Aug 18, 2022
State Department Press Briefing with Spokesperson Ned Price at the Department of State August 17, 2022 Transcript
State Department Press Briefing with Spokesperson Ned Price at the Department of State August 17, 2022. Read the transcript here.
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Ned Price: (00:00)
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Ned Price: (00:03)
I will turn to your questions in just a moment, but first, as you heard from Secretary Blinken earlier today, the Department of State is pleased to announce the new Colin Powell Leadership Program to advance the department’s commitment to hire a workforce representative of all segments of society, and in support of the secretary’s modernization agenda.
Ned Price: (00:23)
Secretary Powell understood that diversity is “a source of strength. It is a source of our success.” And he exemplified his leadership values, both as a general and as Secretary of State by putting people first. The Colin Powell Leadership Program recruits highly motivated candidates from a variety of backgrounds who aspire to and possess the potential to become future civil service leaders here at the Department of State. This program will provide paid fellowships to recent college graduates and paid internships to students who are enrolled at accredited institutions of higher learning.
Ned Price: (00:59)
We are also creating a new fellowship for the diplomatic security service, in which graduate students from underrepresented communities will receive scholarships, professional development training, and mentoring. After completing the program, they’ll enter the foreign service as DS special agents. This fellowship will also be named for an exceptional public servant, William D. Clarke Sr., the first member of diplomatic security to achieve the rank of ambassador.
Ned Price: (01:28)
Both of these new initiatives represent our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility here at the department. As the secretary said earlier today, we’ll keep working together in the decades to come to make sure our department is a place that reflects our values, looks like America and is equipped to do the best possible work on behalf of America.
Ned Price: (01:48)
With that, Matt.
Thanks. Do you have any idea how many people per year [inaudible 00:01:57]?
Ned Price: (01:57)
I don’t have those details just yet, but we will give you feedback on that.
Okay. I want to start with Syria.
Ned Price: (02:04)
What do you make, if anything, of the Syrian government statement earlier today that they don’t know where Austin Tice is. They don’t have him and they can’t help us.
Ned Price: (02:17)
We’ve seen that statement. We’re aware of that statement. That statement does nothing to change our fundamental position. And that is the fact that we call on the Syrian government to ensure that Austin Tice and every US national held hostage in Syria can return home. As I said just the other day when we were marking the somber anniversary of Austin Tice’s 10th year away from his family, a quarter of his life now spent away from his family, we have engaged extensively with Syrian authorities to try to get Austin home, including directly with Syrian officials. But as I mentioned at the time, Syria has never acknowledged holding him.
Ned Price: (03:04)
We continue to believe that Syria has now an opportunity to help release a US national. We will continue to pursue every avenue we conceivably can to secure Austin’s prompt release.
Well, so, is the long and short of it is that you don’t believe them when they say they don’t have any idea and can’t help?
Ned Price: (03:26)
The fact is, Matt, as I said, the Syrian regime has never acknowledged holding Austin Tice. At the same time, you saw from the statement President Biden issued just a couple days ago on the anniversary of his 10th year away from his family, President Biden said in that statement that the US government knows with certainty that Austin Tice was held by the Syrian government. That is why our position is unchanged.
Ned Price: (03:55)
We continue to call upon the Syrian government to use its influence to do everything it can, and we believe that it can do so on its own to help secure the release of Austin Tice.
Well, and I’m sorry for harping on this and I know it’s sensitive, but does that mean that you think, I mean when you say that the president said in his statement that you know with certainty that at least at one point, the Syrian government had custody of… Can you say that with certainty now?
Ned Price: (04:29)
We believe to this very day that Syria still has the power to release Austin Tice. That is why we are calling on the Syrian regime to do just that. Jane.
Thank you [inaudible 00:04:43]. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, said that the press confidence on the 100 days of his inauguration yesterday, in order to realize the [inaudible 00:04:58] for North Korea, he said he moved to further pursued the North Korea [inaudible 00:05:04] some case of oppression to bring those sanctions to participation in gradations. Will the United States continue to maintain sanctions to the denuclearize North Korea?
Ned Price: (05:21)
We will. We will continue to maintain those sanctions until and unless the underlying conduct, the underlying activity changes and North Korea alters its fundamental approach. As I said just the other day, earlier this week I think, we strongly support what we have heard from President Yoon. We support the ROK’s aim to open a path for serious and sustained diplomacy with North Korea.
