2:11 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good to see everyone. Before we get to it, let me just say – just a moment of personal privilege to say thank you for everyone who reached out with the warm wishes and regards over the past couple weeks. I very much appreciate it. I want to also be sure to thank my team and others in the department who were in a position to stand up so I could take a step back for a couple days. The past 10 days have not always been fun, but I’m extraordinarily grateful to have the team around me, to be able to work with all of you, and also extraordinarily grateful to have benefitted from safe and effective vaccines that I know prevented serious illness in this case.
So now we’ll make the pivot from public health to foreign policy. Have just a couple elements at the top.
Today, I have the pleasure of welcoming the Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons Jessica Stern to the department as she officially assumed her duties late last month. This appointment reflects the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to advance and to protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons at home and abroad.
Prior to joining the department, Special Envoy Stern served as Executive Director of OutRight Action International, based in New York, where she specialized in gender, sexuality, and human rights globally.
At OutRight, she helped register LGBTQI+ organizations internationally, secure the mandate of the United Nations Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, expand the UN General Assembly resolution to include gender identity, and founded the UN LGBTQI Core Group. You can read her full biography on the department’s website.
We look forward to working with Special Envoy Stern as she leads department efforts to advance the administration’s priorities, and that includes pursuing an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics.
Finally, we are concerned and disappointed by recent reports from Tunisia on infringements of – on freedom of the press and expression and the use of military courts to investigate civilian cases. It is essential for the Tunisian Government to uphold its commitments to respect human rights as outlined in the Tunisian constitution and affirmed in Presidential Decree 117.
We also urge Tunisia’s president and new prime minister to respond to the Tunisian people’s call for a clear roadmap for a return to a transparent, democratic process, involving civil society and diverse political voices.
So with that, happy to turn to your questions. Start wherever. Matt. Shaun? Sorry, called you Matt.
QUESTION: I won’t imitate.
MR PRICE: Please. I hope you don’t.
QUESTION: Perhaps let’s start in Iran.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: On several developments there. Rob Malley earlier talked today with a senior official from South Korea. This comes as South Korea, the Republic of Korea, is in a dispute with Iran over some $7 billion in frozen assets. Was this a topic of discussion and do you see any headway on that?
MR PRICE: Well, so Special Envoy Malley did, in fact, have a conversation with his counterpart in South Korea. This is not the first conversation they’ve had. Special Envoy Malley routinely speaks to his counterparts in the P5+1, as well as in other parts of the world, and this includes in the Indo-Pacific with our ROK allies in this regard. They spoke and Rob issued a tweet on their conversation to confirm it took place. The ROK has been a stalwart partner. The ROK and we see eye-to-eye when it comes to the utility of a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. When it comes to the issue you referenced, we appreciate the ROK’s vigorous enforcement of existing sanctions. Those sanctions do remain in effect, as you know, until and unless we are able to reach that mutual return to compliance.
QUESTION: So the 7 billion is still – there has been no movement on that, basically it’s still there?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any update on that. That’s right.
QUESTION: Can I ask you something else on Iran before —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Just on – you’ve been asked this many times before, but in terms of the resumption of indirect talks of Vienna, an Iranian official – yesterday I believe it was – said it could resume within days. Do you have anything to say on that, in terms of any —
MR PRICE: Well, we have heard similar statements from the Iranian Government at various levels over the past couple weeks. If you recall, we were talking about this in New York, which seems like it was just last week, a couple weeks ago now. And we have heard from the Iranians that they expect negotiations to resume soon. We hope their definition of soon matches our definition of soon. We would like negotiations to resume in Vienna as soon as possible. We have been saying this not for weeks now, but for months now.
We think it is important for the parties to come back together, to continue, to resume where we left off in Vienna after the sixth round so that we can resume this seventh round on the basis of what we have accomplished to date. We think it is important for a number of reasons, but also because, as we have made very clear, we continue to believe the diplomatic path is open. We continue to believe that a diplomatic approach is the best means to verifiably once again ensure that Iran can never obtain a nuclear weapon with the permanent and verifiable restrictions that the JCPOA put in place.
But we also think a – imminent return to Vienna is necessary because this is not a process that can go on indefinitely. This is not a process that can drag out or that can be dragged out. We are firmly of the belief that we need to work quickly, we need to work with alacrity and a great deal of speed to see to it if we can achieve that mutual return to compliance that we have been sincere and steadfast in seeking to achieve for the better part of a year now.
QUESTION: So is resumption hinging on what? I mean, who’s going to —
MR PRICE: It’s hinging on the Iranians.
