2:32 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Good to see everyone.
QUESTION: Welcome back.
MR PRICE: Thank you. It’s good to be back. I appreciate you welcoming me back after you’ve had the pleasure and luxury of hearing from Vedant for the past couple briefings. I do have one thing at the top, and then we’ll turn to your question.
Today the Secretary’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion is proud to announce the public release of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Strategic Plan. This strategic plan is part of the administration’s interagency effort aligned with President Biden’s Executive Order 14035 to promote DEIA in the federal workforce.
As Secretary Blinken has often said, bringing diversity of expertise and lived experience to the policymaking table is not just a nice to have; it is a national security imperative. This strategic plan is essential to building an equitable meritocracy where all employees can realize their full potential. Doing the work to implement milestones laid out in this plan will translate into a stronger, smarter, and more effective foreign policy, and we’ll have more to say on all of that in the weeks and months ahead.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you. Ned, it’s been a while. I’ll just start out – I have just three really brief ones, and then I’ll —
MR PRICE: Matt, your brief questions often turn out not – not to be brief.
QUESTION: They will be – will be really brief.
MR PRICE: But I will take your word for it.
QUESTION: So it’s been a while since I’ve asked you about this, but I just want your – so have we all forgotten about now – is the whole investigation into the swastika thing? Is that just done and no one has been found to be responsible for? Is that —
MR PRICE: Matt, this was an investigation that the Secretary directed as soon as this was brought to attention shortly after the swastika was discovered.
QUESTION: Right, I know. But is it over and done with?
MR PRICE: It’s never over. Of course we’re not closing the book on this. We are going to continue to do everything we can not only to identify who may have been responsible in this case, but perhaps just as importantly to do everything we can to put in place protections to see to it that something like this doesn’t happen again.
QUESTION: The reason that I bring it up is because you started with the diversity, inclusion, and —
MR PRICE: Understood.
QUESTION: — and it just jogged my memory about this.
MR PRICE: I understand.
QUESTION: But am I correct in thinking that no one has been found – no one has been —
MR PRICE: We have not released any public information about holding an individual accountable, but I can tell you this is an utmost priority.
QUESTION: All right.
MR PRICE: When this atrocious symbol was found, our Bureau of Diplomatic Security immediately set out on this path.
QUESTION: And then speaking of accountability, have you now closed the book on Israel’s investigation into the death of Shireen Abu Akleh? And have you – are you satisfied with the accountability or – well, quote/unquote accountability that Israel has come up with, which is what you demanded of them?
MR PRICE: Well, Vedant talked about this last week – or the week before – when the Israelis released their final report.
MR PRICE: We welcome the comprehensive review of the tragic events that led to the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. The Israeli investigation came to a similar conclusion as did the report produced by the U.S. security coordinator, finding a high likelihood that Ms. Abu Akleh was killed by a bullet that emanated from the IDF position.
We have always said as well it is important that countries around the world, including Israel, do everything they can to protect civilian life. And of course, reporters, journalists are civilians; they should never be targeted. The Israeli report similar to the USSC report found no indication of intentionality, and we’ve continued to discuss with Israel the importance of accountability, to see to it that policies and practices are put in place —
QUESTION: Since Vedant was asked about this two weeks ago or whatever – 10 days ago – I was one of the people who was asking him about it.
MR PRICE: I saw.
QUESTION: Has there been any – are you satisfied with the level of accountability that you’ve seen?
MR PRICE: We’re continuing to discuss this with our Israeli partners.
QUESTION: All right. And then lastly, also having to do with Israel, the NGO closures – you had said at the time when it happened that the Israelis were going to be presenting you with some additional evidence to back up – to demonstrate their case against these. Did you ever get that? Because you hadn’t the last time I asked about it.
MR PRICE: Our Israeli partners have in recent days provided us with additional information. They provided this information not only to the department but also to a range of our interagency partners. We are continuing to review this and that process is ongoing.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you be just a little bit more specific about recent days?
MR PRICE: Last week.
QUESTION: Okay. So it was not the day that you had thought or hoped. It was just last week?
MR PRICE: No, I – when I first mentioned this —
QUESTION: No, no, I understand.
MR PRICE: — I didn’t offer a day. I conveyed to you what the Israelis had conveyed to us, was that they would be forthcoming with additional information. They have provided additional information.
QUESTION: And you haven’t made any kind of judgment or —
MR PRICE: We’re continuing to review it.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thanks.
QUESTION: Ned, can I follow up?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: A little bit on Matt’s questioning.
MR PRICE: Of course.
QUESTION: Now, I know that Vedant tried to explain the meaning of accountability, but to be quite honest, I didn’t understand it. I don’t think anyone does – I mean, looking at social media, nobody seems to have endorsed your position on accountability in this particular case. In this particular case, what is accountability? How – what is the definition?
MR PRICE: So a couple facts are relevant here, Said; one of them is the fact that not only the U.S. security coordinator but in this case the Palestinian Authority and the IDF conducted its own thorough, comprehensive review into the tragic killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. Of course, coming to a conclusion as the IDF did, the USSC did with high probability in both cases – that, of course, is part of it. We, in order to understand what happened, need a comprehensive accounting of the circumstances and the events that lead to her tragic killing. The IDF report is part of that.
The other relevant fact here is what both the USSC report found and what the IDF found, and that was no indication of intentionality on the part of the IDF. So we’ve always been very clear that we’re not looking for criminal accountability, as it were, because both from the USSC findings and Israel’s own findings, this was not an intentional, targeted killing. This was the tragic result of a gunfight in the context of an Israeli raid in the West Bank.