Ned Price: (05:51)
It is not only our goal. It is our shared and collective goal to see the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. And we are committed to working very closely with President Yoon, with his team, with our allies in the ROK, with our allies in Japan, tri-laterally together with our Japanese and South Korean allies, but also with our broader set of allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
Ned Price: (06:20)
Our commitment in the face of the DPRK’s continued provocations to the security of our allies, including the ROK in Japan of course, in the Indo-Pacific is ironclad until and unless the DPRK changes its approach and takes us up on our offer of pragmatic and practical dialogue and diplomacy leading towards that ultimate goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Ned Price: (06:50)
We’ll continue to coordinate closely with our allies, both to seek engagement, but also to ensure that the DPRK is held accountable. Held accountable for its continued provocations, and in some cases, its continued violation of UN Security Council resolutions, including with its recent launches of ballistic missiles. We will continue to do both those things in furtherance of that broader goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
North Korea fired two cruise missiles already this morning, as you maybe know already. [inaudible 00:07:35] the South Korea proposal, how can you analyze these because most [inaudible 00:07:44].
Ned Price: (07:46)
I don’t have a specific comment on reports of alleged cruise missile launches this morning. What I’ll say is what I reiterated just a moment ago that we remain focused on coordinating closely with our treaty allies in the Indo-Pacific, namely Japan and the ROK on that shared objective of the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
But the two already they fired these missiles, that’s why they still maybe look at is why their purpose to fire these missiles, the United States [inaudible 00:08:26].
Ned Price: (08:25)
Possible. It’s always difficult, especially from the podium to divine or attempt to assess the motivations of any particular action. I think looking over the longer arc, especially in recent years where the DPRK’s provocations, including its launches of ballistic missiles, including ICBMs and ICBM technology, those are clear provocations. They are a clear threat to peace and security in the Indo-Pacific and potentially beyond. And that is really the crux of our determination to continue working closely with our treaty allies and with other allies and partners throughout the Indo-Pacific and well beyond. Ian.
I’m wondering if you had any response to the Chinese ambassadors comments yesterday about congressional visits to Taiwan being inappropriate and warning of a Chinese response if the US Navy sailed into the Taiwan Strait.
Ned Price: (09:20)
I don’t have a specific response beyond what you have heard from us since the most recent provocations, since the most recent response from the PRC. And we have repeatedly made the points that the PRC has engaged in some ways dangerous, in escalatory, in aggressive military responses to what was nothing more than a peaceful visit on the part of the Speaker of the House. Congressional delegations routinely travel to Taiwan. A Speaker of the House has previously traveled to Taiwan. Such travel is entirely consistent with our One China policy. It is consistent with the status quo that we have sought to defend and to preserve, not only in recent months, but over the course of the past four decades or so.
Ned Price: (10:27)
What we have noted, again, going back some time now is that Beijing, it is Beijing that has stepped up its pressure on Taiwan across multiple domains. It has sought to isolate Taiwan internationally. It has sought to intimidate Taiwan with military pressure and tactics. It has sought to interfere with its democratic processes. And these actions, as I alluded to just a moment ago, beyond posing additional risks, they’ve undermined the status quo and in turn the underpinnings of peace and stability in the Strait, in the Taiwan Strait.
Ned Price: (11:14)
And what we’re seeing now appears to be just the beginning stages of an intensification of those efforts. We’ve already seen, as I alluded to a moment ago, an uptick in military intimidation tactics to an unprecedented level and an increase in coercive economic tactics. We expect these practices, these tactics will continue and the days and weeks ahead. China, although China says that its planned military exercises have concluded, it has maintained a heightened level of air and maritime activity around Taiwan, and it has made clear it will continue to do so.
Ned Price: (11:52)
For our part, we will continue to take steps that are resolute, but also calm to uphold peace and stability in the face of Beijing’s ongoing efforts to undermine the status quo. We will continue to do all that we can consistent with our One China policy, consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act, consistent with the six assurances and the three joint communiques to support Taiwan in line with our longstanding policy. And these steps across a range of areas will unfold over the coming weeks and months because we recognize that this challenge is a long-term one. We are prepared to work with Taiwan. We’re prepared to continue to work with our allies and partners and our support for Taiwan, as it always has been, will be commensurate with the threat that it faces. Yes, Simon.
Yeah, some other military exercises involving China, these Russian exercises in the east China’s sending troops to, I wonder if the fact that Chinese troops going to Russia to take part in joint military exercises, does that represent that the warnings that you were giving a few months ago to China not to militarily support the Russians in war in Ukraine, does this sort of change your thinking in the way that the Chinese have responded to that? And is it still the case that you think the Chinese haven’t offered military support for the war in Ukraine?
Ned Price: (13:31)
My understanding is that these are joint exercises that involve a number of countries well beyond Russia and China. Countries routinely make their own sovereign decisions. It is absolutely their right to do so regarding what, if any military exercises to take part in. I’ll also note that most of the participating countries also routinely participate in a wide array of military exercises and exchanges with the United States as well. So we don’t read anything into their engagement.