QUESTION: Who’s going to take the —
MR PRICE: It is hinging on the Iranians. We have made very clear that we are prepared, willing, and able to return to Vienna as soon as we have a partner to negotiate with indirectly. We have also made clear that we would be happy to engage in direct negotiations. And in fact, this process would be much more effective if we had a direct negotiating partner. The Iranians have not been willing to do that, as we know. The Iranians have heretofore not been willing to return to Vienna just yet. We have heard these repeated statements of soon, of within days. Again, we hope their lexicon matches ours when it comes to this.
QUESTION: Thank you. And we’re all really happy to see you well.
MR PRICE: Thank you.
QUESTION: It’s a great advertisement for vaccinations.
MR PRICE: Yes, thank you.
QUESTION: On Iran, can you expand on the conversations between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov in terms of what the Russians are willing to do, if they are, to help persuade the Iranians to come back to the talks? And I have a follow-up.
MR PRICE: Well, the Secretary did have an opportunity to speak to Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday. The brunt of the conversation was on the mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. We have – of course, it goes without saying, we have a number of profound disagreements with the Russian Federation. There are areas where our interests do align, and this is one of them. Russia, the Russian Federation, is an original member of the P5+1. Russia has been constructive in its engagements in the context of the P5+1. We agree with the Russian Federation that Iran should not be able to acquire a nuclear weapon. That is precisely why we and the Russians agree on this one issue that we should resume negotiations in Vienna as soon as possible. The Russians similarly read out this call, made similar points. This is one of those issues where our interests do, in fact, overlap.
QUESTION: And there was – a number of years ago, there were a number of conversations, before the JCPOA, about the Russians being involved in a deal with the Iranians on buying some of their processed uranium. Is there any thought of that, of the Russians stepping in in any way?
MR PRICE: Well, right now the thought is on resuming the mutual compliance with the JCPOA, testing the proposition that we can achieve that mutual return to compliance. The United States, the Russian Federation, our other partners in the P5+1 context – all of us are united in the belief that the JCPOA continues to provide the best and the most effective framework for achieving our mutual interests. And it is a mutual interest on the part of the United States, of France, of Germany, of the United Kingdom, of the European Union, of Russia and China, that Iran should not be able to acquire a nuclear weapon.
So look, we’re not entertaining at the moment, or at least not discussing publicly, other modalities, other alternatives because we still have a framework in the form of the JCPOA that would provide precisely what we would like to see, precisely what our partners and allies in the P5+1 would like to see, and what Iran was willing to agree to as recently as 2015, implementation in 2016, and certainly, the last government in Iran being willing to engage in good-faith, businesslike – indirect but businesslike – negotiations in Vienna. That’s what we would like to see happen to see if we can affect that mutual return to compliance.
QUESTION: Change in topic?
MR PRICE: Anything else on Iran?
QUESTION: I just – I have one more Iran question.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: But I also have another question on another topic. The – Namazi – I saw the tweet earlier this week.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Are you getting any indications that Iran is going to offer any kind of humanitarian gesture on that case?
MR PRICE: Well, this – these are cases that I will say a couple things about. These are cases that in the first instance we are prioritizing to the utmost degree. This is something we have done in parallel but independently of discussions regarding a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, precisely because we do not want or wish to tie – potentially tie the fates of detained Americans and other – and others to the fate of a proposition that has always been uncertain.
We want to see these Americans released. They have been held against their will for far too long. The fact that they have been held against their will unjustly – without basis, without cause, for this period, for any period – is an abomination. It is especially jarring in this case, in the case of Mr. Namazi given the serious medical condition that he has, his need to receive urgent medical care.
And so we are appealing and we have appealed to the Iranian Government to do what is right, to do what is just, to do what is humane in this and all cases, and to release Mr. Namazi and the other unjustly detained Americans in their custody. We have long made the point that using human beings, individuals, for political leverage has no place in foreign policy, it has no place in the international system. It does not afford any country, whether that is Iran or any other country, any additional leverage. And in fact, it just leads to international condemnation.
We have worked closely with a number of our allies and partners. We’ve recently spoken to this in the Canadian context. And in fact, our Canadian allies have launched an initiative to establish a norm to see to it that the practice of holding individuals for the purposes of political leverage is something that is cast aside, is something that no country resorts to. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do. We are working this in the case of Iran; we are working this in the case of all other countries where this occurs.
QUESTION: I have an Afghanistan question, but I can come back after.
MR PRICE: Sure. Okay, go ahead, please.
QUESTION: Thanks. Thank you. Good to see you. Welcome back.
MR PRICE: Yes, thank you.
QUESTION: So the Secretary is in Mexico tomorrow and he will be talking about security arrangements. The Mexicans say maybe that is dead, this agreement that has been sort of the bedrock of U.S.-Mexican security relations for more than a decade is dead. Do you agree that – do you, the State Department, the Biden administration agree that Merida is dead or at least has outlived its usefulness (a)? And (b) as you negotiate a new arrangement, what are the two or three elements that the U.S. really wants to see in any kind of future security arrangement with Mexico?