So when we talk about accountability in this context, we have always put an emphasis on the importance of policies and procedures to do everything we can and to do everything that our partners can, in this case, to see to it that something like this can’t happen again. This is not unique to Israel. This is something we place a great emphasis on in our own country. Our Department of Defense recently released some updated information about the lengths to which they go to mitigate and prevent, to the extent possible, the eventuality of civilian harm or civilian deaths. This is what governments – what we encourage of governments around the world. This is what we do here in our own government. So we are continuing to have conversations with our Israeli partners about the imperative, the importance of protecting civilian life, including, of course, the life of reporters and journalists.
QUESTION: Yeah, just quick follow-ups on this. I mean, accountability for the layman means that if somebody does something wrong, then they have to pay a price. I mean, that’s what accountability is.
MR PRICE: Well —
QUESTION: But I am no legal expert. I’m sure that you guys have legal foundations for your definitions.
MR PRICE: Well, again, Said, it is a relevant fact that both the IDF and the USSC, which took the findings of the Palestinian Authority’s investigation as well as what were then the preliminary findings of the IDF, and found no indication of intentionality. So there was no basis for that sort of criminal accountability, if you will. When we talk about accountability in this case, we want to see everything – steps put in place to see to it that the possibility that something like this could happen again is profoundly mitigated.
QUESTION: Okay. The Israelis arrested another Palestinian journalist, Lama Ghosheh. They have not levied any charges against her and so on, and they extended her administration detention. She’s done nothing. She’s reported on Sheikh Jarrah and so on. I wonder if you’re aware of this.
MR PRICE: We’re aware of the reports of the detention of Lama Ghosheh. We continue to support press freedoms and the protections of all journalists in carrying out their indispensable work around the world. That includes in Israel, that includes in Gaza, that includes in the West Bank.
QUESTION: Shouldn’t the Israelis either charge her with something or let her go? I mean, that’s what you would do here, right?
MR PRICE: Again, Said, we are – we’re familiar with this case. We in all contexts and in all countries have defended and championed the rights of journalists to carry out their legitimate and indispensable function.
QUESTION: I appreciate your indulgence. Just a couple more – and my colleagues, of course. I wanted to ask you on what Ambassador Nides said about Gaza the other day. I mean, he made it sound like Israel – there was no cost for that war. I mean, 49 Palestinians were killed and a lot of destruction has happened. Were his statements appropriate?
MR PRICE: In all of our statements, including in Ambassador Nides’s statements, we have expressed sincere condolences to all of those civilians who lost their lives, whether it was in the recent conflict in Gaza, whether it was in last year’s, where we saw many more Palestinian and Israelis killed in the crossfire, in the indiscriminate attacks that were emanating from Gaza, in Israel’s operations to target those positions. Of course, we offer condolences to all civilians who have been killed or injured in this conflict. It’s why we welcomed the agreement that brought an end to the brief flare-up in violence this summer. It’s why we welcomed an end to the hostilities last June after 11 days.
In both cases, we worked with not only the parties but our partners in the region to bring about a ceasefire, and in the aftermath of those ceasefires last year and again this year, to see to it that they are durable, not only for the sake of the agreement but also because they protect civilian life. They allow humanitarian aid to go in and they bring the promise of a better future for Israelis and, importantly, for Palestinians. Too often, Palestinians and for too long Palestinians in Gaza have been deprived of the possibility of opportunity, and it’s our goal to see to it that people in Gaza, their neighbors in Israel know that we place an emphasis on equality of prosperity, security, opportunity, and dignity for Palestinians and Israelis alike.
QUESTION: And lastly, today marks the 29th anniversary of the Oslo agreement, the Oslo Accords. Do you think that it has outlived its purpose? I mean, it has not brought two-state solution. It has not brought all the stuff that was promised in the agreement. All the – lots of stuff that was sponsored by the United States and spent a lot of time, money, and effort of the United States to make those goals meet their intended end, but they never did. So you think the time has come for all parties to drop the façade of the Oslo Accords and maybe go on and do something else?
MR PRICE: The Oslo Accords were an historic agreement. You are right that we haven’t achieved a negotiated two-state solution between the parties, but the Oslo Accords set out the framework under which Israelis and Palestinians have lived side by side for nearly three decades. It demonstrated, in a very visceral and real way, the possibility for peace – and Israeli leader shaking hands with a Palestinian leader, brokered by an American president, something that just a few years earlier might have been inconceivable.
It is precisely why we have continued to place an emphasis on the importance of normalization agreements in the region to bring and to build bridges between Israel and its neighbors in ways that, again, just a few years ago might have been inconceivable.
So the promise of Oslo is not yet fulfilled, but we are continuing to work with our partners – Israelis, Palestinians, partners in the region – to do all we can to support an eventual two-state solution to this protracted conflict.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on the Israel stuff, just to double-check, you guys have called for a review of rules of engagement in the occupied West Bank, and I believe Israelis have publicly rebuffed that, maybe not addressing U.S. Have you received any different response from them, signaling that they might look into this?
MR PRICE: So a couple things. One, I’m going to leave our communication with the IDF and with our Israeli partners to diplomatic channels. We’re just not going to detail the specifics of that engagement. Two, we have noted and underscored the imperative of accountability and the importance of accountability, but we haven’t been prescriptive. No one knows the IDF’s processes and procedures better than the IDF. And so it is not on us or any other country or entity to say precisely what the IDF or any military or security organization around the world should do.
It is incumbent on us to continue to underscore the importance that we place on mitigating civilian harm and taking steps, including policies and procedures, revised policies and procedures, that would mitigate the possibility of civilian harm. So these are conversations that we continue to have.
QUESTION: Israel says it’s – often that the West Bank security sweeps are necessary due to the absence of PA enforcement, Palestinian Authority. And then PA says it’s – it has been discredited and weakened by Israel. Which sequencing does the United States agree with?
MR PRICE: Look, I’m not going to get into the sequencing, but it is undeniably true that Israel faces a profound threat. It is a threat that emanates not only from Hamas in Gaza, but it is a threat that emanates from terrorist groups but also lone actors, including lone actors who have recently committed horrific acts of terrorism and violence, actors who emanated from the West Bank. So there is no denying the security threat that Israel faces.
