Department Press Briefing – September 15, 2022
- INTERNATIONAL DAY OF DEMOCRACY
- ABRAHAM ACCORDS
- UKRAINE / RUSSIA
- ABRAHAM ACCORDS
- ISRAEL / PALESTINIANS
- CHINA / RUSSIA
- RUSSIA / IRAN
- ITALY / RUSSIA
- UKRAINE / RUSSIA
- ARMENIA / AZERBAIJAN
- ISRAEL / PALESTINIANS
- SOUTH KOREA~
2:12 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: What a crowd? I’m wondering who the headliner is today. We’ll come to the crowd – nothing, nothing?
QUESTION: No, no, it’s too easy. That was like such a – like a (laughter) – it was such a softball.
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: I’m sure that – yeah.
MR PRICE: Well, I’ll come to that in just a moment. We have a few things at the top before we get to your questions, but as you can see, we have quite a room before us today.
Sixteen journalists from various countries around the world are observing this briefing today as part of our International Visitor Leadership Program or IVLP, the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program for current and emerging foreign leaders. The goal of the IVLP is to advance U.S. foreign policy objectives by providing firsthand knowledge about U.S. society, culture, politics to participants as they cultivate professional relationships. The group here with us today will travel here from Washington to Tampa, Florida; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Phoenix, Arizona, where they will examine the history, the structure, and the function of new and traditional broadcasting in the United States and challenges and opportunities posed by social media. I look forward to chatting with the group after the briefing.
By placing human rights at the heart of our foreign policy, the United States advances fundamental freedoms globally. We know respect for human rights and dignity is essential to lasting peace, to development and sustained prosperity. This respect is grounded in our own experience as a democracy – imperfect, but continuously pushing for a more just and equitable United States.
Our words must be matched by actions to ensure that democracies deliver for their citizens. That is why the United States is working with partner governments, civil society, and the private sector in what we call a “Year of Action” to fulfill pledges made at the Summit for Democracy held last December. During the second Summit for Democracy next year, we’ll take stock of our progress in meeting commitments that strengthen democratic institutions.
On this International Day of Democracy, and every day, we stand in solidarity with people across the globe who are putting democratic principles into practice to realize a brighter future for all.
Next, we are thrilled to celebrate two years since the signing of the Abraham Accords and normalization agreements. These steps were transformed – were – excuse me – were transformational for their signatories: Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco. These agreements led to new forms of cooperation and regional integration. This administration is committed to advancing and expanding upon these agreements between Israel and Arab and Muslim-majority countries to enhance regional security, prosperity, and peace.
The United States looks forward to helping strengthen and deepen these partnerships in the years to come, and we are laser-focused on advancing integration in the region and widening the circle of peace with Israel and other partners. This is one of our highest priorities as increasing economic and cultural integration and further developing organic people-to-people ties will help define regional solutions to the region’s shared challenges of promoting stability, development, and prosperity. At the same time, these efforts are not a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace and we simultaneously continue our work in furtherance of a two-state solution.
And finally – and I believe this will be accompanied by graphics behind me – but the ramifications of President Putin’s unconscionable war against Ukraine reverberate far outside Europe, and they now threaten the health and well-being of tens of millions of people worldwide. This include – and this includes the world’s most vulnerable populations.
Today the State Department-supported Conflict Observatory released a detailed assessment of the devastating impact of Russia’s war on food storage sites in Ukraine. An estimated one in six of Ukraine crop storage facilities have been affected. This means seizure by Russia’s forces and proxies or that facilities have been destroyed, damaged, or degraded to the point of compromising their contents. Recent progress on global food security, such as the United Nations and Turkey-mediated Black Sea Grain Initiative, faces risks if agricultural infrastructure within Ukraine continue to incur damage.
The report also notes the intentional destruction of such facilities may constitute a war crime and a violation of the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Convention of 1949. We call for further investigation through appropriate mechanisms into these reports.
Let me add that today the Department designated 22 of Russia’s proxy officials, including five who have overseen the seizure or the theft of hundreds of thousands of tons of Ukrainian grain. Their actions also exacerbate global food insecurity.
In only half a year, Ukraine has become the scene of the world’s worst mass-scale violence that Europe has seen in eight decades. The United States will continue our unwavering support for Ukraine as it defends its freedom – for the sake of its own people, and on behalf of people across the globe who rely on harvests from Ukraine’s farmlands.
So with that.
QUESTION: Can you go back to that map?
MR PRICE: I believe we can. There we go. Yes.
QUESTION: All right. So do they – there are no crops grown in Crimea, or are you conceding that Crimea is no longer part of Ukraine?
MR PRICE: This was a report that was put together by the Yale Conflict Observatory. It was ‑-
QUESTION: So your understanding is they don’t grow anything, not even like beans?
MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to —
QUESTION: Not even beans?
MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to agriculture —
MR PRICE: — agriculture in Crimea. I can speak to our —
QUESTION: But why isn’t it —
MR PRICE: I can speak to —
QUESTION: Is it —
MR PRICE: — our department’s position on Crimea.
MR PRICE: Crimea is Ukraine.
MR PRICE: I can speak to that.
QUESTION: All right. And secondly on this and on the sanctions, there are a couple, including the big one in there, the GRU and the sanctions, as you well know is already under sanctions. Do you know or can you find out how many of the people and other entities that were targeted today are already under sanctions, or is the GRU the only one of this group? Because there were a lot of, like, high-tech companies that possibly – and I didn’t have time to go cross-reference this, but I think some of them may have been sanctioned before. Is there a way to find that out?