Ned Price: (14:03)
As well. So we don’t read anything into their engagement in this activity. Now the broader point is that we have seen a burgeoning relationship, including in the security realm between the PRC and Russia. We’ve seen a burgeoning relationship between Russia and Iran, for example, and we have made public elements of that. That is of concern because of the vision that the PRC, countries like the PRC, countries like Russia have for the international order. It is a vision that is starkly at odds to the liberal vision that we and our allies and partners have for the international system. It is starkly at odds with the underpinnings of the international system that have been in place for some eight decades following the end of the second world war. A system that has undergirded unprecedented levels of stability, of security, of prosperity across the world. That includes in Europe, that includes in the Indo-Pacific and everywhere in between.
Ned Price: (15:10)
It is the difference between a profoundly liberal order and a profoundly illiberal order in which all of the principles that United States, that our allies, that our partners, that the United Nations and that by the way, countries like Russia and China have previously stood for. And in some cases still profess to stand for. It is a vision that is profoundly opposed to many of those principles. To your specific question about the provision of PRC military assistance to Russia in its effort against Ukraine. Of course, our concern and our admonitions have always been in the context of potential PRC military assistance or systemic assistance to help Russia evade the impact of U.S. and international sanctions. We’ve been very clear in our engagements with the PRC regarding the consequences of doing so. We have yet to see any change in the PRC’s behavior, indicating that they are moving in that direction.
And you mentioned there are other countries involved in the exercises. That includes India. The fact that India is still, like you say, they take part in exercises with other countries, but doesn’t that represent a failure of your approach or your attempts to create a global message against Russia, an isolation of the Russian military. The fact that a U.S. partner like India is still doing this.
Ned Price: (16:53)
So, I’ll make a couple points. One, we have conveyed the message around the world. And you recently heard the secretary send this message during his travel in Africa, just before that he delivered the same message in the Indo-Pacific, we’ve done so in the Western hemisphere as well. It is not that countries need to choose between the United States and any other country. It is not that we see the world in zero sum terms. All or nothing. All in with United States or not at all. The fact is that we recognize that there are countries around the world, well, every country around the world is going to make its own sovereign decisions based on its own assessment of its interests and its values. It is incumbent upon us to make clear how our shared interests and our shared values often do align. And the dividends that countries around the world could reap from partnership.
Ned Price: (17:52)
At the same time, we also recognize that there are countries around the world that have longstanding relationships, including security relationships with countries like Russia for example. In reorienting a country’s foreign policy or a country’s security establishment or defense procurement practices away from a country like Russia is not something that we can do overnight. It’s not something that we can do over the course of weeks or even months. We do see this as a long term challenge. And to your points about Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine. We are confident that the brutality that Moscow has wielded inside Ukraine, Moscow’s unabashed trampling of the principles that have been at the core of the international order for eight decades has been a wake up call for countries around the world.
Ned Price: (18:54)
And it has helped to put a spotlight on the distinction between what countries like the United States stand for and what countries like Russia on the other hand stand for. We continue to be confident that as we engage with countries around the world, as we make clear the type of partnership we seek and the dividends that that partnership would wield for both United States and for countries around the world that countries will increasingly seek to partner with United States, countries will increasingly continue to stand against what Russia is doing in Ukraine and the ways in which it is undermining the international order in Europe and around the world.
Yes. And I can’t say that I’m surprised that you declined the invitation to become the first spokesman to admit from the podium that the U.S. policy has been a failure. But that said, as it relates to India, there is question about failure in your approach. But your point has been since the invasion of Ukraine, that it can’t be business as usual with the Russians. Regardless of whether any of these countries have longstanding, decades long, strategic military, economic ties with Russia and previously the Soviet Union. So, isn’t this business as usual? Isn’t this not, I mean, India, after all is a major non NATO ally of the U.S. It’s part of the Quad. It’s [inaudible 00:20:29]. You guys are building a huge… Trying to build the specific strategy around one of the three others.
Ned Price: (20:40)
If you take a step back, Matt, it is not business as usual. And we’ve heard that…
Isn’t joining a military exercise?
Ned Price: (20:48)
Across the wider perspective, we have worked very closely with our Indian partners, bilaterally through the Quad as well to signal and the Indians have done so very clearly. What should be the inviable principle of state sovereignty.
They’ve increased their imports of Russian wealth. They’ve increased the imports of Russian fertilizers. They’re doing these military exercises. They’re about to buy [inaudible 00:21:16] Russian air defense systems. How is that not business as usual? That’s the exact same thing you’ve been telling countries not to.
Ned Price: (21:29)
It’s not for me to speak to another country’s foreign policy, but what I can do is point out what we have heard. Statements from India. We have seen countries around the world speak clearly, including with their votes in the UN general assembly against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. But we also recognize, as I was saying just a moment ago, that this is not flipping a light switch. This is something that, especially for countries that have historical relationships with Russia, relationships that, as is the case with India, extend back decades, it is going to be a long-term proposition to reorient foreign policy away from Russia.
You don’t have to answer. This is just, you said, it’s not for me to speak to another country’s foreign policy. You do that every day.
