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Department Press Briefing with Spokesperson Ned Price – December 8, 2021

2:11 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Good to see everyone. I have a few things at the top.

First, today, I join Secretary Blinken, Under Secretary Fernandez, and Senior Bureau Official Matt Murray in congratulating the winners of the 2021 Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence, or ACE. Earlier today, the Secretary announced this year’s six ACE winners and two alternates – U.S. companies that exemplify American values and international best practices in their operations overseas.

In the category of Economic Inclusion, this year’s ACE winners were Purnaa, for empowering survivors of trafficking and discrimination in Nepal, as well as Mastercard India, for supporting and revamping India’s first-ever Rural Women’s Chamber of Commerce. The Secretary also recognized alternate winner Whirlpool Slovakia for materially improving the lives of the Roma community.

In the category of Health Security, the ACE winners were Zipline for its work deploying delivery drones that have distributed a quarter million COVID-19 vaccine doses to remote areas of Ghana, as well as 3M Singapore for drastically ramping up production of N95 respirators to combat COVID-19.

Finally, the Secretary honored three U.S. companies in the ACE Climate Innovation category. Australis Aquaculture has pioneered climate-smart ocean farming in Vietnam’s marine tropics, Patagonia has advanced initiatives in Argentina to promote nature-based climate solutions, and alternate winner Aerosol has undertaken important research in Slovenia on measuring and combating black carbon.

Congratulations from the department to all the 2021 ACE winners which demonstrate a strong commitment to advancing key global priorities and improving the communities in which they operate.

Also today, Secretary Blinken announced the second cohort of the State Department’s international Anticorruption Champions. These 12 individuals have demonstrated leadership, courage, and impact in preventing, exposing, and combating corruption around the world.

As we have witnessed too many times, corruption erodes public trust in government and democratic institutions, it deepens poverty and inequity, and it stifles opportunity and economic growth. That is why President Biden designated the fight against corruption as a core U.S. national security priority, and why addressing and combating corruption is a central theme of the Summit for Democracy.

We recognize that in our interconnected global system, no country can effectively fight corruption alone. We are honored to work alongside anti-corruption champions, like those recognized today, to defeat corruption.

And finally today, the State Department is pleased to announce the winners of the Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund small grants competition. The CDAF is an annual grant opportunity for the U.S. Government – for U.S. Government-sponsored or funded exchange program alumni teams from across the United States to apply the skills, knowledge and networks they have gained through their exchange program experiences. The State Department is funding 47 U.S. alumni-led public service projects from over 23 states and territories addressing challenges faced by communities in the United States and around the world. Winning projects include programs seeking to increase international exchanges at HBCUs, building community among under-represented Hawaiian youth through art, and combating misinformation through a global virtual media literacy campaign.

We look forward to sharing the progress of these alumni as they implement their innovative projects in cities and towns across the United States, with international partners abroad, and on digital platforms. You can follow our updates at #CDAF on Twitter for updates.

And with that, I would be happy to take your questions. Francesco.

QUESTION: Thank you. I would like to start with Iran. The EU has announced that the seventh round, which started last week in Vienna, will resume tomorrow. Does that mean that Rob Malley is going back to Vienna and will be there from tomorrow? Is he waiting for a eighth round? What are your expectation for the days ahead?

MR PRICE: Well, as you noted, Francesco, the European External Action Service has announced that the seventh round of talks will resume tomorrow in Vienna. We understand there will be a day of meetings before the heads of delegations need to attend other events, and so Special Envoy Malley and his interagency delegation will plan to join the talks over the weekend.

Our priority, as we said and what we’ve been focused on, is less the temporal aspect – when the talks will resume – and more the substance, more the question of how the talks will resume. And it is still our contention that the talks need to resume with Iran returning to Vienna prepared to negotiate in good faith, prepared to pick up from where the sixth round of talks left off, prepared to build on the progress, the significant progress in some areas that the P5+1 was able to achieve with Iran over the course of those six rounds.

We have a good base from which to operate, and it is certainly our hope that Iran will return willing and able to operate from that base to see to it, to test the proposition as to whether we can in fact achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

QUESTION: Is that the last chance for Iran to prove they’re willing to do that or —

MR PRICE: Well, we’ve addressed this on a number of occasions. Yesterday, the Secretary spoke to this again. I believe the phraseology he used yesterday is the runway is getting very, very short for negotiations.

Now there is a difference between a short runway and a nonexistent runway. We continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is possible. That is why we are returning for the next iteration of talks, the continuation of the seventh round in Vienna. We are returning, and we continue to believe that the possibility for diplomacy towards a mutual return to compliance is a viable option because we also know that it is the most durable and the best option to permanently and verifiably do what we seek to do, what our European allies seek to do, what our partners in the P5+1 – namely Russia and China – seek to do, and that is to verifiably and permanently prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.

So we are going to go back ready to negotiate indirectly, as it were, with Iran, to seek to build on that progress, to see to it if we can in fact achieve a mutual return to compliance, knowing that diplomacy towards that end is the best option for us, it’s the best option for our P5+1 partners, and we certainly hope that Iran returns to Vienna recognizing the – recognizing what a mutual return to compliance would bring, would convey for the Iranian people as well.

Lara.

QUESTION: Have you gotten any indication or has this department gotten any indication in the last week that Iran is prepared to return in a position that’s closer to what the previous negotiations had yielded? Or is this more of a we’re going back to see what everybody decided at their capitals and we’re – don’t really have any indication of which way the wind is going to blow at this point?

MR PRICE: Well, as I think you know, Lara, the Iranians have made quite clear their reluctance to engage directly with the United States. We’ve said on multiple occasions that there are a number of complications and challenges in the context of these talks in Vienna. One of them is the indirect nature of these talks. We do think they would be much more efficient and that we could achieve additional progress perhaps on a – at a quicker pace if we were able to engage in direct negotiations with the Iranians, but right now that’s not in the cards.

So in Vienna and in other contexts, we are reliant on our partners in the P5+1 context who do have direct conversations with their Iranian counterparts. Our European partners and others have in recent days read out their conversations with senior Iranian counterparts. Those discussions are ongoing. I wouldn’t want to characterize what we’ve heard, what they’ve conveyed to us, what they may be hearing from the Iranians or not.

But again, we continue to believe that the door to a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA remains open. We will continue to negotiate as long as we think that’s the case and as long as we think that a return to the JCPOA conveys advantages over the alternatives. And right now, we think it does. The way Rob Malley puts this, it is not so much a temporal clock. It’s not a clock as you might think of it. It’s also a technological clock. It’s based on the advancements that Iran is very clearly making in its nuclear program. And Iran has made no secret of what – of some of what it is doing or what it seeks to do. And so we are watching that very closely. We know our European partners are watching that very closely. We know Russia and China are watching that very closely. And we know the IAEA is watching that very closely.

So as we take into account all of these inputs, what we’re hearing from our allies and partners, what we are hearing from the IAEA, what we are seeing ourselves, what the Iranians are saying, what the Iranians are doing, these are all factoring into our calculus when it comes to the posture we take vis-à-vis Vienna, and ultimately the posture we take vis-à-vis the Iranian nuclear program.

QUESTION: No, I wasn’t trying to imply that there was a direct negotiation between the United States and Iran.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: I was just more interested in whether – as Rob and his team heads back to Vienna, whether there is any indication maybe from allies, maybe from other P5 members as to whether the ball might actually move forward or if this is just – they’re going in blind?

MR PRICE: Look, we said this in advance of the seventh round, and I think it’s true in advance of —

QUESTION: The seven —

MR PRICE: — the 7.5 —

QUESTION: Yes. (Laughter.)

MR PRICE: — that we should know in pretty short order if the Iranians are going and returning to negotiate in good faith. So I don’t think you will see a long lag between the resumption of this round and when the United States and our allies and partners are in a position to judge whether the Iranians have returned in a position and with a willingness to engage in substantive negotiations.

Yes, Daphne.

QUESTION: Do you have an estimate of how long these talks will last this round?

MR PRICE: I don’t, and I don’t for a couple reasons, but primarily it will be a function of what we see and what we hear from the Iranians. The last phase of round seven was quite quick, and it was quite quick because it was clear to us, it was clear to our European allies, it was clear to the EU, it was clear to Russia and China that Iran had not come with a seriousness of purpose. And what we will be looking for as soon as these talks resume – and again, there are going to be some preliminary elements and our team’s going to return over the weekend – what we will be looking for is that seriousness of purpose. And it’s not the sort of thing that will take weeks to judge. We will know in pretty short order whether the Iranians have returned with a different mindset, with a different approach.

Yes.

QUESTION: Don’t you already know that?

QUESTION: Can you —

MR PRICE: No, because they haven’t returned.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but they – they did return. They came back —

MR PRICE: And —

QUESTION: — and you decided they weren’t serious, and now you’re giving them one more chance to be serious?

MR PRICE: We are giving diplomacy – diplomacy towards a mutual return to compliance – another chance because it’s in our interests. It remains in our interests, above all the other alternatives, to seek a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. But, Matt, I mean, to your point, it will not always be in our interest to seek a return to the JCPOA. Eventually we may conclude that either the Iranians aren’t serious and won’t be serious going forward, or the technological clock will have run out and the advancements that the Iranians are making no bones about making will outweigh the advantages that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA would convey.

Yes.

QUESTION: You mentioned 7.5 round of talks. Is that an official term?

MR PRICE: I think I just made that up.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: But we can quote you on that? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Also, can you preview anything ahead of Secretary Blinken’s meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz tomorrow? Is that all about Iran, mostly about Iran? And the timing of that I assume is not anything to do with the Iranian – the talks beginning again?

MR PRICE: Well, as you know, Benny Gantz, Defense Minister Gantz, is not Secretary Blinken’s direct counterpart, and so the – Defense Minister Gantz will also be meeting with his direct counterparts at the Pentagon, and I think you’ll hear more from the Pentagon about those discussions. But clearly, every opportunity we have to meet with senior Israeli officials and important figures in the Israeli political system is one we’re seeking to take advantage of. There is a lot on the bilateral agenda. There is a lot on the regional agenda. And so I fully expect regional security issues, including what we’re seeing with Iran and, as we’ve said before, the alternatives that we might be forced to pursue if Iran shows to us, shows to our allies and partners that it’s not willing to return in a substantive, a genuine, a constructive way to Vienna – I imagine, too, those alternatives will be a topic of discussion with Defense Minister Gantz.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I switch to Russia?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: So President Biden said earlier today that he hoped to announce that there will be meetings between the U.S., quote, “at least four major NATO Allies and Russia” to discuss the future of Russia’s concerns relative to NATO writ large, and whether they can work out accommodations when it comes to bringing down the temperature on the eastern front. What is the State Department’s involvement in those meetings? Who are the four major NATO Allies? And is the U.S. prepared to make concessions to Russia on NATO, and what do you say to criticism that that legitimizes Russia’s position on NATO?

MR PRICE: Well, the President, as you heard earlier this morning, did say he’d have – we would have more to say, the administration would have more to say later this week. So I don’t want to get ahead of where we are, but let me make a few general points.

You heard from – you’ve heard from the President in his public statements, you’ve heard from the National Security Advisor, you heard from the Secretary of State when he spoke after the teleconference yesterday that we continue to believe that diplomacy and de-escalation is the only responsible way to end and to resolve what could be a serious crisis. We are concerned – we are profoundly concerned by what we have seen, but it is not yet a foregone conclusion that we will see actual conflict. And so we are doing, and determined to do, everything we can diplomatically to see to it that these tensions are de-escalated and that our concerns and those of our Ukrainian partners, of our NATO Allies as well, are mitigated and addressed.

And we continue to believe that we can do that most effectively by returning to dialogue through diplomatic avenues, namely the full implementation of the Minsk agreement and – the Minsk agreements, I should say. And so we are working in close consultation with our allies and partners in pursuit of ways we can de-escalate, ways we can see to it that the parties fully implement Minsk on the path to de-escalation. We’re also working with our interagency and other partners around the globe for a full set of contingencies, including preparing, as you’ve heard, specific and robust responses to Russian escalation should it continue and should these responses be required.

So we are consulting internally, we are consulting with our partners across Europe, with NATO members, with our key Indo-Pacific allies on the way forward to do a couple of things. Number one, to ensure that we have – that we’re operating from the same sheet of music, that we have a common understanding of Russia’s plans, but also to see to it that we have a common understanding of what would need to happen if Russia does not desist in its aggressive acts and if its military incursion does in fact go forward.

And in fact, as part of that, the Secretary earlier today had a conversation with the NATO secretary general. We’ll have a readout of that call, but this, of course, follows the President’s call yesterday after his discussion with President Putin, with our NATO Allies; it follows Secretary Blinken’s discussion the day before with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine, and, of course, President Biden will be speaking again with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine tomorrow.

And so what you’ve heard from the President is that if Russia chooses to pursue this path of confrontation, we and our allies are prepared – and we’ve heard this loud and clear, including in the NATO ministerial last week – to impose significant and severe economic harm on the Russian economy using these economic measures that we heretofore have intentionally chosen not to pursue. That includes those strong economic measures, but you also heard from Jake Sullivan yesterday. It also includes additional defensive material to Ukraine, of course above and beyond what we are already providing to our partners in Kyiv, as well as fortifying our NATO Allies on the eastern flank with additional capabilities in response to any military incursion.

As we’ve said, the Secretary has had a number of opportunities now to speak with key allies and key partners, including in a collective setting last week in NATO, and it was very clear to us that our allies and partners share our deep concern but also our stalwart resolve if Moscow chooses to go ahead with this military activity. And so it is our task, as you heard from the White House, as was noted in the readout, as the President alluded to this morning, to coordinate in lockstep with our allies and with Ukraine and other partners as the situation develops on the ground to ensure, on the one hand, that the deterrent measures we have put on the table send a very clear signal to Moscow regarding what would befall the Russian Federation were this to go forward, but also to do everything we can to help facilitate that diplomacy in any way we can.

And chiefly, that diplomacy in the form of full implementation of the Minsk agreements – that’s what we think right now remains the most effective, the best way to de-escalate tensions and to see to it that the measures we have spoken to, the measures that we have heard our European and NATO Allies are committed to, that they need not be implemented. That, ultimately, is our goal, to see to it that this contingency planning, which is very real and very robust, remains contingency planning and that it does not need to be implemented.

QUESTION: Your comment, though, on the —

QUESTION: Ned, if you keep – if you keep talking you might actually break a filibuster record for the Senate floor.

QUESTION: Nice. Your comment on the same sheet of music, though, suggests that there is divergence among the allies. Where is that – is there not lockstep on the sanctions measures to take? Is there not lockstep on the understanding of when these would be triggered?

MR PRICE: No, I was attempting to convey the opposite, in fact. We went to the NATO ministerial last week as part of the latest iteration of this department’s efforts to ensure that our NATO Allies, Ukraine, and others were on the same page in terms of the information and intelligence that we have on the military buildup, but also to preview and to ensure that there was broad consensus about the need for these high-impact economic measures that we are very clearly willing and able to implement, and what we heard from our NATO Allies last week is that there is a shared resolve. There is a shared and collective recognition that were Moscow not to change course, if Moscow did go ahead with a military invasion, that there would be collective action, that it would not only be the United States prepared and ready to take such measures, but we would also have support and see similar actions from our NATO Allies as well.

QUESTION: Do another Russia one?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: And then I have another question, too, after that. On Russia, the Russians are proposing lifting all restrictions on the embassies, and I wonder if that’s something you guys would consider. I assume that means they want their dachas back.

MR PRICE: Well, we have made progress, as you have heard, on these issues in recent days. There have been discussions in recent weeks. Those have achieved some degree of process – progress, excuse me – and I understand that those discussions are set to resume.

The point in the context of the regional dynamic in terms of what we’re seeing now vis-à-vis Russia and Ukraine is a similar point to the bilateral context, and that is that we want channels of communication. We want and need the ability to have open and frank and candid dialogue with the Russian Federation. It’s precisely why President Biden took part in a summit meeting with President Putin in Switzerland in June. It’s exactly why the President took part in a video teleconference with President Putin yesterday. But clearly not every issue, whether it is embassy staffing, whether it is about Russia’s aggression, whether it is an issue related to cyber, whether it is strategic stability, can be handled at the presidential level, and that’s why we have embassies.

That’s why we have the State Department, to continue the work of diplomacy on a day-to-day basis so that these issues can be handled when appropriate on a routine basis. And so we need that in the context of Russia just as we need that with most other countries around the world, because we do have serious issues that are on the table. We do have serious work that needs to be done. And so we want a fully functioning embassy in Moscow. We fully understand the Russian desire to have a fully functioning embassy here in Washington. And we prioritize that. We value these open lines of communication and dialogue, but there has to be reciprocity. And I think what the Russians have shown in recent months is that they have been unwilling – heretofore, at least – to allow us to have a fully functioning embassy in Moscow.

And so our – the steps that we have taken are based on the principle of reciprocity. We certainly hope that we can reinforce these diplomatic channels so that we can reinforce the dialogue, reinforce the communication that needs to take place between the United States and the Russian Federation on the basis of our national interests, because there are quite a few national interests at stake here.

QUESTION: Sorry, my other question is on China. This – the Uyghur Forced Labor Protection Act is about to pass in the House. Senator Rubio is accusing the Biden administration of lobbying against it. I’m wondering if that’s accurate. And if so, if you do oppose it, why?

MR PRICE: I am glad you asked, because there has been some misimpression out there. We do not oppose this. We are not lobbying against it. And in fact, I think if you look at our record, you will see the actions that we have taken over the course – not of days, not of weeks, but of months – on the issue of forced labor, on the broader set of human rights abuses that are taking place in Xinjiang.

This administration has, I would argue in our first 11 – 10, 11 months in office, perhaps done more than any administration, and has really galvanized the international community to put a spotlight on what is taking place in Xinjiang. And you can just, for the most recent example, look at the announcement we made on Monday regarding our posture towards the Beijing Olympics.

But going back to really the earliest weeks of this administration, and you look at the financial sanctions, including the multilateral sanctions, the visa restrictions, the export restrictions, the withhold release orders, the business advisory, the releases we have put out, being as transparent as we can about the goods that are being produced by child labor, or forced labor, including those emanating from Xinjiang, the UN side events, the joint statements, the other steps that we have taken really to make clear that these practices are abhorrent, these practices are nothing that the United States, any other country, or any private sector entity should be in any way supporting directly or indirectly.

And this goes back to a discussion we had on Monday. We continue to use the tools available to us as a government to send that signal very clearly, to hold to account those who are responsible for these abuses, but also to provide other elements of society – including the private sector – with the information that they need so that they do not even unwittingly support directly or indirectly in any way the practices that are ongoing in Xinjiang, including those with regard to forced labor.

These are – when we – in the context of American companies, these are good American companies. They have no intention and no desire, certainly, to in any way contribute to this. And so it is in large part our charge to put out as much information as we can, to shine a spotlight as bright as we can on what is taking place there.

And so no, we certainly don’t oppose this legislation, and we look forward to working with Congress on additional ways that we can shine a spotlight, hold to account those responsible, and put an end to these reprehensible practices.

QUESTION: So just to put a fine point on it, there’s nothing in this legislation that you disagree with or that you would like changed?

MR PRICE: We don’t oppose it.

QUESTION: You have no issue with any part of it?

MR PRICE: We do not oppose this legislation.

QUESTION: No, I’m – yeah, I know, generally. But is there any specific element of it that you would like to see changed? Or are you okay with – if it passed as written right now, you’re fine with it?

MR PRICE: We do not and are not opposing it. I understand it hasn’t passed because of issues that are internal to the Congress.

QUESTION: Are we talking about —

QUESTION: Okay. But not – but the administration doesn’t have any issue with any part of the bill?

MR PRICE: We do not oppose this legislation.

QUESTION: That’s different, Ned, than what I’m asking you.

MR PRICE: Matt, I am telling you – I am telling you —

QUESTION: You can say – you can say we don’t oppose this legislation, but we would like a waiver authority in it that would allow us to exempt anything that we want from it.

MR PRICE: Matt, I am telling you there —

QUESTION: And you would still – it would still be accurate to say that you don’t oppose the legislation.

MR PRICE: There is nothing – there is nothing —

QUESTION: There is nothing in the legislation, as it is written now, that you would disagree with?

MR PRICE: There is nothing in this legislation that would cause us to oppose it.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you. I want to ask you about the —

MR PRICE: Sorry, was there a follow-up? Sorry.

QUESTION: On China?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Just real quickly, since the U.S. announced a diplomatic boycott, Australia, the UK, and Canada have also made announcements. Could I just get your reaction to that? And I know, just separately – I know previously you’ve said it’s the sovereign decision of each nation whether they do a diplomatic boycott or not. But on other issues, you’ve talked about how actions are more impactful or statements are more impactful when other countries join the U.S., so are you hopeful that you’ll see more countries also announce boycotts?

MR PRICE: Well, certainly we’ve noted other countries that have announced similar approaches to the Beijing Olympics. What we have said all along, and you just – you captured the sentiment, is that these are sovereign decisions. And we made our decision based on the human rights abuses, the atrocities, crimes against humanity, the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang. We have heard similar statements emanate from several close allies, but as we have said for months now, what we have been doing and what we did going into Monday when we made our announcement is work closely with allies and partners around the world to establish a shared set of concerns.

And so there has been and there was a good deal of activity on that front. And I think I will leave it to certain governments to speak to why they took the steps they’ve taken or, as additional governments announce their positions, why they are taking those. But separate and apart from any decisions that countries announce regarding their approach to the Beijing Olympics, we have seen a tremendous amount of convergence, global convergence, regarding what is going on in Xinjiang and the concerns that the global community has. You need only look at the communique that was issued from the G7 Leaders’ Summit in the UK earlier this year to note the really strong language – and I think it’s paragraph 54 that talks about the concerns that are the concerns that are shared by some of our closest allies in that context.

There have been other multilateral settings, where countries around the world have come together to condemn these abuses, crimes against humanity, these atrocities, the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang. And much of that is a result of the work that the United States has done, again, to shine a spotlight, to hold to account, to make sure that we’re all operating from the same set of information.

QUESTION: And just a quick follow-up. We’ve seen athletes, whether it’s through social media or through interviews, make political statements in the past. Do you have any concerns if a U.S. athlete at the Olympic Games makes some kind of gesture or makes some kind of statement, that their safety or security could be in jeopardy by – or some kind of retaliation by the Chinese Government while they’re in Beijing?

MR PRICE: Well, a couple things on that. Freedom of expression, the ability of individuals to voice their opinions, whether they are shared by the host government or not, that is something that is universal. That is a principle that should apply equally in the PRC as it does in the United States. And so we will be looking to PRC authorities to afford the same level of protection, to treat our athletes with the same level of dignity and respect that all other athletes are accorded in – at the Beijing Olympics. As we discussed the other day, we also will have a fully functioning embassy on the ground, and we will have personnel, as we always do in major events and as we always do around the world, to support our athletes, to provide the essential American citizen services that any American can expect wherever we do have a diplomatic relationship.

And so of course that will be the case, but freedom of expression and the expectation that governments around the world, including the PRC in the context of the upcoming Olympics, respect that – that is something that not only we subscribe to, but also our allies and partners do as well.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up. Are you seeking or do you expect a common stance on this at the G7 next weekend in Liverpool?

MR PRICE: A common stance on —

QUESTION: On this, on the diplomatic boycott.

MR PRICE: I don’t know that it’s on the agenda. Again, these are sovereign decisions that each country, each government will need to make.

Anything else on China? Yes.

QUESTION: Thanks. Yeah, back to the corporate sponsors for a second. I understand your point that you’ve given the companies all the information they need and your point I think you made a couple of days ago that it’s up to – it’s not the government’s job necessarily to tell the companies what to do. So I’m just wondering, if the U.S. is trying to send a message with this diplomatic boycott and at the same time you have sort of some of the biggest corporate power in the country not taking a stand on the same exact issue, are you concerned at all that that message that you’re trying to send is getting a little bit muddled?

MR PRICE: Just as each country will need to make a sovereign decision about its approach to the Olympics, each company will need to make a private decision about its approach to the Beijing Olympics. It is not our place to dictate precisely what American companies should do. It is our place to ensure that American companies and multinational companies and others have at their fingertips a full set of information, have the full facts, and a complete accounting as to what is transpiring in Xinjiang and the concerns that we have, and they will in turn make their decisions based on that.

Again, these are good American companies. I have – none of us have any – are under any illusion that an American company would knowingly or would even put them in a situation – put themselves in a situation of unknowingly or unwittingly aiding or abetting the practices that are ongoing in Xinjiang. And so we are – we have set out to provide that full set of information, that full set of facts so that American companies can make those decisions on the basis of that and can do so effectively.

QUESTION: Ned, you guys fine companies all the time for violating sanctions in which they knowingly or unknowingly contribute to conditions such as what’s going on there. That’s not – and it’s not true that it’s not your place to dictate what American companies can – you do it all the time.

MR PRICE: The question was put in —

QUESTION: If I’m company X, can I do business in North Korea right now? No.

MR PRICE: The —

QUESTION: Can I do business in Iran right now? No. You – it’s just simply not true that you don’t ever tell private companies what they can and can’t do.

MR PRICE: There are cases, of course, Matt, that are in extremis. Those are cases that are in extremis. The —

QUESTION: Well, some people would argue that what’s going on in Xinjiang is in extremis, right?

MR PRICE: And we have taken extraordinary steps since the earliest days of this administration to hold to account to —

QUESTION: I’m not criticizing what you’re doing. I’m just saying that I – that it doesn’t make any sense for you to say that you don’t – you can’t or never have or never will tell private companies where they can do business or not because you do it all the time.

MR PRICE: Matt, I was speaking specifically in this context —

QUESTION: All right.

MR PRICE: — and the question was put to me in that context.

Yes. Lalit.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the helicopter crash in Tamil Nadu in which the India chief of defense staff was killed. Do you have anything on that, and do you – are you offering any kind of assistance in the investigations to the Indian Government?

MR PRICE: I do, and I believe the Secretary has spoken to this. I believe you have or soon will hear from the deputy secretary as well. But we are deeply saddened to hear of the death of Indian Chief of Defense Staff General Bipin Rawat, his wife, and 11 others in a tragic helicopter crash in India today.

General Rawat was a valued partner. He was a strong proponent of the U.S.-India defense partnership. He helped to deepen the strategic partnership between our two countries. He was pivotal to that relationship, and that’s why our thoughts go out to the general’s family, to the families of all those on board this flight, and of course the people of India on the loss that they have suffered today.

QUESTION: So Secretary has spoken to his counterpart in India?

MR PRICE: As soon as we have a call to read out, we will. I know there have been a number of conversations at different levels, but if we have a call to read out, we will do that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ethiopia. The WFP has suspended food distributions in Ethiopia’s Kombolcha and Dessie after looting of supplies, reportedly by elements of Tigrayan forces that staff was unable to stop due to intimidation, including being held at gunpoint. And three WFP trucks were also commandeered this week. Do you have a reaction to that? And these incidents have happened despite repeated calls from the U.S. for humanitarian aid to be allowed to flow. At what point do you take punitive action? And then just as an aside, do you have any travel for Special Envoy Feltman to preview?

MR PRICE: So to the last part of your question, Special Envoy Feltman will depart tomorrow for the UAE, for Turkey, as well as Egypt, and he’ll meet with counterparts there to discuss what it is that the international community seeks when it comes to Ethiopia. And that is chiefly a negotiated resolution to the conflict, because we know that that conflict threatens the peace and security in the Horn of Africa.

We’ve said before that there’s no military solution to the conflict in Ethiopia. Our goal in all of this – and this is the goal that Special Envoy Feltman is leaving to pursue – is to support diplomacy as the first, last, and the only option to achieve a cessation of hostilities, as the only option to end the human rights abuses that have been ongoing and to engage the party – engage the parties so that they in turn engage in negotiations without preconditions, and importantly, to permit the unhindered humanitarian access for Tigray, for other parts of northern Ethiopia and broadly, to start a national – inclusive national dialogue as well.

When it comes to humanitarian access, we understand that some food trucks have moved, but they have not done so at remotely the volume the United Nations has said is needed to address the humanitarian catastrophe in Tigray. We believe the Government of Ethiopia must allow unhindered access for life-saving humanitarian assistance to reach all those in need in Tigray and across Ethiopia, and that’s regardless of ethnicity. Moving trucks with relief supplies is just one step of many that’s necessary to help the millions of people who are in dire need of aid, and we have repeatedly and urgently called for all parties to allow and to facilitate that level of unhindered humanitarian access.

QUESTION: You’ve said that many times. Do you feel that the parties to the conflict are heeding those calls? Have you seen any progress on that, I mean, especially given the events this week – the intimidation of humanitarian staff and the looting?

MR PRICE: Well, as I said, we have seen the movement of some trucks, but we need to see more, and it is not so much what we need to see. It is what the people of Tigray, of northern Ethiopia themselves need, given the dire humanitarian situation that they’re in. So that is why Special Envoy Feltman and others in this building and across the interagency are remaining focused on this.

We know that the humanitarian catastrophe that is ongoing now in Tigray and northern Ethiopia, it is an absolute priority, and it is part and parcel of the conflict, of the situation that we are seeking to, in conjunction with our partners in the African Union, with other regional partners, to find a way out of. And we continue to believe that the way out of this conflict is through a negotiated resolution, and we continue to encourage the parties to engage in negotiations without preconditions to that end.

On the one hand, we are encouraging, but there also – on the other hand, we do have a set of sticks, and we have talked about those punitive measures that we have employed against some actors in this conflict. The executive order that we announced some weeks ago remains viable. It is an order that we can use to target those beyond the Eritreans, whom we’ve already targeted under this authority.

You’ve heard from senior administration officials that we are certainly willing if the parties are unwilling to make progress themselves. But right now, what we’re focused on is trying to support that diplomacy, calling, urging, doing everything we can to see to it that there’s additional humanitarian access in Tigray and northern Ethiopia.

Yes.

QUESTION: Did President Biden raise the case of Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed in his call with Putin yesterday? And if so, was there any progress on that front?

MR PRICE: Well, I would need to refer you to the White House to speak to the specifics of the call, but we have continued to call on Russia to open consular access for Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed and to improve the poor prison conditions they are currently enduring in Russia. We further call on Russia to swiftly release these individuals, and we know that Russia must extend the same guarantees of safety and transparent protection under the rule of law to all American citizens living in Russia that America extends to Russians living in the United States.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:58 p.m.)

 

Department Press Briefing – December 6, 2021

2:11 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Just one item at the top, and we will look forward to taking your questions from there.

A quick update on air travel testing requirements. Starting on December 6 – today – all air travelers aged two and older, regardless of nationality or vaccination status, are required to show a negative Covid-19 test taken within one day of their departure to the United States.

This policy applies to all air travelers – U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and foreign nationals alike.

The tighter testing timeline provides an added degree of public health – public health protection as scientists continue to assess the Omicron variant.

Foreign nationals traveling to the United States, with only limited exceptions, must also be fully-vaccinated and provide proof of vaccination status prior to boarding their flight to the United States.

President Biden has promised to take every measure necessary to keep the American people safe and to defeat the pandemic, and these are steps recommended by U.S. Government medical experts and the COVID-19 Response Team.

With that, I am happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Thanks. You feeling all right? You sound a little hoarse.

MR PRICE: I actually sound worse than I feel, so if that’s any consolation. But no.

QUESTION: Well, maybe for you. (Laughter.) I don’t know. Some big game over the weekend that you went to see or –

MR PRICE: No, it – I wish. I wish I had a more exciting excuse. I think lack of sleep during the trip last week is the primary consideration.

QUESTION: Gotcha. Can I just start with a very quick question on the – what the White House, your colleague at the White House announced today on the – in terms of the Olympics?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: This is being presented everywhere as a diplomatic boycott, but in fact it’s not really that, is it? Because U.S. diplomats will be at the Games assisting with the athletes and with the – with others who – other American citizens who may be there?

MR PRICE: Matt, you are welcome to call it whatever you would like, but –

QUESTION: I’m not calling it. I’m —

MR PRICE: I’m – you or anyone. I’m not – I don’t mean to single out you, but people are able to call this what they like. For our part, what we announced today is that we will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and the Paralympic Games given the PRC’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, as well as other human rights abuses.

Now, of course that does not modulate at all our support for Team USA. We will be behind them 100 percent. We will be cheering them on. But of course, we will not have any official or diplomatic representation that would send a signal that these Games represent anything akin to business as usual in the face of these ongoing atrocities, crimes against humanity, and the ongoing genocide.

QUESTION: So – okay, so then you’re saying that there will be no support for Team USA from the embassy or from DS, people coming – there will not be anyone from the State Department or any other agency flying over to Beijing to assist with this?

MR PRICE: So, of course, our top priority anywhere around the world – even when we have profound disagreements and take profound objection to what may be going on in certain countries – is the safety and security of the American people. And so, we do intend to provide consular and Diplomatic Security services to ensure that our athletes, coaches, trainers, staff associated with the U.S. Olympic team, that they are secure, that they have access to American citizen services, that we provide as a routine matter of course to all Americans overseas. But this is a separate matter from official diplomatic representation at the Games.

QUESTION: So – of course. So – but despite the fact that the President or the First Lady or the second – the Vice President or the Second Gentleman won’t be – or anyone else will be there, about how many U.S. diplomats do you think will be deployed to assist with the – with Team USA?

MR PRICE: I don’t have an estimate to offer, at this time. Obviously – we obviously –

QUESTION: A rough number. Going back to looking at previous Olympics, whether there has been a diplomatic boycott or not, about how many are we talking about? One hundred, two hundred?

MR PRICE: Matt, I don’t have those historical figures at my fingertips. What I can tell you, though, is that of course we do have a large mission in China, given the expansive and consequential nature of this bilateral relationship. So, on any given day – today included – we do have a number, a large number of Americans on the ground in Beijing and elsewhere throughout China who can support American citizens, who can provide those American citizen services. You are correct that with major events like this, that presence does typically increase. But today I don’t have any update to provide other than to reiterate that, as you heard from my colleague at the White House, we will not have any diplomatic or official representation at the Games owing to the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.

QUESTION: Fair enough. But you will have diplomats at the Games, right?

MR PRICE: We will, of course, have diplomats in China.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. No, at the Games.

QUESTION: In principle —

MR PRICE: Matt, this is really arguing over semantics here. It’s —

QUESTION: On that —

QUESTION: No, it’s – it’s frankly not. I want to know if that – if your decision not to send anyone means that there is not going to be any support. And what you’re telling me is that there will be support —

MR PRICE: We of course will provide American citizens services support to our athletes, coaches, staff.

QUESTION: Okay, that’s all.

MR PRICE: Yes, Francesco.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: As you know, many in Congress – and not only in Congress, the Secretary’s predecessor – were calling for much more tough stances like total boycott of the Games, even by U.S. athletes. And is – does this diplomatic boycott mean that this is it or that – will there be other measure to – other forms of boycott? Do you support calls by some in Congress to prevent U.S. entities to sponsor events at the Olympics? Is there anything else going to be to confront what you called a genocide in Xinjiang?

MR PRICE: Well, so what we have announced today, of course, is the lack of any diplomatic or official U.S. representation at the Games. I also want to be clear that this of course is not the totality of the steps we have taken, of the steps we have spoken to, in response to the ongoing genocide and other crimes against humanity that are ongoing in Xinjiang. And of course, this has been a priority since the earliest days of this administration. Even before he was sworn into his current office, Secretary Blinken made clear his – the fact that he agreed with the determination that was put forward by the previous administration that what was, and is, transpiring in Xinjiang constituted genocide and crimes against humanity.

We’ve put in place a number of financial sanctions. We’ve put in place a number of visa restrictions. We’ve put in place a number of export restrictions. We’ve enacted a withhold release order for goods that may be coming in from supply chains using forced labor. We’ve put out a business advisory. We have hosted a number of UN side events. We have ourselves galvanized joint multilateral statements with the international community. And I think that last point is quite important because it speaks to one of the core strengths of our approach.

When the United States speaks, when the United States takes action, the world listens. But when we speak and when we take action with the world at our side, as we have consistently done in the context of Xinjiang – whether it’s in the context of the sanctions we announced together with some of our closest allies and partners in March, whether it is in the context of the G7 communique that had quite strong language put forward on the genocide and crimes against humanity ongoing in Xinjiang that came together in June – we have done this consistently. And I think that really is a hallmark of the approach we have taken vis-à-vis the PRC. It is not just the United States taking these actions, but we are often acting in concert, in close coordination with our partners and allies, which obviously will inevitably carry greater consequence and have more impact.

Barbara.

QUESTION: Just a – sorry.

MR PRICE: Sure. Go ahead, Francesco. Sorry.

QUESTION: Just another follow-up. You were mentioning the international community, and how much you consult with them on that. And over the last six months when we were asking you would you do any kind of boycott, you were saying we will consult or coordinate with our partner and allies. Is there any other country who is going to take the same stance as you are doing today?

MR PRICE: Well, we have routinely consulted with our partners and allies about the human rights abuses, including the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang. And I think that consultation, that regular consultation, you see it reflected in many of the steps that I just enumerated – the actions, the statements that we have put out together.

Look, when it —

QUESTION: But for the boycott, are you confident you will not be alone on this —

MR PRICE: When it comes to representation at the Games, this is a sovereign decision that each country needs to make. We fully expect that other countries will announce their decision in the coming days and weeks. The Games are a few months away now, so I expect we’ll be hearing more from other countries. But this is a sovereign decision that each country needs to make. We came to our —

QUESTION: Are you confident that other countries will do the same?

MR PRICE: We came to our decision based on the human rights abuses, including genocide and other crimes against humanity that are ongoing in Xinjiang. What we know today is that there are many countries around the world, including many of our closest allies, who share these concerns. And you don’t have to take my word for it; you can see their concerns reflected in some of the statements that we have put out together, including in the G7 communique that was issued in June. So, I fully expect you’ll be hearing more from other countries, but I will let other countries speak to their sovereign decisions when it comes to representation at the Games.

Barbara.

QUESTION: Actually, that was my question, with regards to the Olympics. I have a question on Russia, but I don’t know if you want to take other —

MR PRICE: Anything else on the Olympics?

QUESTION: Can I just ask two more quick questions on the Olympics?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: First, China said it will take resolute countermeasures once it was first reported that this diplomatic ban was going forth. Are you guys concerned at all that this could turn into a tit for tat that isn’t actually based on the substance of the genocide and what is actually going on in China?

MR PRICE: Look, I don’t have a reaction to the PRC’s reaction. That itself would get into a cycle. What I will say is that our approach is predicated on these genuine concerns that we have. Our concerns and the approach that we announced today is substantive, it is real, it is concrete. I don’t want to try and preview, try and divine what we might see or hear from the PRC going forward. That is up for them to say.

QUESTION: And then just one other thing. American companies that are backing the Games, sponsors and the like, is there any message to those companies? Or are you allowing them to go forth with their business interests front and center?

MR PRICE: Well, we have done – we have gone to extraordinary lengths to send unambiguous messages to the international community, and that includes the private sector, about the concerns that we have with the human rights abuses that are ongoing in Xinjiang. We have done that by speaking out very publicly, by enacting sanctions, by moving forward with withhold release orders, with other steps that the Department of State, the Department of Treasury, the Department of Commerce, the White House, and others have put forward in response to what we have seen take place and what we have seen ongoing in Xinjiang.

So, the private sector has at its fingertips – and this includes American companies – a large volume of information of the concerns that the United States has put forward, that we have put forward together with our partners and our allies. And it is up to them to make their own decisions about their practices in relation to what we have very clearly said is ongoing in Xinjiang.

