Jan 24, 2023

U.S. Department of State Press Briefing 1/23/23 Transcript

U.S. Department of State Press Briefing 1/23/23 Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsNed PriceU.S. Department of State Press Briefing 1/23/23 Transcript

U.S. Department of State Press Briefing 1/23/23. Read the transcript here.

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Ned (00:00):

… we’ll turn to your questions. The United States took further action today, concurrently with the United Kingdom and the European Union, to promote accountability for the Iranian regimes human rights abuses by imposing sanctions on 10 additional Iranian individuals, including Iran’s Deputy Minister of Intelligence in key commanders in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp, as well as one additional Iranian entity.

Today’s action is the latest of numerous tranches of sanctions made in close consultation with our allies and partners, and aimed at Iranian individuals and entities connected to Iranian authority’s cruel and violent crackdown against peaceful protestors. In addition, we applaud our allies and partners including the United Kingdom, members of the European Union, Canada, Australia, and others who also continue to sanction Iranian authorities and entities involved and complicit in human rights abuses and in Iran’s supply of weapons to Russia for use in the Kremlin’s brutal war against Ukraine.

Today, we are united with our allies and partners in the need to confront Iran’s leadership for its human rights abuses and destabilizing activities, which should alarm the entire world. With that, turn to your questions.

Matt (01:07):

I was late, so I’ll allow…

Ned (01:10):

Very magnanimous of you.

Matt (01:11):

Sure. I have nothing if not.

Ned (01:13):

And nothing. I’ve always said that about you, Matt.

Sean (01:16):

I think people circle, [inaudible 00:01:21] can I?

Matt (01:17):


Sean (01:23):

The withdrawal of Eritrean troops, there’s the call over the weekend with Prime Minister Avi. To what extent is this verified that this is withdrawal? Do you expect it to be permanent expected, as in do you have knowledge that it’s permanent ?

Ned (01:36):

This was a subject of the call with the Prime Minister over the weekend. As you know, they had an opportunity to speak on January 21st. They spoke of numerous elements, but that included the ongoing withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Northern Ethiopia. The secretary welcomed this development, noting that it was a key to securing a sustainable peace in Northern Ethiopia, and he urged access for international human rights monitors. The secretary also affirmed the commitment of the United States support the AU led peace process in Northern Ethiopia.

They also discuss the need to bring an end to ongoing instability in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. We do applaud the continued steady progress towards implementing the key elements of the cessation of hostilities agreement that was reached a number of months ago, as well as the positive role of the AUs joint monitoring verification and compliance team. When it comes to Eritrea, as I mentioned before, Sean, we are aware that Eritrean forces are beginning to withdraw from Ethiopia.

We reiterate the call that you’ve heard consistently from us, including the call that was included in the communique that emanated from the talks in South Africa for the withdrawal of all foreign forces. We reiterate the call for the complete withdrawal in line with that November 12th Nairobi agreement as well.

The departure of Eritrean and other forces is crucial, as I said before, to achieving a lasting peace, securing full humanitarian access and ensuring the territorial integrity of Ethiopia. Even as we continue to see positive signs including the ongoing withdrawal of Eritrean forces, we are concerned by reports that Eritrean forces have committed human rights abuses against civilians and continue to impede the delivery of much-needed humanitarian assistance.

We call on the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea to investigate these reports and to hold those responsible to account. We also call on the government of Ethiopia to fulfill its commitment to grant full access to international human rights monitors.

Sean (03:49):

Sure. Just follow up a couple on those. The abuses that you’re talking about, you’re talking about in the past not currently. [inaudible 00:03:55]

Ned (03:55):

That’s correct. That’s correct. That’s correct.

Sean (03:57):

Two things, as far as you know, has there been any contact with the Eritreans? Obviously the US has a difficult relationship there. And of course, there are sanctioned in terms of Eritrea in the course of the war. Not today I’m sure, but will those be lifted in some sense for this?

Ned (04:11):

In terms of any dialogue with Eritrea, we of course do have an embassy in Asmara. It is a relationship that is, to put it lightly, strained. Of course, we have the means by which to convey messages to counterparts in Asmara. Sometimes delivering those messages publicly is the most effective means by which to do that, but we do have an embassy there.

When it comes to the sanctions that are on Eritrean officials, you were right that there are a number of accountability mechanisms that some of which were devised and announced in the course of this civil war in Ethiopia that we hope is finally coming to an end. One of those was the executive order that this administration devised and President Biden announced some number of months ago.

Eritrean forces have been subject to its prevalence because of their activity during the course of this conflict. If this continues, if we continue to see positive momentum we, of course, will take that into account. We will take into account everything we see, the good, the bad. As we evaluate the next steps and determine whether any additional accountability measures are warranted. Or to the contrary, if certain sanctions that are in place no longer have a basis in that executive board. Yeah. Mira.

Mira (05:36):

Ned, can you talk a little bit about the sole saga around the tanks in Europe? And there seems to be a lot of back and forth and even almost a dispute about Germany doesn’t want to send the tanks independently. You guys are saying it’s their sovereign decision, but they seem to want the shield of allies. What can the administration do to support that process? And the administration has made an effort to keep NATO unified, and this seems to be a bit of an emerging clash. How does the Biden administration feel about this in Europe?

Ned (06:19):

First, let me take the second part of your question first. At virtually every step of Russia’s war against Ukraine, we’ve heard these prognostications or predictions that the trans-atlantic unity that we’ve marked gold and maintained is fraying at the seams. It’s coming apart.

In fact, we heard that even before the start of Russian’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th. At every step of the way, those predictions have proved to be premature and just flat out wrong. Let me just give you one example. Look at what came out of the latest convening of the Defense Contact Group that Secretary of Defense, Austin and Chairman Milley attended last week.

And you saw announcements, new announcements from any number of allies and partners that speak to the tremendous amount of, not only unity, but determination from countries around the world to continue to stick with it. France and Germany and the UK, they’ve all donated air defense systems to Ukraine. That includes from Germany and a Patriot battery. The Netherlands is donating Patriot missiles and long periods of training. Canada has procured an ASAM system and associated munitions for Ukraine.

The UK, of course, announced the provision of Challenger 2 tanks for Ukraine. Sweden announced its donating CB90 infantry fighting vehicles and additional donations soon of Archer Howitzers. Denmark, Latvia, other countries all announced new provision of support to Ukraine in the context of the Defense Contact Group. And that was just last week.

Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that we also announced $2.5 billion of our own [inaudible 00:08:09] security assistance. Yes.

Mira (08:10):

But all of that lacks tanks. And that’s the urgent request from the Ukrainians. Great cooperation and agreement on all of those, but they say this is the most urgent one. You guys seem to have lots.

