Aug 2, 2021
Antony Blinken, State Department Press Conference Transcript August 2
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and State Department spokesman Ned Price held a press conference on August 2, 2021. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Ned Price: (00:03)
Good afternoon, happy Monday. As you all can see we have a special guest with us today. Secretary Blinken will offer some remarks at the top. He’ll have time for a question or two, at which point we will resume with our regularly scheduled programming. So without further ado, secretary Blinken.
Antony Blinken: (00:22)
Thanks very much. Good afternoon everyone. Good to see everyone here. Before I turn to today’s announcement, I want to take a moment to address a few urgent matters. First, I want to condemn again the attack on Friday against the commercial ship, the Mercer Street, which was peacefully translating through the North Caribbean sea in international waters when it was targeted by a drone laden with explosives killing two people. We’ve conducted a thorough review and we’re confident that Iran carried out this attack. It follows a pattern of similar attacks by Iran, including past incidents with explosive drones. There is no justification for this attack on a peaceful vessel on a commercial mission in international waters. Iran’s action is a direct threat to freedom of navigation and commerce. It took the lives of innocent sailors. We’re currently coordinating with our partners and consulting with governments in the region. And we join others around the world in sending our deepest condolences to the families of the British and Romanian crew members who were killed. Second, on Friday the white house announced two outstanding public servants who with the consent of the Senate will be joining our team here at the state department. Rashad Hussain is the president’s nominee for ambassador at large for international religious freedom. He previously served as special Envoy to the organization of Islamic cooperation among other key roles in the Obama administration. And he’s currently director for partnerships and global engagement at the national security council. Deborah Lipstadt is the president’s nominee for special Envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. She’s a scholar of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies who fights relentlessly against Holocaust denialism. Including in a landmark London trial when she was sued for libel by a Holocaust denier resulting in an overwhelming victory for Deborah and all those fighting Holocaust denialism.
Antony Blinken: (02:33)
She was also a two term member of the United States Holocaust Memorial council, and represented our country at the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. We’re eager for Rashad and Deborah to be confirmed and to get to work because this is a critical moment. According to the pew center, 56 countries, home to a majority of the world’s people have high or severe restrictions on religious freedom. Here in the United States as in many parts of the world, we’ve seen a rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred in recent years. This hits painfully close to home. As you know, there was an antisemitic incident here in this building last week. That was deeply disturbing not only because it was a deliberate act of hate toward many of our employees, but because this is the state department and at our best the state department leads the fight for the dignity and freedom of people everywhere.
Antony Blinken: (03:33)
And we’re resolute in the fight against antisemitism. So that swastika wasn’t only a threat directed at Jewish people in this building, it was also an insult to our global mission and our national ideals. There’s just one response that we’ll make to that kind of hatred and that’s to become even more committed to the fight against antisemitism. Debra and Rashad will help us do that. The investigation into that incident is ongoing. We’ll share new information as it becomes available. While I’m on the topic of nominees, the state department now has more than 65 nominees who’ve been formally nominated and are awaiting confirmation. Within the next week we’re hopeful that a third of those, 25 nominees, will be pending a vote in the full Senate. These are critical national security positions. They include overseeing security at our embassies and facilities around the world and helping clear the passport application backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Antony Blinken: (04:37)
The American people need these services. The nominees also include those who would lead our diplomacy in vital regions of the world, including Latin America, Asia, Europe, and Africa. The American people need these nominees the place. So we urge the Senate to confirm these individuals expeditiously before the August recess? Now let me turn to another urgent matter. Even as we withdraw our forces from Afghanistan, the United States and our partners remain deeply engaged. We’ll continue to work toward an Afghanistan where all Afghans can live in safety and security. And we will continue our support for Afghan institutions and for the gains that the Afghan people have made over the past 20 years. Our partnership with the people of Afghanistan will endure long after our service members have departed. We will keep engaging intensely in diplomacy to advanced negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban with the goal of a political solution. Which we believe is the only path to lasting peace.
Antony Blinken: (05:41)
And we’ll keep working closely with countries in the region, which all have a stake in a stable, peaceful, democratic Afghanistan. At the same time, Afghans who worked with the United States or the international security assistance force at some point since 2001 are facing acute fears of persecution or retribution that will likely grow as coalition forces leave the country. We have a special responsibility to these individuals. They stood with us, we will stand with them. Over the past 13 years, the state department has issued more than 73,000 special immigrant visas to eligible Afghans who have helped the United States and also to their families. Last year alone we issued nearly 8,000 of those visas. Now we’ve accelerated and expanded the program. Congress recently increased the cap by another 8,000 visas. The first flight of operation allies refuge arrived in the United States on Friday. The second flight arrived early this morning together transporting around 400 people and those flights will continue.
Antony Blinken: (06:49)
We’re now focused on relocating a group of more than 1000 applicants and their families who have nearly completed processing, around 4,000 people in total. Additionally, we’re pursuing third country agreements so eligible Afghans can be quickly relocated to wait safely in another country while we finish elements of this rigorous vetting process. Getting to this point was not a simple matter. Earlier today I visited the inter-agency task force located here at the state department, responsible for executing this 24/7 operation. I conveyed to them how grateful we are that they’re giving their all to this tremendously important and also meaningful mission. Now, as you know, the special immigrant visa program is defined carefully by statute. And we know that there are Afghans who don’t qualify but who helped us and deserve our help. Some may not have the qualifying employment for the special immigrant visa.