QUESTION: But that’s a general message. What is your message to them about the Olympic Games, specifically? Do you want them to join the Biden administration in boycotting these Games?

MR PRICE: We want the private sector to be fully cognizant and to operate with full information, with regard to what is transpiring in Xinjiang. It is not, in this country, unlike other countries, the role of the government to dictate the practices that the private sector should adopt. But what we have done is put the private sector in a position to operate with full information, and we have engaged behind the scenes with the private sector as well. So again, it’s not for us to dictate, but it is for us to make sure they’re operating with a full sense of the information.

Yes, Will.

QUESTION: One more on that?

MR PRICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: When did you notify Beijing about this decision if you did notify them? And would you – would the State Department prefer to have an ambassador in place for the Games, Ambassador Nick Burns or – at moments like this? Do you think that’d help – how important do you think that is? It’s a diplomatic boycott or whatever you want to call it, as Matt points out, but there could be incidents that arise in it and —

MR PRICE: So, this decision was rolled out over the past couple days. We’ve notified relevant stakeholders, but I don’t have specifics to offer publicly in terms of what that entailed. To the general point, we absolutely would benefit – and I’m using the “we” in an expansive sense – the United States would benefit from having in place a Senate-confirmed ambassador in Beijing and other capitals around the world.

Look, the point about our relationship with Beijing is worth emphasizing here. This is the most consequential bilateral relationship we have. It is a complicated relationship. It is a relationship that requires engagement to ensure that this competition – which at its core we want to make sure is fair. We want to make sure the American people, American companies are operating on a level playing field, but to ensure that this competition doesn’t veer into conflict. It’s about establishing those guardrails to ensure that this remains competition and to ensure that that competition is flat for the American people, for our partners, and for our allies around the world. And so yes, we would absolutely benefit from an ambassador in Beijing. We would tremendously benefit from an ambassador as talented, as experienced, as respected as Nick Burns.

QUESTION: But he’s a Red Sox fan.

MR PRICE: (Laughter.) For those who couldn’t hear, Matt maligned his sports preferences, but that’s neither here nor there. Nick Burns is someone in whom the President has full confidence, as you saw from his nomination; someone in whom the Secretary has full confidence, someone the Secretary knows well, and we would absolutely benefit from having soon-to-be, hopefully, Ambassador Burns in place in Beijing.

But the point remains across the board: No other country in the world, whether it is an ally, whether it is a competitor, whether it may be an adversary, would handcuff itself in the same way that we have handcuffed ourselves when it comes to our diplomatic representation around the world. We are grateful to have in this department a number of extremely capable and talented chargés around the world who have been called upon to take on the role of essentially ambassador in this vacuum that is before us.

But no other country would handcuff themselves in this way. It does not further our national security interests. It does not further our foreign policy interests. It certainly does not further any sort of progress on the very, I would say, narrow issues that certain members of Congress have flagged and have put forward when trying to explain what I would say is the inexplicable: their unwillingness to allow the United States to operate with its full team on the field.

So, this is something we are treating as the utmost priority, an utmost priority here at the department, because it is and has to be a priority for this department to have our full team on the field, to have everyone we can in place, working for, fighting for, protecting the interests and the values of the United States and the American people.

Barbara. Or I – let me move around a little bit. Yes, please.

QUESTION: Sure. This is the —

MR PRICE: Oh, sorry. Did you have a follow-up?

QUESTION: Well, I just wanted to bring up the question on Russia, if nobody has anything.

MR PRICE: Anything else on Beijing? Okay.

QUESTION: I do, but I’ll go back to it at the end.

MR PRICE: Okay. Russia, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. So, a senior administration official has said that President Biden is going to tell President Putin that there will be very real, genuine, meaningful, and enduring costs if Russia decides to invade Ukraine. I wonder if you could say anything further about what makes you at all confident that this would have any impact when previous rounds of sanctions have not.

And secondly, there was a question about Russia’s demands for a legal agreement regarding the limiting of the NATO expansion, to which Mr. Blinken and White House officials have said that the U.S. consistently supports the principle that every country has the sovereign right to make up its mind about this. But seldom is mentioned the fact that the U.S. actually promised the Russians in 1990 that they would not expand to the east. James Baker: “Not one inch eastward.” So how do you reconcile that with your response to the concerns of the Russians?

MR PRICE: So, let me start with your first question. We have been very clear, and Secretary Blinken was very clear in public during several press avails he had last week in Latvia and Sweden as well. We have been crystal clear in private at the NATO summit, at the OSCE ministerial in Stockholm about the concerns we have with Russia’s ongoing aggression in Ukraine that has taken on different forms, including, of course, these military – this military activity alongside Ukraine’s borders, the misinformation, the disinformation, the propaganda, much of which has profoundly disturbing echoes of 2014.

We’ve also been clear – and we’ve heard from our allies, our NATO Allies including, that we believe there is an opportunity, a window before us to resolve this diplomatically, chiefly through full implementation of the Minsk agreements. That is our priority. That is where we wish to invest our efforts. At the same time, we have been clear that if Moscow shows no interest in investing in a diplomatic offramp, that the United States and our partners – and we heard this loud and clear from our NATO Allies in Riga last week – that we would be prepared to implement measures that we have not implemented in the past. Specifically, should Russia follow this path of confrontation and military action, we have made clear to Moscow that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of what we have called high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from using in the past.

And it’s that last clause that I think gets to your question. These are measures that we have very intentionally bypassed in the past, given the impact they would have on Russia. And but of course, if Russia chooses to – if Russia chooses to fail to de-escalate, if Russia chooses to move forward with any plans it may have developed to continue its military aggression or to aggress militarily upon Ukraine, to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty, its independence, its territorial integrity, we and our allies would be prepared to act. We would be prepared to act resolutely.

That is one of the key messages that Secretary Blinken delivered to Foreign Minister Lavrov when they saw each other in Stockholm late last week. It is one of the key messages that President Biden is preparing to deliver to Vladimir Putin tomorrow when they see each other via video link. So, there should be no ambiguity about our willingness to do this, and we have made that very clear in public and in private at every turn.

Remind me of your first question?

QUESTION: Oh, this promise by James Baker that they would – there would not be any – not one inch eastward of movement of NATO towards Russia in the 1990s and how you would respond to that now when the administration says that they don’t take into account Putin’s request for a legal agreement regarding the limiting the expanding of NATO.

MR PRICE: Well, look, we have been clear, as have past administrations of both parties, that NATO has an open door, and we are committed to the open door policy that was put forward in Bucharest that NATO should remain an option to aspirants when they are ready and able to meet the commitments that are spelled out, as well as the obligations of membership that are spelled out; meaning specifically that they are able – able and willing – to contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area.

We’ve reaffirmed this on a number of occasions. The United States has during this administration and in the – in previous administrations. In the 2021 NATO Summit communique we made clear that we support Ukraine’s right to decide its own future. No one else should have a veto over what NATO decides to do, what a country like Ukraine seeks to do, that Ukraine specifically has the right to decide its own foreign policy course free from outside interference. This is a very core tenet of the rules-based international order that the United States has protected and defended, and promoted around the world. It’s not unique to the border demarcations between Russia and Ukraine. We’ve talked about this in other contexts as well, including most notably perhaps in the Indo-Pacific context. It’s a —

QUESTION: So, you contend that Mr. Baker made a mistake in making that promise, or the U.S. Government doesn’t consider that a promise broken, or at least it understands why the Russians would be responding to it?

MR PRICE: This has been longstanding policy of the United States going back administrations. It’s been longstanding policy of NATO for years now going back and most acutely reflected in Bucharest. So, this is not a new pronouncement we have put out.

I want to also be clear about one other thing. NATO is a defensive alliance. It is defensive in nature. It’s defensive in orientation. The idea that NATO or an aspirant country like Ukraine could pose a threat to Russia, I think as Secretary Blinken said last week, it would be laughable were the situation not so serious.

So again, we have heard some of the same chatter from Moscow, chatter that to us sounds awfully pretextual, sounds an awful lot like what we might have and what we did, in fact, hear in 2014 in advance of Russians’ previous military incursion into Ukraine. We know this is part of the Russian playbook, and we know it because we’ve seen it before. We know it because we’ve heard it before. We also know it because we’re detecting it. As I – as the Secretary said last week, we have seen social media postings with disinformation and misinformation increase by more than tenfold, in recent weeks. And again, our concern – and this is reflected in, I think, your question and some of what we’re hearing emanate from Russia – is that there will be an attempt to fabricate some sort of pretextual justification for Russia and Russian forces to do what perhaps has been intended all along.

So, right now, we believe that there is a window of opportunity for us to engage diplomatically as we’ve done with our NATO allies, to engage diplomatically with our Ukrainian partners, but also to engage diplomatically with the Russians. And we’ve done this already at senior levels. Of course, we’ve already engaged President Putin on this. President Biden will speak to him tomorrow. Secretary Blinken last week spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov as well.

QUESTION: But Ned —

QUESTION: I wanted to move on to —

QUESTION: Hold on a second, just really brief. I think that her – what Barbara’s making the point about Jim – James Baker’s comment about not one more – is not necessarily Ukraine in the future, but the fact that NATO has already expanded eastward after that promise was made – Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Baltics. And you might say that NATO is a defensive alliance, but the Russians – you can believe them, whether you want to or not, but they don’t see it that way. And they look at —

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: And they look at what – NATO operations in Serbia, NATO operations in Libya, and not – as not being defensive in nature. So, just to make that point that it is not necessarily Ukraine that’s here; it is the past.

And then, just the one thing that I hope you can answer is: Is the Secretary speaking with President Zelenskyy today?

MR PRICE: So, on that, the Secretary, as I was walking out here, was on the phone with President Zelenskyy. He, as President Biden announced, is speaking to President Zelenskyy in the run-up to the conversation between the two presidents tomorrow.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. The President is speaking to President Zelenskyy?

MR PRICE: Secretary Blinken is speaking to President Zelenskyy. Sorry if I misspoke.

QUESTION: No, no, no, no. I just wanted to make sure.

MR PRICE: The President said this morning that Secretary Blinken would be speaking to President Zelenskyy.

QUESTION: Oh okay, he did. All right. Sorry, I didn’t know that.

MR PRICE: But let me make one other point about your point and your question, Barbara and Matt. We are supportive of increased transparency, of dialogue between Russia and NATO. If there is misunderstanding about what NATO is, what NATO seeks to do, what NATO is doing, we certainly support engagement, we support dialogue, we support transparency, because we don’t want there to be any ambiguity about what this alliance stands for and what this alliance is resolutely opposed to. So, if that would be a means by which to increase some level of trust and confidence between Moscow and Moscow and NATO, we would be in support of that.

Tomorrow, that’s precisely why President Biden will be engaging President Putin. Because we believe there is no substitute for leader-level engagement, high-level engagement, the kind of engagement you’ve seen between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov, that you saw between President Putin and President Biden in June in Switzerland, and what you’ll see tomorrow as well.

Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. I want to go to the Palestinian issue, but in all fairness, NATO has not always been defensive, as Matt pointed out, in Serbia and Libya and other places. Anyway —

MR PRICE: In all fairness, NATO has never been offensive towards Russia.

QUESTION: What do you call —

MR PRICE: NATO —

QUESTION: What do you call their interference in Libya? What do you call their interference in Libya?

MR PRICE: I think Libya and Russia are – and we can —

QUESTION: No, I’m just saying that —

MR PRICE: We can have a separate conversation about the —

QUESTION: No, it’s a different conversation, I agree.

MR PRICE: — the NATO mission in Libya. But to call – to say that Russia and Libya are synonymous, I’m not sure that is something that – in fact, I’m quite confident that’s something this department would not —

QUESTION: Okay, all right, let me move on to the Palestinian issue, if I may, okay? I want to as you what is the status of the reopening of the Jerusalem consulate. Where are we?

MR PRICE: We have been very clear in terms of our position on this. I don’t have an update to offer.

QUESTION: Why not? Why not have a, let’s say, on this date, next March 21, whatever it is, we will – we shall reopen this Jerusalem embassy? What stands in making a statement like this, pointing out a time when the consulate is likely to reopen?

MR PRICE: This is something that we’re working on, Said. It’s something that we’ve spoken to. We have been quite clear about our position. But again, I just don’t have a tactical update to provide.

QUESTION: Okay, let me also ask you about the visa waiver for Israeli citizens. What is the status of the Israeli – the waiver for Israeli citizens? And how does Israel’s treatment of Palestinian Americans work into this waiver?

MR PRICE: I think we’ve spoken to this before in the context of a high-level Israeli delegation that was here in Washington, D.C. a couple months ago. We continue to support steps in the bilateral relationship that support both the American people and the Israeli people, and one such step, we believe, is working together towards Israel fulfilling the requirements that are laid out in the Visa Waiver Program. This is a determination that the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, is authorized to make, and the Secretary of Homeland Security in consultation with Secretary Blinken will be in a position to determine when a country has met all of the requirements that have been set out by the Visa Waiver Program. So, in the course of those requirements, we take a look at the totality of the conditions, of conduct, of actions. And all appropriate factors will be weighed.

QUESTION: And lastly, it’s been reported in the Israeli press that Secretary Blinken spoke with Prime Minister Bennett, and basically told him to cut it out on expansion of settlements and so on. Could you share the content of that conversation with us, whether there was really a stern kind of a rebuke or statement by the Secretary of State on the issue of settlements?

MR PRICE: Well, we issued a readout of this call last week. We made clear that they had an opportunity to discuss Israeli —

QUESTION: But this is my first opportunity to ask you about —

MR PRICE: Well, no, of course. They had an opportunity to discuss Israeli-Palestinian issues, regional issues – of course, Iran among them – as well as COVID-19. Secretary Blinken I believe was asked about this in Europe last week. He characterized it as a good conversation, but our position when it comes to settlement activity is clear and it has not changed. We continue to believe that it’s critical for Israelis and Palestinians to refrain from steps that exacerbate tensions and that otherwise undercut efforts to advance a negotiate – a negotiated two-state solution.

Yes.

QUESTION: So, Germany is becoming a new government, and with our new Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who is a longstanding opponent towards Nord Stream 2, I wonder what the expectations are from Secretary Blinken, especially given the situation in Ukraine, to finally kind of stop this project.

MR PRICE: Well, your incoming foreign minister, a longstanding opponent to Nord Stream 2, is going to have a counterpart here who is a longstanding opponent to Nord Stream 2, so in that sense they will share that view. We’ve had an opportunity to discuss Nord Stream 2. We’ve had an opportunity to discuss a whole suite of issues related to Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine and the potential that Russia might seek to use other tools at its disposal to attempt to destabilize or to intimidate or to coerce Ukraine.

And, of course, we look at Nord Stream 2 in that context. It’s precisely why we worked with the Merkel government so concertedly over the course of many months to arrive at the joint statement that together our countries put out in July, I believe it was. More than just words on a piece of paper, it was a very comprehensive plan that laid out the ways in which Germany committed to supporting Ukraine’s energy independence, supporting Ukraine’s energy transition, and to taking steps that – and to take steps that would make very clear to Moscow and to anyone else that if the Russians attempted to weaponize energy, if they attempted to exert influence over Ukraine using Nord Stream 2, they would be prepared to take steps, including at the national level, including sanctions in response to that.

So, we’ve continued to discuss these issues with our German allies, with our Ukrainian partners, and I fully suspect we’ll have another opportunity soon to discuss it with our German counterparts.

QUESTION: Follow-up: Might this part – might this be part of the conversation tomorrow with President Biden and President Putin, Nord Stream 2 and possible sanctions? Might this come up?

MR PRICE: I will let the White House characterize, I imagine after the call, what was discussed. But as you heard from the White House earlier today, the agenda, of course, will include Russia and Ukraine, it will include other issues like strategic stability, it will include Iran, it will include other bilateral issues as well. But I expect the White House will be speaking to the call after it takes place.

Yes.

QUESTION: So, Secretary Blinken and you were recently in Latvia, right – I hope the trip went well.

MR PRICE: Very well.

QUESTION: Forty percent of the population of Latvia are Russian-speaking, and spokeswoman of Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, often condemns the discrimination of Russian-speaking population, eradication of education in Russian languages, and persecution of journalists. A recent case is the case of journalist Yuri Alexeev, who was sentenced for one and – one year and two months for – which seems to be a politically-motivated case. So, State Department often criticizes countries like Russia, China, and Belarus for violation of human rights, so the question is: Is State Department ready and willing to apply the same standards on U.S. allies and partners, like Latvia is, as it applies to other countries, and ready to criticize them in case of violation of human rights and put aside those double standards?

MR PRICE: Well, our standards are not subjective. Our standards are universal in their applicability, and they’re universal in the way we apply them. And so, whether the country is a friend, whether it is a competitor, whether it is somewhere in between, our standards are our standards and our values are our values. And when it comes to Latvia, we are very fortunate that we share common values with Latvia. Next year, I believe, will mark 100 years of a diplomatic relationship with Latvia – never recognized Soviet occupation of Latvia, stood with the Latvian people during the darkest days of the Cold War – and Latvia has emerged from those dark days of the Cold War as a leading voice in Europe for many of the shared interests and the shared values that unite us. I’m not familiar with the details of that case. But if we have a reaction, we’ll be sure to pass it on to you.

QUESTION: And – I’m sorry to interrupt – dozen other journalists are being under investigation right now in Latvia.

MR PRICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: There’s a report just come out on a missile attack over Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I wonder if you have anything on that. It’s only just come out.

MR PRICE: I saw very initial reports as we were – as I was coming out here. Of course, we have made very clear that we stand with our Saudi partners who have for quite some time endured terrorist attacks by the Houthis in Yemen. I don’t have a specific reaction to the report you mentioned, just because I don’t have the full information in front of me. But, certainly, we have seen a pattern at play where the Houthis have demonstrated through their actions on the ground, including their offensive against Marib, through their continuing attacks against Saudi Arabia, including attacks that have the potential to inflict grievous harm on civilians in Saudi Arabia, that – at the current moment, they are the obstacle to diplomacy. They are the obstacle to finding a resolution to this conflict, and if it turns out that what we’ve seen, the reports we’ve seen over the past hour or so are another Houthi attack against our Saudi partners, of course we will condemn that in the strongest terms, just as we reiterate our support for the security and the safety of Saudi Arabia.

When it comes to Yemen broadly, as you know, our special envoy is working closely with his UN counterpart, Hans Grundberg, to do all we can to secure a ceasefire, to address urgent humanitarian and economic priorities, to restart the political process. And we’re – he’s doing so, they are doing so leveraging the unprecedented international consensus we have helped to build on Yemen. The United States has helped to bring together the region and countries beyond. But it is – frankly, it is also the case that the Houthis and their reprehensible activity, their reprehensible behavior, have helped unite the world against them, to demonstrate to the world that, at least at the present, they are not interested in diplomacy. They do not appear interested in peace.

It is our goal to change that, working with our Saudi partners, working with the Republic of Yemen Government, working with other partners in the region, including Hans Grundberg in the UN, to jumpstart this diplomatic process, to see to it if we can put in place a ceasefire, to see to it if we can increase humanitarian access to the people of Yemen. Because after all, it’s the people of Yemen who are suffering the most and who are suffering the most primarily from what we have seen from the Houthis – from their ongoing offensives, from their unwillingness to allow sufficient flows of humanitarian aid into parts of the country that continue today to represent and to entail the world’s worst ongoing humanitarian catastrophe by many analyses and by most estimates.

So, this is something we continue to treat as a priority, and we’ll update you as we have a —

QUESTION: And yet, after that whole spiel there, you still think it was a good idea to take them off the FTO list?

MR PRICE: Matt, we do not make any apologies for —

QUESTION: I’m not asking you to make an apology. You still think it was a – you still think it was the right idea? I mean, you say you want to put pressure on them to change, and yet that would seem to be one lever of pressure that —

MR PRICE: The —

QUESTION: — was there and has been removed.

MR PRICE: The blanket – the blanket designation was not centered solely on the Houthis. It implicated the people of Yemen that I was just referring to.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: We don’t make any apologies for seeking to improve the lives and the welfare of the people of Yemen, who are resident in a country that represents the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe in terms of hunger, in terms of deprivation, in terms of access to food, to water, to other basic supplies and essential services.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: What we have done, rather than enact a policy that in some ways was punitive against an entire people, we instead have enacted targeted sanctions against individual Houthi leaders holding those who are responsible for some of these actions, including the actions against our Saudi partners, responsible for their reprehensible conduct.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you have anything to say about the apparent release of several other – several more of the abductees in Haiti?

MR PRICE: Well, I understand the missionary group in question has released a statement, and we can confirm that three of the hostages were released. This is something that we continue to treat with the utmost priority ever since these individuals were taken captive.

QUESTION: This is – today? You’re talking this most recent —

MR PRICE: That’s correct. That’s correct. And so, of course, a number of U.S. citizens remain hostage in Haiti. We’re continuing to work at the highest levels with the Haitian Government, continuing to work as an interagency and together with our Canadian partners to do everything we can to see to it that the remaining hostages are released as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I —

QUESTION: She can go. She – I think she was raising her hand. But I have two more, but I think you’ll only need one word to answer both of them, so —

MR PRICE: I look forward to that.

QUESTION: A question on Afghanistan.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The Crisis Group today released a report with some of the statistics that we’ve already heard about projections that up to 1 million children could face death through starvation in the coming winter months. They also put out recommendations today suggesting what the U.S., Europe, and other international institutions could do to keep Afghanistan from imploding without endorsing the Taliban itself. And other humanitarian groups say humanitarian aid to Afghanistan is like a Band-Aid at best, and that unless there is aid beyond humanitarian assistance, millions of people will die. So, they’ve been saying the same thing.

So why not resume assistance that’s been cut off, or for the so-called “humanitarian-plus” initiatives? For example, salaries for doctors and teachers and even U.S. aid programs to supply hospitals with electricity, at least in the coming months.

MR PRICE: Well, we share – and we have been very vocal about many of the concerns that you just enumerated from these outside groups – we’re very concerned, as you’ve heard from Tom West, as you’ve heard from others in the department, about a humanitarian situation in Afghanistan that only seems to be deteriorating. This is the result of many things. Years of war, drought, and of course, the Taliban’s forced takeover of the country and the continued absence of a functioning financial system – all of them have come together in this confluence and have produced a severe humanitarian crisis that we are witnessing now.

Even – I think the fact is that even before the Taliban took over in Kabul, Afghanistan’s economy – it was impaired by many structural impediments. The Afghan people were left to rely on international aid and international assistance for some of their basic services. International aid, I believe it is, funded 75 percent of the Afghan – of Afghanistan’s public expenditures, and represented about 40 percent of the country’s GDP.

In the lead-up to the Taliban takeover, we were very clear that if they pursued a military path, they would be making a choice that would in many ways complicate our ability to continue to provide the same level of assistance that the United States and the international community had delivered in the past. And the Taliban heard that same message from many of our partners in the international community.

Now, in the midst of this, as you alluded to, we have continued to be the most generous humanitarian provider for the Afghan people. So far, we have provided nearly $474 million in Fiscal Year 2021. We provided more than $4 billion since the United States engaged in Afghanistan in 2002. We’ve taken other steps that would help facilitate the provision of services and aid to the Afghan people. As you know, the Treasury Department has issued licenses to make clear that the United States is not standing in the way of humanitarian assistance and humanitarian aid for the Afghan people. It sends a signal – a very explicit signal – to countries around the world, to NGOs, and others that the United States is supportive of aid and services to the Afghan people who have long been suffering, even prior to the Taliban takeover.

Our assistance is providing life-saving services in many ways. It’s providing life-saving food, shelter, water, medical care to Afghans in need. Our partners on the ground, they remain operational, and they have been able to make good use of some of the $474 million that we provided in this fiscal year alone. Right now, for instance, our partners are conducting winterization assessments in 23 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, and they plan to begin related relief commodity distributions in the weeks ahead. We previously have spoken to the health care that our funding is providing, the food and nutrition support that our humanitarian aid and assistance is providing.

So, the United States is – has stepped up. We continue to call upon the international community to do more of the same in some cases, or to do the same in the case of other countries, including those in and near the region who have yet to provide the sort of meaningful support that the Afghan people need. We have demonstrated our commitment not only through word, but also in deed, and we will continue to call upon the international community to raise its ambition when it comes to the level and scale of humanitarian assistance for the Afghan people.

And then one final point on this: In our engagement with the Taliban, we have made very clear to them, and we made clear to them before they took over Kabul, and certainly after, including last week when Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West met with a senior Taliban delegation, that we would be looking to the Taliban’s conduct in key areas, and that includes in human rights, that includes in terms of their counterterrorism commitments, that includes in terms of providing safe passage to Americans, LPRs, and to others who wish to leave the country. And it includes in terms of a government that is inclusive and representative of the people of Afghanistan, that those criteria among others would really form the backbone of what we are or are not able to do with any future government of Afghanistan. That in no way changes the decisions that the Taliban makes, in no way changes the decision that we will make in terms of our humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.

But if the Taliban are looking for a deeper relationship with the international community, including the U.S., it’s their conduct that we will look to in terms of devising what that might look like.

QUESTION: So, all right. Just – winterization assessment? It’s December, Ned. It’s Afghanistan.

MR PRICE: Matt, these have been ongoing.

QUESTION: It gets cold.

MR PRICE: These have been ongoing.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, but boasting about this now is something that you’re doing for – winterization assessments for people who live in very cold conditions when —

MR PRICE: This was not a boast. This was not a boast.

QUESTION: Okay. All right.

MR PRICE: It was descriptive in terms of the kinds of services provided.

QUESTION: Am I correct in thinking that nothing really has changed much in your position or your understanding of where the Iran talks are or where they will resume, if they do resume, from the call that was done on Saturday? I just —

MR PRICE: That’s right. That’s right. It’s —

QUESTION: Okay. So, everything is the same as it was on Saturday?

MR PRICE: That – there has been no change.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: For us, it is much less important about when they resume, but how they resume.

QUESTION: All right. And then —

MR PRICE: And importantly, that the Iranians return to Vienna prepared to negotiate in good faith with the other members of the P5+1.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just lastly, on the – back on the Olympics “diplomatic boycott,” quote/unquote, you said in your response I think to Kylie’s question that the U.S. does – that the U.S. Government does not have the ability to tell private sector organizations what to do, but that’s not the case. In fact, in 1980, the U.S. Government told the U.S. Olympic Committee that it couldn’t send athletes to the Moscow Games because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, correct?

So, my question is this: Was there a calculation made in this administration that what’s going on in Xinjiang now is less bad than the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979?

MR PRICE: We are – look, first of all, I don’t want to say that this is apples and apples. This is – this is not 1980.

QUESTION: Well, no, but it is a private sector – and it’s a private sector – I know it’s not 1980, yes, and that – thank God it’s not 1980 for many reasons. But that was an instance where the U.S. Government told a private sector organization what it could do. And you said that you can’t tell private sector organizations what to do as it relates to China, and —

MR PRICE: My point, Matt, was this is not a command economy. We have a vibrant private sector. We have a private sector that’s going to make its own decisions. Our goal in all this —

QUESTION: Well, it’s not a command economy until you guys decide that you want to make it a command economy.

MR PRICE: I don’t —

QUESTION: Well, you’re – there’s all sorts of stuff that – and I won’t get into it because it’s political, but I’m talking about foreign policy-wise, you can tell companies that they can’t do business in a certain place. If you want to.

MR PRICE: Look, —

QUESTION: You can tell the International Olympic Committee that it can’t – or the U.S. Olympic Committee, sorry – that it can’t send athletes to a certain country to participate in the Olympic Games, or at least you have in the past. (Phone rings.) Whoops, sorry.

MR PRICE: Kylie posed the question in the context of private sector U.S. companies. I was responding in the context of private sector U.S. companies. But again, this is not 1980. What we announced in 1980 was something distinct from what we’re talking about today.

What we’re talking about today is an approach that we believe is appropriate given the human rights abuses, including the ongoing genocide that is taking placing in China, in Xinjiang. But it is also something that doesn’t punish our athletes who have trained in many cases for years and whom we look forward to cheering on, hoping they will return —

QUESTION: So are you suggesting that the Carter administration or that President Carter made a mistake in boycotting the —

MR PRICE: I’m not offering an opinion.

QUESTION: In boycotting the Moscow Olympics because he punished American athletes?

MR PRICE: I am not offering an opinion on the decision – on a decision that took place 41 years ago.

QUESTION: When you were —

MR PRICE: How old was I in 1980?

QUESTION: Ned, could I ask a question on UAE very quickly?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Tahnoun bin Zayed, the national security advisor for the emir, the president of the United Arab Emirates, is in Tehran today or was in Tehran today. He spoke about a new page in relations. There’s also a great deal of diplomatic activities going on, that MBS will be going, I guess, to Qatar and all these. What is your – what kind comment do you have on all these diplomatic acrobatics and so on?

MR PRICE: We believe in diplomacy. We believe in dialogue. We believe in dialogue and diplomacy that further the goal of de-escalating tensions across the region. If it helps to achieve that goal, it’s something we certainly support.

QUESTION: Do you think that when the UAE says “I want a new chapter with Iran” in the midst of at least stalled now, but Vienna talks and so on, does that in any way hinder it or help it?

MR PRICE: Well, what I think is most critical in terms of the JCPOA context and the Vienna talks context are sanctions enforcement. And what we’ve been very clear is that our sanctions remain in place. They will remain in place unless and until we’re able to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

What you’ve talked about is separate and apart from that. If we can de-escalate tensions across the region, bring the region back from what several years ago looked like it could have the potential to veer into conflict, we believe that’s a good thing even as we continue to use the full array of tools in our toolkits to pressure – to apply appropriate pressure on the Iranian regime in furtherance of limiting and putting those verifiable and permanent limits back on its nuclear program.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you. Quick last question. Yeah.

QUESTION: One quick one on Ethiopia. Despite what you guys have been sort of saying about all sides needing to seek diplomatic solutions, political solutions rather than conflict, the government has announced that it’s retaken some cities, so obviously fighting is still sort of intensely going on. And there was a joint statement that you put out and specifically mentioned the reports on widespread arrests of ethnic Tigrayans. I wondered, sort of beyond this joint statement, which is, you know, a strongly worded statement, but – and it says this likely constitutes violations of international law, are you sort of considering specific sanctions over these mass detentions over the sort of ethnic aspect of what’s happening in Ethiopia?

MR PRICE: Well, as you saw in the joint statement we issued today, we and many of our close partners issued, as you said, a strong call, a strong condemnation against the conduct that we’ve seen. We call on the Government of Ethiopia to cease its mass detentions on the basis of ethnicity.

I don’t want to preview steps we’re preparing or prepared to take. Right now, our focus is on calling on the Government of Ethiopia to cease this practice. But I think, Simon, as you know, we have a number of tools in our toolkit, including an executive order that was promulgated a couple months ago, that would allow us to respond to human rights abuses if and when we deem appropriate. We’ve already employed it in the context of the Eritreans, but it is an executive order that has broader potential applicability if we deem it to be appropriate.

In the meantime, to all parties our message is and remains very clear: What we are seeking is an immediate cessation of hostilities, negotiations without preconditions leading to a national dialogue, unhindered humanitarian access for all those in need regardless of their ethnicity or geography, and an immediate end, as I just said, to human rights abuses and to violations as well.

Thank you very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:10 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – November 29, 2021

2:02 p.m. EST

MS PORTER: Hello. Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining today’s State Department press briefing. I only have one update at the top, and then will continue taking your questions. But I’d like to start off by taking a moment to say Happy Hanukkah to those around the world who may be celebrating. And with that, we’ll just give it a few minutes for folks to chime in the queue.

On the advice of the President’s chief medical advisor and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the administration will restrict travel from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe starting today, November 29th, 2021. The policy does not apply to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and certain other categories of travelers. These measures apply to foreign national travelers regardless of nationality based on the traveler’s physical presence in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, or Zimbabwe. Current U.S. visa holders who have been present in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, or Zimbabwe, including for transit during the 14 days prior to entry or attempted entry to the United States, will be subject to these entry restrictions.

This proclamation does not dictate whether commercial airlines should or should not continue. Any flight changes are dependent upon commercial airlines’ individual decisions. U.S. citizens can continue to travel from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe to the United States, and foreign nationals from these eight countries can continue returning to these eight countries from the United States. Cargo shipments on passenger flights and cargo-specific flights may also continue.

President Biden has promised to take every measure necessary to keep Americans safe and defeat the pandemic, and this is a step recommended by U.S. Government medical experts and the COVID-19 response team. We are in close contact with public health officials in southern Africa and are working closely with them to understand more about the Omicron variant. We value our longstanding public health cooperation with South Africa, and we also praise South Africa’s skilled scientists for the quick identification of this variant and South Africa’s Government for its transparency in sharing this information, which can also serve as a model for the rest of the world.

Let’s go with Jenny Hansler.

OPERATOR: We go to Jennifer Hansler with CNN. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks, Jalina. There is a report that Israel shared intelligence with the U.S. suggesting Iran is taking steps to enrich uranium to 90 percent purity. I was wondering if you had any comment on that report. Can you confirm it? Is it the U.S. assessment that Iran is taking these steps to enrich uranium at this purity level? And then do you have any sort of readout from the Vienna talks that kick off today? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Jenny. I don’t have anything to preview or read out from the Vienna talks that started today. I suspect we’ll have more to come. But to your first question, I’ll just say that we’ve made clear that Iran’s continued nuclear escalations are unconstructive. They’re also inconsistent with what’s stated with the goal of returning to a mutual compliance with the JCPOA. It won’t provide Iran any negotiation – any negotiating leverage as we return to the talks.

Let’s go to Simon Lewis, please.

OPERATOR: Simon Lewis of Reuters. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks, Jalina. I hope you had a good holiday weekend. Also on Iran. After the talks in Vienna, the indirect talks in Vienna today, the European impression and Iranian diplomats all sort of sounded upbeat and seems to be some sort of optimism coming out of the talks. But I wonder, given Iran – that Iran is still insisting that all U.S. and EU sanctions have to be lifted, is there reason for optimism from the talks?

And just secondly, I wanted to see if you could respond to some comments by Ali Bagheri Kani, the Iranian top negotiator, who said, “It’s a major achievement that all parties in the meeting accepted Iran’s demand that, first, the situation of illegal and unjust U.S. sanctions should be cleared.” It continued a bit after that. But yeah, basically the Iranians are saying that there’s a – there seems to be agreement from – obviously, they’re indirect talks and you guys aren’t in the room. But is that something that the other parties in the talks agreed upon, and is the U.S. okay with that? Thank you.

(Pause.)

OPERATOR: I’m sorry. Did you want me to go to the next person?

MS PORTER: No, no. Simon, hi, this is Jalina. We’re back here. Simon, I won’t get into the specific details on the talks as they’re imminent right now, but I can just underscore that the talks, of course, will remain indirect, which is at Iran’s request, and the United States has not participated in any of these meetings directly with Iran. And from the top, the Biden administration has been consistent, and we’ve also been sincere and steadfast in pursuing a path of meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA and also to address our full range of concerns with Iran.

Let’s go to Jiha Ham, please.

OPERATOR: Jiha Ham with Voice of America, please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Jalina. Thanks for taking my questions. I have two questions today.

Recently, there was a news report that Canada has spotted dozens of vessels doing ship-to-ship transfers in the East China Sea. Those were possible activities that are related to North Korea. I mean, they’re violating sanctions on North Korea. Do you have any concerns? Do you have any messages to any countries that may be involved in these kinds of activities?

And my second question is from one of my colleagues. I would like to know if you have any updates on the appointments of some positions related to the Korean Peninsula, a new ambassador to the Republic of Korea and the special envoy for North Korea’s human rights. So do you have anything to share on these? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Jiha. I’ll start with your first question first.

It’s important for the international community to send a strong message and also a unified message that the DPRK must halt provocations, abide by its obligations under the UN Security Council resolutions, and also engage in sustained and intensive negotiations with the U.S. The UN Security Council resolutions regarding the DPRK remain in effect, and we also urge all UN member-states to fulfill their obligations under those regulations.

To your second question, I’m going to have to take that back to the team.

Let’s go to Conor Finnegan, please.

OPERATOR: Next we go to the line of Conor Finnegan with ABC. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hey, can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes. Hey, how are you? Can hear you.

QUESTION: I’m good. Great, I just wanted to press you on your topper there about the new travel restrictions. Some of the countries that you’ve banned travel from have not yet confirmed any cases of this new variant, and then obviously there are some other countries that have confirmed cases that are not facing these restrictions. So can you explain why some of these African countries are facing restrictions, speak to the criticism that you’re disincentivizing countries from coming forward and sharing their data, and then respond to the World Health Organization and the UN secretary general, among others, who say that these countries shouldn’t be penalized for sharing information? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Conor. Well, I’ll just start off by saying that President Biden has made a steadfast promise to keep Americans safe and defeat the pandemic, and this was a step that was recommended by U.S. Government medical experts as well as the COVID-19 Response Team.

We are in close contact with public health officials in Africa, and we continue to work closely with them to understand more about this Omicron variant. And we certainly value our longstanding public health cooperation with South Africa, and we praise South Africa’s skilled scientists for the quick identification of this variant.

To your other point, more than a dozen other countries have taken similar action, which includes the UK, Canada, Australia, as well as some other European countries. As well as over the past 10 months, the United States has worked closely with southern African states and others impacted – other impacted nations to help them vaccinate their populations and try to combat the impacts of COVID-19.

Let’s go to Michele Kelemen.

OPERATOR: Next we’ll go to the line of Michele Kelemen with NPR. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have a question about Russia. Russia’s ambassador says that 27 of his colleagues and their family members have to leave the U.S. by January 30th. Why is that? Are they being expelled? And do you expect the Russians to retaliate on that?

And then secondly, do you have any update on Thomas West’s meetings in Doha with the Taliban? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Michele. I’ll just start off by saying just as the Russian Federation grants our diplomats with an initial three-way[1] stay in Russia, the U.S. also informed Russia about a year ago that its diplomats would be subject to the same three-year assignments, which is not abnormal.

The diplomats that the Russian ambassador references will have been in the United States at – for at least more than three years, and they also have been informed that they will need to depart when their assignments end. The U.S. approaches – approach creates greater parity with our diplomatic missions, as both will rotate their staff with some level of frequency, and we will continue to discuss this matter with Russia.

To your second question on Special Representative West, he departed to Doha on November 27th for two days of meetings with Taliban leaders on November 29th and November 30th. The United States continues to pursue the priorities in Afghanistan, which includes counterterrorism, respect for human rights, as well as safe passage for U.S. citizens and our Afghan allies to whom we have a special commitment. These goals – the goals of these meetings, of course, is to advance our interests in Afghanistan through candid dialogue with Taliban representatives.

Let’s go to Michel Ghandour.

OPERATOR: Next we’ll go to the line of Michel Ghandour with MBN. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you for the call. I want to go back to Iran. Is the U.S. ready to lift all the sanctions imposed since the withdrawal from the JCPOA, as Iran requests?

MS PORTER: Thanks for that. I won’t get into the details or any hypotheticals from here, but I’ll just focus on the goal, which is a mutual return to compliance. And of course, as you know, that’s in America’s national interest, and we believe it’s the best available option to restrict Iran’s nuclear program and also provide a platform to address Iran’s destabilizing conduct. If Iran demands more or offers less than a mutual return to compliance, these negotiations will not succeed.

Let’s go to Kylie Atwood.

OPERATOR: Go to Kylie Atwood with CNN. Please, go ahead

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for doing the call. Just wanted to follow up quickly on the Russian diplomatic question from Michele. Could you just clarify: The Russian diplomats are going to have to leave because of the three-year visa. Russia is allowed to backfill those diplomats – is that correct – they just have to apply for visas here to the United States?