Ned (08:22):

Tanks, tanks. We have taken steps over the course of many months, including over the summer to see to it that partners are in a position to provide tanks to Ukraine. Ukraine has tanks. I don’t want to leave you with the misimpression that Ukraine doesn’t have tanks. Ukraine has hundreds of tanks. Point A, when it comes to any-

Mira (08:42):

Are you saying their request is irrational, or unnecessary?

Ned (08:45):

When it comes to any particular capability, you’ve heard us say this before and you actually summed it up. This is a sovereign decision on the part of each country to decide what types of security assistance to provide, what they’re in a position to provide.

We applaud all of our allies and partners for what they have done so far, and I just recounted some of that that we’ve heard over the past 72 hours or so. We’ve previously, when it comes to Germany, applauded its announcements that they’ll send Ukraine infantry fighting vehicles, MLRS systems, air defense capabilities, including the IRST air defense system. And as I mentioned before, a Patriot missile battery. We also applaud the decision by the UK, as I mentioned before, to send these Challenger tanks to Ukraine.

We will continue to do our part to provide Ukraine with what it needs. I mentioned our latest provision of security assistance that we announced on Thursday and Friday. That was the 30th drawdown of so-called presidential drawdown authority. 30 times now we have announced hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars worth of security assistance to Ukraine. And on Friday, we announced that we’ll provide more than 500 armored vehicles to Ukraine in addition to the Bradley Fighting Vehicles that we’ve previously announced.

Mira (10:06):

But what will be in the…

Ned (10:06):

I see you having a follow-up question. I suspected you would go there. Our role there will be to continue to speak with our Ukrainian partners, to speak with our allies, including in the context of NATO, including in the context of the Defense Contact Group, to determine the needs of the Ukrainian fighters. And also what members of this coalition of some 50 countries are in a position to provide.

We are not going to be prescriptive. The only thing that we’re continuing to prescribe is that President Putin’s aggression will continue to be a strategic failure. We are going to provide Ukraine with what it needs to take on the battle that it’s facing at any given moment.

We can say that until we’re blue in the face, but more importantly, we can continue to demonstrate that. And I think you see that with the success that our Ukrainian partners have had on the battlefield, including with the security assistance that we’ve provided in some 50 other countries around the world have provided. Yes, in the back there?

Doich Kavela (11:09):

In the meantime. [inaudible 00:11:13]

Ned (11:12):

In the back, yes, yes. Yes, please.

Doich Kavela (11:16):

This is Doich Kavela for a follow-up of this main question. What impact does the Germany’s hesitation have on the German American relationship when it comes to not sending tanks now, question number one? And Poland says that they want to send their arts to Ukraine without the permit of Germany, would Secretary Blinken support that decision?

Ned (11:38):

These are questions for Germany. These are questions for Poland. In some cases, these are questions that our German allies will need to discuss with our shared allies. And my impression, having seen headlines that are just emerging is that we may be hearing more from our German allies in the coming hours and the coming days.

But I will say Germany is a stalwart ally across the board, including in the context of the security assistance that it has provided to Ukraine. I’ve already mentioned some of the systems that Germany has provided, the IRST system, the MLRS systems, the Patriot missile battery, not to mention everything else that Germany has spoken to over the past 11 months or so.

If you had mention these systems and the amount of security assistance that Germany has to date provided on February 23rd of last year, I think there would’ve been a lot of people around the world who may not have believed you. Germany has stepped up. Germany has stepped up in a big way. It has provided quantity, but it has also provided capabilities that our Ukrainian partners need. There is no doubt in our mind that Germany is a reliable ally on this front and on every front.

Zahid (12:55):

Follow on. I just want to follow on.

Ned (12:56):

Is it on this, is it on this?

Zahid (12:58):

Yeah, on this issue. In the meantime, you are really pressuring Germany to send the Leopard tanks, right?

Ned (13:05):


Zahid (13:05):

Why not send [inaudible 00:13:08]?

Ned (13:08):

Zahid, I just went to some length to say that it is a sovereign decision of each of country.

Zahid (13:13):

A lot of pressure to send the Leopard tank. Why not send the A1M1 Apron tanks? Why not? It’s the best tank in the world.

Ned (13:20):

Zahid, This is something that our colleagues at the Department of Defense have spoken to. I don’t want to compare apples and oranges. And I think the comparison of these two systems as apples and oranges may understate the differences that we’re talking about here. Let me just say that we are in direct regular communication with our Ukrainian partners. We’ll continue to provide them with what they need to defend themselves given the nature of the battle that they are confronting at any given moment.

Now, the other point I should make, and I made this to Humira, is that we’ve already helped our Ukrainian partners to obtain tanks. We have worked with them to obtain former Soviet made and Russian made tanks that they’re already trained on. They know how to use, they can put to use right away. They can repair them, they can keep them operational. And most importantly, they can be effective with them.

We also announced, as I said before on Friday, an assistance package that included 500 additional armed vehicles in addition to the Bradley Fighting Vehicles that we announced for the first time a couple of weeks back. [inaudible 00:14:25]

Zahid (14:27):

I understand. Although we have not really seen any great tank battles in this war. We have seen that these tanks are being used as artillery. I mean, what? Maybe you could supplement that, send them some fancy artillery or something.

Ned (14:42):

You were basically describing what we’re already doing. Yes.

Speaker 1 (14:44):

Then follow up, follow on please.

Ned (14:46):

Yeah, follow up. Go ahead.

Speaker 1 (14:46):

Okay. TBN Warner was discovery from Poland, so it’s obviously a question about Poland’s role here. Poland wants to build, and it’s a quote from the Prime Minister, at least a small coalition of countries that would send Leopards to Ukraine. Would you diplomatically help build such a coalition so that Poland and other countries in the region could send those Leopards to Ukraine?

Ned (15:16):

We have marshals built, led a coalition of countries, of 50 countries, that for over the course of the better part of a year, has provided billions and billions of dollars worth of security assistance to Ukraine. And we keep talking about security assistance because that’s where the questions are coming. But I would be remiss not to mention the economic assistance, the humanitarian assistance that countries around the world have also provided.

I don’t want to suggest that security assistance is the only form of assistance our Ukrainian partners need. They need all of it, and they need it from as many countries as are positioned to provide it. To answer your question, there is an extent coalition, the United States has helped to put this together, helped to lead it. We’ll continue to do that.

Speaker 1 (16:02):

How about Leopard Coalition? To provide tanks?

