The Burma Military Regime’s Extension of State of Emergency

2 Feb

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

The United States strongly opposes the Burma military regime’s decision to extend the state of emergency, prolonging the military’s illegitimate rule and the suffering it inflicts upon the country. As we enter the third year since the regime’s unjust and destabilizing coup, we restate our commitment to support the people of Burma and the realization of their aspirations for an inclusive, democratic Burma. We will continue to work with our allies and partners to support the pro-democracy movement’s efforts to establish genuine inclusive democracy in Burma, deny the regime international credibility, prevent and redress violence and abuse, press the regime to meet its commitments under the ASEAN Five Point Consensus, and denounce the regime’s plans for so-called elections, which will exacerbate violence and instability and will not be representative of the country’s people.

Release of Convicted Murderer of U.S. Embassy Personnel

1 Feb

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

The United States expresses our deep concern over the January 30 release of Abdel-Ra’uf Abuzaid, one of the individuals convicted of the 2008 murders of our colleagues John Granville and Abdel Rahman Abbas.  Abdel-Ra’uf Abuzaid remains a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.

We are deeply troubled by the lack of transparency in the legal process that resulted in the release of the only individual remaining in custody and by the inaccurate assertion that the release was agreed to by the United States Government as part of the Sudanese government’s settlement of victims’ claims in connection with Sudan’s removal from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list in 2020.

We will continue to seek clarity about this decision.

The Department’s Rewards for Justice program, managed by the Diplomatic Security Service, has a current reward offer of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Mohamed Makawi Ibrahim Mohamed or Abdelbasit Alhaj Alhassan Haj Hamad, two other individuals responsible for the murders of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) employees John Granville and Abdel Rahman Abbas.

Russia’s Intensifying Crackdown on Independent Civil Society

27 Jan

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

In recent days, the Kremlin has struck more blows against independent civil society and media. On January 25, a Moscow court ruled to close the Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia’s oldest human rights organization and the inspiration for citizens’ groups monitoring human rights in the Europe-Eurasia region and around the world. The Kremlin’s crackdown on independent civil society and media at home creates a climate of impunity that enables its aggression against its neighbors.

The Moscow Helsinki Group is among the most recent targets of Russian authorities’ expanding crackdown on the exercise of human rights, including freedom of expression. Recent Russian designations of the Andrey Sakharov Foundation and independent news outlet Meduza as “undesirable,” effectively outlawing their activities in Russia, are further examples of the Kremlin’s intensifying campaign to cut off independent sources of information and silence voices of conscience.

The United States stands in solidarity with courageous human rights defenders, independent journalists, and pro-democracy advocates in Russia who continue their work despite considerable risk. We call for the unconditional release of the hundreds of political prisoners Russia continues to hold, including those deprived of their freedom for taking a principled stance against the Russian government’s war of aggression against Ukraine. We call again on the government of Russia to end its brutal aggression abroad and acts of repression at home, both of which violate international law and contravene Helsinki Final Act principles on respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states and the human rights of all people.

Condemning the Attack on the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran

27 Jan

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

The United States condemns the attack on the Azerbaijani embassy that occurred earlier today in Tehran. We echo President Aliyev’s call for a prompt investigation into this unacceptable violence. We offer our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who were killed and injured today. Any attack against diplomats or diplomatic facilities anywhere is unacceptable. We remind the Government of Iran of its responsibility under the Geneva Convention to protect foreign diplomats in Iran.

Designation of Former Representatives of the National Assembly of Serbia Verica Radeta and Petar Jojić for Involvement in Significant Corruption

27 Jan

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

The United States is designating former Serbian National Assembly Representatives Verica Radeta and Petar Jojić for their involvement in significant corruption. While serving in the National Assembly of Serbia, Radeta and Jojić bribed and intimidated witnesses scheduled to appear before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to dissuade them from offering incriminating evidence against Serbian Radical Party (c SRS) leader Vojislav Seselj, who was subsequently convicted of war crimes. Their conduct interfered with judicial processes, leading the ICTY to issue international arrest warrants for contempt, threatening regional stability, and adversely impacting the national interests of the United States.

These designations reaffirm the commitment of the United States to combat corruption, which harms the public interest, hampers partners’ economic prosperity, and curtails the ability of governments to respond effectively to the needs of their people. The United States continues to stand with all Serbians in support of democracy and the rule of law and will continue to promote accountability for those who abuse public power for personal gain.

These public designations — including that of Jojić’s adult son, Gojko Jojić — are made under Section 7031(c) of the annual Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act.

The Situation in Jenin

27 Jan

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Today in Jenin, at least nine Palestinians, including militants and at least one civilian, were killed and over twenty injured during an Israeli Defense Forces counterterrorism operation against a Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell.  We recognize the very real security challenges facing Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and condemn terrorist groups planning and carrying out attacks against civilians.  We mourn the loss of innocent lives as well as injuries to civilians, and are deeply concerned by the cycle of violence in the West Bank.  We underscore the urgent need for all parties to de-escalate, prevent further loss of civilian life, and work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank.  Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely.

Secretary Blinken’s Travel to Egypt, Israel, and the West Bank

26 Jan

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will travel to Egypt, Israel, and the West Bank from January 29-31 to consult with partners on a range of global and regional priorities, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Iran, Israeli-Palestinian relations and preserving the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the protection of human rights and democratic values, among other topics.