MR PRICE: We can determine if there’s any more we can share there.
MR PRICE: I will just make the broader point that oftentimes, and especially in cases like Russia where we have really amassed profound costs and consequences on the Russian Federation, there are overlapping authorities, authorities that are designated for different malign activities that we often do levy on the same targets, so it’s not surprising that same targets are —
QUESTION: No, no, that’s fine.
MR PRICE: — that same targets are sanctioned more than once.
QUESTION: I’m just trying to get an idea of how many of these people or entities are going to wake up in the morning or go to sleep at night with new – with penalties on them that didn’t exist before. That’s the question there.
MR PRICE: We have —
QUESTION: And yet for the first four months of the administration you refused to use the name? (Laughter.)
MR PRICE: Matt, I think this goes back to some of our earliest interactions.
MR PRICE: But Matt, I think we —
QUESTION: I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but —
MR PRICE: We like to be precise with our language.
MR PRICE: The common umbrella, the general umbrella, of course, is Abraham agreements, Abraham accords. These are all normalization agreements. Sometimes the shorthand is Abraham Accords. The fact is that Morocco, while it has a normalization agreement, it’s not – it is not a member of the Abraham Accords. So whether it is the countries that have officially signed the Abraham Accords or the countries that have signed normalization agreements, we welcome every single effort of countries around the world, including Israel’s Arab and Muslim majority neighbors, to strengthen ties and ultimately to normalize relations.
QUESTION: Okay. And then lastly, as you pointed out, today is the Day of Democracy or the whatever it is. I’m wondering if you have anything to say about Hungary in that light since it is a member of the EU, it is a member of NATO, and yet today the EU Parliament adopted a resolution that says that Hungary is no longer a democracy. Do you agree with that sentiment and will Hungary be invited to the next Summit for Democracy?
MR PRICE: Well, it is far too early for me to speak about potential invitees to the next Summit for Democracy. I’d also defer to the EU regarding their characterization of Hungary and its political system. We characterize Hungary as a partner. We characterize Hungary as an ally. We characterize Hungary as a NATO ally. We have also made clear our firm belief that what unites us as partners, what unites us as allies, transcend interests. They also include values, and it is our shared values that for decades now have formed as a base for the relationship we have with our allies and partners across Europe. That is what we look back to, that is what we look to, when we note the strength of our relationship. We always want to see those values presented front and center.
QUESTION: Could I follow up on the Abraham Accords? Of course, I think it’s just a thorny term because nobody named Abraham sponsored these accords. I don’t know how they came up with the name, just trying to thrust some biblical thing into it. I don’t know. But during the same period —
MR PRICE: I think it’s a reference to Abraham as the father of all three monotheistic religions.
QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, that just comes out of the blue. We understand the Camp David Accord they were held in Camp David. But anyway, that’s not the issue.
During that time, during that time in the same two-year period, there has been like at least two major wars that Israel has waged on the Palestinians in Gaza. Anyway, so these accords that were touted as something that should bring peace and prosperity for all certainly have not been anywhere near that objective for the Palestinians. That’s one. And I don’t want to discuss that too much, but also, I mean, you talk about anniversaries —
MR PRICE: Well, since you raised it, can I —
QUESTION: Yeah, but —
MR PRICE: — take the opportunity to answer a question that may not have been there?
QUESTION: Please, go ahead. I have another one. Go ahead.
MR PRICE: So Said, the Abraham Accords and the broader set of normalization agreements for us are such a priority because there is no question that they have the potential to bring additional security, additional prosperity, additional opportunity to Israelis and to its neighbors. But just as I said at the end of that statement, there is also no question that these agreements cannot be substitutes for Israeli-Palestinian peace. When Secretary Blinken traveled to the Negev in March, where we met with the other signatories of the Abraham Accords and normalization agreements, including in this case Egypt, there was a recognition on the part of those ministers present that we needed to continue to work on issues between Israelis and Palestinians. This is something that then foreign minister and alternate prime minster, now Prime Minister Lapid, recognized at the time as well.
So this has not gone overlooked. Just about every time I speak to the Abraham Accord and to normalization agreements, I make the point that just as we work to build and to lengthen that bridge between Israel and its neighbors, we are not going to do that at the expense of Israeli-Palestinian peace. In fact, we are going to leverage, to the best of our ability, these relationships to seek to further that.
QUESTION: Just to note that tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila Massacre. That’s another anniversary that should be noted, for which no one was ever held responsible. In fact, the person who probably oversaw the whole thing went on to become Israel’s prime minister and so on. My question to you would be about the freedom and democracy, that from which you began. I mean, I saw the statement; very impressive. What you said is very impressive. Yet you guys can’t even determine whether human rights organizations, Palestinian human rights organizations, should be treated as such and should not be just closed by decision for political reasons.
MR PRICE: Said, whether the context is Israel, whether the context is Gaza, whether the context is the West Bank, whether the context is any other entity or country around the world, we have spoken of the indispensable role of civil society and human rights organizations. That is absolutely true.
Now, you are raising specific cases. When the Israeli Government designated these organizations and took action against them, we expressed our concern. And we noted, owing to the statement I just made about the indispensability and the value of these organizations, the high bar that must be met before any such action is undertaken. Our Israeli partners informed us that very day, as I recall – and I in turn told you – that they had pledged to provide additional information. In recent days – last week, in fact – they have provided us with additional information. We are evaluating that information. Not going to speak to that analytic process as it’s ongoing, but we are taking a close look at what they provided us.
