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Government Agency News State.gov press
2:31 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Hey, good afternoon, everyone. And let me apologize for the delay in getting started today. Let me also apologize that we have a few things to cover at the top before we get to your questions, but I promise we will eventually get to them.
First, for the last two days, Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman and the EU’s External Action Service Secretary-General Stefano Sannino have been meeting in Washington to further advance the EU-U.S. strategic partnership. They participated in the fourth high-level meeting of the U.S.-EU dialogue on China yesterday and the third meeting of the U.S.-EU high-level consultations on the Indo-Pacific today. They agreed that the United States and EU have never been more aligned on our strategic outlooks. They also underlined the strong joint transatlantic resolve in defending freedom, democracy, and human rights worldwide. They stressed their ongoing commitment to take further coordinated action to address the current global challenges.
In the U.S.-EU China Dialogue, they emphasized the importance of the United States and the EU maintaining continuous and close contact on their approaches to the PRC, including on economic diversification, the PRC’s ongoing economic coercion of international economies, Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war of aggression against Ukraine, promoting respect for international law and principles of human rights, the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and China’s unilateral actions in the East and South China Seas. They also affirm that everyone around the world has the right to peacefully protest, mindful of the ongoing protests in China.
In today’s consultations on the Indo-Pacific, they confirmed our shared U.S.-EU commitment to upholding the rules-based international order in the region and expressed support for strengthening cooperation with regional partners based on these values and multilateral rules-based frameworks. They discussed efforts to improve regional connectivity, including through the Partnership for Global Health Infrastructure and Investment, and Global Gateway. They discussed maritime security issues and affirmed the importance of ongoing engagement with partners in the region.
This was an opportunity for the United States and the EU to affirm our shared strategic outlook, to underline strong transatlantic resolve in upholding freedom, democracy, and human rights worldwide, and to stress our ongoing commitment to take further coordinated action to address the current global challenges.
Deputy Secretary Sherman and Secretary-General Sannino agreed to continue their close consultations, and they will hold the next high-level meeting under the U.S.-EU Dialogue on China and consultations on the Indo-Pacific in Brussels in the first half of next year, 2023.
I would encourage you to take a look at the detailed joint statement we released for further details. The deputy secretary and secretary-general are also participating in a joint public event this afternoon at American University on the U.S.-EU partnership in the Indo-Pacific.
Next, today marks one month since the signing in Pretoria of the Permanent Cessation of Hostilities Agreement between the Ethiopian Government and the TPLF. While we want to see more progress in implementation of both the Pretoria and the Nairobi follow-on agreements, we welcome that the fighting stopped within 72 hours of the signing and the fact that it has not resumed.
There also has been promising implementation in key areas. Four separate humanitarian corridors — Tigray and the joining affected areas, Afar and Amhara regions, have been established, and assistance has started flowing in increasing amounts every day, bringing lifesaving food, medicine, and supplies to the people who need it most. Restoration of essential services has also begun in areas severely impacted by the conflict.
We also note the launch of the Joint Disarmament Committee this week in Shire with military representatives from both parties, assisted by the African Union, working out modalities and timelines to consolidate the peace. Implementation of the agreement also requires the full withdrawal of Eritrean forces as well as non-ENDF forces from Tigray. Much work remains to be done, including on human rights accountability, and we call for international human rights monitors to be given access to the conflict area.
The Pretoria Cessation of Hostilities Agreement remains the best chance for peace in northern Ethiopia, and the United States is committed to supporting the parties as they fulfill their commitments under that agreement. At the same time, we are mindful of the reports of significant violence in Oromia, and we call on all armed actors to engage in political dialogue to end the fighting while exercising restraint and respecting the lives, the rights, and property of all those in Oromia.
Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer remains actively engaged, including with international partners to coordinate support for implementation of the agreement. While in D.C., as he is now, he remains in constant contact with the parties as well as with the African Union, and he has participated in outreach with diverse Ethiopian diaspora communities representing various regions to continue to listen to ideas about how the United States can best support the Ethiopian people.
Next, the United States condemns the attack on the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul targeting its head of mission, Ubaid Nizamani, a senior diplomat. We offer our sympathies and wish a quick recovery to those affected by the violence. The United States is deeply concerned by the attack on a foreign diplomat, and we call for a full and transparent investigation.