The Secretary will visit Cairo, Egypt from January 29-30, where he will meet with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, and senior Egyptian officials to advance the U.S.-Egypt strategic partnership and promote peace and security in the region, including through shared support for elections in Libya and the ongoing Sudanese-led political process.

The Secretary then will travel to Jerusalem and Ramallah from January 30-31. In Israel, he will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, and other senior leaders to discuss the enduring U.S. support for Israel’s security, particularly against threats from Iran. The Secretary will also discuss Israel’s deepening integration into the region, Israeli-Palestinian relations and the importance of a two-state solution, and a range of other global and regional issues. In the West Bank, the Secretary will meet with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and senior PA officials to discuss Israeli-Palestinian relations and the importance of a two-state solution, political reforms, and further strengthening the U.S. relationship with the Palestinian people and leadership.

With both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the Secretary will underscore the urgent need for the parties to take steps to deescalate tensions in order to put an end to the cycle of violence that has claimed too many innocent lives. He also will discuss the importance of upholding the historic status quo the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem, in words and in actions.

The Secretary will engage with civil society throughout the trip to underscore our commitment to human rights, support for civil society, and the enduring importance of people-to-people ties.

Department Press Briefing – January 24, 2023

25 Jan

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:30 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: All right, good afternoon, everyone. Happy Tuesday. One item at the top and then I’ll take your questions.

Secretary Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi convened this morning a meeting of G7 foreign ministers, Ukraine’s foreign minister, key European partners, and multilateral institutions to reaffirm our collective support for Ukraine and its energy sector, which remains under a brutal assault by Russia’s missile and drone strikes. Since October, the Department of State has been leading efforts with the rotating G7 – with the rotating G7 Presidency to coordinate and accelerate the delivery of critical energy infrastructure equipment from our allies and partners to Ukraine.

This group of foreign ministers last met November 29th of last year on the margins of the NATO Ministerial, where the Secretary announced over $53 million in U.S. emergency support for Ukraine’s electricity grid. Since then, the United States has delivered two plane loads of critical equipment, with another delivery scheduled soon. Further efforts include procuring high-voltage autotransformers and industrial-scale mobile gas turbine generators to support essential public services.

In today’s meeting, the Secretary highlighted the newest $125 million package we announced on January 18th, which will also be used to procure autotransformers and other priority grid equipment. Since the start of the war, the United States has provided $270 million in assistance to help repair, maintain, and strengthen Ukraine’s power sector in the face of continued attacks. The Secretary applauded the tremendous efforts by our allies and partners to coordinate complicated logistics, procurement, and delivery of critical equipment to help Ukraine repair its electricity system and maintain energy sector resilience.

The group also condemned Russia’s continuing brutal attacks against Ukrainian energy infrastructure and its cruel consequences for Ukrainian civilians. The Secretary and partners also emphasized the importance of continuing to provide air defense systems, which have helped Ukraine defend effectively against Russian attacks.

The group reinforced its commitment to stand with Ukraine as long as it takes and discussed the importance of this G7+ coordination mechanism beyond emergency response, to include long-term reconstruction towards a modern, distributed, clean, and efficient Ukrainian energy system fully integrated with Europe. The Secretary committed to continuing State Department leadership, in partnership with Japan, to convene and coordinate the G7+ group at the leadership and working levels going forward.

With that, I’m happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Right. Thanks, Ned. Sorry I missed the very top. I’m assuming you didn’t mention anything about tanks in your opening, no?

MR PRICE: I do not believe the word “tank” was in my topper, no.

QUESTION: Okay, well, then let me do it now. So it appears that you guys are ready to sign off or approve the transfer of Abrams tanks, and so I’m just wondering what you can say about that.

MR PRICE: Well, Matt, I know how much I tend to frustrate you when I do this. So I will just be clear and frank that if you’re looking for me to say something different from what I said yesterday, you’re not going to find it today. What I can tell you is that this is a conversation that we are regularly engaged in with our Ukrainian partners. We in turn have conversations with our European partners, other allies and partners, some 50 around the world who are providing much needed security assistance to Ukraine.

I know there has been a lot of focus on one particular capability over the past few days; there was extended discussion of it yesterday. But I also think it’s important in the context of that discussion that we not lose sight of the forest for the trees. The amount of security assistance that the United States and allies and partners around the world has – have provided to Ukraine, it is in a sense staggering, not only the sheer amount measured in dollars but the capabilities that we have provided as well, capabilities that match Ukraine’s needs, match the timing of those needs, and in some cases have put us in a position to provide our Ukrainian partners with new capabilities or capabilities that they previously did not have.

When it comes to tanks, these are capabilities that the United States has helped provide our Ukrainian partners over the course of many months now. We’ve worked with European partners to source and ultimately to provide former Soviet-made tanks, former – tanks that were produced by the Russian Federation itself to provide tanks as well, not to mention the Bradley Fighting Vehicles, the heavy armored vehicles that the United States and many of our allies, including Germany, have in the past provided.

We’re not going to get ahead of any potential announcements from other allies, other partners. We’re not going to preview anything else we may have to say. But needless to say, this is an ongoing conversation and it is a conversation that allows us to be responsive to the needs of our Ukrainian partners.

QUESTION: But it is correct, is it not, that you would like to see Germany in particular give tanks to Ukraine, either itself or by giving the okay for Poland to send these Leopard tanks to Ukraine? Is that not correct?

