Department Press Briefing – September 26, 2022
1:52 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: We saw many of you last week in New York. Speaking of last week in New York, the world came together last week to spotlight and – in nearly all cases – reaffirm the principles at the core of the UN Charter. President Biden cited one of his predecessors, President Truman, who heralded the charter as proof that nations can, quote “state their differences, can face them, and then can find common ground on which to stand.”
And last week we witnessed a tremendous amount of common ground among the UN’s member- states regarding Russia’s illegal, unjustified invasion of Ukraine. Country after country – in both the Security Council and General Assembly – condemned Russia’s war and called for an end to the invasion.
They did so because not only is the Kremlin’s war an assault on Ukraine, but it is also a stark affront to the principles at the heart of the UN Charter: sovereignty, the independence of states, the inviolability of national borders, the tenets of peace and security.
These are the principles that apply equally in Europe as they do anywhere – and everywhere – around the world.
The statements from world leaders in New York crystallized the stakes, but so too did the statements and actions that emanated from Moscow. President Putin did perhaps as much as anyone last week to further isolate Russia and bolster international resolve to stand with Ukraine.
His nuclear saber-rattling, the sham referenda, his partial mobilization, and the broad – and sometimes violent – crackdown on Russians exercising their universal rights were galvanizing, but almost certainly not in the way that President Putin intended.
These actions from President Putin signal very – signal very clearly that he knows he is losing. He’s on his back heels. And he’s making every attempt to intimidate those who would stand up to him. We – along with our allies and partners around the world – are not going to bow to intimidation.
So let me state once again: the so-called referenda Russia is holding right now in the sovereign Ukrainian regions of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk, and Donetsk are a total sham. The United States will never recognize seized Ukrainian territory as anything other than part of Ukraine. We stand by Ukraine’s sovereignty.
As you saw today, we are increasing our support to our Ukrainian partners. The Secretary announced an additional $457.5 million in civilian security assistance to enhance the efforts of Ukrainian law enforcement and criminal justice agencies to improve their operational capacity and save lives as they continue to help defend the Ukrainian people, their freedom, and their democracy from the Kremlin’s brutal war of aggression.
This new tranche of aid brings the total – brings the total the United States has committed to our Ukrainian law enforcement and criminal justice partners, since mid-December 2021, to more than $645 million. The provision of additional protective equipment, medical supplies, and armored vehicles to the National Police of Ukraine and the State Border Guard Service has significantly reduced casualties for Ukrainian civilians and their defenders.
In addition to continuing and expanding our direct assistance to Ukrainian law enforcement, a portion of this new assistance will also continue U.S. support for the Ukrainian government’s efforts to document, investigate, and prosecute atrocities perpetrated by Russia’s forces, drawing on our longstanding relationship with the Ukrainian criminal justice agencies.
The United States stands side by side with the Ukrainian people, and we remain committed to supporting a democratic, independent, and sovereign Ukraine.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Just on the additional aid, is it possible – you don’t have to do it here, but if someone’s got it – to break that down in terms of what goes to – I’m particularly interested in how much is going to go to the prosecutors and the – for the investigation, but it would be good to know if we could get – how much is going to go armored vehicles and how much is going to go to PPE and that kind of thing.
MR PRICE: Understood.
QUESTION: Is that possible to do?
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, which is not Ukraine specifically – and I know that your colleague at the White House was asked about this – but you’ve seen President Putin giving Russian citizenship to Edward Snowden. Back in 2013 when you guys – this building, the State Department during the Obama administration – revoked his passport, it was made clear by one of your predecessors that this did not affect his citizenship; that he was still, as far as the U.S. Government is concerned, an American citizen. And I just want to know if that is still – and I’m not asking about any kind of prosecution, so please don’t refer me to the Justice Department. Is it still the belief of the administration that he is a U.S. citizen?
MR PRICE: I’m not aware of any change in his citizenship status. I am —
MR PRICE: — familiar with the fact that he has in some ways denounced his American citizenship. I don’t know that he’s renounced it.
QUESTION: Right. Well, no, he hasn’t. And in fact, when he applied for citizenship, he said he wasn’t going to renounce it. But I just —
MR PRICE: And —
QUESTION: But there are ways in which the U.S. Government can revoke one’s citizenship. And as far as I know, he doesn’t meet any of the – or hasn’t met any of the criteria yet. One of the four is committing an act of treason, which I know you’ll refer to the Justice Department on. But I just want to make sure that as far as you’re concerned, he remains an American citizen, so he is now a dual U.S.-Russian citizen.
MR PRICE: Our position has not changed. Mr. Snowden should return to the United States, where he should face justice as any other American citizen would. Perhaps the only thing that has changed is that, as a result of his Russian citizenship, apparently now he may well be conscripted to fight in Russia’s war in Ukraine.
QUESTION: All right, last thing and this has to do specifically with your comments about President Putin and his – what he did last – the reaction to what he has recently announced last week at the UN as it – or during the UN as it relates to sovereignty and territorial integrity. And I just want to make sure that I understand correctly that your “one China” policy, right, means that Taiwan is part of China and that you respect Chinese territorial integrity and sovereignty over Taiwan.
MR PRICE: Matt, our “one China” policy has not changed. Our “one China” policy has not changed in the sum of 40 years.
QUESTION: Well, what does your “one China” policy say about Chinese territorial integrity for —
MR PRICE: Very, very basically, we don’t take a position on sovereignty. But our “one China” policy has not changed. That is a – that is a position we made very clear in public. It is a position that Secretary Blinken made very clear in private to Wang Yi when he met with him on Friday.
QUESTION: Does that mean that Taiwan is part of China? I mean, it’s one China, right?
MR PRICE: Again, Said, our one policy – our “one China” policy has not changed. We don’t take a position on s sovereignty. But the policy that has been at the crux of our approach to Taiwan since 1979 remains in effect today.
What we want to see continue, what we want to see preserved, is the status quo – precisely because the status quo since 1979, more than 40 years now, has undergirded peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. We want to see that continue. Unfortunately, I don’t believe the same could be said of the PRC, which has become only more coercive and intimidating in its actions and its maneuvers across the Taiwan Strait.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, can – if Vladimir Putin has conferred Russian citizenship on Edward Snowden today as they say, does that mean he automatically loses his American citizenship, whether or not he’s renounced it?