Antony Blinken: (07:50)
For example, they worked for a project funded by the US government, but not for the government itself. Some may not have met the minimum time and service requirement. For example, employees who began working for us more recently. And some were employed by American media organizations or NGOs doing vital work to support democratic progress in Afghanistan. So today the state department is announcing a new resettlement program for Afghans who assisted the United States but who do not qualify for special immigrant visas. We’ve created a priority two or P2 designation granting access to the US refugee admissions program for many of these Afghans and their family members. A great deal of hard work has gone into this already, but even more lies ahead. There is a significant diplomatic, logistical and bureaucratic challenge. We take our responsibility to our Afghan partners deeply seriously. We know the American people do as well.
Antony Blinken: (08:50)
We have a long history in the United States of welcoming refugees into our country and helping them resettle into new homes and new communities is the work of a huge network of state and local governments, NGOs, faith-based groups, advocacy groups, tens of thousands of volunteers. It’s a powerful demonstration of American friendship and generosity. Many Americans are asking how they can help Afghan refugees and their communities get resettled. The answer is to reach out to your local refugee resettlement agency. There are national websites with state-by-state phone numbers. These agencies are always looking for extra hands and will be grateful for the help. Again, I want to emphasize that although US troops are leaving, the United States remains deeply engaged. We will continue to support Afghanistan through security assistance, humanitarian development aid, and diplomatic support for the peace process. The Afghan people deserve a just and lasting peace and the security and opportunity that peace makes possible. We will do all that we can to advance that goal. And we’ll continue to welcome Afghan immigrants and refugees as our neighbors in gratitude for helping us despite the danger. We won’t forget it. Thank you.
Speaker 1: (10:17)
Mr. Secretary, first of all thank you so much. I am Afghan woman, I suffered a lot. I know about the Afghan people a lot so I represented them today. Thank you very much for your service. But still Afghan people have suffered a lot like especial Afghan journalist, especially women. They are under a lot of risk in Afghanistan. Any good news for them too? And the second question is Taliban is still increasing their attack and today US embassy and British embassy in Kabul said that Taliban kill innocent people in [inaudible 00:10:52] Kandahar. Any reaction, although they signed an agreement with you guys in Doha, Qatar.
Antony Blinken: (11:00)
Speaker 1: (11:01)
Antony Blinken: (11:02)
So with regard to Afghans who may fear persecution, may fear violence and who may not qualify either for the special immigrant visa program or what I just announced today the P2P program, they can also avail themselves of their right to seek refugee status in the United States and apply for that. Now to be clear, you have to do that from outside of Afghanistan from a third country. But they can go to the UNHCR for example and seek refugee status. We’ve seen the reports of atrocities being committed by the Taliban in various places where they are on the offensive. And these reports are deeply disturbing and totally unacceptable. And I think it speaks to a larger issue which is this, the Taliban has repeatedly said that they seek in the future a number of things. International recognition, international support.
Antony Blinken: (12:17)
They want their leaders to be able to travel freely around the world. They would like sanctions lifted on them. And none of those things are going to be possible if the Taliban seeks to take the country by force and commits the kind of atrocities that have been reported. And Afghanistan, as I’ve said before, that does not respect the basic rights of its people, that does not have a representative and inclusive government that does not abide by the main gains of the last 20 years is an Afghanistan that will be a pariah state certainly for the United States and I believe for the international community.
Speaker 1: (12:58)
Speaker 2: (13:00)
If I may follow up on my colleague here from Afghanistan, how do these people under the P1 program even get to third countries? You’re asking that Turkey and other neighboring countries around open their borders, how can they get from here to there past Taliban checkpoints? They’ve got targets on their backs. And if I may follow up also on the Mercer beat, how do you interpret this action that you are attributing to Iran? If this is correct you view this as an indication of the new government’s policy. What action is going to be taken either by us, by Israel or in some way a combination?.
Antony Blinken: (13:46)
Thanks [inaudible 00:13:47]. So with regard first to Afghans who seek to leave the country and seek to avail themselves of the refugee programs et cetera, you’re right. This is incredibly hard. It is hard on so many levels. It’s hard to pick up and leave everything you know, potentially family, friends, community, culture, language. And it’s hard to get yourself to a place where you can take advantage of what opportunities exist to seek to apply for refugee status. And we recognize that. This is alas the case for millions of people around the world who find themselves in very difficult situations and particularly in Afghanistan now.