Ned (16:06):

Let me just make a quick point. We don’t have Leopard tanks, as I think you know. This is a question for countries in Europe that do have them. [inaudible 00:16:15] Okay, go on, Alex.

Speaker 2 (16:16):


Alex (16:18):

Just to understand your position on this. We’re not questioning about the unity. That’s clear. That part has been established and thank you for that. The question is about the leadership. Germany says the US needs to lead by providing with one single algorithm so we can release all the Leopard.

Ned (16:34):

Alex, I think oftentimes, people in this room put words into my mouth. I think you might be putting words into the mouths of German officials. I’m not sure I’ve heard that from our German allies. [inaudible 00:16:45]

Speaker 3 (16:44):

Yes. How do you respond on this? [inaudible 00:16:49]

Ned (16:48):

Are you asking a question on this?

Speaker 3 (16:49):

No, not.

Ned (16:50):

Okay. Well, let’s try and move on in a couple minute, but anything else on this, Kylie? [inaudible 00:16:55]

Kylie (16:54):

Prime, or maybe yesterday, but today or yesterday, the Polish Prime Minister made a remark saying that they’re going to try and put together a coalition of European countries that would like to send these Leopard tanks. And essentially, made the argument that they might do it without getting the approval of Germany. Would the US support those countries in doing that if Germany doesn’t give them the green line?

Ned (17:18):

This is not a question for us. This is a question for our German allies. This is a question for our allies that have these systems.

Kylie (17:26):

But could it be harmful to the NATO coalition if they did that?

Ned (17:28):

Again, an indispensable element of the effectiveness that our Ukrainian partners have had has been the unity, the consensus, the unanimity that we’ve seen within this broad coalition. Whether it’s within NATO, whether it’s within this grouping of some 50 odd countries that are providing security assistance to Ukraine. Of course, we put a premium on maintaining that consensus and that cooperation and that close coordination. But that’s not a question for us. That’s a question for our allies and partners with these particular [inaudible 00:18:04].

Mira (18:04):

Say you guys would actually prefer unanimity or you would want unanimity?

Ned (18:11):

Of course, it has been indispensable to the success, and I’m not speaking to the provision of a system.

Mira (18:18):

It would be indispensable on this occasion as well?

Ned (18:21):

I am speaking in terms of the indispensability of the consensus, the coordination, the consultation that we have achieved and maintained with partners around the world in support of Ukraine. That’s my point. [inaudible 00:18:37] Anything, we’ll take one more question on this use in particular here. Yes.

Speaker 4 (18:39):

On the piece side of these tanks, because I know Putin has been talking about if these tanks were to be given, nuclear war could have started. Let’s see if we could change the subject to a little bit to the peace side of it. Is it true that Ukraine has asked China to help out in this issue and maybe bring about some peaceful resolve to this whole thing, or no?

Ned (19:03):

That’s a better question for our Ukrainian partners. I can say that we are looking to all countries around the world that have relations with Russia, including a relationship with Russia that we certainly don’t have. And many of our closest partners in NATO and in the broader international community don’t have to use their voice, to use their pull, to use their leverage to encourage President Putin to put an end into this brutal war.

China is a country that, perhaps more so than any other country, has leverage with Russia, political leverage, economic leverage, that we would like to see the PRC used to bring about an end to needless bloodshed, an end to civilian harm, suffering, destruction. And by the way, to hold up the very principles that the PRC over the course of many decades now has at least maintained that they hold dear. Whether it’s in the United Nations system, whether it’s in any number of international fora.

We’ve heard from the PRC over the course of decades, an emphasis on state sovereignty, an emphasis on the rules based international order, an emphasis on the UN charter by tacitly, and in some cases explicitly, supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They are eroding, they’re standing on all of those issues. They are taking actions that counteract everything they have said that they believe in.

Speaker 4 (20:45):

And then one question [inaudible 00:20:48].

Ned (20:47):

We’ll come back.

Speaker 5 (20:48):


Ned (20:49):

Go ahead, Rapha. Yeah.

Rapha (20:50):

Thank you. I have a question on North Korea to be heard. The head of launch as mercenary Wagner Group sent a message of objection to White House recruiting the bear between North Korea and the sovereignty announced by the White House last week. And they asked what the crime was. What is the State Department position on the objection of the Biden group?

Ned (21:20):

Well, I would note that this letter from Mr. Prigozhin to my colleague at the White House came precisely in the aftermath of the White House declassifying additional information regarding the Wagner Group’s activities inside Ukraine, the Wagner Group’s, the support that is receiving from the DPRK. Not to mention a broader discussion about the destabilizing influence that the Wagner Group is having, not only in Ukraine but in other parts of the world, including in parts of Africa. We’ve gone to

Ned (22:00):

… to great lengths to explain our concerns with the Wagner group. We have declassified information, we have declassified imagery, we’ve spoken to our concerns in the Ukrainian context, in the broader context, and I think I’ll let those comments speak for themselves.

Speaker 6 (22:17):

Regarding UN Security Council sanctions, if China and Russia opposed sanctions against the Wagner [inaudible 00:22:26], will the US pursue its own sanctions?

Ned (22:31):

Yes, and we are. What the White House noted last week is that we are imposing additional designations, using additional authorities to pursue the Wagner group. This is a group that for quite some time has been subject to US sanctions. We imposed further sanctions in March of 2022, related to Mr. Prigozhin’s funding of the Internet Research Agency, which he uses to propagate his global influence operation. So we are going to use every appropriate tool to pursue the Wagner group, to attempt to counter its destabilizing actions, its destabilizing influence, again, in the Ukrainian context, and more broadly as well.

Speaker 6 (23:16):

And then will you engage in diplomatic corporation with South Korea on these matters? These issues.

Ned (23:25):

On this particular issue?

Speaker 6 (23:27):


Ned (23:27):

It is fair to say that of course we have the closest of relations with our South Korean ally. There is a nexus to the DPRK in this case, given the provision of arms and other military wares from the DPRK to Wagner entities for use in Ukraine. We routinely discuss with our partners in the ROK the broad array of threats and challenges we face from the DPRK, most frequently the challenge we face from its nuclear weapons program, its ballistic missile program. But we’ve spoken too to its activities in the cyber realm, to money laundering, to criminal activities, and yes, to its support for what Russia is perpetrating on the people of Ukraine.

Speaker 7 (24:25):

On Turkey?

Ned (24:26):

I need to move around, so yes, let’s get everyone.

Speaker 7 (24:28):

How do you respond to Erdoğan? He said today that Sweden cannot count anymore on Turkey to join NATO.

