Feb 16, 2021
State Department Ned Price Press Conference Transcript February 16
State Department Spokesman Ned Price held a press conference on February 16, 2021. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Ned Price: (00:00)
Using detention as leverage is a threat to the safety of everyone traveling, working, and living abroad. This heinous practice must stop immediately. As I previewed on Friday, I am happy to welcome U.S. Special Envoy to Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, to the virtual podium today. U.S. Special Envoy Lenderking has been charged by President Biden with critical work of revitalizing our diplomatic efforts to bring peace and security to Yemen. He will work closely with Ambassador Henzel and his team at our embassy to Yemen, currently located in Riyadh. He’ll work with inter-agency colleagues here in Washington, with the Hill, with humanitarian partners, and with other regional international partners to address the crisis and build support for a resolution.
Ned Price: (00:51)
The U.S. Special Envoy brings immense regional and policy expertise to the table, and he’s worked closely, over the course of his diplomatic career, with the United Nations, Gulf partners, and a range of partners in the region. And so with that, I’ll turn it over to U.S. Special Envoy Lenderking for some remarks, and then he will have an opportunity to take your questions. So please, Tim, over to you.
Ned Price: (01:16)
Sorry, Tim. You might be on mute.
Is he actually here?
Ned Price: (01:20)
We’ll get to that.
Well, I mean in the building.
Ned Price: (01:25)
He’ll address that.
Ned Price: (01:30)
Well, I will address that since we’re-
For those of us who are not lip readers.
Ned Price: (01:33)
Since we seem to be having some audio issues. So as you know, Special Envoy Lenderking was in the region last week. He’s returned within recent days. So we wanted to ensure he remained in isolation, so he’s not in the room. He’s doing this from a remote location here. That’s right.
Well, have you told him that we can’t hear a word he’s saying?
Barbara Usher: (01:53)
I think there’s a person online working on that.
Barbara Usher: (01:53)
I think they’re working on it.
Ned Price: (02:00)
Yes, we are working on that.
At least I hope so.
Ned Price: (02:07)
Why don’t we give it a minute?
Barbara Usher: (02:14)
Ned Price: (02:15)
Technology presents opportunities and challenges. This was an opportunity to hear from the Special Envoy.
Speaker 1: (02:32)
Seems he can’t hear us. [inaudible 00:02:35].
Ned Price: (02:38)
If we can’t resolve this within the next couple of minutes, we’ll…
Speaker 2: (02:59)
The people watching the live stream can hear him.
Ned Price: (03:01)
Oh, they can?
Speaker 2: (03:02)
Yeah, he’s on one of the live streams.
Ned Price: (03:04)
Oh, so it’s…
Well, that’s wonderful.
Speaker 3: (03:10)
Sometimes the answer if very simple.
Ned Price: (03:35)
Well, why don’t we plan to move on, and we will hopefully come back to Special Envoy Lenderking. So…
Well, I have a bunch of questions that might be appropriate for him.
Ned Price: (03:51)
Let’s save Yemen for the Special Envoy.
Well, let me start with a combination of Yemen, Iran and Iraq. And that is, so today, the final revocation of the FTO for the Houthis came out. You also had, last night or yesterday attack in [inaudible 00:04:25], both of which are blamed by many people, even if not you specifically yet, on Iranian backed militia. And so I’m wondering if you think that… Or if you’re having any second thoughts. And I asked this before last week, but I just wonder, especially given your statement appealing for the Houthis not to continue attacks on Marib today, if you’re having any second thoughts about these undesignations.
Ned Price: (05:09)
Well, and I hope we have an opportunity to hear from the Special Envoy himself, but I will say, we do not have second thoughts about the profound humanitarian implications that were at play when it came to the broad designation of Ansarallah. As we have mentioned before, the broad designation, which was finalized in the last hours of the last administration, was put forward in spite of fierce opposition from members of Congress, from humanitarian aid organization, from elements of the UN. And of course, we had great concerns with it. Again, the secretary, when he was asked from this podium a few weeks ago now, what his priorities would be, he proactively raise this, knowing that some 80% of Yemen’s civilian population lives under Houthi control in Yemen.
Ned Price: (06:06)
And he also knew, at the time, and knows now, that we can do two things at once. We can ensure that we are not worsening the humanitarian plight of Yemen’s civilian population while continuing to put pressure on the leaders of the Ansarallah, or the Houthi movement. As I have said before, as you have heard me say, I think in response to a couple of your questions, Matt, Houthis leaders remain designated under the UN and U.S. auspices.