MS PORTER: Thanks, Kylie. So just to double down on the question from both you and Michele, so what’s happening is not an expulsion. The Russian Government has been informed, of course, and it can replace those who are departing by finding other members of its diplomatic corps to the positions. These new procedures are not punitive, but they’ve been introduced to enable greater parity between the U.S. and Russian bilateral mission.

Let’s go to Pearl Matibe, please.

OPERATOR: Pearl Matibe with Power FM 98.7, please, go ahead.

MS PORTER: Thank you. Happy Monday, and hopefully you had a good Thanksgiving, Jalina. At the top I just want to let you know – in a prior briefing I had mentioned that a friend and cabinet minister in president – in Prime Minister Hamdok’s team had been arrested and I feared he had been killed. I just want to correct that on the 26th I found out that he has in fact been released – that’s Khaled Omar – he has in fact been released. I just wanted to alert you on that one.

So moving on from Sudan, I would like to go to Southern Africa. Jalina, I have three – a three-part question for you. Last night, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed his citizens of South Africa, and the language that he used in his address – he talked of being deeply disappointed and he talked about discrimination he felt was made against South Africa. I’d like to find out from you: Does the Biden administration have anything beyond that’s something maybe that you can assuage the remarks that Cyril Ramaphosa made in his address yesterday?

The second part of my question is: Do you have any comment at this point? I know that investigating the variant, the Omicron variant, will take a couple of weeks, but is there anything that the United States Government can do in terms of the IP waiver that President Cyril Ramaphosa has been talking about and trying to lead on for a few months now? So maybe if you can comment on that.

And my last part of my question is really to speak to our audiences – these are the general people, Main Street Southern Africa – not to the leaders, not to the elderly people, to the young people, the families who, going into the Christmas period, they have this culture in Southern Africa which is generally called the Christmas Box. This is a period where they are – these long-suffering Southern Africans, this is like the one time in the year that they can feel happy. Right now there’s a general frustration towards the United States because the United States does lead on the global stage. Can you maybe speak to them about – they’re going into this period without these travel where they might look to their diaspora who might be coming home, bringing things, but – and coming back here but cannot travel. Could you speak to Main Street Southern Africa in view of – of course today FOCAC is starting today in Senegal – where they might feel the disappointment towards the West, they may lean East. Maybe if you could comment on that – I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Pearl. I’ll start with your last question and try to get through all of them as best as possible. I want to repeat something I said at the top about what’s going on with the travel restrictions and just underscore that the reason we have them in place is to keep people safe. So I hope that when your audience hears this they know it’s in good faith to make sure that their family members are being kept safe not only where they are now, but with any travel or anything they’re trying to do over the holidays. So again, these measures that are in place apply to foreign national travelers regardless of nationality, based on the travelers’ physical presence – excuse me – in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, or Zimbabwe. So current U.S. visa holders who have been present in those key countries, including for transit during 14 days prior to entry or attempted entry into the United States, will be restricted to entry with these restrictions. And again, the overall goal is to beat the pandemic and keep everyone – our partners and allies and friends all over the globe – as safe as possible.

To your second question, I won’t speak about ongoing investigations from here. If we have anything more to share with you, we will at a later time. To your first question, the Secretary spoke with his South African counterpart and we do have a readout to point from the website for that, but I just want to underscore from here that the administration views African countries as our partners in pursuing shared interests, which obviously include global health, climate, inclusive economic growth, democracy, peace, and prosperity. We also value a strong U.S.-African relationship that also enables – will address the shared challenges that we face across the globe.

Let’s go to Mike Crowley.

OPERATOR: Go to Michael Crowley with New York Times. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jalina. Question on the variants: Has the variants’ emergence caused the administration to reassess or consider updating its international vaccine distribution policies, both in terms of vaccine donations and any efforts involved in – related to getting vaccines from shipment into people’s arms?

MS PORTER: Thanks, Mike. I don’t have any policy changes to announce from here, but what I will say is that the Biden administration has been committed to being the leader in vaccine diplomacy, in getting shots in arms, and, of course, that includes keeping Americans safe and everyone safe around the world. If we have something to share with you later, we will, but for that I actually would refer to my colleagues at the White House.

Let’s go to Rosiland Jordan, please.

OPERATOR: Rosiland Jordan with Al Jazeera English. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thanks for doing the call. I want to come back to the Iran enrichment story. Two questions: One, does the U.S. believe that Iran has any equipment in which it could use highly enriched uranium as a weapon? Alternatively, is the thinking in the U.S. Government that Iran might be enriching the uranium in order to sell it to some other party in order to bring in cash?

And then the larger question in light of this week’s talks in Vienna: If the U.S. and its allies believe that Iran has in fact enriched uranium beyond the terms allowed in the JCPOA, does the JCPOA need to be updated before the U.S. can actually become a party to it again? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Rosiland. To your second question, I’ll just say that right now we’re focused – hyperfocused – on the negotiations. And to your first question, I’d say that we’re just not going to comment on some of the information that’s being shared here, and the enrichment to 90 percent obviously would be a provocative act. And I’ll just underscore that we’ve made clear that Iran’s continued nuclear escalations are unconstructive and they’re also inconsistent with what’s stated in the goal of returning to a mutual compliance with the JCPOA. Of course, they won’t provide Iran any negotiating leverage as we are in the talks.

Let’s go to the line of Alejandra Arredondo.

OPERATOR: Alejandra Arredondo with Voice of America, please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, hello. Can you hear me well? Thank you so much for doing this. My question is regarding the recent elections in Honduras. I want to know if State can comment on how Xiomara Castro seems to be the candidate that is heading – ahead in the election’s results, and how – and also State’s comments on how the elections were developed and what happened during the weekend. Thank you so much.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Alejandra. So we are following the election proceedings in Honduras very closely. We urge patience and calm as the National Electoral Council carries out its role in counting the vote. In the run-up to the election and on election day, the United States supports the conditions for the peaceful conduct of free and fair elections in Honduras, and we also call on all parties to commit themselves to this objective. We also congratulate the Honduran people for the high turnout as well as the active civil society participation in the election just yesterday. They made clear that their aspirations are for progress, and the United States renews its commitment to accompany that progress with the next government of Honduras.

As we’ve said during the campaign period, of course, the decision of who will lead Honduras is for the Honduran citizens to decide for themselves. The United States supports the democratic process but, of course, not any candidate in particular. Throughout the election cycle we have been a part of an international effort to support the peaceful and transparent conduct of free and fair elections.

Let’s take the final question from Nadia Bilbassy, please.

OPERATOR: Final question from Nadia Bilbassy with Arabiya. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Actually, my question was about Iran but all my colleagues asked all my questions. Let me try one last attempt. Is this administration understanding that the Iranians insisting on lifting the sanctions without compliance before entering this seventh round – do you know this in advance before you sent your envoy to Vienna? And if this is the case, how do you expect the talks to go ahead? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Nadia. What I’ll say is that it’s no secret that sanctions relief issues have been a priority for Iran throughout the entire negotiation process, but we won’t negotiate in the press or comment on specific claims about those negotiations. The precise nature and sequence of the sanctions-related steps that the U.S. would need to take to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is a subject of the talks. A mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is the best option to restrict Iran’s nuclear program and also provide a platform to address its destabilizing conduct. And, of course, if Iran demands more or happens to offer less, these negotiations will not succeed.

That concludes today’s daily press briefing. Thank you all for joining, and I hope you have a great rest of your week ahead.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:35 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – November 23, 2021

2:02 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Just one item at the top, and then would be happy to take your questions.

The U.S. Department of State and the people of the United States express our deepest condolences and sympathy to the people of North Macedonia and Bulgaria, especially to those who lost family members, many of whom were children, in today’s bus accidents – bus accident near Bosnek. We also want to extend our deep condolences to those who lost loved ones in the nursing home fire in Royak. Our hearts go out to all those in mourning and we wish a speedy recovery to the injured. The United States stands with Bulgaria and North Macedonia at this difficult time.

With that, Humeyra.

QUESTION: Ned, it was a – it’s been reported that U.S. is considering – U.S. has decided to delist FARC, Colombia. Can you confirm that? Then you can talk a little bit about the U.S. thinking behind that, please.

MR PRICE: Well, Humeyra, there are certain processes that require consultations and notifications. And so what I can say in this case is that today the Department of State has provided Congress with notifications of upcoming actions we are taking with regard to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC. As you know, the peace process and the signing of the peace accord five years ago is something that was a seminal turning point in some ways in the long-running Colombia conflict. It’s something we’ve commended, it is something that we have sought at every step of the way to preserve.

The peace accord ended five decades of conflict with the FARC, and it set Colombia on a path to a just and lasting peace. And so we remain fully committed to working with our Colombian partners on the implementation of the peace accord. As you know, we were just in Bogotá a couple weeks ago, where we met with President Duque, we met with the foreign minister as well, and others in the Colombian Government. And obviously, the implementation and preservation of the peace accord was a central topic in those discussions.

QUESTION: I mean, when are you going to finalize this process? I understand it’s a process, but it’s already been out there that you guys have decided to delist them. Can you be a little bit more specific?

MR PRICE: Well, as you know better than I, sometimes things are reported that we’re not in a position to comment on just yet. But I would imagine in the coming days we’ll have more to say on this.

QUESTION: And the upcoming actions in the (inaudible) case?

MR PRICE: Today unfortunately I’ll just have to say that we have started the process of consulting with Congress on actions that we are taking with regard to the FARC. But we will have more details on this in the coming days.

Nick.

QUESTION: Can I ask two questions? One, can you comment on this lawsuit that was filed about Keystone yesterday? TC Energy is claiming $15 billion in damages over the Biden administration decision to cancel the permitting from Keystone.

MR PRICE: Well, as you know, we don’t comment specifically on litigation, but I can say a couple things. I can confirm that we’ve received a request for arbitration from TC Energy Corporation and TransCanada PipeLines Limited pursuant to annex 14-C of the agreement between the United States of America, United Mexican States, and Canada – USMCA, of course – and section B of chapter 11 of NAFTA on November 22nd, yesterday.

Canada is a key U.S. partner in energy as well as in efforts to address climate change and protect the environment. We look forward to working with Canada to meeting these challenges together. We will, and we know we must. We expect to publish the request for arbitration on our website in the coming weeks, and in the meantime, as I said, we’re just not in a position to comment on pending litigation.

QUESTION: Okay. And then on Nord Stream 2, just to follow up on yesterday’s announcement, the announcement cited three entities – two that have been sanctioned, Transadria and then its ship, the Marlin – and then another ship that was not mentioned but is in the report, called Blue Ship, which was cited but is not being sanctioned. Can you say why that second ship, Blue Ship, is not being sanctioned but is being cited?

MR PRICE: Well, let me start at the top and reiterate, as you heard from the Secretary in his statement again yesterday, that we continue to oppose Nord Stream 2, we continue to believe it is harmful, that it is a Russian geopolitical project, it’s a bad deal for Ukraine, it’s a bad deal for Europe. That is precisely why we have worked concertedly with our allies and our partners, including the Ukrainians, including our German allies as well, on a package that we announced several months ago now that will mitigate the effects, the pernicious effects of Nord Stream 2.

It’s also why we continue to act pursuant to PEESA, the Protecting Europe’s Energy and Security Act, as amended, even as we have worked with allies and partners to ensure that the pipeline is not allowed to circumvent the certification process and the EU’s third energy package, including the various requirements that are spelled out there – requirements for ownership unbundling, the requirements for third-party access to the pipeline to transit gas from sources other than Russia, other than Gazprom.

So these measures, again, with the 2021 joint statement that we released together with our German allies – it certainly reduced the risks of an operational NS2 pipeline. It reduced the risks that such a pipeline would pose to European energy security and the security of Ukraine and frontline NATO and EU countries.

We are – as you know, we submit a report to Congress every 90 days. As we closely monitor developments with regard to Nord Stream 2, we are closely monitoring sanctionable activity. As we collect that information, as we analyze the facts, we are applying those facts to the requirements laid out in this legislation. And so yesterday, you are correct that we did announce two vessels and one Russia-linked entity involved in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as now falling under our PEESA sanctions authority. And we will continue to follow the law to implement PEESA and, as appropriate, to sanction entities involved in the construction or involved in the pipeline.

QUESTION: But just to follow up on that, so why was the blue ship not – why was that cited but not sanctioned?

MR PRICE: As you know, PEESA lays out the requirements. It lays out what we are required to do in terms of implementing our sanctions authority. We have consistently followed the law, as we always do. We’ll continue to do that. As for the specifics of a particular vessel or entity, that’s just not something I’m prepared to go into today.

QUESTION: Okay, because – I mean, it was my understanding that it was not sanctioned because it is a German – it is owned by a German foundation and that – and so the administration essentially did not want to – like with the Nord Stream 2 AG waiver, did not want to sanction a ship belonging to a German Government entity.

MR PRICE: Well, we have worked very closely with our German allies. I spoke already to the joint statement that we released with the Germans, a joint statement that its heart is about a package of support for our Ukrainian partners and the support that we, together with our German allies, are providing to our Ukrainian partners. You know that that package of support entailed various assurances. It entailed a fund that our Ukrainian partners can tap into to offset some of the potential implications of an operational Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

So this has been a topic of intense diplomacy and had been a topic of intense diplomacy and still is a topic of conversation with our German allies. It’s something that we regularly discuss with our Ukrainian partners – Nord Stream 2 specifically, but also Ukraine’s energy security and the imperative of ensuring that Ukraine is not held hostage to the whims of any other country when it comes to energy flows.

QUESTION: All right. And just the last thing from me, then. So – I mean, are you at all worried – I mean, what appears to have happened in this case is you had a ship that was working on Nord Stream 2, on the construction of the pipeline, and then as a way of avoiding sanctions, the beneficial ownership of that ship was essentially transferred to a German Government entity under the knowledge that by doing so it would avoid sanctions. So, I mean, are you worried that there is a loophole here that companies working on Nord Stream 2 could essentially exploit given this administration’s unwillingness to sanction entities that are in any way affiliated with the German Government?

MR PRICE: Nick, we have sanctioned and consistently applied PEESA as it is written. We have now sanctioned 8 persons, identified 17 of their vessels as blocked property pursuant to PEESA in connection with Nord Stream 2. As I was saying before, we’ll continue to examine entities engaged in potentially sanctionable activity in line with our commitment – and it is a commitment – to implement PEESA. So, again, I’m not in a position from here to go into the details of ships, entities, but rest assured PEESA is something we are committed to, continuing to demonstrate our opposition to Nord Stream 2 and our commitment to Ukraine’s energy security is something we will continue to do.

Francesco.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about Russia-Ukraine if you – since your – all your warnings over the last week and days. I think there was a call today between the chief of staff. Has there been any diplomatic engagement? Has the Secretary spoken with his counterpart, Sergey Lavrov? And are you still worried about what’s going on at the border between Ukraine and Russia or are you less worried than you were one week ago?

MR PRICE: Well, nothing about our concern has changed. You heard the Secretary reiterate that concern over the weekend on his travels. I spoke to this yesterday as well. The unusual – the reports of the unusual Russian military activity near Ukraine’s borders, along Ukraine’s borders, is a cause for concern. It’s a cause for concern to the United States. It’s a cause for concern for our Ukrainian partners. It’s also a cause for concern for our European allies as well. That is why in recent weeks we have had extensive consultations and engaged in concerted diplomacy with not only Ukraine but also our European allies.

During many of these meetings, we’ve discussed our concerns about Russia’s military activities, its harsh rhetoric toward Ukraine, its actions in the past. And I think the allusion to the past is important here, because yes, we – there are reports of unusual military activity, but that unusual military activity doesn’t come in a vacuum. It comes in the context of the Russian Federation that in 2014, some seven years ago, undertook similar activities only to amass forces along the border and then to falsely, speciously claim protectoral provocation and to cross that border illegally, continuing its aggression against Ukraine.

So we’ve held discussions with Russian officials as well in the context of all of this. We’ve spoken publicly to some of those engagements. Many of those engagements have come out of this building. Some of those engagements have taken place out of other buildings, including the National Security Council has read out some of those engagements. As you know, the Intelligence Community and CIA Director Burns’s travel to Moscow took place in recent weeks.

In all of this, our engagement with our European allies, with our Ukrainian partners we have underscored our rock-solid commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, to Ukraine’s security. And we’ve also made clear, both with our allies and with the Russian Federation, that any escalatory or aggressive moves by Russia would be of great concern to the United States. And we’ve called for an immediate restoration of the July 2020 ceasefire in Donbas.

QUESTION: And is there any discussion, decision, or imminent decision about sending more weapons to Ukraine, as they often request?

MR PRICE: Well, as you know, we are in regular consultation and dialogue with our Ukrainian partners about their defensive needs. We don’t have anything to announce or preview at this time, but we announced that we’d be sending more than $60 million in security assistance during President Zelenskyy’s visit to the U.S. earlier this year, in late August I believe it was, as part of our strategic partnership with Ukraine. And we’ve sent more than $400 million overall this year to support Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Since the beginning of this administration, we’ve demonstrated that we are willing and able to use a number of tools to address Russia’s harmful activities, and we won’t hesitate from making use of those tools as appropriate in the future as well.

Andrea.

QUESTION: What do you draw from the fact that Russia so far is ignoring all of this pressure, all of your calls, all of the international diplomacy?

MR PRICE: Well, again, we don’t know Russia’s intentions. We don’t know precisely what Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin might be planning. But we do know a couple things. We do know what has been observed, including in public accounts, about this unusual Russian military activity along the border. We do know the history, and that history is not at all reassuring in terms of previous steps that the Russian Federation took in 2014, that in some ways looked similar to this and led to an outcome that was deeply disturbing in terms of the military aggression against Ukraine.

So we are taking all of that. We are comparing what is in – what we have in our holdings. We are sharing information. We are sharing intelligence with our European allies, with Ukraine as well. Of course, the foreign minister was here just the other week and had an opportunity to meet directly with Secretary Blinken and his team, just as Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to meet, as did President Biden, with President Zelenskyy in Scotland at COP26. We also saw the foreign minister at COP26, where this was a subject as well.

So it is not for us to say what the Russian Federation may be planning. It is for us to say what we’re doing in response. And we are engaged in concerted diplomacy. We are making sure through a number of ways that our European allies know, that Ukraine knows, and importantly that the Russian Federation knows that our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, to its independence, to its territorial integrity is rock solid.

QUESTION: Is there a red line? And do you have any proposals to bring to either the NATO ministerial or to the OSCE meeting?

MR PRICE: Look, we will take advantage of every opportunity we have, including multilateral opportunities that may be coming up in the coming days, including potentially with NATO, to make very clear our concerns, to share concerns, to compare notes with our NATO Allies as well. The bottom line for us is clear. Any escalatory or aggressive actions would be of great concern to the United States, but it would not just be of concern to us. It would be of great concern – we have heard, you have heard – to our European allies as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: Just on Russia —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: — I just want to push back a little bit on what you’re saying. So you’re consulting with your allies. So all of you guys are sitting in rooms having Zoom calls and telling each other like, “We don’t know what Russia is intending to do. We have no idea what they’re doing.” I mean, this is – sorry, this is respectfully – this is a little bit unthinkable. Like – so —

MR PRICE: Well, respectfully – respectfully, that’s what I’m telling you.

QUESTION: I mean – yeah —

MR PRICE: I’m not saying that we’re saying that —

QUESTION: But I mean, if – yeah, but it’s just like, we don’t know what Russia is intending to do. That’s just – certainly you have an assessment. And certainly you guys must be working on certain scenarios. Because otherwise, if you have no idea what they’re doing, then isn’t – doesn’t that mean that U.S. is not prepared for what’s coming, right?

MR PRICE: We are prepared and preparing for a number of contingencies.

QUESTION: Right.

MR PRICE: And you can understand why the level of detail that I offer here is, of course, going to be consistent with what we say in private, but it probably will not be as extensive. And it certainly won’t be as extensive as our private consultations with our European allies, with our Ukrainian partners. Those consultations are ongoing. I can assure you it is not as you characterized it. These are in-depth conversations. We have sent senior officials from the department to provide detailed briefings to our European allies. We’ve provided detailed information to Ukraine as well. And we will continue not only to share information, but to prepare for a range of contingencies. I can assure you that’s what we’re doing.

QUESTION: And those contingencies involve a repeat of 2014?

MR PRICE: Look, it’s not prudent for me to go into that from here. But it is prudent for us to engage in a broad range of contingency planning.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that quickly?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: So if you guys are gaming out contingency options, clearly you’ve made a calculation that it’s not in the U.S. and European interest to lay those out explicitly. So why are you making that calculation? What is the benefit of keeping those contingencies close-held and not publicly told as a deterrence to what Russia is doing?

MR PRICE: Well, in some ways, the fact that we are speaking about this openly; the fact that we are acknowledging our concerns; the fact that we have made no secret of our consultations with Ukraine, with our European partners; the fact that we have not been shy in voicing our concerns about what we’re seeing now, the public reports and information we have about Russia’s unusual military activities, and layering that on top of what we saw in 2014 – we are saying all of this to make clear not only to Ukraine our rock solid commitment, but also to the Russian Federation. And you’ve seen similar statements from some of our European allies. You’ve seen statements from Ukraine as well when it comes to this.

Look, it is not prudent for us to go into great detail about precisely the sort of information we have, precisely the planning and consultations that we’re engaging in with our allies and partners. But that is taking place, and it is part of a prudent preparatory process so that we would be able to address a range of scenarios. We do know that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, it was not a one-time event in 2014. Of course, Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea and its presence in eastern Ukraine continues. Of course, its aggression in terms of rhetoric, in terms of other potentially hybrid actions, have continued.

So all of that is a cause for great concern, and that is also why we have continued to stand by Ukraine, to stand by them not only rhetorically – rhetorically is important, including for reasons of potentially deterrence – but also the security assistance that we’ve provided, the $60 million that was announced in the context of President Zelenskyy’s visit, the $400 million that has been committed to our Ukrainian partners since the start of this administration alone.

QUESTION: So just – so if they don’t respond to what you guys are pointing out publicly, at some point will you explicitly say what your physical response is going to be – I mean, if it’s not there yet?

MR PRICE: Our public statements will be calibrated based on what we see. But more importantly, the actions we take, the steps we take, will be pursuant to what we see. Right now, we’re engaged in diplomacy. We are speaking openly to what we’re seeing. We’re acknowledging the process in which we’re engaged. And pursuant to what we see on the ground or what we don’t see on the ground, we’ll change our rhetoric, we’ll change potentially our actions as well.

QUESTION: And last question. The 60 million in security assistance that was announced over the summer, what portion of that has already gone to Ukraine, and when should we expect that to be fully delivered?

MR PRICE: Well, our embassy in Kyiv even in recent days has issued tweets about various deliveries, including of certain defensive weapons systems. So we have made those deliveries public, and I think from that you can get a sense of the pace and the scope of the provision of materiel that’s been supplied.

Yes, Lalit.

QUESTION: Continuing on Russia but a little bit different related to India. Last week Russia started supplying S-400 systems to India. I know previously U.S. had asked – requested India not to receive it from them because the CAATSA sanction would come into play. Can you give us a status now? Has CAATSA sanctions come into play in India, and what is the going to be the U.S. stand on that?

MR PRICE: Well, we would need to refer you to the Indian Government for any comment on potential deliveries of the S-400 system. But we have been clear when it comes to this system, not only in the endgame context but more broadly as well, that we’ve urged all of our allies, all of our partners, to forego transactions with Russia that may risk triggering sanctions under so-called CAATSA, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

We have not made a determination on a potential waiver with respect to Indian arms transactions with Russia. CAATSA, however, does not have a blanket or country-specific waiver provision attached to it. We also know that our defense relationship with India has expanded and deepened significantly in recent years. It’s deepened commensurate with the broad and deep relationship that we have with India and its status as a major defense partner.

We expect this strong momentum in our defense relationship to continue. We certainly value our strategic partnership with India. As you know, we had an opportunity to travel to India not all that long ago, in August, I believe it was. We’ve met with Foreign Minister Jaishankar many times. We have discussed this concern directly, including with the highest levels of the Indian Government.

QUESTION: Yeah. But it’s the public knowledge now that India has started receiving since last week the S-400 missile system. So do you want Indian Government to tell you formally that they have started receiving it? I mean, so how does it work?

MR PRICE: Well, again, it’s not for us to speak to any systems that the Indian Government may or may not have received. It is for us to speak to the laws that are on the books and the requirements under those laws. Obviously, members of Congress are deeply interested in this as well. So it’s a conversation that has been ongoing with our Indian partners. It’s a conversation that takes place in the context of a defense relationship that is meaningful to us, that is important both to the United States and India, including in the context of a free and open Indo-Pacific. And so I suspect those conversations will continue.

QUESTION: And it is because of these defenses that the 2+2 has been now pushed to January or next year?

MR PRICE: We have never announced a date for the 2+2. Of course, we’ve committed to the 2+2 again because we have a significant relationship with India, including its status as a major defense partner. But I can assure you that there will be an opportunity for a 2+2 before long. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: It’s a different topic. It’s about Mexico. Since the beginning of this administration, the U.S. has said that climate change would be at the forefront of diplomacy, that it would be a priority. Yet the U.S. continues to be silent regarding a bill that is pushed by the Mexican Government openly that would kill the renewables market in Mexico. U.S. senators, U.S. governors, U.S. House members have asked through different letters to the administration – asked for a firm commitment on publicly acknowledge this concerning development. Is the U.S. willing to defend renewables companies from the U.S. that have invested billions in the market in Mexico to defend against these potential actions, or is climate change not a priority for you?

MR PRICE: Well, climate change certainly is a priority for us. It is a priority we have heard and you have heard for the Mexican Government as well. It has to be. Both the United States and Mexico are nations that historically have been large emitters. Of course, the United States is one of the world’s largest; Mexico too contributes and has contributed a fair amount of pollution into the atmosphere. And so this has to be a priority for both of our countries, and I think you’ve seen concrete steps that both Washington and Mexico City have taken to acknowledge the centrality of climate action in both of our agendas.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, but it was not discussed during the North American Leaders’ Summit, and even the U.S. Envoy for Climate Mr. Kerry, when he visited Mexico, he didn’t mention this concerning development about renewables. Is the specific issue of the bill concerning to the U.S., and will it be willing to defend U.S. companies that have billions?

MR PRICE: Well, the good news is that we have a very strong relationship with our Mexican counterparts. That strong relationship allows us to speak frankly and directly with our Mexican counterparts about potential areas of concern. We do when it comes to energy sector reform. We welcome Mexico’s recent commitment to tackle the climate crisis and to accelerate renewable energy development. And we continue to engage with the government to better understand its vision for realizing these commitments and to discuss a range of energy sector issues affecting private and public sector investment.

The fact is, of course, Mexico is a sovereign country, it’s going to make sovereign decisions over its energy sector, but we continue to advocate for open and transparent procurement processes. We trust that Mexico will fulfill its international commitments in that regard. We’ve been very clear, including in bilateral settings with our Mexican counterparts, about our concerns. Promoting the use of in some cases dirtier, of in some cases more expensive technologies over cheaper renewable technologies will make it more difficult to achieve the climate goals that have to be shared priorities between our two countries.

And we also have communicated to our Mexican partners that the private sector has an important role to play. It has an important role to play in helping the government achieve its goal of enhancing Mexico’s energy independence while moving forward with a green agenda, greening its energy sector and advancing economic prosperity at the same time, because we know that these two things often go hand in hand.

So with our Mexican partners, we’re able to work on areas of mutual interest. Together, we’re able to have frank conversations where there are areas of disagreement. We continue to discuss accelerating the adoption of clean energy, ensuring reliable energy supply, and promoting energy affordability as well.

QUESTION: And about U.S. security – sorry, about security of U.S. tourists in Mexico, the Mayan Riviera where the Cancun resort is located is suffering one of the worst crisis of violence of recent years. We’ve had these high-profile incidents like the shooting in the hotel in Cancun and the killing of two tourists in Tulum, including one U.S. resident. Is the U.S. concerned about security of U.S. citizens that travel to Cancun perhaps more than in – anywhere in the world? And are you considering raising the threat level in your advisories from 2 to 3?

MR PRICE: Well, as you know, we have no higher priority than the safety and security of Americans around the world. That includes in Mexico. We have seen incidents of violence. Our embassy in Mexico, our posts throughout the country continue to monitor all sources of information, continue to work closely with the Mexican Government. If our assessment of the risks of the travel of American citizens to Mexico should change, we will not hesitate to update relevant advisories and to provide information and information for due diligence to Americans who may be in Mexico or who are contemplating travel to Mexico.

But when it comes to security challenges broadly, Mexico remains a close security partner. We are committed to working with the López Obrador administration to advance Mexico’s ability to fight corruption, to fight impunity, to implement more effective strategies to do what is in our mutual and shared interests, and that includes dismantling transnational organized crime operations, including through law enforcement operations and cooperation in Mexico, and that will continue.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Michael.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I tried a version of this on the Secretary in Dakar. It was admittedly a multi-part question, but he didn’t really address it, so I just want to try to get your response to President Putin – back on Russia, President Putin’s comments I think now last week – saying that the U.S. was not respecting Russia’s red lines, and there have been other Russian officials complaining that U.S. activity has been threatening and intimidating – strategic bomber runs near Russia’s airspace, exercises in the Black Sea. Do you want to just comment on this? I mean, does Russia have any legitimate grounds to be feeling aggrieved or intimidated by military exercises by the U.S. and NATO? And what’s your response to the claim that we are coming dangerously close to Russian red lines?

MR PRICE: Well, my colleague at the Pentagon, I am sure, can give you more details on certain military exercises that are taking place. As you know, our exercises are routine and defensive in nature.

What I can tell you – and I can’t speak to any red lines that Mr. Putin or the Russian Federation may have. I can tell you that what we do, whether it is in Eastern Europe, whether it’s in the Indo-Pacific, whether it’s in our hemisphere, is that we stand up for the rules-based international order. That, to us, is what is important. And there are a number of precepts that fall within that, including a very fundamental point, and that is that big countries cannot bully the small ones; that borders are not to be crossed, not to be violated; that international waters are available for free navigation by all countries.

These are the basic fundamental properties of the rules-based international order. That’s what we’re standing up for. That’s what we’re defending. It is not that we have our sights on any particular country. It is that we are doing everything we can together with our allies, together with our partners, to reinforce the system, the rules-based system and international order that has worked to the mutual benefit, mutual prosperity, security, of the international community for the past 70 years or so. That is what – whether it’s Ukraine, whether it’s Russia, whether it’s the Indo-Pacific that we are undertaking.

Kylie.

QUESTION: Can I go to Iran?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: From the Biden perspective – administration perspective, what would be a positive outcome of the Vienna talks on Monday?

MR PRICE: Well, as you know, we have been encouraging the resumption of talks for months now. There was a good amount of progress in the previous sixth round of talks. There has been a multi-month pause in those talks in Vienna since the new government in Iran was installed. So it is our hope that the new government in Iran shows up in Vienna and ready – shows up in Vienna ready to negotiate in good faith to build on the progress that had been achieved in the previous sixth round of negotiations.

It is – we continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it is the best, it’s the most effective means by which to reapply those permanent and verifiable restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program permanently, preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. A previous Iranian government had also calculated that the JCPOA and the formula that it brings to the table, a permanent and verifiable halt to certain nuclear activities in return for an easing of certain sanctions, was a recipe that was in their interest as well. So we hope that this Iranian Government at the very least shows up in Vienna ready to take part in those discussions with the other members of the P5+1 in good faith and seeking to build on the progress that we had made previously in those prior rounds.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on it?

QUESTION: And is – yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just wondering if the Biden administration is considering any confidence-building measures to grease the wheels for these continued talks.

MR PRICE: We have been very clear that we are not prepared to take unilateral steps solely for the benefit of greasing the wheel, as you said. We are prepared to engage in a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. That is what we have made very clear since April, I believe, that we have sought to do. And we hope that we see the same seriousness of purpose from the Iranians when they return to Vienna next week.

Ben.

QUESTION: Yeah, if I could just follow up. In August, President Biden said if diplomacy fails the U.S. had other options. I’m just wondering if you could share what those options are. And to just follow up on what Kylie was asking, if the new Iranian Government do not come this round to negotiate in good faith, after this round is it time to start implementing those other options? And then I have another question on China.

MR PRICE: Well, I wouldn’t want to engage in a hypothetical. Again, our hope continues to be – and we’ll soon have a verdict on this – that this new Iranian Government shows up in Vienna ready to negotiate in good faith and with clarity of purpose to see to it that we can effect a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

Look, the President, the National Security Advisor, Secretary Blinken have all been very clear that diplomacy remains our preferred course, and diplomacy in the form of testing whether we can achieve a mutual return to compliance remains our preferred course. And it remains our preferred course specifically because we continue to believe that the JCPOA offers a framework that will permanently and verifiably prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon. That is what we want to see; that is what our allies and partners want to see as well. And we’ll see in the coming days what exactly this approach the new Iranian Government will seek to take.

But we’ve also been very clear that this is not a process that can go on indefinitely. And if the Iranians, through their actions or through their inactions, demonstrate or suggest that they lack that good faith, that they lack that clarity of purpose, we’ll have to turn to other means. We have a variety of other means. We’re discussing those with our allies and partners. In the category of things that aren’t prudent to discuss from here, that’s one of them.

QUESTION: And can I ask about the Beijing Olympics real quick? I know you answered a few questions yesterday.

MR PRICE: You are welcome to ask.

QUESTION: Okay. You mentioned yesterday that there were a range of issues when it comes to a U.S. decision on whether or not to do a diplomatic boycott. You mentioned Xinjiang and human rights. How much will the recent incident with the tennis player Peng Shuai be a factor in your considerations? And then also is the State Department talking to allies, partners, likeminded countries about doing a boycott as a group of countries or just the U.S. alone?

MR PRICE: Look, we have spoken to our concerns with Peng Shuai, and we continue to monitor this very closely. Obviously there has been footage, there has been statements that have emerged, including from the Women’s Tennis Association. But we continue to monitor this case very closely, precisely because of not only the circumstances here but also because of the broader principle at play, and that is one of support for the ability of any individual to report sexual assault and to seek accountability and to know that that report will be investigated and to have that confidence without fear of reprisal, without fear of intimidation, without fear of harassment. And it’s especially concerning in the PRC context to see this, because we know that the PRC has a track record of zero tolerance for criticism and a record of silencing those who would dare to speak out.

Look, when it comes to the separate issue of the Olympics, there are a range of factors, including issues of human rights abuses, including what we have seen take place and what we are seeing take place in the context of Xinjiang. We have been nothing but clear about what has and what is taking place in Xinjiang. We’ve taken a number of actions in response to the ongoing genocide and other human rights abuses in Xinjiang. So all of this will weigh on our decision making when it comes to the Olympics, but I just don’t have anything further for you today.

QUESTION: And is the U.S. looking to see if other countries would be willing to join them in a diplomatic boycott?

MR PRICE: Our concerns when it comes to the PRC’s track record on human rights is something that we have discussed at great length with virtually all of our allies and partners, and it’s a concern that we have heard shared by virtually all, if not all, of our allies and partners. But again, I just don’t have anything additional on our posture vis-à-vis the Olympics.

Andrea.

QUESTION: Verify what – or where she might be or whether the IOC call was legitimately a proof of life?

MR PRICE: I would need to refer you to the IOC; I would need to refer you to the Women’s Tennis Association for those details. But we are monitoring the close very closely.

QUESTION: But we haven’t – don’t we have our means of verifying things?

MR PRICE: As a general matter we do, but often we don’t speak to those means or to the information we may have.

QUESTION: Well, are you confident she is well?

MR PRICE: Again, I would refer those questions to the IOC and to the Women’s Tennis Association.

Michael.

QUESTION: Question for a colleague who’s – who can’t be here on Honduras and the Honduran elections on Sunday. After Assistant Secretary Nichols’ visit and the recent spate of political violence, including against candidates, does the U.S. believe these elections can be free and fair?

MR PRICE: Well, we have been very clear about the need for free and fair elections in Honduras. We’ve been very clear about our concerns when it comes to what we’ve seen. I think we’ll have more to say on the Honduran elections as they approach, however.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Just one final thing on Iran, and then I’ll ask about Afghanistan. This has been out there for a while, but just because the talks are starting next week: Are you guys at all sympathetic to an interim deal?

MR PRICE: We are sympathetic to testing the proposition as to whether we can achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. That remains our preference precisely because it remains the best means by which to see to it that Iran is permanently and verifiably prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon. It is not prudent for us to entertain hypotheticals, to entertain contingencies, precisely because we have an opportunity in less than a week now to test the – whether this new Iranian Government will negotiate in good faith. And we’ll know more after that.

QUESTION: Do you have a specific timeframe in mind next week, like you’re going to keep at it for three days, five days, to see this good faith? How long is it going to take you to see this – a couple a of minutes? Hours?

MR PRICE: Well, one of the complications, unfortunately, is that these are indirect discussions with the Iranians. So this is a process that in some ways has to be iterative. It’s a process that will require deep consultations with our P5+1 partners in Vienna. They will in the first instance have a sense of what the new government, the approach the new government is taking, and we will continue to engage closely with them. And this, of course, is something that we’ve done since the sixth round concluded months and months ago.

As you know, President Biden convened – or President Biden, I should say, took part in a meeting of the E3+1 when we were in Europe the other week to discuss the status of nuclear talks and Iran’s nuclear program. Secretary Blinken has had an opportunity to discuss Iran’s concerning nuclear activity with our European allies, with other members of the P5+1, including the PRC not all that long ago during our last trip to Europe as well. And of course, Rob Malley was recently in the Middle East. He was recently meeting with the E3 political directors as well, along with our Israeli partners in the GCC.

So even while we’ve been on this unfortunate pause, we have had an opportunity to continue to compare notes, to continue to share our concerns, and these are shared concerns with our allies and partners who are in the P5+1 and who are not.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan. Just last week, UN envoy said ISIS-K is basically now present in nearly all 34 provinces. I’m just wondering if that’s the U.S. assessment also. And can you talk a little bit about if there is any progress with the neighboring countries for over-the-horizon CT operations? Tom West was – he had talks last week with – in Pakistan.

MR PRICE: Well, I would refer – I would need to refer to my Intelligence Community or my DOD colleagues to offer an assessment as to ISIS’s presence throughout the country. But what I can say – and you saw another concrete demonstration of this with the designations we announced a couple days ago – that we are committed to countering ISIS-K and ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorism.

We’re working with our international partners, including under the auspices of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, to deny the group, as you saw the other day, access to financing; to disrupt, to deter foreign terrorist fighters from reaching Afghanistan and the region, as – just as we are continuing using multiple tools to counter ISIS-K’s pernicious ideology. We are committed to disrupting illicit financing, limiting their abilities to conduct further attacks against civilians, and supporting our partners in counterterrorism and disrupting terrorism finance.

It is absolutely a priority of ours to see to it that Afghanistan can never again emerge as a launching pad for these operations that may pose a threat to the United States, that could pose a threat to our allies and partners around the world. Just as we have discussed this counterterrorism agenda, this counter-ISIS agenda with our allies and partners under the auspices of the global coalition and through other means, we’ve also discussed this directly with the Taliban.

We have consistently said we are prepared to engage the Taliban on a practical, pragmatic basis on areas of core national interest to us. And of course, counterterrorism and seeing to it that Afghanistan can never again be used a launchpad for international attacks is a core national interest. And so we have remained in contact with the Taliban on these issues. I can confirm that next week Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West – he’ll return to Doha for two weeks [i]of meetings with Taliban leaders there. They’ll discuss, as I said before, our vital national interest when it comes to Afghanistan. That includes counterterrorism, that includes safe passage for U.S. citizens and for Afghans to whom we have a special commitment, and that includes humanitarian assistance and the economic situation of the country. That too will be a priority area of conversation with them.