MR PRICE: I’m not aware of any change in his American citizenship status. I’m not aware that anything has happened yet when it comes to that. Mr. Snowden is apparently now a Russian citizen, and again, that makes him subject to any Russian decrees that may come down, including the one we heard about last week.
QUESTION: What are your bets on that? Let me ask you a China question —
QUESTION: One second. This is kind of interesting. Because if he is now – you say he’s now a Russian citizen, but he’s also an American citizen, right?
MR PRICE: Well, I didn’t say that. I said the – obviously, the Russians have put out a formal decree.
QUESTION: Yes, exactly.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: But, so apparently he is both, U.S. and Russian citizen. Now, when it comes to Iran – so U.S. – American – the Iranian Government does not treat U.S. dual-nationals as dual‑nationals, right? They treat them only as single, and you deplore that and you denounce it when they get arrested and charged under Iranian law. And yet here, you seem to be happy by the – or you seem to be enjoying the idea —
MR PRICE: There’s —
QUESTION: — that somehow now as a Russian citizen, Ed Snowden could – Edward Snowden could be conscripted.
MR PRICE: There’s no emotion attached to my voice, Matt. I am just saying that a Russian citizen – he would presumably be subject to Russian laws.
QUESTION: A related question on China. Can you tell us whether during the President’s – excuse me, the Secretary of State’s meeting with Wang Yi on Friday he brought up the issue of wrongfully detained American Kai Li who’s been detained for five years in China?
MR PRICE: In just about every single one of our engagements around the world at senior levels, we raise cases of American detainees, Americans who are wrongfully detained; when appropriate and applicable, Americans who are being held hostage around the world. We have consistently raised cases of Americans who are wrongfully detained in China or who are otherwise unable to freely depart the PRC. We will continue to do that until such cases are resolved.
QUESTION: Well, was it raised in this instance on Friday?
MR PRICE: I’m – it is something we consistently raise.
QUESTION: But that doesn’t – that doesn’t – can you take the question of whether it was raised on Friday?
MR PRICE: It is – we issued a readout of this. It’s something we consistently raise. But we’re not in a position to go beyond that readout.
QUESTION: What is the latest on Kai Li case, and do we have consular access?
MR PRICE: We’ll have to get back to you on the question of consular access. But these are cases that we regularly do discuss with our PRC counterparts. These are cases that the embassy in Beijing routinely works on, just in the same way that our embassies around the world work on behalf of American citizens who are wrongfully detained, but when it comes to all instances of Americans who are detained around the world to provide them appropriate consular support in line with the Vienna Convention on consular access.
QUESTION: One last China and Russia and Korea, okay, Chinese issues. There are reports that Russia is pushing to recruit Chinese Russian soldiers to fight Ukraine. If this is true, then China will engage in military cooperation with Russia. How would you assess this? Did you ever hear about this?
MR PRICE: Could you repeat the first part of the question?
QUESTION: Yeah. There are reports that Russia is pushing to China – I mean Chinese Russian soldiers to fight Ukraine – I mean, this – who are Chinese living in Russia (inaudible).
MR PRICE: Chinese nationals living in Russia who wouldn’t go fight in Ukraine?
MR PRICE: I am not familiar with these reports. With – as I mentioned a moment ago, when it comes to the Secretary’s engagement with Wang Yi on Friday, there was a discussion of Russia and its illegal, unjustified invasion of Ukraine. This, of course, was also a topic of conversation at the UN. We heard from Wang Yi himself in the UN Security Council. Wang Yi, during that setting, made very clear that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be safeguarded, the purposes and principles of the UN Charter should be abided by, all parties concerned should exercise restraint and avoid words and deeds that aggravate confrontation.
So the test will be whether these words from the PRC are actually implemented. We have made clear, and the Secretary made clear again to his PRC counterpart on Friday, that we are watching very closely. We know that Russia has sought assistance from the PRC. We know early on in this conflict that Russia lodged a request for military assistance. We made that public at the time. We warned both publicly and privately at the time that the PRC would face consequences if it provided security assistance to Russia or if it assisted Russia, in a systematic way, evade sanctions.
We haven’t seen the PRC do either of those. We’re continuing to watch very closely. But again, our message to the PRC has been a simple one: China should not make Russia’s problems China’s problems.
QUESTION: But recently Xi Jinping, Chinese prime – I mean, President Xi Jinping and the Russian President Putin have a meeting together. You never know what they – they’re talking about, what kind of conversation they did. So how you going to trust China and Russia? That’s – their trust is very important.
MR PRICE: We’re not trusting, we’re verifying. We are looking at every single bit of information we have. We have seen nothing as of yet, at least, to indicate that the PRC is taking a different approach when it comes to security assistance, when it comes to efforts to systematically help Russia evade sanctions. But we’re continuing to watch. We know that conversations – including at high levels, as we saw in Samarkand the other week – between the PRC and Russia are ongoing.
What I will say is that if you look at President Putin’s words, if you look at President Xi’s words, if you read Wang Yi’s words, the very words I just referred to, you hear the PRC expressing a degree of unease with what Russia is doing in Ukraine. And that’s really no surprise. It’s no surprise because Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine is not only, as I said at the top, an assault on Ukraine, it is an assault, a brutal assault on the UN Charter, on the UN system, on every member state of the United Nations that subscribes to them.
So it’s no wonder that the PRC is expressing varying degrees of reservations. The real test, though, will be if those apparent reservations, this apparent discomfort with what Russia is doing in Ukraine, will actually contour what the PRC does in its approach.
QUESTION: One more quick. The South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said that yesterday in the event of dispute between China and Taiwan, the possibility of a North Korean provocation would increase. Does the United States wants South Korea to support U.S. defense to Taiwan?