Antony Blinken: (14:48)
Especially a group of people who may have worked for us, worked for NGOs, media organizations, women and girls and others who feel an acute sense of threat and fear for the future. And so as we see again and again, people have to do very difficult things to make sure that they can find safety and security. And we will do everything we can to help them including making these different avenues of arrival to the United States for this group of people possible. We are also dedicating very significant assistance, humanitarian assistance, not only in Afghanistan itself, but to neighboring countries, to enable them to support those who come to their countries again, seeking potentially a refugee status somewhere or immigrant status somewhere. So that support I think makes it a little bit easier. But I don’t want to deny the challenge of the difficulty. It is indeed a hard thing. Our obligation I believe-
Antony Blinken: (16:03)
Our obligation, I believe, is in the first instance to make sure that we are making good on our commitments to those who, in particular, put themselves on the line, put their families on the line to help us, whether it was, again, working directly for the United States government, for our embassy, for our military, for the International Security Force or whether it was working for NGOs, media organizations and others. And of course, as we just discussed, some Afghans who don’t fit into any of those categories, but may feel particularly at risk, we also have the principle refugee program available for them.
Antony Blinken: (16:40)
With regard to Iran. So we have seen a series of actions taken by Iran over many months, including against shipping. So I’m not sure that this particular action is anything new or augers anything one way or another for the new government. But what it does say is that Iran continues to act with tremendous irresponsibility when it comes to, in this instance, threats to navigation, to commerce, to innocent sailors who are simply engaged in commercial transit in international waters. And as I noted, we are in very close contact and coordination with the United Kingdom, Israel, Romania, and other countries. And there will be a collective response. Thank you.
Speaker 3: (17:48)
Thank you very much, Secretary.
Ned Price: (17:48)
Okay. We just have one element at the top, and then we will return to your questions. Secretary Blinken will participate this week in five virtual ministerial meetings related to ASEAN or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. These are the U.S. ASEAN, the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the Mekong-U.S. Partnership, and the Friends of the Mekong Ministerial meetings.
Ned Price: (18:47)
The secretary participated in the Special U.S. ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting on July 13th and reiterated the U.S. commitment to our strategic partnership with ASEAN and our strong support for ASEAN centrality. During this week’s meeting, Secretary Blinken will underscore that commitment and reiterate U.S. positions on pressing regional issues, including calling on the Burmese junta to immediately end the violence and restore Burma to the path of democracy, supporting freedom of the seas in the South China Sea, improving resilience and transparency through the Mekong-U.S. Partnership and urging ASEAN members to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions on the DPRK.
Ned Price: (19:29)
The secretary will share with ASEAN our plans for additional support in the fight against COVID-19, including through sharing additional vaccine doses. He will also discuss our plans to support ASEAN’s economic recovery and plans to combat climate change. He looks forward to a fruitful discussion with our ASEAN counterparts and regional partners this week. And we’ll have more details on that as the week progresses. And so with that, happy to take your questions.
Good. Let’s just start with Afghanistan. I’ll be really brief because I think that after the announcement and the background call, and now the secretary’s comments, we’ve probably got pretty much all the answers that we’re going to get, I think.
But I just want to make a point, the secretary talked about how this is a gesture of friendship and generosity from the United States to this group of people who are now going to have P-2 status, or are eligible to apply for P-2 status. But isn’t it a kind of a hollow gesture if they have to leave the country at their own expense? If they don’t get any support and leaving the country and then have to find a way to make ends meet for 12 to 14 months once they get to a third country without any assistance from you guys at all, don’t you think that significantly reduces the number of people who are going to be able to take advantage of this? Which I understand, it’s well-meaning. Frankly, I just don’t see how it’s going to make much of an impact.
Ned Price: (21:12)
Well, Matt, I would actually take issue with at least part of your premise. And let me just start with the requirement that you alluded to, that Afghans do in fact need to be outside of the country in order for this processing to take place. And just to put it very simply, that is due to the security situation in Afghanistan, and the lack of resettlement infrastructure, including personnel in place in the country, which is why Afghans eligible and referred to the P-2 program must be outside Afghanistan in a third country for their cases to be-
Ned Price: (21:55)
No, no, but just let me-
But that’s worse than a Catch-22.
Ned Price: (21:58)
Matt, I’m going to-
You’re telling them that they can leave because the situation is too dangerous, but they can’t stay because the situation, they have to leave, but they can’t stay-
Ned Price: (22:07)
There are a couple-
This is a Catch-44.
Ned Price: (22:09)
There are a couple of elements to your question. If you would allow me to answer all of them, I certainly will. We recognize, as the secretary said, that it is extremely difficult for Afghans to obtain a visa to a third country, or in some cases to find a way to enter a third country. We recognize that. Like many refugees, as the secretary just said, refugees all over the world, this is not limitedly unique to Afghanistan, they will face challenges seeking that safety.
Ned Price: (22:41)
We are continuing to review the situation on the ground, as we have done in the context of this new P-2 program, in the context of the launch of Operation Allies Refuge, we will continue to consider all available options and our planning will evolve. The fact that we are announcing this new P-2 program today is just the latest evolution of that process. It was a couple weeks ago that we announced Operation Allies Refuge, which was an evolution of our thinking, taking into account contingencies and conditions on the ground.
Ned Price: (23:15)
But I also want to make very clear that once Afghans are… Well, both for Afghans who are displaced internally within their own country and for Afghan refugees who have fled their country, Afghan refugees eligible to be referred to the P-2 program may contact the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the country office, in the country.
[inaudible 00:23:43] refugees? Or both?