Tom West has been on the job now for I think some six weeks, and in that time he has already been busy. Just before he was named to this role, as you recall, he traveled to Doha to meet directly with the Taliban as part of an interagency delegation. He not all that long ago traveled to Europe and Russia and India to discuss the way forward on Afghanistan with our allies and partners. In many of those conversations, we discussed those issues that are of core national interest to us – counterterrorism, safe passage. But again, a key theme was humanitarian assistance and what the United States, together with the international community, might do to alleviate the humanitarian plight that now confronts the people of Afghanistan.

For our part, we’ve spoken of the humanitarian assistance that the United States has pledged to Afghanistan – $474 million in this year alone – what we are doing to facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid and assistance to the people of Afghanistan, not only through our direct provision of assistance to our third partners on the ground, but also the steps we are taking, including the issuance of specific and general licenses, to make clear that humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan is something that we strongly support.

Final question in the back? Sure.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions on Indo-Pacific. One is on Quad, next meeting of Quad in Tokyo. Do you have any update on when in next year will be held, on what level, in what forum, virtual or in-person, such details? And one on the trilateral meeting held last week between U.S., Japan, and ROK and the bilateral meeting between Japan and U.S. In the readout of those meetings, you have mentioned about the discussion on Indo-Pacific but didn’t use adjectives of “free” and “open.” What was that? I’m just curious why the readout refrained from using those terms.

MR PRICE: There’s been no policy shift. Certainly, a primary goal not only of the United States but of our allies and partners – and that includes the three allies and partners we have in the Quad context – is the preservation, is the promotion of a free and open Indo-Pacific. A free and open Indo-Pacific rules-based international order, as I was – mentioned to Michael – mentioning to Michael before, is something that we seek to promote and to protect the world over.

So every time we meet with our treaty allies in the Indo-Pacific, every time we meet in a multilateral setting, whether it’s with the Quad, whether it’s with our ASEAN partners, whether it is in any other context, the free and open Indo-Pacific is really at the heart of everything that we are seeking to do when it comes to that region. I can assure you that it was really the core context of our meetings – of our meeting, and Secretary Sherman – Deputy Secretary Sherman’s meeting the other day with her Japanese counterpart, but also with her Korean counterpart as well, including in the trilateral meeting.

QUESTION: And on Quad?

MR PRICE: We don’t have the next iteration of that to announce. But as you know, the Quad is indispensable to our efforts to uphold that very concept: a free and open Indo-Pacific. Secretary Blinken has had an opportunity to hold a ministerial Quad meeting. President Biden has now had an opportunity, both on a virtual basis and in-person, to meet with his Quad counterparts. So I can assure you that we’ll find additional opportunities to meet as a Quad, but we will also find additional opportunities to meet on a bilateral basis with our treaty allies, with our partners in the Indo-Pacific, and in other multilateral fora, just knowing how pivotal and important this region is to our interests, to our values, and to the interests and values that we share with our allies and partners in the region.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:56 p.m.)

[i] days

Department Press Briefing – November 22, 2021

2:09 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Happy Monday. Happy Thanksgiving week. We have a couple items at the top, and then I look forward to taking your questions.

First. Today the United States is designating three ISIS-K leaders in Afghanistan, including Emir Sanaullah Ghafari, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. We are committed to using all of our counterterrorism tools to counter ISIS-K and ensure that Afghanistan cannot again become a platform for international terrorism. These designations expose and isolate terrorists, preventing them from exploiting the U.S. financial system and assisting with relevant law enforcement activities.

Second, we welcome President Radev’s clarifying statement today in which he reiterated Bulgaria’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and its sovereignty, and makes clear that Crimea belongs to Ukraine. The United States, G7, the European Union, and NATO, we’ve all been clear and united in our position that – despite Russia’s attempted annexation and ongoing occupation – Crimea is Ukraine. All of us, including Bulgaria, declared at the Crimea Platform Summit in August that Crimea is an integral part of Ukraine and that we do not and will not recognize Russia’s efforts to legitimize its seizure and occupation of the peninsula.

With that, happy take your questions. Shawn.

QUESTION: Sure. First of all, if I’m not mistaken, happy birthday.

MR PRICE: Thank you very much. Thank you.

QUESTION: Happy birthday.

MR PRICE: Matt Lee has given me the best gift anyone could offer today. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: He actually tipped me off that it was your birthday, so —

MR PRICE: I see, I see.

QUESTION: — happy birthday on behalf of the pool.

MR PRICE: I appreciate it.

QUESTION: Concerning Sudan, the deal that was reached this weekend with Prime Minister Hamdok being reinstated, I saw the Secretary’s tweet yesterday. I wanted to pursue that to see how significant you think this is. Is this a breakthrough? And some people on the street are saying that actually effectively the military is co-opting Prime Minister Hamdok. How do you see it? And then how does this relate to United States assistance? The U.S., of course, has suspended $700 million in economic assistance. Is that now – is there some talk about resuming that at this point or is that (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: Great. Let me say a couple things on that. First, we are encouraged – we are encouraged that the November 21st agreement is an important first step to put a civilian-led democratic transition back on track. Specifically we’re encouraged by the release of Prime Minister Hamdok from house arrest and his reinstatement to office. But let me just underscore this is a first step. This is nothing more than that and we’ll be watching very closely.

And specifically, to build on this first step, we call on Sudanese leaders to implement the agreement and key transitional tasks that includes creating a transitional legislative council, judicial structures, electoral institutions, and a constitutional convention. We urge the immediate release of all other civilian leaders and all those detained in connection with the military takeover as is called for in this very agreement that was finalized on November 21st. We reiterate our call for the lifting of the state of emergency as well.

Look, the resumption, the reinvigoration of Sudan’s civilian transition remains a top priority for us. We have been very engaged on this, supporting that process, working very closely with the international communities. We’ll continue to press on all of the relevant actors and stakeholders to work towards this goal and to ensure that the first step that was announced in recent hours is not the last step.

To that end, I can relay that the Secretary had an opportunity today to speak to Prime Minister Hamdok, to speak to General Burhan, and that was essentially his message, that we must continue to see progress, we must continue to see Sudan move back down the democratic path, and that starts with the reinstitution of the prime minister, but it certainly doesn’t end there.

QUESTION: And the U.S. assistance, is that still severed indefinitely?

MR PRICE: Well, this goes to the first point, that this is a first step; it’s not the last step. We’ll be watching very closely. We don’t have any announcements to make at this time regarding our assistance, any changes to our posture. But clearly those decisions will be predicated entirely on what happens in the coming hours, in the coming days, in the coming weeks.

QUESTION: So when you say “first step,” are you specifying, like, four or five steps before they can get the $700 million in assistance?

MR PRICE: We’re – look, what we are saying publicly – and obviously, we are communicating with the parties as well, including the Secretary today. As you know, Molly Phee was in Khartoum last week now where she had an opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Hamdok, where she had an opportunity to meet with military leaders, including General Burhan.

But what we’re making clear is that there is a ways to go before this process is fully back on track. We are invested in this process precisely because the Sudanese people are invested in their democracy, in the democracy that they worked so hard to achieve in the first instance. And now they are very clearly taking to the streets peacefully to make clear that their aspirations for democracy, for a constitutional government – they are undiminished.

And so we continue to stand with the Sudanese people as together we support that goal of a reinvigorated democratic transition in Sudan.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, today there was a protester was killed, 14 other were injured. But that’s not my question, because Mr. Hamdok said that the reason he’s back is to maintain economic accomplishment. And there was an obvious reference in the aid that they are receiving from you, from others, and so on. So if he put that as a condition that you guys will restore this aid – I mean, we’re confused on the time frame. I know you’re saying first step, but we don’t know what the coming steps ought to be.

MR PRICE: Well, we’ve talked about some of those steps, and I mentioned some of them in my opening comment.

QUESTION: I – yes, go ahead.

MR PRICE: Again, to build on the first step that we’ve seen enacted, we call for these key transitional tasks to be completed: creating a transitional legislative council, judicial structures, electoral institutions, and a constitutional convention. So we are encouraged by what we’ve seen so far, but this cannot – it must not – be the final step in what we see going forward.

QUESTION: Okay. Were there any reciprocal kind of assurances given to Mr. Burhan that you will stay where you are, you will stay in the position of leadership, in return that he will allow the transitional process take place? Was there any kind of quid pro quo with Mr. Burhan?

MR PRICE: The Sudanese stakeholders, they have spoken to the contours of this agreement. Our only role in this was to support, to encourage productive negotiations to reinstate Prime Minister Hamdok. We didn’t facilitate. We didn’t mediate these discussions. But again, we were there as a supporting actor, supporting at our core the aspirations of the Sudanese people themselves.

Yes.

QUESTION: Perhaps on other – another issue?

MR PRICE: Anything else on Sudan before we move on? Sorry, sure.

QUESTION: Just quickly, just on the issue of debt relief that has been cited as one of the concerns of this military takeover was that it was going to set them back in terms of receiving that debt relief as well as the aid. Does it – does this deal change your view on that?

MR PRICE: Well, again, this is a first step, and so we are still evaluating the best path forward to support Sudan’s civilian-led transition in light of recent events. But what will contour our approach is what happens next: whether this first step is met with additional steps in the right direction, additional steps in the right direction in furtherance of what the Sudanese people have so very clearly been calling for by peacefully taking to the streets and having their voices heard.

Anything else on Sudan? Okay, great.

QUESTION: Secretary Blinken has met with the (inaudible) Moroccan foreign minister. Do you have any readout for their meeting?

MR PRICE: We will have a readout for you later today. Obviously, our relationship with Morocco, it’s an important one. We share many common interests in the region, plenty for them to discuss. He’s had several engagements with the foreign minister previously, and this was an opportunity today to build on those. But we’ll have a readout for you.

QUESTION: On the Western Sahara, the administration supports the UN (inaudible). At the same time, the UN still recognizing the Moroccan sovereignty on the Western Sahara. Is there any conflict in the U.S. position, and how will you deal with this issue?

MR PRICE: Well, the Secretary had an opportunity to speak to this when we were in Senegal over the weekend, on Saturday in fact, and what he said then is that what we support is personal envoy Staffan de Mistura’s leadership in resuming the UN-led political process to advance what is our ultimate goal, and that’s a durable and dignified resolution to the conflict in Western Sahara.

We have and will actively support the efforts of personal envoy de Mistura to promote a peaceful, to promote a prosperous future for the people of Western Sahara and for the broader region as well. We remain engaged with all sides to do just that in support of this diplomatic effort, and we will support a credible UN-led process to stabilize the situation and secure a cessation of any hostilities. So we’re consulting very closely with the parties as we continue to support Staffan de Mistura.

QUESTION: And meanwhile you’re still recognizing the Moroccan sovereignty on the Western Sahara?

MR PRICE: As we said, we are consulting privately with the parties and supporting the diplomatic efforts of Staffan de Mistura and the UN-led political process.

QUESTION: Haiti. (Inaudible) say whether or not U.S. officials have been able to (inaudible) two Americans who were released by the kidnappers? And any update on your efforts to free the other Americans?

MR PRICE: Well, this is something that since last month, mid last month when these reports first emerged, that, as you know, the U.S. Government and the State Department in particular has been deeply engaged in. We are in regular contact with the missionary group. We’re in regular contact with Haitian counterparts at the highest levels both at the political level and also within the Haitian National Police. We’ve been working closely with our Canadian counterparts as well, given that one of the hostages has Canadian citizenship.

You have likely seen the reports that two of the individuals who were previously held have been released. Out of concern for their privacy, we’re not going to offer further comment, but this is something that we are and remain deeply engaged in to try and see a successful resolution.

Said.

QUESTION: Can I change topic?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: I’ll go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Ned, Ambassador Greenfield met with Palestinian civil society groups and so on. Which group did she meet with? Do we know the names of these groups that she met with?

MR PRICE: I imagine USUN could get you a readout of that engagement.

QUESTION: Okay. Now that she met with them and she said what she said – she issued a very clear statement – are we likely to see any kind of American pressure on Israel to sort of delist these groups from the terror list? Are you demanding that?

MR PRICE: Said, what Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield did is precisely what the U.S. Government does from afar and when we are in the region, is exactly what Secretary Blinken did. We regularly engage and meet with when we’re there in person civil society organizations. We reaffirm the importance of civil society organizations wherever we go. The Secretary did this when we were in Africa last week. The Secretary did it when we were in Ramallah earlier this year, met with a group of civil society organizations. That’s precisely what the ambassador was doing.

QUESTION: But yeah, in the meantime they remain listed on the terror list, which disallows them from performing their function. How will they go about performing their function?

MR PRICE: Said, I think you’re conflating two issues.

QUESTION: No, I’m not. I just want to understand you clearly. Are you saying to these groups that we are – we met with you, we’re going to support you, we’re going to support your efforts, you’ve proven in the past that you have the kind of transparency that we can support – you and the Europeans. I mean, the Europeans are saying the same thing. So naturally, what the next step should be is some sort of an effort to delist them from the terrorist list.

MR PRICE: Said, the ambassador met with civil society groups. I think you’re conflating the issue of the groups that – at the center of the Israeli announcement in her meeting. But she met with civil society groups to reaffirm the importance of civil society all around the world, and of course, that includes in the Palestinian territories.

QUESTION: The Israelis are also expressing confidence in the support of this administration and so on. And in exchange, are you going to sort of leverage this mutual confidence – the reciprocal confidence – to sort of, let’s say, perhaps get the Israelis to stop settlements, to sort of ease the checkpoints? Because you keep saying the same thing – we want both people to have freedoms and so on and live in peace and all these things – but obviously the Palestinians are the ones that have to endure the checkpoints and endure the settlements and so on.

MR PRICE: Well, we are fortunate to have a very positive and a deep and strong relationship with our Israeli partners, and through that relationship we can best accomplish our mutual goals. These are issues that we continue to engage our Israeli partners on.

We’re also fortunate to have a strengthened relationship with our Palestinian counterparts. And as you know, deepening and re-establishing in many ways our ties with the Palestinian Authority and with the Palestinian people has been a key goal of this administration from the earliest days. So we’ve been gratified to see that progress as well.

QUESTION: Including reopening of the consulate?

MR PRICE: We’ve spoken to this issue. I just don’t have an update for you on it.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can we move to Russia?

MR PRICE: Sorry?

QUESTION: Russia?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The Secretary on the weekend spoke again about unusual military activity close to Russia’s border with Ukraine and some reporting that the Ukrainians believe Russia is preparing for an invasion. I wondered how likely do you – does the U.S. see that. What kind of analysis or assessment do you guys have behind these phrases that you’re using, like unusual military activity? Can you tell us what is it exactly that’s occurring there that’s giving you these concerns, and how likely do you think an invasion might be?

MR PRICE: Well, many of these reports about the unusual military activity are, in fact, public, and so the predicate of our concern is available to all of you, just as it is to us, with information that is both public and some that may not be. But on the basis of that, and as we’ve said, as the Secretary had an opportunity to reiterate on Saturday in Dakar, we are concerned. We’re concerned knowing that, of course, we can’t speak to the intentions of the Russian Federations – of the Russian Federation, but we are concerned because we are familiar with the playbook that Moscow has used in the past. And if you look back, as the Secretary has said, to 2014, you saw Moscow amass forces on the border and then claim a pretextual provocation that caused them to go into Crimea and to eastern Ukraine.

So that is why we have spoken out very clearly on this, making the point that any escalatory or aggressive actions would be of great concern to the United States, but not just to the United States. We’ve had an opportunity to compare notes with many of our partners across Europe, to do so in the context of our NATO Allies, but also with our partner Ukraine. And of course, the President had an opportunity to see President Zelenskyy, as did Secretary Blinken, at COP26 just the other week. The Secretary later engaged in a strategic dialogue with Foreign Minister Kuleba where this was also a primary topic of conversation.

In each of those meetings, not only did we express our concerns, but we made clear our support – our unwavering support – for Ukraine’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity as well.

QUESTION: And is there something that you’re considering, some action you’re considering taking that could happen in the case of more activity short of an invasion? Are you sort of saying to Russia if this continues, if more activities like this happen, this will be our response? Or what kind of responses do you have?

MR PRICE: Well, as I said before, part of what gives us concern is that we are familiar with Moscow’s playbook. What we don’t want to do at this point is to telegraph our playbook. What we have said is that any escalatory or aggressive actions on the part of Moscow would be of great concern to the United States, to our European partners as well.

QUESTION: Stay on the region?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Marcin Wrona, TVN Discovery from Poland. So what is your current assessment of the situation on the border between Poland and Belarus? Because this crisis is far from being over. Only yesterday there were almost 350 attempts to illegally cross the border. And when are you planning to impose new sanctions on Belarus?

MR PRICE: Well, we are and we remain deeply concerned by the Lukashenka regime’s inhumane actions. We strongly condemn their callous exploitation and coercion of vulnerable people, of people who have been seeking nothing more than a better life, with the regime’s inhumane facilitation of irregular migration across its borders. As I mentioned last week, we are in close consultation with our European partners, preparing follow-up sanctions to hold the Lukashenka regime to account for these hybrid operations, but also for its ongoing attacks on human rights, on international norms, on democracy or what is left of it inside of Belarus.

To that end, we call on the regime to immediately halt its campaign of orchestrating and coercing irregular migrant flows across its borders into Europe. As long as the regime in Belarus refuses to respect international obligations and commitments, as long as it undermines the peace and security of Europe, as long as it continues to repress and to abuse its people, we will continue to pressure the Lukashenka regime and not lessen – and our calls for accountability will increase; they will not diminish. We are deeply appreciative of the leadership, of the approach shown by Lithuania, shown by Latvia, shown by Poland in confronting the challenges created by the Lukashenka regime and its actions. And we stand with the European Union, we stand with our other partners and allies in supporting the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people.

QUESTION: Are you also in direct consultations with Poland?

MR PRICE: We have been in close consultation with our Polish counterparts as well. These are countries that, of course, have a right to regulate the entry of foreign nationals into their territory, including with respect to these irregular migratory flows from Belarus. We’ve urged Poland, we’ve urged Latvia, we’ve urged Lithuania to continue to do so humanely and in a way that is consistent with applicable international law.

QUESTION: And the last one. Were you consulted or informed before the phone calls by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to Alexander Lukashenka and Vladimir Putin?

MR PRICE: We have, of course, been consulting closely with our European allies regarding the inhumane, the coercive tactics of the Lukashenka regime. That coordination and consultation has been very close and very deep, but I’m not in a position to read out specific phone calls.

QUESTION: On Ethiopia, is Special Envoy Feltman still there?

MR PRICE: He returned this weekend. He is now back in Washington.

QUESTION: Do you have a readout of his meetings there? Who did he meet with?

MR PRICE: Sure. So as you alluded to, we are continuing to support the diplomacy that in the first instance is being led by President Obasanjo, the AU envoy to the region. We’ve done that in a number of ways. Special Envoy Feltman, as you know, has had an opportunity to travel to Ethiopia and the broader region several times in recent weeks. He just returned from Ethiopia over the weekend. He had productive meetings with the High Representative President Obasanjo. He also met with senior Ethiopian government officials, African Union representatives, and international partners to discuss opportunities that advance a negotiated and sustained – and sustainable cessation of hostilities to bring this conflict that has now raged for more than a year to a close.

We have continued to call for an end to the fighting. We have continued to call for the parties to engage in diplomacy in furtherance of a cessation of hostilities just as we have reiterated the calls of the international community for an end to the human rights abuses and violations that we’ve seen, as we have also urged the provision of humanitarian access to those in Tigray, to those in northern Ethiopia.

The other point that we have been consistent in saying is that our embassy as of early this month is on ordered departure status. We have reduced the size of our footprint there, but our embassy is still very much open, our USAID mission is still very much open and operating to support the people of Ethiopia, but in the case of our embassy to support those with U.S. citizenship who may still be in Ethiopia. The point we have made is that Americans should depart the country immediately using commercial options which remain readily available.

Over any given 72-hour period there are dozens of commercial flights to international destinations, within Africa but also elsewhere, that Americans are able to avail themselves of, and we encourage them to do it because the security situation continues, of course, to be tenuous. Even as we have reduced the footprint of our embassy, we have actually increased the hours within our American Citizen Services section within the embassy to help Americans make those travel arrangements, to help place them on flights, and to facilitate the logistics involved in all of that. As we’ve made clear before, we will do everything from help them book a flight to pay for that flight with a repatriation loan should American citizens not be in a position to pay those upfront costs.

Our commitment to the safety and security is a top priority for us, and that’s why we are working literally overtime to do all we can to ensure that Americans – to see to it that Americans take advantage of the many options to depart the country via commercial air.

QUESTION: Sorry, can I —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: — quickly follow up? So did Special Envoy Feltman meet with any members of the TPLF?

MR PRICE: We’ve been able to engage the TPLF and we have engaged the TPLF, but I don’t have —

QUESTION: But he did not —

MR PRICE: I don’t have anything else for you on that.

Yes, Ben.

QUESTION: What do you make of the disappearance of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai? Do you have any concerns for U.S. athletes as they head over there to the Olympics? Do you think now is the time to call for a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics or any other sort of boycott?

MR PRICE: Well, there have been a number of statements that have been made on Peng Shuai. I just saw a recent statement from the Women’s Tennis Association. Of course, all of us, the State Department included, we are closely monitoring the situation surrounding Peng Shuai. We share the concern that has been expressed around the world as we all want her, of course, to be safe. I’m not in a position to offer updates from here, but rest assured we are closely following her and the situation more broadly. As a general matter, as a broader matter, we’ll continue to support the ability of individuals to report sexual assault and to seek accountability. And we believe that any report anywhere in the world should be investigated. We will continue in the PRC context and in all contexts to stand up for the freedom of speech, especially in light of what we’ve seen from the PRC, and that is essentially a zero-tolerance approach for criticism and a record of silencing or attempting to silence those who do attempt to speak out.

QUESTION: Should U.S. athletes be extra vigilant when they go to China for the Olympics? Are you going to issue any warnings for them? Do you feel that they are – if they criticize the government while they’re out there, is that something you would advise them against doing?

MR PRICE: Well, look, I don’t have an update in terms of our approach to the Winter Olympics. They are still a number of months off. But when it comes to what our presence should be, there are a range of factors, including the – our deep concerns with the human rights abuses in Xinjiang. And we have talked about that both in the context of our bilateral relationship, but also specifically in this context as well. Our position on Xinjiang, our position on the PRC’s continued human rights abuses is very clear. We have taken a number of steps to promote accountability for the ongoing human rights abuses – in the case of Xinjiang, genocide –there and we’ll continue to do that. But I just don’t have an update on the Olympics.

QUESTION: Follow up (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Just the – the IOC President Bach said that he spoke with Ms. Peng. Does the United States have any assessment of that, whether there’s any coercion involved and – I mean, do you have any general assessment of whether that was productive or not?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any assessment to share publicly. As I said before, we are closely monitoring the situation. We are closely following developments. But we’ll leave it to the IOC, to the WTA, and others to speak to that.

Yes.

QUESTION: A word on Iran.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Iranian top nuclear negotiator in an interview with us in Al Jazeera, he said that U.S. must accept reality and lift sanction immediately, and that Iran is entitled to further advance its nuclear program, citing article 26 and 36 of the Iran deal. Do you have a comment on that?

MR PRICE: I don’t have a specific comment to that, and that’s precisely because the issue of sanctions and the issue of nuclear steps and nuclear restrictions, that’s at the crux of what it is that the six rounds that have been concluded of indirect negotiations with Tehran and Vienna have been all about. It’s also why we have very consistently called for the resumption of diplomacy – indirect diplomacy in the case of the United States – so that we can determine whether we can finalize the remaining issues, we can build upon the progress that had been achieved in those six rounds on the question of, on the one hand, the nuclear steps that Iran must take to resume its compliance with the JCPOA, and on the other hand, the steps regarding sanctions that the United States and the international community would be willing to take should Iran be willing to resume its compliance with the JCPOA. So we’ll leave that to the negotiations in Vienna.

QUESTION: There is —

MR PRICE: Please.

QUESTION: There are some reports in The New York Times that you – Biden administration is trying to give incentive to Iran by easing some sanctions to encourage them to negotiate faithfully in Vienna. Is this true?

MR PRICE: We have been very clear all around that we are not willing and will not take unilateral steps as sweeteners to sweeten the pot just to get negotiations going. A mutual return to compliance – it is in the interests of the United States; it is in the interests of the other members of the P5+1; it is also, as previous governments in Iran have concluded, in the interests of Tehran if we are able to get there. So we will let the – we will be clear that we’re not going to engage in unilateral steps for the sake of just getting back to the table.

QUESTION: Ned, also The New York Times reported that U.S. officials have warned Israel that its attacks against the Iranian nuclear program are counterproductive and have enabled Tehran to rebuild an even more efficient enrichment system. Could you elaborate on this? I mean, have you been in touch with Israel on this issue and trying to persuade them not to attack?

MR PRICE: Well, what I will say broadly is that we have been in regular, almost constant contact with our Israeli partners, to include on this issue. Special Envoy Malley was just in Israel last week, I believe it was. He had an excellent visit there where he engaged in consultations with Israeli Government counterparts and also with senior intelligence officials as we prepare to resume negotiations in Vienna.

What he was doing there is not unique, however. We have regularly engaged with our Israeli partners before each round, in many cases during each round, and after each of the six rounds of negotiations that have been completed.

Look, at the end of the day, the United States and Israel, we share a common objective here, and that is to see to it that Iran is verifiably and permanently prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And we continue to believe that diplomacy in coordination with our allies and partners – and that, of course, includes Israel – is the best path to achieve that goal. It’s the best path because it sets us out on an approach that is verifiable and that is sustainable and that is permanent, and that is one of the key advantages that the JCPOA conveys.

So we will continue to consult very closely with our allies and partners. Special Envoy Malley in recent days alone has had discussions with his Chinese, his Russian counterpart as well. We have been in close contact with the E3. He had an engagement with the E3 members on his travel. He engaged with our GCC partners on the travel – during that travel as well. And in all of those engagements, there was a broad and shared agreement that – on the need for a mutual return to full compliance with the JCPOA.

QUESTION: So do you expect the talks to go on without a hitch next Monday, a week from today, on the 29th?

MR PRICE: I certainly don’t want to be in the business of predicting how this will unfold.

QUESTION: You don’t see them being scuttled for any reason?

MR PRICE: As of right now, talks are still slated to resume next Monday, November 29th.

QUESTION: At the IAEA Board of Governors meeting later this week, will the U.S. support a censure of Iran given the steps it’s taken outside of the nuclear deal?

MR PRICE: Well, we have been very clear that Iran’s provocative nuclear steps are of great concern to us. They are of great concern to our partners as well. We have made very clear that these continued nuclear escalations are unconstructive and they are at their core inconsistent with the stated goal – with Iran’s stated goal of returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA.

We’ve also been very clear that they serve no constructive end. They will not provide Iran with any negotiating leverage when talks resume in Vienna next week. Look, we’ve noted with concern statements from Iran, statements to the effect of only countries with nuclear weapons have taken such steps with respect to enrichment. The JCPOA – one of, again, its core advantages was the fact for us that it imposed strict limits both on the level and the quantity of enrichment of enriched uranium in Iran. And Iran’s continued escalations, its continued escalations beyond JCPOA limits, they’re a clear reminder for us, for our partners as well, of the importance of seeing to it or at least testing the proposition that we can achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

QUESTION: But they haven’t faced any repercussions for the repeated steps that you’ve, again, criticized. At what point are you willing to censure them for what they have done and make them pay a price for it?

MR PRICE: Well, we have been very clear for a number of reasons, including for these continued nuclear escalations, that this approach to the JCPOA, what we are trying to test out in Vienna, is not an approach that we will take indefinitely. It is not an approach that we can or should take indefinitely, because eventually Iran’s continued nuclear advances will render the advantage, the utility of returning to the JCPOA as it was crafted and ultimately implemented in 2016 as not worth it – not worth it for the United States, not worth it for our international partners as well. We’re not at that point yet. We continue to believe that diplomacy provides the most sustainable, the most durable, and really the only permanent and verifiable means of seeing to it that Iran can never again obtain a nuclear weapon. And so that’s why we are returning to Vienna to see to it if we can achieve that mutual return to compliance.

QUESTION: But short at that point, like, why not censure them now for the steps that they have already taken, as you said, for a program that otherwise would not need to take the steps –60 percent enrichment, uranium metal enriched – why not censure them?

MR PRICE: Well, you referred to it. There is a Board of Governors meeting in the coming days. I don’t want to get ahead of that meeting. We have full faith and confidence in the director general, Mr. Amano. We have full faith and confidence in the IAEA itself. We’ve been consulting very closely with the IAEA. The director general had an opportunity to meet with Secretary Blinken here at the department several weeks ago. But we have been in regular contact with the IAEA to determine the best approach and the best response to these continued nuclear escalations.

QUESTION: Can I ask one on Iran? There’s a been a statement previously that they would pursue the release of the Americans detained in Iran separately from the negotiations over the JCPOA. Is that still the case going into this next round?

MR PRICE: That’s still the case and it’s still the case for one very simple reason. We have gone to Vienna to test the proposition as to whether we can achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. The very fact that we would like to see this happen but we are not sure if it can happen suggests to us very strongly that the fates of these detained Americans should not be tied to an uncertain proposition, and that’s a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. So even as we continue to see to it – continue to test whether we can affect a mutual return to compliance, we are working nonstop to see to it that these Americans can be reunited with their families, in some cases after years and years of separation.

QUESTION: Why not make it a precondition, though, for a return to the JCPOA?

MR PRICE: Precisely because what I said. The mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is a very uncertain proposition. It is something that remains in our interest. We would like to see it happen precisely because it is in our interest, precisely because it is in the interest of our international partners in the context of the P5+1 and more broadly as well. But because it is uncertain, it would not be prudent to tie the fates of Americans to this issue. We feel that by working these issues on parallel tracks, separate but parallel tracks, we in an ideal world will be in a position to achieve both: a mutual return to compliance even as we work overtime to return these Americans to their families as soon as we can.

QUESTION: Sorry, can I quickly ask one more? Was there any discussion on the fates of these Americans while there was a hiatus on the JCPOA talks?

MR PRICE: We are in regular contact with our partners – we are in regular contact on the issue of these American detainees. I’m not going to detail the form, the channel that that takes, but again, we have no higher priority than the safety and security of Americans overseas. And of course, that includes Americans who are unjustly held, as is the case in Iran.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. The Secretary just returned from his first official visit to sub-Saharan Africa. He was in Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal. He said really great things about those countries – jollof rice in Nigeria, teraanga hospitality in Senegal. I was wondering if you can go back to that trip and give us the key agreements, achievement. And also, in his discussion with President Kenyatta, Buhari, and so on, what was the feedback like? Do they believe America is really back, diplomacy is really back? And was the Secretary given a new name and a traditional title in Nigeria? And I have one more.

MR PRICE: Sure. So as you know, as you alluded to, the Secretary did return from his first travel to sub-Saharan Africa – I suppose it was late Saturday night, early Sunday morning by the time we got back. And it really was a productive, a constructive, an excellent trip to all three countries.

You had an opportunity to hear from the Secretary in each stop in the context of his bilateral engagements, in the context of his civil society engagements, in the context of his press conferences with his counterparts, of the broad agenda that we share not only with these three African countries but with many countries across the continent more broadly. And in each stop, you heard an emphasis on the challenges that, if we are going to be in a position to solve, we have to work on together, including with the countries of Africa. And of course, on that list are issues like climate, issues like COVID. It is achieving a sustainable global economic recovery, including for these three countries and for the broader continent, countries that in some cases, like many countries around the world, whose economic growth has been stunted by the onset of COVID-19.

We also share a number of interests with these countries – security interests. Our economic ties, in many cases, are quite deep and have the potential to become even deeper. And in all three, we discussed the values that need to be at the core of these relationships, including human rights, democratic governance. These are three countries that, in a couple cases, will have elections within the next two or so years, and both have before been a model for the rest of the continent and beyond, and again, have the potential to be a model when it comes to democracy and democratic governance for the continent and well beyond.

But this was a trip that was more than about just those three countries. We spoke to themes on this trip – again, climate change, COVID, shared security challenges, economic ties – that are broader than those three countries. And they’re themes that are transcontinental in their nature in that they apply equally to many countries across the continent. And in Abuja, the Secretary laid out in a speech, an extended set of remarks at ECOWAS, an important regional institution, the approach we take to the continent. And that is one of partnership, of true partnership, and he explained at some length what that true partnership means.

Final points on this: We often think of and talk about partnership in the bilateral context or in the regional context, government-to-government partnerships. But our relationships with these three countries, with many countries across Africa, transcend the official relationships. And there are people-to-people ties that are really at the heart of many of these relationships, and that is why this administration and previous administrations have invested so heavily in the human capital across Africa with programs like the Young African Leaders Initiative, or YALI.

While he was in these countries, the Secretary had an opportunity to meet with several YALI alums to hear about their tremendous successes in using the skills, using the connections, taking advantage of the experiences that they had in YALI or other IVLP programs, taking those back to their home countries and really being leaders in their own right to help shape, to help craft the more secure, more prosperous future that the United States seeks to partner with these countries and with the continent at large to achieve.

Yes, please. A follow-up?

QUESTION: Yeah, I have a second question. President Biden last week announced they’ll be hosting a U.S.-Africa summit next year. Can you tell us more about that? When, where, who will be invited, and who would be excluded?

And you forgot to respond to the question on the traditional tie to (inaudible).

MR PRICE: (Laughter.) I am actually not aware that a traditional name was bestowed, but if one was, I’ll follow up with you on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: In terms of the U.S-Africa Leaders Summit, the Secretary announced this in his speech in Abuja, and what he said, what he spoke to was President Biden’s intention next year to convene a summit with the leaders of our African partners. This is something that the Obama-Biden administration did in 2014 – in August of 2014. As I recall, it was an opportunity to bring to Washington dozens of heads of state, heads of government, to deepen at the time our cooperation on the sets of issues that were most relevant then. We are now some seven years, we will be perhaps closer to eight years, removed from that opportunity to bring to the United States many heads of state in government from Africa.

So there are in some ways old challenges, traditional challenges that remain, but in many ways new challenges that confront us. And the leaders summit that the President intends to convene next year will be an opportunity to address those issues as well. I know it’s something the Secretary looks forward to and the President as well.

QUESTION: Do we know when? When, where?

MR PRICE: We haven’t announced a date formally yet, but we will as it gets closer.

Ben.

QUESTION: A new report came out last week that shows coronavirus samples from a cave in Laos had been taken to the Wuhan lab up until a few months before the virus broke out. So I wondered if it was still the administration’s position that the lab leak theory was very possible and why it was dropping down the agenda. It wasn’t mentioned in the ministerial. It wasn’t mentioned between President Xi and President Biden. Has that just hit a dead end?

MR PRICE: I would refer you to my White House colleagues, but I believe it was a topic of conversation between President Xi and President Biden, not because – and Secretary Blinken has spoken to this – this is not an issue that is solely about accountability for what happened. This is about preparing the world, ensuring that the world is most prepared for, most resilient against, a potential future pandemic. And this is something that the Secretary discussed on his recent travel to Africa as well: It’s not a question of if; it’s a question of when we have another pandemic.

And so that is why we are so focused on understanding the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, because only by understanding what has happened in the past will we believe able to best defend ourselves here in the United States – but knowing that these pathogens, these viruses, don’t respect borders, we have to ensure that the world, too, is as best prepared as possible. And so that is why you saw a focus, including in Dakar where the Secretary visited the Pasteur Institute, such a focus on not only COVID and recovering from COVID but also building that resilience, building that global health security broadly in Africa, around the world, knowing that we are only as strong as the weakest link when it comes to this.

As you know, the Intelligence Community has been looking at this issue very closely. They have now issued a couple public reports. I’d refer you to those public reports, public assessments, for the current state of our analysis. But I can reassure you certainly that understanding the origins of this virus remains a priority for us so that we can best protect ourselves the next time around.

Let me just move around to the —

QUESTION: Quickly – quickly on Lebanon?

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: Very quickly. The Lebanese foreign minister met today in Moscow with his counterparts and so on, and he invited Russian companies to come to participate in rebuilding the port. Is that – would that be fine with you? Would that – would you look favorably at Russian companies working in Lebanon restoring or rebuilding the port?

MR PRICE: Look, I would refer you to the – to Lebanese authorities for details of that overture. I can tell you from our perspective we’ve been working very closely with our partners, with our counterparts in the Lebanese Government, our partners in this case being the French, being the Saudis, being a number of other countries, including countries in the Gulf, who have a shared interest in seeing to it that Lebanon is a country that enjoys more stability, more security, and more prosperity as well.

We have been working and the President – the Secretary, I’m sorry, had an opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Mikati when we were in Europe late last month, I believe it was, where we discussed the issue of seeing to it that the Lebanese people are afforded humanitarian relief, they are afforded the opportunities that for far too long have been deprived from them in terms of safety, in terms of security, in terms of economic development and prosperity as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: The U.S.-Taiwan Economic Prosperity Partnership Dialogue will be held today. So what will be the main agenda?

And secondly, last Wednesday the United States, Japan, Republic of Korea had a trilateral vice ministerial meeting here at the State Department, but Japan skipped the joint press conference due to the territorial issues between ROK and Japan. So do you think the bilateral issues had effect trilateral cooperation among the United States and Japan and ROK? What’s your take on Japan’s refusal to the joint press conference?

MR PRICE: In terms of your first question, the U.S.-Taiwan Economic Prosperity Partnership Dialogue, we did announce, I believe it was last night, that the dialogue, which is conducted under the auspices of the American Institute in Taiwan, or AIT, and under the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office here in D.C. We noted that it provides an opportunity to exchange views on priority policy issues when it comes to our economic relationship. Its goals are to promote further cooperation and growth in our vibrant and dynamic economic partnership. Through this dialogue, it is our hope that we can explore new areas of cooperation and identify ways to jointly address shared concerns. I expect we’ll have more to say after the dialogue concludes tonight.

When it comes to the relationship between our allies Japan and the Republic of Korea, you’re right that Secretary – Deputy Secretary Sherman had an opportunity to meet trilaterally with her counterparts here in Washington last week. All throughout, we have underscored the importance of not only our bilateral relationships with these two allies, but also the trilateral relationship, knowing that when it comes to all of our common interests – and we share many, including a free and open Indo-Pacific and when it comes to North Korea, when it comes to issues like climate change, economic prosperity and growth – that everything we’re trying to achieve will be more successful if we have a deep trilateral relationship. And so Secretary Sherman had an opportunity to meet with her counterparts last week. Secretary Blinken on several occasions now has had an opportunity to meet in a trilateral format with his Japanese and ROK counterparts as well.

I can tell you – and I think you heard this directly from the deputy secretary – that the bilateral session – the trilateral session, excuse me, itself was very constructive. It was a good meeting. It was an opportunity for the three countries to compare notes, to discuss these many areas – shared areas of concern, to discuss our common objectives. And of course, you had an opportunity to hear directly from Deputy Secretary Sherman in the aftermath of that trilateral engagement to add a bit more texture and detail to those discussions.

Shaun.

QUESTION: One more on Taiwan?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Lithuania – China downgraded its relations with Lithuania over the opening of a Taiwanese mission in Taiwan’s own name. Do you have any reaction to this? Do you – is there any support that the United States could potentially give to Lithuania to withstand the influence of Beijing?