MR PRICE: We have an ironclad alliance with our South Korean partners. It is an alliance that is built not only on shared interests in the Indo-Pacific but also on shared values. And one of the many reasons for our support for the people on Taiwan is the fact that we share values with the people on Taiwan. That is also true of our South Korean allies. So we have a shared interest, together with South Korea, together with our other allies in the region, in upholding a free and open Indo-Pacific. That’s something we routinely discuss and something we routinely act upon.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR PRICE: Sure. Anything else on China?
QUESTION: All right. Thank you, Ned. Today was the tenth day of continuous protests in Iran. The Biden administration has sanctioned people and in today’s – it has issued the general license for providing technology to Iranian people for communication. But that hasn’t stopped the law enforcement from killing people, and their number is rising. What can the U.S. administration to stop the killing?
MR PRICE: Let me first start by saying that we, of course, condemn the violence, the brutality that is being exhibited by Iran’s security forces. The ongoing violent suppression of what are peaceful protests following Mahsa Amini’s death is appalling. We are aware that security forces have killed dozens of protesters. We believe it is incumbent upon the international community to speak out, to make clear where they stand when it comes to the exercise of what should be universal rights, rights that are – belong to the people of Iran as much as they do to people anywhere and everywhere across the globe. We’re closely following these developments. Iran’s leaders should be listening to the protesters, not firing on them. Unfortunately, this regime is one that has a long history of using violence against those who would peacefully exercise those universal rights.
The United States, whether it is protesters in Iran, whether it is protesters in Russia, whether it is peaceful protesters around the world, we support the rights of these individuals – these Iranians, in this case – to peacefully assemble and to express themselves without fear of violence or detention by security forces. We are going to continue to do a couple things. We, as you know, as you alluded to, are holding to account the so-called morality police, the entity that is responsible for Mahsa Amini’s death. We sanctioned seven other individuals who have been involved in Iran’s repression over the years. And we are doing what we can to enable the people of Iran to exercise those universal rights.
And you mentioned the general license that we issued on Friday. People – countries around the world have an interest in seeing to it that the people of Iran can communicate freely with one another, can communicate freely with the rest of the world. And we all have an interest in knowing about what’s going on inside of Iran, what the brave Iranian people are peacefully doing in response to the tragic death of Mahsa Amini.
QUESTION: You mentioned the Biden administration urges the international community to speak out. Well, Germany has summoned – today summoned the Iranian ambassador to Berlin and apparently asked him not to suppress the people. But that’s not going to stop the law enforcement. And would – do you think maybe he’s recalling ambassadors from Iran? Would that be a more effective means of Iran’s isolation and maybe rethinking of their policy?
MR PRICE: This is going to be a sovereign decision on the part of countries around the world. We have encouraged and we do encourage, we are encouraging, countries around the world to lend, of course, rhetorical support to these Iranians who are doing nothing more than exercising peacefully their universal rights. For our part, we have used our own authorities. We have granted a license using a Treasury Department authority. But different countries are going to have different approaches. What is less important to us is that these approaches are identical. What is more important to us is that these approaches are complementary, that they work together to support both the rights and the aspirations of the people of Iran.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on Iran?
MR PRICE: Well, Said, you’ve already asked. Let me go over here. Please.
QUESTION: So not that I question how Mahsa Amini, or Jina Amini, as she was calling herself, died. We’ve spoken to her family members, that they’ve kind of confirmed how she died. But I’m just curious: How did you determine that she was killed by morality police? Because the Iranian Government is trying to float the idea that she died as a result of heart attack, this attack or that – not other issue.
MR PRICE: There are certain facts of this case that don’t seem to be in dispute. Mahsa Amini was arrested. Mahsa Amini, of course, was alive at the time of her arrest. There is video of her after her arrest. And some time later, she was dead, after spending time in the custody of the so-called morality police. The facts don’t seem that complicated.
QUESTION: And then on the General License D-2, there are – so the Starlink services that has kind of given a lot of hope to a lot of Iranians. But does the general license, does that also include hardware? Because the terminals and the dishes that requires to use some service like the Starlink, does that also include hardware for – to give to Iran?
MR PRICE: So the short answer is yes. Both GLD-2, the general license we issued last week, but also GLD-1, the general license that we issued in 2014 under the Obama-Biden administration, includes some forms of hardware. Let me – this is not a simple issue, so let me give you a little bit more context.
GLD-2 expands authorizations for software services, but it does continue to authorize certain hardware, including residential consumer satellite terminals that were already authorized under GLD-1, the general license from 2014. General licenses are self-executing. What that means is that anyone who meets the criteria outlined in this general license can proceed with their activities without requesting additional permissions from the U.S. Government.
Now, some types of equipment, including some – including certain commercial uses and worked with – work with sanctioned entities, still require a specific license from Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, before they can be exported to Iran. But on Friday, OFAC also expanded its policy for issuing case-by-case specific licenses, and now OFAC will prioritize any request for a specific license pertaining to internet freedom in Iran.
So back to your question on Starlink. If SpaceX, in this case, were to determine that some activity aimed at Iranians requires a specific license – again, this would need to be a judgment that SpaceX and its lawyers would come to on their own – OFAC would welcome it and would prioritize it. By the same token, if SpaceX determines that its activity is already authorized – again, owing to the self-executing nature of these general licenses – OFAC would welcome any engagement, including if SpaceX or any other company were to have questions about the applicability of this general license or the 2014 general license to their envisioned activity.
QUESTION: And just quickly, to revisit her question, so more than 30 people have died on the hands of Iranian authorities. Will we see tougher reaction from the U.S. or just that first sanction on the Iranian morality police?
MR PRICE: We’re doing two things. As we were talking about in the context of this general license, we are taking steps that we can to facilitate the ability of the Iranian people to communicate with one another, to communicate with the rest of the world – essentially doing what we can to support the peaceful aspirations of the Iranian people for greater levels of freedom and for the respect of rights that are universal to them.
At the same time, we’re also going – we have held to account and we will continue to hold to account those Iranians who are responsible for acts of violence, for acts of repression against their own people. Of course, the sanctions that we issued on Thursday of last week, the sanctions against morality – so-called morality police and the seven other individuals, those are not the first human rights sanctions we’ve levied against Iran. They will not be the last human rights sanctions we levy against Iran.
