Mar 4, 2021
State Department Ned Price Press Conference Transcript March 4
State Department Spokesman Ned Price held a press conference on March 4, 2021. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Ned Price: (06:42)
Good afternoon. I actually don’t have anything on the top. So we will move right to your question. Sorry to take you by surprise.
It’s obviously because there’s nothing going on the world.
Ned Price: (06:56)
I want to allow plenty of time for questions.
I want to start with Burma, Myanmar, because yesterday was another bad day. And I’m just wondering if you have anything that you can say about what the administration is doing, both just in the general sense, but also about particularly journalists who have been rounded up and detained.
Ned Price: (07:30)
Well, let me start by saying that we are deeply saddened by reports that security forces killed as many as 24 people yesterday, on March 3rd. We strongly condemn the use of violence by Burmese security forces against the Burmese people, including peaceful protestors, to your point, Matt, journalists in civil society. We continue to urge the Burmese military to exercise maximum restraint. This latest escalation in violence demonstrates the fact of the junta’s complete disregard for their own people, for the people of Burma. It is unacceptable, and the world will continue to respond, the United States will continue to respond. We’ll continue to respond in tandem with our partners and allies around the world. We’ve said this before, but it remains true that tens of thousands of Burmese have courageously taken to the streets peacefully to show the strength of their will and the power of their collective voice.
Ned Price: (08:39)
We have sought, again, with our partners and allies, to amplify the power of their collective voice. We call on the military to act peacefully and with respect for human rights, including the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. These are two universal rights that are as applicable in Burma as they are anywhere else. We will continue, as I said, to work with the international community to take meaningful action against those responsible. There will be additional action on the part of the United States. We support freedom of peaceful assembly, including to protest peacefully in support of the restoration of the democratically elected government. And Matt, you asked about the journalists that have been detained, so allow me just a moment on that. We are, of course, aware of the reports that the military has charged additional journalists with crimes. We are deeply concerned about the increasing attacks and arrests of journalists.
Ned Price: (09:42)
We call on the military to immediately release these individuals and to cease their intimidation and harassment of the media and others who are unjustly detained for doing nothing more than their job, for doing nothing more than exercising their universal rights. We’ve said this before in the context of Burma, we said it before in the context of other countries around the world, but a free and independent media, it plays a critical role in ensuring that people are able to make informed decisions. We call upon the military to allow journalists to work independently and without harassment, intimidation, or fear of reprisal. As I’ve said before, we have taken a number of actions against the military junta, against the military leaders, and military entities responsible for the coup and for related violence, including visa restrictions and asset blocking sanctions. We will continue and expand our efforts to promote accountability for the military’s actions, including the detention of these journalists and the heinous violence that we’ve seen in Vermont in recent days.
Two very brief things on this and then I’ll move on and then I’ll stop. But one, the Khashoggi ban, that obviously was related to Saudi Arabia, but is that something that you’re considering using in relation to Burma because of what you’ve just talked about? And then just secondly, you mentioned twice that you’re working with partners and allies. Well, what about countries that might not necessarily be charters [inaudible 00:11:28], allies, specifically China? Have you approached the Chinese about maybe them using their influence, whatever it is, with the Burmese military?
Ned Price: (11:41)
In terms of your first question, the Khashoggi ban, we did unveil this new policy of the Department of State and the United States government in the context of our response to the gruesome, heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but a very important point. Khashoggi ban is as applicable to Saudi operations as it is to those operations targeting dissidents, the world over. The ban has global applicability for countries who would pursue dissidents, political opponents, extra territorially. So if it is appropriate, if it is relevant in this case, we will not hesitate to apply it. When it comes to China, let me first start by saying that, as you know, as I think as I repeated yesterday, we have worked since February 1st, since the United States declared the overthrow of the democratically elected civilian government in Burma to be a coup, primarily with our like-minded partners and allies, our partners and allies in the Indo Pacific, our treaty allies, institutions like [Osceon 00:12:50], our allies in Europe with the G7. But this is a challenge where we have sought to see to it that the world speaks with as close to one voice as possible.
Ned Price: (13:04)
We have urged the Chinese to play a constructive role, to use their influence with the Burmese military, to bring this coup to an end. As you know, Secretary Blinken has had an opportunity to speak to director Yang. President Biden has an opportunity to speak to president Xi. There have been a number of conversations with Chinese officials at different levels. And our message in all of those conversations has been consistent. The world, every responsible constructive member of the international community needs to use its voice, needs to work to bring this coup to an end, and to restore the democratically elected government in Burma.
[inaudible 00:13:50] Do you know when the last conversation was with the Chinese about Burma, specifically?