MR PRICE: Well, what I will speak to is Lithuania and its – the steps both it and Taiwan have taken to deepen their cooperation, including through the opening of Taiwan’s representative office in Vilnius and Lithuania’s plans to open a reciprocal offer – office in Taipei. We see this as an important step to expand Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the international space. The opening of these offices will help expand economic and technological cooperation between Taiwan and Lithuania. Lithuania, as you know, it’s a valued NATO Ally. It’s a partner for the United States across a range of issues. That includes our strong defense and economic ties and when it comes to the promotion of shared values, and among them are democracy and human rights among many others. We reaffirm our support for Lithuania and we’re working to expand and deepen our already robust bilateral relationship.

Okay, a final question here?

QUESTION: Quick one on Afghanistan?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The UNDP is pushing for urgent action to prop up the banks in Afghanistan, warning of a collapse within months. What’s the U.S. doing to try to stop the banking system there collapsing?

MR PRICE: Well, we are working very closely with the United Nations, with other multilateral organizations, and in the bilateral context as well to support the needs of the people of Afghanistan. When it comes to our direct humanitarian support, you’ve heard us speak to the $474 million that the United States has committed to the people of Afghanistan this year alone. We know that the Afghan economy, even before the fall of the previous government, was in dire need of international support.

And so we are working very closely with the UN, with the UNDP, with other countries in that context, and bilaterally and multilaterally as well, to find ways to offer liquidity to infuse, to see to it that the people of Afghanistan can take advantage of international support in ways that don’t flow into the coffers of the Taliban. We believe that we can continue to support the humanitarian needs of the people of Afghanistan even as we continue to make clear to the Taliban the expectations that we have of them when it comes to the priority issues that we’ve laid out. That includes free passage, it includes its counterterrorism commitments, of course, it includes the commitments they have to human rights, to inclusive governance as well.

So we’ll be watching very closely on that front as we continue to support the needs of the Afghan people.

Thank you all very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:06 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – November 15, 2021

2:19 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Monday.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR PRICE: A few things at the top, and then happy to take your questions. Today, I join Secretary Blinken and the rest of the country in welcoming the release of U.S. journalist Daniel Fenster from prison in Burma, where he was wrongfully detained for almost six months. We commend and thank Ambassador Tom Vajda and his team at U.S. Embassy Rangoon, Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, the expertise of Consular Affairs and the dedicated partners, including Governor Bill Richardson, who helped facilitate Danny’s release.

U.S. officials met briefly with Danny upon his release, and Ambassador Carstens will join Governor Richardson at the airport to welcome Danny when his flight touches down in the United States.

We are extremely grateful that Danny will soon be reunited with his family as we continue to call for the release of others who remain unjustly imprisoned in Burma.

Next, Japan and the Republic of Korea are two of the United States closest allies, and our cooperation is essential to tackling today’s most pressing challenges in the region and around the globe. As a reflection of this close cooperation, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific Daniel Kritenbrink visited Tokyo from November 7th through the 10th and Seoul from November 10th through the 12th for his first travel to the region since assuming his new role some weeks ago.

In Tokyo, with senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National Defense, including Vice Foreign Minister Mori and Vice Minister of Defense Shimada, as well as with members of the Diet, to discuss a broad range of opportunities for the U.S.-Japan alliance and to reassert the – to reassert that the alliance serves as the cornerstone to promote peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

In Seoul, he met with senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Blue House officials – that includes First Vice Foreign Minister Choi and Deputy National Security Advisor Kim – to reaffirm the ironclad U.S.-ROK Alliance and discuss how we can continue to broaden our cooperation to tackle the most pressing global challenges of the 21st century.

In both Tokyo and Seoul, he stressed the importance of trilateral cooperation to tackle challenges including the climate crisis and COVID-19, as well as to coordinate our efforts to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

And finally, earlier today the Russian Federation recklessly conducted a destructive satellite test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile against one of its own satellites.

The test has so far generated over fifteen hundred pieces of trackable orbital debris and hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris that now threaten the interests of all nations. In addition, this test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, as well as to other human spaceflight activities.

Russia’s dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of outer space and clearly demonstrates that Russia’s claims of opposing the weaponization of space are disingenuous and hypocritical.

The United States will work with our allies and partners to respond to Russia’s irresponsible act.

With that, I am happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Welcome back from the weekend.

MR PRICE: Thank you. Thank you.

QUESTION: Just – I don’t have a lot even though there’s a lot going on. But just on the Russia statement, I mean, are you making some kind of a formal diplomatic protest to the Russians about this? Why is this a State Department thing? Are you getting into diplomacy in space?

MR PRICE: Well, this is a State Department thing because it is a reckless and dangerous act, as we said, that threatens the interests of all nations. This is something that before the test we had raised repeatedly with senior officials in Moscow to underscore the irresponsibility that such a maneuver would entail for the international community.

Let me just reiterate one point —

QUESTION: I’m not suggesting that what they did was okay or —

MR PRICE: Oh, no, I wasn’t suggesting you were. I was —

QUESTION: I just want to know exactly why it is that it’s not the Pentagon or NASA or – why is it the State Department? Did you launch, file some kind of formal diplomatic protest to the Russians about this? Why is this (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: Again, this is something we have repeatedly raised with Russian counterparts, our concerns for a potential satellite test. And Matt, let me also be clear that we are going to be working with allies and partners around the world to make very clear that this behavior is not something the United States will tolerate.

QUESTION: Okay, fine. Did you diplomatically file some kind of a protest, a demarche, whatever, with the Russians about this? Why is it that you’re getting up here and saying this as opposed to the Pentagon, as opposed to NASA? Is it because you have the platform?

MR PRICE: Because this —

QUESTION: Did you file – all right, let me make it very easy. Have you guys lodged some kind of formal diplomatic protest with the Russians about this incident?

MR PRICE: Let me make it very clear. We have spoken to senior Russian officials multiple times to warn them of the irresponsibility and dangerousness of such a test.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: And Matt, we are going to be – we – I can’t speak to what has been conveyed today, but of course we are not going to shy away from condemning this type of irresponsible activity. The point I was going to make – the point I was going to make – and I think it’s worth repeating – is that today, miles above us, there are American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts on the International Space Station. What the Russians did today with these 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris poses a risk not only to those astronauts, not only to those cosmonauts, but to satellites, to the interests of all nations.

QUESTION: All right. Can I – just on one other subject, and that is that I understand the Secretary met this morning – couple hours ago – with the group of – or representatives of some groups that are doing – organizing evacuations from Afghanistan, and I just wanted to ask you what that meeting was about. Did it produce anything new?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: And then related to that, in his meeting with the head of the IOM, the issue of Afghanistan was raised, but I wanted to know – according to the transcript of the brief remarks that they gave, there was nothing in there about Belarus and Poland, which would seem to me to be also a significant issue. So why – or why not?

MR PRICE: Yeah. Sure. So when it comes to the engagement the Secretary had this morning, the Secretary had an opportunity to speak to 17 members of something that’s known as the Afghan Evac Coalition. We have said for quite some time that our efforts to facilitate the departure of American citizens, of lawful permanent residents, of Afghans to whom we have a special commitment is something that really requires a robust partnership between the U.S. Government and other elements. That includes the advocacy community, it includes members of Congress, it includes those who have been working this issue for quite some time.

And so the Afghan Evac Coalition – it is an umbrella group of about a hundred organizations, and this is a group that senior State Department officials engage twice per week. They have phone calls with them twice per week. The Secretary was grateful to have the opportunity to take part in the call today. They discussed our collective efforts to provide support to SIV holders and applicants. They discussed our efforts to continue to facilitate the departure of these individuals who are at a stage where it is appropriate to do so.

And the Secretary commended the Afghan Evac Coalition for their tremendous support to our collective efforts in recent weeks and recent months. This is something that the United States Government could not do nearly as effectively without the support of these groups, including and certainly primarily the Afghan Evac Coalition, given that it is an umbrella group that is one of our regular interlocutors.

Just because I have the opportunity, I did want to provide a quick update on the number of American citizens and LPRs who have with direct U.S. Government assistance departed Afghanistan since August 31st. As you know, there have been some recent flights out of Kabul. As of today, the United States Government has directly assisted in the departure of 435 U.S. citizens and 325 lawful permanent residents. You heard us say last week – the Secretary mentioned this when he was meeting with his Qatari counterpart here at the Department of State on Friday – that as of November 10th, last Wednesday, all U.S. citizens who have requested assistance from the U.S. Government to depart Afghanistan and who are ready to do so have been offered an opportunity to leave the country.

Now, of course, this is not the end of our enduring mission to support American citizens, lawful permanent residents, Afghans to whom we have a special commitment. That mission has and will continue. But this is an important milestone. We have said since August 31st and before that it will remain our objective to provide any and all support that we can for these individuals, and we have been able to make good on that and we will continue to do so going forward.

Missy.

QUESTION: Wait, wait.

MR PRICE: Oh.

QUESTION: IOM. Why no mention of Belarus?

MR PRICE: We’re going to have a readout of the Secretary’s engagement with his IOM counterparts later today. I expect we’ll have more details in there.

Missy.

QUESTION: Yes, Ned can I just follow-up on the anti-satellite test?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: So can you comment on the timing of this? Do you see this as something – why is this happening now? Why are the Russians doing this now? Is this linked to – especially in the context of arms control talks and recent events in Ukraine, is this something that you see as another escalation in Russian activity around the world and beyond? Can you talk a little bit about that?

MR PRICE: You would need to speak to officials in Russia about their timing, what it was that they may or may not have been attempting to signal with this. What we are very clearly conveying is that the decision to proceed with this anti-satellite test today – it was dangerous, it was reckless, it was irresponsible. And we will and have been consulting with our allies and partners around the world to make clear to the Russian Federation and anyone else who would consider such a dangerous operation that this won’t be tolerated.

And it won’t be tolerated not because we are – not because of a matter of pure policy. This puts our interests, this puts the collective interests of the international community in, in some cases, great danger. I said before there are cosmonauts and astronauts together on the International Space Station, and now there are 1,500 pieces of trackable – meaning at least somewhat sizeable – debris that pose a risk not only to that International Space Station, but to every satellite and piece of orbital material that countries have put in space.

QUESTION: Can I just have a follow-up on that?

QUESTION: Just a follow-up —

MR PRICE: Sure. Kylie, and then we’ll come to Francesco.

QUESTION: Ned, can you just be a little bit more explicit about when you say the U.S. will not tolerate this? I mean, all you’re doing is describing what happened. So what does “not tolerating this” actually mean?

MR PRICE: Well, what we’re doing today is condemning – is, as you said, describing why this was so dangerous, reckless, and irresponsible. We, as you know, don’t telegraph specific measures, but as I have said before, we will work with our allies and partners in different ways to make clear that the United States, that the international community is not going to tolerate this kind of irresponsible behavior. But today, don’t want to get ahead of where we are, but do want to make very clear why this is so dangerous, why this is so – such irresponsible conduct on the part of a nation-state.

QUESTION: And there could be a consequence that the U.S. inflicts on Russia for this?

MR PRICE: Again, I don’t want to get ahead of specific measures that we may pursue, that our partners and allies may pursue. But we are going to continue to make very clear that we won’t tolerate this kind of activity.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you, Ned. Since you were speaking, we have a readout out of the Kremlin of a phone call between President Putin and President Macron, and President Putin said – slammed provocative U.S.-led exercises in Black Sea, saying they were increasing tensions.

So maybe if you can respond to that, and after that, we’re just a few months after the summit in Geneva between President Biden and President Putin. Does all the sanctions that Missy was referring to mean that the message didn’t go through, that this summit was useless? Or how do you see the dialogue going on forward?

MR PRICE: Well, we said in the run-up to the meeting between President Putin and President Biden in June that this meeting would be about testing the proposition that the United States and the Russian Federation could have a more stable, more predictable relationship. You were right that we are now several months out from that summit in June. There have been lower-level engagements between senior State Department officials and working-level State Department officials for that matter and their counterparts from Russia. But in many ways, I think it is too soon to tell whether that sort of more stable, more predictable relationship with Moscow is on the table.

The type of activity we saw today with the anti-satellite missile test, what we are seeing along the border with Ukraine, the unusual military activity that the Secretary spoke to last week – other indications suggest that – certainly give us pause, but again, we are keeping those lines of diplomacy open. It remains our goal to see to it if we can achieve that kind of relationship, but it obviously takes two to achieve a relationship of that sort.

All the while, we have been very clear in speaking out when the Russian Federation has undertaken activities like the one today that is irresponsible, reckless, and/or dangerous. But we have continued to engage robustly with our partners, with our allies, including those in the region.

When it comes to Russia’s unusual military activity near – around the border of Ukraine, we have had extensive interactions with our European allies and partners, including with our Ukrainian partners. Of course, we had a strategic dialogue with Ukraine last week, with Foreign Minister Kuleba. The Secretary and President Biden had an opportunity to see the Ukrainian president in Glasgow the other week. We have during the course of these meetings – including in Brussels, including in other European capitals – described our concerns, we have shared information, and we have held discussions too with Russian officials about Ukraine and U.S.-Russia relations generally.

We have made very clear through all of this that escalatory or actions by Russia would be of great concern to the United States. They are of great concern to our allies and partners. Several of our European allies have had their own high-level discussions with the Russian Federation and they’ve voiced very similar messages. So we will continue to coordinate closely with our partners and allies throughout Europe and more broadly in the face of these actions.

And again, we hope for a relationship with Russia that is more stable and more predictable, but hope is not a strategy. And we are going to watch very closely as the Russian Federation chooses its actions in the coming days and weeks.

QUESTION: And on the rest of that – the exercises, that he’s – that President Putin is protesting against?

MR PRICE: Look, I’ll leave it to the Department of Defense to speak to any military exercises, but our intentions vis-à-vis the Russian Federation are very clear. The partnership we have with countries like Ukraine, our enduring commitment to them, is also very clear.

Yes, Pearl. Sure.

QUESTION: You mentioned at the top that you will be traveling with Secretary Blinken, so Africa, I’m sure, will welcome you, Ned. Three countries – I have about four or so questions for you mainly on democracy, on Eswatini and Sudan which are inextricably linked to Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal.

So I’m going to start at the top here with a democracy question for you. Eswatini’s PUDEMO president – I spoke to him just two days ago – he says this, and I quote: “British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan visited many countries, but it was his winds of change speech made in South Africa that influenced and sparked change across the continent. My audiences, which are all young audiences, are hoping that the pronouncements Secretary Blinken will make are going to have a similar effect.”

Ned, part of what Secretary Blinken is going to be doing in Nigeria is going to be meeting with entrepreneurs in the digital sector and make his largest democracy speech in Nigeria. So my question to you is: As I tweet, likely after this briefing, currently Twitter is banned in Nigeria. So this limits freedom of speech. Secretary Blinken will be in Abuja one year after excessive force was used on protesters on the streets of Nigeria. We’re currently – in Eswatini are still protesting, seemingly following the John Lewis mantra of “Make good trouble,” but shot and face excessive force by security forces. Could you respond since Secretary Blinken will be making a U.S.-Africa democracy speech here?

I want to move on and link to Sudan. A friend of mine who was one of Prime Minister Hamdok’s ministers – I met him here when he came to D.C. – I believe I learned unfortunately last night that he may have lost his eye. I thought he was killed, but I believe he is still alive but is one of the detainees. So I’d like to find out from you that as Secretary Blinken is having his meeting with President Kenyatta, will he have any positive effect on the political prisoners, and is there any plans that maybe you are having regarding the – visiting any of those prisoners inside Sudan?

And on my additional question regarding, for example, the issue of freedom of assembly, nonviolent freedom of assembly, I wish you could address that. You talk about common values and the three themes that he is going to be going there for, but since former President George Bush, all the way through to now, Condoleezza Rice went to Kenya and Nigeria; Hillary Clinton, Kenya, Nigeria; Tillerson, Nigeria, Senegal; even Pompeo, Kenya, Senegal; Blinken, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal. Africa’s got 54 countries; sub-Saharan Africa is about 38 countries.

So I’m speaking here because all of my audiences, Ned, have this sense that from one administration to another administration, nothing’s going to change in Africa. So what is different now? How can Blinken set himself apart, perhaps, in this democracy speech? Perhaps if you could address those questions, I may have a follow-up question.

MR PRICE: Sure, let me start with those. So you are correct that we are departing late tonight for Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal and we’ll be – have the pleasure of being in Africa for the better part of this week. But I would hasten to add that the issues we are going to be discussing, the areas on which we are going to be focusing, and I would name a few – climate, global health and COVID-19 in particular, democracy and human rights that you alluded to as well, and certainly people-to-people ties, which are incredibly important in a country where an overwhelming majority of the people on the continent are under the age of 18. It’s an incredibly young continent with tremendous promise, tremendous opportunity.

And it’s the charge of this administration to determine how we can partner together most effectively to harness, to unlock that potential, working together as partners. And that is how we see our relationship not only with Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal but with all of those countries on the continent of Africa with whom we share interests and values, and there are many.

So yes, the Secretary will physically be on the soil of those three countries, but we are going to be speaking to issues – he will be speaking to issues, I should say – that are universal, are continental, in their applicability. So these will be themes that are just as relevant to Kenya and Nigeria and Senegal as they are to the 51 other countries on the continent, including those of sub-Saharan Africa.

This, of course, will be the Secretary’s first trip to Africa in his current role as Secretary of State, but I am confident in saying it will not be his last. As you know, there have been other high-level administration – senior administration officials who have traveled to Africa. That includes our Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Toria Nuland. It includes the Deputy National Security Advisor – the Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer. It includes another deputy national security advisor who was just there last week or in recent days to discuss several concrete initiatives, including Build Back Better World, the affirmative development – infrastructure agenda, I should say, that the United States looks forward to partnering with in countries, including those in Africa.

QUESTION: Did you miss a couple there?

MR PRICE: Did I miss a couple?

QUESTION: Including the cabinet member that’s been there, like was just there. Does she not get a mention? Or the USAID administrator? Does she not get a mention either?

MR PRICE: Matt, as I said, there have been many senior administration officials who have been —

QUESTION: I’m sorry. All due respect to Jon Finer, but I think that Linda Thomas-Greenfield outranks him.

MR PRICE: That is correct.

QUESTION: So does Sam Power.

MR PRICE: Linda Thomas-Greenfield was just there. She was just there on a UN Security Council delegation. But thank you for underscoring the point that there have been plenty of senior administration officials who have been on the continent, including in recent days.

When it comes to President Kenyatta, obviously Nairobi is our first stop. We will have an opportunity to meet with President Kenyatta, with the foreign minister, with other senior officials on Wednesday. You will hear directly from Secretary Blinken and his counterpart when they look forward to speaking to you.

But as we’ve said, we very much appreciate the leadership role that President Kenyatta has demonstrated in the context of the conflict in Ethiopia. He has used the power of his voice, he has used the power of his office, to call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and to reinforce the very messages that we’re hearing from former President Obasanjo, the AU envoy; the very messages that you have heard emanate from here and emanate from our senior officials. So of course, Ethiopia will be high on the agenda when we meet with President Kenyatta, as will other regional security issues. And that, of course, includes another one that you raise, and that is Sudan.

You raise the question of the issue of those who have been detained since October 25th when the military instigated their takeover, so let me just speak to a moment where we are with Sudan to preview, I suspect, what you will be hearing more of when we’re in Kenya later this week.

We’ve said before that we are gravely concerned by the military’s unilateral purported appointment of a sovereign council in violation of the 2019 constitutional declaration. We’re concerned because we think it will increase tensions. We saw on November 13th as we have seen in previous instances since October 25 that the Sudanese people continue to speak out clearly in support of their country’s continued transition to democracy. We back their call very strongly for the restoration of Prime Minister Hamdok and the civilian-led transitional government established under the 2019 constitutional declaration.

We join the Sudanese people in calling for the lifting of the state of emergency. We call for respecting the right of peaceful assembly, which you alluded to; the right of people everywhere, including in Sudan, to assemble peacefully. And we call – to another point you referenced – for the immediate release of all civilian leaders and protest organizers detained since the takeover. We are alarmed by the crackdown that has occurred, including the violence that occurred over the weekend, and we stand in solidarity with the family and the friends of these and other defenders of Sudan’s democratic revolution.

As you may know, our Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Molly Phee, she is in Khartoum at this moment. She arrived last night. She is engaging in meetings today and tomorrow before she meets with us and the Secretary in Nairobi later this week. She’s there to express our concerns with the military overthrow of the transition government and to discuss the path to the immediate restoration of Prime Minister Hamdok and the civilian-led transitional government established under that 2019 constitutional declaration, the very entreaty, the very demand that has been put forward by the Sudanese people and that has been backed by a wide and broad swath of the international community. As I said before, she will then join Secretary Blinken and the traveling team in Nairobi and continue on the rest of the trip with us.

QUESTION: Ned, can I just press you on two things here? And I appreciate your responses. Thank you for those. Back on the democracy issue, in your view or perhaps in Secretary Blinken’s view, how is he going to reconcile, for example – your statement says that he’s making it – he’s going to be visiting the largest democracy on the continent – there are very few actual democracies, but the largest – with a speech, for example, in a region where there is also an absolute monarch in the Kingdom of Eswatini.

And just if you – maybe you can address the issue – on a separate issue of while he’s there, there are countries in Africa – Uganda, Rwanda, and so on – who did take in some Afghan refugees. Might he find out what is the status of those? Have they already left Uganda and Rwanda or are there any plans for them? Are they going to continue – what are your plans there?

MR PRICE: When it comes to what you will hear from the Secretary regarding democracy and human rights – and as you’ve alluded to, he will deliver a speech on the administration’s policy towards Africa and our partnership with the countries of Africa during the course of this trip – I would reiterate that the messages he will deliver, they won’t be unique to Kenya, they won’t be unique to Senegal, they won’t be unique to Nigeria. They will speak to the opportunity, and they will speak to the challenges that the countries of the continent face.

There have been tremendous success stories on the continent of Africa in recent decades. There have also been setbacks, of course, and we have just been speaking about a couple of them. He will speak to the fact that democracy has progressed, and in some cases it has come in fits and starts to other countries as well. So he can certainly deliver a message that is relevant to countries like Eswatini from, in this case, West Africa, and that is what I think you will hear – messages that are universal or continental in their applicability.

You asked a second —

QUESTION: Afghans. Afghans that are —

MR PRICE: Oh, yes. So there have been – during the course of the U.S. Government-led evacuation effort that concluded on August 31st, we, through a concerted diplomatic effort, were able to enlist and had offers from a number of countries spanning four continents, including Africa. We received grateful and generous offers to take in vulnerable Afghans, and we are tremendously grateful to all of our partners who have played a role in that effort.

When it comes to Afghans who may still be in those countries, I would need to refer you to those countries. A number of them are still – are in processing. This is a process that can take a number of months before they are fully processed, but I would need to refer you to those countries for comment.

Simon.

QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on Danny Fenster that you talked about at the top. Obviously great news that he’s been released, and I wondered, the administration has been under criticism from some family members of Americans detained overseas. There’s a criticism that bringing Americans home has not been prioritized enough in some of the foreign policy of this administration, and obviously this is a case where an American has come home. But just to kind of follow up on the way – your statement describing it and the Secretary’s statement describing it, I’m kind of interested to know: What specifically was Special Envoy Carstens’ role in this and the embassy and other officials you mentioned? And if these officials were playing a significant role in bringing Danny home, when did you – when did the State Department know that this mission by Governor Richardson yesterday – today – sorry – Monday was happening? And isn’t that sort of contrary to what – your administration’s approach to this trip, the previous trip by Governor Richardson had been, where our understanding is that he was advised not to raise Danny’s case and there was a kind of warning that this might make things worse, and the State Department basically didn’t approve of this trip. So now you’re taking kind of credit for the release. How do you square that?

MR PRICE: So let me start with the first part of your question, then I’ll come back to it. So Danny was in custody for nearly six months. From the moment the embassy learned of his detention – at first the embassy, and later the fuller department – has been actively engaged at all levels to see his unjust detention come to an end, and the fact that it has is something we welcome and we commend everyone who has been a part of that effort – the embassy team, our Consular Affairs Bureau, consular officers in Burma who have been in contact – in regular contact with Danny’s family, our Consular Affairs Bureau here at the department, and, of course, our Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens and his team. And as I said before, Ambassador Carstens will have the great pleasure of being able to see Danny when he arrives in the United States tomorrow morning. A consular official was able to briefly see Danny before he boarded the flight in Burma, before he was wheels up.

This has been a constant, nonstop effort, something we have prioritized, as you would expect us to prioritize, because as we consistently say, we have no higher imperative than the safety and security of Americans who – Americans around the world and, of course, Americans who are held unjustly against their will overseas.

In this case, we are grateful to the many partners who contributed to the success that was announced today, and that includes Governor Richardson. Governor Richardson has a long track record of humanitarian leadership. And as we said, when he traveled to Burma several days ago, he was acting on his own. He was not acting at the direction of the U.S. Government, but we have been in regular and in more recent hours almost constant contact with the governor and with his team, and we’re appreciative of the role that the governor played in this case.

I just want to be very clear: We are commending those who were involved in this, but this is not about taking credit. What we are noting and celebrating today is the fact that after nearly six months, Danny Fenster, an American journalist who was imprisoned for nothing more than it seems attempting to take part in his professional pursuits, the pursuit of journalism, who was deprived of his freedom for that time, separated from his family for all those months, is now on his way home.

There were any number of people in this building and around the world who played a role in that. There were any number of people outside of this building in this administration who played a role that, and any number of people who, acting as private citizens, had a role in that. And we’re grateful to all of them. And above all, we are extraordinarily happy for Danny and his family whom he’ll soon get to see.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can you give us an update on Rob Malley’s trip to the Middle East, how he’s using that specifically to prepare for the resumption of talks? And is he going to come back here before then or go straight to Vienna?

MR PRICE: Sure. Well, Special Envoy Malley, as we announced last week, has been on a trip to consult with our partners in the region. He was in the UAE. He is now in Israel, where he has had excellent engagements. He’s met with Israel’s foreign minister, the defense minister, the national security advisor, the director of the Mossad, among other Israeli counterparts. We have made a point of saying when it comes to our Israeli partners, when it comes to our Gulf partners, that we have regularly – during the course of the previous six rounds of indirect negotiations in Vienna have regularly briefed them on the course of those discussions. And as we prepare for the resumption of those talks, the seventh round in Vienna, this is an opportunity to compare notes and to prepare for that seventh round. But that close consultation and coordination will continue as we get closer to November 29th and of course once those negotiations resume.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on that?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Given that Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield is also there, is she involved in those discussions with Malley regarding Iran and Israel?

MR PRICE: My understanding is that the ambassador, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, has a broader agenda while she’s there. Of course, Special Envoy Malley is squarely focused on the issue of Iran and the possibility of a mutual return to compliance, so those have been fairly a set of narrow discussions.

QUESTION: Can I have a change of subject to Belarus, unless someone else has Iran?

MR PRICE: Belarus, sure.

QUESTION: The EU said today that they are preparing further sanctions that will target those facilitating illegal border crossings into the EU. Does the U.S. support this strategy or these actions, and what further progress has been made regarding the U.S. actions for Belarus that (inaudible) —

MR PRICE: Well, you’ve heard – I’ll say this. You’ve heard our European allies say this, but we are deeply concerned by the Lukashenka regime’s inhumane actions, and we strongly condemn their callous exploitation and coercion of vulnerable people and inhumane facilitation of irregular migration flows across its borders. I understand that the EU today announced a new sanctions authority that could apply to the situation in Belarus. We too are preparing follow-up sanctions in close coordination with the EU and other partners and allies that will continue to hold the Lukashenka regime accountable for its ongoing attacks on democracy, on human rights, on international norms.

We again – to reiterate, we call on the regime to immediately halt its campaign of orchestrating and coercing irregular migrant flows across borders into Europe. As long as the regime refuses to respect its international obligations and commitments, as long as it undermines peace and security of its neighbors and of the broader continent, as long as it continues to repress its own – repress and abuse its own people and hold political prisoners, we’ll continue to put more pressure, not less pressure, on the Lukashenka regime as we call for accountability.

We have worked very closely with our European allies on this challenge. We know it is of the highest importance to them as it is to us, as we’ll continue to coordinate closely both in our rhetoric and our actions going forward.

Nick.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Danny just for one second and then go to Ethiopia?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any conditions attached to Danny’s release, and are you concerned that Governor Richardson’s multiple trips gave any legitimacy to the junta?

MR PRICE: I’m not aware of any conditions. Today is a day that we are commending the efforts of all of those who are responsible for Danny’s release and above all elated for him and his family.

QUESTION: And then on Ethiopia, late last week the Ethiopian Government told the UN that it would allow trucks to drive for the first time in more than six weeks. Obviously, we’ve seen the Ethiopians allow Obasanjo to come in and out, Kenyatta and Feltman, and yet not a single truck has moved in since the promise that was given late Thursday night. Do you believe an apparent shift in the Ethiopian Government’s tone is legitimate or a ploy to buy time?

MR PRICE: Well, we have consistently said that we welcome words but what we’ll be looking for is action, and that includes in the context of humanitarian access and humanitarian deliveries into Tigray and to northern Ethiopia. We would welcome any action from the Government of Ethiopia that would allow lifesaving humanitarian assistance to reach all of those in need in Tigray and across Ethiopia regardless of ethnicity. We have not seen, as you alluded to, any action that would indicate that these trucks can safely transport lifesaving humanitarian supplies.

Moving trucks with relief supplies is just one of many steps that are necessary to help the millions of people across the region who are in need. We know and we have heard from humanitarian aid organizations that they need to be able to move fuel, to move cash, to move food, to move other supplies in order to operate programs that distribute these lifesaving and essential supplies once they go into Tigray and Amhara.

We have repeatedly and increasingly urgently called for all parties to allow and facilitate unhindered humanitarian access, and we are alarmed, as we have said over the course of the last week or so, at the detention of UN and NGO staff and drivers, which is yet another obstruction of humanitarian aid. Humanitarian aid, humanitarian access must be allowed so that these aid workers can work free from harassment, free from intimidation, and of course, free from detention as well.

Let me make one other point because it is just incredibly important in the context of Ethiopia. This is a challenge that we are engaging on. It’s a challenge that will be high on the agenda when Secretary Blinken meets with President Kenyatta and is in the region, is in Kenya and the continent this week. But the security situation in Ethiopia continues to be tenuous. Earlier this month, we – our embassy went on ordered departure. Our embassy is still open, but we did go on ordered departure. And since earlier this month, we have gone from recommending to urging Americans to avail themselves of the commercial flight options that continue to be available out of Addis to leave the country immediately.

We are doing that not because we are pessimistic about the prospects for peace, but because we are practical, and these options are still available today. There are days this week where nearly two dozen commercial flights will be available. We understand from the embassy that there is excess capacity on these flights. The embassies’ American – section of American Citizens Services has been – has actually extended its hours. It’s open seven days a week. We are providing repatriation loans. In other words, we are actually up-fronting the costs of return tickets or tickets – airfare out of the country so that Americans can avail themselves of this option.

I think there may be a misperception that what we saw in Afghanistan is something that the U.S. Government can undertake anywhere and everywhere in the world. What we saw in Afghanistan was unique; it was extraordinary. It was something that this administration had not done before. It is something that no administration had done before. In the military-led airlift of nearly 125,000 individuals, the context of Afghanistan was unique. The context of Afghanistan is not something that the U.S. Government can replicate elsewhere.

And so that is why we are being explicit in urging Americans to avail themselves of these plentiful commercial options. The security situation in and around Addis continues to be stable. And there is no reason that Americans should wait until the last minute or that anyone should expect that we may be in a position to undertake something similar to what we saw in Afghanistan. The conditions, the context is just quite different.

QUESTION: Ned, I’m sorry. Does your raising that, Afghanistan in that context, only underline the point that the Secretary made on Friday, which is that you are worried about the state imploding?

MR PRICE: No. It is – it’s – again, it’s a very practical measure. And we are trying to be explicit to the American citizen community there that there are these options available. The security situation is tenuous. Of course, we are supporting the efforts of President Obasanjo and our partners to put the security situation back on a steadier and ultimately a better track. But we can’t be the guarantor, and certainly not in a position to ensure Americans that these options will continue to be available. So of course, while they are available, while there is plenty of excess capacity, we are being very explicit, again, not because we’re pessimistic but because we’re practical, and because we put the safety and security of Americans around the globe as our first and top priority.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, where was – where is this suggestion coming that there could be an Afghanistan type —

MR PRICE: Well, we just —

QUESTION: It wasn’t – unless I’m mistaken, it wasn’t in his question. You just brought it up.

MR PRICE: No, I – you are correct. I veered —

QUESTION: So where’s —

MR PRICE: I – we don’t want there to be a misperception that —

QUESTION: But there wasn’t one.

MR PRICE: Well, Matt —

QUESTION: Unless I’ve missed it, and I think that I – I pay pretty close attention to these kinds of things. And I don’t recall anyone at all —

MR PRICE: Matt, you’re sitting in the front row of – at the Department of State.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PRICE: There may be Americans around the world who may be under —

QUESTION: Who think that Ethiopia is like Afghanistan, that the U.S. was at war for 20 years in Ethiopia —

MR PRICE: Who may be under a —

QUESTION: — and is withdrawing hastily?

MR PRICE: Our point, Matt, is that these —

QUESTION: Nobody’s said this except for you.

MR PRICE: Matt —

QUESTION: (Laughter.) I don’t get it.

MR PRICE: I know you have a perspective sitting there from the front row, but we talk to American citizens all day every day.

QUESTION: And you think – and there are – so you’re saying that there are American citizens who are in Ethiopia right now who think that somehow —

MR PRICE: I’m saying —

QUESTION: — there’s going to be an U.S. military evacuation of Americans from Ethiopia? Is that what you’re saying?

MR PRICE: I am saying we do not want there to be a misimpression that anything like what was undertaken in Afghanistan —

QUESTION: But the only – but you’re the one who raised —

MR PRICE: — which was – which was unique in history —

QUESTION: Oh, (inaudible).

MR PRICE: — which was unique in history, could be repeated anywhere.

QUESTION: May I ask a follow-up, one question on Nigeria here?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) and so part of the – what might be on the agenda with Secretary Blinken, as far as the security question, is security cooperation. And I know specifically that President Buhari has made it quite clear that he is looking for increased AFRICOM presence that – I’m wondering, might there be maybe through the civil-military bureau here or anything military sales related, particularly with Kenya and Nigeria?

MR PRICE: So we do have important security relationships with both Kenya and Nigeria because of the interests we share. Some of the threats to Kenya, some of the threats to Nigeria also have the potential to pose a threat to the United States and our interests, which really undergirds the partnership you’ve seen in the security sector as well. When it comes to the provision of support, when it comes to that relationship, we’ve also been equally clear that the United States and the international community has expectations when it comes to the conduct of security operations, when it comes to the conduct of security forces. And we know and we calibrate the assistance we provide to best see to it that human rights are respected even when the security situation is tenuous, even when there are threats, including terrorist threats. And so those are conversations that we’ll continue to have.

Let me move around to – yes, please, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. If I can move to U.S. and China? Secretary Blinken will participate in tonight’s virtual summit, so I’d like to ask, what impact do you expect today’s virtual summit will have on the bilateral relationship? And do you think it could increase diplomatic contacts at various levels in the department?

And then a second question. I understand this week Deputy Secretary Sherman will host a trilateral meeting with Japan and South Korea. Could you just preview what they’ll discuss? I presume North Korea will be top of the agenda, but will they discuss other issues like global supply chain, China, things like that?

MR PRICE: Sure. I don’t want to get ahead of the White House, as you might expect, but yeah, Secretary Blinken will be taking part in this evening’s engagement with President Xi of the PRC. We’ve consistently made the point that stiff competition requires stiff diplomacy to ensure that competition doesn’t veer into conflict. And so that will be at the core of tonight’s engagement. It is at the core of every engagement we have with senior PRC officials.

We’ve made the point that when it is in our interests to engage, we won’t hesitate to do so, again, because we feel that having these diplomatic channels, having open channels of communications can help to set those guardrails, can help to set the guardrails of the relationship – one of the most, probably the most consequential bilateral relationship we have – with, again, the overarching goal of ensuring that that stiff competition doesn’t verge into a more dangerous direction.

When it comes to Deputy Secretary Sherman’s upcoming meetings, she will hold a trilateral meeting, as you alluded to, with her Japanese and ROK counterparts on November 17th. She’ll do that here at the Department of State. Deputy Secretary Sherman will have a bilateral meeting with her ROK counterpart on November 16th. She’ll have a bilateral meeting with her Japanese counterpart on November 18th. So we’ll have more on that engagement later this week.

Sure, yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. A few questions on China. It looks like both Secretary Blinken and you are going to have a long day today. So you’re going to departure after summit which is going to last for several hours. Does the Secretary feel it’s too important for him to skip this summit? Because later this week, there is going to be a trilateral summit which he probably will be – miss, right?

MR PRICE: That’s right. So the Secretary will depart shortly after the meeting with President Xi concludes this evening. Thank you for reminding me it’s going to be a very long day and a very long night for many of us. But of course, our engagement with Africa is also important, and so in this case, the schedule is just so that Secretary Blinken can take part in the bilateral meeting with President Xi and then depart late tonight or in the wee hours of tomorrow morning for a very important set of engagements on the African continent.

We’re very fortunate that – and I think Secretary Blinken is probably the one who would stand by this the most – that we have a full team here, including an exceptional group of senior State Department leaders who are able to undertake engagements even while the Secretary is on the road. And I know Deputy Secretary Sherman is looking forward to her trilateral and bilateral engagements.

QUESTION: You keep emphasizing —

QUESTION: Do you think Africa will be on the agenda?

MR PRICE: I – we’ll have more on her engagements later in the week.

QUESTION: You keep emphasizing on the U.S.-China – you keep saying that U.S., China has engaged stiff competition, and the U.S. has to outcompete China in the long term. But China has actually reject this idea to use competition to frame this relationship. So during this competition, do you only accept that the United States be the sole winner and China can’t win?

MR PRICE: Look, I will leave it to the PRC to determine how they want to frame the relationship. We frame the relationship – for us, the relationship at its core is about competition. I think the other important point to your question: It’s not a zero-sum game. It is not a game. It is not a scenario in which the United States wins and China loses. This is a relationship where, of course, there are going to be plenty of competitive areas. There are going to be some cooperative areas. And there are going to be areas that are adversarial in nature. But we can manage all of those things.

I think there’s an unfortunate perception that our relationship with the PRC only has the ability to be binary: either we’re engaging, or we’re competing, or we are engaging in adversarial behavior. The fact is that we can and that we must do all of those things simultaneously. And so that is why the President thinks it’s important that he takes – that he has an opportunity to engage, not quite face to face but at least screen to screen, with President Xi. It’s the very same reason that Secretary Blinken has had opportunities, including in recent days, to speak with his PRC counterpart as well. And you’ve seen a host of other engagements.

QUESTION: And actually, the White House has said there is no major deliverables out – coming out of this summit. Why do you try – why are you trying to set the bar so low? Is it because of domestic political pressure?

MR PRICE: This isn’t about expectation setting. It’s not about setting the bar low or setting the bar high. It’s about the most important element that there is in our bilateral relationship with the PRC, and that is, very clearly, managing that competition, establishing the guardrails. If we are able to do that, if we are able to do that effectively and successfully, there could be no greater deliverable for the United States, for the region, and the rest of the world. That is what tonight is all about. That is what has been at the center of all of our engagements with the PRC.

Yes, Barbara.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on Russia. Apparently, the astronauts on the International Space Station had to take refuge in a pair of space capsules because of a cloud of space debris. Do you know if that was because of the test, this debris?

MR PRICE: I’ve seen that report. I would refer you to NASA. The only amendment I would make would be, if that were true, it’d be astronauts and cosmonauts.