Next, the United States will co-host the second Summit for Democracy on March 29th through 30th of next year with the governments of Costa Rica, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, and the Republic of Zambia. The world is facing unprecedented challenges, including food insecurity, the climate crisis, increasingly constrained civic spaces, rising corruption, and technological transformation.
Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine has made especially clear the need to advance democracy and to unite as a global community. Democracies around the globe are working together to address many of these issues. The second summit will bring together the chorus of allies for democracy, including leaders from government, civil society, philanthropic organizations, and the private sector to demonstrate how democracies can deliver for all.
At the first summit last year, approximately 100 governments made nearly 750 commitments to advance democracy, to protect human rights, fight corruption, and counter authoritarianism. Building on this momentum and our Year of Action work toward these pledges, the second summit will highlight progress collectively made since that time. The summit is a platform to showcase the efforts that support civil society, that safeguard an independent media, combat corruption, bolster democratic reformers, advance technology for democracy, promote respect for human rights, and defend free and fair elections.
Alongside our partners the United States champions a vision of a world that is grounded in democratic values, and the Summit for Democracy is an opportunity to advance democratic renewal and realize a brighter future for all.
And finally, tomorrow is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, or IDPD – a day in which we celebrate persons with disabilities and reaffirm the United States role as a champion of disability inclusion around the world. IDPD is an opportunity to highlight the fact that societies are strengthened when persons with disabilities are included.
U.S. Special Advisor on International Disability Rights Sara Minkara spearheads the Department of State’s global disability efforts. She travels the world to promote human rights of persons with disabilities, emphasizing the inherent value and contributions that persons with disabilities bring to the table.
Special Advisor Minkara is also our lead representative in co-chairing the Global Action on Disability Network, or GLAD Network, a body that coordinates donor entities around inclusive international development and humanitarian action. The United States is proud to co-chair GLAD for the first time this year alongside the International Disability Alliance. Please join us this IDPD in celebrating persons with disabilities and all their diversity, mobilizing to recognize their value and supporting their dignity, human rights, and well-being at home and abroad.
So with all of that, we’ll turn to your questions. We’ll start with Matt Lee of the AP.
MR PRICE: Hey, Matt.
QUESTION: Hey, can you hear me? Welcome back. Hope you enjoyed Bucharest.
MR PRICE: Thank you.
QUESTION: I’ve got a couple but they’ll be – they’ll be very brief. One, just on the democracy summit, where is that going to be?
MR PRICE: It will be virtual. It will also have a hybrid component, so there will be components that are in-person held in partner countries around the world.
QUESTION: Okay. And then briefly, can you update us on the status as you know it of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan? Do you know of any – have you heard anything about these reports of another American detained in Russia?
Secondly, do you have yet any explanation from the Russians themselves about why they canceled the New START talks?
And then lastly on this, you may have seen reports that Edward Snowden took his oath of citizenship, Russian citizenship today, and I’m wondering if your position on him has changed. As you know, he said that the reason he’s in Russia is that the U.S. Government back at the time revoked his passport, leaving him basically stranded there. And at the time, the government’s response was, well, we’ll give him – we’ll give you temporary travel documents so you can come back to the U.S. and face trial, which he obviously didn’t think was any great shakes. So is that still your position and do you have any comment on him actually becoming a Russian citizen?
MR PRICE: Thanks, Matt. Let me take those in reverse order. I’ll start with your question on Mr. Snowden.
What I can say is that we’re aware of the reports of Edward Snowden being granted Russian Federation citizenship. We, of course, are not in a position to confirm whether that is in fact the case. You would of course need to speak to Russian authorities regarding that.
The only thing I’ll add, Matt, is that Mr. Snowden has long signaled his allegiance to Russia. This step, if confirmed, would only formalize that. But I don’t have anything to add beyond that.
When it comes to your question on New START, obviously there have been reports emanating from Russia regarding their calculus and their decision to unilaterally cancel this. What we can say is that on November 25th Russia abruptly, and as I mentioned before, unilaterally postponed the upcoming session of the New START Treaty’s Bilateral Consultative Commission, or the BCC. It was scheduled to begin in Cairo this week on November 29th.
We are disappointed by Russia’s unilateral decision. Over the last several months, we have approached the resumption of New START inspections and the convening of the BCC in a constructive manner guided by the principles of exercising our treaty rights and upholding our treaty obligations.