Ned Price: (06:32)
I think if you read closely the secretary’s statement on Friday regarding the revocation of this broad designation, he also made the point that we will continue to look for ways, and we are actively doing so, to increase the pressure on the Houthi leadership. Let me just spend a moment on the attack in [inaudible 00:06:52], because you raised it, and it’s worth reiterating here. As you heard from the secretary last night, we are outraged by the attacks yesterday, which harmed civilians, coalition forces, including an American service member. The secretary, as you know, last night, spoke with Iraqi Kurdistan regions prime minister Masrour Barzani. This morning, he spoke with Iraq’s prime minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. We’ll have a readout of that call today, as well. Ensuring the safety of U.S. government personnel and U.S. citizens, and the security of our facilities is our highest priority.
Ned Price: (07:27)
The Iraqi people have suffered for far too long from this violence, and this violation of their sovereignty. Now, we are not going to get ahead of the investigation that is very much underway. We have been in close contact with Kurdish officials, with Iraqi officials, to determine who, ultimately, was responsible for that. We take it incredibly seriously. We are supporting our Iraqi partners in their efforts to investigate these attacks, whether they were conducted by Iran, whether they were conducted by Iranian backed militia forces or elements of such forces. We’re not going to prejudge that, but suffice to say two things, one, we will, in coordination with our Iraqi partners, reserve the right to respond at a time and place of our choosing. And we will do so, in coordination with our Iraqi partners, as I said. This is a matter of Iraqi sovereignty. We are partners with the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government, and we’ll respond with that partnership in mind.
Well, just in terms of… Since the secretary made the comments that you just said that he made, which he did, shortly after, a day after he was confirmed, have you… About that being his priority to remove the Houthis from the FTO, and also to remove the leaders, the three leaders of the Houthis from the terrorism designations… While, you aren’t going to accept that right? I just want to make sure, before we go further. The leaders of the Houthis who are still designated under the anti-
Ned Price: (09:18)
UN and U.S. auspices, correct.
Right, but they were removed from the Treasury’s list, your list, the SDGT list of terrorist leaders? Correct?
Ned Price: (09:31)
What we have said is that-
No, no, no. Did they get taken off that list, or not?
Ned Price: (09:37)
We removed, as you said, the designation of Ansarullah as a foreign terrorist organization under the INA, and as an especially designated global terrorist group, pursuant to the executive order 13224, in this case. Now, when it comes to the Houthi leadership, they remained sanctioned under UN… They remain sanctioned under UN and U.S. sanction.
But were they taken off the actual SDGT list?
Ned Price: (10:11)
What we revoked was the designation of Ansarullah, the broad group.
Did you not also revoke the designation of the three leaders? Anyway…
Ned Price: (10:19)
They remain sanctioned under U.S. and UN.
I understand that they remain sanctioned under other designations, but now wait… Has the situation gotten better or worse, or has it gotten any better since you announced these moves, or has it… Because you’ve actually issued two, at least two, appeals to the Houthis, not to continue with attacks against civilian targets.
Ned Price: (10:48)
Matt, you seem to be attributing some sort of causal motive to what has happened in between the time of Friday and Monday.
This goes back longer than that.
Ned Price: (10:58)
We have spoken out against the group, the offensive in Marib. You saw that today, in terms of a statement from us. Again, and I’ve said this before, if the Houthis are under the false impression that this administration intends to let its leadership off the hook, they are sorely mistaken. As the secretary said on Friday, we continue to look for ways to hold the Houthis leadership to account, and not only to not decrease the pressure that the leadership is under, but to increase that pressure, if their reprehensible behavior does not stop. Yes.
Barbara Usher: (11:34)
I’ll go with my Yemen question-
Ned Price: (11:37)
Well, let’s not give up entirely on today’s briefing.
Barbara Usher: (11:40)
Well, I’ll put it out there for now.
Ned Price: (11:42)
Barbara Usher: (11:42)
So in the statement that you put out from Mr. Blinken, it says the Houthis assault on Marib is the action of a group not committed to peace or to ending the war. And I wondered if that is the case, how you move forward with the diplomacy you’ve been talking about. Is there a plan B? I have a second question, also.