QUESTION: Ned, can you give us an update on the state of negotiations with Russia to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan since now we know that the President is going to meet with their families at the White House tomorrow?
MR PRICE: Well, there’s not much I can tell you that I think most of you in this room already know. We have —
QUESTION: Don’t already know.
MR PRICE: Excuse – don’t already know. It would be much more interesting were the – were that formulation true. We have a couple of imperatives here. Number one is to do everything we can to see the release, as soon as we can, of Brittney Griner and of Paul Whelan. Consistent with that first imperative, we have a second imperative. That is to be judicious in the level and the number of details we share.
We took the extraordinary step – Secretary Blinken did, in fact, here in this room several weeks ago now, a couple months ago now I suppose it was – of sharing with you the fact that we had shared what we call a substantial proposal with the Russian Federation. We have since, both publicly but also privately, urged the Russian Federation to act on this substantial proposal. Without going into details, I can tell you there have been discussions with the Russian Government regarding this. Owing to that second imperative, not to say anything that could jeopardize our ability to secure the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner as quickly as we can, I’m just not in a position to speak to it with any greater detail.
QUESTION: Are you able to talk at all what the main sticking point is? I understand that these are private discussions, but are you able to say anything about why they’re taking as long as they’re taking? And is it fair to characterize at this point that they’re stalled? You said two months ago you guys have put forward the proposal and, as I understand, to this date, to this moment, that you haven’t received a positive response from the Russians.
MR PRICE: Why this process is taking so long is a better question for Moscow than it is for us. It’s a better question for Moscow because, as I said, we took the initiative to put a substantial proposal on the table. We have taken the initiative at every step of the way, knowing that we want to do everything we can to accelerate this process. I wouldn’t characterize this process as stalled. It certainly hasn’t moved with the speed we would like. The fact that Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan still remain separated from their families in detention in Russia is a testament to that.
QUESTION: My final one on this. Given the state of these talks, which you guys have full visibility on, what is your expectation that President Biden could tell to these families? Is he in a position to make any assurances that they’re going to see their loved ones any time soon?
MR PRICE: He – and I will let the White House speak to this, but I have every reason to believe that President Biden will tell these families of the utmost priority we attach to doing absolutely everything we can to see the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner as soon as we can. These are two individuals whom we determine to be wrongfully detained. They should not be behind bars; they should not be separated from their families. We are doing everything we can to correct that. That will be the message that’s shared.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can I please ask about China and Russia? Do you have any —
QUESTION: Can I follow up on the (inaudible)?
QUESTION: Can we stay on Russia?
MR PRICE: We’ll do one follow up on this. We have a lot of people here today, so I’ll try and move around a bit, but —
QUESTION: The last time Secretary Blinken spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov was on this topic about the detainee issue. Given that Lavrov will be in New York next week for UNGA, will Blinken meet with him there to discuss this matter, or any matters?
MR PRICE: The Secretary has a busy schedule that’s shaping up for next week in New York City. We’ll in a position to detail a bit more of that tomorrow. I – what I can say is that we will take every step that we feel would be – would help move the process forward. If a senior-level intervention with a senior Russian official would help us take one step closer to seeing the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, we wouldn’t hesitate to do that. That’s precisely why Secretary Blinken picked up the phone just a couple months ago now to raise this specific issue, among two other concerns, with Foreign Minister Lavrov at the time.
Secretary Blinken has been acutely and intensely focused on these cases. He has spoken to Cherelle Griner repeatedly. He has spoken to Elizabeth Whelan repeatedly. He is regularly updated on the state of these efforts to release Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, but also every other American who is held hostage or otherwise wrongfully detained overseas.
QUESTION: Is the feeling, though, that a Blinken meeting with Lavrov next week would help move the ball forward?
MR PRICE: I’m just not in a position to speak to that now. We are prepared to take any step that we think has the potential to move the ball forward.
QUESTION: I just want a clarification on this one. Is this issue precondition for potential interaction between the Secretary and the minister?
MR PRICE: I’m not sure I understand your question.
QUESTION: Like are you putting this issue as – this topic as a precondition for potential handshake or interaction or any kind of —
MR PRICE: I would expect that any interaction we might have with Foreign Minister Lavrov, whether it’s in the coming days, coming weeks, or coming months will feature our detained Americans, assuming we have not been in a position to see them released before then.
QUESTION: But do you have a new – anything new to say to the families of our hostages, as the “Bring our Families Home” campaign? Many of them have been vying to meet with the President as well. Is there anything new, other than what has been previously said that you – any message would you give them in light of the meeting tomorrow?
MR PRICE: Every single one of these cases is unique. Every single one of these cases is different. I think you all recall – it was just a couple months ago now – the President signed a new executive order that provides us with additional tools, not only to hold accountable those countries who would engage in this heinous practice, but new tools that allow us in some ways to be more effective in communicating and maintaining the relationship with the families. It’s important for us because we know in all of these cases, no one knows the unique circumstances of each individual better than their families.
And so it’s important for us that we’re in a position to speak with them. It’s important for us that we’re in a position to meet with them. Secretary Blinken often is on the phone with families. He’s had an opportunity to speak on multiple occasions now to all of the families at once, but typically this is done on a family-by-family basis. The same is true of the National Security Advisor. The same is true of the President, who has spoken to a number of these families now and I know is closely, closely tracking the details of all of these cases.
