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Government Agency News State.gov Press release
2:35 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR PRICE: Welcome to Wednesday, although I suppose Wednesday is mostly over by now, but welcome to the briefing room nevertheless. A couple items at the top.
First, as a result of the evolving health and security situation in Haiti, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols is leading a high‑level U.S. interagency delegation to Haiti today to discuss urgent humanitarian needs in the country.
The United States notes with great concern the growing cholera epidemic and the prolonged gang‑imposed fuel blockade. We are in receipt of the Government of Haiti’s appeal for urgent, international armed security assistance to address the current humanitarian crisis in Haiti, and the Secretary General’s letter urging support for such a force. We are currently reviewing this request in coordination with international partners.
Right now, however, our staff are – is on the ground in Haiti working alongside Haitian health workers and NGOs to respond to the cholera outbreak and deliver care to those who need it. We will accelerate delivery of additional humanitarian relief to the people of Haiti.
The United States Government recognizes the role armed gangs and criminal actors play in disrupting the free flow of fuel, humanitarian supplies, and life‑saving services for the Haitian people.
As a friend of Haiti, the United States Government is accelerating our diplomatic, humanitarian, and security response.
We are coordinating with international partners as well as within our own government to increase security assistance that will facilitate the movement of humanitarian relief.
We will do our part, bilaterally and multilaterally, to hold accountable criminal actors who impede the provision of humanitarian assistance.
Building on UN Security Council Resolution 2645, we have drafted with our close partner Mexico, a resolution proposing specific sanctions measures against individuals who support and/or engage in acts of gang violence, corruption, and human rights abuses in Haiti. These measures also serve to enable the international community to address the many challenges facing the people of Haiti.
Earlier today, Secretary Blinken also took steps to impose visa restrictions under Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act against Haitian officials and other individuals involved in the operation of street gangs and other Haitian criminal organizations. Such actions may also apply to these individuals’ immediate family members.
At this time, the department is identifying an initial group of individuals and their immediate family members who may be subject to visa restrictions under this policy.
With these visa restrictions, we are sending a clear message that those providing support to Haitian street gangs and other criminal organizations through financial and other forms of material support, including facilitation of illicit arms and narcotics trafficking, along with their immediate family members, are not welcome in the United States.
The United States will continue to monitor the situation in Haiti to determine if further visa restrictions are necessary.
As the situations in Haiti worsens, the time has come for political leaders in Haiti to put aside their differences to find a path toward sustainable peace. Assistant Secretary Nichols will urge Prime Minister Henry, members of the Montana Group, the private sector, and civil society to develop consensus on a path forward that will lead to the re-establishment of democratic institutions, free and fair elections, and economic prosperity for the benefit of all Haitians.
The United States stands with the people of Haiti in their desire to see an end to the political impasse and prolonged violence that have aggravated the humanitarian conditions for many innocent people.
And finally, tomorrow, we will welcome Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, Secretary – Security Secretary Rosa Icela Rodriguez, Attorney General Alejandro Gertz, and other senior officials from the Government of Mexico to the State Department for the 2022 U.S.‑Mexico High‑Level Security Dialogue.
Secretary Blinken will co-lead the dialogue, and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, and other senior U.S. Government officials will join the Secretary in welcoming their Mexican counterparts to discuss the implementation of the U.S.‑Mexico Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health, and Safe Communities as adopted during the 2021 High‑Level Security Dialogue hosted in Mexico City.
Secretary Blinken will also meet bilaterally with Mexican Foreign Secretary Ebrard and host a joint press availability at the conclusion of the dialogue.
We remain committed to working with Mexico as sovereign, equal partners to better protect the health and safety of our citizens, prevent criminal organizations from harming our countries, and upholding human rights while bringing criminals to justice.
With that, happy to turn to your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Just two brief – very brief logistical ones. The press conference tomorrow is just going to be Foreign Secretary Ebrard and the Secretary or is Attorney General Garland and their counterparts —
MR PRICE: The fuller cast will take part tomorrow. Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. So we can expect questions on a very wide range of issues. And then because you mentioned Mexico and the Security Council resolution, how much, if at all, do you think that Haiti is going to be a topic of discussion, or is that something that is – you’ve already worked out and so it doesn’t need —
MR PRICE: No, Matt, it will be a topic of discussion. We have worked very closely with Mexico on the challenges that the people of Haiti are facing at the moment owing to gang activity, owing to crime, owing to violence, owing to the growing cholera epidemic. As you know, we’ve worked with our Mexican partners in the UN context on the existing Security Council resolution to ensure that those criminal and other actors who are in large part responsible for the suffering of the Haitian people are held accountable and face appropriate consequences.
We had good discussions with our counterparts – our Mexican counterparts in Lima last week. As you know, the Secretary co‑chaired a meeting with Canada and with Haiti under the OAS auspices on the challenges that the people of Haiti are facing. We did have an opportunity to hear from our Mexican partners there as well, but I do expect that Haiti will be a topic of —
QUESTION: Okay. And then just on the broader migration issue, no doubt you have seen reports from yesterday about the administration considering a new plan for Venezuelan migrants and offering them the same parole process that Ukrainians, for example, have. Whether or not you want to discuss that plan, which I understand is not fully baked yet, but is this a topic that will – that you also expect to come up?
MR PRICE: I do expect migration to be discussed with our Mexican partners tomorrow. As you know, DHS Secretary Mayorkas will take part; his counterpart will take part, in addition to Foreign Secretary Ebrard. So I do expect the challenge of migration in our hemisphere to feature in these discussions, just as they were a feature of our engagement in Lima last week.
As you know, the Secretary in Lima took part in a ministerial focused on migration, focused on follow-up from the Summit of the Americas where we met with those countries that have signed on, those 20 other countries – 21 total countries that have signed on to the L.A. Declaration. It was an opportunity for them to review the three pillars of the L.A. Declaration, and more importantly, to demonstrate the progress that these signatory countries have been able to achieve in the months since June when the L.A. Declaration was initially signed and came into force.