Ned Price: (12:00)
Hope springs eternal, for me, that we’ll have the Special Envoy back with us, so let’s keep that question reserved.
Barbara Usher: (12:05)
So in terms of Iraq… Fair point, that you’re investigating and you reserve the right to respond at a time and place, and so on, but I just wondered, does this mean that you are no longer operating according to the standard that the Trump administration put down, which is that if a U.S. service person is killed, there will be retaliation. Is that still part of your calculation or is that…
Ned Price: (12:30)
It would be premature to speak in specific terms about retaliation before we know precisely what happened. As I said before, there is an active, ongoing investigation that we’re in the midst of. We’ve been in close contact with our Kurdish partners, with our Iraqi partners. So before we speak to specific retaliation, it is natural, and I think it is patently obvious that we would want to know exactly what happened. But as I also mentioned, we reserve the right-
Ned Price: (13:03)
… what happened, but as I also mentioned, we reserve the right to respond at a time and place of our choosing, consistent with our partnership with the people and the government of Iraq. Yes?
Tim Lenderking: (13:12)
On that Iraq attack, you talked about the investigation that Iraqi authorities are conducting, but do you have a separate investigation of your own? And do you have any clues, and what is your assessment who’s behind it? I would like to conclude my question-
Ned Price: (13:31)
So we are working in close partnership with Kurdish and Iraqi authorities. The United States of course brings our own, we bring our own resources to bear in terms of what may be in our holdings, including intelligence holdings. We will marry that with information that we develop in tandem with our partners. But again, we are in the early stages of this, and I wouldn’t want to get ahead or prejudge where that investigation may lead.
Speaker 5: (14:00)
There is a group that took responsibility for that [inaudible 00:14:04] yesterday.
Ned Price: (14:05)
We’ve seen that claim of responsibility, but again, there’s an investigation and we don’t want to base our conclusions solely and exclusively on the claims of a particular group. Yes?
Speaker 4: (14:21)
I have a question of course on Yemen, but I will wait. So I’ll ask you about Iraq. The initial investigation showed that the rockets that’s been used is [Faisure One 00:14:29], which is manufactured by the Iranians. And I know you’re just saying that you want to wait for the investigations, but do you see this as a test by the Iranians for this Biden administration to test your tolerance and patience of how you’re going to deal with them? Because everybody who knows Iraq knows that these groups cannot operate without a green light from Tehran.
Ned Price: (14:51)
Well, I think the sad reality is that these kinds of rocket attacks have been more commonplace in recent years with the implementation of the so-called maximum pressure strategy, a strategy that at the same time did not have accompanied, it was not accompanied by diplomatic engagement of any sort with the Iranian government. We’ve seen this spiral of attacks in recent months and beyond.
Ned Price: (15:24)
So look, I wouldn’t want to get ahead of the motives because again, we’re not going to get ahead of the perpetrator. Once we have identified a perpetrator, then it would be more appropriate to look into the motive. What I can say is that we are supporting the investigation into this, we will continue to work with our partners on the ground to develop those facts, and based on those facts, we’ll come to a conclusion. Do we have the Special Envoy? Special Envoy, can you hear us?
Tim Lenderking: (15:55)
I get to hear you loud and clear.
Ned Price: (15:57)
All right. Okay. Well, we’ve had a couple Yemen questions while [crosstalk 00:16:05] in the interim. That’s right, that’s right. So I wanted to reserve much of that for you, but let me turn it over to you, and my apologies for the technical snafu.
Speaker 6: (16:14)
Yeah, we can go back and-
Tim Lenderking: (16:18)
Well, thank you, thanks very much [Ned 00:16:19], and good afternoon everybody. I’m sorry that I couldn’t join you in person. I’m just back from international travel and I’m in quarantine. So I hope I will have a chance to join you in person on another occasion.
Tim Lenderking: (16:32)
Let me just start by saying I’m honored that the President and the Secretary have entrusted me to lead our diplomatic efforts to end the war in Yemen, which is now in its sixth year. I look forward to working with our team at the U.S. embassy to Yemen led by Ambassador Chris Henzel. The UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, with the governments of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and with our international partners, and with a range of stakeholders here at home. I think together we will pursue a dual-track approach to build international support, to achieving a lasting political solution while bringing humanitarian relief to the Yemeni people.