Ned Price: (23:45)
I’m sorry. Yes, for refugees. I’m sorry. In the country office. It is also quite relevant to this discussion that the United States is the largest single donor of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. On June 4th of this year, we announced more than $266 million in new humanitarian assistance. That brings our total assistance over the course of these years, to nearly $4 billion. And now, humanitarian assistance from the American people helps our international humanitarian partners provide support, as I said before, to Afghans who are displaced within their own country, but also to Afghan refugees in the region. The United States has been the world’s largest humanitarian donor. And that includes, as I said, to Afghan refugees in the region. This funding allows our partners to provide lifesaving food, nutrition, protection, shelter, livelihood opportunities that are essential as well as other services like healthcare, water, sanitation, hygiene services, to respond to the humanitarian needs generated by conflict, by drought and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. This humanitarian assistance provides protection to the most vulnerable Afghans. And that certainly includes Afghans who have been forced to make the grueling decision in some cases to have to leave their country.
Ned Price: (25:28)
But let me make one other point. We are talking about this program today, the P-2 program. But as you heard from the secretary, the broader point is that we seek to establish the conditions in Afghanistan, where all Afghans can achieve a level of safety and security. That’s not only our goal, that is a goal that we are working with the broader international community to bring about. As we have said repeatedly, it is not only in our interest, but it’s in the interest of Afghanistan’s neighbors, to-
All right. Well, how’s that goal going so far?
Ned Price: (26:06)
… to Afghans neighbors, to see peace and security for the people of Afghanistan. So that is why we have not only invested tremendously in this humanitarian assistance, we have not only invested and will continue to invest in our partnership with Afghan security forces, but we are investing intensively, as the secretary said, in the diplomacy, supporting the diplomacy between the Afghan parties, bringing together the international community. Again, with an objective that all Afghans are able to live in peace and security within their own country. The reason we’re talking about this program today, and the reason we’ve spoken to the SIV program and launched the very ambitious Operations Allies Refuge is because there is a subset of Afghans who over the course of the years, owing to their extraordinary service to the United States, be it to our military, to the State Department, or in the case of P-2, the P-2 program, to NGOs, to media organizations, these individuals face an especially acute threat.
Ned Price: (27:15)
And so, that’s why even as our goal is to bring about an Afghanistan where all Afghans can live in safety and security, we also have a special responsibility to these Afghans who face an especially acute threat. And we have designed this program in consultation with a number of stakeholders. It was late last month that a consortium of nearly two dozen media organizations, as well as the Committee to Protect Journalists and other NGOs wrote to Secretary Blinken, and wrote to President Biden, writing that, “We urge the Biden administration to support the creation of a visa program for Afghans who worked with the U.S. press, and now seek safety in the United States.”
Ned Price: (27:59)
As I’ve said before, we are always looking at conditions on the ground. We are exploring contingencies. You have seen us act as those conditions have evolved in the context of these programs that we’ve announced and spoken to over the course of recent weeks. And we’ll continue to do that going forward.
But even before the withdrawal is complete, we see tens of thousands of people fleeing, okay? And yes, while it is quite relevant that the United States is the largest humanitarian donor, isn’t it also quite relevant that the reason that this is happening now is because you guys are withdrawing and you bear not only a special responsibility to assist what’s inside of the country, but also a special responsibility to those trying to get out? And this program, the P-2 program in particular, which offers them no support other than the fact that they are eligible to apply if they get nominated or referred, they have to get outside the country, they have to stay there for 12 to 14 months, stay wherever it is while this is processed. The secretary said that this is incredibly hard, it’s incredibly difficult.
Ned Price: (29:12)
And you keep mentioning all these other refugees from around the world. Well, this is a situation where this outflux, this outflow of people is directly related to the fact that you guys are leaving, right?
Ned Price: (29:30)
Let me address a couple elements. One, P-2 is a category of refugee status. You are right that the P-2 designation, the P-2 status doesn’t automatically confer benefits to refugees once they’re outside of the country. But our point is, both through UNHCR and through the tremendous generosity of the American people, the largest humanitarian donor, $266 million just a couple of months ago, billions of dollars over the course of the years, refugees, Afghan refugees do have support and are eligible to receive support from the United States government, from the UN, from other humanitarian donors.
Ned Price: (30:13)
So it’s not accurate to say that these individuals are necessarily and entirely left to fend for themselves. We don’t want to sugarcoat this. This is an arduous decision for anyone to have to leave his or her country, especially if they’re forced to make the journey, at least in the first instance, alone. But there are forms of support and the United States will continue to be the largest humanitarian donor. Knowing that, it is the generosity of spirit of the American people. Knowing that in this case, in the case of the P-2 program, in the case of the SIV program. We do have a special responsibility to these individuals, who in many cases face an especially acute threat because of the work they have done on behalf of the American people or directly on behalf of the U.S. government.
Ned Price: (31:04)
I have questions on Afghanistan. First of all, you referenced and Secretary Blinken referenced the assistance the United States will provide to other countries that will be absorbing some of the Afghan refugees. Is there anything you can say about how, if at all, that money will actually go to the people who are going to go stay in Pakistan or wherever for the year or however long it takes for them to have their applications processed? My impression has been that that aid would go through the government and maybe go to refugee camps. Where, as you know, many of these people will be setting up on their own, et cetera. Anything you can say about that?