Ned (24:37):

Well, you know our position on Finland and Sweden and their NATO accession. You’ve heard this from the administration, you’ve heard this from members of Congress. We strongly support their NATO candidacies. Finland and Sweden are ready to join the Alliance, they are ready to join the Alliance because of their military capabilities, the longstanding security partnership that we have with Finland and Sweden that now goes back decades. We exercise together, we cooperate together, we share information together. But they’re also ready to join the Alliance because these are highly developed democracies.

When it comes to what we’ve seen in recent days, we support freedom of association, the right of peaceful assembly as elements of any democracy. But just as the Swedish Prime Minister said, burning books that are holy to many is a deeply disrespectful act, and he made the point that what is legal is not necessarily appropriate. We have a saying in this country, something can be lawful but awful. I think in this case, what we’ve seen in the context of Sweden falls into that category.

We are also cognizant of the fact that those who may be behind what has taken place in Sweden may be engaging in an intentional effort to try to weaken unity across the Atlantic and within and among our European allies and partners. We feel that Finland and Sweden are ready to be NATO allies, we’ve voiced that consistently. But ultimately this is a decision and a consensus that Finland and Sweden are going to have to reach with Turkey.

Speaker 8 (26:37):

On Russia… Sorry.

Ned (26:39):

Let’s stay on the same subject and we come back. Sure.

Speaker 9 (26:41):

The United States, we all know that, said that it fights extremism in all its forms around the world. That might be true, but from so many Muslim countries and international organizations alike, even the United Nations, have come out, condemned [inaudible 00:26:56] extremist behavior. So does the United States condemn this behavior? Because it is going to send, critically, a signal through the whole world [inaudible 00:27:05] no condemnation from the United States [inaudible 00:27:11] kind of a clear-cut message that the reaction might be bit softer than expected.

Ned (27:14):

A couple things. As I said before, we support freedom of association and the right of peaceful assembly as elements in any democracy, and one of the reasons Finland and Sweden are ready to join NATO is because they are advanced democracies. We’ve had our own challenges along these lines in this country. There was a famous incident not so long ago in this country that would fall under the same terms, something that may be legal but that is profoundly disrespectful, that is profoundly, we might think inappropriate, profoundly incendiary, something that is lawful, but in this case awful.

It is up to Sweden, it is up to Finland, to interpret and to enforce their own laws, just as it is up to us in this country to interpret and enforce our own laws when we’re confronted with something that a provocateur might wish to take on.

Speaker 9 (28:18):

In that scenario then, what’s keeping the United States from condemning this act? Because I’m not trying to extract some kind of a statement from you, but what’s the thought process of the State Department to condemn this or not? Because even the United Nations have come out and condemned it.

Ned (28:30):

Well again, no one here is defending what happened, and in fact you’ve heard the very same thing from senior Swedish authorities. We are cognizant though that within democracies there’s freedom of association, there’s freedom of expression within that freedom, that gives people the right to undertake actions that may be disrespectful, they may be repugnant, that may be disgusting. I think all of those descriptors apply to what we’ve seen here. It’s what we’ve heard from our Swedish partners as well.

Speaker 10 (29:06):

Just to follow up on that, what is the US assessment on Erdoğan’s specific comments, though? Is the US assessment that he’s closing the door, or he’s just very angry with what happened over the weekend, and this is a temporary thing?

Ned (29:20):

I wouldn’t want to interpret President Erdoğan’s comments from here.

Speaker 10 (29:24):

It’s not interpretation. What do you guys understand? What is your opinion?

Ned (29:28):

Well, you are asking me to interpret his comments.

Speaker 10 (29:29):

Well, Washington would have an assessment on this is. Is he closing the door on this?

Ned (29:34):

Our assessment is that Finland and Sweden are ready to join the Alliance. We’ve made that very clear in public, we’ve made that very clear in private. Our Congress has made that very clear as well.

Yes, Niki.

Niki (29:49):

Do you have anything for the Asian community regarding the tragic Monterey Park shootings over the weekend?

Ned (29:58):

Of course. We all awoke to the heartbreaking news on Sunday morning, the terrible shooting that took place in Monterey Park. As you heard from President Biden, from the First Lady, our thoughts are with all of those who were killed in this horrific attack, all of those who were wounded in this shooting, those who are still recovering and fighting for their lives.

This is an attack, of course, that has been felt across this country. We know that this is an attack that has of course been especially devastating for the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander community as well. Our thoughts are with the entire community, and obviously our law enforcement partners are pursuing this matter aggressively.

Speaker 10 (31:00):

Can I also ask about US-China corporation [inaudible 00:31:04] to fight narcotics? When was the last time the two countries talk or had meeting to talk about combating narcotic, for example including the illicit fentanyl, and do you expect that to be on the agenda for Secretary Blinken travel to Beijing?

Ned (31:22):

When it comes to the agenda for his upcoming travel, I’m going to avoid getting into any detail at this point. I suspect we’ll have plenty of opportunities to speak to all of you ahead of his travel to the PRC next month. Suffice to say the Secretary will seek to engage substantively and constructively when it comes to those areas of competition, those areas that have the potential to be conflictual, to see to it that we can prevent competition from veering into conflict, but also those areas where we would like to see cooperation, or in some cases deeper cooperation.

On that third category, we have a long history of successful cooperation with the PRC on counter-narcotics. It is a threat that is felt acutely in both of our countries, and it’s also a threat that neither of our countries can address alone. Engagement on this issue has been limited in recent months, but we are seeking to reengage the PRC on this issue precisely because it is within that bucket of issues where we feel that we have a responsibility as two great countries to tackle this, and to tackle one of the core challenges that we feel acutely here.

I made this point the other day, but fentanyl is the leading killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 49. It’s precisely why Secretary Blinken, in any number of engagements with his senior team, raises the challenge of fentanyl, the need on the part of the State Department to see to it that we’re doing everything we can through our bilateral relations, through international bodies, cooperation with the DEA and other departments and agencies in this government, to see to it that we’re doing everything to address it.

When it comes to the PRC, since the PRC scheduled fentanyl and related substances as a class in 2019, the PRC is no longer a major source of fentanyl flowing to the United States. But we continue to see PRC- origin precursor chemicals being used in illicit fentanyl production, though its past action has helped counter illicit synthetic drug flows. We do hope to see additional action from the PRC, meaningful, concrete action to curb the diversion of precursor chemicals and equipment used by criminals to manufacture fentanyl and other synthetic drugs. This is a challenge not only within our own two countries, but around the world. Countries around the world expect us to work cooperatively to address it. Yes.

Speaker 11 (34:07):

Thank you. Last week Secretary Blinken and spoke with President Lourenço, and on the call he highlight the efforts of President Lourenço to bring peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Can you elaborate a little more on this call, and can you give us the view of the State Department on the effort that Angola is making to bring peace to the DRC? And what can US do to help?