QUESTION: Yeah. Ned, what is the U.S. take on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting with the Russian President Putin? Is there more reason to cause concern? And it still the U.S. assessment that China is not providing military and material assistance to Russia? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Well, I’ll start with the second part first. That still is our assessment. We made clear months ago now of information that was available to us suggesting that the Russian Federation was seeking assistance, military assistance, from the PRC for its war against Ukraine. We made very clear to the PRC, both in public but also at the highest levels – the highest levels – that we would be watching very closely, and any PRC effort to provide military assistance to Russia or to help Russia, on a systemic basis, circumvent the sanctions that have been put in place would incur significant costs. And we have not seen any change on the part of the PRC.
Look, when it comes to President Xi’s engagement today with President Putin, I will ultimately let those two presidents and those two governments speak to what was discussed. I’ve seen some initial statements emanate from this meeting. I imagine we’ll see more in the coming hours. I suppose, at this early hour, what is striking is President Putin’s apparent admission, at least as stated in the media, that President Xi has concerns about Russia’s war against Ukraine. It’s not surprising that the PRC apparently has such concerns. It is somewhat curious that President Putin would be the one to admit it to admit it so openly.
I say it’s not surprising because what – we’ve seen the PRC resort to verbal and in many ways geopolitical gymnastics over recent months, trying to avoid criticizing Russia’s war against Ukraine, at least trying to avoid criticizing it openly. After all, it’s – this is a war that is not – is a blatant assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty, but it is also at odds with everything the PRC has purported to believe in over the course of decades now. It is a constant refrain that we’ve heard from the PRC bilaterally, that we’ve heard from the PRC in multilateral settings, that we’ve heard from the PRC in the UN system, this principle, this – what should be an inviolable principle of state sovereignty, has been under assault by Russia since February 24th, and in many ways for the eight years before that.
It’s also not surprising that these two countries are coming together. We’ve said that President Putin, it’s very clear, is looking for every conceivable lifeline he can find. He is turning to countries like the DPRK, he is turning to countries like Iran in the process. And when it comes to Russia and the PRC, it’s true that they share a vision for the world. They share a vision for the world that is starkly at odds with the vision that’s at the center of the international system, the vision that has been at the center of the international system for the past eight decades. It is the vision that is at the heart of the UN system and the UN Charter, for that matter.
So we’ve seen this relationship deepen not over the course of days, weeks, or months but over the course of years. Of course, we’ve seen this relationship move even more closely together. We have made very clear our concern about this deepening relationship and the concern that every country around the world should have about this relationship.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? You mentioned that Putin is turning to DPRK and Iran for help. Do you have any information to confirm the expectation that Putin is asking Xi Jinping for support in person given that Russia is facing all the —
MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to what President Putin asked of President Xi today. That would be something to pose to President Putin.
QUESTION: Thank you. A follow-up on China issues. President Xi Jinping and President Putin met at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit yesterday. They created the (inaudible) for the (inaudible) trade and economic cooperation. And China is not cooperation in the Russia sanctions. How do you think this would affect Russia’s sanctions?
MR PRICE: Sorry, repeat the end of that? How does – I didn’t catch the end of the question.
QUESTION: How do you think this will affect Russia’s sanctions, because China not cooperating with Russia sanctions?
MR PRICE: Well, as I just said to your colleague, it’s very clear that Russia is looking for every conceivable lifeline. The fact that dozens of countries around the world have come together not only to impose sanctions and massive financial penalties, but also to mount export controls – export controls that have systematically starved Russia of the key inputs it needs for its industrial base, for its defense base, for its energy production, and for its technological base, and the fact that Russia is now turning to countries like Iran and the DPRK I think speaks to the difficulty Russia is finding in indigenously producing what it needs for – to prosecute its brutal war of aggression against Ukraine.
I would leave it to the PRC to speak to the approach that they are taking towards this conflict, towards this war. As I said just a moment ago, they have had to go to extraordinary lengths to even attempt to explain how this brutal war of territorial conquest and aggression would not be automatically at odds with the vision of the world that they have put forward over the course of decades and the emphasis that they have placed on the principle – the emphasis they have placed on the principle of sovereignty over the course of decades.
QUESTION: But China – look, China is ignoring Russia’s purchase of North Korea’s weapons. Do you think that China is responsible for this? Why they ignoring? I mean, Russia and North Korea weapons trading for China is ignoring about this.
MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to what the PRC’s position is on Russia’s purchase of millions of rounds from the DPRK. I would leave that to the PRC to characterize their position.
QUESTION: Just follow-up. While you are expressing concerns over Russians seeking for help, do you actually have any sign that China is providing assistance to Russia?
MR PRICE: We have information, we had information that we made public a number of months ago now, that Russia was seeking security assistance from the PRC. As I said a moment ago to Nike, we made that public. We also made very public the fact that we would be watching very closely and that the PRC would incur significant costs if it provided military assistance to Russia in its war or if it aided Russia in a systematic way evade the sanctions that the international community had imposed on it. We have not seen the PRC do either of those things.
QUESTION: And what is your impression, your take on this Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit which Mr. President Putin attended?
MR PRICE: We are not a member of this organization. We’ll leave it to members and others to characterize it.
QUESTION: And I just have a quick one on Taiwan. Yesterday, the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee just passed the Taiwan Policy Act. What is your reaction to that? Are you concerned this would be – this would further damage the U.S.-China relation?
MR PRICE: Well, as we always or often do, our legislative teams here and members of the administration are in close touch with members of Congress. We’ll communicate to – we’ll continue to communicate directly and privately with members and their staffs about this legislation like we do with draft legislation really across the board. For our part, the Biden administration, we have deepened our partnership with Taiwan. We’ll continue to do so with effective diplomatic, economic, and military support. And we appreciate the strong bipartisan support for Taiwan that we’re seeing in Congress and that we’re seeing across the country.