Tim Lenderking: (17:10)
The President and the Secretary have made very clear our commitment to prioritizing efforts to alleviate the worsening humanitarian crisis, and to ensuring that humanitarian assistance and basic commodities reach the Yemeni people. To that end, I’ve met with my counterparts at USAID, including Acting Administrator Gloria Steele and her team to discuss USAID’s critical humanitarian operation in Yemen.
Tim Lenderking: (17:34)
I’ve also spoken to senior UN leadership about the urgently growing needs in Yemen and our commitment to supporting the humanitarian response. I look forward to our continued coordination with our humanitarian assistance partners. And as the President and Secretary have stated, we are also prioritizing diplomacy. We maintain that a political solution that brings the parties together is the only way to bring lasting peace to Yemen, and lasting relief to the people of Yemen.
Tim Lenderking: (18:03)
We’re working now to energize international diplomatic efforts with our Gulf partners, United Nations, and others, to create the right conditions for a ceasefire, and to push the parties toward a negotiated settlement to end the war in Yemen. I’m firmly committed to working with partners on Capitol Hill, and the inter agency, to ensure we bring a whole-of-government solution to this urgent problem set. Indeed, my very first calls were to key congressional leaders, and I look forward to continued engagement with the Hill.
Tim Lenderking: (18:34)
As you know, I went immediately to Saudi Arabia last week. In Riyadh, I met with the Saudi leadership and with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths. I met with the president of Yemen, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, and Foreign Minister Ahmed Bin Mubarak. I also met with the head of King Salman relief, Dr. Abdullah Al Rabeeah to review efforts to provide urgent aid to Yemen. I met with the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, his excellency Nayef Al-Hajraf. And I also met with the P5 ambassadors in Riyadh. At the end of my trip, I think we all agree that there’s an urgent need to resolve the conflict, coordinate closely on our humanitarian response efforts, and to maintain stability in the region.
Ned Price: (19:23)
Wonderful, okay. The Special Envoy has kindly agreed to take a few questions. We’ll go here to, please.
Speaker 7: (19:29)
Tim Lenderking: (19:30)
Can I say one more thing before we go to questions? I wanted to make one additional point that while I was in Riyadh, the Houthis struck a civilian airliner or an Abha Airport in Southern Saudi Arabia. And these attacks against civilian infrastructure are not the actions of a group that claims it wants peace, and they must stop.
Tim Lenderking: (19:50)
Unless, and until the Houthis change their reprehensible behavior, their leaders will remain under significant U.S. and international pressure. And I heard the question that Matt asked previously on this subject.
Tim Lenderking: (20:02)
We also urge the Houthis to halt their advance on Marib, which is a city home to about 1 million internally-displaced persons in Yemen. In the last year alone, the surge in fighting and Marib caused over 100,000 Yemenis to flee their homes. The Houthis must truly commit to join this effort to finally ending the suffering and this war.
Tim Lenderking: (20:24)
Ending this war through a lasting political solution is the only means to durably end the humanitarian crisis that is devastating the Yemeni people. And with that Ned, that I turn it back to you, and happy to take a few questions. Thank you.
Ned Price: (20:37)
Great. Thanks very much. We’ll start here.
Barbara Usher: (20:39)
Yeah, Barbara Usher from the BBC. Thank you for doing this. Just following up on the line, and you kind of repeated it in the readout, that these actions, the assault on Marib, and the attacks on the infrastructure show that it’s a group not committed to peace or ending the war; and yet you have been tasked with accelerating the diplomacy.
Barbara Usher: (21:05)
So how does that work if you believe, or the actions of one side suggest they’re not interested in a solution, do you have a plan B, or do you have like a direct channel to the Houthis where you’re conveying these messages or getting some kind of idea of why they’re carrying out this campaign?
Tim Lenderking: (21:25)
Thanks Barbara. A couple of points I’d make at the top; the first is that the move on Marib is not a new development. It’s something that the Houthis these have been eyeing intermittently over the last couple of years. But it’s clear that they’re making a push, and whether that’s to put themselves in a better position in advance of a negotiation, or what exactly is the motive, I would let them comment on that.
Tim Lenderking: (21:52)
We do have ways of getting messages to the Houthis, and we are using those channels very aggressively, as we are engaging, as I mentioned, in person with the leaderships of the key countries involved. So I think our hope is that a combined effort bringing in certain partners at certain times, backed with a very strong American position will essentially shake up the architecture and put us in a much better place to push for that negotiated settlement, which I think we all agree is the only way forward.