Ned Price: (22:21)
It is my job. It is my…
You get up here every day…
Ned Price: (22:25)
It is my job to speak to our foreign policy. Sometimes there’s a very close nexus between our foreign policy and that of other countries, Alex.
Excellent. I have a couple question, but let me start with [inaudible 00:22:36] just to stay on this line. One of the countries that will be part of the military exercises is Belarus, which territory is reported being used to attack Ukraine. Does that change your approach in terms of how to view those [inaudible 00:22:50] and any message you want to send to Belarus in that context?
Ned Price: (22:55)
Belarus’ participation in these exercises doesn’t fundamentally change our approach. What has fundamentally contoured our approach is the fact that the Lukashenka regime has opened Belarus’ doors. The regime has set aside what should be Belarus’ own sovereignty and independence, and in a way it’s territorial integrity by permitting Russia’s forces onto again, what should be sovereign Belarusian soil, to launch a brutal premeditated unjustified attack against its neighbor to the south. That is in addition to the human rights abuses. In addition to the Lukashenka regimes clinging onto power following the fraudulent elections, in addition to its persecution of political prisoners. In addition to what it is doing to seek to trample on the civil rights and civil liberties of the Belarusian people. That is what alters our fundamental view of this regime.
And on that, there are concerns on the Hill that we don’t have an ambassador right now for Belarus. As the recent departure of Ambassador Fisher. The question is, yesterday marked two years from Minsk process. Are you in touch with that position or who is the highest ranked U.S. diplomat right now? And where is he or she right now?
Ned Price: (24:24)
We are routinely in touch with the Belarusian opposition. In fact, secretary Blinken has had an opportunity just within the past several months to meet in person with Ms. Tsikhanouskaya. Other senior officials here have been in communication with her, with other leading opposition figures, but other icons of the Belarus people, individuals who represent the democratic aspirations of a sovereign independent Belarus, something that cannot be said of the Lukashenka regime. Kylie.
Speaker 2: (25:06)
Can we go to Iran?
Ned Price: (25:08)
Speaker 2: (25:09)
Have you guys responded yet to the EU after reviewing Iran’s responses to their proposition?
Ned Price: (25:16)
So, I don’t have much to offer you beyond what we said yesterday. As I noted at the time, we had received Iran’s comments via the EU. We are studying them. That was the case yesterday. That continues to be the case today. We are engaged in consultations with the EU, as well as with our European allies on the way ahead. And you’ve heard us say again and again, especially in recent days, we ultimately agree with the bottom line proposition of high representative Borell. The reason he put forward this proposal in the first place was out of recognition that what could be negotiated has been negotiated. The high representative and the way in which he has handled this process has certainly narrowed the scope of that conversation. It has crystallized the decision for Iran. We have been sincere. We have been steadfast in our commitment to seeking a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. And we’re grateful for Mr. Borell and the efforts he’s undertaken to seek to get us there.
Speaker 2: (26:35)
And do you have any timeframe for when you’ll be providing a response to the EU?
Ned Price: (26:39)
I don’t. Not one that I can provide publicly at least, but again, we have been in communication with the EU, we’ve been in communication with other European allies on the way ahead.
Speaker 2: (26:50)
And just one more question, can you elaborate a little bit more as to why the Biden Administration is confident that the U.S. would be able to uphold the commitments that are in the current deal, as it stands now, given that it hinges on actions taken by Congress and this building lifting some Iranians from the SDN list and the like. Are you confident that those actions would be taken if you guys got back into the deal?
Ned Price: (27:20)
Kylie, we look at this through the lens, not of politics, but of national security. And we are confident that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA remains the best and really the most effective means by which to once again, verifiably and permanently constrain Iran’s nuclear program. The fact is that in the years in which we have not had a JCPOA, since May of 2018, Iran’s nuclear program has galloped forward in a way that is deeply concerning and alarming. Given where we were when the JCPOA was in full effect in terms of Iran’s breakout time to where we are now with a breakout time…
Ned Price: (28:03)
…terms of Iran’s breakout time to where we are now, with a breakout time that can be measured not in a year, not in months, but in weeks or potentially even less. That for us is the guiding principle here. It’s the national security concerns.
Ned Price: (28:22)
It is the security concerns that our partners have expressed as well. The specter of an Iranian nuclear weapon would not pose a threat only to the United States, but to allies and partners around the world.
Ned Price: (28:38)
And that’s why from the start we’ve been sincere and steadfast in seeking to affect a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.
Ned Price: (28:46)
We understand that Congress needs to be a partner in this endeavor as well. That is why we have routinely updated our members and their staffs on the hill regarding the status of discussions, whether those have been in Vienna, whether those have been in Doha, whether those have been remote.
Ned Price: (29:07)
We will continue to do that, knowing that our foreign policy is ultimately going to be much more effective, if it is conducted with the full support of Congress.