Secondly, are you going to be surging new personnel or resources to countries that are expected to have larger numbers of these people, to be able to process their stuff? And then…
Except these people to be able to process their stuff. And then in the announcement this morning, it said that this P2 designation included people who worked for US funded projects that were funded via grants or cooperative agreements, but it did not include subcontractors. And I just wonder why is that? Because my understanding is that, at least in the past, contracts have represented at least half of the reconstruction funding. And so the contractor is usually a smaller group. The subs are the Afghan NGOs with the Afghan employees. Why is that the case? And finally, can you just give us an update on media access to Fort Lee? Thanks.
Ned Price: (32:43)
Sure. So there’s a lot there. Let me see if I can remember all that and address them in turn.
Speaker 4: (32:47)
The last one’s easy.
Ned Price: (32:49)
So in terms of what we are providing, the tremendous humanitarian support that we have provided over the years to Afghan refugees, both internally displaced people within the country of Afghanistan and Afghan refugees outside of Afghanistan, much of this funding goes to our international and humanitarian partners. Who are then in a position on the ground in neighboring countries or in the broader region to provide that support to some of the 18.4 million Afghans in need. And that includes Afghans both in Afghanistan and also Afghan refugees in the region. As I said before, these humanitarian partners then, in turn, can provide the sort of lifesaving support that all too often is a lifeline for Afghan refugees, food, nutrition, protection, shelter, opportunities for livelihood, essential healthcare, water, sanitation, hygiene services. That those are the kinds of services that our humanitarian partners are in a position to provide.
Ned Price: (34:04)
USAID and the department works closely with humanitarian partners, not only in this region, but also throughout the world in a well-honed process to see to it that that funding is distributed in an effective means. In terms of personnel, we just announced this program today. We’ve obviously spoken when it comes to the SIV program of the universe of people who are in that pipeline already, but we just announced this program today. So I think it would be premature for us to render an estimate as to how many may apply for this. But that is relevant to your questions about eligibility. And just to recap, Afghan nationals are eligible for the P2 program under certain conditions. Number one, Afghans who do not meet the minimum time in service for an SIV, but who works or work as employees of contractors, locally employed staff, interpreters and translators for the US government, United States forces Afghanistan, and the ISAT for International Security Assistance Force, or resolute support.
Ned Price: (35:15)
It also applies to Afghans who worked or work for US government funded programs or projects in Afghanistan supported through a US government grant or cooperative agreement, as well as Afghans who were or are employed by US-based media organizations or non-governmental organizations. Now, this program was designed, as we’ve said before, to provide an additional form of support to those Afghans, who by dent of their work on behalf of the US government or the American people, face an especially acute threat. And so this, it really drove the parameters of the program. The distinction between contractors and subcontractors, this program, we have designed it as we have in the Iraqi context as well, to apply to those Afghans, who in our judgment, face and especially acute threat. That is not to say that it will cover all of those who may come under threat.
Ned Price: (36:18)
Again, there is the P1 refugee program that remains available for broader groups of Afghan nationals. There’s the SIV program for a separate set of nationals. Now, the P2 program for these Afghan nationals who have worked for the US government, for the American people, over the years. In terms of media access to Fort Lee, this is something that we have explored. DOD may be able to offer additional details, but we’ll continue to update you on the progress, as the secretary did today, of the SIV relocation flights and the SIVs who have successfully arrived in United States.
DOD has referred us to the State Department, just so you know.
Ned Price: (37:02)
Understood. Understood. Yes?
Speaker 5: (37:05)
[inaudible 00:37:05] American troops [inaudible 00:37:11] worst violence in this country. Do you have any comment on that?
Ned Price: (37:16)
Well, there’s one party, that is in most cases, responsible for the outrageous and atrocious acts of violence that have been perpetrated against the Afghan people. And that’s the Taliban. Of course, other terrorist groups, ISISK also active, but we have seen an increase in these ongoing Taliban attacks. They show little regard for human life, for the rights of the Afghan people, including the basic right of the Afghan people to live in safety and security. The targeted killings, the destructions of buildings and bridges, other vital infrastructure, other violent acts against the people of Afghanistan, we recognize they are in stark contravention to statements from the Taliban leadership. We’ve seen from the loss of innocent Afghan life and the displacements of Afghans, the civilian population, the people, it is the people of Afghanistan who suffer the most and who bear the brunt of these horrific attacks. If the Taliban leadership truly supports a negotiated solution to this conflict, as they say they do, as their actions in Doha potentially suggest they do, they must stop these horrific attacks.
Ned Price: (38:53)
You heard this from the secretary just now. You’ve heard this from him before. You’ve heard this from me before, but the world won’t accept the imposition by force of a government in Afghanistan. The world will not accept a government in Afghanistan that doesn’t respect basic human rights, the rights of women, the rights of minorities, the rights of Afghan girls to pursue an education. The key point is that legitimacy and importantly for the durability of any future government of Afghanistan, assistance can only be possible if that government, whatever form it takes, has basic respect for human rights. And so that’s why we continue to do all we can to galvanize, to support the inter-Afghan negotiations in an effort to arrive at an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned government that fulfills the rights of its citizens and that will support, especially, the rights of the Afghan people, including that paramount right to live in safety and security, free from violence and in some cases persecution.