Let me move around to people who have not asked questions. Kylie.
QUESTION: So Elon Musk has said in recent days that in order for Starlink to work in Iran, there would have to be a terminal in the country that would enable it to actually be activated, and he said that would require someone smuggling that terminal into the country, which would be challenging because the Iranian Government doesn’t want it there. Does the U.S. support someone smuggling that into the country if you are in a position right now where you are supporting bringing freedom of internet to the Iranians?
MR PRICE: We have – the Treasury Department through the general license has taken steps that, through its self-executing capacity, authorizes additional companies to provide software – in some cases hardware – that would be operational in Iran. Of course, we’re not going to speak to what would be required for any such hardware to get into Iran. It is our charge, it is our responsibility to see to it that there are no restrictions – U.S. Government restrictions – that would prevent relevant software and in some cases hardware from being operational inside of Iran.
QUESTION: But isn’t that action on behalf of Treasury a bit meaningless if they can’t actually get the hardware into the country?
MR PRICE: Again, it is our charge to see to it that the Iranian people have what they need to communicate with one another, to communicate with the rest of the world. Private companies are going to take steps that they deem appropriate, whether it’s the authorization, the use of software inside of Iran, or the provision of hardware to the people of Iran.
QUESTION: And just one more question. Are you encouraging allies of the United States to support this effort, allies that may have diplomats or diplomatic presence in Iran?
MR PRICE: We are supporting countries around the world to do what they can to support the aspirations of the Iranian people for greater freedom, greater respect for human rights.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that, just very briefly?
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: Our correspondent there an hour or so ago was telling me that there has been no evidence of any internet right now. It’s completely shut down. Have you seen any tangible evidence since Treasury’s announcement on Friday that there is more internet access for people?
MR PRICE: So I couldn’t speak to internet access broadly. What is true is that the Iranian Government has consistently since these protests began cut off or attempted to cut off internet access to large swaths of the Iranian people. By some accounts, the Iranian Government has cut off access for most of its 80 million citizens to prevent them and to prevent the rest of the world from watching the regime’s ongoing violent crackdown against peaceful protesters. And it’s clear from these actions that Iran’s leaders are, in essence, afraid of their own people. And so we are committed to ensuring that the Iranian people can exercise what is, again, a universal right, the universal right to freedom of expression, the universal right to freely access information via the internet, and that’s why we took this step on Friday.
There is reason to believe that companies are taking action pursuant to the general license that was issued on Thursday of last week. We do encourage companies that have questions as to whether their software or whether their capabilities are authorized under this general license to reach out to OFAC, and again, even if this general license doesn’t authorize the specific piece of software or hardware that a company may have in mind, OFAC, as a result of action we took last week, will prioritize a review of specific license. And that is for a very simple reason: We want to do everything we possibly can to support the Iranian people’s exercise of their universal right.
QUESTION: Ned, I – one on this issue. How do you expect this tragic incident to impact the talks, Vienna talks on going back to the deal or not going back to the deal? I mean, does the incident such as the – you, in this case – of going back so quickly or, let’s say, in a short period of time, considering that there’s so much, apparently, opposition to the government in Iran? How do you factor that into it?
MR PRICE: This does – this in no way changes our determination to see to it that Iran can – is permanently and verifiably barred from obtaining a nuclear weapon. It is, of course, a fact, as we’ve made clear, that these negotiations are not in a healthy place right now. We’ve made clear that while we have been sincere and steadfast in our efforts to see to it that Iran is once again permanently and verifiably barred from a nuclear weapon, we haven’t seen the Iranians make the decision, the Iranian Government make the decision that it would need to make if it were to commit to a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.
But the simple fact remains that every single challenge we face with the Iranian Government would become more difficult, in some ways more intractable, if Iran were in the possession of a nuclear weapon. We think about that not only in terms of Iran’s ballistic missile program, not only in terms of its support for terrorist groups and proxies, not only in terms of its support in malign activity in cyberspace, but also for the types of human rights abuses that we’re talking about now. Every single challenge we face would become more difficult if Iran were to be in possession of one.
QUESTION: The Iranian foreign minister said, I guess on Sunday, that U.S. is still reaching out, saying that we have goodwills, we have good faith, and we want to tailor a deal. Can you confirm that comment?
MR PRICE: Like I said a moment ago, we are determined – the President has a commitment to see to it that Iran can never and will never acquire a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Have you sent any messages in the last 10 days?
MR PRICE: Look, we have made very clear to Iran that we have certain requirements, and we are not going to accept a bad deal. As you heard the Secretary say last night, Iran responded to the most recent proposal in such a way that did not put us in a position to close the deal but actually moved us backwards somewhat. I’m not aware of any further back-and-forth with the EU from Iran. As of now, based on Iran’s positions which it reaffirmed very publicly in New York this week, we don’t see a deal coming together anytime soon.
QUESTION: And do you see any urgency to change your policy towards Iran? There are so many different op-eds being published in recent days urging Biden to change its Iran policy at the moment with what is going on inside Iran. Do you see any urgency to change your policy towards Iran?
MR PRICE: Our policy when it comes to the protests that are ongoing inside Iran?
QUESTION: Protests and also the nuclear.
MR PRICE: Well, these are, of course, separate issues. When it comes to —
QUESTION: Maybe not for Iranian people.
MR PRICE: When it comes to the Iranian people and when it comes to the protests, of course we’re taking action and we have taken action in response to the peaceful protests. We’ve talked – we’ve already spoken to two of those steps, the issuance of the general license and the levying of sanctions against the so-called morality police and the seven individuals. We are going to continue to take steps both on that path towards accountability and to continue to look at steps that would facilitate the Iranian people exercising what are universal rights.
Right now, when it comes to the nuclear path, there doesn’t seem to be a near-term path ahead for us. We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best option to see to it that Iran is never in possession of a nuclear weapon. And we are going to pursue the path of a potential mutual return to the JCPOA for as long as it’s in our national interest but only for as long as it’s in our national interest.