There is also no denying the fact that relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have waxed and waned over the years. And when those relations are at a nadir, we do often find that the Palestinian Authority is less positioned to take on the security threats in places like the West Bank. And so we have placed an emphasis on doing what we can to be a constructive voice and to be a constructive actor to bring Israelis and Palestinians together, to work closely with our Israeli partners, to provide them precisely what they need for their defense, but also to work with our Palestinian counterparts and the Palestinian people to provide humanitarian support, to re-establish a relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, a relationship that was largely ruptured as of 18 months ago when we came into office.
We sincerely believe that through that work, through that relationship-building and capacity-building with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, that we can give and we can help offer a greater degree of opportunity to the people of Gaza, to the people of the West Bank, that will, over time, help to bend and break the cycle of violence. Of course, that hasn’t happened yet. It’s a long-term proposition. It will likely be a proposition that future administrations will have to contend with as well.
QUESTION: And do you see a possible escalation in the violence? And if so, what might it look like – another intifada, or more isolated attacks by armed Palestinian groups? You also said that PA would be less positioned–I mean, does that mean that you guys worry about its potential collapse?
MR PRICE: We are working every day to de-escalate tensions together with our Israeli partners, our Palestinian partners, and with partners in the region – countries like Egypt, countries like Qatar, other regional partners that have relationships, whether it’s with the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian people, or the Israeli Government. So our constant goal is to see to it that tensions remain at a low, to do everything we can to de-escalate before we see signs of conflict and signs of violence once again creep up.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. A different region – Armenia, Azerbaijan. I’ve seen the readouts —
MR PRICE: Anything else in the Middle East before we move on? Let me just finish up here.
QUESTION: Okay, sure.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Could we go to Egypt?
MR PRICE: Sure.
MR PRICE: So these are conversations that we are having internally, that we will have with our congressional partners, our congressional overseers. Of course, we made clear last year our concerns on some accounts. We have continued to have a discussion with our Egyptian partners over the course of the last year, making abundantly clear that an improvement in – when it comes to human rights, when it comes to civil liberties, when it comes to specific cases, would ultimately lead to a stronger and more durable bilateral relationship between the United States and Egypt.
There is no question that Egypt is an indispensable partner. I’ve already said once the important role Egypt plays in the region, not only as a guarantor of the 1979 Camp David Accords but also serving as an important broker between Israelis and Palestinians, maintaining relationships with the Palestinian people that often work to our advantage when we are in times of enhanced tensions. So we’ll continue to work closely with our Egyptian partners, but we’ll also continue to have regular conversations with them about the importance of human rights.
QUESTION: Ned, just to follow up on that, does the State Department still contend, as it did last year, that 130 million is the maximum amount of Egypt’s military assistance that you can withhold? And if so, can you explain that legal rationale?
MR PRICE: Again, we’ll have more to say on this as we have discussions here within the building and with Congress. I don’t want to get ahead of where we are in that, so we’ll come to that later.
Yes, Alex – so anything else on the region before we move on? Okay.
QUESTION: Yes, Iran. Iran.
MR PRICE: We’ll do Iran and then we’ll come back. Sure.
QUESTION: Yes. The Secretary yesterday said that given the response from the Iranian, a possibility to have a deal is unlikely now. So can you elaborate a little bit? And I have a question on Lebanon, please.
MR PRICE: Sure. So on Iran, you heard the Secretary’s comments yesterday, and then he spoke to this on Friday from Brussels when he was standing next to Secretary General Stoltenberg. To recap the state of play, the European Union, High Representative Borrell, and his team tabled a proposal, a proposal that was largely based on the draft agreement that had been deliberated and negotiated painstakingly over the course of many months, an agreement that had largely been on the table since the spring of this year. That was tabled a number of weeks ago.
We’ve gone back and forth – through the EU as the intermediary – with Iran on that proposed text. We have provided feedback to the latest Iranian response, but we’re not going to detail that feedback publicly beyond what we have said. The most recent Iranian response did not, of course, put us in a position to close the deal. In fact, it was a step backwards in many ways. This is a negotiation. There are going to be back-and-forths. Some gaps have closed in recent weeks, but others clearly remain.
Our bottom line contention is this: it is not too late to conclude a deal. And as we’ve consistently said, as long as we believe that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA would be in America’s national security interest, that is a diplomatic objective we will continue to pursue.
QUESTION: And on Lebanon, the head of —
MR PRICE: Let’s finish out Iran, and then we’ll go back. Gitte.
QUESTION: Thanks. Special Envoy Rob Malley’s apparently – well, U.S. officials are going to be briefing House Foreign Affairs Committee members tomorrow on the status of the talks, and I’m assuming Special Envoy Rob Malley would be one of the officials. What is it that at this point you think the administration is – will be telling them to convince them to maybe – to give them – give more time or believe more in the talks?
MR PRICE: A couple of things on that. So unless we have an open hearing, we tend not to speak about private briefings for members of Congress or for their staffs. But I can tell you that individuals from this building, including Rob, have been up on the Hill a number of times briefing relevant committees on our efforts to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. We’ve had a number of briefings with Congress. I imagine those will continue in the days and weeks ahead. In all of those sessions, we have apprised members and their staffs regarding the status of those negotiations. We want to make sure that they are fully apprised of where we are in the course of that. We have kept them informed of our engagement with other countries in the region with our Israeli partners, with our Gulf partners, of course; our routine engagements with our E3 counterparts but also with the fuller set of the P5+1. So I imagine any future congressional engagements will do the same.