QUESTION: Ned, can I —
MR PRICE: Let me move around because we have many – many people. Yes. Yes. Please. I just took the question on the Taiwan Policy Act.
QUESTION: No, quickly, because you have said that U.S. bipartisan “one China” policy is guided by Six Assurances, the Taiwan Relations Act, and Joint Communique. Among the Six Assurances is – I can quote – “The United States will not formally recognize Chinese soveriegnty over Taiwan” end of quote, and quote, “The United States will not set a date for termination of arms sale to Taiwan,” end of quote. Is there a reason – is there a need for Chinese Government to be concerned about Taiwan Policy Act?
MR PRICE: Nothing is changing about our approach to Taiwan. It is guided by our “one China” policy, the Three Joint Communiques, the Six Assurances, and the Taiwan Relations Act.
QUESTION: I’d like to ask about Egypt’s FMF, and specifically the administration’s decision to certify that Egypt was making clear and consistent progress on the release of prisoners, and on due process. I know you’ll cite the 500 releases this year, but given that that’s out of 60,000 or so political prisoners, how is that the progress – the clear and consistent progress when during that same time period NGOs say more political prisoners were arrested than were released?
MR PRICE: So this is a complicated issue, and so I want to make sure that we clearly state the background to this decision. First, it’s important to say that the Biden administration has taken an approach regarding Egypt that reflects the full range of our national interests, and of course that includes human rights. Egypt is a strategic partner of ours with whom we cooperate to promote a range of shared interests. In doing so, we also raise very serious concerns about human rights and fundamental freedoms in Egypt. Because our bilateral relationship with Egypt is an important one, we have made clear at every opportunity – and we have had a number – that our relationship is fundamentally strengthened when there is progress on human rights. In that context – and you alluded to this – the Secretary yesterday made several decisions related to Fiscal Year 2021 U.S. military assistance through what is called Foreign Military Financing, or FMF – these funds for Egypt.
And as background, when it comes to those funds, $300 million of the total $1.3 billion originally planned for Egypt in the FY21 FMF funds are subject, per Congress, to human rights related conditions. Within that $300 million, there are essentially two baskets of funds: there is $225 million that is subject to a broad range of human rights conditions, and the remaining 75 million is conditioned specifically on demonstrating clear and consistent progress on releasing political detainees and providing detainees with due process, as you referenced in your question.
To the Secretary’s decisions, the Secretary did not certify to Congress that Egypt met the human rights related conditions for that bigger pot of money, the 225 million portion of this $300 million total. The Secretary did not use his national interest waiver for these funds, and he directed the department to redirect $130 million from these FMF funds originally planned for Egypt – and that’s the maximum amount that could be reprogrammed – to other U.S. national security priorities and countries in consultation with Congress. We did have an opportunity to communicate this decision directly to Congress and to our Egyptian partners yesterday.
Now, the remaining $95 million will be provided to Egypt under a statutory exception for border security, nonproliferation, and counterterrorism programs. For the $75 million in FMF funding that is subject to conditions related to what you raised – political prisoners and due process – the Secretary did determine that Egypt is making clear and consistent progress on this issue, and that’s why he directed the department to notify Congress of our intent to provide these funds to Egypt.
We believe that this approach reflects our concerns about human rights and fundamental freedoms in Egypt, while at the same time also seeking to sustain and to advance engagement and dialogue in human rights – that same engagement and dialogue on human rights we have had with Egypt over the last 20 months.
When it comes to the issue of due process and political detention, there is no question that politically motivated arrests in Egypt are a major challenge, and that’s highlighted in our annual Human Rights Report, including our most recent Human Rights Report.
The Secretary did make the determination that Egypt has made clear and consistent progress both through what you referenced, unprecedented numbers of releases, hundreds of prisoners this year; the establishment of the presidential pardon committee; and the efforts to set up a national political dialogue that is expected to address some of these very issues. That includes pre-trial detention reform, among other social, political, and economic issues.
So this is a conversation we will continue to have with our Egyptian partners. We will continue to take advantage of every opportunity from the senior-most levels to the working levels to underscore both the value we place on this relationship, and the notion that seeing continued improvement in the human rights situation will only strengthen the foundation of that bilateral relationship.
QUESTION: Can I just go back to the SCO summit with respect to Putin and Iran? President Putin met with the Iranian president and used the meeting to address the nuclear deal. He mocked the United States and told President Raisi that the U.S. “are masters of their own word. They do as they please: first they make promises, [and] then they break promises.” Do you have any response to those comments?
MR PRICE: I don’t have a response to those comments other than to say that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA would not only be in the interests of the United States and our European partners, the E3 in this context. Ensuring permanently and verifiably that Iran would not be in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon would also be in the interests of two of the participants in this meeting you referenced, Russia and China as well.
QUESTION: Ned, on this?
MR PRICE: On Iran?
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. Two questions. So yesterday EU’s Borrell said that the negotiation had reached a stalemate, and today Benny Gantz of Israel says that the JCPOA is in ER room. I wanted your assessment on what is characterization that the Department of State has on the status of this negotiation. And now since those are painting a gloomy picture, what will happen to the fate of the U.S. Iranians held in Iran?