Anyone else?

QUESTION: Can I just ask one —

MR PRICE: Kylie.

QUESTION: — question on Kosovo? I’m just wondering if you guys have an update on the plan for the Afghans who are in Kosovo: how many there are, how long they’re going to stay there, just kind of what the general thinking is.

MR PRICE: Well, as part of the ongoing vetting process for Afghan evacuees, some of those whose cases needed additional processing have been moved to Camp Liya, located at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, as you alluded to, where the interagency teams there are taking part in work to complete processing for their eventual admission into the United States or for resettlement in a third country. Many of those who are there have already departed and are in the process of – or are in the process of being cleared to depart.

We’re grateful, as I was saying to Pearl earlier, for all of our partners, and this includes the Government of Kosovo, as the Government of Kosovo has allowed these evacuees to be temporarily housed at Camp Liya. And we are taking all – undertaking all necessary efforts to ensure a safe and comfortable environment at Camp Bondsteel while that processing is underway.

QUESTION: And when – sorry, when you say many of them have departed, where have they gone?

MR PRICE: In some cases, they’ve come to the United States. In some cases, they may have gone to third countries.

QUESTION: And just one last question, sorry. You also referenced this is going to be temporary. How can you be confident that this will be temporary if some of these Afghans aren’t able to get through the security check process to get into the United States? How are you confident they’ll be able to go elsewhere?

MR PRICE: We are confident that these Afghan evacuees will be able to be resettled in the United States or in third countries as appropriate.

Final – yes.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on Belarus?

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: The Kremlin said today that they were ready to mediate between Belarus and the EU. Does the U.S. have any response to that? And have there already been discussions recently asking Russia to use their influence in Belarus between U.S. and Russian officials?

MR PRICE: So I don’t have a direct response to that. I would just make the point that mediation is not what is required in the case of Belarus. What is required in the case of Belarus is for the regime to put a cease to some of the practices that we have seen, including what could well amount to the weaponization of migrant flows into Europe, the repression, the detention of political dissidents, the other behaviors on the part of the Lukashenka regime.

What is true is that Moscow has influence, Moscow has sway over the Lukashenka regime in a way that few if any other countries do. And we would certainly welcome Moscow using its influence, using its sway in a way that is constructive and in a way that is productive when it comes to making clear to the regime that these practices must cease.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:20 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – November 9, 2021

2:15 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Good to see everyone. Happy Tuesday. Just a couple things at the top today, and then I look forward to taking your questions.

First, as you all know and as you had an opportunity to hear earlier today, Secretary Blinken will host a virtual COVID-19 Ministerial tomorrow starting at 8:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. Sorry for the early hour. The Secretary is convening his government counterparts along with leaders from – along with leaders from —

QUESTION: Sorry. Why not 6:00 a.m.?

MR PRICE: Well, today he had an engagement starting at 6:00 a.m., so we’re —

QUESTION: That’s why I said —

MR PRICE: Let me start that part over.

QUESTION: Sure.

MR PRICE: Tomorrow, as you all know, Secretary Blinken will host a virtual COVID-19 Ministerial starting at 8:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. The Secretary is convening his government counterparts, along with leaders from regional and international organizations, to assess current COVID-19 response efforts and to build on the momentum generated by President Biden’s September COVID-19 Summit to end the pandemic and to build back better our global health security.

We are committed to working with other countries to end the COVID-19 pandemic and to strengthen global health security. This is the beginning of what we hope will be regular and expanded convenings. And we welcome efforts to ensure that foreign ministers routinely discuss global health security as a central part of foreign policy.

Finally, today I have the pleasure of welcoming Sara Minkara, whom President Biden appointed last month to be U.S. Special Advisor on International Disability Rights to the department as she officially assumes her duties today.

This appointment fulfills President Biden’s commitment to appoint a Special Advisor on International Disability Rights, and it reflects this administration’s commitment to advance the human rights of persons with disabilities at home and abroad.

Prior to joining the department, Special Advisor Minkara founded and served as CEO of Empowerment Through Integration, a nonprofit organization that provides social and life-skills development for children with disabilities.

As an internationally recognized champion for disability inclusion, leadership, individual empowerment, and social enterprise, Special Advisor Minkara has advised academics, governments, and policy groups on disability inclusion, adaptive leadership, and social entrepreneurship.

She has been recognized by Forbes 30 Under 30, the Clinton Global Initiative, and the Vital Voices “100 Women Using Their Power to Empower” program for her many valuable – invaluable – contributions to protecting and advancing the rights of persons with disabilities.

We look forward to working with Special Advisor Minkara as she leads department efforts that advance administration priorities to promote disability rights, equity, inclusion, and accessibility around the world.

With that, happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: And perhaps you can bring her down to —

MR PRICE: Happy to do so.

QUESTION: — once she’s settled in?

MR PRICE: Happy to do so.

QUESTION: Okay. A couple things, and the first one is just going to be – are you – so that the end of the – I see the clock is correct after I reset it.

MR PRICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: No one messed it – messed with it.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: The Egypt Strategic Dialogue finished today. The Secretary was supposed to speak at noon. It was closed, but I’m just wondering if – are you expecting anything out of that? A joint communiqué, a statement, a joint anything?

MR PRICE: We will. I do expect to have a joint statement emanating from the Strategic Dialogue. As you know, it spanned yesterday and concluded today. I think the joint statement will give you a good sense of the range of topics that were discussed.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just to move slightly to the south, can you update us on Ambassador Feltman’s meetings, travels and meetings? Do you still see the small window of opportunity for a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Ethiopia there? Will he go on to Sudan? And anything else you can think of on that.

MR PRICE: Sure. Let me offer some context at the top, and then happy to provide an update on Ambassador Feltman’s activities in the region.

So as you have heard us say, we remain fully engaged in efforts to move all sides in the conflict to an immediate cessation of hostilities. All those in need, regardless of ethnicity, should have immediate access to lifesaving humanitarian assistance. That is why we call for an immediate end to the human rights abuses and violations committed against civilians.

Our embassy in Addis, as you have heard us say, remains open under the leadership of our ambassador. Special Envoy Feltman, as I alluded to, remains in the region to further our diplomatic efforts. And we urge all parties to exercise restraint, to end hostilities, to respect human rights, to refrain from hostile rhetoric, and to protect civilians.

As you know, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield spoke to the situation in Ethiopia at a UN Security Council briefing on November 8th. We have been fully – working fully in tandem with the AU Special Representative Obasanjo, and we remain supportive – nothing but supportive – of his efforts to facilitate dialogue among the parties towards a cessation of hostilities.

The special envoy, Former President Obasanjo, has spoken to this window of opportunity that he believes, and in turn we believe, does exist and continues to exist. And we are fully in support of his efforts to achieve progress towards the cessation of hostilities and the provision of humanitarian access that is so desperately needed in Tigray and the surrounding regions.

When it comes to Ambassador Feltman, we discussed this yesterday, but he returned to Addis yesterday, November 8th, from Kenya, where he was. He is there. He continued our support of – and he was there to continue our support of AU Special Representative Obasanjo to urgently press the parties to de-escalate the conflict and to enter into negotiations towards a durable cessation of hostilities. He has continued to raise our concern about the risk of inter-communal violence, and this is also something that we spoke about yesterday. It’s of grave and important concern to us. And we do believe, as you’ve heard from the AU special envoy, that there is a window, a small opening, to work with the special envoy to further these efforts, these collective efforts, to peacefully resolve the conflict in Ethiopia.

In addition to meeting with Mr. Obasanjo yesterday, former President Obasanjo I should say, the special envoy met today with the Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen Hassen. And all the while we are working very closely with international partners on a bilateral and multilateral basis, as well as with action through, as I said before, the AU but also the UN, including with our engagement yesterday. This is something that we have been intensely focused on to try to take advantage of the opportunity that we have now, and we will continue to do so in support of President Obasanjo and his efforts.

QUESTION: Okay. And not to suggest that he doesn’t have enough on his plate already just with Ethiopia, but does he have plans to go to Sudan or even maybe Somalia on this current trip? Or do you expect him to stay in Addis?

MR PRICE: I expect he will stay in the region, but in terms of any follow-on travel, I just don’t have an update for you on that.

QUESTION: But he’s – okay. But he’s in —

MR PRICE: He’s in Ethiopia at the moment.

QUESTION: And is remaining there through tomorrow?

MR PRICE: He is remaining there at least through today, and we’ll keep you posted if he —

QUESTION: Well, today, it’s like – it’s late there.

MR PRICE: We will update you on subsequent – any subsequent travel.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Humeyra.

QUESTION: Ned, you guys have seen the reports about UN staff being detained in Ethiopia. Do you have a response to that? And have you been able to verify their ethnicity? That’s been reported that they’re all Tigrayans.

MR PRICE: Well, we have seen the reports, and they are – we find them concerning. We clearly condemned the previous expulsion of UN officials from Ethiopia. And if confirmed, we would similarly condemn arrests of UN staff members based on ethnicity.

We understand from reports, as you alluded to, that those arrested are Tigrayan. Ethiopian Government security forces – security force harassment and detention on the basis of ethnicity is completely unacceptable. We equally condemn revenge attacks by militants associated with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the TPLF, and we call on all parties to cease such activities and respect human rights and the rule of law.

QUESTION: And on this window of the opening, can you talk a little bit about what kind of proposals are on the table, at least like give an approximate idea? You said that you’re fully – U.S. is fully in support of AU’s efforts. What exactly are those that you’re supporting? And he also gave a timeline yesterday that he said by the end of the week we should have an idea about, like, where we are with the humanitarian situation. Does that calendar, that timeline, sound realistic to the United States as well?

MR PRICE: Well, we think it’s a window of opportunity, and President Obasanjo has said as much as well. We know that these windows can be fleeting. That is why the United States and the AU as well are working as quickly as possible, in our case, to facilitate discussions, to lend our good offices, and to lend our support where we can.

As you mentioned, President Obasanjo and the AU is in many ways leading this effort. It is not for us to detail any proposals that President Obasanjo or the AU more broadly may have. We also know that – well, let me back up. We want these efforts to have the best prospects for success, and we know that oftentimes success is directly correlated to the lack of profile, of prominence of these efforts. And so we want to continue this quiet dialogue. We’ve been engaged in dialogue with Ethiopian Government officials, with the TPLF, with, of course, the AU, with other regional partners and regional bodies as well. So it’s not something we’re prepared to detail publicly at this moment, but it is something that we’re working on very concertedly with our partners.

QUESTION: And so Special Envoy Feltman, is he directly involved in – like, is the U.S. involved in the – to secure the release of these UN staff? Like, how forward-leaning are you guys in this?

MR PRICE: We will support in any way we can. We have made clear – we made clear when UN staff were expelled that we condemn those actions. These reports have just emerged within the past few hours, but the reports do tend to suggest an arrest based on ethnicity, and that is something that, if confirmed, we would strongly condemn. So whatever we can do to secure the release of these individuals we will be prepared to do.

Yes.

QUESTION: Staying on Ethiopia, has State enhanced the security at the U.S. embassy in the capital? And also, you mentioned yesterday that the State Department can provide a repatriation loan for U.S. citizens wanting to leave and has encouraged U.S. citizens to leave. Does the department have an idea on the number of U.S. citizens or LPRs in Ethiopia who currently want to leave?

MR PRICE: In terms of our embassy, as you know, we went to a status that we call ordered departure, a status through which we’re able to draw down some of our embassy personnel. The embassy does, however, remain open. We are prioritizing services to the American citizen community in Ethiopia because, as you alluded to, we have for several days now been urging American citizens in Ethiopia to avail themselves of the commercial options that remain available to leave Ethiopia.

The security situation is tenuous, and there is a window for Americans to depart via commercial airlines from the international airport in Addis Ababa. The embassy is keeping a close eye on availability of seats on these commercial flights. Over the past several days, there have been a dozen or more commercial flights with capacity, and we have been working to support the – those Americans who are in Ethiopia who wish to leave.

As you said as well, we are offering repatriation loans for Americans who may wish to leave but don’t have the upfront funds to pay for that. We are able to process U.S. passports and consular reports of birth abroad for those preparing to depart, and the embassy does remain able to provide these services. Of course, wherever the security situation is somewhat tenuous, we’re keeping – we keep a close eye on conditions. Should those conditions change, our – the status of our embassy will – could well change as well. But at this point, we understand that there is calm in and around Addis, and again, the commercial airport remains open with commercial flights available with excess capacity.

Barbara.

QUESTION: Can you say anything about whether there is any more interest in talking about negotiations or a ceasefire from either party in Ethiopia, since neither have publicly mentioned it or moved in that direction?

And I also have a question from one of my colleagues who isn’t here, but if you want to just do that first.

MR PRICE: Look, in terms of these negotiations, this is not something that we’re going to livecast. These are discussions that are being had between Ethiopian officials, government, TPLF, and associated forces, and the African Union. These are discussions that we’ve also had in private as well, not only with various Ethiopian elements but also with regional parties. But we are not going to speak to the positions of the various parties. We will leave it to them to characterize their positions.

Again, we are lending our support. We are lending our good offices. We are lending our diplomacy and the catalytic power that that entails to the efforts of the AU, President Obasanjo, and others with whom we’re working around the clock to try to facilitate a cessation of hostilities.

QUESTION: All right. And then I have a question for my colleague, who wasn’t able to be here, about Georgia, about Saakashvili and his transfer from prison cell to prison hospital against his will. He is alleging inhumane treatment, that he was dragged out, beaten, and humiliated verbally and physically. So the question is: What is the State Department response, especially in light of comments by the U.S. embassy and European politicians that Saakashvili’s treatment is a test for the Georgian Government?

MR PRICE: Well, we are closely following, as we have been since it occurred, the imprisonment and now the treatment of former President Saakashvili, including today’s statement from Georgia’s Public Defender’s Office that raises concerns about the conditions of Mr. Saakashvili’s imprisonment. In light of that statement today, we urge the Government of Georgia to immediately take steps to ensure that Mr. Saakashvili’s urgent mental health and medical needs are addressed. We continue to urge the Government of Georgia to treat Mr. Saakashvili fairly and with dignity in accordance with international standards and Georgian law. As we know, it is the responsibility of the Government of Georgia in this case to protect inmates from abuse, including mental abuse; to provide adequate medical care; and to protect their private health information in accordance with Georgian law.

Kylie.

QUESTION: Can I just circle back to Ethiopia really quickly? I’m just wondering – obviously the Biden administration has put resources into trying to get to some optimal solution there, but does the Biden administration view it as the U.S. having a responsibility to broker some sort of a peace agreement there? How do you view your involvement and the necessity of it here?

MR PRICE: Well, this is a civil war, and this is a conflict that predates this administration, but it is, as I alluded to yesterday, not in the DNA of this administration to stand on the sidelines with the knowledge that an engaged, active, energized United States has extraordinary and perhaps unparalleled catalytic ability to bring together various factions, to push for progress. This is what we have sought to do since the earliest days of this administration. We’ve sought to do this knowing that this is a conflict that has roots that go back well before November of last year and decades and much longer, actually, before that.

So we are clear-eyed about what is taking place, but we are also clear-eyed about what the United States and only the United States can bring to the table. And we have, as I said, brought to bear our good offices, our diplomacy, our personnel, various policy tools that we have put in play and that we have alluded to in an effort to, in the first instance, relieve the humanitarian suffering of the people of Tigray and surrounding regions and now to do all that we can to bring about a cessation of hostilities.

We know what it is that the United States – we know that we are in some ways extraordinary in what we can bring to the table, what we can do, but we also know that this is a conflict that has deep roots. And so we are quite clear-eyed about the challenge.

QUESTION: And just to be clear, if diplomacy doesn’t work here, what kinds of conversations are being had internally in the Biden administration about what more the U.S. would do – military, sanctions, and the like?

MR PRICE: Well, in many ways we know that diplomacy has to work, and we have heard from all sides that there’s a recognition that there needs to be a diplomatic offramp to this conflict. So there is not, in our minds, in our estimation, another way to end this conflict with any durability in any sustainable way. And for us, what we are seeking to support is a durable, sustainable, negotiated solution to this conflict that, first off, is predicated on a cessation of hostilities.

QUESTION: And can we go to Yemen?

QUESTION: Sorry. What are the extraordinary —

QUESTION: Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, I just want – what are these extraordinary ways that you bring to the table? I mean, anyone can send aid.

MR PRICE: Matt, I think it is —

QUESTION: Is it a – you’re not seriously considering some kind of military option —

MR PRICE: No, no, no, I did not mean to suggest that at all.

QUESTION: Well, what —

MR PRICE: I’m – I am —

QUESTION: But, I mean, you said a couple times that, like – that you bring things to the table that nobody else can bring and you said that we are in some ways extraordinary in what we can bring to the table. So what is so extraordinary about —

MR PRICE: I think it is the fact that —

QUESTION: I mean, I know Jeff Feltman is an extraordinary guy, but what are the ways – what are the extraordinary ways —

MR PRICE: Matt, I think underlying the question that Kylie asked and underlying the question that I believe it was you asked yesterday – there is an assumption that the United States is going to be engaged in this, and I think there is some logic to that assumption, because the world often —

QUESTION: Okay. But what’s the —

MR PRICE: The world often looks to the United States for our leadership, for our energy, for our diplomacy, for our good offices, for the catalytic ability that we can bring to bear, that you don’t see other countries attempting to exercise.

QUESTION: And yet, when you’re asked about what kind of leadership you’re putting – what you’re putting through, you say, well, it’s all up to President – former President Obasanjo and we’re not going to talk about it, because apparently transparency is not good in this case. Right?

MR PRICE: I think —

QUESTION: I mean, I understand democracy goes – I mean, democracy – diplomacy is like mushrooms, right? It grows best in the dark. But still, I don’t understand what the extraordinary ways you are, other than having an envoy there – but other people have envoys there.

MR PRICE: Matt, I think the – I think there are many elements to many actors here that are looking to the United States that are —

QUESTION: Who?

MR PRICE: — that welcome our active diplomacy in this.

QUESTION: Is Prime Minister Abiy looking to the United States? Is the TPLF looking to the United States?

MR PRICE: As you know, Matt, as you know, our special –

QUESTION: I don’t know. Are they?

MR PRICE: As you know, our special envoy has met with the prime minister.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PRICE: We have engaged with the TPLF. We are engaged in this —

QUESTION: And has he?

MR PRICE: We are engaged in this diplomacy at the invitation and at the request of various actors here. So —

QUESTION: Are the Ethiopian Government and the TPLF?

MR PRICE: The fact that our special envoy has met with the prime minister –

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

MR PRICE: — suggests that that is a welcome engagement.

QUESTION: Has Ambassador Feltman met with representatives of the TPLF himself?

MR PRICE: We have engaged with the TPLF.

QUESTION: No – well, yes or no? Has Ambassador Feltman met – former President Obasanjo has, and he’s gone up there. Has Ambassador Feltman gone up there? Has he met with members of the TPLF?

MR PRICE: As you know, he’s been based in Addis, but we have engaged with the TPLF.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. Change topics?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. The Israeli prime minister, Mr. Bennett, said yesterday that no negotiation to establish a terrorist state in Israel. So he’s basically saying no to the prospect of a Palestinian state – something that you’ve been calling all along. So what do you say to counter that? How would you, let’s say, emphasize your commitment to the two-state solution with Mr. Bennett?

MR PRICE: Look, I am not going to offer a direct response to the prime minister, but our position on the two-state solution is well known; it is as well known as it is clear. We believe that a two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable, democratic Palestinian state. That is why we will continue to focus our efforts on an approach that is affirmative, an approach that is practical, an approach that seeks to improve the quality of life for Israelis and Palestinians alike, in the immediate term, and over the longer term to help keep the possibility of a negotiated two-state solution alive.

You’ve heard us say this before, but we believe that Israelis and Palestinians equally – deserve equal measures of safety, of security, of prosperity, of democracy, and of dignity. That’s really at the core of our approach.

QUESTION: Yes, but while that’s great – I mean, that – but in many ways it sounds like a euphemism for inaction. Because as we speak, as we speak, the daily assault on the Palestinians – not only uprooting trees, killing children, demolishing homes, poisoning water – I mean, you can go on – killing fishermen, restricting all – this goes on on a daily basis. This goes on on a daily basis. What actions are you willing to take so – or to impress upon the Israelis so they stop doing this thing, or minimize doing this thing, or just sort of pull back? Whether on NGOs that are defiant and designated as terrorist organizations and so on, whether it’s the NSO that Israel is probably pressing upon you to sort of not – to take it off your blacklist and so on while they are spying on Palestinians every day of their lives.

So I mean, what action will you ever take to show the Israelis that you are really serious in these statements that you say time and time again?

MR PRICE: Said, we’ve addressed many of the issues that you raised. What I would focus on are the tangible ways in which we have gone about seeking to improve the lives and the livelihoods of Israelis and Palestinians alike. When it comes to the Palestinian people, we have said – from the earliest days of this administration, spoken of our re-engagement with the Palestinian Authority, and in this case the Palestinian people. We’ve resumed assistance to the Palestinian people. We’ve provided over $400 million in economic, development, security, and humanitarian assistance. That includes $85 million in economic and development assistance, $40 million in security sector assistance, more than $20 million in food aid, in COVID-related humanitarian assistance, and $318 million to UNRWA.

So we have worked in tangible ways to bring about an improvement of lives and livelihoods, and that’s something that we’ll continue to work on. Even as we’re in a period now where we have long been clear that negotiations towards a two-state solution aren’t on the table at the moment, our charge now and our focus is improving a standard of living as we keep that possibility of a negotiated two-state solution alive.

QUESTION: Can you tell us where – the whereabouts of Mr. Hady Amr? Is he still perhaps working behind the scene, working from the building? I mean, he’s just simply not on the radar screen anymore. Is he still envoying?

MR PRICE: I have had a number of conversations with DAS Amr in the past few days alone. I can tell you he is very much engaged in diplomacy. He is in constant contact with Israeli officials, with Palestinian officials, with regional officials. He and others in this building are very much working towards the objectives that I just set out.

Shaun.

QUESTION: Can we return to Africa for a minute?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Sudan. The government – there’s a court order in Sudan about internet access or the restoration of it. Do you see any progress on that front?

And if I could also ask something separate about Sudan, there’s talk I think the French were leading a – talking about reversing the decision on debt relief for Sudan in light of the coup. Is that something that the United States would support?

MR PRICE: When it comes to internet access, we have consistently urged the military to put an end to the internet shutdown as well as the state of emergency and to in tandem release all of those civilian leaders and protest organizers detained since the takeover on October 25th. We believe that internet access, free flow of information is part and parcel of any and every society, and that includes in Sudan, where the Sudanese people have very clearly demonstrated by peacefully taking to the streets their aspirations for not only democracy and human rights but some of these very tools that have been denied to them by the military in recent days.

On your question on loans and lending and international financial assistance, we have made clear since October 25th that there would be tangible costs – and there have been tangible costs – for the military if it doesn’t reverse course and reinstate the civilian-led transitional government, as well as releasing those that it has detained. We’ve spoken of our suspension of $700 million in emergency support funding that previously would’ve gone to support the transition. We have also made clear that we are – that the Sudanese military’s actions put at risk billions of dollars from the international community. More than $4 billion in international assistance from bilateral partners and international financial institutions and at least 19 billion in debt relief is at risk because of these actions. So there is quite a lot for the military to lose should it not reverse course.

I will hasten to add at the same time that what is not at stake is our humanitarian assistance to the people of Sudan. Even as we continue to enact ways and look at ways to hold military leaders responsible for their takeover, for their anti-democratic actions, we’ll continue to support the people of Sudan with humanitarian assistance. That is completely separate from this.

Yes, (inaudible).

QUESTION: The Chinese Communist Party issued a directive last week urging people to go out and stock up on food. It led to some chaos around the country, stockpiling. Just wondered if the State Department had seen those reports, if it was concerned about food shortages in China, and if it could say anything else.

MR PRICE: I’ve seen those reports. I don’t have a comment on them. I would need to refer you to the PRC for comment or explanation or their rationale of this. We do know that the PRC has enacted fairly strict measures when it comes to its attempts to contain the spread of COVID-19. President Xi Jinping for his part has not traveled outside the country for the better part of two years, since early 2020, and the PRC writ large is taking fairly drastic action. But again, I don’t have a specific response. I’d need to refer you to authorities in Beijing.

QUESTION: Will China be at the ministerial – take part in the ministerial on COVID tomorrow? Have they been invited?

MR PRICE: We will have more on participants for you tomorrow. What I can say is that those countries that will be represented will entail a cross-section of the global community and there will be geographic diversity represented in those countries and institutions in attendance.

Yes.

QUESTION: And can I ask one more about Paul Whelan?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: His lawyer says that the U.S. is no longer negotiating for his release. Have you any comments on Paul Whelan and also on other Americans held in Russia?

MR PRICE: Securing the release of Americans who are unjustly detained in Russia – that includes, of course, Paul Whelan; that includes Trevor Reed – remains an absolute priority for this administration. We have raised the case of Paul Whelan and others at the very highest levels. When President Biden had an opportunity to meet with President Putin in Geneva over the summer, this was a topic of discussion; in many of Secretary Blinken’s conversations with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov, we have also raised these discussions. But I can tell you that we are continuing to press this issue with the utmost priority. We’re doing it at the working level and we’re doing it at the most – at the highest levels possible.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for taking my question. My name is Ryo Nakamura with Japan’s Nikkei Asia. I want to start with questions about U.S.-Japan relations. When Secretary Blinken visited Tokyo in March, the U.S. and Japan agreed to have another 2+2 meeting within this year; then there are just less than two months to go. Are you still looking at having a 2+2 meeting with Japan later this year?

MR PRICE: Well, I don’t have any meetings to announce at this time. But obviously, the 2+2 format, which we conducted both in Japan and the Republic of Korea, is a highly effective and productive one, bringing to bear much of the breadth of our relationship with the Government of Japan, with the people of Japan. As you know, it was the first stop on Secretary Blinken’s first overseas trip as Secretary of State, which I think underscores the priority we attach to our alliance with Japan. And so I am certain that we’ll have an opportunity for additional engagements, including in the 2+2 format, going forward. I just don’t have any specifics to announce.

QUESTION: Okay. A quick follow-up on that. Japan’s Kishida administration with – will revise the national security strategy starting this month. Do you expect Japan to play much bigger role diplomatically and militarily in addressing the pacing challenges of China in the Indo-Pacific region?

MR PRICE: Well, Japan, as a treaty ally, plays an indispensable role in the maintenance, protection, and defense of a free and open Indo-Pacific. This is something that we have discussed with our Japanese partners, our Japanese allies on a bilateral basis, but we’ve also worked with them multilaterally, including in the context of the Quad, where Japan is one of the members. Japan plays an important role in upholding the values that we share with our Quad partners and in pursuing many of the common interests – security interests, economic interests, political interests, and, of course, the people-to-people ties that bind the United States and Japan.

QUESTION: Just the last question about different topic. The U.S. congressional delegation reportedly arrived in Taipei earlier today. Could you confirm the report?

MR PRICE: I will refer you to that congressional delegation. As you know, delegations from our Congress often do travel overseas. But we’ll leave it to them to characterize their trip.

QUESTION: Well, wait, you said “the delegation.” So there is one?

MR PRICE: I will leave —

QUESTION: Is there a delegation that we can be referred to?

MR PRICE: I would refer you to Congress.

QUESTION: So if there was – so you won’t even confirm that there is actually a group of – a CODEL in Taipei?

MR PRICE: It is not our practice to confirm congressional delegations or to speak to them.

QUESTION: Well, but you – but you referred us to “the delegation.”

MR PRICE: I would – I would refer you —

QUESTION: But now you’re saying that maybe there is no delegation. It might just be an ethereal kind of —

MR PRICE: The question was about a congressional delegation in Taiwan. That’s not for us to speak to.

QUESTION: Can I ask about Syria?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Quick question. Today the Emirati foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan met in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Do you have any comment on that?

MR PRICE: Well, we are concerned by reports of this meeting and the signal it sends.  As we’ve said before, this administration will not express any support for efforts to normalize or to rehabilitate —

QUESTION: Right.

MR PRICE: — Bashar al-Assad, who is a brutal dictator. We urge states in the region to carefully consider the atrocities that this regime, that Bashar al-Assad himself has perpetrated on the Syrian people over the last decade, as well as the regime’s ongoing efforts to deny much of the country access to humanitarian aid and security. This is an issue that we often do have opportunity to discuss with our close partners in the region, including with our Emirati partners, and we’ve made very clear where we stand on this.

QUESTION: So are you at odds with them? Because this seems to be the track most Arab countries are taking. Egypt is doing the same thing, reaching out and so on. Saudi Arabia probably behind the scenes are doing it, Kuwait – some – most of your allies in the region are headed in that direction, maybe with the exception of Qatar.

MR PRICE: As I often do, I will leave it to our partners, I will leave it to our allies to characterize their position on Syria, their position on the Assad regime. When it comes to our position on the Assad regime, look, we will not normalize or upgrade our diplomatic relations with the Assad regime, nor do we support other countries normalizing or upgrading their relations, given the atrocities that this regime has inflicted on its own people, on the Syrian people.

We believe – and this I am confident that we share with many of our partners – that stability in Syria and the greater region can only be achieved through a political process that represents the will of all Syrians, and we’re committed to working with allies, we’re committed to working with partners, and the UN toward the achievement of a durable political solution.

QUESTION: So if your allies decide that getting Syria back into the Arab fold is in their interest, you’re not going to take them to the woodshed, are you? I mean, are you going to be at odds with them and express that and perhaps – I don’t know what action you would take to dissuade them from doing that. But it seems the direction they will take.

MR PRICE: We will do whatever is most productive towards this cause of a political settlement. Look, when it comes to Syria, we have focused on several objectives, and we have done so in close cooperation and coordination with our partners. One is expanding humanitarian access. That is of the utmost priority to us. It is also something that the Assad regime has sought to counteract and to limit at every turn. We’ve sought to sustain the U.S. and the coalition effort against ISIS, against al-Qaida and terrorist groups in Syria. We have signaled our collective demand for accountability from the Assad regime and for the preservation of international norms, such as the promotion of human rights and nonproliferation, including through the imposition of targeted sanctions. And we have sought to sustain the local ceasefires in place across the country.

So we’re continuing to assess how best to advance the prospects for a political settlement as outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 2254, and we’ll continue to consult closely with our allies and partners knowing that they too have a very important role as we seek to bring this about.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: So Ned, have you guys then conveyed to UAE your discontent about this meeting?

MR PRICE: We have an opportunity to speak with our Gulf partners on a number of occasions. As you know, Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to see his Emirati counterpart when we were last in Europe and the United Kingdom. We have with all of our close partners the ability to have frank and candid conversations, and I can assure you that we will avail ourselves of those opportunities when we need to.

QUESTION: And in that candid conversation, did the UAE foreign minister give him a heads up about this meeting?

MR PRICE: I don’t want to further characterize the meeting publicly. I will say that we were not taken by surprise.

QUESTION: Right. There is a suggestion, though, that this is all – United States is giving a veiled green light. What would you say to that? Because while you guys say you don’t normalize any efforts to rehabilitate Assad, are you thinking about taking any punitive action for those who are rehabilitating Assad?

MR PRICE: I don’t know how anyone could take my comments, could hear my comments, and interpret any sort of green light or even a yellow light. We will not express any support for efforts to normalize or rehabilitate Bashar al-Assad, whom we have characterized as a brutal dictator. When it comes to our approach, we will do what is in the best interests of bringing about a political settlement in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

QUESTION: Okay, my last one, though. Does the United States still want Assad gone?

MR PRICE: There has been no change in our position. Bashar al-Assad certainly —

QUESTION: His days are numbered.

MR PRICE: — certainly has not done anything that would rehabilitate his image, that would suggest that he or the regime is changing its ways. But we are focused on those areas that I outlined before on humanitarian access, on the fight against these terrorist groups, on accountability from the Assad regime, including through the imposition of sanctions – and we just impose another round of sanctions in July – and, of course, keeping in place these local ceasefires that have at least suspended the violence throughout parts of Syria.

QUESTION: Right. But if you guys want him gone, and if more and more regional allies are recognizing him and doing more business with him, isn’t that going to be much more difficult for him to be gone if you don’t do anything actively to prevent the rehabilitation?

MR PRICE: We are making very clear where we stand. We are taking targeted action, including through the use of Caesar and other sanctions authorities, against those responsible for some of these egregious abuses of human rights in Syria. We are continuing to coordinate closely with our allies and partners, including in furtherance of the goals laid out in UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

Yes.

QUESTION: If I could follow up on that, when can we expect the administration to conclude its internal policy review on Syria? I think the common criticism has been the lack of that policy review has signaled a hands-off approach to Syria.

MR PRICE: Well, I would take issue with that characterization, you’re probably not surprised to hear me say, because we have been very clear about where we are expending our efforts and what we think is most important in terms of our engagement with Syria, and it’s really these four lines of effort. And these are four lines of effort that not only have the United States Government working to fulfill them and to enact them, but also have broad and deep support from our closest partners in the region.

There is broad and deep consensus that there needs to be expanded humanitarian access. The Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and collective efforts to take on al-Qaida remain active and engaged against those target sets in Syria. We have signaled the prioritization we attach to accountability for the human rights abuses, and much of the world too has not only voiced its outrage over what the Assad regime has perpetrated against its own people, but using their own domestic authorities have acted similarly as well; and then, of course, the local ceasefires that have at least diminished the violence in parts of Syria. We have sought to uphold and protect them, working, again, in close coordination with many of our regional partners.

Kylie.

QUESTION: Can we just circle back to Yemen and reports of Yemenis who work for the U.S. being detained by Houthi rebels? Do you have any update on that?

MR PRICE: What I can say at this point is that we are extremely concerned by reports of detentions of some of our local Yemeni employees in Sanaa, and we call for their immediate release. We have been unceasing in our behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts to secure their release. We’ve seen some progress and we’re continuing to work this critical issue. The majority of those who have been detained are no longer in custody. We are committed to ensuring the safety of those who serve the U.S. Government overseas, and that is why we are so actively engaged on this matter, including through our international partners.

QUESTION: And do you know how many in total were detained and why?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any update I’m in a position to relay at this time. But again, the majority of them have been released, and when we have more details to share, we will.

Yes, Lara.

QUESTION: Just very quickly, do you have any update on the drone strike against the Iraqi prime minister? And I’m sorry if I missed this, but is the United States assisting at all in that investigation?

MR PRICE: This is an Iraqi investigation. We are deferring to the course of that investigation. We have been in close contact with our Iraqi partners. As you know, Secretary Blinken had an opportunity on Sunday to speak to Prime Minister Kadhimi. The Secretary today spoke with President Salih of Iraq as well, again, to underscore our commitment to the Government of Iraq, to the people of Iraq, and to note that we recognize this attack against the prime minister himself as being representative of an attack against the Iraqi state, an attack against the Iraqi security forces. So we’ve been very clear that any support or assistance that Iraqi authorities need we will stand ready to provide as appropriate. I’m not aware that we’ve received any such specific requests just yet, but certainly stand ready and stand ready to continue to support our Iraqi partners.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thanks. A couple quick ones on Ukraine. Can the State Department give any insight into whether or not U.S. warnings from CIA Director Bill Burns about Russia’s buildup on Ukraine’s border has been heeded by Moscow? And also, France’s Foreign Ministry said today that Russia refused to accept a ministerial meeting with France, Ukraine, and Germany to discuss the conflict in eastern Ukraine. I know that the State Department’s already expressed their concern about the buildup last week. Does this department have any insight as to why Russia is now refusing that ministerial meeting with European allies?

MR PRICE: Well, you referenced the concern we’ve expressed to the military buildup, and we are in fact concerned with the public reports of unusual Russian military activity near Ukraine. It’s not for us to speak to Russian intentions, but we are monitoring the situation very closely, as we always do, and we’ll continue to consult with our allies and partners on this issue. As you know, the Secretary will have an opportunity to meet with his Ukrainian counterpart tomorrow. We will have a strategic dialogue with Ukraine here at the department tomorrow. It was last week that the Secretary and President Biden had an opportunity to consult with President Zelenskyy, and you referenced the high-level visit from CIA Director Burns to Moscow.

As we’ve made clear in the past, any escalatory or aggressive action would be of great concern to the United States, and so that’s why we’ll continue to support de-escalation in the region and a diplomatic resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. This is what President Biden and Secretary Blinken made clear to President Zelenskyy at – during their meetings on the margins of COP26. They were unambiguous that our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering. We stand with Ukraine, we stand with Kyiv, and condemn all Russian aggression against Ukraine in all forms. We’ll have an opportunity to do that again in person tomorrow during the course of this strategic dialogue.

QUESTION: Could I – what do you mean it’s not for you to speak to Russian intentions when you just – basically you said that they were being aggressive toward —

MR PRICE: That’s a descriptor rather than a characterization of any intent.

QUESTION: When you speak to Russian intentions or Chinese – you speak to a lot of people’s intentions all the time.

MR PRICE: We speak to their actions and we speak of our response to certain actions.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PRICE: We’re concerned to – by these —

QUESTION: So you don’t think that the Chinese are putting any pressure – they don’t have any pressure they’re putting on Taiwan, or you don’t think that Russia is putting any pressure on Ukraine or Georgia?

MR PRICE: We – what we’re speaking to in this case are the reports of unusual Russian military activities near Ukraine. It’s not for us to say – to speak to underlying intentions.

QUESTION: Can I just – can I just get your “no comment” or your “I’ll defer to the Department of Justice” on this situation with this American guy who was apparently trying to – I guess “defect” is the wrong word, but apparently trying to become Belarusian.

MR PRICE: Well, we’ve seen Belarusian state media reporting about this individual, Evan Neumann. Due to U.S. privacy laws, we’re limited in what we can say about individual U.S. citizens. And you’re right; we will refer you to the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: A quick Iran question?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The Israeli chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi, said that Israel is accelerating operational preparedness to possible – for a possible strike against Iranian nuclear facilities and so on. Are such statements – can this – a statement like this complicate your effort to go back to the Vienna negotiation? How does that impact it?

MR PRICE: We have been sincere and steadfast in our belief, in our statements, that we – in our confidence that a mutual return to compliance remains the most effective means by which to permanently and verifiably ensure that Iran is never able to acquire a nuclear weapon. We believe that a diplomatic outcome, a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, is in America’s national interests, but it’s also in the interests of our partners and allies in the region to see to it that Iran is never in a position to acquire a nuclear weapon. That is why we continue to seek constructive engagement in Vienna, including when the talks resume later this month.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thanks. Is there any more you can share on the human rights focused meeting that you referenced yesterday with the Egyptians? Did they make any commitments regarding the concerns that Secretary Blinken raised?

MR PRICE: Well, we will have a joint statement emanating from the two-day Strategic Dialogue, but there was a session on human rights. It was one of the first sessions of the Strategic Dialogue. It was constructive. It focused on human rights and fundamental freedoms, including civil and political rights; freedom of expression; fighting racism; women’s empowerment; economic, social, and cultural rights.

As we’ve said before, we welcomed Egypt’s national human rights strategy and its plans to advance human rights in the country in cooperation with civil society. The Egyptians have welcomed our election on the Human Rights Council. We will continue in every engagement to raise and to discuss these important issues of human rights with our Egyptian partners, knowing just how important they are.

QUESTION: Did you bring up specific cases?

MR PRICE: Again, we have made very clear with our Egyptian partners the steps that Egypt would need to take in order to enjoy the full benefit of the assistance that has not been provided to date. So the Egyptians are – have those full details that we have provided to them in some – in some detail.

QUESTION: Why are those details, why are those steps that you want Egypt to take, are private? If they’re private, how will they be held accountable?