Ned Price: (22:27)
Speaker 8: (22:28)
Ned Price: (22:30)
No, [inaudible 00:22:30] right behind you, we’ll [crosstalk 00:22:35]-
Iniba Ashtra: (22:35)
[Iniba Ashtra 00:22:35] from [Asharta News 00:22:35]. You said, we saw the statement today on Marib, and you said Mr. [Lindergim 00:22:40] about the attack while you were in Riyadh, so what if this pressure didn’t work? What kind of pressure you want to put on the Houthis to bring them to the table? And are you willing to engage with the Iranian if this didn’t work?
Tim Lenderking: (23:00)
Thank you Iniba. I think the main thing is that there are a number of actors who are committed to a peaceful resolution of the Yemen conflict, who are all frankly appalled and very concerned by the fighting that’s going on in Marib, but I’d point you to Mark Lowcock the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, his statement, even before ours, focusing strictly on the humanitarian implications, as I mentioned the potential for more IDPs to either fleet in or out of Marib is something that is going to push an already stretched humanitarian infrastructure beyond the breaking point. And so that’s part of the reason here. And obviously this is the last stronghold of the Yemeni government in Northern Yemen. So the stakes are very high.
Tim Lenderking: (23:50)
As for talking to the Iranians, I think I would leave that for others to discuss. I know that Martin Griffiths just returned from Tehran, and I was able to speak to him about his meetings there. And it’s no secret, I think, that the Iranians have played a very negative role in Yemen hitherto. Both their training, their supplying, and their equipping the Houthis to conduct attacks against civilian targets in the Kingdom and elsewhere on the Gulf have been particularly damaging. So there’s also an opportunity, I think for Iran to put its best foot forward in terms of supporting the kind of international response that we’re trying to engineer here to end this conflict.
Ned Price: (24:36)
Sean, go ahead.
The President announced an end to support for offensive operations by the Saudis in Yemen. Could you follow up on what that means at this point? Are you still honoring contracts that have been there before? If it’s armaments, et cetera, is there still some defense relationship regarding Yemen with regards to Saudi Arabia?
Tim Lenderking: (24:59)
Many of the details are still being discussed right now as to how that all shakes out. The President made a firm commitment, we are abiding by that. At the same time he and the Secretary have both made clear that we’re not going to allow Saudi Arabia to be target practice. So Saudi Arabia needs to have the ability to defend itself.
Tim Lenderking: (25:19)
The situation in Marib that we’re talking about is not that far from the Saudi border; that’s a concern. As I mentioned, I walked into my meeting with the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia last Wednesday, and had to spend the first 20 minutes talking about what could have happened had there been people on board that aircraft that was hit earlier in the day in Abha.
Tim Lenderking: (25:41)
So what we’re seeing is a steady flow of attacks across the border. And that pertains to the question made earlier, this has been happening for some time. So I hesitate, as Ned did, to attribute this to actions that we have taken. This is a consistent pattern. What we’re trying to do is break the cycle.
Tim Lenderking: (26:02)
… consistent pattern. What we’re trying to do is break the cycle.
Ned Price: (26:04)
Speaker 9: (26:05)
Hi, Tim. It’s [inaudible 00:26:07]. Good to see you virtually. Your stated goal is to end this war in Yemen. You have two sides. You have the coalition led by the Saudis and they said they’re willing to negotiate. And then you have the Houthis who so far haven’t given us any indication that they are willing to negotiate. And I’m not quite sure what leverage that you have on them. Some will say that the UN platform is not really the right one to go forward if you want to end this war. Looking at the track record of the UN failure, actually in Syria and in Libya and elsewhere, do you think that it’s about time, if you really put this as a top priority of your foreign policy, to look at different avenue of how you’re going to end this war in Yemen?
Tim Lenderking: (26:49)
By no means have we given up on the UN track and Martin Griffiths done a terrific job leading this effort. And my instructions are to work very closely with him. And that’s why the very first meeting that I had in Saudi Arabia last week was with him. And then we built out and met also with the Saudi leaders. So I would not apply UN positions in other conflicts, whether Siri, or Libya to the Yemen case. The Yemen cases is a particular one. It is full of challenges and pitfalls. I certainly agree, but I think what we’re trying to do is build the right combination of pressures, use the right kind of leverage. And one thing that I found in the reaction to our new energized diplomacy, there is a profound desire around the region and inside Yemen to end this conflict. The refrains that I hear from people throughout the region is now is the time to end the conflict. There is strong desire to do it. So we need those stakeholders and those with, with a say in the issue to rally around and support our efforts.