MR PRICE: I’ll leave it –
QUESTION: And if I may, yesterday also the board of governors of the IAEA said – they issued a statement which U.S. was party, and they again said that they are – they have a profound concern. Is there a time limit that the U.S. will refer Iran’s case of not answering IAEA’s questions to the United Nations Security Council, or they keep on going? Thanks.
MR PRICE: So to your questions, I will leave it to all of you to determine the metaphor that best fits the moment with the JCPOA. What I can offer is our assessment, and there is only one reason that we have not yet reached an understanding on a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, and that is because Tehran has not yet accepted the reasonable basis presented by the EU as coordinator of the JCPOA talks. As we’ve said repeatedly, gaps remain between the United States and Iran, or between Iran and the rest of the P5+1 in many ways. And it’s clear from Iran’s response that these gaps still remain. Iran’s response did not put us in a position to close a deal, but we continue to contend that it’s not too late to conclude a deal. As long as we believe that pursuing a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is in the interests of the United States and in our national security interests, we will continue to do that.
When it comes to the wrongful detainees in Iran, this has been a priority of this administration since day one. And we have always been extraordinarily careful as long as there has been a process underway in Vienna or anywhere else regarding a potential mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA not to link these two things. And we have not linked them precisely because we always imagined we could be in this position where the JCPOA is a very uncertain proposition. We don’t want to tie the fates of detained Americans, Americans who in some cases have spent hundreds of days – years – behind bars away from their families – we don’t want to tie their fates to what could well remain an uncertain or even impossible proposition. So we have always treated these on a separate track. That is why even in the absence of a JCPOA, at least at this moment, we are continuing to do everything we can to see the release of these American detainees at the first possible opportunity.
When it comes to Iran and the concerns that the IAEA has expressed, we too have expressed those very same concerns. We have the utmost confidence in the IAEA, we have the utmost confidence in IAEA Director General Grossi, and we’ll continue to consult closely with our partners at the IAEA regarding the most appropriate response to Iran’s continued refusal to satisfy the questions that the IAEA has put forward.
QUESTION: Ned on this, what is the next step regarding the JCPOA?
MR PRICE: Again, I mentioned the other day we have responded to – and we responded last week to – the most recent submission that Iran put forward to the EU as the coordinator for these talks. Our – the basic fact is – and I said this already – there’s only one reason why we have yet to reach an understanding. It’s because Tehran has not accepted the very reasonable basis presented by the EU as coordinator for this process.
Let me move around. Yes. Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. Last night Secretary Blinken called Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi just a couple of hours after the review on Russian funds. Can I ask you who reached out to whom? And also, is Italy in the – one of the country – in the list of the country who received funds from Russia? And also do the U.S. – I mean the administration – know that in a week, little more than a week in Italy there are some – the elections, so is a very delicate moment in the country, and maybe – I don’t know – Secretary Blinken talked about it with the prime minister. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Just as a matter of course we don’t speak, typically, to who reaches out to whom with these calls. We did, however, issue a readout, and that readout spoke to the issues that were discussed on that call, including the close partnership and alliance we have with Italy on a number of shared interests. That includes the costs that we are together mounting on Russia for its war of aggression against Ukraine. That includes the concerns, the shared concerns, we have about President Putin’s weaponization of energy and the efforts that we are undertaking together as allies and as partners to help our European allies with the energy supplies that they will need in the coming weeks and the coming months. They had a number of other issues that were discussed, and the Secretary made the point that the United States as an ally of Italy stands ready and eager to work with any government, any Italian government that emerges from the electoral process that will take place in the coming days.
When it comes to Russia’s interference in elections around the world, we didn’t release information this week in order to put a spotlight on any particular country. In fact, we have not spoken to Russia’s efforts in particular context. That was not the point of these efforts. The point was to put a spotlight on what is very much a global threat and a universal challenge that countries around the world – continents around the world – face from the threat of Russia’s meddling and interference in democratic exercises around the world.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have three questions at present. But one is Taliban sharing the video (inaudible) hostages being held in Panjshir and then shooting them, and they share on the social media, which is – reaction is so negative for the Afghan people. Any comment about that? What is the international law said about it?
And number two, I don’t know what is the relationship between U.S. and Pakistan, because Taliban claims that United State used a drone attack to Afghanistan with the cooperation with the Pakistan.
And the third question, there is two conference. One is in Bukhara, Samarkand, Shanghai conference about Afghanistan, and the next one is Vienna regarding Afghanistan. Does the State Department has any comment? It’s going to be useful for Afghanistan, especially for women situation?
MR PRICE: Thank you. When it comes to —
QUESTION: Panjshir first.
MR PRICE: When it comes to Panjshir, I’m not immediately familiar with the video that you’re referring to, but we have seen any number of atrocities committed in Afghanistan in recent months. And, of course, violence against civilians is an atrocity; in some cases it could constitute even worse. We are paying very close attention to the human rights situation in Afghanistan. We have made no secret about our concerns for the fact that the Taliban is not living up to the commitments they have made to the United States, to the international community, but most importantly, the commitments that they have made to the people of Afghanistan.
To address your third question on this, that is why in every forum, we and our partners around the world take advantage of opportunities to be very explicit and candid with the Taliban about those concerns, about the implications of the Taliban’s continued unwillingness or inability to live up to the commitments that it has made to the Afghan people. We’ve been very clear with the Taliban in every single engagement of ours, and I know and I’m confident that our partners around the world have been clear in every single engagement they have had of the costs for the Taliban’s continued intransigence when it comes to the human rights of the Afghan people. And that means all of the people of Afghanistan, including its women, of course; its girls, of course; its minorities – religious, ethnic, and otherwise.