MR PRICE: Our goal in all of this is to see improvement on specific cases and on specific issues. All of our tactics are calibrated towards that overarching goal. If we feel that it would be more productive to take a different approach, more productive in the case of a particular individual, in the case of a particular issue, we would take a different approach. But we’ve determined that these tactics are most appropriate to further the objectives that we have set out. And just because they are not known publicly, they, of course, are known to us. They are known to the Egyptians. So the question of accountability is one that we can determine.

QUESTION: Was there a timeframe that was given to them for when you want this improvement to take place?

MR PRICE: There have been specific discussions on all of these fronts with our Egyptian partners.

Shaun.

QUESTION: A separate question on Pakistan. The Pakistanis, I believe it was yesterday, announced the start of dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban, which, of course, has links to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Does the United States have any comment on the diplomacy there? I believe it’s still – the Pakistani Taliban is still considered a terrorist movement here.

MR PRICE: If we have a specific reaction on the Pakistani dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban, we’ll, of course, let you know. But we have been in regular contact with the Pakistani leadership regarding the question of Afghanistan, regarding our approach to Afghanistan and the approach that we have seen expressed by the international community. We’ve had an occasion to speak to our engagement with Pakistan on this challenge before.

We have heard both publicly and privately from our Pakistani counterparts that they too have an interest in seeing to it that the gains, including among Afghanistan’s minorities, including among its women and girls, over the past 20 years not be squandered. And so there is quite a bit of alignment of interest when it comes to Afghanistan, and we’re continuing to have those conversations. Tom West, our new special representative for Afghanistan, will be in a position to continue some of these discussions in the days ahead.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:11 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – November 8, 2021

2:16 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Okay. I will beg your indulgence at the top. We have a few items to get through, and by a few, I mean slightly more than a few.

First, starting today, foreign national air travelers to the United States will be required, with only limited exceptions, to be fully vaccinated and to provide proof of vaccination status prior to boarding an airplane to the United States. The new international air travel policy is stringent. It is consistent across the globe. And it is guided by public health. This new global travel system replaces the existing country-by-country restrictions, putting in place a consistent approach worldwide. There is no need as of today for foreign national travelers who have been in one of the 33 countries with restrictions to obtain national interest exceptions, in order to travel to the United States.

When it comes to testing, fully vaccinated air travelers, age 2 and over, continue to be required to show proof of vaccination and documentation of a negative COVID test, viral COVID test, taken within three days of the flight’s departure to the United States before boarding. That includes all travelers – U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and foreign nationals alike.

To further strengthen protections, unvaccinated travelers, whether they are U.S. citizens, whether they are LPRs, or the small number of accepted unvaccinated foreign nationals, now need to show documentation of a negative COVID – viral COVID test, taken within one day of the flight’s departure to the United States. Again, this goes into effect today, and we know there is a welcome for it around the world.

Next, today the Department of State, through the Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program, announced a reward offer of up to $10 million for information leading to the identification or location of any individual or individuals who hold key leadership positions in the Sodinokibi and REvil ransomware variant transnational organized crime group. The depart is also offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and/or the conviction of any individual conspiring to participate in or attempting to participate in a Sodinokibi/REvil ransomware incident.

Since its first known ransomware incident in April of 2019, this group has allegedly victimized more than 1,000 entities in multiple industry sectors. That includes in private businesses, law enforcement agencies, government agencies, and educational and medical institutions. This announcement complements today’s coordinated counter-ransomware actions from the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the Department of the Treasury. The United States remains committed to protecting all ransomware victims around the world from the exploitation of cyber criminals; and we look to nations who harbor ransomware criminals to bring to justice for businesses and organizations victimized by ransomware incidents.

Next, we are concerned with disturbing images and reports emanating from the Belarus/Poland border this weekend. The United States strongly condemns the Lukashenka regime’s political exploitation and coercion of vulnerable people, and the regime’s callous and inhumane facilitation of irregular migration flows across its borders. We call on the regime to immediately halt its campaign of orchestrating and coercing irregular migrant flows across its borders into Europe. As long as the regime in Belarus refuses to respect its international obligations and commitments, undermines the peace and security of Europe, and continues to repress and abuse people seeking nothing more than to live in freedom, we will continue to pressure Lukashenka and will not lessen our calls for accountability. The United States will continue to stand by Poland, and all of our partners in Europe, who have been threatened by Belarus’s unacceptable actions.

Next, today marks the one-year anniversary since Burma held elections. We previously noted, from independent observers, that the November 8th elections last year, despite some concerns, were credible and reaffirmed the commitment of the Burmese people to democracy. The military’s coup on February 1st of this year and ongoing violent crackdown, however, have undermined human rights and fundamental freedoms, suppressed the will of the people, and reversed a decade of progress towards a genuine democracy that the people of Burma clearly demand.

Today, I join the Secretary in honoring the people of Burma who strive to restore the path to democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law in their country, including the more than 1,300 innocent people who have lost their lives in that struggle. The United States is committed to promoting justice and accountability for these and other abuses. We also reiterate our call for the military regime to immediately cease violence, release all those unjustly detained, and return Burma’s path to a genuine and inclusive democracy.

Next, the United States is deeply concerned about the deteriorating health of PRC citizen journalist Ms. Zhang Zhan. According to multiple reports citing her relatives’ comments, Ms. Zhang is near death. In December of 2020, Beijing authorities sentenced Ms. Zhang to four years in prison on charges associated with her journalism on COVID-19 in Wuhan. The United States, along with other diplomatic missions – we have repeatedly expressed our serious concerns about the arbitrary nature of her detention and her mistreatment during it. We reiterate our call to the PRC for her immediate and unconditional release and for Beijing to respect a free press and the right of people to express themselves freely.

Today Secretary Blinken met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry at the opening of the U.S.-Egypt Strategic Dialogue, the first bilateral dialogue held since 2015. The Secretary and the foreign minister welcome the opportunity to deepen the strong partnership between the United States and Egypt. I assume many of you heard their comments and saw their comments, earlier today. In addition to individuals from the Department of State, U.S. participants in the dialogue include those from USAID, Department of Defense, and senior Egyptian officials representing different cabinet ministries.

The dialogue provides a valuable opportunity to exchange views on key regional security issues. That includes developments in Sudan, Libya, Syria, and the broader region as well. U.S. and Egyptian officials will discuss ongoing efforts to restore the civilian-led transitional government and prevent violence in Sudan.

We also will have conversation on human rights. President Biden has committed to putting human rights at the center of our foreign policy, and we look forward to a constructive discussion on that front, including on civil and political rights, freedom of expression, and Egypt’s recently announced national human rights strategy.

We also discussed President Biden’s support for increased economic cooperation in Egypt’s water security, which was reaffirmed by Secretary Blinken when he met with President Sisi earlier this year in Cairo, and our efforts to encourage negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Our interagency team and Egyptian delegation will together explore ways to deepen bilateral cooperation on judicial, security, educational, and cultural issues. This strategic dialogue is an opportunity to advance each of these areas of collaboration to improve the lives of both Americans and Egyptians.

And with all that said, I am happy to turn to your questions.

QUESTION: That’s it?

MR PRICE: That’s it.

QUESTION: Oh, I was expecting —

MR PRICE: Saved a minute or two for questions.

QUESTION: I was expecting another hour or so.

MR PRICE: It’s busy times.

QUESTION: Let me – I have a couple things, but I’ll make them extremely brief and won’t get too much into detail. One, on your opening on Belarus, is there – there isn’t anything new, though, in terms of sanctions or actions that you’re taking today, is there? (Inaudible.)

MR PRICE: We’re not announcing any new actions today. As you know, Matt, we have announced a series of policy steps that in some cases we have taken together with our partners and our allies in Europe as well.

QUESTION: All right. Okay. Secondly – and I’m not expecting much on this – but did – you have seen – obviously you’ve seen these reports coming from – I don’t know what you – cyber investigators that the NSO, the Israeli company NSO, it hacked some of the phones of the Palestinian – of members of the Palestinian NGOs that were designated as terrorist groups. I’m wondering what you make of those allegations.

MR PRICE: I’ve seen those reports. I don’t have a response to them. What I can tell you is to reiterate that we had a constructive discussion with an Israeli delegation that was visiting last week. The delegation provided a verbal briefing on information that they had on certain groups. They also provided written materials. We’ve provided those written materials to our counterparts in the administration. We’re going to take a very close look at them as we —

QUESTION: All right, but you haven’t – but you haven’t yet reached any kind of conclusion based on the information they’ve provided, and you don’t have anything – or do you – to say about these allegations, the hacking allegations?

MR PRICE: We intend, and we are, together with our partners throughout the interagency, to take a very close look at the information that was provided to us in written form, to cross-reference that information with what we may have in our own holdings, and from that we’ll form an informed judgment.

QUESTION: And then lastly, on the Egypt, in his discussions with Foreign Minister Shoukry, did the Secretary raise specific cases that you – human rights cases that you guys are concerned about? And did he provide a – I don’t know – a roadmap, for lack of a better word, for what the Egyptians must do or need to do to get the 130 million, that’s been withheld, restored?

MR PRICE: Well, the human rights discussion is actually ongoing right now. I believe it started at 1:45 or perhaps just a little bit thereafter, so I don’t have a readout to provide. We may have some additional – that clock is an hour fast.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PRICE: We need to correct that. Obviously, has not accounted for falling back here.

But I would expect that the human rights discussion will have some specificity attached to it, and if we have more details to read out, we will.

QUESTION: But in terms of the withheld – the money that’s being withheld, did they get into details about what must be done to free it up?

MR PRICE: Well – so, Matt, as we discussed – I believe it was in September when we talked about the FMF decision – we have conveyed to Egypt’s leaders specific steps we’ve urged them to take. We’ve made —

QUESTION: Which are?

MR PRICE: Of course, these steps are conveyed privately, but also very clearly, and we will leave them to those private discussions.

QUESTION: A follow-up (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: In the Secretary’s remarks with Mr. Shoukry, we heard a lot of efforts to kind of move forward, to talk about economic ties, to talk about security ties in the region. And Secretary Blinken seemed to say that he appreciated Egypt’s human rights blueprint that they’d put forward. So, is that the correct understanding? Are the two countries moving forward in their relations, despite the previous hang-up of the human rights issue?

MR PRICE: Well, our relationship with Egypt is a multifaceted one. Egypt is a valuable partner across many fronts. That is why the Strategic Dialogue that is occurring both today and tomorrow will cover a broad range of issues. We’ve talked about and they will talk about regional security issues. They will talk about specific countries and developments of concern in Sudan, in Ethiopia. As you mentioned, they will talk about our economic ties. They will talk about energy issues as well. They’ll talk about issues like artifacts as also on the agenda.

But yes, human rights is certainly on the agenda. And as I mentioned just a moment ago, the human rights discussion is ongoing right now. Human rights has always been on the table when we’ve met with our Egyptian counterparts. When we went to Cairo, Secretary Blinken had a conversation with President Sisi on this very topic. Every time he has spoken with his Egyptian counterpart, Foreign Minister Shoukry, he has also raised human rights.

So, we have made very clear to the Egyptians our concerns. We have also welcomed certain steps they have taken, including this human rights strategy that you referred to. We will continue to make clear where we find our areas of concern to be, and we will continue to welcome progress that we see going forward.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can we go to Ethiopia? Can you tell us if Special Envoy Feltman is still in Ethiopia, is traveling in the region, if he’s back from Ethiopia? What are the results of his multiple engagements over the weekend? Do you have any sense that he is making progress there? And, also, is he having any engagement with the TPLF or the – or Oromo Liberation Army, or you’re not talking to them?

MR PRICE: Sure. To your question, the temporal reference is important. I think the last time we were in this room, Special Envoy Feltman was in Ethiopia. He has since left Ethiopia to return. Let me come back to that and unpack that a little bit.

Before I do, let me just reiterate that we remain fully engaged in efforts to move all sides towards an immediate cessation of hostilities. All of those in need, regardless of ethnicity, should have immediate access to lifesaving humanitarian assistance. We call for an immediate end to human rights abuses and violations being committed against civilians. Our embassy in Addis Ababa remains open under the leadership of our ambassador. Special Envoy Feltman does remain in the region, where he is working to further our diplomatic efforts, and we urge all parties to end restraint – to use restraint, excuse me, to end hostilities, to respect human rights, and to protect civilians on the path towards an immediate cessation of hostilities.

Let me make a couple other points before I talk about our diplomacy. As you know, our embassy went to ordered departure recently. We are urging U.S. citizens in Ethiopia to depart the country, using commercially available options. We’ve been saying this for several days now. We understand that commercial options remain available in Addis. The embassy is in a position to help the American citizen community in Ethiopia secure their departure from the country. We understand there is adequate space available, capacity available, on these flights. And, in the past several days, there have been more than a dozen flights leaving the airport in Addis.

We are providing a range of services to the American citizen community in Addis. We are prioritizing that even as we have gone on ordered departure to reduce our footprint from our embassy in Addis.

We, importantly, can even provide a repatriation loan for U.S. citizens, who cannot afford at this time to purchase a U.S. commercial – a commercial ticket to the United States. U.S. citizens in Ethiopia who are interested in pursuing these options, and we encourage all of them to do so, should contact the embassy. There is an email address available on the embassy website.

We are, as I said, engaged in concerted diplomacy to urge all parties to end the hostilities immediately. We have called on the Ethiopian Government and the TPLF and the OLA to enter into negotiations without preconditions towards a sustainable cessation of hostilities, and for Eritrean forces to withdraw immediately and permanently from Ethiopia.

Now, when it comes to Ambassador Feltman’s activity in the region, he returned to Ethiopia today, from Kenya – and I’ll come to that – to continue to urgently press the parties to de-escalate the conflict and negotiate, as I said before, a cessation of hostilities.

He continues to raise our concern about the risk of intercommunal violence, and that is a concern that we’ve raised repeatedly with Ethiopian authorities and regional authorities in recent days. But following his meeting – meetings on his current trip, we believe there is a small window of opening to work with the AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa, former President Obasanjo, whom he will see again tonight in Addis, where Ambassador Feltman has returned, to further joint efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict in Ethiopia. We are working with international partners to address the crisis in Ethiopia, including through action with the UN, the AU, and other relevant partners and bodies.

You all may have seen some of the statements that have emanated from the region in recent days, in recent hours. Of course, the UN Security Council, which will hold an open session on Ethiopia today, released a statement. And as Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said, the council spoke with one voice, calling for an end to the violence and a cessation of hostilities. You may also have seen that President Kenyatta, with whom Ambassador Feltman has met in Nairobi in recent days, issued a similar statement, calling for dialogue and urging a few points. President Kenyatta made many of the same points that we have been making: All hostilities must cease. A political solution is the only solution. There should be no incitement – no incitement to violence. Instead, we must work to de-escalate tensions and hostilities. He noted the fact that we must address the humanitarian situation with some urgency, and the parties to the conflict must allow humanitarian access, which has been restricted for many of those in need for far too long; and of course, the imperative of respecting human rights for all and by all.

And so, the actors, the forces in Ethiopia have heard a consistent message emanating from the United States, emanating from other countries in the region, emanating from the UN Security Council. Of course, the conflict in Ethiopia predates this administration. Unfortunately, it was last week that we marked a somber milestone: one full year of violence in Tigray. And since the earliest days of this administration, President Biden, Secretary Blinken have prioritized our diplomacy to find a way out of this violence. It has involved not only the special envoy, but Secretary Blinken in his repeated engagements, the National Security Advisor, Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman, Assistant Secretary Phee – all of them have been very much engaged in this.

We have held – and Special Envoy Feltman, in his seven or so months on the job, have held over – has held over 300 engagements with the AU, with the UN, with the EU, with regional neighbors as well. This diplomacy has been concerted. It has been intense. If you just look at the schedule that Ambassador Feltman has maintained over the past few days where he has shuttled back and forth between Ethiopia and Kenya – as I mentioned before, as of today he is now back in Ethiopia, he is back in Addis.

We will have more to read out when his trip concludes, or at least this chapter of his trip concludes. As we’ve made clear, last week on November 4th, he met in Ethiopia with a number of Ethiopian officials and regional officials. He met with African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki. He met with Ethiopian Minister of Defense Belay, Minister of Finance Ahmed Shide, Deputy Prime Minister Hassen. He met with Prime Minister Abiy the following day, on November 5th. And, over the weekend. he met with President Kenyatta in Nairobi to consult on Ethiopia.

As we’ve said, we certainly value the leadership that President Kenyatta has demonstrated, and we appreciate the constructive visit that Special Envoy Feltman had to Nairobi from where he has just traveled, back to Addis.

When it comes to the TPLF, we have engaged with the TPLF, as well. We are engaging with the parties to try and put them on a path to a cessation of hostilities, which is our priority now and going forward.

QUESTION: That was a long one.

QUESTION: Ned, you can say your diplomacy has been concerted and intense, but can you say it’s been successful?

MR PRICE: Matt —

QUESTION: There, or Sudan, or Lebanon, or Yemen?

MR PRICE: Matt, it is —

QUESTION: Can you – I’m not one to blame the U.S. for all the world’s ills —

MR PRICE: For —

QUESTION: — but you’re the one who’s just come out and given a five-minute list of all the meetings that have been going on. And has the situation gotten better or worse —

MR PRICE: Well, I —

QUESTION: — since this administration took office and began —

MR PRICE: I —

QUESTION: — this intense diplomacy?

QUESTION: I was just asking where it was now.

MR PRICE: That’s right.

QUESTION: Well, exactly. But —

MR PRICE: I —

QUESTION: It wasn’t the question. You decided to – so has it been successful?

MR PRICE: I was asked about his activities —

QUESTION: Fair enough. And has the concerted —

MR PRICE: — so I thought it was prudent to answer the question and talk about —

QUESTION: Has the administration’s concerted and intense diplomacy in the —

MR PRICE: Has this —

QUESTION: Has —

MR PRICE: Has this administration’s concerted diplomacy solved a problem that predates this administration?

QUESTION: No, it – that doesn’t matter. I’m just asking you —

MR PRICE: It actually does matter, Matt.

QUESTION: No, it matters. I know you’ve been in office for eight months —

MR PRICE: Matt, what matters —

QUESTION: — and you’re talking about how important this is —

MR PRICE: What matters – what —

QUESTION: — and how much effort and time and money —

MR PRICE: What matters, Matt —

QUESTION: — you’ve put into it, and I just want to know: Can you say that it’s successful or not?

MR PRICE: What matters, Matt, is that we have been engaged on this. We, as I said before, see a window of opportunity here. The United States is engaged. We are working with Ethiopian authorities as well as with the countries in the region. Why don’t we come back to this —

QUESTION: Sure.

MR PRICE: — in the coming days when this diplomacy will have been ongoing, and we can point to progress.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: It is not in the DNA of this administration to sit on the sidelines, or worse, to take actions or engage in rhetoric that may only inflame tensions. So, it is very much in our DNA to be engaged, to be engaged constructively, to work with our international partners to try and put an end to the suffering, to the violence, to the humanitarian emergency that has afflicted the people of Tigray and other regions of Ethiopia.

Andrea.

QUESTION: Can you talk about Iraq and the assassination attempt? What are your initial findings in terms of who may have been responsible – there’s an obvious – an obvious neighbor that has sponsored militia attacks before – and how that might affect other diplomatic —

MR PRICE: Well, when it comes – go ahead.

QUESTION: And will there be another U.S. response – will there be a U.S. response to —

MR PRICE: When it comes to the culpability, there is an Iraqi investigation that’s underway. We are going to defer to the Iraqis for the progress of that investigation. We have made very clear, Secretary Blinken has made very clear, President Biden has made very clear in his statements that the United States stands ready to assist in any and every way we can with the Iraqi investigation should they request our assistance.

But broadly, and to come back to your question, we are outraged, and we strongly condemn the attack on Iraq’s prime minister. He, the prime minister, Prime Minister Kadhimi, represents not only the head of government, but he represents the state of Iraq. And he is the commander-in-chief of Iraq’s security forces, and therefore we believe that this was an attack not only on him, but also on the sovereignty and stability of the Iraqi state. As I said before, the President has issued a very clear instruction to his national security team that we are to provide every form of appropriate assistance that our Iraqi partners may need in this. As you know, Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to speak yesterday with Prime Minister Kadhimi. He reiterated the same message. He condemned the attack, he noted his relief that the prime minister was unharmed in this, and he also underscored the importance we place on our partnership with the Government of Iraq and pledge to support the Iraqi security forces as they investigate this.

QUESTION: Well, if it – I mean, how can the United States, after pouring decades of support for the legitimate government and legitimate elections in Iraq – how can the United States stand back and not take some kind of action if you find and if the Iraqis find who might be responsible?

MR PRICE: I didn’t say we wouldn’t. I said we are going to defer to the Iraqi investigation, which is ongoing. As you know, we reserve the right in coordination with our partners – in this case, the Government of Iraq – to respond to aggression at a time and place, and with the means of our choosing. But again, before we speak about a response, we will let the Iraqi investigation proceed. We will continue to consult closely with our Iraqi partners. If they determine that they have any needs that their own capacities and capabilities leave unmet, we are happy to provide that assistance and together we will chart the next steps.

QUESTION: One more thing. If it does turn out that Iran is responsible, would this impact other negotiations or other tracks with Iran?

MR PRICE: Again, I’m not going to engage in a hypothetical about who may or may not be responsible. You are correct that we’ve seen a number of attacks that have been – that have had links to Iran-backed groups. But when it comes to this attack, we’re going to let the investigation play out.

Please.

QUESTION: Regarding the Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink’s upcoming travel to Seoul, there has been reporting that he will be meeting with South Korean presidential candidates. Is that true?

MR PRICE: We issued a Media Note on this. As you know, Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink is in Seoul right now. He is meeting with government counterparts. He will then travel to Tokyo, where he also will meet with counterparts. We’ll have readouts of those engagements, I suspect, when his travel ends.

QUESTION: And what is he – is the secretary planning – if the secretary’s planning to discuss with the Korean Government during his visit? Are there any topics that you know of, and will the end of war declaration be on table?

MR PRICE: Well, I would suspect that the threat that is posed by the DPRK’s missile and ballistic – ballistic missile and nuclear program will certainly be on the table, as will our strategy to advance the prospects for the complete and total denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will also be a topic of discussion as well. But our relationship with the ROK, our treaty ally, is broad and it’s deep. So, that there will be a number of issues that they discuss together.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up question on that. Mr. Sullivan said that the U.S. and Korea have different perspectives on the end of war declaration. Will there be dialogue to narrow the difference during his visit?

MR PRICE: We see eye-to-eye with our South Korean counterparts that achieving a complete denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and diplomacy is the best and the most effective course. We will continue to seek engagement with the DPRK as part of what we have called a calibrated and practical approach, in order to make tangible progress that increases the security not only for the United States but also for our regional allies. And of course, that includes the ROK and Japan as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: Sorry, can I go back to Ethiopia? Will Ambassador Feltman meet with Prime Minister Abiy during this current stop while he’s there? And then there’s also reports that Tigrayan residents in Addis are being targeted for mass arrest. Is the State Department aware of these reports, and do you have any comment?

MR PRICE: When it comes to Ambassador Feltman’s travel, and his current stay in Addis, we’ll update you as we’re able with additional meetings. As I mentioned, he is meeting with the AU’s representative for the Horn of Africa, former President Obasanjo, today, but we will update you as additional meetings come into the – are confirmed.

We have seen reports that those with Tigrayan ethnicity are coming under – are being harassed or worse. Of course, those reports are concerning. It is part of the reason why we have called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, knowing that the potential for inter-communal violence remains high. We are deeply concerned about the potential for escalating inter-communal violence. It is why we are engaged with a number of actors, a number of officials in the Ethiopian Government – why we have engaged with the TPLF, why we are working at this very concertedly.

Yes.

QUESTION: All right, Ned. I have a few follow-ups, first on Iraq and then on Egypt and Sudan.

On Iraq, many experts believe that this attack or attempted assassination on the prime minister’s life has the modus operandi of the pro-Iran militias. Do you believe, does the State Department believe, that these militias can work independently and operate independently, without a green light from Tehran?

MR PRICE: Again, I don’t want to get ahead of the Iraqi investigation. What is true is that we have seen a number of aggressive actions conducted by Iran-backed groups, including in Iraq. But when it comes to this attack, I wouldn’t want to characterize where the investigation – what the investigation has uncovered yet or what it may uncover in the days to come. We will stay in close touch with our Iraqi partners on that.

QUESTION: Okay. So, you can confirm that they used drones, and the only militias that have drones are the one who trained and supplied by Iran.

MR PRICE: Certainly, everything that I have seen speaks to the use of a drone. We have also expressed our concerns with the proliferation of drone technology – some of it Iranian UAV – capabilities. in the region. Again, without speaking to what happened over the weekend, this has been a persistent, prominent concern of ours. As you know, it was just several days ago that we announced additional policy tools to pursue those who have been responsible for proliferating some of this UAV technology in the region, some of which is of Iranian origin.

QUESTION: On Egypt, you said that one of the topics of discussion is regional security. Sudan is one of them. Do you see the Egyptian position identical to the U.S.? Where do you differ? Where do you agree? And why we didn’t see Egypt on the signatory of the Quad statement that you issued last —

MR PRICE: So, I will leave it to Cairo to explain their position on Sudan. What I will say is that regional security and specific – and developments in certain countries will be on the agenda, and that includes what has transpired in Sudan on October 25th, and the days since. They will – Secretary Blinken and his Egyptian counterpart will discuss ongoing efforts to restore the civilian-led transitional government and to prevent violence in Sudan.

A lot has been made of the Quad statement that was issued last week. It was an important statement because it did carry the signatures of the United States, the United Kingdom, of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, calling for a restoration of the civilian-led transitional government. The Quad for Sudan is, as you – as the name would suggest – a collection of four countries in the Sudanese context.

QUESTION: Yeah, it could’ve been five and then you’d call it Quint on Sudan.

QUESTION: It could be five or six, even.

QUESTION: There was no Quad on Sudan before.

MR PRICE: There was a —

QUESTION: You guys just invented it. It could’ve been the septet or an octet.

MR PRICE: There was a Quad for a Sudan statement last week, and a very powerful one at that.

QUESTION: Yeah. Had the Quad on Sudan ever issued a statement before?

MR PRICE: I would have to go back and look.

QUESTION: Okay, just to follow up as well —

QUESTION: I don’t think it existed before. So, it could’ve been a Quint.

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: An assistant to the secretary general of the Arab League said that a solution to the crisis in Sudan is imminent. Are you aware of any development that could indicate, actually, that would be ending the crisis soon?

MR PRICE: Look, we – as I have said already in the context of Ethiopia – but Ambassador Feltman and the team here, including Secretary Blinken, who has had engagements both with Prime Minister Hamdok and General Burhan in recent days – we are working to see a resolution to this. And in our minds, there is only one resolution – one appropriate resolution – and that is the restoration of the civilian-led transitional government. So, we are working on that. We are doing that across multiple diplomatic fronts and through multiple diplomatic channels. I think it’s best not to characterize the progress there. But again, in our mind, there is only one appropriate resolution to this, and that’s the restoration of the civilian-led government.

QUESTION: Sorry, one last question. I don’t get the chance to ask you questions.

MR PRICE: Of course. Of course.

QUESTION: So, one last question on Egypt and Ethiopia as well: You said one of the discussions was about the dam, which was a sticking point between the three countries. Two of them now are going through strife or turmoil, or civil war, if you want. So what’s going to happen to that, considering that what’s happening in Ethiopia and in Sudan – does this adversely affect this negotiation, obviously? And you worry about it, that it might go completely out of hand.

MR PRICE: Well, developments vis-à-vis the GERD and developments in these countries won’t affect the bottom line, and that is that we will continue to support a collaborative and constructive efforts by these three countries to reach an enduring arrangement on the dam. Obviously, this is an issue that is of high importance to all three countries, given their reliance on the Nile River waters, and we’ll continue to engage with these countries to find a solution that’s acceptable to the three of them.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: I had a question on Myanmar. Danny Fenster’s case last week came up in court. He was denied bail and a new charge brought against him – that coincided with the trip of Governor Richardson to Myanmar, and he’s subsequently told press that the State Department told him not to raise Fenster’s case with the Burmese Government, in these meetings that he had. I’m wondering: Why would you ask him not to raise that? And do you not think that Governor Richardson would have – could have some impact on the case where you guys – your diplomacy so far hasn’t been able to get him freed?

MR PRICE: Well, I wouldn’t want to characterize any private discussions that were had with Governor Richardson. As you know, he traveled to Burma not as an emissary, not as a representative of the United States Government, but as a private citizen. This is an effort – this was an effort that was not sponsored by or on behalf of the United States Government. Now, of course we hope that his trip over the longer term does contribute to improved humanitarian access. That, of course, is in our interest. It’s in everyone’s interest, as well.

When it comes to the case of Danny Fenster, look, we have made very clear where we stand on this. We remain deeply concerned over his continued detention. We recognize it as just another sad reminder of the continuing human rights and humanitarian crisis facing the country. We do so today on the one-year anniversary of the Burmese elections that indicated a degree of promise that the military junta has attempted to extinguish, even though the people of Burma have made clear that their democratic aspirations, their demands for human rights and basic freedoms will not be extinguished. We have continued to press the junta for Danny’s release. We will do that until he is able to return home to his family. Consular officers have routinely met and have spoken with Danny. They last did so by phone late last month on October 31st. This case is an absolute priority for the department, and it will be until Danny is able to return to his family.

Yes.

QUESTION: I just want to go back to Sudan, about these statements from Burhan this morning regional time. He said that he will not walk back the October 25th steps that he took, and he will not be part of any government that comes out of a deal, a negotiated deal. Do you think that this is an approach that you can support, the no Burhan, no Hamdok for the future?

MR PRICE: Again, our bottom line is – and the bottom line of the international community – and we have heard a number of countries, a number of international institutions, a number of international bodies speak with one voice on that. And that is that there needs to be a restoration of the civilian-led transitional government. There needs to be a restoration of what it is that the military sought to topple.

This is – these are – what is most important is that these are not our objectives. These are the aspirations of the Sudanese people. We have seen the Sudanese people take to the streets to march peacefully throughout Khartoum and other cities and towns across Sudan. Millions of Sudanese have done so, and they have done so to clearly underscore where it is that – and what it is that they feel needs to happen. There is no ambiguity about what the people of Sudan want, and there should be no ambiguity about where the United States, where our allies and partners stand on this as well.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that real quickly, because the Secretary said that the U.S. shared that interest with the Egyptians, but there are reports that the Egyptians supported this military takeover. So, can you square that?

MR PRICE: What the Secretary said in his opening remarks and as – what I said in the topper as well – is that we will discuss with our Egyptian partners the need to restore the civilian-led transitional government in Sudan. Again, I’m going to allow the Egyptians to characterize the nuance of their position, but certainly this will be a topic of discussion with our Egyptian counterparts. There is a widespread, shared consensus that the civilian-led transitional government in Sudan needs to be restored and needs to be restored immediately.

Jenny.

QUESTION: The family of Trevor Reed just put out a statement saying they have a report that Trevor has started a hunger strike. Does State have any comment, and when was the last time embassy officials were granted access to him?

MR PRICE: So, I’ve seen those reports, but due to privacy considerations, I’m not in a position to comment on them. When it comes to Trevor Reed, Ambassador Sullivan last visited Trevor Reed on September 22nd. We are continuing to seek contact with Trevor, as we monitor his case closely. I suspect that the ambassador will have another opportunity to visit Trevor and, of course, Paul Whelan going forward.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) COP26, there was an agreement at the end of last week by 40-plus countries to phase out the use of coal. Why didn’t the Biden administration sign that agreement?

MR PRICE: It – we have made very clear where it is that we stand when it comes to coal and when it comes to our use of coal domestically and around the world. I think the important point is that statements are declarations, and they’re important, but they can’t be seen as an end in and of themselves. They have to be backed up by action. And we are and have been moving forward on a just energy transition. In fact, President Biden’s first specific climate pledge was decarbonizing the U.S. energy supply by 2035.

So, no one should underestimate how serious we are. No one should underestimate the ways in which we not have – we have not only raised our own climate ambition with our own ambitious targets, but also the ways in which we’ve galvanized actions by countries around the world to seek to meet the needs of this decisive decade if we are to arrive at —

(Interruption.)

QUESTION: I apologize.

MR PRICE: Not a problem – if we are to arrive at a means by which to prevent global warming from not exceeding the 1.5 degrees Celsius mark.

QUESTION: But as the third-largest user of coal, I mean, wouldn’t it help to galvanize some more action, if the U.S. did sign on to this pledge? And regardless of the pledge, are you willing to say whether or not the administration thinks it can phase out coal by a certain date?

MR PRICE: Well, we have pushed, in a number of ways, to transition away from some of the most harmful emitters of greenhouse gases. When it comes to coal, we pushed for and won an agreement at the G7 last summer to support, a quote, “transition away from unabated coal capacity,” and to achieve an overwhelmingly decarbonized power system in the 2030s. We did push hard for language like that at the G20 last week – or the other week, I should say – and will continue to do so. Again, we have been very clear in terms of where we stand on our own climate targets, on our own climate ambitions, and that includes with regards to coal.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Cuba. Yesterday Jake Sullivan said that the circumstances had changed in the island. What does he mean? Is the U.S. mulling new sanctions? Is anything else to sanction?

MR PRICE: Well, I think what the National Security Advisor was referring to is that events in Cuba, certainly the events of July 11th, the events subsequent to July 11th, they have weighed heavily on our approach. And we have not been shy in speaking about and calling out the human rights abuses, the repression, the arbitrary detentions that have taken place in Cuba, since July 11th. And our policy, both before July 11th and certainly since, has focused on support for the Cuban people and accountability for the Cuban officials who have been responsible for some of the human rights abuses that we have seen.

We are – the world is expecting protests in the coming days as well, as the Cuban people have made clear that they will once again peacefully march in the streets to make clear their aspirations for democracy, human rights, civil liberties, and political rights. We have centered our efforts in Cuba, when it comes to Cuba, on this question of the rights of the Cuban people, and steps that we can take to advance the cause of democracy on the island. And we have sought, in doing so, to impose tangible and significant consequences in connection with the abuses that I mentioned before. And we are prepared to continue doing so should the repression, should the human rights abuses, should the abuses of the Cuban regime not cease.

QUESTION: Ned, am I correct in saying that Tom West is doing his first trip as – in his new formal position? And if I am, can you give us any details about it?

MR PRICE: That is correct. So, Tom West is currently in Brussels. He had an opportunity to meet with the NAC in Brussels. He also engaged in a press call earlier this morning.

QUESTION: Oh, he did? Okay.

MR PRICE: He did. And he provided some detail on his travel.

QUESTION: Then we don’t need to —

MR PRICE: I’ll just very quickly make the point that he will go to London, as well. He will go to Pakistan, to Russia, to India. Together with our partners, he will continue to make clear the expectations that we have of the Taliban and of any future Afghanistan government.

QUESTION: Yeah, but he’s not going to Afghanistan?

MR PRICE: There are no plans to do that.

QUESTION: And he’s not going to Doha?

MR PRICE: He did not speak to plans to go to Doha today. But he’s going to London as well as to Pakistan, Russia, and India.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I quickly ask on Haiti? Is there any update on the hostage missionaries there? Reuters reported on Friday that the U.S. had seen proof of life for some of them. Can you confirm that report?

MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to confirm that, and I’m not in a position to confirm that chiefly because the resolution of these cases oftentimes relies on this activity taking place out of public sight, out of public view. And that is exactly the way we’ve been engaging with the organization, the missionary organization at the center of this. It’s how we’ve been engaging with our Haitian counterparts, including the Haitian National Police, the most senior Haitian authorities as well, including with the Canadian Government, given that one of the hostages is a Canadian citizen. So, our embassy in Port-au-Prince, our senior officials here, have continued to be very focused on this. But I just don’t have an update to offer publicly.

Okay. Thank you all very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:06 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – November 5, 2021

2:02 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Hello and good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today’s press briefing, and Happy Friday. I don’t have any announcements to make up at the top, so I’ll just give it a few minutes for those to filter in the queue before I start taking your questions.

Let’s go to Francesco Fontemaggi, please.

OPERATOR: Francesco, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Happy Friday. I have two questions. The first one is on Sudan, since the Secretary spoke yesterday with General Burhan. Did he sense any opening from him on a return to the status quo ante? And is there any opening for Special Envoy Feltman to travel from Ethiopia to Sudan when he’s done in Addis Ababa to go on with the consultations with the military?

And then on Ethiopia, there was an announcement here in Washington, D.C. today of an alliance of nine rebel groups against the government of Prime Minister Abiy. What do you have to say to that, which happens while Special Envoy Feltman is in Addis Ababa calling for a peaceful solution? Many thanks.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question. I’ll take the first part first. On Special Envoy Feltman’s travel, we don’t have anything to announce, but I can underscore that yesterday Secretary Blinken did speak to Sudanese Prime Minister Hamdok and General Burhan. And in both of those calls, he underscored the United States’ strong commitment for the Sudanese people who repeatedly made clear their aspirations for democracy. In those calls, he also called for an immediate restoration of the civilian-led transition to democracy, and he also urged the dialogue for – that returns Prime Minister Hamdok and other civilian members of the transitional government to their original positions.

In addition to that, we reiterated our urgent call for the Sudanese military to immediately release all those who are detained in connection to the recent events that were amplified by – in the statement with Quad members, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the UK. Outside of that, I can refer you to our readouts that are on our website.

To your second question, we are certainly aware of the reports that indicated nine antigovernment factions will form an alliance to push for a political transition in Ethiopia. And that’s all I have on that for you today.

Let’s go over to Jenny Hansler, please.

OPERATOR: Once again, please, hold your question until your line is open. Jenny Hansler, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thanks for doing this. I wanted to follow up on Francesco’s questions. Do you have any readout of Ambassador Feltman’s meetings today in Ethiopia? Do you sense that there was any progress in those meetings? Did he meet with any TPLF representatives while he was there?

And then separately on Russia and Ukraine, how much concern is there in this building about the buildup of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Jenny. I’ll take the first part of your question. So we don’t have any specific readouts to provide at this time. But what I’ll say broadly speaking is that we remain gravely concerned about the escalating violence, the expansion of fighting throughout the country, and also the growing risk to the unity and the integrity of the Ethiopian state. As you know and as we continue to underscore, the safety of U.S. citizens, U.S. Government personnel, their dependents, and the security of our facilities remains our highest priority.

Just taking it back to Special Envoy Feltman, he’s in Ethiopia. And while there, he’s continuing to press all parties to de-escalate the conflict and negotiate a ceasefire. He also continues to raise concerns about the risk of intercommunal violence and we continue to work with international partners to address the crisis in Ethiopia, and that includes through action at the UN, the AU, and other relevant bodies as well.

If you are still on the line, I need to – if you can repeat your second question. I apologize for that.

Jenny, I don’t know if we have you, but I think you asked about Russia-Ukraine buildup of troops. If that’s the case, I’ll just underscore that we have made clear in the past that any escalatory or any aggressive type of actions would be of great concern to United States, and we’re certainly concerned with any public reports of unusual Russian military activity near the Ukraine – excuse me, near Ukraine.

Let’s please go over to Lara Jakes.

OPERATOR: Lara Jakes, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks, Jalina. Just to follow up on Francesco’s question about this coalition of the nine rebel groups, do you – does the State Department see this coalition as legitimate? They asked for American and Biden administration support. They call themselves the true stewards of democracy in Ethiopia. As you know, Prime Minister Abiy has said the same about his political party. So there’s a question of legitimacy here and I’m wondering, again, if you have any comment about whether the State Department considers this coalition as legitimate.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Lara. I don’t have anything for you on your question to labels of legitimacy – excuse me. But what I will say is that we continue to urge all parties to the conflict to end hostilities immediately, and we also call on the Ethiopian Government and the TPLF to enter negotiations without preconditions towards a sustainable ceasefire and for Eritrean forces to withdraw immediately and permanently from Ethiopia.