Ned Price: (27:58)
I’ll take a couple final questions.
Hi Tim, this is Humeyra from Reuters. Good to see you as well. Just to follow up on that. Do you know if UN envoy Martin Griffiths made any progress during his visit to Iran on Yemen? If there was any progress, what was it specifically, and would you expect any developments related to that trip before the security council meeting on Thursday?
Tim Lenderking: (28:24)
Well, I’d leave that to Martin himself to describe. He will be in the security council later this week, and he’ll be able to talk about his latest views on the conflict. I would just go back to the point I made earlier. This is an opportunity for Iran to rally behind this effort and support a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Yemen.
Ned Price: (28:45)
We’ll take a final question. Right there.
Jennifer Hansler: (28:46)
Hi, Jennifer Hansler with CNN. Can you elaborate a little bit more about what Iran putting its best foot forward on this issue looks like? Is it completely cutting off the Houthis? And are there any circumstances in which you would sit down directly with the Houthis in the near future?
Tim Lenderking: (29:00)
I think the main thing is to stop the support for lethal activity by the Houthis, because that is particularly troubling their ability to use sophisticated UABs, missiles, implanting mines to threaten the international waterways around Yemen and the coast of Oman. These are things that are really antithetical to the peace effort in Yemen. And if the Houthis want to state their goodwill, they’ll push away from Iran. That’s something they themselves have stated, that they want to be seen as independent of Iran. This is a good opportunity for them to show that.
Very quick. I haven’t gotten to ask him a question. Yes?
Ned Price: (29:54)
Very quick, final question.
Very quick, sorry, Tim. So you’re one of the people who has been dealing with this region for many years. You’re one of the few in a senior position who has been around for the previous administration and this administration. What’s different in the last month and other than the removal of the FTO designation, and has it made the situation better, or worse? Is there no causal effect to it, or are you more optimistic now than you were say three months ago?
Tim Lenderking: (30:31)
Well, thanks, Matt. I look at the fact that the administration is putting an emphasis on Yemen as something that is different. It’s not to say the previous administration did not, but I think elevating our posture, the manner and the frequency with which the president and the secretary and Ned Price have spoken about Yemen and our determination, the absolute commitment to improving the lot of the Yemeni people. We’ll maintain our status as the largest donor to Yemen, something I think we should all be proud of, even though this war seems very far away, but I think that is, that is a major change. And I think, again, just looking at the reaction from around the world and especially from the region and inside Yemen, the new American energy here is being welcomed. And I think it gives us some momentum and that’s what we want to capitalize on.
Ned Price: (31:30)
Just to state the obvious, the fact that you’re able to ask and hear answers from the Special Presidential Envoy for Yemen, I think speaks to the prioritization this administration has attached to this challenge and with that, Special Envoy Lenderking, want to thank you very much for your time. Apologies again for the technological gremlins. And we look forward to having you back another time.
Tim Lenderking: (31:48)
Thanks very much.
Ned Price: (31:49)
Great. We have just a couple minutes left. I have a hard stop, unfortunately, but take a couple additional questions, Andrea.
Hi, let me ask you about Afghanistan and the Taliban and what you’re seeing on the ground in terms of the increased activity around Kandahar and elsewhere, and how that affects your review when you expect the review to be done regarding the status of troops.
Ned Price: (32:16)
Well, so absolutely the level of violence in Afghanistan is unacceptably high. As we have said before, President Biden is committed to bringing a responsible end to the so-called Forever Wars. Just as we plan to support the ongoing peace process between the Islamic Republic and the Taliban, of course, there is this defense ministerial, this NATO defense ministerial this week. As we have said before, we’re in the process of reviewing the US Taliban agreements, taking a close look at the ability and the willingness of the parties to uphold the commitments that they have made. We don’t have anything to announce at this time, but obviously consulting closely with our NATO partners and our NATO allies in this going forward, will be a key part of that at about that process. And I know that Secretary Austin looks forward to that.