But as we’ve always said, the – a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA has always been an uncertain proposition. The unconstructive responses – response that we saw in recent days from the Iranians only underlines for us how uncertain of a proposition this is. And so just as we continue to believe that it’s not yet too late to conclude a deal, we also have not stopped in our contingency planning should concluding a deal prove impossible. And the only reason why concluding a deal would prove impossible would be if Iran proves unable or unwilling to agree to a mutual return to compliance. It is incumbent on Iran to come to these discussions in good faith, dropping extraneous demands, and if they have it, displaying that strength of purpose to achieve a mutual return to compliance. That is not something that we have seen consistently from Iran.
QUESTION: Ned, on this, is Robert Malley is still in charge of the Iranian file?
MR PRICE: Rob is our special envoy for Iran. He is still very much in charge of the team and our efforts here.
QUESTION: What about the reports that said that he’s not in charge anymore?
MR PRICE: There is nothing to those reports. I can tell you Rob is deeply engaged day to day on the substance of this. He is leading a team here at the department. He is regularly engaging with our counterparts at the White House, at the Treasury Department, at the Intelligence Community, and elsewhere regarding our efforts to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA and our contingency planning as well.
QUESTION: Is there anything – on Iran.
MR PRICE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Anything – just quickly – possible elevation of Iran’s status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to a full member? Anything on that?
MR PRICE: I would leave it to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
QUESTION: What – the summit that’s coming up in a couple days, what do you guys like to see come out of that summit?
MR PRICE: We, of course, are not participating in this, so it is not for us to speak to. I’m sure we will hear and read about the outcomes from the participating countries. Yes.
QUESTION: A follow-up on Iran —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — and move to the South Caucasus. Iranian drones have been found in Ukraine. In fact, Russians had been using it. How much does it add up to Iran portfolio when you think about engaging —
MR PRICE: How much does it add up to —
QUESTION: To Iran story, Iran portfolio, when you think about engagement, or JCPOA, or other angles.
MR PRICE: Well, for us it is a reminder, a reminder of the likes of which we receive – I don’t want to be hyperbolic, but if not every day just about every day of the malign influence that Iran represents and that in many ways Iran exports throughout the region and in this case well beyond. We have no illusions about the nature of the Iranian regime. That is not a reason not to pursue a deal that would block permanently and verifiably an Iranian nuclear weapon. That is a reason to pursue such a deal that would permanently and verifiably prohibit Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Every single challenge we face from Iran’s ballistic missile program, to its support for proxies and terrorist groups, to its support for Russia in this case, to its malicious cyber programs – every single one of those challenges becomes all the more difficult if Iran has the perceived impunity that would come with a nuclear weapon. That’s why President Biden is committed that Iran will never obtain a nuclear weapon. We continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is the most effective means by which to achieve that, but that is a commitment that will remain at the center of our foreign policy, JCPOA or not.
QUESTION: And a change in subject, if I may. Azerbaijan-Armenia.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: I was hoping you would offer us something more than the readouts we have seen given the scope of diplomatic traffic. We had Secretary’s calls, assistant secretary’s calls to the ministers. We had Reeker – Ambassador Reeker met with both sides today, with Azerbaijani president. What is the (inaudible) assessment – first the reasoning, and secondly the timing – behind the latest clashes yesterday?
MR PRICE: Well, events are fast-moving. I would say broadly it’s unclear if there is one proximate cause and one proximate factor. Oftentimes that is not the case. It’s unlikely to be the case here. Of course, we’ve seen tensions simmering in the Caucasus for quite some time. It’s precisely why we have been concerned about the potential for violence and in more recent hours the reports of attacks along the Armenian-Azerbaijan border.
Secretary Blinken has been personally engaged on this. It is why we and he put out a statement last night just within hours of these escalation of tensions calling for an immediate cessation of violence. It’s why he picked up the phone in the wee hours. He was on the phone until after 1:00 a.m. Eastern with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan underscoring for them the importance of the core message that he issued in his statement, namely the imperative of an immediate cessation of these hostilities. He urged President Aliyev to cease hostilities immediately, to disengage military forces, and to work to resolve all outstanding issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan through peaceful negotiations.
That has been our contention all along: There is no military solution to this conflict. We urge restraint from any further military hostilities. We also encourage both governments to re‑establish – to let direct lines of communication across diplomatic as well as military channels, and to recommit to constructive dialogue and to that diplomatic process. We are going to remain actively engaged diplomatically with both of these governments. You mentioned this already, but Ambassador Reeker, who was recently named our senior adviser for Caucasus negotiations, was in Baku yesterday. He remains there. He met earlier today with senior Azerbaijani leaders, and we remain committed to promoting peaceful, a democratic and prosperous future for the South Caucasus region.
QUESTION: You mentioned a number of times during the past couple of months that the U.S. has been involved, U.S. was in fact in the room engaging. My question is: Did the diplomacy fail you or it was not given a chance?
MR PRICE: Well, diplomacy is still very much alive. And this is a simmering conflict and a simmering sort of tension that has been around for decades. And we have been focused on this since the earliest days of this administration. Of course, we inherited a South Caucasus region that had only recently emerged from a fairly intense flare-up of violence in 2020. With our successive senior advisers now, we have placed a high level of personnel overseeing the day‑to‑day activity of this file. Of course, Ambassador Reeker is someone who is well known to the department. He has been the acting assistant secretary in charge of our Bureau for European and Eurasian Affairs. He has held senior posts overseas as well. He is someone who knows this issue set as well as anyone.
Secretary Blinken has repeatedly engaged with Prime Minister Pashinyan and with President Aliyev, knowing that – knowing the importance, recognizing the importance of his personal diplomacy, of his personal time and attention on this topic. We have made very clear our willingness and we’ve demonstrated our willingness to engage bilaterally with the parties, but also multilaterally as appropriate, bringing in allies as well as other partners in the region to achieve a de-escalation of tensions and to set these countries towards a comprehensive settlement.