MR PRICE: Well, as you alluded to, the Secretary will be in Mexico tomorrow, on Friday, to take part in this High-Level Security Dialogue. He’ll be there with his counterparts from Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and the Homeland Security Secretary to discuss precisely this set of issues.
When it comes to Merida, look, this is an initiative that has been on the books for I think it is 13 years now. We believe we are due for an updated look at our bilateral security cooperation and that we need an approach that addresses the concerns and the priorities of both governments. And this will really be one of the core elements of the discussions tomorrow.
Our foreign assistance has supported deeper law enforcement assistance and coordination and information sharing between our countries, and it has helped strengthen ties between our security agencies and helped strengthen that security relationship more broadly. We also know that the Merida Initiative helped Mexico strengthen rule of law and counternarcotics capacity and has enabled Mexican law enforcement agencies international accreditation at the federal and state levels, resulting in increased transparency, professionalization of institutions, and respect for human rights. And our security cooperation has strengthened as threats from fentanyl and illicit finance has evolved.
So all of this will be on the table and more – tomorrow – will be on the table. The Merida Initiative has produced some significant gains. We want to see to it that those gains are preserved, that that cooperation is deepened, and that we have an updated approach that accounts for the threats of today and the threats that have evolved over the course of the, some, 15 years that Merida has been in place.
QUESTION: So you’re saying those gains, but in perhaps a new forum or a new agreement?
MR PRICE: We don’t have anything to announce yet in terms of what that might look like, what that might mean, but certainly we want to see to it that our mutually beneficial cooperation with Mexico continues on these important security matters. The High-Level Security Dialogue tomorrow will be the natural complement to the Economic Dialogue that took place with our Mexican partners a couple weeks ago now. You had an opportunity to hear from the Secretary yesterday just how productive those discussions were on the economic front. I know that the Secretary – I know that our counterparts from DHS and the Department of Justice – are similarly hoping and expecting for a constructive discussion on the security issues tomorrow in an effort to deepen that cooperation further.
QUESTION: Thank you. I wanted to add my voice to my colleagues in welcoming you and seeing you behind the podium there.
MR PRICE: Thanks very much.
QUESTION: A very quick couple of questions on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. The Israeli press reported yesterday that the Biden administration is – quietly and behind the scenes – is putting pressure on the Israeli Government to freeze settlements. You know there was a big, I guess, plan or a huge plan or a huge settlement – can you comment on this? Do you guys – what is your position on the settlements?
MR PRICE: Well, part of your question I will comment on; part of your question I won’t comment on. I’ll start with the latter. We don’t comment on private diplomatic conversations, private conversations that may be taking place, whether that’s between the Secretary and his counterpart and the President and his counterpart. But what we have said many times before is that we believe it is critical for all parties to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-step – two-state solution. That, of course, includes settlement activity.
QUESTION: No, Ned – I mean, you guys have always stuck to this line about anything that would prejudice a two-station solution outcome and so on. But in fact, you say unilateral steps. We’re talking about one side who is doing this, which is Israel. It is taking the land. It is throwing people out. It is making the two-state outcome almost impossible. So what is there left for the United States to do in order to pressure Israel to end these activities that actually render the two-state solution almost impossible to attain?
MR PRICE: Said, the two-state solution is something we discuss with our Israeli partners at just about every opportunity. It continues to be the guiding principle for our approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it continues to be the guiding principle, the guiding framework, for a simple reason: The two-state solution is the best means by which to protect Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state while affording to the Palestinian people what they have long sought, and that includes self-determination, dignity, safety, security, prosperity in a state of their own. And so that is why we’ve remained focused on this.
Look, we don’t always – in fact we never read out our private diplomatic conversations, the back and forth we have, whether that’s with our Israeli partners or any partner around the world. But suffice to say we have made our position very clear, and when it comes to unilateral action like settlement activity, we have also made that very clear. And in fact, I just reiterated where the United States stands on settlement activity. There should be no question about that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on the settler violence. It is – I know you guys addressed that last week, but this has increased. I mean, the settlers are not deterred. The Israeli Government is not doing – Israeli forces are not doing anything. They just watch as they attack. Today they attacked a seven-year-old girl. I mean, it’s happening every single day. They’re throwing people out and so on. Why can’t you take a stronger stand on settler violence?
MR PRICE: Said, I think we have taken a strong stand on settler violence, and you saw our statement the other day. We made very clear in that statement that the United States Government – that this administration strongly condemns the acts of settler violence that took place against Palestinians in villages near Hebron and the West Bank on September 28th. We appreciate Foreign Minister Lapid and other Israeli officials’ strong and unequivocal condemnations – condemnation of this violence.