I imagine many of our fact sheets may go to your spam folder, but we did – we did issue —
QUESTION: No, absolutely not. I’m sure that they all go directly to my VIP box.
MR PRICE: I would commend to you a fact sheet that we issued last week in the context of this ministerial because it was meaty, it was long, but it was long for a good reason. There have been a number of steps that these 21 countries have taken since June to realize the ambitions that the L.A. Declaration puts forward, and that’s the real point for us. The L.A. Declaration was and is historic in a sense that it was the first time this collection – this broad collection of countries have come together around a common framework for migration in our hemisphere.
But perhaps more meaningfully, it has been the blueprint for action. And in the few short months since June, we have seen really tremendous action, many of which were delineated in the fact sheet we put out last week.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Andrea.
QUESTION: Ned, the President said last night that he agreed that the relationship with the Saudis has to be recalibrated – not his word – given what their decision was on OPEC+, especially with the implications for Russia. How do you – take a look at the various proposals that have been floated from the Hill to change the defense posture or freeze it or review it without affecting our situation vis-à-vis Iran?
MR PRICE: Well, that’s precisely what we’re doing. We’re taking a look. This will be a process that will play out in the coming weeks, in the coming months as we speak with the relevant stakeholders and those who will be a part of our decision-making and a part of the conversation as we determine how to recalibrate this relationship.
There are a number of members on the Hill who have very strong opinions in terms of what the U.S.-Saudi relationship should look like. We want to make sure that we are hearing those ideas and those proposals directly from them. We want to ensure that we understand those initiatives, those proposals, as well as their implications. We also want to make sure that we’re consulting closely with other stakeholders as well as other countries, partners in the region and around the world.
Our goal – and this is our goal in every bilateral relationship we have, but our goal is to see to it that our relationship with Saudi Arabia is calibrated and recalibrated in such a way that it is most effectively serving our interests. This is a relationship that, over the course of years, has not always effectively served our interests. We want to make sure that going forward, we have a relationship that is sustainable and a relationship that ultimately redounds to the benefit of Americans and the benefit to our interests in the region.
QUESTION: Ned —
QUESTION: Could I follow up with you?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: There is a proposal by Senator Blumenthal and Representative Ro Khanna to hold arms sales and deliveries to the Saudis for like 10 months. Is that something that you would support?
MR PRICE: Again, Said, I am not in a position to go beyond what I just told Andrea, what I said yesterday as well. And that’s precisely because this is a process that needs to be deliberate, it needs to be deliberative, it needs to be inclusive, and it needs to be one that we take great care with. And we’re going to. This is a process that will play out over the course of weeks and months. There are a number of proposals, some of which have been floated publicly, some of which have been conveyed privately. We want to make sure that we are familiar with them, that we understand them, we understand the implications of them, and that we have an opportunity to speak with stakeholders on the Hill and elsewhere.
QUESTION: Ned —
QUESTION: So how is such a relationship that was so strong, such an alliance that was unbreakable, move from being so strong to something like we have today? What can you do, in other words? I mean, should you be using arm deliveries as leverage?
MR PRICE: Said, we are going to do what is in the interests of the American people and what ultimately serves the – to the benefit of our interests in the region. The fact is that we do have shared interests with the Saudis. We do have shared interests with other countries in the Gulf. We do have shared interests with other countries in the region, certainly to include Israel, but beyond that as well.
So we want to make sure that as we think about changes that need to be made to this relationship, we are holding those interests, along with our values – the paramount importance of human rights in our foreign policy – that we are holding those dear, that they are guiding us and orienting us as we listen to proposals, as we have these conversations on Capitol Hill, as we have these conversations in foreign capitals, as we have these conversations with other stakeholders at home and around the world.
QUESTION: Ned, the Saudi foreign minister has said today that the OPEC+ decision was based on the oil market needs, not on politics, and Saudi Arabia didn’t stand with Russia against the U.S. Do you have any reaction?
MR PRICE: Our contention – and this is not a contention that we are alone in sharing and holding – is that energy supply needs to meet energy demand. In our estimation and the estimation of countries around the world, what the OPEC cartel announced last week does not comply with that core principle. It’s not only a core principle of energy, it’s a core principle of economics that supply needs to meet demand. We are in an especially perilous – fragile, I should say – environment, a fragile economic recovery, an economic recovery that is facing continued headwinds – headwinds from COVID, headwinds stemming from President Putin’s aggression against Russia and the implications it has had in terms of not only energy prices but food prices, commodity prices, some of the other supply chain issues that have resulted from it.
So again, this does not seem to be a decision that comports with that core principle. We believe that it is a decision that was short-sighted, that was mistaken, and regardless of the intent behind it, the fact of the matter is that this decision does and will work to the benefit of President Putin, of Russia in the near term. It may well elevate energy prices, especially for those lower- and middle-income countries, those countries that are not as resilient to price shocks, price changes as the United States is, countries that don’t have the same domestic energy infrastructure that we do, those countries that are not in a position to produce 500,000 – hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day domestically.
Now, over the long term, that won’t be the case. Over the longer term, this decision will not work to the interests of Saudi Arabia. It will not work to the interests of Russia. It will not be in the interests of any other member of the OPEC cartel. And that’s principally because this decision is just another reminder of what we have known for some time now, that we need to – we must – lessen our dependence on foreign supplies of oil. We must become more dependent on what we’re able to produce from ourselves, what we are able to do with our allies and partners, and ultimately to accelerate the transition to renewables. This is a decision that will only accelerate all of those processes, and that ultimately won’t work to the benefit of President Putin.
QUESTION: There’s some reporting today that in the days before the OPEC decision, U.S. officials were calling Saudi counterparts, urging them to delay the decision for a month. Is that true? Is there anything you can elaborate on on that? And if it is true, how would a month change the dynamics that you just mentioned?