Speaker 3: (29:16)
And have you guys briefed Congress on the EU proposition at all? When is the last time you’ve briefed them?
Ned Price: (29:21)
We engage in regular discussions with members and their staff. I don’t have a recent briefing or hearing to note for you, but it is something that happens regularly. Yes.
Speaker 3: (29:33)
Ned Price: (29:34)
Sticking on Iran, sure. We’re on Iran still?
Speaker 5: (29:35)
No, no. I would like [inaudible 00:29:41].
Ned Price: (29:41)
Let’s finish out Iran.
Speaker 4: (29:41)
Yeah. Have you put any offer on the table to Iran for a listener’s swap?
Ned Price: (29:47)
From the earliest days of this administration, we have made clear, unambiguously clear to Iran the priority we attach to the return of the Americans and the [inaudible 00:29:58] nationals that Iran is wrongfully holding. I imagine you’re referring to what we heard from Iran recently.
Ned Price: (30:06)
It has been our goal from the start to see these Americans released. Even before the process began in earnest in Vienna, we made that clear to Iran during the course of negotiations in Vienna, during the course of negotiations in Doha, during the course of indirect discussions with the Iranians.
Ned Price: (30:29)
We have also consistently conveyed that message in an unambiguous way to Iran.
Speaker 4: (30:34)
Is there any serious dialogue now to raise them? Is there any step that we should wait for?
Ned Price: (30:46)
We have two imperatives in this. One is to do all we can to seek the prompt and safe return of the Americans who are wrongfully detained in Iran. But also secondly, not to do anything that could jeopardize or that could slow, or that could hinder the release of Americans who are wrongfully detained in Iran.
Ned Price: (31:10)
As is typically the case, we don’t detail exactly where we are. We don’t detail the specifics of any of these engagements or these messages. But what I can say with confidence is that we have made unambiguously clear to Iran, the priority we attach to this.
Speaker 6: (31:27)
Still on Iran?
Ned Price: (31:28)
Still on Iran. Sure.
Speaker 6: (31:30)
There are some reports in the middle east that Iranian comments stayed within the scope of the GCPOA. Can you confirm this?
Ned Price: (31:38)
I can’t. And this is somewhat related to the point I was just making to Michelle. A very different issue, but same principle at play. We are not going to detail publicly the state of these discussions or these negotiations. We’re making our views known privately and directly to the EU. Yes.
Speaker 5: (31:56)
Finally, thank you. So tomorrow in Brussels, on the Eola dialogue between Serbian festival. If you can tell me specifically, what is the US’s expectations in terms of the outcome for tomorrow’s meeting? And on a scale from zero to 10, where would you situate the priority cost of the Serbian crisis is for the United States?
Ned Price: (32:19)
Well, broadly we are pleased that Serbian Kosovo leaders will meet in Brussels under the EU facilitated dialogue tomorrow. We fully support this dialogue. It’s important we believe that both parties use this opportunity to advance their discussions on normalization.
Ned Price: (32:36)
It is a priority of ours. We would like to see progress made in implementation of past dialogue agreements. Dialogue and compromise are critical components of governance. They are not signs of weakness.
Ned Price: (32:50)
They are both essential to reach a locally owned agreement on normalization of relations, which remains fundamental to both countries’ EU aspirations. And we’re hopeful that leaders in Serbia and Kosovo understand the importance of moving forward, not backward through the EU facilitated dialogue.
Ned Price: (33:10)
A senior official here from the department will travel to Brussels to support the leaders. Meaning in this EU facilitated dialogue, we are not a direct participant in these talks, but the success of these talks to your second question, and I’m always loath to give rankings or gradings, numerical or otherwise. But it is an absolute priority of ours.
Speaker 5: (33:37)
Okay, and it’s just a follow-up question because it’s really relevant, and I would say newsworthy. Today at a native joint press conference between president Vucic and the general secretary, president Vucic said that he does not welcome a Russian military base in Serbia, or anywhere in the west is welcomed. Do you welcome that response? And do you think it’s a step forward into building a strong relationship between Serbia and the United States?
Ned Price: (34:08)
We certainly think it’s a step in the direction of Serbia’s sovereignty. It’s territorial integrity. These are sovereign decisions on the part of the Serbian government, but I took note of the president’s remarks and his sovereign decision.
Ned Price: (34:28)
But we’ve made the point around the world, including in that region, that it can’t be business as usual with Russia. And that countries need to continue to speak clearly and to act in support of our Ukrainian partners. Yes.
Speaker 7: (34:44)
Just one short follow up on Austin Tice. To this department’s knowledge, the statement released by Syria today, is this the first time the asset regime has publicly said anything about Austin Tice, given that it’s been 10 years? And then I have one on Afghanistan.
Ned Price: (35:02)
It has been 10 years, so I would be hesitant to speak categorically about the arc of those 10 years and precisely what the Syrian regime has or has not said over the course of those 10 years.