At this stage. Do you think they are in compliance?
Ned Price: (33:24)
Well, again, the levels of violence are unacceptably high, but I would not want to get ahead of that evaluation, would not want to get ahead of what that means in terms of the policy process as we look forward to may. But clearly the consultations with our NATO allies, with other partners who have a stake in Afghanistan, they’re critical elements here, and we’ll be undertaking them with great care going forward. Yes?
Barbara Usher: (33:49)
I’d like to ask a question for [inaudible 00:33:52] who couldn’t make it in person on Kosovo. So Albin Kurti of the self-determination party, who won, has said that negotiations with Serbia will not be as top priority. Just if you could have a reaction to the elections in that statement, especially given that President Biden had urged to both sides to reach a comprehensive solution based on mutual recognition.
Ned Price: (34:16)
Well, I think in the first instance, we congratulate the people of Kosovo on their successful parliamentary elections. We look forward to working with the government once formed on priority issues to advance peace, justice and prosperity in Kosovo in the broader region. When it comes to the dialogue with Serbia, the United States strongly supports the EU facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, aimed at a comprehensive normalization agreement, which should be centered on mutual recognition. We will encourage the new government once formed to prioritize those negotiations.
Does that include any support for the previous administration’s attempts to bring about a better relationship between Serbia and Kosovo?
Ned Price: (35:02)
Absolutely. The efforts on the part of the previous administration to, just as we are seeking to do, bring about normalization between Kosovo and Serbia is something we would support as we’re doing right here.
I have one on Burma to, but I can wait.
Ned Price: (35:16)
On Egypt, Mohamed Sultan, an Egyptian-American human rights activist, he has reported that relatives in Cairo that have had their homes raided, the Biden administration has talked about having a new relationship with CC. Is this a concern with you? Has it been raised?
Ned Price: (35:36)
Well, we are aware of, and we’re actually looking into reports of the detention of family members of human rights activist and American citizen Mohamed Sultan. We have, and we continue to engage the Egyptian government on human rights concerns, and we take seriously all allegations of arbitrary arrest or detention. As we’ve said in other contexts. We will bring our values with us into every relationship that we have across the globe. That includes with our close security partners, that includes with Egypt. So we’re looking into these reports. Final question or two, I haven’t gotten to the back there.
Speaker 10: (36:14)
On the declaration that you signed yesterday with like-minded countries, one of the things that it doesn’t do is name and shame countries that engage in this behavior. Are there countries of particular concern for you and your like-minded partners on this issue?
Ned Price: (36:27)
Well, we have obviously spoken out, including in recent days, against countries that have engaged in this arbitrary detention of foreign nationals. As the secretary said in his statement, human beings should not be used as geopolitical pawns. That applies across the board. We’ve spoken of cases where Americans and other foreign nationals are being detained unjustly for political motives. I think we all know what those cases are. But this was a broad statement by more than 55 countries to underline that broad principle, because it is something that not only does this administration in this country believes in deeply, but so many of our like-minded partners and allies do as well.
Speaker 10: (37:07)
Just one follow up on that. Paul Whelan’s lawyer said yesterday that there are talks between the US and Russia for a of swap of prisoners. Can you confirm whether or not that’s true, and if you would support a prisoner swap?
Ned Price: (37:20)
I wouldn’t want to go into that from here. I think what we can say broadly is that the welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of our highest priorities, as I’ve already said, Russian authorities convicted Paul Whelan in a closed and secret trial, depriving him of a key protection, and that’s transparency. His trial was a mockery of justice. Russian authorities didn’t provide evidence and didn’t allow for Mr. Whelan to produce witnesses in his own defense.
Ned Price: (37:48)
He’s now serving this 16 year sentence in a Russian labor camp. We remain concerned for his well-being and his safety. And we’ll continue to speak on Mr. Wayland’s behalf until the Russian government finally does the right thing and sends Mr. Whelan home to his family here in the United States. Michelle? We’ll go to Michelle and then…
Speaker 10: (38:08)
Why didn’t the US attend the Astana Process, and how do you view this process?
Ned Price: (38:14)
On the Astana Process, and Syria more broadly, I’ll see if we can get you an answer on our posture there. Thanks. Andrea?
So on [inaudible 00:38:24], on trial again, and what he calls a mockery, anything further, since Putin seems to be ignoring the American and Western protestations?