QUESTION: Matt, you’ve heard me say this enough that I think you have a sense. We are not prescriptive in terms of —

QUESTION: I’m not saying that.

MR PRICE: — in terms of —

QUESTION: I’m just —

MR PRICE: — in terms of what other allies and partners should provide. This is a sovereign decision on the part of every sovereign government around the world.

QUESTION: Yes, and you (inaudible), right?

MR PRICE: We would like to see countries around the world step up, and in some cases continue to step up, to provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need. In some cases that’s providing them with replenishments of capabilities that our Ukrainian partners have had, whether they’re long had it or whether it is a more recent addition to their arsenal, or in some cases we’ve been in a position to provide new capabilities. This is a sovereign decision for each government to make.

QUESTION: Then I’ll – I’ll take a last stab at it then, though. Would you be willing to do what the Germans would like you to do in order for the Germans then to send additional materiel to Ukraine?

MR PRICE: These are conversations that we’re having with the Ukrainians, that we’re having with the Germans. We will leave private conversations, diplomatic conversations, to those channels. What matters most to us is that we continue to maintain the level of coordination, the level of consultation with Ukraine, and in turn with our allies and partners around the world, that has enabled us to provide our Ukrainian partners with billions of dollars worth of equipment that they need when they need it to take on the threat that they’re facing at that very moment.

Daphne.

QUESTION: On the question of tanks, do you believe that the choice of what U.S. heavy weapons to send to Ukraine is a diplomatic issue or one that’s best left to the U.S. military?

MR PRICE: This is a conversation that not only do we have with our Ukrainian partners, with our allies and partners, but it’s a conversation that we have with other departments and agencies in this government. Now, of course when it comes to military know-how, tactical battlefield knowledge, no one is going to have more than that – more of that than the Department of Defense. It is the Department of Defense that – especially when it comes to the USAI program, the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative – is sourcing much of this. So this is a conversation where they bring that expertise and knowledge to bear.

But there are diplomatic elements to this. We have relations with senior Ukrainian officials through political channels, whether that’s the Secretary’s frequent engagements with the foreign minister, others in this building working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the Office of the President. So we take all of those conversations that we’re having with Ukraine, that we’re having with allies and partners, and share that of course with colleagues across the Executive Branch to arrive at what is – what we’re in a position to provide and how we can provide it.

QUESTION: Just on —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: If she’s – are you done?

QUESTION: I was going to ask about corruption, but —

QUESTION: No, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: — you can finish on this.

MR PRICE: Is it the same topic, before we move on?

QUESTION: Yeah, on the Leopards, because we’re a little bit confused. I think Der Spiegel said that Germany will provide Leopards to Ukraine.

MR PRICE: I have seen various reports of this all citing anonymous German officials. I will let our German allies speak to any announcements that they are prepared to make when they are prepared to make it.

QUESTION: And also Bloomberg reported that they are going to announce tomorrow that they are allowing Poland to send in Leopard tanks.

MR PRICE: Again, all of the reports I’ve seen – feel free to correct me – point to anonymous sources and not German leaders who would need to be in a position to make any such announcement themselves.

Anything else on this?

QUESTION: May I follow up on this?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PRICE: Okay, Alex.

QUESTION: No new comments since yesterday doesn’t mean no progress since yesterday, right? (Laughter.) Just trying differently.

MR PRICE: It’s – I commend you for how you’ve gone about the question. (Laughter.)

We’ve – it’s fair to say that we’re always discussing these issues with allies and partners. Just because we’re in the same public place doesn’t necessarily mean that we haven’t made progress on any given issue. I’m not speaking particularly to this issue but across the board.

QUESTION: You know that Poland officially requested already from Germany. Do you welcome Poland’s step that Poland has taken, or what is your position on Polish side?

MR PRICE: Our position is that this is a question for our German allies, for our Polish allies. Just as when allies request permission from the United States to re-export U.S.-origin material, that’s a question for us and them. This is a question for, in this case, our German allies and our Polish allies.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, and last, your White House colleague just told us that – she has cited DOD officials – just told us that the tanks have never been off the table.

MR PRICE: That’s fair. We have not taken capabilities off the table. Again, this is a conversation based on what our Ukrainian partners need, when they need it, where they need it.

Yes, in the – yeah.

QUESTION: The New York Times earlier reported a story that Ukraine has suspended 10 of its military officials for some sort of corruption. Is the U.S. making sure that all the aid that has been given and billions of dollars is going to the right people and they’re not building themselves some things?

MR PRICE: We absolutely are. We take extraordinarily seriously our responsibility to ensure appropriate oversight of all forms of U.S. assistance that we are delivering to Ukraine. We’re actively engaged with the Government of Ukraine to ensure accountability. There are challenges associated with the current environment in which our Ukrainian partners are in the midst of a brutal attack by the Russian Federation. But we take this commitment seriously nonetheless, and we’re still able to take steps to ensure that accountability.

We have teams in Kyiv, we have teams back here in Washington, who are working literally around the clock to support our Ukrainian partners. And a key focus is to ensure safeguards, both for the accountability of weaponry as well as adherence to the laws of war, are built into all assistance efforts as we help Ukraine defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity against this ongoing aggression.