Ned Price: (13:56)
Well, we’ve read out many of these conversations. Some of them have taken place at very senior levels, others at lower levels, but we’ve read out the relevance. We’ll move this way. Go ahead.
Speaker 2: (14:11)
Ned Price: (14:11)
Speaker 2: (14:12)
Since one of the [inaudible 00:14:13]s detains an AP journalist and an American news organization, you kind of addressed this a bit yesterday, but is there a specific communication that you’ve made to the Burmese government or the embassy has made to the Burmese government to say, “We’re concerned about this journalist particularly.” And what do you want to see in that case?
Ned Price: (14:31)
It’s not always appropriate, and it’s not always helpful, for us to speak to specific cases. Oftentimes we can’t speak to specific cases, out of privacy concerns, as well. But the Burmese military should have no doubt, and I can assure you, has no doubt, about where the United States stands when it comes to these unjust detentions. I’ve just repeated it now. We have made it clear in voices that are certainly much more senior than mine from this government-
Ned Price: (15:03)
… that are certainly much more senior than mine from this government. And so there’s no doubt when it comes to the Burmese Burmese authorities. Yes.
Speaker 3: (15:08)
Can I followup on that a little bit. With respect, the U.S action so far does not seem to have deterred or cause the military hunter to change course. So what more do you think you could do when U.S Sanctions don’t really have much of a reach there? And when it comes to China, let’s say any other country, but China seems to have the most influence, is there a specific action you want to see from them? What action could they take that you think around have the most impact in turning this story?
Ned Price: (15:35)
Well, I would say a couple of things. Number one, when it comes to American actions, this continues to develop. The full story is yet unwritten in terms of our policy response. And I expect and I’m confident that you will see us take additional policy moves to hold to account those responsible for this coup in Burma, for the overthrow of Burma’s civilian and democratically elected government. In some ways, though, the more important point is what we are doing with our partners and allies around the world. We know that as the most powerful country in the world, what we do matters, what we do will have important impact. But when we work with our partners and allies, using, working with them, cooperating with them as force multipliers, as the Secretary has put it, that we can bring to bear much more influence and sway regardless of the challenge. And that includes when it comes to holding to account those responsible for this coup in Burma.
Ned Price: (16:41)
I mentioned this yesterday, but a couple of our close partners, including the Brits, the British Government and the Canadian Government have announced sanctions, their own sanctions against Burmese authorities, Burmese Military Quinta, I shouldn’t say. We continue to work primarily with our like-minded partners and allies around the world to speak with one collective voice and to act collectively, to hold to account those responsible for this. When it comes to China, our message has been very clear. China needs to be a constructive, responsible actor when it comes to the military coup in Burma. Of course, there was a statement that emanated from the UN security council several weeks ago now, that no country, including China stood in the way of. We would like to see responsible actors and parties around the world, including the Chinese, continue to condemn this, to condemn this forcefully and to use appropriate policy responses, to hold to account those responsible for this.
Speaker 3: (17:47)
Is there a specific policy response you want to see from China on this?
Ned Price: (17:50)
Look, it’s not up to us to dictate what any other country does, but we have made very clear to countries around the world, our close partners and allies and our competitors, our chief competitor, in the case of China, what we think a responsible and constructive response might look like. Yes.
Ned Price: (18:12)
Anything else on Burma? Or should we move on?
Speaker 4: (18:13)
Ned Price: (18:14)
Iran. Sure. We’ll start with Iran and then we’ll go there.
Speaker 4: (18:17)
Okay. Thank you. I was wondering if the U.S Regrets the withdrawal of the European resolution to censor Iran in Vienna, or if you see it as a good way to allow diplomacy to happen, the meeting to happen?
Ned Price: (18:34)
Well, I would say, just first of all, that IAEA Director Grossi offered a proposal for Iran to address unanswered concerns regarding it’s nuclear program. The E3 decided, with the full support of the United States, that the best way to support the IAEA’s process was to refrain from putting forward the draft resolution at the meeting of the Board of Governors. We are pleased with the outcome of the IAEA Board of Governors meeting with respect to Iran. The proposal that was put forward by Director Grossi, we supported it. We also recognize that the Director General has put forward a realistic schedule, which we understand Iran has accepted when it comes to the next steps. And we will look forward with strong interest for Iran’s willingness to engage in a way that leads to credible concrete progress on these issues.
Speaker 4: (19:44)
Some French diplomats told us in Paris today that they are now quite optimistic that the meeting, including the U.S And Iran, could happen in the next couple of weeks in Brussels. Do you share this feeling? Do you have some feedback about that?