All the topics that Russia had put forward were on the agenda for the meeting. We have repeatedly emphasized that we are prepared to work constructively on their agenda items and expected them to similarly work constructively on ours. All signs indicated that both sides were prepared to meet. We’ve seen some suggestions to the contrary. That is entirely false.
We do remain ready to meet with Russia in the New START Treaty implementation body to discuss all U.S. and Russian New START implementation concerns, to conduct inspections and ensure the viability of New START as a critical tool for maintaining stability between our nations with the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world.
Look, the fundamental purpose of nuclear arms control is to increase predictability and stability, and with that of course comes security. That redounds on both parties regardless of the circumstances. We are committed to New START in word, in deed, and we urge – we urge Russia to evidence the same.
Finally, Matt, on your question on Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, there isn’t much that I can add regarding our stalwart efforts to seek their release. This is something that we have been constantly working on through every available channel. Secretary Blinken, of course, announced over the summer a substantial proposal that we had put on the table. This has not been a static process. We’ve continued to regularly engage with the Russians on this as often as we have been in a position to do so.
I think, as you heard from us this morning, we were in touch with Paul Whelan this morning. He had a conversation with consular officers earlier today. He reported that he had been transferred to a prison hospital on Thanksgiving Day and returned to the penal colony where he was, IK-17, as of earlier today. We’re also aware – and you’ve heard this from his family – that he was able to place a call home earlier today too. We continue to press for timely updates on Paul Whelan’s condition. We last saw him in person on November 16th. We last spoke with him by phone earlier today, as I mentioned. Whether it is Paul Whelan, whether it is Brittney Griner, we are continuing to work to see their release and to effect their release just as quickly and as expeditiously as we can.
Let’s go to the line of – sorry – Shaun Tandon, please.
QUESTION: Hey, Ned, good afternoon. Could I ask you a couple of things related to the statement today on the Religious Freedom Designations? One, the listing of the Wagner Group, could you – statement says about the Central African Republic, but could I ask a little bit more broadly on that? There are some – there’s some movement in Congress to designate the Wagner Group as a terrorist organization. Is that something that’s under consideration apart from legislation – is that something that’s under consideration for the administration? Could you give a view on that?
And the two things on the designations, can you explain the designation of Cuba? Of course, there was the report in June, but Cuba, in terms of it being added – was – is this about the harassment of priests regarding the – during the protests that took place in Cuba? And also one thing I noticed that was a bit curious was, if I’m not mistaken, ISIS is no longer on the entities list, just the – some of the branches, the regional branches there. I presume that doesn’t indicate any great new moderation on religious freedom by ISIS. It might be a technicality, but I just wanted to see if you had any explanation for that. Thanks.
MR PRICE: Yeah. Thanks very much, Shaun. So I will start with Cuba, and what we’ve seen from the Cuban Government is a response to a period of activism and peaceful protests with a crackdown on its citizens and predictable repression, including when it comes to their human rights, and that includes the freedom of religious – religion or belief. Cuban authorities increase restrictions on religious freedom through legislative changes, through unjust arrests, forced exile, and violence against those expressing religious beliefs that the Cuban Government perceives as opposing its ultimate authority. And cumulatively these actions represent a shift to engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom, which is the basis for the designation that we spoke to today.
When – separate but related, when it comes to the Wagner Group, you know, Shaun, that we are always looking at ways to hold Russia to account for the perpetration of its brutal war against Ukraine. We are not going to hesitate to use any relevant and appropriate authorities to do so, but we also don’t preview any actions. The Wagner Group is already designated under a number of authorities, but I don’t have anything else to preview when it comes to any additional future actions.
And when it comes to ISIS, terrorist groups under the Religious Freedom Report are designated as Entities of Particular Concern, and Entities of Particular Concern designations, to be a bit more precise, are of non-state actors who violate religious freedom and meet the statutory criteria under – criteria of designation under the Frank Wolf Act. Under that act, a non-state actor is a non-sovereign entity that exercises significant political power and territorial control, is outside the control of the sovereign government, and often employs violence in pursuit of its objectives. The Secretary of State is – has been delegated with the authority to make these designations. He takes into account all of the relevant information available in conducting this review. When a terrorist group is designated under other authorities, including as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act and as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group under EO 13224, those entities of particular concern typically do not meet the statutory criteria as an EPC at that time. And my understanding is that is the case with ISIS.