And again, look, we believe it is critical for all parties to refrain from those unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and, again, undercut efforts to achieve a negotiated two-state solution. That includes, as I was saying before in a different context, annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions and evictions, incitement to violence, and providing compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism. We have been very clear on all of those things, just as we were on the settler violence you referenced within recent days.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Senator Blumenthal says that two charter flights have left Mazar-e-Sharif and made it to Doha with 800 Americans and Afghan allies. I wonder, one, what role the State Department played in any of that, and two, how many Americans do you think are still in need of evacuation.
MR PRICE: Well, let me start with that second question first. This is a figure that continues to be dynamic, and it continues to be dynamic because it’s a number that goes down with each flight, with each overland transfer, with each departure of a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident from Afghanistan for those who wish to do so. It also goes up because – especially in recent weeks because we have been quite successful with our efforts to facilitate the departure of Americans and lawful permanent residents and others who wish to depart Afghanistan. You’ve seen that in the context of the flights that have departed from Kabul International Airport; you referenced some of the private charter flights as well. I made a reference to overland transfers additionally.
Since August 31st, we have assisted 105 U.S. citizens and 95 lawful permanent residents to depart. An additional number of U.S. citizens and LPRs have departed on charters or have independently – on their own – crossed a land border. Those figures that I cited – 105 citizens and 95 lawful permanent residents – those are individuals that the United States Government directly facilitated, whose departure they directly – we directly facilitated, I should say. When it comes to the issue of charters, we are not in a position to confirm private charters that depart Kabul and – that depart Kabul or Mazar-e-Sharif, as the case might be, because of operational security considerations, because of our desire not to, in any way, impede such operations.
But let me make a couple broad points. When it comes to private efforts to facilitate the departure of Americans, of lawful permanent residents, and others from Afghanistan, there are a really two elements to relocating these groups of people: One, there is arranging the departure and safe passage out of Afghanistan, but there is also the issue of where these individuals can go temporarily as well as eventually to resettle permanently. And when it comes to the Department of State, we have been working very closely with the Department of Defense and other interagency partners, as well as with many of these outside groups and entities, to evaluate requests for assistance on a case-by-case basis to support these privately organized flights.
This support takes any number of forms, but it does involve evaluating the passenger manifests provided to us by the private groups or – by the private group or groups, as the case might be, organizing these flights to see which proposed passengers, if any, may be potentially eligible for permanent resettlement in the United States through some affiliation with the U.S. Government. Now, in many cases – and you have heard this from many of these private groups – we have provided that direct and effective assistance. Again, we don’t confirm on a case-by-case basis, but many of the groups have spoken to our assistance and support.
That is not to say that these private charters are not without challenge, and we have also spoken of the challenges that these present. We’ve made the point that without personnel on the ground in Mazar-e-Sharif, in this case, it is – we are unable to ensure the fidelity of intended manifests, and there is no ability on the part of the U.S. Government directly to determine whether the passengers aboard the plane would be eligible for relocation or for resettlement in the United States.
Now, there have been several instances in which private entities have chartered aircraft to transport individuals out of Afghanistan where identity checks on arrival at transit destinations have revealed that many of the passengers were not, in fact, eligible for relocation to the United States and, in some cases, that despite our best vetting and vetting to the best of our ability, the manifests were not accurate.
And when this happens, it does put these individuals in a very difficult spot. It puts them at risk with no plan for relocation to the United States. It has the potential – we are cognizant of the fact that it has the potential to damage the bilateral relationship when it involves landing in a third country, as it does in these cases. And it makes it more difficult for the U.S. Government to rely on partner countries to assist in future relocations out of Afghanistan.
So that is why we go to great and I would say extraordinary efforts on the front end, working with groups or individual groups, to do all we can to vet manifests on the front end, to provide each and every form of assistance we can, to see to it that where there are manifests where we feel we have a good sense of the fidelity of that manifest and that manifest provides us with an ability to relocate, to move many of these people through the system and ultimately to relocate them to the United States, we have been in a position to provide that assistance on any number of occasions. But again, we just don’t speak about individual flights for that reason.
So sticking with Afghanistan?
QUESTION: Mexico? Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: Afghanistan. We’ll come back to Mexico.
QUESTION: Could you answer the question —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — on how many Americans do you think are left since you’ve taken a hundred out and you were telling us about a hundred were there, but that number changes? And then, if you are facilitating to the extent that you just talked about, trying to validate these passenger manifests, and you’ve said before you’re working on landing rights for some of these flights – at least you were – you have to have some idea of the number of people who’ve gotten out on charter flights. Can you give us guidance on either of those things?