QUESTION: But Ned, I think the point is – is that if you go ahead and get a deal, you’re going to be giving or Iran is going to be getting hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars, in both sanctions relief plus oil revenue. It’s not like they’re going to be using that money to plant flowers around downtown Tehran. Some of that money is going to be – go to further repress the Iranian people, the kind of things that you’re seeing right now. So I guess the question is – her – or another way to phrase that question is, are you okay with that? Are you okay with giving them that massive amount of sanctions relief and allowing them to sell their oil on the open market when you know that some of that money is going to be used to commit human rights abuses?
MR PRICE: Two things, Matt. If – and this is a big if right now – if there is a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, it would remove what would be the most dangerous elements of an Iranian regime into – for perpetuity.
QUESTION: I get that, but you keep saying if. But you also at the same time say that you still believe it is in the U.S. national interest to get a deal.
MR PRICE: As of —
QUESTION: As of today, right?
MR PRICE: As of right now.
QUESTION: So that – that suggests the administration is okay with getting a deal even if it gives them billions potentially of – billions of dollars that they can use to further repress their own people.
MR PRICE: So the first point was the big if associated with a mutual return to compliance, but we remain committed and President Biden has personally made a commitment that Iran will never possess a nuclear weapon. We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve that. If we find ourselves in a position to return to the JCPOA, that does not remove from our arsenal a single tool when it comes to holding Iran accountable for the types of things that we’re talking about now.
QUESTION: But it gives them hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in cash.
MR PRICE: And we would – the sanctions relief, the limited sanctions relief that would come with a mutual return to compliance on Iran’s nuclear program, of course, would be accompanied by the same set of policy options that we have today to take action to hold accountable actors and entities who engage in the very human rights abuses that we’re seeing in the absence of a nuclear deal.
QUESTION: So you’re suggesting that there could be a net zero for Iran if they – if you agree to a deal that you would give them this relief and then take it all back again under the – under the human rights rubric?
MR PRICE: We’re talking about a hypothetical. We’re talking about a hypothetical that —
QUESTION: Or their support for terrorism rubric?
MR PRICE: — is under the umbrella of another hypothetical, so I’m – I’m loathe to continue too far down this path.
QUESTION: Well, but it just seems like you’re willing to make that tradeoff, that you’re willing to give in exchange for a deal, which may or may not work for however long it would last for, but in exchange for that you’re willing to give them all this money, which you know they will use at least some of to further repress these people, to further support their proxies in Yemen and Syria and elsewhere. That’s correct?
MR PRICE: Matt, what is correct is that we have a commitment that Iran will never be in a position to acquire a nuclear weapon. We are going to abide by – we are going to see that commitment carried out. Our preference, our strong preference of course, is to do that diplomatically. If there’s not a deal, we have tools on the table to respond to Iran’s repression. That, by the way, is taking place in a context that is in the absence of a deal. And if there is a deal, if Iran changes course and agrees to the terms that the United States and our European allies are comfortable with, that won’t remove a single tool that we have to respond to Iran’s repression, to respond to its corporate proxies, to respond for its support for terrorist groups.
The simple point is the one I’ve already made. If Iran is in possession of a nuclear weapon or is not permanently and verifiably barred from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon, Iran would and potentially could benefit from a sense of impunity that would come with that – come with that to act even more boldly on – both at home and on the world stage. It is not like Iran is a benevolent actor in the absence of a deal, and there are many data points to suggest that from the period at which the last administration left the JCPOA, at a time when Iran was complying with it, through the period of so-called maximum pressure, Iran’s behavior in the region, its actions against our partners, the potential targeting even of American facilities and personnel – it didn’t become more docile. It became more aggressive, and for our interests it became deadlier.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) – the suppression of people was always there, with JCPOA or without JCPOA. The suppression of people inside Iran was always there. It doesn’t matter if you had a nuclear deal or not.
I want to ask you this, and I want you to please be very clear. Which one is more within your national interest – supporting Iranian people, to be more precise brave Iranian women, or reaching a nuclear deal with Iran? Which one is within your national interest more?
MR PRICE: Both are a national interest of ours. These are core to our interests and to our values. So of course, we are committed, President Biden is committed, to seeing to it that Iran is never in possession of a nuclear weapon. The JCPOA is one diplomatic means by which to achieve that. But we’re also committed to the idea that human rights are at the center of our foreign policy, and you’ve seen us illustrate that. You’ve seen us live up to that even in recent days when it comes to Iran – taking action against the so-called morality police, against individuals, providing the general license, the other steps that we have taken to support the universal rights of the Iranian people. And these are steps that we’ve taken around the world to support the peaceful exercise of universal rights in countries around the world.
QUESTION: I think what we are trying to figure out here is that when you speak to any Iranian activist, they will tell you hey, each time we go out to streets to challenge our leadership, the U.S. supports us, but then U.S. turns behind our back and starts talking to the very regime that actually we question its legitimacy – so that you can’t have both when Iranian people are out there and trying to overthrow the regime.
MR PRICE: Well, to be very clear, the protests that we’re seeing aren’t about the United States. They’re not about us. These protests are about the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people to exercise peacefully the rights that are as much theirs as they are anywhere else. We think all people’s basic rights should be respected. Of course that includes inside Iran. We think that all people should be able to peacefully protest when their basic and universal rights are violated. That includes Iran. We are helping people around the world, including in Iran, access personal telecommunications technology. This, of course, is not a regime change policy. If any government, including the government in Iran, thinks that this is or amounts to a regime change policy, it poses some pretty difficult questions to them about the nature of their regime and why they would fear their own people.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. So you just announced today, before this meeting – before this briefing – that the United States is designating Diana Kajmakovic, a state prosecutor in the Bosnia and Herzegovina – she’s in the state prosecutor’s office. What can you tell us about this case, and can you expect more sanctions in the other countries of the Western Balkans?
MR PRICE: So one of our goals when it comes to the Western Balkans is working with governments and working with people of the region to target and to take out and to root out corruption. And sanctions are one important tool to do that. We did announce and Treasury did announce sanctions this morning on a state prosecutor general who had engaged in acts of corruption. We provided information in that statement. Treasury may have additional information regarding the basis for that designation. And sanctions will remain an important tool – one important tool, not the only important tool, but one important tool – when it comes to the region and it comes to our goal, the goal that we share with governments and people in the region of rooting out corruption.
