the world, like, going to Afghanistan and making their safe havens.
MR PRICE: We’ve been very clear that the United States and our partners around the world won’t allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for international terrorists who pose a threat to the United States, to our partners around the world. The Taliban’s actions in sheltering the leader of al-Qaida in Kabul, they fly in the face of the Doha Agreement and their repeated assurances to the world that they would not allow Afghan territory to be used by terrorists to threaten the security of other countries. Of course, we know how that story ended. President Biden has been very clear that we will maintain the capacity to act unilaterally if necessary to address any emergent terrorist threats or concerns when it comes to Afghanistan.
Our special representative for Afghanistan, Tom West, recently met with the Taliban in Doha. They discussed a number of U.S. interests, including counterterrorism, and we’ll continue to engage with the Taliban pragmatically. And following the sheltering of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the now-deceased leader of al-Qaida, I think it’s fair to say that the Taliban will have to earn the trust of the world, and they’ll only earn that through their own actions.
QUESTION: A follow-up on the same —
MR PRICE: Follow-up? Yes.
QUESTION: Yes. So today is my first day. Great pleasure to be here. So from Afghanistan International, Arif Yakubi (ph). So yesterday, many female students in different part of Afghanistan had a protest, but Taliban used violence in Badakhshan province and also in Kabul. They beaten the students. So what is the message that the United States would give to those girls that are asking the United States for help? And also Taliban did not change their position towards education for girls in Afghanistan, so what is the next step for the United States to convince Taliban to allow girls go to school?
MR PRICE: When it comes to our concerns – human rights and what the people of Afghanistan face, but particularly what the women, the girls, ethnic and religious minorities in Afghanistan face, including from the Taliban – that is at the top of the list. Every time we have engaged with Taliban, including most recently when Tom met – Tom West met with Taliban representatives in Doha, we raise the imperative of human rights. This is not only an imperative in terms of any relationship that we have or might have with the Taliban, but most importantly, it is about the commitments that the Taliban have made to their own people, the pledges they have made publicly and repeatedly to their own people that they will respect their universal rights, their freedoms, and allow their people to exercise what are – what should be universal and fundamental rights.
Of course, the Taliban has not lived up to that. In the face of that, we are and have provided – we continue to be the world’s most generous supplier of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan, much of that funding going to those who are most directly impacted by the Taliban’s decisions or neglect for the state of the human rights and the fundamental freedoms – what should be the fundamental freedoms of their own people. But we’re also working with the international community to make very clear that any relationship – any improvement in relationship that the Taliban seeks to have with the international community won’t be possible until and unless the Taliban changes its approach, allows every Afghan citizen to be a full member of Afghan society and to have those universal rights respected.
The simple fact and the more practical fact is that the Taliban is learning and will learn over time that if it systematically excludes half of its population, more than half of its population when you include women, girls, minorities, that is not a country that will be stable. It is not a country that can be prosperous. It is not a country that will be able to enjoy opportunity that countries around the world have. So we’ll continue to look at appropriate costs and consequences, we’ll continue to provide humanitarian support, and we’ll continue to use our voice when and where we can.
QUESTION: One Afghan commander – sorry. So since we – our channel – broke that news and we talked directly to those Afghan commanders in Iran, they confirmed to us that the Iranian Government is training them and asking them to join Russian for war in Ukraine. And there are some reports that some of those Afghan commanders who were trained directly years ago by the United States are perhaps in Afghanistan somewhere that are not safe, and they are seeking for somewhere to be safe. So what is the United States message to those commanders who were trained by the United States and are seeking some place to be alive?
MR PRICE: So it’s difficult to speak in the abstract because the programs we have available and the pathways we have available are tailored to the specific circumstances of an individual. So there is a program, the SIV program, the Special Immigrant Visa program, for Afghans that worked directly for the United States Government over the course of our military involvement in the country. But there are also broader categories, including the P1 referral process through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and the P2 referral process as well. Not every one of these programs is going to be available to every individual, but we have information available, we have processing centers that stand ready to assist individuals as they consider their options.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
MR PRICE: Yes. I’ll come back to you, Said. Yes.