MR PRICE: Well, we are, again, striving to provide data that is both timely and that is accurate, and the data that is most accurate is that data that entails operations that the United States Government ourselves have facilitated. And so that’s why we have until now spoken to the 105 U.S. citizens and 95 LPRs that we have directly – whose departure from Afghanistan we have directly facilitated.
We are aware of other U.S. citizens and LPRs who have been aboard private charter flights. We have a sense of that from the manifests. But again, where these operations are not ones that we are directly facilitating, in the first instance we have usually less fidelity there, and so we are reticent to provide precise figures there, although in the case of many of these private charters I know groups have provided their own numbers to give you some sense of roughly what this universe may look like.
When it comes to the number of Americans who remain in Afghanistan, this is a figure, again, that is dynamic. We said as of a couple weeks ago the figure was around a hundred Americans in Afghanistan who wished to depart at that time. This – of course, since then, several dozen Americans have departed Afghanistan with our assistance or via other means. But we’re also aware that, again, as we have demonstrated our ability to affect the departure from Afghanistan of Americans who wish to leave, others have raised their hands. And so this is a number that is changing by the day and it is a number that is by no means static. So —
QUESTION: Blumenthal says dozens are in contact with his office. So is it dozens? Is that —
MR PRICE: We are certainly in contact with dozens of Americans in Afghanistan who wish to leave, but it is difficult for us to put a firm figure on it, just because people are departing, and as Americans in Afghanistan who previously may not have made themselves known to us or previously may have told us “I am content to stay here” or “I am going to stay here” for various reasons, as they see our ability to facilitate the departure of Americans and LPRs, they are raising their hands for the first time or changing their calculus after seeing that.
MR PRICE: Conor. Sure.
QUESTION: The number that you provided of 105 U.S. citizens and 95 LPRs, that’s the same number from about a week and a half ago.
MR PRICE: That’s right.
QUESTION: Why haven’t any – has there been difficulty getting in touch with people? Why haven’t you been able to facilitate more Americans getting out?
MR PRICE: It’s a combination of a number of things. There are – there is a universe of Americans who wish to leave. There is a smaller universe of Americans who are fully prepared to leave in various ways, whether that means they or their family members have travel documents, are ready to leave at this moment. That’s a smaller universe than the universe of Americans that we’re in touch with that have expressed some desire to leave. We work closely with our partners on – when it comes to flights, and when it comes to flights departing Kabul International Airport. We have continued to work very closely with our Qatari partners on this as well. As you know, they have been able to facilitate the departure of dozens of Americans and LPRs on charters aboard their aircraft. We have also been able to do this via overland routes. We are continuing to work with partners and to communicate with Americans on the ground on – regarding future opportunities to depart Afghanistan should they choose to do so.
QUESTION: When we were given that number – I think it was a senior State Department official who said that there were about 100 U.S. citizens and LPRs in Kabul ready to go that you guys were working with. Did that group get out?
MR PRICE: So I believe what you’re referring to was just a few days ago when that senior State Department official made that statement. We have – there have not, to my knowledge, been any USG-facilitated flights departing Kabul International Airport since then, but this is something that we are always in the background working to arrange with our Qatari partners, working closely with our Turkish partners on the ground as well when it comes to KIA operations. And then we’re in constant and regular touch with Americans regarding other avenues to depart the country if they should choose to do so, including overland.
QUESTION: Were the Turkish involved in it?
QUESTION: There’s apparently – can you provide any update on the number of Afghans who were evacuated and then have been sort of red-flagged and had to be moved elsewhere? How large is that group of people and what your plans are to do with them.
MR PRICE: So I cannot – the Department of Homeland Security may be in a better position to provide you specific figures. What I can say is that the processing, the security vetting that you’re referring to is a process that entails reviews by the Department of Homeland Security, by law enforcement, by our Intelligence Community. In many cases, these reviews are able to be conducted expeditiously and result in an all-clear in a relatively short period of time. There have been cases where we have been unable to secure an expeditious resolution of a particular case. In such instances, additional checking does tend to verify that the person is who she or he says they are, and that person is able to continue on with their journey. So sometimes it does take a bit longer, but the continuous checks and vetting – in nearly all cases that I’m aware of – has resulted in resolution and the ability of individuals to continue their travel in relatively short order.
Yes, please, hello.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you something about India, about Deputy Secretary Sherman’s visit to India. What are the key points of her travel, visit there? What were the main issues of discussions during her meetings in Delhi?