We’ll go to Jenny Hansler.
QUESTION: Thanks for doing this. I want to ask on the news out of Israel last night that Netanyahu has reached a coalition deal with some of these very far-right extremist parties, one of which would be in charge of the COGAT agency there. Does the U.S. have comment and are you prepared to work with some of these officials who have been called Jewish supremacists on issues related to Palestinians? Any comment on that?
MR PRICE: Thanks, Jenny. Look, it’s too early to speculate on the exact composition of the next governing coalition in Israel. This process is ongoing. We’ll continue to watch as it continues. In the meantime, we’re – we continue to be deeply concerned by the intensifying violence in the West Bank and the resulting deaths and injuries, including numerous children. We re-emphasize the need for all parties to do everything in their power to de-escalate the situation. It’s vital that the parties themselves take urgent action to prevent even greater loss of life. Our approach continues to be the same. We continue to emphasize that Israelis and Palestinians deserve to have equal measures of security, of stability, of justice, of dignity, and of democracy.
Let’s turn to the line of Camilla Schick.
QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thank you. Welcome back.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up on Paul Whelan. Can you give any insight as to why the Russians might move a U.S. prisoner and cut off all communication? I understand that, like, the Russians haven’t communicated with you on this, but is there any past examples of them doing this with American citizens, where they would put them in radio silence for a few days? And I’m asking this given that there is an ongoing effort to try and secure the releases of Americans in Russia. Is this a pressure tactic, for example, that the U.S. has seen Russia do before with Americans in detention? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thanks, Camilla. Of course, I would – you would have to ask the Russians why they took this particular step. What I can say is that during the call with our embassy officials earlier today, Paul stated that he was feeling well. Why he was moved to a hospital, I couldn’t say with any degree of certainty. Again, that would be a much better question for Russian officials.
The only thing I can add is that we have, unfortunately, experienced the practice of Russian authorities to move detained American citizens without prenotification of any sort. This has happened previously in the case of Paul Whelan. It of course happened previously in the case of Brittney Griner. I believe you heard from us today that the embassy in Moscow was formally notified by Russian – by the Russian Government of Brittney’s transfer on November 23rd. That was more than two weeks after she was moved from a prison in Moscow to the IK-2 facility in Mordovia.
So this is a practice on the part of Russian authorities. It is a very unfortunate practice, one we consistently protest, and we continue to call on Russia to live up to its legal obligations to provide the United States with timely consular access to all U.S. citizens. That includes Brittney Griner, that includes Paul Whelan, but all other American detainees in Russia so we can provide critical consular assistance.
Let’s go to Iain Marlow.
QUESTION: Thanks for doing this. Appreciate it. I’ve got a quick question on the China protests. Obviously we saw them sort of burst out last weekend, and since then there’s been a pretty heavy police presence and not much new protest. I’m just wondering – there’s been some comments already, including from Ambassador Burns, but I’m just wondering, from the Department – I mean, I guess I’m just wondering what you guys expect now. I mean, do you think the Chinese Government just flooding these cities with police officers has kind of successfully put these protests down? I mean, does the department expect them to continue given just the continuation of the “Zero COVID” policy and the – I guess the prospect in the future that there would be more lockdowns or other things that could prompt more unrest?
MR PRICE: Thanks, Iain. The question for us is not so much what China will do. That’s a question for PRC authorities. The question I can answer is what China should do, and we’ve been clear that people in the PRC have a right, of course, to peacefully protest without fear. They have the same universal rights that people around the world have to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom to, I said before, protest peacefully. We don’t think that right should be hindered or interfered with in any way. We’ll continue to express our support for this fundamental freedom precisely because it is a fundamental freedom, as is freedom of the press, which we have also seen hindered during the course of these protests.
Let’s go to the line of Alex Raufoglu.
QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Great to have you back.
MR PRICE: Thanks.
QUESTION: Got a few questions for you. Let me start with the Kremlin’s comments saying that Washington’s refusal to accept annexed regions as part of Russia complicates possible Putin-Biden talks. Just was wondering, where do you think this is coming from? Haven’t you been clear enough that U.S. will never recognize those territories? And do you think there is a misreading of the President’s comments yesterday?
And also would appreciate your reaction to a report that Ukraine embassies are receiving bloody packages, some even containing animal parts.