Ned Price: (19:59)
What we’ve consistently said about this is that we are neither optimistic nor pessimistic. We are clear-eyed when it comes to our diplomacy. Knowing that we are engaging in this with our closest partners the E3 this case, knowing that we have put a proposition on the table, both a strategic proposition, the shorthand for which is compliance for compliance. If Iran resumes it’s full compliance with the JCPOA, the United States will be prepared to do the same. As well as a tactical proposition. And that tactical proposition was when we first talked about last month, that if the EU put forward an invitation, the United States would be prepared to accept in the context of talks, direct talks with Iran and the P5+1. Again, we’re not dogmatic about the format. What we are dogmatic about is our overarching objective, and that is to ensure that Iran is subject to permanent verifiable restrictions that prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Speaker 4: (21:06)
Just a quick last one. At such a meeting between Iran and the U.S, are you ready to negotiate a synchronized steps by the U.S In Iran to come back in compliance? Is that the idea? That’s what Iran is waiting to know if you’re ready to negotiate synchronized steps?
Ned Price: (21:23)
Iran should not be waiting for anything. Because we have stated very clearly that what we are prepared to do is to engage in constructive dialogue. That is the offer that has been on the table. I know that various proposals and ideas have been put forward from various capitals. The proposal that we have put forward that the E3 has accepted and endorsed, that the EU has now put forward it’s own offer, is to take part in principled, clear-eyed, constructive negotiations in the context of the P5+1, with the Iranians, where we can discuss the various issues that might be at play. Again, if there are other proposals for formats, we are open to those. But what we are going to be rigid about is our recognition about what we seek, and that is very simple, permanent verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program, limits that permanently prevent Iran from ever retaining a nuclear weapon.
Speaker 5: (22:24)
Secretary Blinken yesterday talked about the two foreign policy achievements under Obama Biden administration, one was the Iran deal. Are you at all worried that this sort of “You go first,” and getting entangled in who takes the first step, will result in an precious time loss in a class of a deal under your watch, something that didn’t happen under Trump administration, even though they tried very hard? Are you worried about that?
Ned Price: (22:52)
Well, I think I would take issue with the premise of the question. It certainly hasn’t been since January 20th that the United States has withdrawn from the deal. It certainly hasn’t been since January 20th that Iran has distanced itself from the requirements imposed by the JCPOA. What we are concerned about is the idea that Iran would remain unconstrained by nuclear limits, limits that are verifiable, limits that permanently prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That is why we are approaching this challenge with urgency.
Ned Price: (23:39)
That is why from essentially day one, we have taken on the task of undertaking those consultations with partners, with allies, with members of Congress. That culminated a couple of weeks ago now in our offer that the EU put forward, to take part in direct talks with the Iranians in the context of the P5+1. So look, I think if you want to dissect what happened with the JCPOA, you have to start well before January 20th. What we are focused on is shoring that we get back to a point where Iran is permanently and verifiably constrained, and to a point where Iran can never acquire or produce a nuclear weapon.
Speaker 5: (24:24)
Your incoming deputy secretary, likely incoming secretary Ambassador Sherman, said in 2009, “I would be shocked if Iran agreed to meeting without some sanction relief.” What makes you think that is not the case now?
Ned Price: (24:40)
2009 is very different from-
Speaker 6: (24:43)
Ned Price: (24:43)
Oh, 19. I’m sorry.
Speaker 6: (24:44)
2009 is even before [inaudible 00:24:48].
Ned Price: (24:48)
I’m sorry. I misheard you. Look, the point we have been making is the point I would remind you of, and namely that there have been various proposals that have been put on the table. We feel that the best place to address those proposals is in direct diplomacy with the Iranians, that we are willing to undertake in the context of the P5+1. The EU has offered to convene these talks. We had accepted that invitation. I understand we are still waiting to hear from the Iranians. But all these questions about the details behind the strategic proposition that President Biden has put forward, this proposition of compliance for compliance, the best place to address that is through the context of diplomacy.
Speaker 5: (25:34)
One last one on visa restriction, because absent in these conversations is the impact of the previous administration’s policy on Iranian people other than sanctions. The Muslim ban has been removed, but a lot of other policies has remained. One of which is Washington Post reported a few days ago that many young men in Iran are forced to do their military service in IRGC. And since the designation, there’s a letter from U.S Embassy in Dubai, in Abu Dhabi, telling one American who is trying to bring her husband to the United States that, “You did the will military service in IRGC, therefore you cannot join your wife and your child.” There seems to be a continuation of implementation of those policies under Trump administration. Is there any review for cases like this where ordinary people are getting caught up in policies that are remaining on the books?