MR PRICE: We have had discussions with OPEC, including with the Saudis, for months now, and really going back to the earliest parts of this administration. But as you know, those engagements have intensified with President Putin’s aggression against Ukraine and the implications for the energy market that it engendered.
So it is no secret that we have conveyed repeatedly – privately, but also publicly – that the core principle to our – to the Saudis that energy supply needs to meet energy demand. This was a message that the Saudis heard long before President Biden’s travel to the kingdom earlier this summer. It was a message they heard in the aftermath of that visit because it is and – it was and is an important message because of the fragile moment we’re in with the global economic recovery, the inopportune timing, to put it mildly, in which this announcement was made as the global economic recovery is ongoing but facing these headwinds that I spoke to before. It is a principle that is as true and relevant today as it was before this decision was made: energy supply needs to meet energy demand.
QUESTION: Ned, can I just follow up on that? Can you understand, though, why it would look curious to some, considering we’re just about a month away from the midterm elections, where there is reporting that U.S. officials called Saudi Arabia to delay this decision by a month, putting it after the midterm election?
MR PRICE: I certainly can’t confirm that report. What I can confirm is that we conveyed a consistent message to the Saudis: energy supply needs to meet energy demand. We have made the point repeatedly that we have a multiplicity of interests with Saudi Arabia; energy is one of them. And in the context of those discussions regarding energy, we have had senior members of the administration travel to Saudi Arabia in recent months. This was not – this engagement did not take place solely in the context of October ’22 – 2022 or September 2022.
This is engagement that took place over the course of many months, and it took place over the course of many months because we wanted to send a clear and consistent message that energy supply needed to meet energy demand, and especially at this moment, this moment where the global economic recovery is ongoing but has the potential to endure setbacks from the headwinds that we’ve discussed and any additional headwinds that would come from an announcement like this one.
QUESTION: And then just a quick follow-up. Why wait to take action? We keep hearing about actions, consequences, but they won’t happen until senators come back to the Hill, which is not going to be for a while; this is going to put us deeper into a further energy crisis. People are wondering about how to heat their homes; it’s getting colder out. Why wait?
MR PRICE: We’re not waiting. This is a process that is ongoing. We want to make sure that this is a process that is deliberative and deliberate, but also inclusive. And by necessity, this will be a process that will take some time. But I don’t want to lend the impression that we are sitting on our hands, that we are waiting for anyone to return to Washington, that we’re waiting on any external factor. We are engaging, we will continue to engage, but we’ll also be deliberative and take the care that a decision like this deserves.
QUESTION: So what is the timeline? Because the President did say on camera today that he would want to wait until the senators came back to Washington. So what is the timeline here? Weeks, months?
MR PRICE: I would say both. This is a process that will play out over the course of weeks and months. This is a process that needs to be – that needs to be over the course of weeks and months because we want to hear those perspectives. We want to understand the proposals. We want to understand the implications. We want to hear the perspectives of other stakeholders. We want to consult with partners around the world as well.
QUESTION: And what if the balance at the Capitol or in the Congress changed in November?
MR PRICE: This is something to us that transcends politics. This is about core national interests, and those core national interests don’t depend on who is in the Capitol, they don’t depend on domestic politics here at home. These are interests of ours that are enduring and that will be the same a month from now as they are today.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have quick questions on Korea. And first question is North Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that it is not afraid of any sanctions imposed by the United States. Are there any sanctions that could really hit North Korea, or are you considering secondary boycott sanctions?
MR PRICE: We have been clear that as long as the DPRK continues with its provocations, continues with its launches of ballistic missiles, including longer range ballistic missiles and the sorts of provocations that we’ve seen intensify on the part of the DPRK in recent weeks, we will continue to hold responsible those who are overseeing the DPRK’s WMD and nuclear weapons programs, those who are in a position to support this program, who may be helping the DPRK systematically evade sanctions that have already been announced. This is something that we are doing with our own authorities, and just within recent days we have announced additional sanctions targeting the DPRK’s WMD and ballistic missile programs.
But it is also something that we will continue to discuss with our allies and partners, including in the Indo-Pacific, with our partners in New York, and our partners around the globe to see to it that we are doing everything we can’t – can to hold accountable those who are placing their WMD programs over the welfare of the people of the DPRK. This is a program that is consuming massive amounts of resources. This is a program that is dangerous. It is a program that is destabilizing. It is a program that poses a threat not only to our interests in the region but to those of our treaty allies as well. And we will use appropriate tools to hold accountable those who are overseeing it.
QUESTION: So one more, quick. Regarding the joint declarations on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula which the two Koreas – I mean South Korea and North Korea – agreed to, but South Korea is trying to scrap this. Do you think that if North Korea conducts its seventh nuclear test it should be abandoned because North Korea violated joint declaration on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula?
MR PRICE: I will leave it to our ROK allies to speak to their policy and to speak to any potential shifts in their policy, if there is a seventh nuclear test. For our part, we have made clear ourselves, we’ve made clear bilaterally with our South Korean allies, we’ve made clear trilaterally with our South Korean and Japanese allies that there will be additional costs imposed on the DPRK if it goes forward with a seventh nuclear test.
If the DPRK has the erroneous belief that the types of provocations that it has mounted, especially in recent weeks and recent months, give it any additional leverage, the consequences that it will bear from the international community will prove once again that is not the case. The provocations that we’ve seen from the DPRK have only further isolated the DPRK regime. They have only made it the object of condemnation. Certainly have not given it, afforded it any additional leverage. And if the DPRK were to go forward, there would be significant additional costs imposed on it.
QUESTION: So if South Korea is trying to scrap this, would United States support this, their actions?
MR PRICE: I will leave it to our South Korean allies to speak to their policy.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have a couple of questions involving Russia. Let me start with the new National Security Strategy. How do you want us to read this strategy when it comes to the Russia threat? Is Russia posing the – as the most dangerous, let’s say, threat against the U.S. and its allies right now than – in comparison with the guidance that we saw earlier this year?