QUESTION: The Secretary also mentioned today that he was concerned that Russia could try to stir the pot or could use its influence in the region to help the sides to calm down, let’s say. Russia did in fact claim today that it tried to broker a ceasefire which didn’t work. As soon as the U.S. – Vedant, actually, here behind this podium – announced last week that Ambassador Reeker was going to go to region, Russia sent its own ambassador to meet with the sides. Are you coordinating with Russia, or there is zero coordination in these efforts? And how do you see Russia’s role at this point?
MR PRICE: We have called upon all countries in the region to use their influence constructively. And there is no question on a couple fronts. There is no question that an escalation of hostilities or outright violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan, there is no question that that would not be in Russia’s interests. It would not be in anyone’s interest. There is also no question that Russia has outsized influence with both Azerbaijan and Armenia. We have called on Russia and we do call on Russia to use that influence and to use that leverage in a way that helps to achieve a cessation of hostilities, and more broadly a de-escalation of those tensions.
The point the Secretary was referring to today was very much a reflection of the influence and leverage that Russia has. Russia could use that influence for ill; it could use that influence to help bring about what it is we all seek, and that’s an immediate end to this violence and a de‑escalation of tensions.
QUESTION: It could also be in Russia’s interests in – to divert attention from Ukraine given the latest developments in Ukraine. Isn’t that an option?
MR PRICE: I will leave it to Russia to speak to what’s in their interests, but it is hard for us to envision from here how another conflict on Russia’s borders would be in anyone’s interests, including the interests of those in Moscow.
Anything else? Yeah, Shaun.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Oh, go ahead, if —
QUESTION: Sorry about that. Are you in contact with Russia regarding Azerbaijan and Armenia, or the special envoy Reeker?
MR PRICE: Ambassador Reeker is engaged with the parties. He is engaged with Armenia. He is engaged with Azerbaijan. We’ve made very clear that we’re willing to engage bilaterally as well as multilaterally in any forum or format that helps to bring about a cessation of hostilities and, over time, a de-escalation of tensions. Not in a position to read out all of our diplomacy on this, but we have been very public, as I was just a moment ago, calling upon all stakeholders, including the Russians, to use the influence – the significant influence that they do have – in a way that is constructive.
QUESTION: Any forum or format, including the Minsk Group?
MR PRICE: In a —
QUESTION: In a Minsk?
MR PRICE: In a – that is hard to imagine.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) in Russia? In Belarus?
MR PRICE: I didn’t say any location, but —
QUESTION: No, but you said any format or forum, and that’s been the forum.
MR PRICE: Well, we are open to arrangements that would serve to bring about a de-escalation of tensions and a cessation of this violence.
QUESTION: Ned, just to clarify, you’ve offered but are Russians responding?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Are Russians responding to your —
MR PRICE: I will leave it to the Russians to speak to their diplomacy.
QUESTION: You mentioned – at the beginning of your statement mentioned the flare-up of violence again in recent hours. Do you have – is there one side that’s more to blame than the other for this? Is there a call on a particular side? The French just a few minutes ago seemed to be calling the Azerbaijanis to respect the ceasefire. Is there an assessment about which side needs to be pressured more (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: Well, as we said in the readout of the Secretary’s calls that took place overnight, he urged President Aliyev to cease hostilities immediately, to disengage military forces, and to work to resolve all outstanding issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan through negotiations that are peaceful and diplomacy that is constructive. We have seen significant evidence of Azerbaijani shelling inside Armenia and significant damage to Armenian infrastructure, but most important for us is that both of these parties commit to a cessation of hostilities and commit to a broader de-escalation.
QUESTION: A follow-up on Azerbaijan and Armenia. We know that the tension was simmering because Armenians were conducting sporadic artillery attacks cross-border and in – and then Azerbaijanis responded to those sporadic artillery attacks. Now the tension is out of control. So, sir, the readouts that you mentioned, it says Secretary assured Prime Minister Pashinyan that United States will push for an immediate ceasefire, and but on the Azerbaijanis’ readout you say that Secretary Blinken urged President Aliyev to cease hostilities. Also, it looks that there is an apparent one-sided approach here. Do you think that United States could still contribute to peace if you keep this one-sided approach?
MR PRICE: Well, this goes back to Shaun’s question. Rather than assigning blame, we recognize that there is unlikely to be one proximate cause. What is most important for us is that the two parties commit to a cessation of hostilities and commit to the path of diplomacy to achieve a de-escalation of tensions over the longer term. The fact is that we have seen significant evidence of Azerbaijani shelling inside Armenia, significant damage to Armenian infrastructure, but right now our focus is on achieving that cessation of hostilities and that de-escalation of tensions.
QUESTION: And also, we heard that Armenia called on Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization to intervene the – in the conflict. Would United States – what’s the reaction from United States? Would United States endorse something like this?
MR PRICE: We have called on call countries in the region to use their influence in ways that are constructive to bringing about a cessation of hostilities and a de-escalation of tensions. Of course, it is hard to imagine how the introduction of foreign forces into one side of the conflict could serve those purposes, but again, our emphasis is on bringing about an end to this spike in violence.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Sanctioned RAB chief and current police chief of Bangladesh, Mr. Benazir Ahmed, visited New York over the Labor Day weekend in the name of UN police chiefs’ summit. He joined a public meeting organized by the ruling party’s supporters and tell them to encounter right activist and journalist. He claimed that the U.S. sanction on him managed by the $25 million cost. He also questioned about U.S. press freedom. I am wondering how he can join a public meeting in the Queens in NY in the name of UN summit. We have learned that he was allowed to join just only for UN meeting, not for any public meeting in the New York.
MR PRICE: I’m not immediately familiar with the meeting he joined. I take from your question it was a public meeting, so it stands to reason that he would be able to attend in that capacity. I’m just not familiar with the details.