Ned Price: (26:33)
Well, I couldn’t speak to any specific case, nor would it be appropriate for me to do so. What I would say is, and I’ve said this in other contexts as well, that we can do a couple of things at the same time when it comes to Iran. We can seek to ensure, as we are doing, that Iran can never be allowed to acquire or produce a nuclear weapon just as we put pressure on Iran’s continuing support for terrorism and terrorist groups throughout the region. We can do those two things simultaneously. And in fact, our principled clear-eyed pursuit of a means to verifiably and permanently prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, that in turn allows us to take on in a more effective way, other areas of Iran’s malign activity and influence. Every challenge we face with Iran would be compounded, would be all the more difficult if Iran were on the precipice of producing a nuclear weapon, if Iran were on the precipice of producing a nuclear weapon, or certainly if Iran over time were able to cross that precipice.
Ned Price: (27:45)
We are committed to preventing that. We are committed to preventing that for our own national security, for the national security of our close partners and allies in the region, but also because we know that all of these challenges would become more difficult and more complex. And the idea that we have talked about going beyond this idea of compliance for compliance, going beyond this idea of lengthening and strengthening the nuclear agreement is the idea that the mutual return to the JCPOA is necessary, but in the longterm it’s insufficient. It’s insufficient because of Iran’s continuing malign influence and malign activities in the region. And that’s why using the stronger and longer JCPOA as platform, we ultimately seek to negotiate a follow on agreements that address some of these areas of concern. And of course, Iran’s continued support for terrorism throughout the region is a profound concern of the United States and our partners and allies. Yes.
Speaker 7: (28:43)
Yes. I wanted to ask about the National Security Strategy or the interim guidance. It seems to differ from the past National Security Strategies in terms of making China the primary global threat. Russia seems to be secondary. It doesn’t have the sort of global language about Russia. That seems to reflect what the U.S has focused on lately, which is China the last few years. My question is how does Secretary Blinken plan to follow that? Does that mean in regions like Europe, where their priorities related to China, priorities related to Russia, that the one related to China will take precedence? Some things, Nord Stream 2, if that’s an issue with Russia. Does that need to be patched up so that we can work together on China? In the middle East or Africa, where China and Russia are both active, is it more important to counter China? In other words, will this document be something that’s acted on And how will that work in the Secretary’s diplomacy?
Ned Price: (29:36)
Well, I think it’s fair to say that the White House wouldn’t have put out this document and Secretary Blinken wouldn’t have previewed it in his speech yesterday, if it’s not something we don’t seek to adhere to, something that we don’t seek to follow through on. Even before we get to China, I think I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the defining features of this document and one of the defining features in Secretary Blinken’s remarks yesterday. And that is that the Foreign Policy Vision that president Biden-
Ned Price: (30:03)
… that is that the foreign policy vision that President Biden has set out and really our North star in executing, it is a vision of foreign policy that delivers for the American people. At every step of the way, at every crossroads, we seek to make their lives more secure, create opportunities for them and their families, and to tackle the global crises that are increasingly shaping their futures. I believe the national security advisor has put it this way. That there’s one simple question we should ask ourselves at every single policy decision is what we are doing, making the lives of the American people safer, easier, and better. And that’s precisely what this policy sets out. It seeks to bridge on that long standing, and in some cases wide chasm, between domestic policy and foreign policy. Now, one of those issues that is really at the nexus of the domestic and foreign is China.
Ned Price: (31:03)
And that of course, is because China is fundamentally a competitor of ours. It is a competitive relationship. It is a relationship that has adversarial elements that we all know about. It is a relationship that when it’s in our interest, can have cooperative elements. And I think the fact that one of the priorities that Secretary Blinken laid out in his speech yesterday, he did mention managing the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century, our relationship with China. You didn’t see other countries enumerated on his list of priorities in precisely the same way, because China is a strategic competitor that crosses virtually every realm, the economic realm, the security realm, the technological realm, our shared climate, weapons of mass destruction, the Indo-Pacific region itself. And so it is a challenge, I think that in many ways is qualitatively different from the other country specific challenges that we have.
Ned Price: (32:12)
Now, that’s not to say that we don’t face threats from Russia. And in fact, we do. We of course, just this week spoke about our actions against Russian government entities, for their grave violation of human rights of their own citizens. The director of national intelligence is undertaking a number of reviews into Russia’s malfeasance, including its interference in our elections, the reports of bounties on American service members in Afghanistan, the SolarWinds, cyber security breach. So we are clear-eyed about the threat that Russia poses and Russia also seeks to gain influence in regions that are somewhat farther afield from the Russian Federation. But Russia doesn’t pose or have the ability, I should say, to pose quite the same challenge that China does. Given the way in which the China challenge transcends, I would say, these various realms in ways that other country specific threats don’t always do.