Can you give one example of something that the Taliban has done on the ground that supports your theory or your wishful thinking that they care about international acceptance? One thing.
Ned Price: (40:21)
Matt, we know that the Taliban seeks a role in Afghan society, seeks a leadership role in Afghan society.
Ned Price: (40:28)
Of course. That, we can agree on. It is absolutely indispensable. And I think this should be a pretty obvious point, too, that any government in Afghanistan will require international assistance.
No, it won’t. The Taliban did not require international assistance when it ran the country the last time around. They didn’t care. They didn’t want it. I know that I’ve gone [crosstalk 00:40:52]. This is nuts, what you guys keep saying. The secretary himself said, “They say that they want their leaders to be able to travel. They don’t want sanctions.” There’s nothing that has happened, that they have done on the ground over the course of the last several months, since April, since this was announced, to suggest that they in fact do want what you guys hope that they want. Is there? Can you name one thing?
Ned Price: (41:20)
The Taliban continue to engage in Doha. There has been progress in Doha.
You know what? If I had a room at the Four Seasons in Doha, and it was negotiating on be… I would say, “Whatever.” But that doesn’t matter what happens in Doha, frankly.
Ned Price: (41:35)
It absolutely does.
No. What matters is the atrocities that you even said-
Ned Price: (41:39)
… are being committed on the ground right now and are getting worse every day.
Ned Price: (41:42)
Matt, I’m afraid we might be mixing personal opinions with-
It’s not. It’s fact. You admit it. You acknowledged it, that it’s getting worse. You acknowledge that there are horrendous-
Ned Price: (41:52)
I’ll go back to my notes.
Ned Price: (41:55)
Any Afghan government will seek a few things. Number one is durability. It would not be to the Taliban’s benefit, it would not be to anyone’s benefit, to have a government that is beset by civil war and violence.
Fair enough. But you’re the one, your words, outrageous and atrocious attacks-
Ned Price: (42:18)
… against Afghan people that are only getting worse.
Ned Price: (42:21)
Absolutely. And that’s why we are supporting the inter-Afghan talks. We are seeking to do all we can to support the arrival an outcome that is just, and then importantly, is durable. All parties want a solution that is durable. Now, clearly they may have different visions, at the moment, of what that durable solution might look like. But that’s the point of these talks to arrive at a solution and an outcome that is Afghan-led, that is Afghan-owned, and importantly, a solution that, at least in our estimation, has to respect the basic and fundamental rights of the Afghan people. That’s not a sentiment that is unique to the United States. We have heard that from any number of Afghanistan’s neighbors, from other countries in the region, from other members of the international community as well. [Siet 00:43:17]?
Thank you. I want to move on to another topic [inaudible 00:43:21] Israeli issue. First, at Israeli court today, put off enforcing the eviction of the Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah. I wonder if you would urge them to sort of notify the judgment, to begin with, on that issue. Then I have a couple more.
Ned Price: (43:39)
Well, these reports were just emerging, but we are closely following the reports regarding the Sheikh Jarrah hearing. We’ve made this point before. Families should not be evicted from homes in which they have lived for decades. We’re not going to get into these emerging reports or comments on various detailed legal discussions, but we’re closely following them and will continue to do so.
Also, last month, maybe a couple of weeks ago and so on, the deputy’s assistant secretary of state, Hady Amr, warned Israelis that the PA was on the verge of collapse, and so on, on the verge of collapse. Do you still believe that, that the PA is about to collapse? Are you taking any sort of emergency or urgent measures to sustain it to [inaudible 00:44:34], if you would?
Ned Price: (44:35)
Well, DAS Amr, the state department, the administration, we remain engaged with our Israeli and Palestinian counterparts to take tangible steps that will improve the quality of lives and advance freedom, security, prosperity for all. Obviously, you have heard us speak to additional humanitarian assistance, that we’ve been able to offer, even in recent days. We’re doing all of this, the diplomacy, the assistance, the engagements in effort that, at its core, is really predicated on the simple idea that Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal measures of safety, of security, of freedom, and importantly, of dignity. DAS Amr was in the region just a few weeks ago. He met with both representatives of governments, the Israeli government, the Palestinian authority, but he also met with elements of civil society. And that is a partnership. And especially when it comes to that partnership with the Palestinian people, that we are in the process of rebuilding. And we’ve been able to make some tangible steps there, including with the announcement of the additional humanitarian support.
Is he back in the building? Is he back in town?
Ned Price: (45:54)
My understanding is yes.
Okay. One last thing regarding the consulate. It was apparently contingent on passing the budget, and it seems that it has done that. So do you have any sort of target date for reopening the consulate in Jerusalem?
Ned Price: (46:11)
Well, Secretary Blinken was very clear when he was in Jerusalem, when he was in Ramallah, that the United States will be moving forward with the process to reopen our consulate in Jerusalem. I don’t have any additional details to share at this time, but will be happy to do so when we do.