MR PRICE: Well, the Deputy Secretary, as you said, has been in India over the past couple days. I – she is – has just concluded her visit and she will be moving on to Pakistan from there. She has had an opportunity to go engage substantively and constructively with some of our key interlocutors. She had a meeting with the Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla. They discussed, as we often do with our Indian partners, growing security, economic, and Indo-Pacific convergence between India and the United States, including around topics that are of mutual interest to both of our countries: ending the COVID-19 pandemic, combating the climate crisis, and accelerating clean energy deployment, deepening trade and investment ties, and expanding cooperation on cybersecurity and emerging technology.
We, of course, have worked closely with India over the course of many months now, after an announcement that emerged from the first virtual Quad Leaders’ Summit, about India’s role as a key COVID vaccine manufacturer for the region. And so this is one of the many areas where we have enjoyed a deep and collaborative relationship with India. In the course of that meeting, they also discussed pressing regional and global security challenges. That includes those posed by events in Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, the People’s Republic of China. They also discussed ongoing efforts to return Myanmar to a path to democracy.
The deputy also had an opportunity to meet with Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr. Jaishankar. They discussed some of these same issues. But overall, this was an opportunity for the United States to deepen our strategic partnership with India, a partnership that affords opportunities for both countries and a partnership that is incredibly important to us as we seek to underscore and to underline a free and open Indo-Pacific. And India to us, as member of the Quad, as an important geopolitical partner, is an instrumental element to that overarching goal.
QUESTION: One quick one. Were they able to decide on the dates for the 2+2 next month here in D.C.?
MR PRICE: I don’t have anything to announce in terms of a future meeting.
QUESTION: Do you have any better understanding of China’s intentions regarding Taiwan after Jake Sullivan’s meetings? And anything else about the fact that this will only be a virtual meeting between the two leaders rather than an in-person meeting? And —
MR PRICE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: It’s okay.
MR PRICE: So when it comes to Taiwan, let me take that first. And you’ve heard from the State Department – you’ve heard from the White House on this in recent days. But we are very concerned by the PRC’s provocative military actions near Taiwan. As we said, this activity is destabilizing, it risks miscalculations, it undermines regional peace and stability. And so we strongly urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan.
We’ve said this many times before, but our commitment to Taiwan is rock solid. And it contributes, we believe, to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the broader region as well. And so we’ll continue to stand with our friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values, and we’ll continue to deepen our ties with a democratic Taiwan.
The other point I would make is one of the elements that I think distinguishes our approach, not only to the PRC but also our approach to Taiwan, is that it is not something that we are speaking to ourselves. And you have seen over the course of many months now that we have been able to raise the priority of this issue on the agenda. It featured in the joint statement with Prime Minister Suga in April of 2021, when he visited the White House. It similarly featured in the joint statement after President Moon’s visit in May of this year. The G7 communique in June of this year made a reference to the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. And the more recent AUSMIN statement from last month, September of this year, says that Taiwan holds an important role in the Indo-Pacific region, and we invite – we invite you to join us in maintaining and expanding strong ties with Taiwan.
So this is something that, consistent with our broader approach to the Indo-Pacific, consistent with our broader approach to the PRC, we have worked concertedly with allies, with partners in Europe, in the Indo-Pacific, around the world, to make very clear not only where the United States stands, but also where we stand together with our allies and partners.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the so-called virtual summit?
MR PRICE: In terms of the virtual summit, I know that the White House made clear yesterday that President Biden and President Xi would have an opportunity to convene virtually before the end of the year, but I don’t have any additional details beyond that.
QUESTION: First on Libya, the U.S. has been pushing the Libyans to hold the elections on December 24th, but yesterday the parliament has postponed Libya’s legislative elections until January instead of being held on December 24th as planned. Are you aware of that? Do you have any comment? And how will you deal with this?
MR PRICE: We are aware of that. Our goal when it comes to Libya is a sovereign, stable, unified, and secure Libya with no foreign interference and a democratically elected government that supports human rights and development and that is capable of combating terrorism within our borders. And so that’s why we have increased our diplomatic focus on supporting that progress in Libya, including through the work of our Special Envoy Richard Norland.
Now, we know that elections – free and fair elections – are a core part of that. There is an urgent need for Libyan leaders to come up with creative compromises on an electoral framework. As we underscored in Berlin in the conference that Foreign Minister Maas convened in June and the UN Security Council session on Libya the following month in July, the international community expects national elections to take place in the roadmap adopted by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, and we welcomed that in UN Security Council Resolution 2570 in April.
So the conduct of free and fair elections, holding of free and fair elections, is extraordinarily important to us. It is something that we will continue to work with our partners in the international community to continue to support as we work to help the Libyan people achieve their broader aspirations.
QUESTION: Ned, do you prefer both elections, presidential and parliamentary elections, to be held on the same day instead of being held one in December and the second in January?
MR PRICE: I don’t know if we have a position on that. If we do, we’ll get back to you.