QUESTION: Mr. Price, thank you. You state about the Azerbaijan and Armenian military tension. Unfortunately, I lost – I also lost my friends in the shooting yesterday. So Azerbaijan states that the news about the firing of civilians in Armenia is nonsense. By the way, Azerbaijan invests billions of dollars in territories freed from occupation, and also tying the country with – to world energy crisis. I think we should not forget the terror committed by Armenia against civilians in Ganja, Barda, Tartar in 2020. It’s a fact that Azerbaijan has been waiting for peace from Armenia for 30 years, because we just want (inaudible).
MR PRICE: I’m deeply sorry to hear about your personal loss. The loss that you’ve expressed is, of course, a loss that is being felt on a national level in both Armenia and Azerbaijan. It’s why we have placed such an emphasis on doing all we can, working with other stakeholders in the region, to bring about an end to this violence, to save additional lives, to see to it that civilians are not targeted and harmed – or worse yet – in any continuation of this violence. It is a priority of the Secretary, it’s a priority of the department, it’s a priority of this administration to work with the countries and the stakeholders not only to see an end to this flare-up of violence, but also to de-escalate these tensions more broadly.
QUESTION: Different conflict, Ethiopia.
QUESTION: Unless you —
MR PRICE: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. After the invasion of Ukraine, a bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Congress by Senators Shaheen and Romney requesting the U.S. administration to develop a comprehensive strategy about the Black Sea region. I wonder if the administration has any strategy today about Black Sea region until this legislation passes. I will say that United States is supporting Romania, Bulgaria, its NATO Allies. But there are some – some partners like Georgia are very vulnerable in the region.
MR PRICE: Well, you’ve heard us speak to all of our partners in the Black Sea region, and of course, it’s a vital – a region of vital importance not only to the region, but also to the world. And we’ve talked about the vitality and the indispensability of this region to the broader international community in the context of the grain deal that Ukraine and Turkey and the UN as well as Russia have agreed to and implemented, given that countries along the Black Sea are – and especially Ukraine – it’s the breadbasket to the world. It is a region that is rich with energy. It’s a region that is otherwise rich with natural resources. It is a region that is rich with friendship for the United States.
And you mentioned several of our NATO Allies are in the region. We’ve spoken to our commitment to their defense, our commitment to working with them to achieve our shared interest, to protect our shared values. And that is, to your question, something that we’re also discussing with our partners on the Hill.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on —
QUESTION: Could I – can I just follow up on that?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: So what is the U.S. strategy in Black Sea actually? Because I don’t think you’ve answered that.
MR PRICE: It is – so I’m not sure this is the right forum to espouse fully our strategy to the Black Sea in toto. What I can say and what we’ve talked about here is the commitments we’ve made to our allies and to our partners in the Black Sea region, recognizing that it is a region that is of vital importance, not only to countries in that neighborhood but to well beyond. And to the gentleman’s question, we’ve had these conversations with Congress as well.
QUESTION: Does the Secretary have any plans to go to Bulgaria or Romania anytime soon, for example? He’s been to, I think – I can’t remember, maybe 25 countries since the beginning of the administration. And with Ukraine war, you would assume maybe the importance of Black Sea is heightened, but he hasn’t been to either of those —
MR PRICE: There are only so many days in the week and hours in the days that serve as a limiting function for our ability to travel everywhere we would like to go. But of course, there are a number of senior officials in this building and in this administration who have traveled to the region, and I have every expectation that the Secretary certainly would like to get out there and, at some point, at the right moment, will.
QUESTION: Right. Can I just quickly follow up on Ukraine, if the gentleman doesn’t mind? On – and Kirby was asked about this as well, but do you think the recent events on the ground in Ukraine, Ukraine’s gains, do you think that could help with some of the reluctance that Europe has in terms of sending weapons? And you might have seen Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba criticizing Germany today. I mean, do you think that that could help with Europeans to sort of be more willing to send weapons?
MR PRICE: So I would —
QUESTION: And is this something that U.S. is encouraging them to do?
MR PRICE: I’d make a couple points. First, Secretary Blinken, in his meeting with President Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister Kuleba and their team on Thursday in Kyiv, made this point privately but made it publicly as well. It’s early days, and it was earlier days when our Ukrainian partners briefed us on the progress that they had made as of late last week. We’ve seen them make additional and quite remarkable progress both in the north and in the south in the intervening days since we’ve left Ukraine.
This is a function of several factors. It is a function of the grit and the determination and bravery and courage of our Ukrainian partners, but a grit and bravery and determination that has been enabled in many key ways by the security assistance that the United States and our partners around the world have been in a position to provide. Since February 24th, since the start of this invasion, the United States alone has provided some $14.5 billion in security assistance. This is security assistance to meet the need in the moment, precisely what our Ukrainian partners have requested for the fight that they are in at any given juncture, for the battle of Kyiv in the earliest days, as the battle moved to the south and the east in the Donbas in more recent weeks and months.
The – this strategy, a strategy that we’ve implemented with our partners and allies, has proved itself. It proved itself when Ukraine decisively won the battle of Kyiv in the earliest days of this war. It’s a strategy that once again is proving itself by positioning our Ukrainian partners to be able to be effective on the battlefield.
But ultimately, it is our security assistance, it’s the security assistance of dozens of countries, some 50 countries around the world, including security assistance from our European allies that plays an important role. But ultimately, the decisive factor here is that our Ukrainian partners are always going to have a determination that the Russians never will. And Secretary Blinken referred to this last week; he referred to it earlier this week as well. The Ukrainians are fighting for their democracy. They’re fighting for their freedom; they’re fighting for their future; they’re fighting for their country. The Russians who have been deployed, in some cases conscripted, in some cases let out of jail, in some cases put in the employ of private military contractors inside Ukraine – they’re not fighting for those things. In many cases, they don’t know what they’re fighting for.
So as Ukraine mounts this counteroffensive, in some cases we have seen Russian defenses prove not all that resilient, and it speaks to the progress that our Ukrainian partners have made. We’ve always said this conflict, this war, Russia’s war against Ukraine, won’t be linear in terms of territorial gains. But we believe that we have put our Ukrainian partners on a path to help them mount an effective defense of their country. We saw that in the earliest days. We’ve seen that in the more recent days.