We’ll continue to work to ensure the assistance we provide is subject to that oversight – the security assistance, the humanitarian assistance, the economic assistance – and when it comes to that security assistance to ensure that everything we provide is in compliance with our Leahy Laws, international humanitarian law, and other applicable requirements, and of course consistent with respect for human rights and democratic values that we share with our Ukrainian partners. This is a robust system of oversight and accountability. We thank Congress for providing us with additional resources to see to it that we’re able to conduct this oversight, and this is a conversation that we are regularly engaged in with our Congressional overseers as well.

When it comes to the actions that we’ve heard about from our Ukrainian partners in recent hours, this stems from a desire we’ve heard very clearly from the people of Ukraine over the course of many years now, going back to 2014; it was certainly a key element of President Zelenskyy’s platform when he was running for his current office in 2019. The Ukrainian people have been very clear about their desire for good governance and transparency.

And in this case, we welcome quick and decisive actions by President Zelenskyy as well as vigilance by Ukrainian civil society and media to counter corruption, to ensure effective monitoring and accountability of public procurement, and to hold those in positions of public trust to account when they fail to meet the obligations and the responsibilities that are entrusted to them.

Just as the people of Ukraine want to see good governance, want to see anti-corruption, want to see the rule of law, we support all of these things, as well as Ukraine’s commitment to transparency and accountability, and we saw an example of that in recent hours. We’ll continue to stand with Ukraine as it works to implement these important anti-corruption reforms.

QUESTION: Same topic, one question?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Russian Ambassador in D.C. Anatoly Antonov met with the new chief of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Moscow Lynne Tracy here at his residence. Do you have any readout on what kind of discussions —

MR PRICE: We – this is not the type of a meeting that we would typically formally read out, but I can confirm that Ambassador Tracy did meet with Russian Ambassador Antonov. This was an opportunity for her to have a discussion with her counterpart here in D.C. As you know, Ambassador Tracy was confirmed – overwhelming confirmed – by the Senate on a bipartisan basis late last year. We expect Ambassador Tracy will be departing for the Russian Federation, where she will present her credentials in the coming days. We expect her to be in place later this month. She’s currently in the process of having consultations with desks and individuals here in Washington, and in this case she had an opportunity to have a discussion with Ambassador Antonov.

QUESTION: Ned, this meeting suggests that they’re all, like – diplomatic channels are on with Russia and that you are – you’re being engaging with Russia. Obviously, the Ukraine is the most important thing to discuss with them. So what you see that – what kind of demands Russia have to stop this war? I mean, obviously, they are saying something. They want this, and you can – they can stop this war. I mean, what kind of demands they are making to stop this whatever’s happening in Ukraine?

MR PRICE: Well, let me say this. I’m not going to speak to what Ambassador Tracy discussed with Ambassador Antonov, but I can pretty clear about what she didn’t discuss: didn’t discuss any form of a negotiated settlement over Russia’s brutal war with Ukraine. That’s not for us to do. It is not for us to do in Washington. It is for our Ukrainian partners to do with, as appropriate, our support. And we stand ready to support them, if and when the time comes for meaningful dialogue and diplomacy. We know that our Ukrainian partners are for that. We’ve heard a pretty well articulated vision for a just and durable peace that President Zelenskyy presented to the world last November and has since rearticulated, as have other members of his government.

Setting that issue aside, because it’s not an issue for us to discuss with Russia, we have been clear about a desire to maintain open channels of communication with Russia. We have an embassy in Moscow. It’s under duress because of the pressure and the limitations that the Kremlin has imposed on it. But because – I mentioned Ambassador Antonov a moment ago – the Russians have an embassy here, we have the ability to pick up a phone in – when that is warranted and appropriate, as Secretary Blinken has done, as Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, has done, as the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and others have done.

So there are open channels of communication. We use these channels to convey where we are on issues that are of the upmost priority to us. In our case, it’s been on wrongfully detained American citizens; it has been on the costs and consequences of potential Russian escalation – at worst the use of a nuclear weapon, other weapons of mass destruction – but other issues that are of primary bilateral importance to the United States.

Anything else on this?

QUESTION: Just more on the corruption?

MR PRICE: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Going back to the question about the resignation of the deputy defense minister in Ukraine, does the U.S. – was any U.S. support to the armed forces of Ukraine meddled with by this deputy defense minister or anyone in his office?

MR PRICE: We are not aware that any U.S. assistance was involved in what we’ve heard about in recent hours.

QUESTION: And are you undertaking a review to make sure that that was the case?

MR PRICE: We are always engaged in rigorous oversight and accountability. As of right now, we are certainly not aware that any U.S. assistance was involved in the allegations that we’ve heard about from our Ukrainian partners. But this is an ongoing effort. Day in, day out, teams in Kyiv, teams back here are working to ensure that our support, the tremendous amount of support that we’re providing – security assistance, humanitarian assistance, economic assistance – it is going to its intended objectives.

Anything else on Russia, Ukraine before we move on?

QUESTION: On Russia.

MR PRICE: Let me — yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: NATO. Finland’s foreign minister has suggested that Finland might try and join NATO alone, and then he backtracked later in comments to Reuters, I believe. It’s that something that – Finland joining NATO alone – is that something that the U.S. would support? Do you have any comment on that? Is that a bad idea?

MR PRICE: What we would support is Finland and NATO – excuse me – Finland and Sweden joining NATO at the earliest opportunity. I spoke at some lengths to this yesterday. They are ready. These are countries with advanced militaries, militaries that have exercised with the United States and those of other NATO Allies. These are advanced democracies, countries —

QUESTION: And them joining separately?