QUESTION: Just one more on the Western Balkans. I have interviewed last week the Prime Minister of Montenegro Dritan Abazović, and he called on U.S. to help Western Balkans against influence of Russia and China in the region. So what has been your assessment of those influences in the Western Balkans, and what specifically – which steps can you take in order to counter that influence?
MR PRICE: Well, it’s no question that the Western Balkans is a dynamic region that is attractive to countries around the world. Of course, it’s attractive for different reasons to both the PRC and Russia. We believe – and this is the point that we’ve made both publicly and in our private engagements with countries in the Western Balkans – that our shared interests and our shared values form the predicate for a relationship that in many ways is unique and distinct from the visions of a relationship that Russia or the PRC would have for the region. So whether it is development, whether it is security, whether it’s economics, whether it is humanitarian assistance, we have made very clear our desire to be a partner to the countries of the Western Balkans and to have both implicitly – and in some cases, explicitly – also been very clear about what – the partnership that we bring is distinct from the relationship that countries like the two you mentioned would seek to have in the region.
QUESTION: Thank you. Switch topics very quickly: We heard the President last week, the President of the United States, President Biden, call for a two-state solution. We heard the Israeli prime minister call for the two-state solution and so on. So what is the holdup? I mean, why can’t we – I’m not getting any younger, so what is the holdup? Why can we get this process going, perhaps by maybe U.S. sponsoring some sort of a negotiation between the two?
MR PRICE: Said, in some ways, if only there were a holdup. This is not something that can be dictated by any one country, by any one entity, not by the United States, not by anyone else. The conditions have to be right for Israelis and Palestinians to sit together and to make progress on the very complex and controversial issues that are at the core of a two-state solution. So just as you and I have discussed many times, it is our charge in the intervening period to try to set the stage, to try to set the conditions, the conditions for when making actual progress would be in the offing.
We have re-engaged with the Palestinian Authority, we have re-engaged with the Palestinian people just within recent days. We have announced additional funding for UNRWA. The United States is now once again engaged in the region. We’re of course also deeply engaged with our Israeli partners as well. But you’ve heard us say many times that the time isn’t right, doesn’t appear to be right for the parties to actually make progress.
QUESTION: But – I mean, this is the point. Why isn’t it right? I mean, no issue has been so negotiated over so many decades with every little detail, and basically everybody knows what the outcome ought to look like. You all agree there is a territory occupied. I mean, you began by saying country after country condemned the Russian occupation of parts of Ukraine, and so on. Well, country after country has condemned the Israeli occupation of parts of Syria, parts of the Palestinian territories, and parts of Lebanon and so on. So everybody really knows what’s going on. I mean, what is the hold-up? Why can’t we get this – instead of kicking the can down the road, take the initiative and say, well, this is it? Or for the United States perhaps to say, this is how I envision this two-state solution ought to look like.
MR PRICE: Said, I don’t think any of us are under any illusions that the United States taking this matter into our own hands in a unilateral way and presenting it as a fait accompli or something along those lines would be – would in any way further the cause of a two-state solution, would further the cause for peace – lasting, negotiated peace – between Israelis and Palestinians. We want to see a two-state solution. Equally, we don’t want to do anything that would aggravate tensions that would make achieving a two-state solution all the more difficult.
So in this intervening period, it’s our task to do what we can to little by little fulfill what is our overriding policy goal, to see to it that Israelis and Palestinians enjoy equal measures of security, of stability, of prosperity, of opportunity, and of dignity. And that’s something that can’t take place overnight, but it is something that we have worked on since the earliest days of this administration and it’s something that we’ll continue to work on going forward.
QUESTION: Yeah. And to follow up on Iran. So you said that the protests in Iran are not about us and it’s not related to JCPOA, but now the United States is part of the protests because you have sanctioned several officials and institutions; also, a U.S. company is providing Starlink and you encouraged U.S. companies to provide hardware, software to the area for communications. So can you promise the people of Iran who are on streets now that even if you reach an agreement with Iran on JCPOA, you will continue your support to these people and you will continue to sanction Iranian institution and officials?
MR PRICE: Absolutely, 100 percent. These protests are not about us, as I said before. They are about the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people. The Iranian people know these are not about us. They know that they are peacefully taking to the streets because they saw what happened to Mahsa Amini. They have seen years, they have seen decades of mismanagement, of corruption, of repression, of human rights abuses.
No one would like this – like these protests to be about us more than the Iranian regime. What frightens, I think, the Iranian regime more than anything is the knowledge that these are the organic expressions of the legitimate aspirations of their own people. Only the Iranian regime can fully satisfy their aspirations, but we will continue to do everything we can to support the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people to exercise rights that are as universal to them as they are to people anywhere and everywhere.
QUESTION: And a separate topic, sorry.
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Greece has recently deployed tens of armored vehicles and tanks to the islands of non-military status just close to Turkish mainland. And are you – aren’t you concerned that these tensions or escalations provoked by Greece is actually mounting?
MR PRICE: Our basic premise is that at a time when Russia has once again invaded a sovereign state and the transatlantic community and the international community is standing with the people of Ukraine and against Russian aggression, now is not the time for statements or any actions that could raise tensions between NATO Allies. We continue to encourage our NATO Allies to work together to maintain peace and security in the region and to resolve any differences they may have diplomatically.
QUESTION: But on this, can you tell us if these islands are – belong to Greece or to Turkey?
MR PRICE: Again, it is – we are encouraging our NATO Allies to resolve any disagreements they may have diplomatically. We think —
QUESTION: But what is the U.S. position on this?
MR PRICE: We think we should remain focused on what is a collective threat to all of us, and that’s Russia’s aggression.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have a question about Ethiopia. First one is millions of Ethiopians believe that the Biden administration blocks the economic opportunity for many Ethiopian workers when the Biden administration decided to terminate the African Opportunity Act – which is known as AGOA – trade preference program for Ethiopia. The suspension of Ethiopia from AGOA harms many hardworking Ethiopians. If the United States supports Ethiopians with economic opportunity, which Secretary Blinken said many times, does the U.S. administration plans to reinstate Ethiopia’s eligibility to AGOA?