QUESTION: So don’t you think that Ukraine thinking that one of the most important European countries not committing to them in that sense is actually undermining that solidarity you talked about? This isn’t specific to Germany.
MR PRICE: European countries across the board, certainly our NATO allies, have provided important humanitarian assistance, but also economic assistance and security assistance. Our European allies have provided, when it comes to security assistance, supplies and systems that complement the billions of dollars’ worth of supplies and systems that we have provided our Ukrainian partners.
And I think the point here is that what we have provided, what Europe has provided, what countries around the world has – have provided, it hasn’t been static. It has evolved as the nature of the conflict has evolved. When the challenge was the potential for urban warfare in the earliest days, when Moscow thought it could decapitate the capital city, take the entire country by force, it was the sort of antiarmor, antitank systems that we provided in large numbers. As it moved to the south, to the east, where the battle is now, the longer-range antiaircraft systems, the artillery, the munitions, the armored vehicles, the radar, the Stingers, the other types of systems that the Ukrainians have used to such great effect to defend their homeland, to defend their country, that has been a key enabling force for that grit and that determination that our Ukrainian partners have been able to display.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on this, Ned?
MR PRICE: Let’s move around, because I know not everyone has had a – Kylie, go ahead.
QUESTION: So there have been – there’s been documentation of Russian state media now including some diverging opinions about the war in Ukraine with some folks on the Russian side even suggesting that there should be peace negotiations. So I’m wondering from the Biden administration’s perspective if you guys see that a door opening to potential talks with Russia or if you’re waiting for the Kremlin to actually say that they want to engage in negotiations?
MR PRICE: Well, were it that easy. Were Russia a representative democracy, a democracy that were informed by the will of the people, that might be a different question. Unfortunately, President Putin and his cronies have done everything they can in the first instance to limit that information from reaching the Russian people to feed the Russian people a steady diet of lies and disinformation, in an effort to hide the true costs of this war.
As the war has ground on, as additional Russians have come home in body bags, have come home missing limbs, as stories of the abject brutality of this war return to Russia, it does seem we are starting to see more of a conversation within the Russian people. There have been high-profile instances of defiance. There has also been the sort of lower-level discussion and dialogue that you point to across Russia.
Unfortunately, this is a system that is ruled by and large by one individual. It is an individual surrounded not by democratically elected aides, but by individuals who have set up, in many ways, safeguards against popular opinion in some cases even reaching the inner most sanctum of the Kremlin.
So – and on top of that we’ve seen the Russian Government go to extraordinary lengths to try to limit and to crack down on the ability of these indications of objections or defiance from propagating. And in the earliest days of the war, tens of thousands of Russians were arrested for peacefully protesting, marching across dozens of cities across Russia. More recently, we have seen journalists, we have seen civil society advocates and activists, we have seen advocates all arrested for the so-called crime of speaking the truth, whether that is calling this a war, whether that is criticizing President Putin, criticizing the Kremlin. All of that has been criminalized in the most reprehensible way possible.
QUESTION: So do you think these diverging opinions that are now being expressed have any impact at all on paving the way for negotiations, or no?
MR PRICE: It’s hard to say. I think what we can say is what we see, and what we have seen and what we have not seen are pretty telling. Our Ukrainian partners have consistently said that this war will – must end through dialogue, through diplomacy. We agree. Of course, for the diplomacy and dialogue to occur, you need to have someone on the other side of the table. And we have seen no indications, our Ukrainian partners have seen no indications, our European allies and partners who have been in contact with senior Russian officials have seen no indications that the Russians are prepared to negotiate, prepared to engage in this dialogue.
So our task at the current moment is to continue to provide the sort of security assistance – defensive security assistance, that our Ukrainian partners need, because we do see a nexus between what happens on the battlefield and what ultimately happens on any negotiating table that is to emerge. We want our Ukrainian partners to be in the most advantageous position possible if and when a negotiating table emerges. With each day of an effective counteroffensive, with each reconquest, with each inch of territory that is either defended or retaken, that position will ultimately be strengthened on the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Expanding on that, when it comes to the new information that was provided by a senior U.S. official today about Russia covertly transferring over $300 million into foreign political parties, can you detail for us – our understanding, according to that official, is that this review was begun by the Intelligence Community this summer. So as Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, was their political meddling around the world consistent, or did you guys see a drop off as they begun that endeavor? Like is there any details you can provide us as to how those two are related at all?
MR PRICE: So this is information that ultimately originates with our Intelligence Community, so I’m loathe to go into greater detail from here. Of course, we’re always very careful not to characterize Intelligence Community assessments. But what I can say is that we’ve spoken from here, from the White House, from the Defense Department about Russia’s explicit assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty; its explicit assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty in the form of this brutal invasion and this brutal aggression that has been ongoing since February 24th, but also for the eight or so years prior to that since 2014.
But what Russia is doing around the world in terms of its election meddling is also an assault on sovereignty. It is an effort to chip away at the ability of people around the world to choose the government that they see best fit to represent them, to represent their interests, to represent their values. So part of our charge not only is to do that assessment and to collect and to do that analysis, but then to expose what we know, because in order to fight this, in many ways we have to put a spotlight on it.
And so by exposing Russia’s strategies and Russia’s tactics publicly, but then also discussing these tactics and strategies privately in diplomatic channels, in intelligence channels, with partners around the world, sharing practices for how we can put an end to Russia’s meddling, that is also something that we’re going about.
QUESTION: And can I just ask one final question on this? Because this obviously brings up concerns about Russia meddling in U.S. elections, the midterms, have or will U.S. officials clearly articulate to Russia that there will be costs if they meddle in the midterms that are coming up this fall?