Ned Price: (35:14)
What I can say is that in our private discussions over the course going back now years, the Syrian regime has never acknowledged holding Austin Tice. Whether this was the first time that they have made that point publicly, I couldn’t say
Speaker 7: (35:29)
Thank you. And then in Afghanistan, an aid worker, Zamari Ahmadi, along with family members of his and colleagues were killed in the final US air strike before American troops withdrew in late August last year.
Speaker 7: (35:43)
Is the state department still working to get other members of his family, as well as aid worker colleagues out of Afghanistan? We’ve been told that there are 32 family members and colleagues who are still in Afghanistan.
Ned Price: (35:55)
My understanding is that the department of defense has spoken to this, as they’ve noted that the department of defense in coordination with other US government departments and agencies, and that includes the department of state.
Ned Price: (36:07)
But the department of defense continues to take steps to respond to the August 29th, 2021 airstrike in Kabul, Afghanistan, to protect the privacy of the family members as well as to help protect their safety and security. The department of defense has noted that they’re not able to provide additional details at this time. Yes?
Speaker 8: (36:24)
Also in Afghanistan, and I know you might not be able to say much here. But I want to ask about a special immigrant, a visa applicant, Zainullah Zaki. He worked as a translator for years for US forces in Afghanistan.
Speaker 8: (36:35)
And last summer, when he and his family were desperate to escape, secretary Blinken testified that he was aware of the case and that Afghan allies would be protected.
Speaker 8: (36:46)
Now, Zaki was ultimately able to escape Afghanistan. He’s in the US, but his visa application has been denied multiple times. Just wondering if you could tell me why, and if secretary Blinken has followed up at all.
Ned Price: (36:58)
What I can tell you… Well, a couple things. Of course, individual visa records are confidential, so it’s impossible for me to speak to individual cases from the podium.
Ned Price: (37:07)
But I can tell you that over the course of what we call operation allies welcome, more than 75,000 Afghans have departed Afghanistan and have made their way to the United States, where they’ve been with the help of our resettlement partners across the country, resettled into their new communities to start their new lives here in the United States.
Ned Price: (37:33)
Before any single one of those Afghans was able to reach the United States, however, they underwent rigorous vetting by our inter-agency partners. Everyone here has been resettled with appropriate status and through appropriate procedures. But again, it’s just not something I can speak to the specifics of any individual case. Yes, Alex?
Thanks so much. Armenia is an attractive region. The secretary was involved into a very active crowd about [inaudible 00:38:08] he was traveling. And I also remember a couple weeks ago behind this volume, you mentioned you were talking about historic opportunities.
Which is one thing that was driving your optimism back then? You know, because it was followed by cease fire violations and we just were at the edge of the war. How much of your optimism is still there given the recent developments to the operation?
Ned Price: (38:30)
Well, we are still working to do what we can to facilitate what we hope to see, and that is a comprehensive long term piece between Armenia and Azerbaijan. You know that secretary Blinken recently had an opportunity to engage with the leaders of these countries.
Ned Price: (38:56)
We did so, registering our deep concern about the recent fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, including the casualties and the loss of life that had resulted from that.
Ned Price: (39:07)
We urged immediate steps to reduce tensions and to avoid further escalations between the parties, and the recent increase intentions underscores. We believe the need for a negotiated, comprehensive and sustainable settlement of all remaining issues related to or resulting from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Ned Price: (39:26)
While we’ve seen an intensification of tensions resulting in some violence, we are going to remain committed to working with the parties. We will continue to do so bilaterally, but also with like-minded partners in the EU and through our role as an OSCE Minsk co-chair to help the countries find that long term comprehensive piece.
But do you still see the same level of opportunities you were seeing three weeks ago? How much has it faded away?
Ned Price: (39:57)
We absolutely still see an opportunity here, despite the setbacks, that we always recognized this was never going to be a linear process. We believe that through continued dialogue, continued engagement, including at the senior levels, we will be in a position to do everything we can to help advance that long term comprehensive piece.
My last question, I promise. You probably have seen Navalny’s tweets from yesterday, which is criticizing-
Ned Price: (40:22)
Sorry. Whose tweets?
Navalny. Alexei Navalny.
Ned Price: (40:22)
Which he’s criticizing the lack of generosity comes from the executive branches in the Western countries. He highlights the US, EU the UK. [inaudible 00:40:35], obviously. Lawmakers appetite towards sanctions against Russian oligarchs.
He gave very stunning numbers out of 200 Russian oligarchs. 40 something, 46 or 47 have been sanctioned. What is your response to that. And we are just a week ahead of the six months anniversary of the Russian war. Can you telegraph any further factors?
Ned Price: (41:03)
Well, first when it comes to Mr. Navalny, we have consistently spoken out in defense of his fundamental human rights. The charges that have been levied against him are politically motivated.