Speaker 7: (33:26)
So does that mean in region, X when it comes to China, the secretary will follow the course that that is most useful in competing with China in region X rather than whatever other influences-
Ned Price: (33:38)
No, I think that the way to think about it is that the secretary or the president in region X, Y, or Z, will pursue what’s in our interests and what’s consistent with our values. And in many cases, what is in our interest and consistent with our values will be to push back on adventurism on the part of Russia or China. But I would hesitate to apply a cookie cutter model to it, because each situation each region is going to be somewhat different. What isn’t different is that across the globe, we recognize this competitive relationship with China.
Ned Price: (34:15)
Our strategy is one that seeks to compete and to out compete with the Chinese across the board and to what the secretary said yesterday, to what the interim strategic guidance said yesterday. We do that knowing that we have these unique sources of strength. That truly no other country around the world does, it’s our values, it’s our system of alliances and partnerships, but it is also our sources of domestic strength. What we bring to the table as the American people, from our innovation, from our creativity, from our vibrant economy. And those are sources of strength that China can’t match, that Russia can’t match. And that when we bring them fully to bear, that task of competing and ultimately outcompeting with Beijing becomes all the more achievable.
Ned, one of the things that Bill mentioned in the first question was Nord Stream 2, and I’m just curious, there’s another report today about yet more ships or another ship that was not sanctioned, but that is involved in laying the pipeline. And I’m just wondering the secretary was supposed to go up to the Hill next week, to the House Foreign Affairs Committee-
Ned Price: (35:33)
Are you asking a question or are you looking for-
I’m wanting to know if he’s going to be able to tell them anything about adding additional sanctions onto … and I see Nick is standing up. We still have a lot of other stuff to go through, including Yemen, Lebanon, refugees. And I also have a question on Bahrain, so maybe he should sit down because you’re going to have to go through all of those.
Ned Price: (35:55)
I’ll let Nick assume whatever posture he would like. So on Nord Stream 2, we have spoken about the report that we submitted to Congress in recent days. That report to Congress did detail the sanctionable activity of TBTRUS, an entity knowingly selling, leasing, or providing the vessel Fortuna for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. It was the Department’s analysis and determination that the Fortuna was engaged in just the sort of activity that was prescribed in the effecting Europe’s energy, security act PEESA. Now, of course, this is not the end of the story. Every 90 days, we are required to provide Congress with an update of our analysis and our determination of relevant and applicable sanctionable activity in the context of Nord Stream 2. So again, if we determine that other entities are engaging in sanctionable activity, as outlined by PEESA, the congressional legislation, we will report that to Congress going forward. I believe the next report is due to Congress in May-
Ned Price: (37:16)
Yeah, but there was another one. PEESCA. PEESA and PEESCA.
Ned Price: (37:20)
Speaker 8: (37:24)
My Bloomberg colleagues had a story earlier today saying the administration is thinking about sanctioning the Central Bank chief. Can you speak to whether that’s the case? And also whether the State Department remains concerned about what appears to be continued protests obviously, but also concerns about corruption and embezzlement in Lebanon.
Ned Price: (37:47)
To your second question, we are closely monitoring the situation in Lebanon. We and our international partners, we have repeatedly underscore both publicly and privately the urgency for Lebanon’s political leaders to finally act upon the commitments they made to form a credible effective government. The United States supports the Lebanese people in their continued calls for accountability, and the reforms needed to realize economic opportunity, better governance, and an end to the endemic corruption, much of which has fueled what we’ve seen in Lebanon in recent days. I wouldn’t want to get ahead of things.
Ned Price: (38:22)
I wouldn’t want to preview or speak to any potential policy responses at this time. Yes, follow up? Sure go ahead.
Leo Nakamura: (38:34)
Leo Nakamura from Japan’s PK newspaper. Thank you very much for taking my question. Several questions. There are ripples Secretary Blinken will visit Japan, and US and Japanese government are considering two plus two security dialogue in Japan. Could you confirm this report?
Ned Price: (38:59)
I’m not in a position to confirm any reports of travel at this time. I think what is true and what I can confirm is our deep commitment to the Indo-Pacific region. Obviously, the secretary has had an opportunity to speak with many of our close counterparts, including our treaty allies in the region, other partners in the region. I think you’ll see us continue to demonstrate our commitment to the Indo-Pacific going forward.