MR PRICE: This was a very clear message and has been a very clear message from this administration. You may recall that this was a message that we underscored quite prominently when, in the first months of this administration, we mounted sanctions against the Russian Federation for their interference, for SolarWinds, for what they had done and what they continue to do to Mr. Navalny, for their use of chemical weapons. So this is a message that applies to all countries around the world. Any attempt to meddle in our democratic system will be met with strong and stiff consequences.
QUESTION: So there’s no need to directly reiterate that message as we get closer to the election (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: This is a message that is well known to our competitors, to our challengers, and to our adversaries around the world.
A couple final questions. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV, Pakistan. My question is about media freedom. Our news channel, the transmission of our news channel, ARY News, is banned in Pakistan like for the last 40 days, like it’s on and off now controlled by the government agency. Our head of news, Ammad Yousaf, was picked up in the middle of the night and tortured for dishonoring the opposition political parties’ comments. Secretary Blinken and you always spoke about the media freedom in Pakistan and around the globe. Would you like to say something about that?
MR PRICE: I believe we discussed this before, but we are – we continue to be concerned by significant restrictions on media outlets and civil society in Pakistan. I know that your outlet, ARY, has not been immune to this constricted space. We routinely raise our concerns about press freedom to all stakeholders around the world, including to our partners and our counterparts in Pakistan.
We’re concerned that media and content restrictions, as well as a lack of accountability for attacks against journalists, undermine the exercise of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. A free press and informed citizenry we believe are key to democratic societies around the world, key to our democratic future. That applies equally to Pakistan as it does to other countries around the world.
QUESTION: United States recently announced foreign military sales to Pakistan worth $450 million to upgrade F-16 jets. Would you like to share some details?
MR PRICE: Well, we did recently notify Congress of a proposed foreign military sale valued at $450 million, as you said, for maintenance and sustainment services for the Pakistani Air Force’s F-16 program. Pakistan is an important partner in a number of regards, an important counterterrorism partner. And as part of our longstanding policy, we provide life cycle maintenance and sustainment packages for U.S.-origin platforms.
Pakistan’s F-16 program, it’s an important part of the broader U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relationship, and this proposed sale will sustain Pakistan’s capability to meet current and future counterterrorism threats by maintaining the F-16 fleet. This is a fleet that allows Pakistan to support counterterrorism operations, and we expect Pakistan will take sustained action against all terrorist groups.
QUESTION: Sir, one last question. Like always, United States came forward to help Pakistan, giving millions of dollars in response to floods in Pakistan right now. Sir, can you say something about that?
MR PRICE: Happy to, and I know my colleague at the at the White House, John Kirby, just said something at the top of the White House press briefing as well. But we are deeply saddened by the devastation and by the loss of life throughout Pakistan that these historic floods have caused. We stand with the people of Pakistan at this difficult time.
As of September 12th, earlier this week, a total of nine U.S. Central Command flights delivered more than half of the 630 metric tons of relief supplies from USAID’s Dubai warehouse for the response to these massive floods. In total, CENTCOM will airlift more than 41,000 kitchen sets, 1,500 rolls of plastic sheeting, tens of thousands of plastic tarps, 8,700 shelter fixing kits – all in support of USAID’s flood relief.
In this fiscal year alone, we’ve provided more than $53 million in humanitarian assistance, including urgently needed support for food, nutrition, multipurpose cash, safe drinking water, nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, as well as shelter assistance. We’re going to continue to work very closely with our Pakistani partners to continue to assess the damage that has been wrought by these floods, and we’ll continue to provide assistance to our partners in this time of need.
Shannon, final question.
QUESTION: Briefly going back to that counteroffensive in Ukraine, I know you and others – much has been said about the value that material security assistance has played, about the fighters themselves. But I was wondering if you could speak specifically to intelligence sharing and the role you see that playing.
MR PRICE: Well, there’s only so much I can say about this, of course, for obvious reasons. But we’ve said all along that we will provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need to defend themselves. Oftentimes in that context we refer to security assistance, but we have provided them with information they need to defend their homeland, to defend their territory, to defend against Russia’s ongoing aggression. We have a close relationship with Ukraine in a number of ways – military-to-military, diplomacy, and other channels as well. And we’re going to continue to provide our Ukrainian partners with the tools they need to defend their freedom, to defend their homeland, to defend their country.
QUESTION: On this one last point, you know that know Senator Warner – sorry.
MR PRICE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Senator Warner has basically suggested that, I mean, it’s all due – I mean, this – these late successes by the Ukrainians, all due to U.S.-provided intelligence. Is that direct interference in the war?
MR PRICE: This is this is a result of Ukrainian determination.
QUESTION: I understand you’re saying militarily.
MR PRICE: This is —
QUESTION: He’s saying that it’s (inaudible).
MR PRICE: This is a result of what the Ukrainians are doing on the battlefield. This is principally a result of the determination that they have – that the Russians very clearly do not have because they can’t have it – to defend their homeland, to defend their freedom, to defend their democracy. We have – and our partners around the world have – played an enabling function. We’ve provided the type of defensive security assistance that our Ukrainian partners need to be effective. They have used that to great effect, but no one but the Ukrainians should be in a position to take credit for what they’re achieving.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) with this topic is that what you just told in your response to Humeyra, that last weekend’s events proved us right. It also proved Ukrainians right. They were telling all along that give us what we need, we’re gonna finish the job. But I think the key word you’re using is defend Ukraine. Is your – has last weekend’s events changed your objective at all from helping them to defend versus helping them win the war?
MR PRICE: Our objective has remained constant since the start of this aggression. It is to see a Ukraine that remains democratic, that remains sovereign, that remains independent, and that, going forward, is prosperous and has the means to defend itself against future aggression. That is the very definition of success that the President defined in his op-ed that he wrote on the topic several months ago now, and it’s really the predicate of our strategy to support our Ukrainian partners.
Thank you all very much.