MR PRICE: In comparison with?
QUESTION: The national security guidance that you had – you laid out earlier this year.
MR PRICE: What this – and I don’t want to go too far into this, of course, because the National Security Advisor is, I believe, at this moment offering remarks on this National Security Strategy. But what this strategy does, rather than provide an extensive accounting of every single challenge or opportunity America faces, it really touches on our plans in every region of the world and outlines how we will seize what it calls a “decisive decade” to advance our vital interests.
It does lay out a couple strategic challenges. It makes the point that strategic competition between major powers to shape the future of the international order is a decisive force. It makes the point that while we recognize this competition between major powers, people all over the world are struggling to cope with the effects of the shared challenges that know no borders, that cross borders, that are by their very definition transnational – whether that’s climate change, whether that’s food security, whether it is communicable disease, terrorism, energy shortages, or inflation. And the strategy makes clear that shared challenges like these oftentimes – while they have oftentimes been relegated to the sidelines, these are not marginal issues that are secondary to geopolitics.
These are issues on which we must work together with allies and partners around the world knowing that there is no challenge the United States can more effectively take on alone than we can when we have allies and partners by our side. And I think over the course of the 20 months or so of this administration, you’ve seen any number of proof points in the way we’ve tackled COVID, in the way we have sought to slow the effects of climate change, in the way we have marshaled a coalition to take on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, to support Ukraine in the first instance but also to impose massive costs and consequences on the Russian Federation. That is a model that can apply to the strategic challenges we face, but it is also a model we can and will continue to apply to the shared challenges we face.
QUESTION: So do you view the – do you view Russia as a top national security threat that you are facing right now?
MR PRICE: As a —
QUESTION: As a top national security threat.
MR PRICE: Well, there is no question that we have spent countless hours focused on the threat that Russia is posing to Ukraine, but more than that, the threat that Russia is posing to the international order. This is not only an unjustified, brutal assault on the people and Government of Ukraine. This is an assault, a strike at the very heart of the UN principles, of the UN Charter, of the UN system, of the international order that has undergirded some eight decades of unprecedented levels of stability, of prosperity, of opportunity for people all over the world – including, by the way, a system that in many ways enabled the rise of a country like Russia.
So there is no question that we view Russia’s aggression with the priority that it deserves. I think you can see that in what we do day in, day out here. And again, the backbone of our strategy – there are many different facets of it that we can speak to in any tactical detail – but the backbone of our strategy is the same strategy you see us applying across the board, whether it is to shared challenges or strategic competitors. It is built on the efforts that we’ve undertaken to repair, to refurbish, to revitalize our systems of partnerships and alliances, and it’s ultimately marshaling those with American engagement, with American diplomacy, with American leadership to make sure that our efforts are calibrated, they’re effectively trained, and ultimately that they’re effective in taking on the challenges that we face.
QUESTION: Yes, and one more question on a Putin factor. We hear recently some Western officials are subscribing to a new narrative, saying that Putin is under pressure of, quote/unquote, “hardliners,” which is, like, a clear departure of, let’s say, the viewpoint that you have been putting here, saying that Putin started this war and he’s the only man that could stop this war. What is your reaction to that narrative, and also the fact that your Western allies, including some hawks in this administration, are increasingly subscribing to that in light of recent attacks in Ukraine?
MR PRICE: I’m not familiar with that line of analysis. It has always been our contention and our firm belief that President Putin is and has been behind this aggression. He has been behind this brutal assault. It has – may well have been the case that this is the – an example of the Achilles’ heel of autocrats, as Secretary Blinken – the point Secretary Blinken has made on a number of occasions, that he has received guidance, received advice that may not have been fully accurate, that may not have been all that wise. But ultimately, President Putin is the one who has called the shots. He is the one who ordered the invasion. He is the one that could put an end to this brutal war tomorrow.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Price. I ask a question I was supposed to ask yesterday because of young generation, young girl day celebrated around the world yesterday, and an Afghan girl criticized me, and they asked me: why you didn’t ask this question for Mr. Price that still girls in Afghanistan not able to go to school, school is still closed. One question.
The second question, Secretary Blinken today announced that for Taliban and their family they bring some change for their visa and their families’ visas issue.
And number three, so many Afghan refugee in the Abu Dhabi’s camps, they demonstrated and they complained because their situation is very badly left behind in Abu Dhabi. Three questions. Any comment to expedite their case to come to the United States, all those refugee?
MR PRICE: Sure. Let me take those questions in order. As you noted, we did mark International Day of the Girl Child yesterday, and it was an opportunity for us to honor the contributions that girls and women are making to countries around the world. And Afghanistan is an example of a country where women and girls face extraordinary adversity, adversity that they should not have to face, adversity that the Taliban committed publicly and privately on many different occasions that they would not enforce, that they would not apply against the women and girls of Afghanistan. Of course, that has not been the case.
The Taliban has not lived up to its commitments. We’ve made the point many times that the Taliban’s policy towards women and girls are an affront to human rights. As long as the Taliban repress the women and girls of Afghanistan, the Taliban’s relationships with the rest of the world will suffer.
This is an issue that we are discussing with countries around the world. The legitimacy and support that the Taliban seek from the international community depend on their conduct, including, centrally, their respect for universal rights, fundamental freedoms, and that includes the universal rights that are accorded to women, to girls, to religious minorities, to ethnic minorities, and to all the people of Afghanistan.