Leo Nakamura: (39:21)
Second question. I would ask you about the importance of that in-person meeting in the US diplomacy. What do you think is the difference between in-person meeting and virtual meeting in terms of messaging? Do you regard in-person meeting as a better way to demonstrate the US strength or partnership with American allies?
Ned Price: (39:51)
It’s a really interesting question. And it’s one we’ve we’ve thought about. Obviously the pandemic and our current reality poses any number of challenges for daily life, but also for the conduct of diplomacy. It has heretofore prevented us, from the secretary, traveling around the world. I know that the secretary has been itching to get on the road and to conduct that diplomacy in-person. But of course our priority is not only to the health and safety of our own staff, but also to those with whom we would come into contact. And so, of course we are cognizant to ensure that we are operating consistent with relevant guidelines.
Ned Price: (40:38)
I think at the same time, the pandemic does also afford us opportunities, or at least the opportunity to explore new diplomatic opportunities. And you saw the secretary do that last week when he embarked on his first virtual trip to Mexico and Canada. It would have been a very long day, had Secretary Blinken physically traveled to both Mexico and Canada last Friday, but he was able to engage in bilateral diplomacy with our North American partners, from the confines of the Benjamin Franklin room.
Speaker 9: (41:09)
It was a long day anyway.
Ned Price: (41:11)
It was a long day anyway, that’s true. Not quite as long. So we are looking for ways to take advantage of technology where appropriate. I think over the longer term, no one is under the illusion that technology is going to be a substitute nor should it, for the conduct of a face-to-face diplomacy. But we have been trying to make lemonade out of the lemons that the pandemic has delivered to us. Yes.
Speaker 10: (41:36)
Question to Kevin, Houthis have now claimed another attack on Saudi Arabia. Do you expect the recent sanctions on the two who the leaders this week will do anything to deter them? The criticism being that it just plays into their narrative that they’re under assault from the West.
Ned Price: (41:59)
Well, you’re right. That we will continue to hold the Houthi leadership to account for their reprehensible conduct, including for continued attacks against our Saudi partners. I think over the longer term, not only the United States, but also Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region recognize what we certainly recognize, is that there is not a military solution to the conflict in Yemen.
Ned Price: (42:29)
I think that is growing increasingly clear the world over. It is precisely why President Biden, in one of his first major national security appointments as president appointed, Tim Linder King is a special Envoy for Yemen. It is precisely why Tim Linder King has been on the road for much of his time in that role, to support in large part what UN special Envoy Martin Griffiths has sought to do. And so I think just as we continue to put pressure on the Houthi leadership, we are going to continue to work with all relevant parties, to see to it that we can achieve a durable and a lasting first, a ceasefire and a durable and lasting political settlement. Ultimately that is what will bring an easing of the humanitarian suffering to the people of Yemen, and what will also, I think, lead to a more stable Yemen and ultimately a more secure Saudi Arabia as well. Yes?
Speaker 11: (43:40)
Questions on Ethiopia. The prime minister’s office announced yesterday that they are investigating what they say are credible reports of atrocities. Do you think that is enough? You’ve previously called for an independent international investigation.
Ned Price: (43:56)
Do we think that it’s enough?
Speaker 11: (43:58)
Is it enough that they would conduct their own?
Ned Price: (43:59)
Well, we have repeatedly engaged the Ethiopian government on the importance of ending the violence, ensuring unhindered humanitarian access to Tigray and allowing a full, independent international investigation into all reports of human rights abuses. We also noted the commitments, the public commitments that the prime minister had made in recent days. Secretary Blinken spoke to the prime minister earlier this week on Tuesday, I believe it was. And the readout of the call noted that Secretary Blinken raised Prime Minister Abiy’s own commitments. I think what we’re going to look to are both the right words, but of course, even more importantly, the follow-through. And it’s that follow-through that is important for us to see precisely because it is that follow through that will be so important to end the plight of the people of Tigray. To put an end to these reports of a terrible human rights abuses that have plagued that region in recent weeks.
Speaker 11: (44:58)
You said that atrocities have been committed by multiple parties in your readout on Tuesday, your statement over the-
Speaker 11: (45:03)
These have been committed by multiple parties in your readout on Tuesday, your statement over the weekend. Can you be more specific in terms of who you believe are committing these atrocities, and if not, why wouldn’t you name names?
Ned Price: (45:12)
Well, there have been a number of reports that have emerged, a number of credible public reports. Before we … Rather than speak to that at this moment, we’ve called on all relevant parties to ensure that these atrocious human rights abuses come to an end. We’ve been clear that Eritrean troops need to leave, these abuses on all sides need to come to an end.
Speaker 11: (45:47)
When you say Eritrean troops need to leave, do you believe that they are in part responsible for some of these atrocities?