MR PRICE: Again, we’re not going to comment on a hypothetical. What we believe is that Finland and Sweden are ready to join the Alliance. It’s not only the view of the Executive Branch; it’s the view of the Legislative Branch as well. You saw that in the swift accession process and the Senate’s ratification of the treaty last year. This is a point we’ve made very clearly, repeatedly, in public, in private, to all of our partners, including to our Turkish allies in this case, and it’s a point that we’ll continue to make.

QUESTION: Here.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) statement —

QUESTION: The question is whether you think that they should join together or whether one could join before another one really. There are —

MR PRICE: The discussion —

QUESTION: And it’s not a hypothetical. It’s —

MR PRICE: Well, it is a hypothetical, because as your colleague mentioned, it —

QUESTION: It’s a hypothetical if they’ll ever get in in the first place. But the question is whether the U.S. thinks that they should go in together or whether Finland —

MR PRICE: This has always been —

QUESTION: — and/or Sweden should go in first.

MR PRICE: This has always been a conversation about Finland and Sweden – and – joining NATO.

QUESTION: That – fine, Ned. It’s just what —

MR PRICE: That is precisely – that is —

QUESTION: It’s what the administration thinks is the best – is best for the Alliance, right? Is it – do you guys think that it’ll be better for them to join together or do you have no objection to the idea of Finland going first?

MR PRICE: Of course we want to see Finland and Sweden join the Alliance. This has always been a discussion about Finland and Sweden, two countries —

QUESTION: Ned, that is not the question.

MR PRICE: — moving from an Alliance of 28 to an Alliance of 30. That’s what we want to see happen, yes.

QUESTION: All right. Well, no. So you don’t have anything to say about the idea that one could join before the other?

MR PRICE: It’s just a question that we’re not entertaining. We want to see Finland and Sweden join the Alliance. This has always been —

QUESTION: Well, you might not be entertaining it, but other people are.

MR PRICE: I’m actually not aware that they are. There was a insinuation that was quickly taken off the table. So I’m just not aware that that is a live question right now. We want to see both countries —

QUESTION: All right. So your idea is that they will both join – or your preference is that they both join together?

MR PRICE: Of course.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Change topic?

QUESTION: Can I just —

MR PRICE: Okay. Let me – same topic? Same topic?

QUESTION: But the – Türkiye has indefinitely delayed conversations, that trilateral conversations today, so do you – are you in touch with your – with the Turkish officials about this issue right now?

MR PRICE: I’ve seen statements, including statements from the Swedish prime minister, that the latest consultations – the next rounds of consultations I should say – haven’t been canceled. They have been postponed. It’s an opportunity for Finland and Sweden and Türkiye to take stock of where they are. We obviously want to see those consultations continue and we want to see those consultations culminate in Finland and Sweden joining the Alliance, bringing an Alliance of 28, an Alliance that is more purposeful, more united than at any time during the Cold War – bringing that Alliance to 30.

QUESTION: I have another question on this issue, because this all started with this Quran burning thing in Sweden, in Stockholm. And you said yesterday maybe a private individual, a provocateur might be behind this. Do you – are you reflecting these allegations that maybe Moscow has a hand in this incident?

MR PRICE: I wasn’t attempting to suggest that. What I was suggesting – and we’ve seen similar suggestions from our Swedish partners on this – is the fact that individuals who are taking part in these activities may, in some cases, not want to see Sweden join NATO, may want to disrupt the Transatlantic Alliance. The fact is that there are individuals who are taking advantage of the robust, established, deep-seated democratic principles that Sweden holds dear – in this case, Sweden holds dear – to engage in an activity that is vile, is repugnant, is reprehensible.

I’m not speaking to the motives, the particular motives at play in the latest incident, but just as you’ve heard from our Swedish partners, there is of course the concern that provocateurs, those who may not want to see Sweden join NATO, are engaging in some of these activities, and may want to see disruption in the transatlantic community or in the Atlantic community, the Euroatlantic community.

Yes, still on NATO?

QUESTION: Just one, a quick one on Sweden.

MR PRICE: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: So I brought the trilateral memorandum that Sweden and Finland have signed with the presence of the United States President as well, Joe Biden, back in June 2022. So after (inaudible) – I’m not going to read out the whole thing, but —

MR PRICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: — Sweden commits to prevent activities of the PKK and all other terrorist organizations and their extensions, as well as activities by individuals in affiliated groups as well. So what you’re looking at, coming from developments from Stockholm, that the PKK are running wild and they’re sabotaging, clearly, because they’re saying no to NATO. And these are hurting Sweden’s chances. And Sweden’s chances are hurting Finland’s chances. And Finland even came out today saying that we might even try our chances separately.

So can the United States, can you give a message to Ankara from here, right here, right now, that Sweden, including Article 5, has completed and fulfilled all the tasks in that trilateral memorandum? Because the – Ankara is saying that that’s not the case, that’s far from being the case.

MR PRICE: You referred to it as a trilateral memorandum. It is a trilateral memorandum; it is a trilateral memorandum between Türkiye, Finland, and Sweden. These are ultimately questions that will need to be resolved between Türkiye, Finland, and Sweden. We were proud to be there present for the signing of this memorandum, but ultimately we are not a party to it.