We’ve called on the Taliban to overcome whatever impediments exist to allow girls to obtain access to education at all levels, to cease any additional restrictions that impede their ability to move and to study freely, and to honor the commitments that the Taliban has repeatedly made to the people of Afghanistan. We’ve repeatedly stated that the legitimacy and support the Taliban seeks from the international community begins with the legitimacy they earn from their own people and from the actions that they direct towards their own people. And in unison with our partners around the world, we’ll continue to watch the Taliban’s actions very closely. We’ll continue not only to support the people of Afghanistan with humanitarian support – hundreds of millions of dollars of humanitarian support that has flowed from the United States to the people of Afghanistan since late last year – but also to impose costs and consequences on those Taliban officials who are responsible for what are grievous affronts to the human rights of the Afghan people. We took a step in that direction yesterday with the imposition of visa restrictions on two members, on two senior leaders, and we’ll continue to impose costs and consequences as appropriate.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. And you have confirmed that a phone call took place between Secretary Blinken and the president of Serbia, President Aleksandar Vucic. Can we also expect a high-level in-person meeting between the two leaders somewhere in the future? And also, I understand from your statement that they talked about energy diversification in Serbia, and I assume in the Western Balkans overall. Can you please tell us what are the specific expectations for Serbia to complete in terms of the steps? Because everyone is talking, like, energy diversification, but if you can just, like, unpack this a little bit so people understand what is – the actual expectation is. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Sure. So you are correct that the Secretary did have an opportunity to speak with Serbian President Vucic and Kosovan Prime Minister Kurti on October 11th. He took the opportunity to underscore our support for the EU-facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, and he urged continued constructive steps and engagement to secure peace and stability across the region. He made very clear that the United States is a partner to, in this case, Serbia, is a partner to the people of Kosovo. We support their aspirations, their European aspirations, and we will work to continue to back them.
When it comes to energy, the point he made with the Serbian president is similar to the one that we’ve made to countries around the world, that recent events and recent actions, including those on the part of the Russian Government, have only underscored the imperative of increasing resilience to potential disruptions in energy supply, whether they’re manmade or otherwise, and to diversify energy so that no country can be held hostage to the weaponization – attempted or otherwise – of energy by any other country or entity. We’ve seen the implications associated with what President Putin has sought to do throughout Europe, the implications that are being felt around the world, and it’s our goal in our bilateral relationships around the world to do what we can to support greater resilience, to support greater diversification, to see to it that countries aren’t held hostage to this sort of policy.
QUESTION: Ned, on the —
MR PRICE: Let me move around just to people who haven’t asked a question.
QUESTION: I need to leave for —
MR PRICE: Okay, very quickly.
QUESTION: On the agreement between Israel and Lebanon, the Israeli Government has agreed on the agreement. Have you received any answer from them? And when should we expect now —
MR PRICE: So this is a process that will play out over the next couple of weeks. This is a process that in the first instance will take place in the governmental systems, in the national systems of Israel and Lebanon. Once those processes are complete, the countries will send to the United States their intent to subscribe to the parameters of this deal. Upon receipt of that, we will confirm to those two countries as the facilitator of this deal that we have received those commitments, and the deal will move forward at that time.
QUESTION: Do you – do you – do you —
MR PRICE: Let me move around a – yes, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. On Bangladesh, Bangladesh Government is very attacking on freedom of speech and freedom of association. At least three people, three opposition activist killed recent days. And U.S. imposed sanction on Rapid Action Battalion, but Bangladesh prime minister, just returning back from the U.S., mentioned that the RAB, which is sanctioned by the U.S. for serious abuse of human rights – she told that the RAB created by U.S. and U.S. provided training and logistic and arms, and now they are acting what – the training they have got from the U.S. What is your comment on that, about this authority and prime minister remarks?
MR PRICE: Well, the fact is that based on credible information implicating the Rapid Action Battalion or the RAB in gross violations of human rights, we did end assistance to the RAB in 2018. This was some four years ago that we ceased our assistance to this group, and in fact, in December – December of last year, December of 2021, we sanctioned the RAB as well as six current and former officers under what’s known as our Global Magnitsky sanctions regime in connection with the RAB’s involvement in serious and gross human rights abuse. And we publicly designated two former RAB officials under a separate authority, 7031(c), for their involvement in gross violations of human rights.
Whether it is in Bangladesh, whether it’s anywhere else in South Asia or anywhere else around the world, we have placed human rights at the center of our foreign policy. And we are committed likewise to drawing attention to and putting a spotlight on those who are responsible for human rights violations when they occur. These sanctions and these visa restrictions aim to promote accountability and reform for the RAB and to deter human rights abuse globally. And just as we hold these actors accountable, we’ll continue to partner with countries to develop their own capacity to fight crime, to administer justice, and to safeguard the rule of law. Our training to Bangladesh security forces promotes these very principles.
QUESTION: And what is your comment about the opposition government is attacking on opposition, peaceful demonstration, and freedom of speech and freedom of association?
MR PRICE: Our comment when it comes to any attack on those who are exercising the universal right to freedom of assembly, to freedom of expression, is the same. People everywhere, people anywhere have every right to use their voice, to assemble peacefully, to make their aspirations known in a way that is peaceful and respects the rule of law.
QUESTION: Thank you. On the Israel-Lebanon deal, do you feel that this deal mitigates the likelihood of violence erupting between Israel and Hizballah?
MR PRICE: Well, you heard from the President about this yesterday. You also heard from the Secretary who spoke to this at the top of his bilateral engagement with our Norwegian partners. But this deal will create a region that is more stable, a region that’s more prosperous, a region that is more integrated. It showcases the – ultimately the indispensability of American leadership and American diplomacy. This was the consequence of more than a decade of concerted effort on the part of successive administrations. And this was something that this administration put a lot of sweat into helping to facilitate not only to advance opportunity and prosperity for Israel and Lebanon, but also to see to it that, once fully implemented, the region is better integrated. That ultimately is in the interests of a more stable region, of a region that is potentially less prone to conflict.
Now, of course, this deal does establish a permanent maritime boundary, but it doesn’t constitute normalization between Israel and Lebanon. It doesn’t settle all of the land disputes between Israel and Lebanon. So we will continue to be a constructive force between and with these two countries and a constructive force in the region more broadly.