Ned Price: (45:53)
Again, we’ve seen multiple reports of these atrocities. It’s increasingly clear that what has transpired in Tigray has been reprehensible, and so our focus is on bringing this conduct to an end. That’s why we’ve engaged at multiple levels, including recently with the prime minister of Ethiopia himself, to see to it that humanitarian access is allowed and to see to it that the Ethiopian government, and to call on all sides to do all they can to bring the suffering of the people of Tigray to an end. Yes?
Speaker 11: (46:31)
Sorry, just one last one. The EU has named a special envoy, and they’ve made the decision to withhold aid to Ethiopia over all of this. Why haven’t you taken similar steps?
Ned Price: (46:41)
Well, we have taken steps that are very much in line with what you have heard from the EU to bring and end to the reporting human rights abuses in Tigray. We have been very clear in our words. We have been very clear in our private words with relevant parties as well, and I think you will see a continued focus on the part of this administration on Tigray, given the atrocious reports that have continued to emanate from the region. Yeah?
Speaker 3: (47:12)
[inaudible 00:47:12]. Have any American diplomats either requested access to that region?
Ned Price: (47:17)
So USAID, US Agency for International Development, issued a statement earlier this week I believe it was, noting that they are sending a Disaster Assistance Response Team or DART to Tigray, so we are very much engaged in doing all we can to facilitate and to provide some of this humanitarian relief to the people there. Yes?
Leo Nakamura: (47:39)
On Kashmir, it’s been a while for the cease fire to stay into effect, but peace is tenuous, and I’m curious if you’ve had any specific conversations what Secretary Blinken is going to do to ensure or try to ensure that the ceasefire maintains.
Ned Price: (47:53)
Well, I think we said this yesterday, but it is true that we have continued to follow very closely developments in Jammu and Kashmir. Our policy towards the region has not changed. We call on all parties to reduce tensions along the line of control by returning to the 2003 ceasefire commitments. We condemn terrorists who seek to infiltrate across the line of control. When it comes to how we will support that, we continue to support direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and other areas of concern.
Leo Nakamura: (48:28)
There are a number of Kashmiri leaders who feel voiceless in the process. Is the United States going to do anything to actually engage not just the officials from the Indian and Pakistani official delegations, but Kashmiris within the contested region to see what you can do to help elevate their voices in the solution?
Ned Price: (48:45)
I don’t have anything for you on that. If there’s anything you can add, we will. Yes, please?
Speaker 2: (48:52)
I would like to ask about Brazil. Secretary Blinken has already spoken with Minister Araujo, but I would like to know when President Biden will speak to President Bolsonaro.
Ned Price: (49:02)
Well, I wouldn’t be in a position to preview any calls, any potential calls on the part of the White House. I think what is true pertains to our partnership with Brazil are two centuries of that partnership have been and remain today important to both our nations and to our hemisphere. Brazil and the United States are the region’s largest democracies and the largest economies. We share commitment to democratic values. We work together to address the most urgent global and regional challenges of the 21st century. Our partnership is important to both our nations and to the entire region, in fact, and it’s based on shared commitments to democratic values that again span nearly two centuries.
Leo Nakamura: (49:49)
Also, the Brazilian prime minister said this week that President Bolsonaro will make efforts to attend their summit in April, so I’d like to ask what kind of commitments does the United States expect for Brazil to make during that meeting?
Ned Price: (50:02)
Well, that is obviously for Brazil to decide and to announce themselves. I think what is true is that the president, Secretary of State, Special Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, they’re focused on advancing action at home and around the world to reach net zero emissions globally by mid-century and to keep the limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius average temperature increase within reach. In order to achieve that goal, partnering with Brazil is critical to effectively tackling the shared global challenge of climate change. We hope to expand on our track record of cooperation with Brazil, and to see Brazil take additional concrete steps towards combating climate change and achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
Leo Nakamura: (50:54)
And just one last question if I could. Does the US government see the current state of the pandemic in Brazil as a threat?
Ned Price: (51:01)
Well, we see the pandemic around the world in every country as a potential threat, and it is precisely because as long as the pandemic continues to rage, no one can be safe from it, as we have seen with the development of various variants around the world. Until the pandemic is controlled, until it is contained, we can’t achieve our end goal of putting this pandemic to an end. That is precisely why on his first day in office, President Biden reengaged with the World Health Organization, recognizing that, again, this is one of those challenges that the United States can put a dent in, but we can’t certainly solve on our own. It’s precisely why you heard from President Biden of our $4 billion commitment to the COVAX facility, including $2 billion in the near term. Knowing that, for the United States in the first instance, we’re focused on getting a safe and effective vaccine to millions of Americans here at home, but there’s also a broader task, and Americans won’t be safe, no other country will be safe as long as the pandemic continues to spiral, and that’s what we seek to put it an end to.