When it comes to the commitment President Biden made to seeing to it that Afghanistan could never again become a launchpad for attacks targeting the United States or our partners, that is a commitment that we are positioned to carry out. We don’t speak to specific tactics, but I think our actions speak for themselves. And the fact that we were able to take a precise, targeted operation against Ayman al-Zawahiri, the now deceased leader of al-Qaida, speaks to the commitment we have using the tools that are at our disposal to follow through with that pledge.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. A couple things on Russia. One is on IAEA resolution just was passed. Actually, they call Russia to leave the power plant, which is something you were calling as well. But my question is the fact that only two countries voted against it, Russia and China. Can I get your reaction to that?
Secondly, in reaction to your Russian counterparts today’s comment on your supplying longer level missiles will cross a redline, are you planning to supply longer range HIMARS or not? Just to clarify that.
And lastly on South Caucasus, there are reports that the ceasefire was achieved between the two sides, Azerbaijan and Armenia. There are also reports that Speaker Pelosi will be visiting the region; she’ll be in Armenia this weekend. I know you don’t comment on the Speaker’s schedule, but is the administration planning to seize the opportunity to – this is the highest level trip to region for years, from my understanding – to push forward the peace that is very much near right now? Thank you.
MR PRICE: So on ZNPP, this is something that we’ve discussed with our Ukrainian partners, with our European partners. It was a topic of discussion between President Zelenskyy, Foreign Minister Kuleba, and Secretary Blinken in Kyiv last Thursday. We continue to be concerned for a number of reasons. The electricity that the plant produces when it is fully operational belongs to Ukraine. This is Ukrainian territory; it is a Ukrainian plant. Any attempt to – and any combat operations, Russia’s combat operations around this plant, pose a profound danger to a nuclear installation. Combat should not be performed around nuclear installations and nuclear facilities. That is a message we have made resoundingly clear to the Russians. It is a message that the IAEA has also issued as well.
We strongly support calls for demilitarization of the area surrounding the ZNPP, including the removal of Russia’s forces from the plants and the immediate withdrawal – and their immediate withdrawal from Russia’s* territory. This – a version of this has been put forward by the IAEA as well. They have concerns about the potential for continued combat and dangerous operations around this nuclear facility, and their nuclear safety and security protection zone intends to achieve a similar objective to the concept of a demilitarized area around the ZNPP. And that’s something we continue to discuss very closely with the IAEA, but of course with Ukraine in the first instance.
On systems for Ukraine, I don’t have a response to what we heard from the Russian Federation today. What I would underscore is that everything we have provided for our Ukrainian partners has had one purpose and only one purpose, and that is to enable to defend their country, to defend their territory, to defend their freedom, to defend their democracy against invading Russian aggressors. This is about equipping our Ukrainian partners with what they need to preserve their sovereignty, their independence, and their territorial integrity as well.
With – when it comes to Armenia and Azerbaijan, we welcome continued adherence to the ceasefire. We’re continuing to urge the parties to engage in the peace process. We urge that a cessation of hostilities be maintained, and we urge the disengagement of military forces and work to resolve all outstanding issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan through peaceful negotiations. Use of force is never an acceptable path, and we are glad that the continued engagement at high levels in Armenia and Azerbaijan has helped the sides reach a ceasefire. We continue to engage and encourage the work needed to reach a lasting peace. Again, there can be no military solution to this.
Ambassador Reeker, our senior advisor has been in the region. He’s now in Vienna meeting with likeminded partners in the OSCE. Assistant Secretary Donfried has been in contact with her foreign minister counterparts in the region. Ambassador Reeker has spoken with President Aliyev. The Secretary, of course, has had an opportunity a couple days ago now to speak to both leaders. I would expect that he will have an opportunity to speak to the leaders again. He has been personally focused on this and will remain engaged going forward.
QUESTION: Do you view the Speaker’s upcoming trip as part of process?
MR PRICE: I would defer to the speaker to speak to any travel she may have.
QUESTION: I want to ask something else. But is there a reason why Phil Reeker didn’t go to Armenia? He was in Azerbaijan, then he went to Vienna.
MR PRICE: He’s been in contact with authorities from both countries. We are pleased to see that the cessation of hostilities has continued to stick, and he’ll continue to meet with the OSCE and our like-minded partners in Vienna to further this.
QUESTION: Separately, Ethiopia. Could you say if Mike Hammer is still in the region, what he’s doing diplomatically, and how do you see things right now? The Ethiopian Government had a statement about the TPLF accepting African Union mediation. Do you think that’s a positive step? How do you see things on the ground right now?
MR PRICE: Well, Special Envoy Hammer is still in the region. He’s wrapping up two weeks in the region. He’s remained actively engaged with the Government of Ethiopia, with the Tigray regional authorities, with the African Union, and with international partners to seek to advance an important effort to bring about peace. He met on September 12th with the AU’s high representative, Mr. Obasanjo. He met on the 13th with UN Special Representative to the Secretary-General Hanna Tetteh. And Assistant Secretary Phee, for her part, was this week attending the inauguration of President Ruto in Kenya, and she engaged in discussions regarding the ongoing violence in Ethiopia.
More broadly, we are increasingly concerned by the growing military activity in Northern Ethiopia. We strongly condemn the resumption of hostilities. There is no military solution to this conflict. These actions are inconsistent with the Government of Ethiopia and Tigrayan regional authorities’ stated willingness to go to talks. And we call on both the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray regional authorities to halt immediately their military offensives and to pursue a negotiated settlement through peace talks under the auspices of the African Union.