MR PRICE: So AGOA, or the African Growth and Opportunity Act, as the name suggests, is a piece of legislation. It is – because it is legislation, it is written into law the criteria under which any country is eligible for AGOA and the requirements that any country – in this case in Africa – must meet in order to remain a part of AGOA. We did determine late last year that Ethiopia, given the statutory language written into law passed by Congress, was no longer – was not eligible for AGOA, but of course we want to see to it that the conditions that led to that suspension are reversed. We would love to be able to re-engage with Ethiopia under AGOA knowing the tremendous economic opportunity that it has brought not only to Ethiopia in the past but to other parts of the continent as well.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up question: As you know, you have been talk many times about the conflict in Ethiopia. When the Ethiopian military entered the Tigray region, the State Department repeatedly demanded that the Ethiopian Government withdraw its troops from the Tigray region. But when the TPLF forces entered Amhara and Afar region, the State Department – instead of demanding the TPLF to withdraw its forces from Amhara and Afar region, the State Department demanded that both parties need to find a peaceful solution. And once again most Ethiopians believe that the United States supports TPLF and ask why does the United States support TPLF. What is your response to the Ethiopian people who say that the United States supports TPLF?
MR PRICE: We support the cause of peace. We support stability and security for the people of Ethiopia. Our message has been a simple one. We’ve called on the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray regional authorities to immediately halt their military offensives and to pursue a negotiated settlement through peace talks under the auspices of the African Union. We have worked very closely with the African Union, with other partners on the continent to engage in that process of diplomacy.
We’ve also been very clear with Eritrea and Eritrean authorities that they must withdraw to their borders immediately and for Eritrea and others to cease fueling the conflict. We’re deeply concerned by the human rights abuses that this conflict has brought about. We know, again alluding to your question, the opportunity that – for the people of Ethiopia that would come with and for a while that did come with a negotiated truce and a negotiated ceasefire are tremendous. We are doing everything we can to see to it that the African Union through its diplomatic efforts is successful in bringing a halt to the violence, which in turn would allow humanitarian access to parts of northern Ethiopia and once again bring levels of opportunity for all of the people of Ethiopia.
MR PRICE: I don’t have any updates to offer you on our diplomacy when it comes to Israel and Lebanon on the maritime border. You know that the Secretary met with Prime Minister Mikati of Lebanon last week. Amos Hochstein was also in New York last week, where he held engagements with Israeli and Lebanese officials. We’ve stressed in all of our engagements the need to conclude a maritime agreement to ensure stability and to help support Lebanon’s economy. We are working as diligently as we can to narrow the divide and to continue the progress that we’ve seen in recent weeks.
Move – yeah, Simon.
QUESTION: Yeah, since the Secretary is meeting the foreign minister of Pakistan today, a couple of questions about that. In the aftermath of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, the Secretary was in Congress, and he was asked about U.S. relations with Pakistan and particularly the question of whether Pakistan offered support to the Taliban during the – obviously the 20-year war there. And the Secretary said that’s something we’re looking at. We’re – in the coming days, weeks, and months, I think he said, we’re going to look at that and look at the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. So I wonder whatever came of that sort of review within the State Department or within the administration on whether Pakistan was aiding the Taliban and what response you’ve had to that in terms of your relationship.
And just additional to that, since the Secretary is also meeting foreign minister of India later, Foreign Minister Jaishankar said in a speech yesterday – was – well, it was very critical of the U.S. money to the F-16 program in Pakistan and raising the same – similar questions, I guess, over what benefit the U.S. has had – what are the merits of its relationship with Pakistan? So I wonder if you could respond to that as well.
MR PRICE: It would be difficult for me to attempt to summarize 20 years of U.S.-Pakistani relationships – relations between 2001 and 2021. I suppose what I would say broadly, of course, is that Pakistan was not a monolith during that time. We saw different governments, and we saw with the passage of years different approaches to the Taliban and to Afghanistan at the time.
Now, we recognize this government – which, by the way, came into office following the fall of the government in Kabul last year – but we recognize and one of the many reasons we’re meeting with Pakistan is because of the shared security interests that we do have. It is neither in our interests nor in Pakistan’s interest to see instability, to see violence in Afghanistan. So as the Secretary meets with Foreign Minister Zardari today, I would imagine that security and shared security interests will be high on the agenda, as will humanitarian concerns.
And, of course, the United States has been intently focused on the devastation that has resulted and the loss of life that has been – that has resulted from the torrential floods that have devasted large areas of Pakistan. We have provided tens of millions of dollars in relief for these floods. The Secretary today will have additional details on further U.S. assistance for the Pakistani people in light of this humanitarian emergency that Pakistanis are facing.
Remind me of the second part of your question?
QUESTION: And Foreign Minister Jaishankar’s comments basically calling on the U.S. to review its relationship with Pakistan and criticizing the fact that you recently authorized funds, I think $450 million, for the F-16 program.
MR PRICE: Well, we don’t view our relationship with Pakistan, and on the other hand we don’t view our relationship with India as in relation to one another. These are both partners of ours with different points of emphasis in each, and we look to both as partners because we do have in many cases shared values, we do have in many cases shared interests. And the relationship we have with India stands on its own; the relationship we have with Pakistan stands on its own. We also want to do everything we can to see to it that these neighbors have relations with one another that are as constructive as can be possible. And so that’s another point of emphasis. (Inaudible).
QUESTION: Specifically, on – yes, I get your point on there being a new government. But it’s the Pakistani military, the establishment there, was sort of what the Secretary was being asked about last year. So was there a review of – and specifically, I guess, not just over the 20 years but in the – in the last phase of the war, did Pakistan aid the Taliban in a way that allowed them to come into Kabul? Was that something that was reviewed? Was there a conclusion? Did it have any impact on the relations?