Leo Nakamura: (52:15)
Does the US plan on helping Brazil with that, with vaccines as well?
Ned Price: (52:18)
Well, again, we have been engaged with the international community. We have re-engaged with the WHO. We have made a substantial commitment to the COVAX facility in the first instance in the form of $2 billion, so we are doing what we can to alleviate this global pandemic.
Speaker 2: (52:33)
On COVID, the WHO mission to Wuhan to investigate the origins of the virus, there’s reporting in the Wall Street Journal today that they’re considering not even publishing the interim report on that. At the time, you said that you were waiting to see the data. Did you ever get the full data from that team? And there’s also calls today for a new international inquiry basically to start again because this one doesn’t seem to have been given access in the right way. Does the US support that, calls for a new inquiry?
Ned Price: (53:12)
Well, we haven’t seen the findings in question. Of course, aware of the report that the interim findings won’t be released publicly. What we’ve made clear for several weeks now is that we have deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of COVID of the COVID-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the underlying process use to reach them. We believe, and you saw a statement from the national security advisor to this effect a couple of weeks ago now, that it’s imperative that this report be independent with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by Chinese government authorities, and to better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, we know and we’ve continued to call upon China to make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak.
Ned Price: (54:04)
The important point here is that it is not just about understanding what happened when it comes to the origins of this pandemic. It is about learning and doing, being positioned to do everything we can to protect ourselves, the American people and the international community against pandemic threats going forward. That’s why we need this understanding. That’s why we need this transparency from the Chinese government.
And I’ve got two I think you can dispatch very quickly. One is on Bahrain. Yesterday … We spend a lot of time talking about the Middle East in here. Yesterday, there was a letter sent to the secretary by human rights groups about the situation in Bahrain, which has not come up in this briefing, and I’m just wondering, one, if you are aware that the letter has been received, and secondly, whether or not it has been received or not, is the situation in Bahrain something that this administration is taking a close look at? And then secondly, on refugee admissions, the are reports today, there’s one on CNN about refugees who were booked on flights to come including today, but because the presidential determination has not yet been sent to the Hill, they were basically removed from these flights. So I’m just wondering if you can update us on, one, if you’re aware of these reports, and two, what if anything is being done about them? Thanks.
Ned Price: (55:40)
When it comes to Bahrain, and we’ve made the point, which applies to Bahrain equally as it does any other country that the United States, we bring our values with us in the context of every bilateral relationship. That includes with our close security partners. It includes with countries with whom we have a strategic partnership. I would need to get back to you as to whether the secretary has received that letter, but of course, human rights in the Middle East and beyond will continue to be at the center of our policy. We’ve we’ve talked about that in different contexts to date, but it applies equally across the board.
Ned Price: (56:21)
When it comes to refugees, of course, the president believes, Secretary Blinken believes that it is very much in our DNA to be a country that welcomes those fleeing persecution, welcomes those fleeing violence the world over. It’s precisely why discriminatory travel bans were done away with. It’s precisely why the president spoke early on of his commitment to the United States refugee program. I don’t have any updates for you in terms of our efforts to undo some of the damage to that program, but I’m sure we’ll be in touch going forward.
Are you aware of these reports about people who were supposed to come even today and got bumped off?
Ned Price: (57:07)
I would need to look into it. Okay, I think we’ll call it a day. Thank you very much. We’ll see everyone tomorrow.
Will you, or is it …
Ned Price: (57:17)
It will be [inaudible 00:57:21].
Speaker 12: (57:27)
Ned Price: (57:31)
PRN will be the [inaudible 00:57:46]. That’s correct. [inaudible 00:57:46].
Oh, [inaudible 00:57:46].
Ned Price: (57:50)
No. So we’ll just do this off the record. No, look, we don’t have any travel to announce. It’s certainly possible that if we’re comfortable with COVID protocols in [inaudible 00:58:07]. Okay? Yeah?
Speaker 13: (58:10)
Ned Price: (58:13)
In terms of a proper deal? I wouldn’t have any immediate expectations. I think you will see us. There is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to [inaudible 00:58:28].
Speaker 14: (58:31)
Speaker 15: (58:33)
That’s a wrap.
Speaker 14: (58:33)
Cool. Have a good one, man.
Speaker 15: (58:35)
Thanks a lot, man.
Speaker 14: (58:36)
You got it.
Speaker 15: (58:36)
See you tomorrow.