Ned (34:35):

Sure, I appreciate the question. The two did have an opportunity to speak on on January 19th, late last week, we issued a readout in the aftermath of that call. But it was an important moment for Secretary Blinken to speak to President Lorenzo about a couple things. Number one was Angola’s constructive engagement through the Luanda process to engage with authorities from the DRC, authorities from Rwanda, to try to bring about an end to this conflict, this needless violence, in the eastern DRC.

When we were in the DRC and Rwanda over the summer, the Secretary spoke in very complimentary terms with high praise about the role that we’ve seen Angola and other countries play to try and address the disagreements between the DRC and Rwanda, and to bring about an end to the bloodshed that has cost far too many lives. We also have a burgeoning economic partnership with Angola. It was a topic of conversation between the two leaders.

The Secretary raised the upcoming visit of Amos Hochstein, who is a Special Presidential Coordinator for the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, something that we are very bullish on, as an opportunity to bring additional economic prosperity, partnership, to countries and places around the world where the United States has not always been the partner of first resort when it comes to infrastructure, when it comes to investment projects. We hope to see that change.

They also discussed some follow-up matters from the US-Africa Leaders Summit. We were very happy to welcome the Angolan delegation to Washington in December, and I suspect that we’ll continue to see follow-up from other senior officials in this department to their Angolan counterparts in the weeks and months ahead.

Speaker 11 (36:38):

And can you tell us if there is any upcoming visit from US officials to Angola?

Ned (36:44):

What I can say-

Speaker 11 (36:45):

[inaudible 00:36:46]

Ned (36:46):

Yes. What I can say, you heard this from President Biden at the conclusion of the US-Africa Leaders Summit, that individuals from across this administration, senior individuals from across this administration, are going to be spending quite a bit of time on the continent over this coming year.

Speaker 11 (37:05):

So Angola is one of the countries?

Ned (37:05):

Well, I don’t have any travel to announce today, but whether it’s Secretary Blinken, whether it is our Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who just announced an additional trip to the African continent today, the First Lady, the President himself, others, I suspect you will see a number of senior officials from this administration in Africa in the coming months.

Sean (37:26):

[inaudible 00:37:27] DR Congo, quickly?

Ned (37:27):


Sean (37:28):

There is an attack today in the east of the DRC, claimed by ISIS. Just briefly, do you have any reaction to that? How much of a concern is there that there could be more ISIS violence?

Ned (37:39):

We’ve unfortunately seen ISIS claim a number of attacks in the DRC last week. ISIS claim responsibility for the bombing of a Protestant church in the Eastern Congolese town of Kasindi. Killed more than a dozen people, it injured dozens more, some 60 people. We have consistently condemned ISIS DRC for the cowardly attacks, bombings that they’ve carried out against the civilian population in this part of the DRC. The fact that they would attack a church makes what they have done especially dastardly and contemptible. Our thoughts are with the victims, with their loved ones. Those responsible for this must be held to account.

Sean (38:29):

And just very briefly on DRC, there’s a weekend statement, the Secretary’s call with Foreign Minister Al Thani of Qatar, and it mentions after they talked about DRC. Can you be more specific what the Qatari role there that they’re looking for?

Ned (38:42):

There’s not much additional I can add on this, but of course our Qatari partners have been useful bridge builders across any number of challenging issues. They have helped us indispensably when it comes to Afghanistan. They’ve been a force to help create and reinforce regional stability and integration in the Middle East. But they’ve also played a role that is much further afield, including in the context of the conflict in eastern DRC.

Go ahead.

Speaker 12 (39:16):

Thank you. The United Nations Human Rights Representative for Afghanistan released a report today that shows a new high level of human rights violation by the Taliban in many levels. The torture of woman, human rights activist, and so on and so forth. So may I ask you which kind of action the United States would take to keep the Taliban accountable?

So far we have seen that the Taliban asked many things from the United States and they got it. Many of them. They got money and also they are flexible, sort of, but they haven’t given anything so far, especially the United States asked for, including woman’s right. They banned womens from universities and they are torturing journalists and human rights activists. So people are asking this question, which kind of action the United States would take to keep them accountable.

Ned (40:16):

Sure. I just want to be very clear on the premise of your question. It is certainly not the case that we have provided the Taliban with any support whatsoever. And in fact, we have gone to great links to continue to be the world’s leading humanitarian provider to the people of Afghanistan in a way that doesn’t flow through the coffers of the Taliban. We’ve provided about 1.1 billion dollars’ worth of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people. Not to the Taliban, not to any entity purporting to represent or to serve as the government of Afghanistan, for that very reason.

When it comes to the trust fund that we established, we established a trust fund precisely so that this funding would not be able to be diverted to the Taliban to use for their own ends. The trust fund, the $3.5 billion in the so-called Afghan fund that we established, is for broader macroeconomic stability. Again, for the people of Afghanistan, but certainly not to support the Taliban in any way. Much to the contrary, we’ve been reviewing our approach and engagement with the Taliban in the context of many of the human rights violations, the draconian edicts, the repugnant actions that we’ve seen from the Taliban in recent weeks, in recent months.

I’m just not in a position to detail where we are in that process, but I can tell you we are actively evaluating with allies and partners the appropriate next steps. We’ve been clear that there will be costs for the Taliban for these actions. Absolutely everything remains on the table. And we’re looking at a range of options that will allow us to maintain our principal position as the single largest owner of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. Again, that’s funding that goes directly to the Afghan people, while also doing everything we can to prevent the humanitarian situation from deteriorating even further.

These responses take some time. They involve significant coordination with our allies, with international partners and Afghan women themselves. We have been in touch with senior UN officials as well. There have been delegations from the UN to Afghanistan to investigate the situation, and to be a constructive force vis-à-vis what we’ve seen from the Taliban. But the humanitarian and the human rights communities, there’s no question, are facing extremely difficult options as they strive to help those in dire need while also remaining neutral, impartial, and independent in their provision of support to the Afghan people.

Because as a result of these edicts, men are not allowed to enter women-headed households, NGOs cannot reach most of the most vulnerable inside of Afghanistan, including in women-run households and mothers who must maintain adequate nutrition for their newborn babies without female workers present. As of earlier this month, about 83% of organizations operating in Afghanistan had suspended or reduced their operations because they came to the conclusion that they could not do their work under these new edicts.