QUESTION: And one more, Ned, or two more. One on Egypt: A delegation of Egyptian parliamentarians and politicians is visiting Washington this week to discuss human rights in Egypt. Did any official in this building meet with the delegation?
MR PRICE: Yes, I can confirm that our Acting Assistant Secretary for our Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert did meet with members of the dialogue – of the dialogue international task force visiting today from Egypt. We welcome this visit and the opportunity to discuss our ongoing concerns about human rights in Egypt. The delegation included two individuals nominated by Egypt’s parliament to the National Council for Human Rights. That’s Chairman Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat and board member and Ambassador Moushira Khattab.
We have, as we’ve made very clear, concerns related to human rights in Egypt, and we’ve relayed those concerns directly to Egyptian authorities on any number of occasions. Such meetings can provide productive ways to engage on these concerns and show the United States can support – show United States support for Egypt in achieving the objectives set out in its own national human rights strategy which it launched last month.
QUESTION: And last on Iran, Iran-Lebanon: A third tanker containing a shipment of Iranian oil destined for Lebanon docked in Syria’s Baniyas port on Wednesday, and they are on their way to Lebanon. Are you aware of that too, and what’s your reaction?
MR PRICE: We are aware of that, and what we would say is that, broadly speaking, fuel from a country subject to extensive sanctions like Iran is not very clearly a sustainable solution to Lebanon’s energy crisis. We support efforts to find transparent and sustainable energy solutions that will address Lebanon’s acute energy and fuel shortages. This is, in our minds, Hizballah playing a public relations game, not engaged in constructive problem solving.
QUESTION: And what about the sanctions on Iran?
MR PRICE: Again, there is no change in terms of our approach to these sanctions. We do not foresee that until and unless we are able to achieve a mutual return to compliance, as we are eagerly seeking to do.
We’ll move around. I haven’t – please.
QUESTION: Thanks. I have a question about China. There’s been a lot of focus on the tone of the meeting yesterday, especially compared to the one in March in Alaska. And people kind of thinking about what that might mean for the U.S.-China relationship and where it’s going. So I was hoping you could clarify just kind of a fundamental question about where things stand right now, which is: Has anything at all changed in the U.S.-China relationship and where it’s going between that first meeting in March and right now?
MR PRICE: Well, look, I think there is a mistaken assumption out there that our relationship with the PRC is binary, that either we’re in a period of engagement with the PRC or we’re in a period of confrontation with the PRC. That is fundamentally just not how it works, at least it’s not how it works today.
Our relationship with Beijing is one that is dynamic; it is one that is multifaceted; it is one that at its core is defined by stiff competition. And the point of this engagement is to see to it that through dialogue, including at high levels, as took place yesterday between the National Security Adviser and Director Yang – to see to it that we can manage this competition responsibly. That is the dynamic that is with us now; it’s what we expect the dynamic to be going forward.
There are – when it comes to our relationship with the PRC, there are areas of competition. And again, most of our engagement with the PRC is predicated on this idea of competition, and in many cases stiff competition. It is a relationship that, in some ways, is adversarial. And our goal, of course, is to minimize these points of friction in the relationship, and part of that is engaging constructively in dialogue with our partners, with the PRC.
And there are also areas where there is room for cooperation, and we’ve spoken to some of those areas for cooperation and potential areas for cooperation: working together on climate change, committing to it that we work together, that we work constructively to address the existential challenge of climate change, the existential threat of climate change that poses that very threat not only to the United States but also to the PRC. And it’s especially important that we do so when you have the world’s largest emitter and the world’s second largest emitter coming to the table and taking responsible action and demonstrating leadership, raising that level of ambition, not only for the sake of our own two countries, but also to galvanize action on the part of countries the world over.
So we will – and you heard from the White House yesterday there will be an opportunity for the President to engage directly with President Xi in the coming months. This is very much part of that belief that in order to manage the relationship, in order to establish and reinforce those guardrails on the relationship there needs to be dialogue. It doesn’t fundamentally shift the nature of the relationship. It is a relationship that is complex; it is a relationship that is dynamic; it’s a relationship that’s multifaceted. And when it comes to the PRC or any other challenge that we face, we can do multiple things at once.
QUESTION: On Mexico, could you share a bit more what the U.S. hopes to see come out of the security dialogue tomorrow? Will the U.S. raise Haitian migrants moving to the U.S. border through Mexico, and what will that message be, if so? And should we expect any sort of announcement on the Merida Initiative?