And lastly, if I may, going back to the EU-U.S. dialogue, I was wondering if the sides touched upon the conflicts, such as Karabakh conflict. As you know, Azerbaijan canceled next round of Brussels talks, rejecting France’s involvement. Curious if this came up during the – yesterday’s meeting with both EU officials and also with President Macron either at State or at the White House, and also whether or not the U.S. is willing to pick up from where the Europeans have left off now that Brussels meeting is not happening. Thank you so much.
MR PRICE: Thanks, Alex. So on your first question, which also had a comment embedded within it, would very much agree with your comment. We have been very clear that the United States and countries around the world will never – never, never, never – recognize territory that Russia has illegally annexed either in 2014 or, more recently, as part of its illegal and now brutal aggression against Ukraine. We have been crystal-clear about that.
What the President said yesterday is that if President Putin is ready to end this war in Ukraine, we’re prepared to engage in diplomacy, including by potentially speaking with President Putin. The President noted he would do that in close coordination with NATO, our NATO Allies. We’ve noted before that everything will be done in close coordination with Ukraine – nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. Obviously it appears very clear, including from the comments today from the Kremlin but, more pointedly, from the actions of the Russian Federation in recent weeks – including the brutal assault against the people of Ukraine, including its escalation by targeting energy infrastructure across Ukraine that powers the country, that provides for the well-being of the Ukrainian people with water, with heat, with essential services. It is – the Russians have made it very clear that of course they are not in the mood for constructive dialogue and for constructive diplomacy.
So together with our partners and our allies, we’re focused on holding Russia accountable for their actions, on supporting Ukraine as they defend themselves against this Russian aggression, and on mitigating the impacts of President Putin’s war on the rest of the world. Secretary General Stoltenberg, for those of you who were in Romania with us, put it this way. He made the point that while it may seem paradoxical, the best thing the international community can do to help bring about a diplomatic end to this war is to continue providing our Ukrainian partners with the security assistance that they need to defend their sovereignty, to defend their democracy, to defend their territorial integrity.
Not only does providing that security assistance – not only will it help change the battlefield conditions, incentivizing the Russians to take part in genuine diplomacy, something they have not been willing to do thus far, but ultimately it will also strengthen Ukraine’s hand at the negotiating table if and when that negotiating table emerges.
You pair those comments from the secretary general with the comments that President Zelenskyy has repeatedly made about his willingness to engage in diplomacy towards a just and durable peace, and that speaks to the strategy that we’re continuing to implement: holding Russia to account, supporting Ukraine with the security assistance that it needs, and working with the rest of the world to mitigate the implications that are being felt by the rest of the world of President Putin’s aggression against Ukraine.
Alex, if I recall, you also asked about the suspicious packages. We can confirm that a suspicious package was received at the U.S. embassy in Madrid. We’re aware of reports of other packages sent to additional locations throughout Spain and in other countries in Europe. The embassy in Madrid did issue a security alert yesterday. We’ll continue to evaluate the security situation and to provide updates as appropriate. Our embassy there remains open for American citizen services. We’re working very closely – the Diplomatic Security Service and the FBI are. They’re coordinating closely with Spanish law enforcement – law enforcement regarding this incident.
When it comes to the President’s meeting with President Macron yesterday, I will leave it to the White House to speak to any potential discussion of Armenia and Azerbaijan. But as you know, the United States has been very much engaged with the parties to help bring about a peaceful future for the South Caucasus region. We’ve held – we’ve convened now two trilateral meetings between Armenia and Azerbaijan – Secretary Blinken has. He’s continued to be in telephonic communication with the parties as well.
When they were last together, the foreign ministers agreed to expedite their negotiations, to organize another meeting in the coming weeks. They both expressed their appreciation to the U.S. side for hosting that ministerial. We certainly hope that the dialogue and constructive atmosphere between the two countries will continue as we continue to support the diplomacy to lead to – lead to a lasting peace and resolving issues between the two countries.
Let’s go to Janne Pak. Janne, you there?
QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Can you hear me?
MR PRICE: Barely.
QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?
MR PRICE: Yes, we can hear you now.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Thanks for taking my question. I have a quick question, first, on North Korea. As you know, North Korea has already completed its sixth nuclear test, and North Korea is known to possess multiple nuclear weapons. What does the North Korea’s seventh nuclear test mean for the United States, and what actions do you think the U.S. and international community should take after this seventh nuclear test?