What I can say is that Finland and Sweden have already taken concrete steps to fulfill the commitments they made under the trilateral memorandum with Türkiye that, as you mention, they signed on the margins of the NATO summit in Madrid, including substantially strengthening their bilateral cooperation with Türkiye on key security concerns.

But just as you’ve heard from our Swedish, our Finnish partners, there are ongoing discussions between Türkiye, Finland, Sweden. The NATO secretary general has at times been engaged in this as well. These are questions for those three countries. This is not a bilateral issue between the United States and Türkiye, or the United States and any other country. These are ultimately questions that will have to be adjudicated between those three countries.

QUESTION: The question was – because you obviously keep saying from the podium that Sweden is ready to join NATO, because that is interpreted and translated as a statement that, okay, they’ve done it all; they completed all the tasks in that memorandum. Because that’s why I’m saying, can you say to Ankara right here, right now, that they completed – including Article 5, that they prevented all PKK activities and they’ve been eradicated from the face of the Earth, especially on Swedish soil?

MR PRICE: What I can point to is the concrete steps that Finland and Sweden have taken. When we say that Finland and Sweden are ready to join NATO, it’s a reference to the rigorous membership requirements that apply to any aspirant country. You can take a look at the North Atlantic charter for more information on precisely what aspirant countries must fulfill if they are deemed to be ready to join NATO. In our assessment, Finland and Sweden have fulfilled those requirements; they are ready to join NATO.

But one of the great strengths of NATO is that we act as an alliance. We act by consensus, by unified consensus. And so ultimately this is a question that Türkiye will need to determine for itself when it comes to the requirements that it believes Finland and Sweden need to fulfill. We believe Finland and Sweden are ready to be members. We are supporting their candidacies. We are supporting their desire to join the world’s strongest defensive alliance.

Okay, anything else on NATO?

QUESTION: On Sweden?

MR PRICE: On NATO?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PRICE: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: So just to be clear, are you not trying to – are you not going to try to convince Türkiye to drop its objections? Because you make it seem like it’s purely a trilateral issue, or bilateral issue. So are you just staying hands-off?

And if I may go back to the tanks issue, do you still maintain that there is – the provision of German Leopards is not related or contingent on the Abrams, that there’s no deal between the countries on tanks?

MR PRICE: So on your first question, which was —

QUESTION: Are you going to try to convince —

MR PRICE: Oh, right, yes. You made the distinction – you said we were – asked if we were “hands-off.” I think there’s a difference between not making this or seeking to make this a bilateral issue – because it is not a bilateral issue – versus being entirely hands-off. We have been very clear in public, we’ve been very clear in private about our views on the question of Finland and Sweden’s candidacies for NATO membership. I’ve been very clear today. We believe they are ready, we believe they should be added to the world’s strongest defensive alliance at the earliest possible opportunity.

When it comes to the Leopards, look, this is a question for Germany. We’re not going to get ahead of any potential announcements Germany might make. We are – just as I was alluding to a moment ago in the context of NATO, we seek to engage in good-faith coordination, consultation not only with Ukraine, but all of the countries that are contributing much-needed security assistance to Germany to see to it that we’re providing as much as we can, as swiftly as we can, and as effectively as we can.

If there are steps that we can take to see to it that Ukraine acquires quantities or capabilities that it needs, we’ve demonstrated before that we’re prepared to do that. You’ve seen us do this when it comes to the S-300 early on in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. We facilitated Slovakia’s passage of the S-300 system to Ukraine; we in turn backfilled it. We’ve been able to do the same with other capabilities. We’re always having conversations with our allies and partners about what more we can do, in many cases together, to get our Ukrainian partners what they need.

Anything else on this, on Finland? Yeah.

QUESTION: On Sweden. The prime minister said today that he wants to get back to a functioning dialogue on NATO membership. I know you said you don’t want to make this a bilateral issue, but what can the U.S. do to help Finland and Sweden return to a functioning dialogue?

MR PRICE: Well, ultimately the question of the pace, the tenor, the content of these talks are going to have to be a question for Finland, Sweden, and Türkiye. We can continue to voice our support for their candidacies. We can continue to engage in public and in private with Türkiye and with other relevant countries to make very clear that we believe these two countries are ready, that they are prepared, and that they should be admitted to the Alliance at the first possible opportunity.

But again, this is not a bilateral issue between the United States and Türkiye, as much as some might like to turn it into one. We are cognizant of the fact that this is a decision that Türkiye will have to make in dialogue, in discussion with Finland and Sweden and, as appropriate, with Secretary General Stoltenberg.

Okay.

QUESTION: Ned, last question on that. Will you – sir, will you condemn the burning of Quran or do you think this is a matter of freedom of speech?

MR PRICE: So we can do two things at once. We can make very clear that an action like this is reprehensible, it’s disgusting, it’s vile, it’s repugnant, even as we uphold the principles that allow something like this to be able to happen. The fact is – and I mentioned this yesterday – in our own democracy, we have seen actions that we might term lawful but awful. I think this would fall within that category. I want to be very clear that no one in this administration is voicing any degree of support whatsoever for this vile action that took place. Quite the contrary. But we’re also very quick to add that Sweden is a vibrant democracy, and the reason something like this could happen in a country like Sweden is precisely because of its democratic character, precisely because Sweden upholds freedom of expression, freedom of assembly. And when you provide people those freedoms, when you safeguard those freedoms, sometimes they make terrible decisions; they do awful things.