QUESTION: Let me go south on the Lebanese-Israeli border to the West Bank. For the third day straight, the Israelis are besieging one of the most – one of the poorest refugee camps anywhere, which is in Shuafat, outside the old city of Jerusalem. Today they basically – they killed a young man, 18 years old, it was extrajudicial execution by all accounts and so on.
The situation is really deteriorating. I mean, I know there was a meeting between Barbara Leaf and the Egyptian foreign minister, but that is in Cairo, not in the West Bank. What are you doing basically to pressure the Israelis, to lean on them to hold back? It seems that it’s all part of Mr. Lapid’s election campaign.
MR PRICE: Said, it is an unfortunate reality that the recent period has seen a sharp and in many ways alarming increase in Palestinian and Israeli deaths and injuries, including numerous children. It is vital that the sides take urgent action to prevent even greater loss of life. In all of our engagements with our Israeli partners, with our Palestinian partners, we are making the point that now is the time for de-escalation, that further escalation is not in the interests of anyone. It is certainly not in the interests of creating a more stable and calm environment. That’s our goal.
QUESTION: Do you expect the situation to calm down before the elections in Israel, number one?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to make predictions. What I would want to offer is the message we are conveying. It is a message that is centered on the urgent need for de-escalation so that we can avoid loss of additional life.
QUESTION: Follow-up on Afghanistan. We spoke earlier about obviously the steps you’re taking about the women and the Taliban. What obligation does the State Department have to some of the SIVs who are still coming back? One family I talked to who got here in July – a year, just about a year later – and can’t get any help. They can’t get – this is someone who worked for the State Department and has not been able to get any assistance to live, to get a job, four children, rent, high rents. What – other than private agencies, which don’t seem to – seem overwhelmed, what obligation does the United States Government have?
MR PRICE: So Andrea, this is something that we have focused on at every step of this. Of course, we do have a special responsibility to those Afghans who have served with and for the United States Government over the course of our 20-year military commitment in Afghanistan. They have been an object of a great effort on the part of the department. That was the case before the evacuation from Kabul International Airport last August. It has been the case ever since.
And as we are focused on relocating those U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who wish to depart Afghanistan, we have not taken our eye off the urgent need to relocate those Afghan allies who also wish to depart. And we have done that. Thousands of Afghan allies have been relocated over the course of the months since the end of our U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan, and there is no end to our commitment to these individuals. This will continue, and it will continue indefinitely.
Once they come to the United States, we have put in place – and we have worked with DHS, we have worked with other partners in the interagency, we have worked with our resettlement agency partners – to do everything we can, including with some novel programs, enlisting the support of private American citizens, Americans who wish to help host Afghan refugees, who help – who seek to help them integrate into American society, integrate into neighborhoods, integrate into their new country. So this is something that once they are here in the United States, of course, our obligation and support does not end. It’s also something we work very closely with DHS and resettlement agency partners.
QUESTION: Can you take the question and can someone get me some contacts for who in this government might be able to steer them to some agencies or to some support?
MR PRICE: We’ll see what more we can provide. But we do have a host of partners, refugee resettlement partners across the country, with whom we work every single day on this, But we’ll get you some more specifics.
In the back. Yeah. Go ahead, Jenny.
QUESTION: Well – oh —
MR PRICE: Please.
QUESTION: Ned, Siamak Namazi was forced to return to prison today. Do you have any comment?
MR PRICE: I don’t. This is – I was not aware of that. Obviously, that is something that comes as a tremendous setback. Siamak Namazi had been held unjustly for far too long. This is – he was released on furlough. Our message had been that his furlough should be extended, and ultimately, like his father, he should have been allowed to leave the country. Siamak Namazi and the other Americans who are unjustly detained in Iran, they are detained on a wrongful basis. They should be released. We are working to do everything we can to advance the prospects for their release and for their safe return to their families just as soon as we can.
QUESTION: Follow up or —
MR PRICE: Yes. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Since Namazi, Sr. was allowed to leave Iran, has there been any exchange of messages for the other three via the intermediaries, of course?
MR PRICE: This is – this is something that we’re always working on. It is a priority of ours. It has been a priority of ours even before we started indirect negotiations regarding a potential mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA in Vienna early last year. I’m just not in a position to detail the cadence of those efforts, but I can tell you that they remain an absolute priority of ours.
Yes. Still on Iran?
QUESTION: NetBlocks, which is a internet observatory, today they reported that there was a major disruption to internet traffic in Iran starting 6:00 a.m. Tehran time. So this outage is very severe and it’s been covered by U.S. media today as well. So I’m going to ask you about the general license because we were talking about it in the last three weeks, and this GL, the updates has been flagged and sold to Iranian people, the Iranian media, as a great support. So I think we can verify that today by the very, very big, severe outage we are witnessing.
So do you have any specific incentives for companies to communicate with Iran to provide software, hardwares to Iranian people? And I remember that you said before that OFAC is going to communicate with a few tech companies to facilitate providing free internet to Iranian people. Do you have any updates and do you still believe that GL is really working and supporting Iranians?
MR PRICE: On the general license, this is a general license that is self-executing, meaning that companies who believe their wares – their hardware, their software – are permitted to – for export to Iran under this general license are able to engage in those transactions.
My point on OFAC and the point we’ve made on OFAC is that if companies wish to discuss the applicability or potential applicability of the general license to what it is that they seek to export, those are conversations that OFAC will engage in. And OFAC, in turn, has prioritized review of those companies who have – that have gone to them seeking guidance on the applicability of the general license to their product.
What we can say is that since the time of the introduction of this general license, companies have taken advantage of it, that the general license has facilitated the flow of hardware, the flow of software into Iran. We never intended to characterize the general license as a panacea, as a silver bullet. The fact is that Iranian – the Iranian regime is an authoritarian one. It is one that strictly controls – seeks to control, at least – access to and the flow of information between Iranian citizens and between Iran and the rest of the world.