Speaker 6: (46:25)
I wonder if you could [inaudible 00:46:27] Russian ambassador to the US has said there’s 24 Russian diplomats who’ve been asked to leave the country by September 3rd, after their visas expired. So why are they being asked to leave? Were any of these people acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status? And is this a retaliation against something Russia’s done?
Ned Price: (46:49)
Well, let me first address ambassador Antonov’s remarks. I understand he made these remarks during a media interview, but his characterization of the situation is not accurate. It’s incorrect. The three year limit on visa validity for Russians, it’s nothing new. When visas expire, as you might expect, these individuals are expected to leave the country or apply for an extension. That is what is at play here. But since you did raise this issue, let me take an opportunity to speak to the broader issue. And that is a statement that you all saw from us, from Secretary Blinken on Friday. And we issued the statement in response to what the Russian government has mandated and what took effect yesterday. And that’s namely that the prohibition on the United States from retaining, hiring, or contracting Russian or third country staff, except for our guard force, which very limitedly has forced us to let go of hundreds of staff members across Russia, across-
Ned Price: (48:01)
Across Russia, across embassy and the mission community there. It is unfortunate because these measures have a negative impacts on the US mission to Russia’s operation, potentially on the safety and security of our personnel, as well as our ability to engage in diplomacy with the Russian government. I will say that we reserve the right to take appropriate response measures to Russia’s actions. The Russian government has also indicated that it will impose similar measures on the embassies of some of our partners and allies. We also strongly object to this, and we’ll stand in solidarity with the other countries, the other members of the diplomatic community there, who are affected by this. The point we’ve made before is that our actions on March 2nd and April 15th, the measures we put into place to hold the Russian government accountable for its range of threats to our interests and to our people, those were a response; we did not escalate, we did not seek an escalation, those were a response to the Russian government’s harmful actions. And we continue to believe that at times like these, we do need open channels of communication between our governments, including through our respective embassies. So we’re continuing to evaluate the situation and we’ll update you as we have a new development plan. [Sean 00:49:47]?
[inaudible 00:49:47] The ambassador, another thing that he said was that a three-year validity is almost unique to Russia, is that accurate as far as you see?
Ned Price: (49:55)
So the Office of Foreign Missions did issue some guidance recently. What we have said, and we can get you more details if we’re able to share on how this applies to Russia, but we announced last week that the department will limit the assignment duration of most newly arriving members of foreign diplomatic, or consulate missions in the United States to a maximum of five consecutive years. Now, of course, that doesn’t apply to all missions, but the limitation on duration does help us to balance the links of tours for bilateral diplomats assigned to foreign missions in the United States, and for US diplomats assignments overseas.
Ned Price: (50:43)
The maximum is five years.
So when he’s talking about three years, is that after what I mean, is that something that’s the case with Russians?
Ned Price: (50:52)
I couldn’t comment as to whether that is unique to Russian diplomats or not.
[crosstalk 00:50:58] Can they also have renewals?
Ned Price: (51:00)
We’ll see if we can get you more information on that.
Well, because I mean, you said that after the three years for the Russians, they either have to leave or they-
Ned Price: (51:09)
Apply for an extension.
Yeah. Can they get an extension?
Ned Price: (51:12)
And they can apply for an extension, and just as-
But have you said that, “We will not accept any extension requests?”
Ned Price: (51:20)
What we’ve said is that they can apply for an extension. As an all cases, applications are reviewed on a case by case basis.
But you’re saying in your response to this question is that this is not like a retaliatory move for the-
Ned Price: (51:36)
[crosstalk 00:51:36] This is not. The characterization that he put forward is not accurate.
Speaker 7: (51:38)
He also said that he didn’t think [inaudible 00:51:41] possible for them to get visa again, to come back. He said, “They likely will not come back because you guys make it impossible for them to get visa enrolled.” Do you dispute what he’s saying?
Ned Price: (51:52)
What we have consistently said is that we believe that in a relationship like this, that at least at the present is characterized by disagreement, by tension, by friction, and all of that is probably putting it lightly, that we need more communication rather than the less. We think it is in our interest, we tend to think it’s in the interest of our two countries, that we are able to communicate effectively and openly. And we can do that through our embassies, but our embassies need to be adequately staffed. The measures that the Russian Federation put in place on Sunday has, as we said before, forced us to let go of hundreds of our employees across our facilities in Russia. That in turn has a ripple effect on our ability, on the ability of our diplomats in Russia, to do their jobs. We think that is quite unfortunate. Yes?
Speaker 8: (52:54)
Thanks, Nick. The UNSA met with the Pakistani counterpart last week. There are reports of Pakistan supporting the Taliban, was this conveyed in this meeting to Pakistan, and what is their response? And my second question is, what’s the US as assessment with the meeting between the Chinese Foreign Minister and the senior Taliban leaders last week?
Ned Price: (53:15)
Well, as you know, the White House, I believe did put out a readout of National Security Advisor Sullivan’s meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, so I would refer you to that document. When it comes to Pakistan and its role in the region, we do appreciate Pakistan’s efforts to advance the Afghan peace process and stability in South Asia, including by encouraging the Taliban to engage in substantive negotiations. Pakistan has much to gain and will continue to have a critical role, will be well positioned to have a role in supporting the outcome that not only the United States seeks, But that many of our international partners, many of the countries in the region also seek. So we’ll continue to work and communicate closely with our Pakistani partners on this.