MR PRICE: When it comes to security partners of ours, we’re always taking a close look at their actions, at their activities. I’m not in a position to detail for you precisely what we found, but the bottom line, as I believe the Secretary said at the time and it remains true now, is that it was not in Pakistan’s interest to see instability and violence in Afghanistan. It is not in Pakistan’s interest to see instability and violence in Afghanistan.
The support for the people of Afghanistan is something we discuss regularly with our Pakistani partners – our efforts to improve the lives and livelihoods, the humanitarian conditions of the Afghan people, and to see to it that the Taliban live up to the commitments that they have made.
And of course, Pakistan is implicated in many of these same commitments – the counterterrorism commitments, commitments to safe passage, commitments to the citizens of Afghanistan. The unwillingness or the inability on the part of the Taliban to live up to these commitments would have significant implications for Pakistan as well, and so for that reason we do share a number of interests with Pakistan regarding its neighbor.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I have a question on – about the last election in Italy, in our country yesterday. What do you expect from the next Italian government after this election, and do you share the alarm for democracy in Italy after this election?
MR PRICE: Well, the next Italian government hasn’t been formed, so it is not my place to speak to any future government in Italy. But of course, Italy and the United States are close allies, we’re partners, we’re friends. Last year, if I recall, we celebrated 160 years of diplomatic relations. Secretary Blinken’s Italian counterpart was the first in-person bilateral engagement we had here at the department. He and Secretary Blinken wrote an op-ed together on the occasion of our 160 years of diplomatic relations heralding our commitment over the course of decades for human rights and the values that we share in the world.
The fact is that we stand ready and eager to work with any Italian government that emerges from the electoral process to advance our many shared goals and interests. And when it comes to that cooperation, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say a word about outgoing Prime Minister Draghi. We thank him for his strong, for his visionary leadership through a critical time in Italian, in European, in world history – again, as well as his dedication to the values that our countries have shared for decades now.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Okay, okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks much. Ned, on Armenia-Azerbaijan, you were in the room when the Secretary met with foreign ministers last week. What was your sense in the room? Are the sides genuinely interested in peacemaking process?
MR PRICE: I will let the two sides speak to their attitudes. It was important for us and for the Secretary in particular to bring the two sides together. Of course, the Secretary had had conversations with the two leaders, but this was the first face-to-face meeting that the two foreign ministers had since the latest outbreak of violence.
The Secretary noted to both leaders the importance of maintaining the ceasefire, of maintaining the calm, said – noted that we’re dedicated to a sustainable ceasefire and to a peaceful resolution. We made clear to both foreign ministers that the United States stands ready to support – to support this bilaterally, multilaterally, together with partners. This includes our support for efforts by EU Council President Charles Michel bring the leaders together.
They during the course of that meeting discussed the best path forward, and the Secretary suggested the sides share ideas for how to meaningfully advance the peace process before the end of the month.
Our message has been consistent for some time. We call on Azerbaijan to return troops to their initial positions. We urge disengagement of military forces and work to resolve all outstanding issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan through peaceful negotiations. The use of force is not an acceptable path. We’ve made that clear privately. We’ve also made that clear publicly, and we’re glad that our continued engagement, including at high levels, including last week in New York, with both countries has helped to halt the hostilities, and we’ll continue to engage and encourage the work needed to reach a lasting peace because there can be and there is no military solution to this conflict.
QUESTION: The Secretary urged them to meet again before the end of the month. Do you have any particular venue and date in your mind?
MR PRICE: This will be up to the two countries to decide, but we do think that continued engagement directly between Armenia and Azerbaijan is not only in their interests, it’s in the interests of the region and beyond. We have offered to be of assistance, again, bilaterally, trilaterally, multilaterally, and of course the EU is playing an important role as well.
QUESTION: The Azeri president’s advisor is in town, and in fact he met with Assistant Secretary Donfried this morning. Do you have any readout, or is it part of the process that you guys are putting together?
MR PRICE: We are in regular contact with both Armenian and Azeri officials. That will continue.
QUESTION: The experts say that the U.S. suggests – urging or encouraging the sides meeting again suggests that U.S. now has no plan to move the process forward. Do you have —
MR PRICE: Again, as we’ve discussed in other contexts, the United States is not and cannot be in a position to submit a plan as a fait accompli. Our task is to bring the sides together, to facilitate dialogue, to help the sides together work through differences, to work through disagreements peacefully and diplomatically. That’s what last week was about. That’s what our continued engagement is about.
Final question in the back.
QUESTION: Yes. Can you take a question – and you can answer me later or tomorrow – about the Greek islands? Because I see a note here from your press office saying, quote: the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and protected. Greece has sovereignty over these islands; it’s not a question. Can you take my question and answer me tomorrow?
MR PRICE: I’ll see if we have any more details to provide you then.
MR PRICE: All right.
QUESTION: Ned, can I have last question, please? Thank you. On North Korea. As you know, North Korea fired ballistic missiles into the east sea yesterday. Can you presume that there is a possibility of North Korea’s further provocation, such as (inaudible) or seventh nuclear test?
MR PRICE: We’ve spoken of North Korea’s pattern of provocations in recent months. We’ve warned repeatedly that North Korea could well conduct another nuclear test, its seventh nuclear test, with no warning. We’ve seen North Korea test ICBMs, shorter-range systems as well. None of these provocations have or will change our essential orientation – that is, our stalwart commitment to the defense of the ROK and Japan, our treaty allies. Of course, the Vice President is in the region now to represent the United States at the funeral of Prime Minister Abe. She’ll travel to the ROK as well to show our support for our treaty allies.
We have made clear together with our allies in the region that we are prepared for meaningful dialogue, meaningful diplomacy to help advance the prospects for a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. This offer of dialogue and diplomacy has, at least so far, been met only with additional provocations. North Korea tends to go through – the DPRK tends to go through periods of provocation, periods of engagement. It’s very clear that we’re in a period of provocation now. We are going to continue to work with our treaty allies to enhance their defense and their deterrence and to be ready if and when North Korea – the DPRK, excuse me – is ready to engage in diplomacy.
QUESTION: Thank you.