QUESTION: Ned?

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: If you would. But let me comment on this burning of the Quran. Do you believe that your condemnation would deter any lunatic from burning the Quran?

MR PRICE: I – if only – if only our condemnation would have that effect, Said?

QUESTION: Now I’m going to move to the Palestinian —

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: — issue. I don’t think the condemnation would deter some crazy guy from doing that. But let me ask you about a couple of things on the Palestinian issue. I asked you yesterday on the Human Rights Watch report. I wonder if you had had a – if you’ve had a chance to take a look at it, and what is your comment?

MR PRICE: I have. This report pertains to the COGAT procedures – the COGAT procedures that went into effect in October of last year. These are procedures that impact the entry, study, work, and/or the residency of potentially thousands of people to and in the West Bank. As you know, Said, because we’ve talked about this, we reviewed the pilot procedures published by Israel’s COGAT in September. We have noted the improvements in some of the regulations from the original draft that was published in February of last year. We remain concerned, however, about the adverse impact many procedures could have on Palestinian civil society, on tourism, investment, and academic and health care institutions, as well as on U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals by restricting and unduly burdening travel and family unification.

We expect that Israeli authorities will work to ensure both enhanced transparency in the West Bank entry process and the fair treatment of all U.S. citizens and all other foreign nationals traveling to Israel and the West Bank.

We, along with other stakeholders, will closely monitor and continue to engage the Government of Israel on the implementation of these guidelines during the trial period. We’ll continue to engage with Israel and the PA to ensure that civil society and humanitarian organizations based in the West Bank and Gaza as well as Israel have the space to carry out their important work. This was really at the center of the Human Rights Watch report that you mentioned.

We strongly believe that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible, responsive, and democratic governance around the world.

QUESTION: And a couple more issues on the plans in – the Arab press and the Israeli press are both reporting that Israel is planning a – like a – to accelerate the demolishing of – the demolition of Palestinian homes in Area C and in other areas. Do you have a comment on that?

MR PRICE: Our comment on this is – remains the fact that we believe it’s critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-step – two-state solution. This includes the annexation of territory, settlement activity, and demolitions.

QUESTION: And finally, on UNRWA. UNRWA is urging or appealing to you and to the Europeans and to the Arab donors and so on because it’s in dire need for about $1.3 billion. Are you – I know that the United States have accelerated its donations to UNRWA, but have you this year, this —

MR PRICE: What was your question?

QUESTION: Are there any plans to sort of increase the fund that —

MR PRICE: So you’re correct. Not only have we accelerated our funding of the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people, but we in fact resumed it under this administration as part of our early efforts to re-engage with the Palestinian Authority but also with, importantly, the Palestinian people.

UNRWA is one vehicle through which we’ve done that. We’ve provided hundreds of millions of dollars for the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people through UNRWA, and I do expect we’ll be in a position to continue to do that with additional announcements going forward.

QUESTION: Ned, on the — I guess, do you have any comments on the Israeli-Jordanian summit, and did the U.S. play any role to decrease the tension between the two personalities?

MR PRICE: Between the two personalities?

QUESTION: Yeah. Between the king and the prime minister.

MR PRICE: We of course are aware of the visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu to Jordan. It is something that we welcome. We have spoken of our firm belief, the fact that we stand firmly for preservation of the historic status quo with respect to the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, and we’ve affirmed the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s special role as Custodian of Muslim Holy Sites in Jerusalem. We’ve consistently underscored the need to preserve that historic status quo at Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount, as you’ve heard recently from the Secretary as well.

QUESTION: Different topic?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Briefly, the shootings that we’ve had in the United States. The Chinese foreign ministry today asked its citizens to exercise greater precautions in the United States because Asian and Asian Americans have been targeted or have been involved quite a bit in these shootings. Does the U.S. have any – any take on that, whether it’s appropriate for China to be encouraging greater caution in the United States?

MR PRICE: I’m not going to weigh in on what would, in effect, be a consular message from the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We of course follow our own guidelines and protocols when it comes to the consular messages and the security alerts that we issue to our citizens around the world, and we appreciate the space that countries around the world provide for us to do so.

I am also hesitant to comment on these particular incidents. Of course there are active law enforcement investigations to determine the motives behind the killers, the shooters in each of these cases, so I’m just not going to wade into that.

Yes, in the back. Yeah, Guita.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Special Envoy Rob Malley has said that the U.S. has been pushing China not to buy oil from Iran. Would you shed some light on that, please, and what the Chinese response may have been?

MR PRICE: Sure, Guita. So we have been clear and consistent about the need for countries around the world to enforce sanctions that are on the books and, as appropriate, to increase pressure on the Iranian regime in response to its intransigence. We are regularly and robustly engaged with the day-to-day business of enforcing our sanctions, including with regular and effective communications with allies and partners about those attempting to evade our sanctions.

As Iran’s largest oil customer, the PRC remains a top focus for our sanctions enforcement. We regularly engage with the PRC and other countries to discourage them from taking steps vis-à-vis Iran that – from taking steps vis-à-vis Iran that have the potential to undermine U.S. sanctions. We don’t preview potential sanctions actions, but we continue to monitor Iran’s oil exports and to engage Iran’s trading partners about the possibility of exposure to U.S. sanctions.