We commend and support the AU’s diplomatic efforts to start talks as soon as possible. We welcome the ongoing commitment in AU-led peace talks by both parties, the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray regional authorities. And in coordination with international partners, we have reiterated our readiness to actively support this AU-led peace process.
We also call on Eritrea to withdraw to its borders and for Eritrea and others to cease fueling this conflict. These actions are increasing tensions throughout the region. They are worsening the humanitarian situation at a time of pronounced drought and food insecurity. We continue to stand with the people of Ethiopia and will continue to be the largest donor of humanitarian aid and assistance to the Ethiopian people.
QUESTION: Quick question, Ned.
MR PRICE: Anyone who hasn’t asked? Yes.
QUESTION: Combining a few issues together here – number one, UN General Assembly next week. Is there any plans for any initiatives, any meetings on the sidelines, regarding the Abraham Accords countries? And secondly, based on the context of past statements from the State Department regarding the host agreement, it seems as if the Iranian president is going to be walking around fairly unencumbered at Turtle Bay next week. Is there any circumstance in which the State Department would deny a diplomatic visa, keeping in mind the home – or the host agreement?
MR PRICE: So on your second question, we do take seriously our obligation, and it is an obligation, as the host country of the UN under the UN Headquarters Agreement. As the host country, we have provided guidance to all member states when it comes to timelines for visa applications. We are generally obligated to grant visas to diplomats who are traveling —
QUESTION: Generally. But —
MR PRICE: — who are traveling to the United States for the UN. Visa records are confidential. We can’t comment on individual cases. But we are obligated to take the commitments we have as the UN host country extraordinarily seriously.
When it comes to the Abraham Accords, we have and will continue to take advantage of every opportunity to seek to advance the Abraham Accords and broader normalization agreements. There is a process that is ongoing that started with the Negev Summit in March. Senior officials have been involved in that with their respective counterparts. We’ll have more updates on that process. But I would expect that we’ll continue to have conversations in the coming days and weeks – not only with Israel and the current signatories to the Abraham Accords and other normalization agreements, but other countries who may be prepared in the coming period to see their relations normalized with Israel and to —
QUESTION: Anything specific at the UNGA, though?
MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to anything on the sidelines of next week’s UN. We will have an opportunity to speak more to the Secretary’s schedule in the coming days.
QUESTION: Ned, can I have on question, very quickly, on –
QUESTION: One quick one on the General Assembly.
MR PRICE: One more UN, yeah.
QUESTION: At the UN General Assembly next week, do you think the North Korean foreign minister will be attending this meeting?
MR PRICE: That’s a better question for the DPRK.
MR PRICE: Sorry? Oh. We – again, we are aware of this. We have urged all sides to avoid actions that could escalate tension. That certainly includes evictions.
QUESTION: But I mean, you keep saying both sides. The Israelis are not expelling anyone – I mean the Palestinians. It’s the Israelis who are expelling Palestinians. Why can’t you say directly to the Israelis that you will not look very kindly on their effort to expel Palestinians?
MR PRICE: Said, we have a relationship with Israel that – whose strength allows us to have conversation across a range of issues. We are in a position to have candid and frank discussions with our Israeli partners when it’s appropriate. I can assure you that we do. That is a hallmark of the relationships around the world where we do have such close ties.
QUESTION: I have two questions, one on Sudan and other one on Qatar-Egypt. The U.S. embassy in Sudan welcomed the draft transitional constitution prepared by the Sudanese Bar Association. To what extent do you consider this draft as a base for a political solution in Sudan? And how will the U.S. support it?
And second, how do you view the visit that President Sisi made to Qatar?
MR PRICE: When it comes to the Sudanese Bar Association initiative, we do view this as a serious initiative. We commend the SBA’s initiative’s inclusion of a broad spectrum of Sudanese stakeholders and careful expert technical review, and we’re encouraged by the initial signs of support from diverse Sudanese actors since the release. We must – work must continue to ensure any agreement is acceptable to a clear majority of political and social forces, and no political agreement can be credible or sustainable if it’s not inclusive or does not enjoy a wide base of popular support. No single actor, no single group or coalition should have a monopoly on the political process, and to move forward, we believe that Sudan and the Sudanese people must be in a position to come together.
When it comes to the visit of President Sisi to Qatar, we welcome the visit and the recent meeting with the emir of Qatar. Both Egypt and Qatar are essential partners of the United States. Both have played an active role in facilitating peace in the region, and we support closer diplomatic, economic, and people-to-people ties between the two countries. Beyond that, I would need to refer you to those two countries.
Very final quick question, yes.
MR PRICE: We will have more on this meeting to provide you tomorrow, but this is a meeting that will be led by our Under Secretary Bonnie Jenkins, our under secretary of our T family bureaus. They’ll be in a position to discuss our collective goal to ensure that the U.S.-ROK Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group is a substantive and sustainable forum where we can discuss all aspects of our cooperation and coordination. That includes diplomatic, economic, informational, and military, and how they contribute to deterring threats to the alliance. We’ll discuss threats from the DPRK and expanding cooperation against all avenues of potential aggression, and we’ll also discuss how the United States and our ROK allies can cooperate with regional partners to address our many shared security challenges.
We will hold this meeting tomorrow. As I said before, it will be led by Bonnie Jenkins. It will also include the Department of Defense, specifically Dr. Colin Kahl, who’s the under secretary of defense for policy. And it provides an opportunity for our government to discuss peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific more broadly.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:16 p.m.)
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