Second question. North Korea is illegally developing missiles and WMD, such as (inaudible), cryptocurrency, and cyber hacking. However, China and Russia are not implementing – implement UN security sanctions. Do you think the U.S. need additional (inaudible) sanctions because China and Russia have not been (inaudible)? Thank you very much.
MR PRICE: Thanks, Janne. And I’ll confess it was very difficult to hear; the volume was very low as you were asking the question. So I will do my best to answer the questions I think were asked. I think your first question was on a potential seventh nuclear test. We’ve spoken to this in recent months in some detail. We’ve said for some weeks now that we’ve seen indications that the DPRK has completed preparations for a possible seventh nuclear test.
If that were to go forward – and of course that is still an “if” at this point – a seventh nuclear test would constitute a grave escalatory action. It would seriously threaten regional and international stability and security, not to mention undermine the global nonproliferation regime. It would be dangerous; it would be deeply destabilizing to the region. It would blatantly violate international law as set out in multiple UN Security Council resolutions. We’ve urged the DPRK to refrain from further destabilizing activity. We’ve called on the DPRK to engage in serious and sustained diplomacy. Of course the DPRK has not heeded those – heeded that urging to date. And so even as we do so, we’re coordinating closely with our allies, our treaty allies in the Indo‑Pacific and partners and allies across the globe.
The potential for a seventh nuclear test has been the topic of discussion at various levels. The President of course met with his Japanese and Republic of Korea counterparts when the President was in the Indo-Pacific last month. Secretary Blinken has had a number of conversations with his Japanese and ROK counterparts. Deputy Secretary Sherman, our Special Envoy Sung Kim, and many others have as well, and we’ll continue to coordinate closely with them to prepare for all contingencies, including the possibility of a second nuclear – seventh nuclear test, excuse me. And we’re also coordinating very closely with our allies and partners in New York, where the Security Council has in the past worked collaboratively to hold the DPRK to account for its provocations.
This segs to your second question regarding, as I believe I heard it, the PRC’s enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions that have been passed of course unanimously by the UN Security Council, of which the PRC itself is a permanent member. We think it is incumbent of all members of the UN system, especially members of the UN Security Council, especially permanent members of the UN Security Council, to fully implement the Security Council resolutions that it itself has passed. It is important not only in the case of holding the DPRK to account for its brazen provocations for its illegal nuclear weapons and WMD programs, which, by the way, potentially pose a threat to not only the United States and our interests, not only to our treaty allies, but to the entire region.
It’s also important that members of the Security Council, especially the permanent members of Security Council, implement the measures that they themselves have passed, because failing to do so would chip away at the international system that has been at the center of our security, of our stability, of our prosperity over the course of some eight decades since the end of the Second World War. This is the system that the permanent members of the Security Council have built, that they have invested in, and that they have turned to time and again to resolve differences and to hold to account countries that are infringing upon international law.
Of course, we have failed to see that rigorous enforcement on the part of two members of the Security Council. These are – we have routinely urged all members of Security Council, including these two members, to uphold the commitments, the binding commitments that they have made.
We’ll go to – to – oh, to Daphne Psaledakis. I think that’s who’s on. Operator, if —
MR PRICE: Yeah, go ahead, Daphne.
QUESTION: Are you able to hear me?
MR PRICE: Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has submitted an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Does the State Department have any comment on this? Are you concerned about it? Thanks.
MR PRICE: Thanks, Daphne. On this, of course, Julian Assange is pending extradition. I would need to refer to the Department of Justice, as we consistently do, when it comes to cases that are pending extradition.
Let’s go to ITN, Alex Chandler.
QUESTION: Thank you very much indeed for taking my question. Just a follow-up to Alex’s question earlier about the President’s comments regarding talks with Russia. It appeared to trigger some ripple effect around Europe this morning with other leaders talking about talks. And I just wondered if you could tell us whether there was a coordinated effort to put talks higher up the agenda both here and in Europe. And just as a follow-up to that, have you received any representations from President Zelenskyy as a result of the President’s words yesterday?
MR PRICE: Thanks very much. It’s always been at the highest element of our agenda to see this war ended. It was our highest priority to see this Russian aggression deterred and forestalled in the first place. Of course, that didn’t come to pass because President Putin had very clearly made up his mind long before the United States started warning of the potential for Russian aggression against Ukraine. Once his forces crossed into Ukraine, it has always been our highest priority to bring an end to this war. President Zelenskyy, most importantly, has consistently said that this war must end through dialogue and diplomacy. We very much are on the same page. The Russian Federation very much is not on the same page. They’re on a very different page.