QUESTION: Hi, yes. Regarding Libya, United Nations Security Council adopted pretty much your position, which says that the interim government cannot sign international agreements. However, the administration in Tripoli has signed two maritime agreements with the Government of Turkey, which include waters in southern parts of Greece. So are you afraid that these two agreements between Libya and Turkey can threaten the regional stability and can even lead a potential to a conflict between Greece and Turkey?
MR PRICE: This is a complicated issue. It’s not one that I have a ready answer for, but we’ll come back to you on that.
QUESTION: Thank you. Very quick question on Palestine and Israel. I mean, you began by talking about collective punishment. Tomorrow is the Israeli election day, and the Government of Israel imposed a total closure on the West Bank. Is that a form of collective punishment? Do you have any comment on this?
MR PRICE: We understand Israel’s very real security concerns. At the same time, we have also said on numerous occasions that we support equal measures of freedom, of security, of prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians alike. We understand that exceptions will be made on a humanitarian and emergency basis. We strongly support that.
QUESTION: Yeah, but Ned, when people move from neighborhood to neighborhood and then they cannot do this, they cannot go to the hospitals, they cannot go to clinics because Israel is holding its fifth election in five years – I mean, it could be holding another one in five months – isn’t that a form of collective punishment under your own definition?
MR PRICE: Said, it’s as we’ve said before. There are very real security concerns. There are also humanitarian imperatives. To that end, we do understand that exceptions will be made for – when it comes to humanitarian cases, emergency cases. We strongly support those exceptions.
QUESTION: Let me ask you about the elections tomorrow. Is it true that American officials were concerned that the right wing in Israel may win this election and then complicate things for you guys, and that the president of Israel, Mr. Herzog, assured you that this will not be the case? Can you comment on that?
MR PRICE: Said, Israel is a strategic partner. It’s a fellow democracy. Owing to its democratic identity, this will be up to the people of Israel to decide the configuration of their next government. No matter the shape of the Israeli coalition and government, our relationship will be strong and enduring.
QUESTION: Could I just —
MR PRICE: Shaun, yeah.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Just in the past hour there’s been a readout from the White House on the President’s call to President-elect Lula. But could I ask you, on policy terms, what you expect from Lula? Climate, of course, is an issue in which the incumbent and the president-elect of Brazil have very different views. Is there a sense that maybe the United States can do a little bit more with Brazil under the incoming leadership?
MR PRICE: Said – sorry, Shaun. Shaun, I would leave it to our Brazilian partners and to the incoming administration to speak to the priorities that they will bring to the table. I think, of course, Brazil, as a leading democracy in the region, a country with whom we share a number of important interests – there is plenty of opportunity for cooperation, plenty of opportunity to deepen our cooperation between our two countries on a number of fronts. But the election, of course, was just concluded yesterday. It will still be another couple months before the inauguration takes place. So I wouldn’t want to get ahead of that.
QUESTION: Just briefly following up on that, I know the statements yesterday said a free, fair, and credible election. What’s your assessment – I mean, that’s obviously the assessment. What’s your assessment in terms of the – how things have been handled after the election? There’s been no comment from Bolsonaro. Is the United States relatively hopeful that things will be stable? Has there been any contact with the defeated incumbent president?
MR PRICE: Of course, you just mentioned the call from the White House to President-elect – to Lula, the president-elect. We’ve heard and it seems to be the case from credible sources and authorities that Brazil’s democratic institutions conducted what could be termed an exemplary election yesterday. Observers and the authority, Brazilian election authority, considered that the process went smoothly with no credible allegations of fraud or significant disruptions in electronic voting or tabulation. We, of course, would refer you to Brazilian authorities for specific details, but it was once again Brazil demonstrating that they have the capacity, they have the wherewithal, just as we’ve said over the course of past several months that we expected they would when it came to the conduct of their democratic elections.
QUESTION: Can I just —
QUESTION: Just one – one different thing briefly, unless you want to follow up on Brazil. Just a completely different – DRC-Rwanda. The Secretary invested some energy there in August, of course. The DRC has expelled the Rwandan ambassador. There’s some protests in the DRC. To what extent is the United States involved diplomatically now? How concerned are you about the situation?