Let’s go over to Pearl Matibe.

OPERATOR: Pearl Matibe, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Happy Friday, Jalina. I have two questions for you. Question one is on Ethiopia. I’m wondering, because there’s been this call by President Abiy for citizens to pick up arms to defend the capital, do you have anything that you might want to share in terms of arms sales, resupply? How would citizens – where might these arms be coming from? There’s reports that maybe they’re from foreign powers or governments or other state – other actors. Maybe if you could provide some comment on that.

My second question is regarding Cabo Verde. I know Secretary Blinken had a call with the newly elected leader there. Could you comment maybe on the extradition of Alex Saab? Did that come up on the call? I’m wondering if maybe corruption or democracy issues came up on that call regarding that Cabo Verde’s been regarded as a model for the rest of Africa.

Thanks, Jalina.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Pearl. I will try to answer both of your questions as thoroughly as possible. To your first point, on arms sales, we don’t have anything for you on arms sales at this time. Where our focus is, is ending the conflict in Ethiopia. What we know now is that we continue to call on parties to end the fighting and to also allow unhindered humanitarian assistance to reach the millions across Ethiopia who are in dire need at this time.

To your second question, on Cabo Verde, I had nothing for you on extraditions, but what I can say broadly speaking is that we value our strong relationship with Cabo Verde, which is one of the strongest democratic partners in Africa, and we certainly welcoming – welcome our deepening partnership. As you may know, President Biden today announced the designation of a presidential delegation to Cabo Verde to attend the inauguration of President-elect José Maria Neves on November 9th, 2021, in Praia, Cabo Verde. Again, this is going to be one of the highest-ranking – he’s sending one of the highest-ranking U.S. delegations ever to Praia, which continues to underscore our support for Cabo Verde’s commitment to the path of democracy as well as good government – good governance and our interest in strengthening the bilateral relationship.

Let’s go over to Cindy Saine, please.

OPERATOR: Cindy, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Jalina. Did Special Envoy Feltman have the chance to meet with Prime Minister Abiy? And can you give us any details? Was he invited by the Ethiopian Government? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Cindy. We don’t have any additional information on meetings for Special Envoy Feltman at this time, but we can talk about why he’s there, and he’s there to continue to urgently press the parties to de-escalate the conflict in Ethiopia and also negotiate a ceasefire. And again, he continues to raise our concerns about the risk of inter-communal violence, and we continue to work with international partners to address the crisis in Ethiopia. That includes with action in the UN, the AU, and other partners and bodies as well.

Let’s go over to Luis Felipe Rojas, please.

OPERATOR: Luis Felipe, your line is open. Please, go ahead. Once again, Luis Felipe, your line is open. You may proceed with your question.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Hi Jalina, can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Yes, yeah. We want to know if State Department has any comment or any update about the RENACER Act in Nicaragua or any comment about the Nicaraguan situation in face the next election on 7 – November 7. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Luis. What I would say is that the United States calls on the Ortega-Murillo government to cease its repression and allow Nicaraguans to exercise their rights of peaceful assembly as well as their rights for freedom of expression. We will continue to use the diplomatic and economic tools at our disposal to support Nicaraguans’ call for greater freedom as well as their accountability and free and fair elections.

The United States also calls on President Ortega, Vice President Murillo, and the Nicaraguan Government to immediately and unconditionally release imprisoned presidential contenders, political activists, journalists, students, and other members of civil society and the business community arrested in the current wave of the repression. President Ortega, Vice President Murillo, and those complicit in these actions are responsible for the detainees’ safety and well-being.

Let’s take the final question from Eunjung Cho.

OPERATOR: Eunjung, your line is open. Please, proceed.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jalina, for taking my question. I have a question on North Korea. The European Union tabled draft resolution on North Korean human rights to the UN Third Committee late October. The draft resolution lists 35 co-sponsoring countries, and the U.S. is not among them. Does the U.S. plan to co-sponsor this resolution as it did every year, and what is State Department’s position on the human rights situation in North Korea?

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question, Eunjung. We’re going to have to take that question back to the team to make sure we have all the up-to-date information that you need for reporting today.

That concludes today’s briefing. Thank you all so much for joining, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend ahead.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:20 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – November 04, 2021

MR PRICE: A few elements at the top, and then we’ll get started, take your questions.

In this administration, advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is a central pillar of U.S. foreign policy.  This includes promoting gender equity, gender equality, and the human rights of women and girls, and improved women’s health outcomes.  And that is why today, the United States has released an addendum to the 2020 Country Report on Human Rights Practices addressing reproductive rights.

For many years, this section was included in the annual Human Rights Reports. Secretary Blinken announced when he rolled out this year’s – the 2020 report in March that the department would renew the practice of documenting these issues via an addendum to each 2020 country report. And today, we are fulfilling that promise.

Each 2020 country report, available online at state.gov, our website, now contains a section covering a broad range of women’s health issues, such as maternal mortality, government policy adversely affecting access to contraception, access to emergency health care, and discrimination against women in accessing sexual and reproductive health care.

The United States is committed to promoting women’s health empowerment at home and abroad. Access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning and maternal health interventions, are lifesaving. We know that. Women’s rights are human rights, and we reaffirm our full commitment to promote and protect the sexual and reproductive health of all individuals, recognizing the essential and transformative role they play in gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment around the world.

Next, we are pleased to announce that Secretary Blinken will host Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba next week for the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership Commission. That will take place next week, on November 10th.

The U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership Commission began in 2008 and has been an important mechanism for the United States and Ukraine to communicate and collaborate on shared priorities across a broad range of issues.  Thirteen years later, the U.S.-Ukraine bilateral relationship has strengthened and matured, resulting in the need to refresh the charter to address the challenges of the 21st century and to reflect the elevated bilateral partnership we have with Ukraine.

With the new charter, the United States and Ukraine intend to continue to advance the bilateral priorities set forth in the September 1 Joint Statement on U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership.

In addition, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Dr. Karen Donfried is currently in Kyiv, Ukraine to meet senior leaders in the Ukrainian Government. The meetings this week and next are an important opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to – and support for – Ukraine’s independence, its sovereignty, and its territorial integrity, including in the face of ongoing Russian aggression.

And finally, today the U.S. Department of State is hosting a virtual Town Hall for Afghanistan Resettlement Stakeholders next Tuesday – that’s November 9th – at 1:30 p.m.

We’ll provide updates on Operation Allies Welcome to the community of Americans working to support the resettlement of our Afghan allies.

We, along with our partners, will share opportunities for individuals, for communities, for organizations to help welcome many of our newest neighbors. These Afghans have contributed greatly to our country.

The event will be hosted by Assistant Secretary Don Lu. He’ll be joined by Governor Jack Markell from the White House, Under Secretary Uzra Zeya, Ambassador Tracey Jacobson, and Senior Bureau Official Nancy Izzo Jackson from the Department of State.

Key external partners are also participating from Welcome.us, the Afghan-American community, and the Afghan Evac Coalition.

Individuals can register for the event and learn more by visiting our DipNote blog on our State Department website.

And with that, I would be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I’ve got two really brief kind of logistical ones.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: And they will hopefully be extremely brief. One, the IG came out with a report or an update to a report about gifts to senior officials. And it talked about kind of a lax – maybe not lax is the right word, but that the vault in which they’re kept is not adequately secured. There are no cameras there. And I’m just wondering – I realize you can’t – you don’t speak for the IG, but why is the department – why is DS resisting this idea that you put a camera on this facility?

MR PRICE: Well, Matt, you’re correct; we don’t speak for the inspector general. We very much appreciate the reviews that the inspector general conducts, including this one. We will review it very closely, as we do all products that emanate from the IG.

QUESTION: That’s all (inaudible) —

MR PRICE: But let me get there.

QUESTION: But I’ve already stipulated that you don’t speak for the IG, and I know you don’t.

MR PRICE: But you also don’t speak for the Department of State, so even though you stipulate something, I need to say it myself.

QUESTION: I know, I know. That’s why I’m asking you what the – Diplomatic Security, which is a part of the Department of State and not the IG – why are they resisting putting cameras in there?

MR PRICE: I can tell you, Matt, that the Department of State has a special responsibility when it comes to accepting, on behalf of the American people, certain gifts. And we recognize, as the Constitution stipulates, that these gifts are not the property of the individuals to whom they are gifted, in most circumstances; they’re the property of the American people. And so we recognize that as the custodian of some of these gifts, or at least for a certain time, we have a responsibility to safeguard, to protect them, to ensure they end up in the right place, wherever that is, according to policy and regulation at play. So we take that very seriously. We’re going to review the IG findings very closely, as we always do. If it requires a change in our practices, I can guarantee you we will do that.

QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t have a response on behalf of DS – not a part of the IG – as to the whole thing about cameras?

MR PRICE: I do not have anything to offer you today on whether we will install cameras in certain vaults.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the second logistical one is that – I brought this up a couple times now, but now it’s been almost five months since the swastika was found carved into the elevator. How’s the investigation going? I mean, what kind of update can you give us?

MR PRICE: So Matt, you know that as soon as this abhorrent symbol was discovered we sent a note – Secretary Blinken sent a note to the entire workforce, making clear that this was a symbol of hate, it was a symbol that the department leadership and the department writ large rejects, and everything that it symbolizes is everything that this department works day in, day out to counter in the world.

The – our Bureau of Diplomatic Security has launched an investigation. They launched that investigation immediately. As is the case with many investigations, I’m not able to provide regular investigative updates. If there are findings that are relevant and that are appropriate for public release, we will do that.

But to go back to your first question, if there are additional steps that we can and should take appropriately to prevent these types of things from occurring in the future, we will not hesitate to do so. The – our seventh-floor leadership has been in close contact with Diplomatic Security, not only on this investigation, but on procedures, tactics, resources that we can have in place to see to it that should something as horrific as this take place again we will be in a position to quickly determine the culprit.

QUESTION: Well, I have to say that five months in it doesn’t engender a lot of confidence in the investigative abilities here, because as we’re talking about cameras at a gift vault, you would think that there are cameras around this building, and certainly in elevators. Maybe not. I’ve always assumed that there are. Don’t you?

MR PRICE: Matt, as you know, there certainly are cameras in this building. Not going to detail where each and every one is, but clearly it’s an important mission to ensure that we are appropriately protecting the people, personnel, property in this building.

QUESTION: Okay. And then my one policy question is just then: Can you give us any kind of update on Jeff Feltman’s meetings in Addis today?

MR PRICE: Happy to do that. So before we get into what Ambassador Feltman has been doing in Addis today, let me just start by noting that today is a somber anniversary. It is the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the fighting and the conflict in northern Ethiopia. And as that fighting, as that conflict has escalated, as it has spread from Tigray in recent weeks, we remained gravely concerned by the expanding conflict, by the violence, the expansion of the fighting throughout the country, and the growing risks that it poses to the unity, to the integrity of the Ethiopian state.

Consistent with that, the safety, the security of U.S. citizens, U.S. Government personnel, their dependents, and also the security of our facilities is among our highest priorities. And that’s why, among other steps, we call on the TPLF, we call upon the Oramo Liberation Army, the OLA, to halt their advance Addis, and we call on all parties to engage in dialogue on a cessation of hostilities. We note the nationwide state of emergency that was declared by the Ethiopian Council of Ministers, and we urge all parties to use restraint, to end hostilities, and to ensure civilians’ rights are respected.

As you know, Ambassador Feltman traveled to Ethiopia yesterday. He has been engaged in meetings with Ethiopian officials today. Today he met with the African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki, he met with the Minister of Defense Abraham Belay, he met with Minister of Finance Ahmed Shide, and he met with Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen Hassen.

There will be, I would expect, a readout after his visit. As you know, he’s there both today; he’ll be there tomorrow, where he will continue to engage. And he is there to do what we have set out to do for some time now, and that is to find an acceptable path to resolving the expanding conflict in Ethiopia. And to that end, that is why we have reiterated our calls for all parties to end hostilities immediately. That includes the TPLF. That includes the Ethiopian Government. We call on them to enter negotiations without preconditions towards a sustainable ceasefire. We again call for Eritrean forces to withdraw immediately and permanently from Ethiopia, and we again call for all those who are responsible for the human rights abuses and violations to be held accountable.

Let me make one other point. As you know, yesterday we spoke to the Level 4 Travel Advisory that we have issued for Ethiopia giving – given the tenuous security situation and the advances towards the capital. We again urge all private American citizens to take advantage of the commercial air options that continue to be available in and out of the capital city, Addis Ababa, to leave. We are encouraging them to do that very strongly. We have no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens, and of course that includes private American citizens, and that is why we are speaking as starkly as we can, urging them to leave the country given that there are commercial options available —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: No, no, I – so – okay. I just want to – so you don’t expect anything substantive out of his talks until he finishes them tomorrow?

MR PRICE: Well, no. I —

QUESTION: So we shouldn’t expect anything tonight?

MR PRICE: What I said is that we’ll have a readout when he —

QUESTION: Well, I know, but tomorrow or —

MR PRICE: Tomorrow. Tomorrow. He’s going to continue to have discussions tomorrow, so we’ll provide additional detail as we can tomorrow.

Yes.

QUESTION: Will he be going to Sudan?

MR PRICE: We don’t have any follow-on travel to announce at this time. As I said, he had a productive set of discussions with Ethiopian interlocutors today. He appreciated the opportunity to do so. He’ll have an opportunity to continue discussions tomorrow. We’ll update you should his travel plans change.

Jenny.

QUESTION: Can you tell us who he’ll meet with tomorrow?

MR PRICE: He will meet with – we expect he will meet with additional interlocutors from the Government of Ethiopia, but nothing further to preview at this time.

QUESTION: Does this building have any comment on the joint investigation that came out yesterday on the atrocities that were committed?

MR PRICE: So yesterday the Office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, they jointly released a report detailing human rights abuses and violations in Tigray. We are reviewing this report. We do welcome its release, and we welcome its release in part because, as I said before, we are determined to see to it that those responsible for committing these human rights abuses, these violations are held to account. And in this case, we commend the two offices that produced these report – this report for fulfilling their mandates and for releasing their joint report. We believe that it sets a standard for similar reporting done in other parts of the world. We are carefully reviewing the report. We appreciate the fact that it sets forth a sobering account of extensive, of serious human rights abuses and violations committed by all parties to the conflict.

We – as I said before, for a year now we have expressed grave concerns over the horrific violence committed against civilians during the conflict in northern Ethiopia by all parties, and that includes egregious acts such as killings, sexual and gender-based violence, abductions, and other human rights abuses.

The joint report outlines a number of recommendations, including for the parties to end violations and abuses of human rights and to – as we have called for, to end hostilities without preconditions to enable a space for peaceful resolution.

For its part, the Government of Ethiopia is specifically urged to work towards a transparent, holistic, and victim-centered transitional justice process, including those – holding those responsible for abuses and – human rights abuses and violations. Similarly, we also expect that the TPLF and allied parties commit to ending the horrific human rights abuses perpetrated against Ethiopian civilians as well as Eritrean refugees. We continue, as I said before, to call for an immediate cessation of combat operations and any further military advances to be brought to a halt as a negotiated ceasefire begins.

Shaun.

QUESTION: Can I go next door to Sudan?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The – General Burhan just announced today the release of four ministers who had been detained and is talking about the formation soon of another government of some form. How do you see these moves? Are these positive signs at all? How do you sense where things are going right now in Sudan?

MR PRICE: Well, since this military takeover, we have made very clear that we stand with the people of Sudan, the people of Sudan who themselves have stood in the streets, have taken to the streets peacefully to make very clear that their aspirations for democracy remain and they remain strong. We join the Sudanese people in calling for justice and accountability for the abuses of human rights, and we urge the military to end the internet shutdown and the state of emergency and – to your question, Shaun – to release all civilian leaders and protest organized – organizers detained since the takeover. So we have taken note of some of these actions, but again, we and, importantly, the international community – and yesterday we spoke to a joint statement that we issued with our British partners, with our Emirati partners, with our Saudi partners, and much of the international community has issued a similar message calling for restoration of the civilian-led democratic government and calling for release of all of those detained since October 26th when the military takeover occurred.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, but do you find that it’s going in a slightly positive direction with these moves that we see here today, or is it premature?

MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to characterize it piecemeal. What we would like to do is to be able to characterize the restoration of the democratic transitional government when that takes place, and we are working with our partners around the clock – Secretary Blinken is engaged, Deputy Secretary Sherman is engaged, Ambassador Feltman is engaged, Ambassador Phee is engaged, as well as many others in this building – towards that end. So when that takes place, that is when we’ll be able to offer a broader characterization.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: On that Quad statement that you mentioned with Saudi Arabia and others, notably absent was Egypt. And there has also been reporting that Sudanese armed forces chief Burhan went to Egypt for secret talks to ensure that his plot has regional support. There has been reporting I believe by us, but Wall Street Journal as well in a story yesterday.

So what is the U.S. understanding of Egypt’s role in this? Are you disappointed that Egypt was absent from that statement yesterday? And what are you doing to get them on board? That is three questions.

MR PRICE: Well, I will give you, I think, what is one answer. We have – I consistently make —

QUESTION: Wait, is it the same one you gave yesterday to a similar question?

MR PRICE: We have consistently and I have consistently made the point that except in the instance of joint statements, I speak for the United States. We will leave it to countries around the world to speak for themselves.

QUESTION: Yes, but I’m asking —

MR PRICE: What I – what I will say is that as you have listened to the feedback from the international community since October 26th, leaders and organizations from around the world – from the African Union to the Arab League to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to individual countries to countries acting together in unison – have come together to condemn the military takeover in Sudan. The Arab League itself released a statement urging all parties to, quote, “fully abide” by the Constitutional Declaration signed in August 2019 and to pursue dialogue. That is from the Arab League.

Special Envoy Feltman, Secretary Blinken, others have said that we’ve been in very close contact with regional leaders, including in North Africa and the Gulf. I made the point that Secretary Blinken himself had an opportunity to meet with his Emirati counterpart, with his Saudi counterpart. He’s had discussions with other counterparts from the region and beyond regarding Sudan to make sure that we’re closely coordinating and sending a clear message to the military in Sudan that, first and foremost, they must cease any violence against innocent civilians, they should release all of those that have been detained since October 26th, and they should put Sudan back on the path towards democracy.

QUESTION: But all the three questions I asked are actually about U.S. thinking. I’m not asking you to speculate or say why you think Egypt might be absent, and I think even that would be a fair question. What I’m asking is: Is the U.S. disappointed that Egypt’s not there? Is it hurting U.S. and the international community’s effort to put pressure on Sudanese military? And what are you going to do to get them on board? These are squarely questions about what U.S. intends to do.

MR PRICE: Humeyra, our impression is that whether we are talking to our partners in the UAE, to our partners in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to our partners in Egypt, to our partners throughout the region, there is a real desire – there is a genuine desire for stability in Sudan and, yes, for a full restoration to a civilian-led government. That’s precisely what our so-called QUAD statement said yesterday. That is what the Arab League statement has alluded to as well.

So you talk about the message that the Sudanese military is hearing. They are hearing this message loud and clear. They are hearing it from the United States; they are hearing it from a chorus of countries, organizations, and institutions that have made clear that the path to democracy must be restored in Sudan. There are positive incentives but there are also repercussions, potential and real repercussions. When it comes to the repercussions that the United States has enacted already, we’ve spoken about the $700 million in Emergency Support Funding that have been paused unless and until the past democracy is restored.

There are billions more in terms of debt relief, in terms of lending and financing from international financial institutions that is beyond the message that we’re hearing, that the Sudanese military is hearing from its neighbors, regional partners, countries further afield. Those are very real implications that they have felt or in some cases they will feel unless Sudan is restored to the democratic path.

QUESTION: Right. So you’re saying that message is strong enough, we don’t need Egypt?

MR PRICE: I am not saying that. I am not saying that. What I said on that score is that the – what we’ve heard from our partners, including in discussions with our Egyptian partners, is that there is a desire for stability and there is a desire to see a restoration of Sudan towards the democratic path.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: Yes, I have two questions. The first one is on Ethiopia, and the second one is about North Korea. So I’m a little confused about how close the TPLF forces are to Addis Ababa, so what is the State Department’s assessment? Are they, like, outskirts of the capital?

And my second question is about North Korean sanction, is like – China and Russia submitted a draft resolution yesterday to lift all sanctions on North Korea, and two days ago Deputy Special Representative Jung Pak had consultative meeting with South Korean counterparts about humanitarian cooperation. So where are we now exactly in terms of, like, aid to North Korea?

MR PRICE: Where are we in terms of – what was the last part of the question?

QUESTION: So humanitarian aid to North Korea.

MR PRICE: Got it. So in terms of Ethiopia, look, we are not in the habit of offering military assessments or tactical assessments from the podium. What we have said is that we are concerned by the expansion of the conflict, by the expansion of the fighting from Tigray and into surrounding areas. Of course, public accounts have spoken to the advance of the TPLF and the OLA and their allies, including towards the capital city.

That is in part why we have urged in no uncertain terms American citizens to make arrangements to leave the country using the commercial options that remain available in and out of the capital city of Addis Ababa. It’s also why we have underscored the need and the imperative for all parties to the conflict – the TPLF, the Ethiopian Government, the OLA, and others – to engage in negotiations towards a ceasefire immediately and without preconditions.

When it comes to North Korea, you were referring to, I believe, a draft UN Security Council resolution on the part of the PRC and Russia. As you know, we don’t comment on the internal workings of the UN Security Council system, but we do remain committed to the sanctions regime. We call on all UN members to fulfill their sanctions obligations under existing UN Security Council resolutions to limit the DPRK’s ability to acquire resources and technology needed to advance its threatening and unlawful WMD and ballistic missile programs.

We continue to seek sustained and serious diplomacy with the DPRK. We call on Pyongyang to refrain from provocations and to engage in discussions. Our goal, as we have said on any number of occasions, remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We have no hostile intent towards the DPRK. Our intent is to engage in sustained, constructive diplomacy, including with the DPRK.

We have also made the point that even when we have profound disagreements with a particular government or a particular regime, as of course we do in the case of the DPRK, we take into account the humanitarian conditions of the people of that country, and so we are concerned about the humanitarian situation in the DPRK. We are working with our allies and our partners to determine how we might be able to support the humanitarian needs of the North Korean people, and that is something that we’re committed to do.

Christina.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on – I’m sorry – Ethiopia? The head of the – or a spokesperson for the TPLF was on the BBC – I think it was this morning, but it might have been last night – and was asked essentially could you possibly be headed towards the capital, is that your goal? And he said no, we will; that is where we’re going.

So as you’re telling to us you’re calling for a halt to military advances, is that something the U.S. has communicated directly to the TPLF? And how are you working towards halting those advances?

MR PRICE: We have been in direct contact with the parties. We’ve been in direct contact, as I offered in some detail, to the Ethiopian Government, including in recent hours. We’ve also been in direct contact with the TPLF.

QUESTION: Who is making that contact?

MR PRICE: We don’t have details to offer on that, but we have made our messaging very clear. We have done that in public, as you’ve heard from me today and yesterday, and in the preceding weeks and months, but we’ve also underscored that message privately as well, that the only solution in this case is for the parties to the conflict to engage in dialogue towards a negotiated ceasefire. That is the only way that the violence will be diminished and ultimately be abated. That is the only way that the humanitarian emergency that people in Tigray and surrounding regions are experiencing – that’s the only way that humanitarian emergency will be mitigated. So we’ve been very clear with the parties and publicly – in public and in private as well.

QUESTION: But it sounds like if you’re calling for them to stop the military advances there is some genuine concern that they might not stop, right, and they could threaten the capital?

MR PRICE: We have been very clear that we are concerned by the escalating violence. We are concerned by the expansion of the fighting. So we have not been shy about highlighting our concern for the situation.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Lebanon, Ned, the Lebanese information minister has refused to resign, and Hizballah condemned the American and external intervention in the Lebanese Government affairs. Do you have any comment?

MR PRICE: We had an opportunity, as you know, to address this yesterday. Our point has been that we urge diplomatic channels to remain open between the parties to ensure meaningful dialogue on the pressing issues facing Lebanon. In this case, those diplomatic channels, Lebanon’s ties in different forms with its regional partners and neighbors, are important not only for the sake of diplomacy but also for the sake of the Lebanese people.

You – on the topic of humanitarian – dire humanitarian conditions, the people of Lebanon have suffered for far too long from mismanagement, from corruption, from inflation, from other economic pressures that the international community, on an urgent basis, has sought to alleviate. As you know, the Secretary had an opportunity to meet with the prime minister. We did so on the margins of COP26 in Glasgow. We had an opportunity to meet with – the Secretary had an opportunity to meet with his Emirati counterpart, with his Saudi counterpart. Lebanon was a topic of discussion. And the point that – the point of all of those engagements was to underscore that the needs of the Lebanese people, the need for channels of communication to remain open, as we look for ways to alleviate the suffering of the people of Lebanon.

QUESTION: But any reaction to Hizballah’s statement condemning the external and American intervention in the Lebanese Government affairs?

MR PRICE: You are not finding the United States intervening in the Government of Lebanon. What we are doing is using appropriate resources to help the people of Lebanon, to see to it that we can work with the international community to provide the people of Lebanon with much-needed humanitarian relief.

QUESTION: Well, and the military of Lebanon with what you might say is much-needed military assistance, correct?

MR PRICE: Correct. The Lebanese Armed Forces is an important actor in Lebanese society, and we have, again, engaged partners in the region not to intervene in Lebanon’s internal politics, but in an effort to help the people of Lebanon. And frankly, if – I think there would be a desire to see all actors set aside their parochial agendas and to focus on the urgent needs of the people of Lebanon.

Yes.

QUESTION: Speaking about foreign intervention in Lebanon and Hizballah takes us to Iran, and I apologize if you touched this yesterday, but with news that the Iranians are willing to come back to the table, I just want to ask again if it is the policy of the administration to lengthen and strengthen the deal, and if indeed, for example, the sunset clause, which expires in 2025, is something that you’re absolutely intent on extending.

MR PRICE: Thank you for that. So let me just make one broad point before I get to your question, that under the terms of the 2015 deal, that there are provisions that expire within 15, 20, 25 years. But the most important provision, the requirement that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon, that never expires. That is permanent. What the JCPOA put forward was a permanent, was a verifiable mechanism to ensure that Iran is never able or allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. So yes, we remain interested to determine whether we can achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. We continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance is the most effective means by which to put Iran’s nuclear program back in the box that it was in for several years after the deal was implemented in 2016. So that is the first step.

Now, your question was about lengthening and strengthening the deal. We have always said that, as the first step, we want to see to it that Iran’s nuclear program is once again constrained. And so that is why in the first instance we’ve focused on determining whether a mutual return to compliance could be feasible. We remain interested in that. If we are able to achieve a mutual return to compliance, we will then use that JCPOA, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as a baseline to negotiate what we have – the – not only to lengthen and strengthen the provisions of the deal, but to put on the table and to discuss, in a productive and hopefully useful way, other issues of concern, issues that are of concern not only to the United States, but also of concern to our allies and partners in the region as well.

QUESTION: So is that the framework, that the first step in negotiation is just to return to compliance? And if that’s the case, why is there any incentive for Iran to go any further once they’ve agreed that?

MR PRICE: So absolutely, the most pressing challenge we face with Iran, and I would say in the in the Middle East more broadly, is an Iranian nuclear program that does not have the constraints that are spelled out in the JCPOA. So yes, our first priority is to determine whether we can negotiate a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, not as a means to salvage the JCPOA but as a means to see to it that Iran is once again permanently and verifiably prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Look, we are focused on that as our first step. We do hope we’ll be able to get there, and we do hope from there we’ll be able to engage in constructive diplomacy vis-à-vis the other challenges that Iran poses to the United States, to our allies, to our partners in the region.

QUESTION: What leverage would you have beyond reducing sanctions? After that, they’ve come back to compliance, then what leverage have you got?

MR PRICE: So we have tremendous leverage acting not only ourselves, but much more so when we act in concert with our allies and partners in the region. The forms of leverage, some of them are well known, some of them are included in the formula that is at – that is the predicate of the JCPOA. But again, right now, we are focused on that first task, and that is to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is once again constrained and that Iran is once again permanently and verifiably prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: So can you just drill down on what it is your understanding – what is it in the JCPOA that you understand to mean that Iran commits to a permanent and verifiable situation where it will not acquire a nuclear weapon? Is it the NPT, the mention of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in the JCPOA? Is it the fatwah? What is it? Because otherwise, it’s not in there. So if it’s your understanding that those – that that’s what it is that makes it permanent, okay. But is that what it is?

MR PRICE: So the verification and monitoring stipulations of the JCPOA —

QUESTION: No, the point is —

MR PRICE: No, but – but you asked about a couple elements. So the verification and monitoring elements of the JCPOA, they do not expire. We’re not reliant on any proclamations or fatwah, to use the term you did, that the Iranian Government has put forward. What we are relying on are the international instruments that have been negotiated and that, until recent years, had been in place that had permanently and verifiably constrained Iran’s ability to acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: But the point is they hadn’t permanently done it. There might have been – it might be verifiable in terms of —

MR PRICE: There is a —

QUESTION: The limits, the limits. The – it’s verifiable in terms of what the deal sets out to be verifiable. But I don’t understand, is the permanence that you’re talking about – is it your understanding – and covered this, the whole negotiation. I still don’t get what the permanence here is unless it is you’re hanging your hopes on Iran’s compliance with an NPT.

MR PRICE: The NPT is an important tool. It is an important —

QUESTION: And that worked so well that that worked with North Korea?

MR PRICE: It is an important complement to the JCPOA. To the North Korea comparison, the verification and monitoring that the JCPOA spells out for Iran is certainly not what the United States and what the international community had in place with the DPRK prior to its production of a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: But when you talk about the – in terms of the JCPOA, in terms of the agreement itself, when you talk about the permanence of it, you’re talking about the NPT.

MR PRICE: The prohibition on Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon does not expire. And the JCPOA gives us —

QUESTION: But – but Ned —

MR PRICE: — gives us —

QUESTION: But that’s because of the NPT, right? It is not because of any of the provisions.

MR PRICE: Affords us – affords us important tools, including the verification and monitoring regime, to see to it that Iran is abiding by that —

QUESTION: Well, there is nothing in the JCPOA which says —

MR PRICE: — permanent prohibition on ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Is there anything in the JCPOA itself, as you understand it, outside of Iranian compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, that permanently constrains them?

MR PRICE: The JCPOA affords us the tools we need —

QUESTION: What it does, Ned, is —

MR PRICE: Matt, it affords us the tools we need —

QUESTION: Ned, you were having this argument like six years ago.

MR PRICE: — to see to it that Iran is never – is permanently barred from obtaining a nuclear —

QUESTION: Can I just ask one other – non-related to this – I just want to know if – from yesterday, if you guys have made any conclusions or determinations based on what the Israelis gave you about these six Palestinian NGOs. Is there anything new on that?

MR PRICE: Well, as you know, there was a delegation in town last week. We receive detailed information from the Israeli Government. We appreciated the consultation. We’re reviewing the information that they provided us.

Nike.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can I switch gear to Olympic – Winter Olympic will starting three month. Has the U.S. Government made a decision on whether or not to participate in the Winter Olympics? The reason I ask is because the G20 Leaders’ Declaration, which the U.S. is part of, appear to give the wordings – to give the nod.

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, I didn’t – I missed the last part of your question.

QUESTION: Right. The wordings in the G20 Leaders’ Declaration appeared to give the nod.

MR PRICE: Ah. Look, I don’t have anything for you beyond the beyond the text of the G20 communique that you referenced. As for the position of the United States, don’t have anything new. But what I will say, and what should be clear, is that we continue to have profound concerns about the situation in Xinjiang and another – a number of other issues pertaining to human rights in the PRC.

Shaun.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) correctly that the U.S. Government is not boycotting Beijing to host the Winter Olympic? The reason I ask is because the wordings in that declaration said the G20 leaders “look ahead to Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics 2022, as opportunities for competition for athletes from around the world, which serves as a symbol of humanity’s resilience.”

MR PRICE: Again, I don’t have anything for you beyond the text of that communique, but we have been crystal clear about where we stand on what is transpiring in Xinjiang and the human rights abuses that have and that are taking place within the PRC.

Shaun.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Beijing-based foreign correspondents? The FCCC, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China statement this week to express, quote —

MR PRICE: So on – on a number of occasions, we’ve discussed press freedom with our PRC counterparts. We urge PRC officials not to limit freedom of movement and access for journalists, and to ensure that they remain safe and able to report freely, including at the Olympic and the Paralympic Games.

Shaun.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about Venezuela? The International Criminal Court said yesterday that there’ll be an investigation on whether crimes against humanity were committed in 2017 in Venezuela. Does the United States have a position, either on this investigation, whether crimes against humanity were committed, and on Venezuela – that’d mean Maduro – actually cooperating with this?

MR PRICE: Well, we take note of the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor to open an investigation into the situation in Venezuela. This decision follows a preliminary examination phase initiated through a referral from a group of states parties to the Rome Statute, including countries that share the commitment we have to a peaceful, democratic future in Venezuela.

As we’ve said, we support efforts to establish a peaceful, stable, and democratic Venezuela. We also support justice and accountability measures and programs that strengthen democratic institutions, transparency, and the rule of law, as well as inclusion, economic empowerment, and access to information in Venezuela. We remain committed to promoting accountability for human rights violations and abuses and for justice for victims of atrocities. We and many of our likeminded democratic allies and democratic partners are united in denouncing the human rights violations and the human rights abuses that are occurring in Venezuela.

QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up on Venezuela?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: It’s been a couple of weeks since the CITGO-6 were taken from house arrest. Do you have any update on them and their whereabouts right now?

MR PRICE: Well, as you know, the safety, the security – the safety of all wrongfully detained U.S. nationals is among our highest priorities. We call on the Maduro regime to release them immediately, the CITGO-6, so that they can return home to their families in the United States. Whether the context is Venezuela, whether the context is any other country, using wrongful detention as a bargaining chip represents a threat to safety of everyone traveling, working, and living abroad. We oppose this practice everywhere; we oppose this practice anywhere.

The department, including our Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Ambassador Carstens, we are committed to bringing these Americans home. We are also committed to bringing home another wrongfully detained American citizen, Matthew Heath. We are in frequent touch with the families of the wrongfully detained CITGO-6, and they have reported to us that the CITGO-6 have been moved back to prison. At this time, however, we don’t have independent confirmation of their precise whereabouts or where they’ve been taken.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: Ned, on Syria, it looks like Turkey is building up forces in northeastern Syria to attack the Kurds there. Do you have any reaction?

MR PRICE: I’ve – I don’t have a specific response to that. We have called on all parties to respect the ceasefires that are in place.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Just on Israel, Ned, I don’t think we’ve asked this the past couple of weeks. Is the administration still going ahead with reopening a consulate in Jerusalem? (Laughter.)

MR PRICE: I can tell you —

QUESTION: We haven’t – we haven’t asked it in the last couple of minutes.

MR PRICE: I can tell you, you – you were not here yesterday, because we did discuss this yesterday.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry.

MR PRICE: Yes. We’ve been clear; the Secretary’s been clear. He’s spoken to this on a couple of occasions now. But don’t have any update beyond that.

QUESTION: So is there a timeline?

MR PRICE: I don’t have a timeline to offer for you at the moment.

Yes, Shaun.

QUESTION: I think we’ve discussed this a little bit ago, but not in the past couple of days – Burma. Danny Fenster, the new charges against him – do you have anything —

MR PRICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: — to say about that?

MR PRICE: So this goes back to the priority I was speaking to, the – regarding the welfare and the safety of American citizens detained overseas. We remain deeply concerned over the continued detention of Danny Fenster. He was working as a journalist in Burma when he was detained. His detention, the detention of so many others, it’s a sad reminder of the continuing human rights and humanitarian crisis facing the country of Burma, facing the Burmese, but also facing foreign nationals, including Americans, who happen to be in Burma.

We are closely monitoring Danny’s situation and his case. We’re continuing to press the Burmese regime to release Danny immediately. We are aware that the regime recently did bring additional charges against Danny. The profoundly unjust nature of Danny’s detention is plain for all the world to see, and these charges only put a further spotlight on that. Again, the regime should take the prudent step of releasing him now.

QUESTION: And can I —

MR PRICE: Yep. Yep.

QUESTION: — follow up quickly on Burma? A different topic there, but Bill Richardson’s visit. Do you have anything to say about particularly his meeting with the junta chief, whether that’s on message for what the United States wants? Obviously he’s going in a private capacity. And do you have any view about his trip?

MR PRICE: Well, we’re aware of his trip. As you said, he was acting – I believe the trip has come to a conclusion, but he was acting in a private capacity. This was a private effort by the former governor to visit Burma. We know that he has extensive experience working on humanitarian issues. This effort was not sponsored by or on behalf of the U.S. Government. But, of course, we hope to see to it that humanitarian conditions, including humanitarian access in Burma, are improved going forward.

Yes.

QUESTION: The Pentagon released a report yesterday saying that China would have a thousand nuclear warheads by 2030. It was a big surprise to many people. I just wonder how worrying that is for the State Department, to what it says about the future of relations with China and China’s ambitions.

MR PRICE: Well, we have spoken to the PRC’s development and plans to develop its nuclear arsenal. Again, it suggests that China is leaving behind its previous nuclear doctrine of limited deterrence. It is the responsibility of nuclear-armed nations to act prudently and to, in the case of the development of a nuclear weapons program, we have sought to engage the PRC when it comes to arms control. We have called for dialogue. We think all responsible countries that have these weapons should engage in an arms control dialogue. We remain ready and willing to do that, and we’ve made that known to PRC authorities.

Yes.

QUESTION: They don’t seem willing to listen.

MR PRICE: We have made very clear that we feel that it is the responsibility of responsible countries that have these weapons to do just that. As you know, we’ve engaged in a Strategic Stability Dialogue with the Russian Federation. That dialogue has been constructive. It has been useful. It is our hope, it is our intention, to engage in an arms control dialogue with the PRC as well, given what we know to be true of all countries that possess these weapons and the responsibilities we have.

QUESTION: Is there any update on the Biden-President Xi meeting or a date on that?

MR PRICE: I don’t. I would need to refer you to the White House.

Yes.

QUESTION: So this is Ines Pohl from Deutsche Welle. I have a follow-up question to China, as there is a certain ambiguity between what President Biden says in the White House. How far would the United States go to protect Taiwan?

MR PRICE: We have been very clear about that. There has been no change in our policy towards Taiwan. Our defense relationship with Taiwan is and has been guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We will uphold our commitments under that act. We’ll continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense, and we’ll continue to oppose any unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo. We remain committed to our “one China” policy, which itself is guided by the six assurances, the three joint communiques, and the Taiwan Relations Act that I mentioned before.

QUESTION: What precisely would that mean? Would this include military action? I mean, this is one big question.

MR PRICE: Under the Taiwan Relations Act, we have a commitment to continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo in cross-strait relations.

QUESTION: Does this include military action? This – you didn’t answer that question.

MR PRICE: The Taiwan Relations Act spells this out. We will continue to act consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act.

QUESTION: Ned, you said “our ‘one China’ policy.” So is that an indication that it’s different than China’s “one China” principle?

MR PRICE: We have a “one China” policy that is distinct from the PRC’s version of it.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:59 p.m.)

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