This was in no way a shift in our policy. We’ve made very clear all along that we will do everything we can to bring about an end to this conflict. Of course, the potential discussion between President Biden and President Putin is nothing more than a hypothetical at this time, and that’s precisely for the reason that I laid out. President Putin has shown no interest in ending this brutal war, which he could do today if he so choose – so chose. He chose to start this war; he could choose – choose to end this war.
So in the meantime, as I said before, we’re continuing to do those three things. We are providing security assistance, the security assistance that Ukraine needs. Not only will it have an effect on the battlefield as Ukraine defends itself, but it will, we hope, incentivize the Russians to seek out a diplomatic resolution to this. It will strengthen Ukraine’s hand at the negotiating table when it emerges. We’ll continue to hold Russia and Russian officials to account for this brutal war, and we’ll continue to work with partners and allies around the world to manage and to mitigate the implications of President Putin’s aggression.
We’ll take another question or so here. Laura Kelly.
QUESTION: Hi. Am I online?
MR PRICE: You are, yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks, Ned. Thanks for taking my question. Just wanted to see if you have any update on any efforts by the State Department reviewing the withdrawal from Afghanistan and responding to congressional requests for information related to any review or requests by investigative authorities to conduct oversight.
MR PRICE: Thanks, Laura, very much. So I think as you know, we’ve – the Secretary has been very clear that it’s important that we learn the lessons of Afghanistan. Of course, the United States had a 20-year mission inside the country. It was a 20-year military – 20 years of military and diplomatic involvement inside the country. The Secretary last year appointed – excuse me, earlier this year – appointed Dan Smith to review the final years of the department’s engagement in Afghanistan. Colleagues across the administration are in the process now of extracting key lessons from that time in Afghanistan. Of course we want to be as transparent as possible, but we will always do so consistent with classification and safeguarding of sensitive information. This process is ongoing, so I just don’t have anything additional to offer at this time.
When it comes to working with members of Congress, we have engaged regularly with members of Congress since – and, of course, well before – the withdrawal from Afghanistan in August of last year. State Department officials have taken part in dozens if not more of hearings and briefings with members and their staffs. I am certain that will continue in the months to come.
And we’ll go to Said Arikat.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) hear me?
MR PRICE: Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Welcome back. Two quick questions on the Israeli Government. And Netanyahu seems to have – Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have given tremendous power for – to Ben-Gvir and Smotrich over the Palestinians, over settlements, over placing, and so on. I wonder if you have any comment on that. And second, the Israelis also threw out a well-known human rights advocate, a French citizen, and I wonder if you could comment on that. And lastly, can you comment on the elevation of Mr. Hady Amr’s position? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thanks very much, Said. So on your first question, we addressed this earlier when it comes to the government that is still in formation in Israel. I noted that it’s too early to speculate on the exact composition of that next governing coalition, but we continue to be deeply concerned by the intensifying violence in the West Bank, the deaths that have resulted, including those of numerous children. And we have re-emphasized for all parties the need to do everything in their power to de-escalate the situation. It’s urgent, as I said before, that the parties themselves take action to prevent even greater loss of life.
When it comes to Hady Amr, I think you saw the announcement that we made in recent days. Consistent with our commitment to strengthening engagement with the Palestinians, we established a new special representative for Palestinian Affairs and named Hady Amr to serve in that role. As the Washington-based Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs, Hady will engage closely with other – with the Palestinians and their leadership. And together with Ambassador Nides and his team, they’ll continue to engage with Israel on Palestinian-related issues.
Our Jerusalem-based Office of Palestinian Affairs will work closely with the special representative, and the special representative will work out of the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs under the authority of the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs.
You asked, I believe, about the reported detention of Issa Amro. We are aware of those reports. We continue to make clear with both the Government of Israel and with the Palestinian Authority that members of civil society must be able to carry out their important, their indispensable work. We urge full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza. And as we’ve said many times before, we believe that Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve equal measures of security, of prosperity, of freedom, and of dignity.
With that, we will call it a day. I look forward to seeing many of you next week and, in the meantime, hope you all have a good weekend. Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:18 p.m.)
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