MR PRICE: We remain engaged with the countries. As you know, as you I think were there, Secretary Blinken did travel to the DRC and Rwanda in August to have discussions on the tensions there that have mounted for some time. We’re deeply concerned by recent developments in the eastern DRC, particularly the renewed M23-FARDC hostilities that have occurred since October 20th. We support the African-led mediation efforts to address the regional tension in the eastern DRC, including those led by the East African Community, Kenya, and Angola. And we encourage countries in the region to work together to restore peace, security, and trust while respecting each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
State support of armed groups is unacceptable, and we reiterate our concern about Rwanda’s support to the M23. That was a message that the Rwandans heard directly from Secretary Blinken in August. I can tell you that senior officials from this building over the weekend, last week, have been in frequent contact with counterparts in Rwanda, in the DRC, seeking to bring about a de-escalation of tensions.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. As my colleague already asked about Brazil, thank you. You already said something about the election there, but given the fact that the White House just confirmed the phone call between Biden and the Brazilian president-elect, do you have any information about this phone call, the content?
And a second question. President Bolsonaro, he hasn’t spoken yet about the result and his defeat. Is it a concern here at all?
And the third question, if possible. How this result in Brazil affects, if affects, the relation between United States and Brazil?
MR PRICE: So to your first question, I would need to refer you to the White House. I understand that they were planning to and may already have released a readout of the call that will summarize the contents of the conversation.
When it comes to what we’ve heard or what we haven’t heard from Brazilian officials, I will focus on what we have heard, and that is numerous figures from across the Brazilian political spectrum have publicly expressed their respect for the outcome of yesterday’s democratic election. The vote reinforces our trust in the strength of Brazil’s democratic institutions, which performed their constitutional roles in a free and fair election conducted with transparency.
A hallmark of every democracy is acceptance of the will of the people as expressed through elections, followed by a peaceful transfer of power. That’s what the world will expect and what we anticipate they will see in the coming weeks.
And then remind me of your third question.
QUESTION: How this result, in your opinion, affects the relation in – between United States and Brazil?
MR PRICE: As in the case in every democracy – and this is the point I made to Said earlier – it is up to the will of the people in question. In this case, the Brazilian people have spoken. They have selected a new government. Brazil is an important partner of the United States, and we will look forward to working with the government that will be inaugurated on January 1st.
Final question or so. Yes, I haven’t called on you.
QUESTION: A Human Rights Watch report today raised concerns about Bahrain’s marginalization of opposition figures ahead of next month’s election. Does the U.S. share those concerns about the electoral conditions, and have you addressed them with the Bahrainis?
MR PRICE: I’ll see if we can get you any more details on this. I think it’s fair to say that around the world, in the Middle East, but in countries – in regions around the world, we underscore the importance of space for civil society, opposition groups, political opposition groups, and urge countries around the world to protect that space and to allow those voices to be heard. But when it comes to Bahrain, I’ll see if we have anything in particular to offer.
QUESTION: Ned, one more on —
MR PRICE: I haven’t called on you in the back. Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m wondering, as a food self-sufficient country, Russia, is there any indication that they are benefiting in some ways through a backdoor or something from the 6 percent increase in the price on grain exports?
MR PRICE: Well, what’s – what is fair is that Russia has also benefited tremendously from the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Because of the grain initiative, because of the predictability and the stability in the Black Sea, shippers, insurers, others involved in this marketplace have re-entered the market. Russia has itself stood to benefit handsomely from the implications of this arrangement.
Ultimately, however, we don’t look at it in terms of who stands to gain financially. We look at it in terms of who stands to lose when it comes to their core interests. And ultimately, if Russia stands in the way of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, much of the developing world, the world’s least developed countries, stand to lose the most. They stand to lose the most from the from the end of a program that has provided 9.5 million metric tons, the vast majority of which has gone to the world’s least developed countries.
QUESTION: Ned —
MR PRICE: Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:23 p.m.)