Ned (44:00):

This is unacceptable to us, but more importantly to the international community because it imperils some 28 million Afghans who need this humanitarian assistance to survive and especially women and children, those who are especially vulnerable. So we’re firmly committed to helping alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people. And as I mentioned before, we’ve been the world’s leading humanitarian provider, $1.1 billion in assistance since August of 2021 to provide critical aid. And I have no doubt that we’ll continue to do everything we can to support the weighty humanitarian needs of the Afghan people.

Speaker 13 (44:41):

Yeah. The concern is that the Taliban are getting that money because there is no any clear strategy to give that money to ordinary people and vulnerable people. So the concern is, and there are reports that Taliban are obviously using that money for their own benefits.

Ned (44:58):

This money is not flowing to or through the Taliban. It is being administered by NGO partners on the ground, or I should say it has been administered by NGO partners on the ground. And I say has, because of the challenge we’re facing now, these Draconian edicts on the part of the Taliban, including an edict propagated on Christmas Eve of last year that NGOs couldn’t work with women, had to work with men. Of course, that is an unsustainable obligation restriction on the part of many international NGOs, and we’ve seen many international NGOs come to the conclusion that they’re just not in a position to continue providing this aid to the Afghan people. We’re going to do what we can to see to it that these edicts are reversed using the leverage that we have to seek to accomplish that, but also to do everything we can to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people in the context of these restrictions and edicts. Yes?

Speaker 14 (46:04):

Thank you so much. [inaudible 00:46:05] from the ARY News Pakistan. This is about press freedom again. Our director news of ARY News, Ammad Yousaf, is facing criminal charges for just doing his job, he’s also being dragged for extradition case which can get him a death sentence. And we talked about this press freedom many times, your thoughts on that please?

Ned (46:26):

We have discussed it many times and each time you’ve heard of the emphasis we place on press freedom around the world. Free press and inform citizenry are key for any nation and its democratic identity, its democratic future, the democratic aspirations of its own people. We routinely raise our concerns about press freedom to governments, to stakeholders all around the world. When it comes to this particular case, we need to refer you to the government of Pakistan.

Speaker 14 (46:54):

Sir, Pakistani prime minister Shehbaz Sharif has called for the peace talk with India. He says that he’s ready to talk about all the burning issues including Kashmir, but India rejected that offer. He said this is not the right time to talk about these issues. What are your comments on that, because you always talk about the peace and stability in the region?

Ned (47:14):

We have. You’re right, we’ve long called for regional stability in South Asia, that’s certainly what we want to see, we want to see it advanced. When it comes to our partnership, our partnerships with India and Pakistan, these are relationships that stand on their own. We do not see these relationships as zero sum, they stand on their own. We have long called for regional stability in South Asia, but the pace, the scope, the character of any dialogue between India and Pakistan is a matter for those two countries, India and Pakistan. Yes?

Speaker 15 (47:52):

With respect to this Quran burning incident in Sweden, Ned, you used so many words, so many terrible words like repugnant, disrespectful, disgusting, but for condemning. What’s to take you from saying that you condemn this act of hate? And even Russians came out condemning.

Ned (48:16):

I’m certainly not refraining from condemning this particular action. As I said before, it’s repugnant. It is something that is vile. Of course, countries around the world have and what we also seek to uphold are the very democratic principles that we’re talking about here, the right to freedom of assembly, the right to freedom of expression. I was making the point that we’ve had at least one high profile, similar incidents in this country that was equally repugnant and vile and that we spoke out against at the time, just as we’re doing so in the context of what has happened in Sweden, just as our Swedish partners have done.

Speaker 15 (49:04):

Yes. But at the end of the day, currently the Turkish public and of course the entire Muslim world is outraged by this act done under the protection of police, the Swedish police, and then it has a political pressure on the Turkish leadership with respect to the Swedish, for NATO. So do you think that just calling it yes repugnant, disrespectful and disgusting action happened under the auspices of freedom of speech would help in any way to resolve the current deadlock between Turkey and Sweden, with respect to Swedish membership to NATO?

Ned (49:53):

Our Swedish partners have spoken to this, they have spoken out forcefully against it. The fact of the matter is this was, as I understand it, a private individual, a provocateur, someone who may have deliberately sought to put distance between two close partners of ours, Turkey and Sweden, who may have deliberately sought to have an impact on the ongoing discussion regarding the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO. This of course was not an act of the Swedish government. This is something that our Swedish partners have rightfully spoken out against just as we spoke out against a similar vile act that took place about a decade ago in a previous administration here. Because something happens in a democracy does not mean that the government supports it. It is a reflection of the values and principles that we hold dear, including freedom of association, freedom of expression, something again can be lawful and awful at the same time. It’s precisely why Sweden has spoken out against it in this case as we’ve spoken out against similar examples in the past. Yes?

Speaker 4 (51:12):

Yes, Ned, last week I had asked you about Narendra Modi and how the US has compromised on some of its values, and the BBC just released a documentary on Modi on how he had butchered, and the report was just released, it was a government report, BBC just released it. It was made by a former secretary in which he has even mentioned higher number of deaths, higher numbers of women raped, and it was just done right under the nose of Narendra Modi. I had never challenged the strategic interest of the US with India, but I regret the fact that since the last eight years that I’ve been covering the State Department, I have not seen once an official standing here at US seal condemning Narendra Modi himself individually, not just as a prime minister but individually his act, and I’m sure the US officials were aware of it as well.

Ned (52:09):

I’m not aware of this documentary that you point to, but what I will say broadly is that there are a number of elements that undergird the global strategic partnership that we have with our Indian partners. There are close political ties, there are economic ties, there are exceptionally deep people-to-people ties between the United States and India. But one of those additional elements are the values that we share, the values that are common to American democracy and to Indian democracy. India, of course, is the world’s largest democracy, it’s a vibrant democracy. And again, we look to everything that ties us together and we look to reinforce all of those elements that tie us together.

Speaker 4 (53:00):

So my godfather is an Indian as well, by the way, so I have all the respect for India, don’t get me wrong or anything. But I just regret the fact that how is it possible that the State Department officials who were posted there at that time did not know that this individual was a former Chief Minister? It happened right under his nose, 2000 people were burned alive.

Ned (53:25):

Again, I’m not familiar with the documentary you are referring to. I am very familiar with the shared values that connect the United States and India as two thriving vibrant democracies. When we have concerns about actions that are taken in India, we’ve voiced those, we’ve had an occasion to do that, but we want first and foremost to reinforce those values that are at the heart of our relationship.

Speaker 4 (53:52):

One follow-up. But do you think that’s such foreign policy has affected President Biden’s Indian [inaudible 00:53:59] in the US though?

Ned (54:00):

We don’t think about it through those terms. I don’t think about domestic politics and neither does anyone in this building. Yeah?