MR PRICE: I don’t want to get too far ahead of tomorrow because tomorrow is another day, but also because we are doing a call to preview this engagement this afternoon. I will just say that this dialogue comes at an opportune moment, and it’s opportune because the threats of the 21st century are complex, they are dynamic. They are also threats that we need to confront together. These are threats that are transnational. These are threats that, by definition, know no borders. And so that is why this dialogue, the highest-level dialogue to date in this administration of this sort, will build on previous discussions that we’ve had with our Mexican partners, in terms of how to protect our people, how to prevent transborder crime, how to best pursue criminal networks, while also promoting human rights and the rule of law.
So we’ll have much more to say on this today and, of course, the Secretary and his counterparts will have more to say tomorrow.
QUESTION: Completely separate issue, Western Sahara.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: The Secretary put a statement yesterday welcoming Staffan de Mistura’s appointment as the UN special representative on Western Sahara. Could you go into what you’re expecting from this in terms of his discussions, the U.S. position that Western Sahara is under Moroccan sovereignty? Is that a position that is up for review? Is that something you’re willing to discuss? What do you see —
MR PRICE: Well, as you heard from the Secretary yesterday, we strongly support Personal Envoy de Mistura’s leadership in resuming the UN-led political process to advance a durable and dignified solution to the conflict in Western Sahara. We will actively support his efforts to promote a peaceful and prosperous future for the people of Western Sahara and the broader region. We remain engaged with all sides in support of that effort and will support a credible, UN-led, political process to stabilize the situation and secure a cessation of any hostilities. We are consulting with the parties about how best to achieve that lasting settlement. We don’t have anything further to announce at this time. As I’ve said, we are consulting with the parties about how best to achieve that lasting settlement.
QUESTION: So the U.S. still considers Western Sahara to be under Moroccan – to be legitimately part of Morocco?
MR PRICE: We don’t have anything to announce beyond what we’ve said.
QUESTION: So I have a question on China and North Korea, and I seriously think we should talk more about Indo-Pacific if the United States is serious – seriously think the Indo-Pacific is important. So anyway – so regarding China, President Biden said that he and President Xi will abide by a Taiwan agreement. Of course, he meant the agreement about Taiwan, but it just caused some confusion and anxiety in Taiwan, so can you just clarify what he meant with that Taiwan agreement?
And my second question is about North Korea. And so the World Health Organization has started shipment of COVID medical supply to North Korea, and I remember like three weeks ago the U.S. special envoy, Ambassador Sung Kim, he said that he was prepared to closely work with North Korea to address humanitarian concerns. And so do you – can you share any progress on that, like, front?
MR PRICE: Sure, I’ll take those in turn. First, on Taiwan, the President, the State Department, we have been clear and consistent that our policy for some four decades now has – that is to say, our “One China” policy – has been guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, by the three joint communiques, and the six assurances provided to Taipei. Those documents form the basis of our approach to Taiwan and to cross-strait relations.
When it comes to North Korea, look, we’ve made this point the world over: Even when we disagree with a particular regime, we believe that we must work to the best of our ability to do all we can to alleviate the suffering of the people. And so we continue to support international efforts aimed at the provision of critical humanitarian aid to the DPRK. It’s important to emphasize, at the same time, that the DPRK regime itself is primarily responsible for the humanitarian situation in the country. The regime continues to exploit its own citizens, to violate their human rights, to divert resources from the country’s people to build up its unlawful WMD and ballistic missiles program.
But we do support efforts to alleviate the suffering of the North Korean people. We are involved in efforts to facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid to the neediest in North Korea. This is most evident, I would say, in our ongoing work to expedite approval – approvals in the UN 1718 Committee for organizations from around the world to deliver lifesaving aid to the DPRK.
QUESTION: So I have one follow-up question on that. So yesterday the UN special representative for human rights in North Korea, he said that – basically he called on – that the UN sanctions against North Korea should be reviewed and eased to facilitate humanitarian assistance. So – and so can you just clarify how the United States view the relations between the UN sanctions against North Korea and the humanitarian aid?
MR PRICE: Well, I believe he was referring to the UN sanctions regime, not the U.S. sanctions regime. Look, we have made very clear that our policy calls for a calibrated, practical approach that seeks serious and sustained diplomacy with the DPRK to make tangible progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies, and our deployed forces. Our goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and to that end we remain prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions – anytime, anywhere. We have made specific proposals for discussions with the DPRK in our messages to them, and we hope that they respond positively to our outreach.
Again, we support efforts to alleviate the humanitarian suffering of the North Korean people, cognizant that, again, it is far too often the regime that is the cause of that suffering. We also know that our – whether it’s our own sanctions regime, whether it’s the UN sanctions regime, there are certainly carveouts in these regimes to ensure that in the first instance we are not doing anything that would compound the suffering, the deprivation of the North Korean people.
Thank you all very much. We’ll see you next week.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:11 p.m.)
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