There are tools, including some that may be – that may be subject to this general license that will help the Iranian people access the outside world, that will help the Iranian people express their voice freely, and to communicate not only with one another but also with the outside world. And that is something that was the core animating principle behind the decision to issue this general license, as it was behind the decision to issue GLD-1 in 2014.
We are going to continue to do what we can to support the ability of the people of Iran to make their voices heard, to make their aspirations heard and known within Iran and within – and with the outside world. We’ll also at the same time continue to impose costs and consequences on those who are responsible for the repression, for the brutal crackdown that many of – that many of these peaceful demonstrators have been subject to.
And also, you noticed that our most recent tranche of designations included those who are responsible for attempts to silence the people of Iran, those responsible for taking steps to limit their ability to communicate freely with one another and with the outside world. And we’ll continue to impose costs and consequences on them as well.
QUESTION: And are you still interested in pursuing the nuclear talks?
MR PRICE: That’s not our focus right now. I think it is very clear, the Iranians have made very clear that this is not a deal that they have been prepared to make. A deal certainly does not appear imminent. Iran’s demands are unrealistic; they go well beyond the scope of the JCPOA. Nothing we’ve heard in recent weeks suggests they have changed their position. And so right now our focus, just as we were discussing, is on the remarkable bravery and courage that the Iranian people are exhibiting through their peaceful demonstrations, through their exercise of their universal right to freedom of assembly and to freedom of expression. And our focus right now is on shining a spotlight on what they’re doing and supporting them in the ways we can.
QUESTION: But Ned, going – just going back to the general license for a second, insofar – well, and the fact that it doesn’t appear at this have really helped internet access in Iran. Right? Because —
MR PRICE: I’m not sure that’s true.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, so there’s blackouts all over the place, as she was just saying and I think has been well reported that there are. But surely insofar as it relates to U.S. Government policy, supply should meet the demand, shouldn’t it?
MR PRICE: Explain your – explain that.
QUESTION: Well, if there’s more that you can do to increase the supply of internet access in Iran, surely, after your using the “supply must meet demand” argument – I think 10 – at least eight, maybe 10 times at the top when talking about Saudi – there is stuff that you can do, that the U.S. Government can do —
MR PRICE: To your point, Matt, information and energy are distinct in many ways. I think one of those is the fact that information and access to information is a universal public good. In some ways you can never have too much information. And perhaps this is making the point that you are seeking to make, but the point I’m making is that we are going to continue to do what we can to support the ability of the Iranian people —
QUESTION: But the point is that you haven’t done anything at – or OFAC hasn’t done anything since the general license.
MR PRICE: Well, the general license was issued just a couple of weeks ago. So I think that is an important detail, but we are always reviewing —
QUESTION: Well, (inaudible) tough decision —
MR PRICE: We are —
QUESTION: — several days ago.
MR PRICE: We are always reviewing what additional steps might be appropriate for us and possible for us to take to facilitate the ability of the Iranian people to express what is their universal right.
QUESTION: Sorry to backslide a little bit to Russia, but we saw yesterday the President said – he suggested that he might be willing to meet with Putin at the G20 if he wanted to discuss the case of Brittney Griner. Today it seems like the White House clarified and said he wouldn’t be open to talking about Griner to Putin. I just was wondering if you could say specifically if this administration saw room for top-level dialogue about the case of wrongfully detained Americans in Russia. And also, there’s a recent report that Brittney Griner’s lawyers say she doesn’t appear to be holding up well anymore. Her condition is deteriorating. I’m just wondering if you’ve had recent consular access to Griner and if the U.S. shares that same assessment on her condition.
MR PRICE: Our most recent consular access with Brittney Griner was at the beginning of August. We continue to impart on the Russian Government the necessity of consistent and regular consular access to Brittney Griner, but also to all of those Americans who are detained in Russia, whether they are detained wrongfully, as is Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, or if that designation has not been made.
When it comes to the President, he also made clear last night that he has no intention to meet with President Putin. The fact is that we have made very clear that securing the release of Paul Whelan and of Brittney Griner is a priority for this administration. We have demonstrated that in a number of ways, including when Secretary Blinken reached out to Foreign Minister Lavrov for the first time since February 24th to make clear that the U.S. Government had put on the table what we’ve called a substantial proposal, and that the Russian Government should act on it.
If there is a window of opportunity where senior-level engagement could advance the prospects of the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, we will do exactly what we did last time. Secretary Blinken or another senior-level official won’t hesitate to reach out. In engaging with the Russians, however, we will make very clear that there are bilateral issues that may be appropriate for us to discuss, and of course Russia’s wrongful detention of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, that is an issue between the United States Government and Russia. But we’ll also make equally clear that it is not the role of the United States Government to negotiate on behalf of any other country, and that of course includes Ukraine.
If there is an opportunity for dialogue and diplomacy to bring an end to this war, that ultimately will have to take place between Ukraine and Russia. We are not going to make decisions for, we are not going to negotiate on behalf of Ukraine or any other country.
QUESTION: Follow-up on Griner?
QUESTION: On that topic —
MR PRICE: On Griner? Sure.
QUESTION: Just on the Griner point. I think – I heard the President last night. He said he would be willing to meet with President Putin at the G20 if it were about Griner, but not about other issues. I just want – maybe I misheard him.
MR PRICE: And that is exactly what I explained to Shannon. I think the President also added he didn’t have any intention at the president – at the present to meet with President Putin.
QUESTION: And —
MR PRICE: But my point was exactly that. If there are bilateral issues, and of course —
QUESTION: I didn’t know if you were ruling that out. But let me also ask you about what Ambassador Richardson said on Sunday, because he said he is cautiously optimistic after his trip to Moscow and meeting with officials – who he would not name – that they would be released by the end of the year, without explaining. So let me just ask you whether you have any expectation in connection to the October 25th appeals schedule, that that court date will be – will change anything. And the concern that apparently her family has, that after that court date, if she’s not released, she will be sent to a labor camp and not kept in the facility where she has been kept during the trial.