Speaker 19 (54:05):

One on China. What is your assessment of the COVID situation in China, because the figure that are coming from inside China is said to be not very reliable? Do you have an estimate how many people have died, how many people have been impacted by COVID-19, and has it impacted its aggressive behavior against its neighbors?

Ned (54:28):

One, I wouldn’t want to even speak to the toll of COVID inside the PRC, that’s a better question for the WHO, for global health authorities, including those like the WHO who’ve had an opportunity to sit down with PRC authorities to look at the data. The point that we have routinely made is that we wish to see transparency from the PRC. We wish to see transparency towards the WHO so that the broader international community can be best prepared to detect and prevent the spread of any new variants that may be circulating and could have the potential to emerge. It’s not just a point we have made, but it’s a point that the WHO has made as well.

Speaker 19 (55:17):

Had China asked for any help and assistance from the US in terms of any supplies, medical supplies or vaccinations?

Ned (55:25):

The United States is the world’s leading provider of vaccines to countries around the world, 600 plus million vaccines without any political strings attached that we’ve provided over the course of nearly the past two years. We’ve been very public about the fact that we’re willing to provide vaccines to any country that would seek it, that’s in need of them, that includes the PRC. The PRC has publicly said that they appreciate the offer of vaccines, but they’re not in need of them at the moment.

Speaker 19 (56:02):

I have one more question on Pakistan. There’s a massive national grid collapse inside Pakistan, the Federal Minister has said that even the emergency services I think shut down hospitals. I know US has played a big role in Pakistan’s power electricity generation. Is US sending someone over there to look into it for a long term solution to help with the power?

Ned (56:23):

Of course, have seen what has transpired in Pakistan. Our thoughts are with all those who have been affected by the outages. The United States of course, as you mentioned, has assisted our Pakistani partners across any number of challenges. We’re prepared to do so in this case if there is something that we’re able to provide, but I’m not aware of any particular request.

Speaker 20 (56:49):

Do you have any update on the vaccines [inaudible 00:56:50]

Ned (56:51):

Let me move around to others who haven’t gotten a [inaudible 00:56:54]

Zahid (56:53):

Very quickly on [inaudible 00:56:57] Human Rights Watch issued a report today saying that the new Israeli measures regarding the entry of foreigners into the West Bank threatened to exacerbate the separation of [inaudible 00:57:08] from global civil society. Do you have any comment on that? Because they’re not allowed… They can go into Israel, but apparently they’re not allowed to go into the [inaudible 00:57:17] towns and villages.

Ned (57:19):

Sorry, I haven’t seen that particular report, if we do have a comment we can get back to you.

Zahid (57:29):

One other question regarding Israel. Today, the United States and Israel launched one of the biggest [inaudible 00:57:31] it’s called Juniper Oak, and it combines all forces together. Does that mean that the [inaudible 00:57:40] with Iran is still off the table?

Ned (57:43):

No. It means that our security commitment to Israel is ironclad. And exercises, including military exercises with our Israeli partners are something that we’ve done routinely in the past. I would need to refer you to DOD to speak to this, but it is a reflection of the vibrant security cooperation and commitment we have to our Israeli partners.

Zahid (58:04):

But [inaudible 00:58:05] is no secret to the fact that it actually resembles perhaps an attack on Iran or anything like this?

Ned (58:12):

Again, Sahid, we work day in day out with our Israeli partners to be prepared to confront any number of challenges. But what you’re referring to is a reflection of that ironclad security commitment that we’ve long had. Okay.

Sean (58:30):

Do you have anything to say about there have been ongoing protests in Israel about what’s viewed as tacky or diluting the power of the Supreme Court? Does the US have anything to say about that and whether this shows respect for judicial independence [inaudible 00:58:45] United States, we would see as consistent with democracy?

Ned (58:49):

Well, in terms of our approach, we support policies that advance Israel’s security and regional integration, support a two-state solution and lead to equal measures of security, prosperity and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians. We strongly support freedom of assembly, this includes peaceful protest in countries around the world. Of course, that includes inside of Israel’s as well. We look forward to working with Israel to advance the interests and values that have been at the heart of our relationship for decades, and that includes the equal administration of justice to all of those who live in Israel. Let me move to people who haven’t… Yes, in the back.

Speaker 16 (59:24):

On China and human rights. We have American families who have family members that [inaudible 00:59:29] in China. They’re calling for negotiations or even prisoner exchange, is that something the US would consider with the PRC?

Ned (59:39):

We have no higher priority than the safety and security of Americans overseas. Of course, you’ve heard the priority we attach to individuals who are wrongfully detained, who are subject to coercive exit bans. In any country where this is the case, we raise that with local authorities, we raise it when we travel to such countries, we routinely raise it when have discussions with authorities from those countries as well. That is the case in the context of the PRC. It’s been a discussion with our PRC counterparts in the past. I suspect it will be, and I know it will be a topic of discussion in the future as well. Yes?

Speaker 17 (01:00:29):

Thank you. Today’s sanctions against the Islamic Republic along with the UK sanctions and [inaudible 01:00:36] sanctions showed a very remarkable unity, but on the same day today we have a comment from Joseph Correll about listing IRGC as a terrorist group. So he said that this cannot be decided without a court’s decision first and then EU is going to proceed with that. And then he said something interesting, he said, ” You cannot say I consider you a terrorist because I don’t like you.” This is what he said. And also Islamic Republic Foreign Minister said that he has assurance from Borrell that IRGC is not going to list as a terror organization. Do you have any comment on this development?

Ned (01:01:19):

We’ve heard a number of statements from the Iranian Foreign Minister that are dubious if not outright lies, so I would just keep that broader context in mind when you point to statements from the Iranian Foreign Minister. When it comes to our European allies, we welcome Europe’s strong and principled approach to the I RGC. As you know, the IRGC remains designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization and especially designated global terrorist. We’ve also sanctioned many IRGC leaders individually for their involvement in terrorism and human rights abuses. You mentioned the latest brunch of human rights sanctions that we announced in conjunction with many of our closest partners earlier today. We applaud the EU’s recent designations of IRGC officials and entities for their involvement in providing drones to Russia, which are being used to fuel Russia’s unconscionable attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. Our European allies recognize the threat, the challenges posed by the IRGC and Iran. More broadly, we have enjoyed exceptionally close cooperation and coordination with Europe on confronting these challenges.