Ned Price: (41:19)
The fact that he has been in detention away from his family and loved ones, reportedly even at times in solitary confinement, is a testament both to his courage, to his determination, but also to the weakness and to the cowardice of president Putin.
Ned Price: (41:40)
And, those who would find no alternative but to incarcerate him and to detain him. That is a sign of Mr. Navalny’s strength and his effectiveness. When it comes to our sanctions against Russia, we have made clear that we will enact… Continue to use every appropriate authority to hold accountable those who are-
Ned Price: (42:03)
Appropriate authority to hold accountable those who are responsible for Russia’s war against Ukraine. We have done so against head of state, President Putin. We’ve done so against his key ministers, his minister of foreign affairs, his defense minister, others within his inner circle, but we have also done so vis-a-vis cronies, oligarchs, and those who have benefited from, and in turn, cater to President Putin and the Kremlin.
Ned Price: (42:35)
I can assure you that we continue to develop and to refine targets. We will continue to use appropriate authorities to pursue those who fall within the legal parameters of our sanctions authorities. Our partners are continuing to do the same and together we’re continuing to harmonize, harmonizing our sanctions with those of our European and other partners to ensure that we can exact maximum effectiveness. Yes.
Speaker 9: (43:08)
Thank you. Today almost 20 former diplomats, including colleagues in generals, published in the open in the ill going for more and quicker military aid for Ukraine, including longer range weapons and suggesting that the current level of sport only allows for a stalemate on the battle field. They also take exception to the administration reasoning that providing longer range weapons might lead to World War III, as [inaudible 00:43:42]. So how do you respond to that? And also, could you explain the logic about how those weapons could lead to World War III?
Ned Price: (43:53)
So on the broader question, we have provided an unprecedented amount of security assistance to our Ukrainian partners. Some $10 billion since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th. With our partnership from Congress, there was an emergency supplemental past of some $40 billion, as I recall. A large share of that supplemental funding was intended for security assistance. Over the course of recent months, we have enacted a number of presidential draw downs. I believe we are on number 18 right now. There is remaining security assistance as part of that emergency supplemental funding, several billion dollars left.
Ned Price: (44:46)
And so I can assure you that we will continue to provide all the resources that are available to us, to our Ukrainian partners, to see to it that they can continue to defend their country, but ultimately to defend their democracy and to defend their freedom. And there is no question that they have done so effectively, using to maximum effect the security assistance that the United States and dozens of countries around the world have provided at every step of this conflict.
Ned Price: (45:22)
Our security assistance has been tailored to the battle that was facing our partners in Kiev at the time. In the earliest days, we provided our Ukrainian partners with anti-armor, anti-tank, anti-personnel in an effort to, or stall and to help the Ukrainians be successful in the battle for Kiev. And ultimately they were, the battle has since moved to the south. It has since moved to the east. And so too, our security assistance has been tailored for precisely that battle, to provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need to defend themselves against Russian aggression in these regions, to halt the Russian offensives as they have been able to do, and ultimately to defend their territory against an invading force.
Speaker 9: (46:17)
But can you respond to the point about the escalation risk? Because, since the start of this, what you considered providing the Ukraine and what you deemed to [inaudible 00:46:36] has changed. So can you speak to that point about the World War III, maybe this is not your position anymore, but I don’t know.
Ned Price: (46:49)
Everything we have provided our Ukrainian partners has been in the name of one principle and that’s self-defense, because what our Ukrainian partners are facing is an external aggressor, a country, a foreign country crossing over sovereign Ukrainian borders onto independent sovereign Ukrainian territory, as part of an effort to rest an independent country away from Ukrainian government and ultimately the Ukrainian people.
Ned Price: (47:19)
So yes, we have provided precisely what our Ukrainian partners need to defend against this external invader, against this external aggressor. At the same time, we’ve also been clear that it is not in Ukraine’s interest, it is not in NATO’s interest, it is not in Europe’s interest, it is not in our interest to see Russia’s aggression against Ukraine become a broader conflagration. And for this war to spill beyond the borders of Ukraine, more broadly into Europe, or potentially bringing Russia into conflict with NATO and the United States, that is not in anyone’s interest.
Ned Price: (48:03)
But what ultimately is in our interest is to underline, to underscore, to reinforce the principle of territorial integrity of sovereignty of independence, when it applies to Ukraine, knowing that by standing up for those principles, in the context of Ukraine, we’ll be able to underline and defend those principles around the world in regions near and far. Yes. Last question, couple final questions.
Do you have any comment on the recent decision by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to sentence a Saudi student to 34 years in prison, Salma al-Shehab for following and retweeting activists and dissidents. And do you have any response to the argument that the warming relations between US and Saudi Arabia have given that government a sense of impunity leading to some of these harsher sentences?