Speaker 8: (54:10)
Ned Price: (54:10)
Oh, and China. Well, we’ve made the point before, when it comes to the PRC, that this is a relationship that to use, one word is complex. To use three terms, it is one that is oriented around competition. In some areas, it is adversarial, in some areas, it is cooperative. Now, as you know, our Deputy Secretary was recently in the PRC, and she had an opportunity to explore all three of those areas and a conversation that was candid and expansive. One of those areas where there is at least the potential for some level of cooperation, is Afghanistan. As we’ve said before, it is in no one’s interest to see the country descend into all out civil war, to see the country wracked by violence for years to come. It is in everyone’s interest for to see a solution to the conflict that is just, that is durable. It is Afghan-led, and Afghan own. If I’m not mistaken, I think I saw a statement from the PRC that used that exact term, “An outcome outcome that is Afghan-led and Afghan owned.” So there is an alignment of interest, at least in some areas when it comes to what we seek in Afghanistan with the PRC seeks in Afghanistan, and what the broader international community seeks in Afghanistan. And we’ll continue to explore how we might be able to coordinate and work together towards that shared goal. Take a final question or two. Kylie?
You said that the US is continuing to evaluate the situation regarding the embassy and the staffing. What do you mean by that? Do you mean the US is questioning if they should keep open this embassy in Moscow? Do you mean you’re looking at how to respond both of those things? Can you just be a little more explicit?
Ned Price: (56:13)
Well, so of course our embassy in Moscow does remain open. When it comes to our other facilities, operations remain suspended at the US consulate general and Vladivostok. All public facing services were halted earlier this year at our consulate general and Yekaterinburg. The CG there no longer provides consular services, including US citizens services, such as passport issuance, notarial services and consular reports of birth abroad. What we have voiced strong objection to, including from the secretary that you saw on Friday, was the idea that because of the prohibition on the use of Russian or third country staff, that we would have to diminish some of the services and some of the operations that take place at our embassy in Moscow. What I was referring to there, obviously, we regret this decision that the Russian Federation has taken. Of course, we are going to continue to evaluate what may be inappropriate response for us to take going forward. [Muhammad 00:57:40]?
What level the US will, but on the national conference on Lebanon on Thursday or Wednesday?
Ned Price: (57:50)
I will let you know if we have anything to say ahead of that when it comes to events later this week. But you heard us reinforce last week, with the most recent developments, that we have renewed our calls to quickly form a government that is empowered, and that is committed to implementing critical reforms. It is critical that Lebanese political leaders set aside their political differences and form a government that is committed to, and empowered to enact these reforms. The Lebanese people for far too long have been left to, in many cases, suffer because of the political impasse, the political intransigence and inflexibility that Lebanon’s political leaders have demonstrated with the appointments of Mikati’s Prime Minister-designate. We are renewing our calls for the Lebanese government to make that progress, to show flexibility, and to put the interests of the Lebanese people ahead of their own political or personal interests. Yes?
Speaker 9: (59:18)
Thank you, I wanted to ask [inaudible 00:59:18] traveled to India last week, how was it? And what do you think were the key achievements of that trip?
Ned Price: (59:22)
I’m sorry, what was the last part?
Speaker 9: (59:24)
Main point, main achievements of his trip to India last week?
Ned Price: (59:28)
So, as I think you heard from us at the time, it was the Secretary’s first opportunity as Secretary of State to travel to India. It was also an opportunity for us to explore ways that we can strengthen and deepen the comprehensive global strategic partnership that we have with India. The other point that we made is that we have a number of shared interests and shared values with the government of India. We have talked about this in terms of our economic ties, in terms of our trade ties, in terms of our cooperation on climate, in terms of regional security issues, in terms of India’s role as an important member of the Quad and our joint cooperation to put in, into the COVID-19 pandemic, including with the enhanced vaccine production capacity that the Quad arrived at earlier this year. And as you know, President Biden is very much looking forward to a leader level Quad summit later this year.
Ned Price: (01:00:37)
But with all that, our relationship with India is one that also extends to the Indian people. The ties between the American people and the Indian people are deep, they’re enduring, they are predicated on familial ties, they are predicated on mutual respect for one another’s heritage and culture. And these are also ties that were on full display during, not only the meetings with our government counterparts, but also with elements of civil society. And the Secretary, as he almost always does, had an opportunity to visit the embassy in New Delhi and to thank not only the American diplomats who are there, but also the Indian nationals who are so important, and so vital to our mission to deepen and strengthen that comprehensive global strategic partnership, so… Go ahead?
Speaker 9: (01:01:36)
I’m sorry if I have missed this, has the Pakistani NSA, did he had any meetings in this building, including Secretary?
Ned Price: (01:01:44)
The National Screen Advisor did not meet with the Secretary. As you know, we were traveling all last week, but the White House did read that it’s meeting with National Security Advisor Sullivan. Thank you all very much.
Speaker 9: (01:01:57)