Speaker 17 (01:02:31):

And, Ned, his hesitation whilst reframing from this which is the opposite of what we are hearing from other let’s say parliament members like Germany’s member parliament, European parliament. Do you think this hesitation is coming from a hope that he has? I cannot help but wonder, maybe Borrell is still hopeful that JCPOA is going to be revived. Can be this a sign of that or…

Ned (01:03:05):

I couldn’t speak to the high representative’s comments. In fact, I would refer you to the EU on his comments, and these are questions for our European allies, but what is not a question is the JCPOA. We’ve been very clear that the JCPOA is not on the agenda, has not been on the agenda for months. Iran has consistently turned its back on opportunities to pursue mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, and as a result of what Iran is doing around the world into its own people. We have focused on sending very clear messages to Iran, “Stop killing your people, stop providing drones to Russia for use in Ukraine, and release the Americans that you are wrongfully detaining.” Yeah, Shannon.

Shannon (01:04:02):

Same topic. Can you say that the US has given the European Union any consult on whether to designate the IRGC? And can you say while it’s in the hands of the EU would the US welcome such a designation?

Ned (01:04:18):

This is a question for the European Union, but what I can tell you is that we routinely discuss the challenges and threats posed by the IRGC with allies and partners around the world. And of course, that includes with our European allies bilaterally but also with the EU as a whole. There is no illusion in Europe about the challenges or threats that the IRGC poses. We’re always looking for ways that we can work with our European allies to counter the malicious activity of the IRGC, other Iranian proxy groups, other groups that Iran has supported. And we have applauded the recent designations that we’ve seen from our European allies of IRGC officials and entities for their involvement in some of what we’ve already discussed, Iran’s provision of drones to Russia and as a result of the human rights abuses that we’ve seen in Iran. Yes, [inaudible 01:05:16]

Speaker 18 (01:05:16):

If I could follow up on that. On today’s human rights sanctions, do you have any indications that the designations of Iranian officials are having an impact internally, including on the security forces behavior?

Ned (01:05:29):

It is always difficult to delve into a hypothetical or a counterfactual like that. We want to send and I think we are sending a very clear message to the Iranian regime, two messages really, that the world is watching, and the world is prepared to take action in response to the violence that Iranian officials are perpetrating against their own people. This is not the first round of sanctions that we have announced against Iranian officials

Ned (01:06:00):

… officials in response to the protests that we’ve seen in Iran since late last year. If Iran continues to engage in these human rights abuses, we will continue to apply even more pressure on Iran. But of course, this is about human rights. We have other concerns with this regime and we’re going to use every relevant and appropriate authority to hold it account on the various fronts, from human rights to its provision of UAV technology to Russia, to the challenges that are posed by its nuclear program, to its support for terrorist groups and proxies, as well. Yes.

Speaker 21 (01:06:44):

[inaudible 01:06:44] News, Pakistan. Our Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran [inaudible 01:06:49], has said he wanted to establish good relations with United States of America. As we know, many things happened in the past. If he get elected as a Prime Minister of Pakistan, would you open the door for talk to him and his party.

Ned (01:07:05):

We’re, of course, open to and would work with any elected government in Pakistan. Pakistan is a partner of ours. We share a number of interests. We have demonstrated our desire to see constructive relations with Pakistan over the course of successive governments. As we have said in different contexts, we judge governments by the policies they pursue. It would ultimately be a question of the type of policy that any future government of Pakistan might pursue. Alex.

Alex (01:07:41):

Thank you so much. And quick followup on Wagner. I also have another question on the secretary’s call to Azerbaijan. I’m having trouble understanding the administration’s strategy on, first of all, going with the TCO designation [inaudible 01:07:53] FTO, which we discussed last week, foreign terrorist organization. And if the intention here is to go after their business, why, and also your intention on Friday, I’m not taking [inaudible 01:08:04] this week. [inaudible 01:08:06]?

Ned (01:08:07):

So a couple things on that, Alex. One, as I said before, we’re reaching for every appropriate and effective authority when it comes to countering the activity that the Wagner Group is engaged in. These authorities are not authorities that we’ve created, ourselves. Oftentimes, they are legislated. They’re written into law with various requirements that any particular group would have to meet, whether that’s the transnational criminal organization authority, whether that’s a state sponsor authority, whether that is any authority that we’ve attached to terrorist organizations, criminal organizations, or otherwise.

When it comes to what we announced about our forthcoming plans for the Wagner Group, the activity that we’ve seen on the part of the Wagner Group allows us to meet that threshold that is established under the Transnational Criminal Organization Authority. It is engaging in activity out of a pursuit of, in some ways, profit, in some ways, prestige. It is employing officials who are criminals. In some cases, its subordinates include those who have been released from prison, where they have been serving long sentences for committing violent crimes.

So we look to the authority and the requirements that we have to meet. In this case, we’re confident that we’re able to meet it in the case of Wagner’s status as a transnational criminal organization. It provides us another tool to hold the Wagner Group, its senior officials and its employees to account. We’ll have more to say on a broader set of actions that we’re taking later this week. I don’t want to get ahead of that, but we are confident that this is an appropriate step, given what we’ve seen from Wagner Group.

Alex (01:10:06):

Thank you. My next [inaudible 01:10:07]-

Ned (01:10:06):

I need to move on, Alex. Yes.

Speaker 22 (01:10:10):

One question on Lebanon and the other on Russia. On Lebanon, today, a judge investigating [inaudible 01:10:17] his work and he made charges against senior officials. Some of them are your allies and have been in the States before few months ago. Do you have any comment on that? And my second question is on Russia downgrading diplomatic relation with Estonia. Do we expect similar behavior from [inaudible 01:10:41] Putin against other NATO members?

Ned (01:10:45):

If you’re referring to the decision on the part of Baltic States to downgrade their relations with Moscow, these are sovereign decisions on the part of our partners. We would defer to them as to determine the level of diplomatic representation, if any, that is appropriate with Russia. When it comes to Lebanon, we in the international community have made it clear since the explosion that we support and urge Lebanese authorities to complete a swift and transparent investigation into the horrific explosion of the Port of Beirut. The victims of this explosion in August of 2020 deserve justice. Those responsible must be held accountable. Yes. Go ahead.

Speaker 23 (01:11:31):

I have a question now. I see this statement that you continue the talks with Turkey of the F35 program, and I’m wondering if something changed because the last we knew was that Turkey’s under [inaudible 01:11:46] sanctions for buying the Russian system S-400. Why do you [inaudible 01:11:53]?

Ned (01:11:53):

That’s right. Nothing has changed in terms of Turkey’s eligibility for the F35 program. DOD did issue a statement. This is a discussion regarding how to wind down elements of that program. All right. Thank you all very much.

Speaker 24 (01:12:06):

You’re actually not familiar with the BBC documentary?

Ned (01:12:06):

I’m not.

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