Ned Price: (48:58)
A as it pertains to this particular case, we are studying the case. We are studying the sentence, but I can say this is a general matter. And I can say this without any caveat and resolutely. Exercising freedom of expression to advocate for the rights of women should not be criminalized. It should never be criminalized. Freedom of expression is a principle that we stand up for around the world, anytime, any government, anywhere tramples on such a principle, we speak out and we seek to defend that fundamental right.
Ned Price: (49:39)
That is as fundamental to individuals in Saudi Arabia, as it is to many country around the world. To the second part of your question, far from I think giving Saudi Arabia licensed to act with greater impunity, our engagement, including the senior level engagement that we’ve had with Saudi authorities. And this includes with President Biden’s recent visit to the kingdom has made clear to our golf partners in the context of the GCC, but also to the status in the context of our bilateral discussions.
Ned Price: (50:17)
The fact that human rights is central to our agenda. It is always on our agenda and it is always high on our agenda. That was the case in President Biden’s meetings in Jeddah. It has been the case when Secretary Blinken has spoken to his Saudi counterpart, Foreign Minister Bin Farhan. It has been the case when other senior us government officials have spoken with their Saudi counterparts. Not only do we raise systemic concerns when it comes to human rights in Saudi Arabia, but also anywhere else that applies. But we also do raise specific cases, specific cases that have come to our attention, specific cases that seem to run a foul of rights that should be universal, that should be fundamental to people, whether they’re in the kingdom or anywhere else. Okay. Thank you.
I don’t think you got asked about this yesterday. I think maybe your Antisemitism Envoy has spoken about it, but do you have anything you want to say about President Abbas’ comments yesterday in Germany?
Ned Price: (51:23)
So Deborah Lipstadt, who is our special on Envoy for Antisemitism did tweet about this. She wrote yesterday that President Abbas’ claim that Israel has, “Omitted 50 Holocaust,” is unacceptable. Not only of course, is it a lie, but we know that Holocaust distortion can have dangerous consequences and can fuel antisemitism. We have seen that throughout the course of history. We recognize that President Abbas today has “Reaffirmed” that the Holocaust is the most heinous crime in modern history. And we reject any attempts to draw false equivalencies or to minimize Holocaust atrocities.
Just a quick thing that just-
You know if you’ve raised this directly with those [inaudible 00:52:10]? You did yesterday.
Ned Price: (52:11)
I expected is this sort of thing that we would raise, but I am not aware of… I just don’t have any conversations yesterday to raise that.
So as report from Russia, that Ambassador Antonov is planning to visit the state department tomorrow, to discuss visas for Russian delegation for general assemblies. Are there any plans for anyone to meet with him? And will you be issuing those visas? Is there any issue around issuing them?
Ned Price: (52:43)
When it comes to the UN as the host country of the UN, we have a special obligation to facilitate the travel of those taking part in UN activities. I don’t have any meetings with Russian officials, including the ambassador to read out for tomorrow, but if we have anything to share tomorrow, we will.
Before you go, do you have any comment on [inaudible 00:53:03] meeting tomorrow with President Zelensky and Erdogan. I didn’t want to ask about it, but since Chris question was asked.
Ned Price: (53:09)
So it’s our understanding that the meeting will take place tomorrow. Of course, there are a number of important issues that Secretary General Guterres, that President Zelensky, President Erdogan can be in a position to discuss the fact that the meeting will take place where it is, suggests that there will be a heavy focus on food security and the efforts the Turkey has undertaken to facilitate the free flow or the freer flow of grain out of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. We very much appreciate Turkey’s efforts, together with those of the UN Secretary General, together with those of Ukraine to see to it that ships are once again, sailing from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. At latest count, more than 20 ships laden with grain, laden with crop, laden with food stuffs have set sail from Ukraine. The vast majority of those have made it through the inspection station and are now sailing to their ultimate destinations. That is unambiguously a good thing. A final question.
Speaker 11: (54:12)
Sorry, one more on Turkey before moving… Sorry, go ahead. Any updates on the thoughts that the Turkish delegation has been making in DC regarding the F16 meet?
Ned Price: (54:27)
What I can say, well, first as you know, we don’t publicly comment or confirm proposed defense transfers until they’re formally notified to Congress, but meetings are ongoing regarding Turkey’s F16 sustainment request, and a Turkish delegation has traveled to the United States to take part in related discussions, but we’d refer you to Turkish authorities to speak to their defense procurement plan. Yes.
Speaker 10: (54:50)
Yeah, on Iraq, please. As you want to know, the power struggle in Iraq is worsening. And given the fact that US has… The stake is high for the United States. Are you taking side? Are you in touch with some party in Iraq? Are you doing something in this regard?
Ned Price: (55:12)
We are not taking sides. We are prepared to work with the government that puts Iraqi sovereignty and the best interests of the Iraqi people at the heart of its agenda. We hope to see a government form that does just that and a government that is able to deliver for the best interests of the Iraqi people. Thank you.
Speaker 10: (55:32)