MR PRICE: I can’t speak to what might happen, what could happen after her appeals hearing, and that is principally because at every step of the way these proceedings have been largely shams. They’ve been shambolic. They have been of course not rooted in the rule of law, and that is a broad concern we have with Russia, but it is a particular concern we have when American citizens are wrongfully detained and go through this process that is not reflective of the rule of law.
QUESTION: But —
MR PRICE: All – what I can tell you when it comes to the potential release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner is that we are working on it every single day. We have no higher priority than the safety of Americans around the world. That certainly includes Americans who are wrongfully detained. We are doing everything we can to see their release as soon as we can.
QUESTION: But you’ve not had —
QUESTION: Can I —
QUESTION: We haven’t had consular access since the beginning of August. Have – has the United States Government sought consular access since then and been rejected?
MR PRICE: We seek regular and consistent consular access to Brittney Griner and to every other American who is in Russian custody. That includes Paul Whelan; that includes other Americans who are detained in Russia.
QUESTION: Isn’t that a very long time not to have consular access?
QUESTION: When was the last time you had Paul Whelan access?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Isn’t that a very long time not to have consular access to —
MR PRICE: We – and we seek regular and consistent access, yes.
QUESTION: I have a question for Whelan.
MR PRICE: Oh, sure. Go ahead, go ahead.
QUESTION: I had a question for Whelan and —
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: The same question for Paul Whelan, when —
MR PRICE: We’ll see if we can get you the latest date of consular access there.
QUESTION: I’ve got another one on Russia. The – there’s some indication, some activity in Belarus that has been suggesting that there could be a development where Belarus gets more fully involved in the war effort as a result or – alongside Russia, there’s partial mobilization, maybe that Putin is looking to force Belarus to also contribute troops to the effort. I wonder: is that something you’re tracking? Do you have any reason – have you seen any reason, anything that suggests that that could happen soon, Belarus getting fully involved? Are you doing anything to deter that, and what would the consequences be for Belarus?
MR PRICE: We have – along with our allies and partners have continually worked to see to it that Russia, along with the Lukashenka regime in Belarus, pay a severe economic and diplomatic price for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. With our allies and partners, we have taken action targeting the financial networks and assets of the Kremlin, but also the assets and financial networks that enable the Lukashenka regime and its elites as well. As long as the regime continues to support the Kremlin and its aggression against Ukraine, we will continue to implement new economic measures against not only Russia but also Belarus, in particular against their institutions and elites.
The fact is that Belarus long ago ceded its sovereignty in significant ways to Russia. The fact that President Putin has been able to use what should be sovereign Belarusian territory as a staging ground, the fact that brutal attacks against the people of Ukraine have emanated from a sovereign third country, Belarus in this case, it is a testament to the fact that the Lukashenka regime – another testament to the fact that the Lukashenka regime does not have the best interests of its people at heart, and that Lukashenka and his cronies are, as they consistently have, only looking out for their own best interests.
Final question, yes.
QUESTION: Yeah, on Ukraine. The UN General Assembly is about to vote a resolution that condemned the Russian referendum on Ukraine, and also the Russian annexation of territories in eastern Ukraine. How the U.S. see the position of the delegations that are going to choose the no, which means to not condemn Russia? And also how do you see the position of the delegations that are not going to vote at all, saying that they want to be neutral?
And if you – if I can, another one in the same matter, past week three Latin America countries – Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil – they choose to not join any statement regarding Ukraine. Your comment on that, too.
MR PRICE: Sure. What is important, I think, is what is at stake in the vote that could happen in the coming hours. It is about more than one country; it’s about more than any single bloc of countries. It’s really about the core principles of the UN Charter, because what Moscow has done not only is an assault, as I said before, on Ukraine, but it strikes at the heart of the UN Charter. The notion that a country cannot seize territory by force, the idea that a land grab is not something that the world can countenance in the 21st century – underscoring and preserving those principles are really at the heart of this vote.
So in that sense, our ultimate goal is to see to it that this resolution is passed – whether that happens today or tomorrow. We want it to become an official condemnation on the part of the UN General Assembly for what Moscow is seeking to do by attempting to annex these regions of sovereign Ukrainian territory.
It is a naked effort on the part of Russia to, again, subvert the UN Charter, the UN system, and the principles behind them. And you have to remember that there’s a vote in the general assembly for one reason and one reason only, and that is because only one country voted against this resolution when it was in the UN Security Council. And now that it is before the countries of the general assembly, we believe it’s important that the countries of the general assembly – and ultimately the countries of the UN system – offer a resounding consensus. And we expect they will.
It is also, I think, important to demonstrate that the world stands against what Russia is seeking to do. So in that sense, the yes votes will show that. But so, too, will the no votes, and specifically, so too will what I think we can expect to be a scant number of no votes. Moscow will almost certainly be isolated. Those countries that vote against this resolution will constitute a rogue’s gallery of, one might imagine, the countries that consistently seek to subvert the principles of the UN Charter.
But I should also add that votes in the UN system, they are an important metric, but they’re only one metric. And there have been a number of occasions for countries around the world to voice their condemnation for what Russia is seeking to do, to voice their support for what Ukraine is seeking to stand up to. And over the course of this conflict, it is – over the course of this war, we have seen countries that at first exhibited a greater degree of so-called neutrality increasingly condemn Russia’s use of force, increasingly call for a diplomatic resolution to this conflict. That is important as well.
Regardless of what happens in the general assembly, I think the final point is that Moscow is isolated in the UN system. You saw that in the profound failure on the part of its procedural efforts earlier this week to shield the identity of those countries who will vote in this. You see this in the defeat they received in the Human Rights Council a number of days ago. You see it in the fact that Moscow no longer has a seat on the Human Rights Council.
So there have been a number of opportunities for the international community to isolate Russia, to support Ukraine, and we expect this general assembly vote will be another one of them.
Thank you. Thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:48 p.m.)
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