Ned Price: (38:34)
Well, it’s not just the Americans. It is a broad coalition of like-minded allies and partners who have spoken out. I’ve mentioned this before, but on one of the first days of this administration, the G7 came out with a very strong statement in support of, of Mr. Whelan, but also in support of human rights, and condemning the abuses of human rights that we’ve seen on the part of the Russian government. As you know, we are looking very closely together with our…
Ned Price: (39:03)
We are looking very closely, together with our allies, including our European allies, at Russia’s actions in the context of Mr. Navalny, including its arrest and detention of thousands of those Russians who bravely took to the streets. We’re doing that in tandem with a review that the Director of National Intelligence is undertaking regarding the various malign activities that we have seen emanate from or be attributed to Russia over the past several years. That includes electoral interference, it includes solar winds, it includes the use of a chemical weapon on Mr. Navalny, among other issues. So this administration has been clear that we will stand up for human rights, we will push back on those countries that threaten our interests, that threaten universal values. And I think we’ll have more to say on that in the coming days. Matt, you ask a lot. We’ll need to … Nadia, go ahead.
Thank you. I just have a scheduling question. Can you confirm that the Secretary is going to participate in the Brussels meeting on the 22nd, I believe?
Ned Price: (40:13)
I don’t have any announcements to make at this time, but when we do, and if we do, we’ll be sure to let you know.
Can I ask you if you include Julian Assange in the statement that Connor asked about?
Ned Price: (40:28)
I knew the Department of Justice is in an ongoing –
So no, you don’t? You don’t believe that –
Ned Price: (40:35)
I would refer you to the Department of Justice to comment on Mr. Assange’s case.
Second, on Burma. And yes, I do ask a lot of questions, but –
Ned Price: (40:42)
But we want to make sure it’s equitable within the briefing [crosstalk 00:40:45].
And that’s fine. Does anyone else have a Burma question?
Speaker 11: (40:49)
Ned Price: (40:50)
It sounds like there is.
Go, go. Yeah.
Speaker 11: (40:56)
Just your response on what’s been happening on the ground, the latest increasing tensions, security forces opening fire. Police filed a second charge against Suu Kyi. And also we’ve asked you about China’s role and your answer wasn’t clear, but Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar said China wasn’t informed ahead of time about the coup and that the situation in Myanmar was not something China wanted to see. But I mean, what is your assessment about how China is involved, whether or not it is involved [crosstalk 00:41:31].
Ned Price: (41:31)
Well, you mentioned the additional charges against Aung San Suu Kyi. I think it’s fair to say that we are disturbed by reports that the military has charged State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi with additional criminal acts. As we have before, we call on the Burmese military to immediately release all unjustly detained civilian and political leaders, journalists, and human rights activists, and other members of civil society, as well as to restore the democratically elected government. As the president has said, the military seizure of power is a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the rule of law. We have been heartened that so many of our like-minded partners and allies around the world have joined us in condemning this anti- democratic action, this coup. When it comes to China, we have been clear that we would like to see China play a constructive role in this, and that is a message that we have sent both publicly and privately to Beijing. And it’s a message that we’ll continue to send until China is clear in its condemnation of this coop. So with that, I’ll plan to see you all tomorrow. Very much appreciated.
So over the weekend, you went to off. You know what? You can be as annoyed as you want, but these are questions that should be answered. We’re very grateful that you’re going back to briefings like this. But over the weekend, you went to authorize departure at your embassy in Rangoon, correct?
Ned Price: (43:04)
Yeah? So you want to say anything more about that or more about what the review post the president’s comments at the Pentagon at the end of the week in terms of the review? Are you happy with the safety and security of your people?
Ned Price: (43:24)
As we have said before, even in this briefing, that the safety and security of our people and U.S. citizens overseas, it’s a top priority for us. That’s why on February 14th, the Department authorized voluntary departure, or authorized departure, as you put it, of family members and non-emergency U.S. government employees in Burma. It gives our employees and their family members the option to depart if they wish. It’s a status that will be reviewed every 30 days. But, of course, as we do this, we’re continuing to assess the security situation and if additional action is warranted, we will take it. Thank you very much, everyone. We will see you tomorrow.
Speaker 12: (43:59)
Ned Price: (43:59)
So I can’t do an off the record today, but I’ll see you guys tomorrow. Thank you.