And that possibility of exposure is not just an academic question or a hypothetical. We, during the course of this administration, have levied multiple tranches of designations targeting Iran’s illicit petroleum and petrochemical trade over the past year or so. Some of these have included PRC-based entities or actors. In September of last year, for example, we sanctioned two PRC-based entities for operating crude oil storage facilities for Iranian petroleum products and a shipping company that had transported Iranian petroleum products, along with affiliated entities in other countries. In June of last year, 2022, we sanctioned a network of Iranian petrochemical producers and front companies in the PRC, UAE, and Iran.

These are just two examples of the accountability steps we’ve taken – those who would seek to circumvent U.S. and in some cases international sanctions imposed as a result of Iran’s own behavior. Iran’s nuclear program, Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and well beyond – it’s of course clear they are not in our interest, but they are also not in the interest of the PRC or any other country around the world.

And so we think it’s important that we work together even when we have profound differences across multiple fronts, as is the case with the PRC, that we work together to see to it that sanctions are very clearly and rigorously enforced.

QUESTION: One more question, please. Okay, since these suppressions in Iran of the demonstrators, you’ve been saying, everybody at the State Department has been saying, that the focus is not on JCPOA but supporting the demonstrators and those seeking their fundamental rights. It seems like Senator Ted Cruz is not accepting, does – is not believing you, the State Department on this, and says that the Biden administration is obsessed with reviving the JCPOA. Any comments?

MR PRICE: I don’t know how we could possibly be much clearer in terms of where we are now, and in this case where we are not. I’ll repeat it: the JCPOA has not been on the agenda for months. What has been on the agenda is our support to the brave Iranians who are taking to the streets to – and in doing so, expressing their universal rights. What has been on the agenda is seeking to condemn and counter Iran provision of security assistance to Russia, security assistance that in turn has targeted civilians in Ukraine. And what has been on the agenda are efforts that we continue to undertake to see to it that our wrongfully detained citizens are released.

The JCPOA has not been on the agenda because the Iranians have consistently turned their back on a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. They did so last September when an agreement was essentially on the table, when the other participants in the P5+1 had essentially agreed to it, and all it would have taken was an Iranian determination to move forward with it. They chose not to; they chose to renege on commitments. This was a pattern that we’d seen from Iran. So even while we believe that a diplomatic solution to the challenges posed by Iran’s nuclear program is by far the most preferable option, a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA has just not been on the table. It’s not something we’re seeking.

QUESTION: You mentioned the detainees, Ned – sorry – any updates on that?

MR PRICE: The only update I have is that it is an issue that we are prioritizing in everything we do. We have means by which to convey messages to the Iranian regime. We have made very clear to them since the earliest days of this administration the priority we attach to the safety and security of these Americans and the fact that these Americans should be released. These Americans are being held as political pawns. This is an abhorrent practice. It’s a practice that Iran has long engaged in. It’s a practice that we seek to put an end to with these American citizens.

Yes.

QUESTION: President Biden and the Vice President both had raised voice for the people of Kashmir when they were running in elections. And today, Rahul Gandhi of congress has also said that if his party comes into power the autonomy issue and the self-determination issue for Kashmir will be his first priority. And of course, Pakistan and India, this is one of the major issue. Is there going to be a time when we will see a just resolution to this issue, or is this issue going to continue to linger on?

MR PRICE: This is a question for India and Pakistan. We had an opportunity to speak about this yesterday, made clear that we support constructive engagement between our two partners – in this case India and Pakistan. But ultimately, the character, the tenor, the details of that engagement is a question for them.

QUESTION: On Pakistan —

QUESTION: One more —

MR PRICE: One more, sure. Go ahead, Shaun.

QUESTION: On the – Russia and Pakistan. A few days ago, Russia said that it’s nearing a deal to sell oil to Pakistan, which of course traditionally hasn’t been a major importer of Russian oil but has some very serious economic problems. Does the United States have a stance on that – on this? Has there been any dialogue with Pakistan about whether to move forward or not?

MR PRICE: Well, our approach to this is – has been laid out in the price cap mechanism that we worked out with other countries around the world, including the G7. And the virtue of the price cap is that it allows energy markets to continue to be resourced while depriving Moscow of the revenue it would need to continue to propagate and fuel its brutal war against Ukraine.

We have made the point that we have very intentionally not sanctioned Russian oil. Instead, it’s now subject to the price cap. So we have encouraged countries to take advantage of that, even those countries that have not formally signed on to the price cap, so that they can acquire oil in some cases at a steep discount from what they would otherwise acquire from, in this case, Russia.

We have been very clear that now is not the time to increase economic activity with Russia. But we understand the imperative of keeping global energy markets well resourced, well supplied, and the price cap, we believe, provides a mechanism to do that.

QUESTION: One on China?

MR PRICE: Let me move around. Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I want to ask regarding Ms. Julie Turner, nominee for special envoy on North Korea human rights issues. Can you add some more details about her career and competence as a diplomat? And also what’s the reason for nominating her two years after the inauguration of Biden administration?

MR PRICE: Sure. So first, let me just say that we congratulate Julie Turner on her nomination as the U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights issues, and we look forward to the Senate confirming her, we hope, swiftly. She is uniquely qualified for this position, having worked for nearly two decades on North Korean human rights and other regional issues in the State Department and at the National Security Council staff. There are few people with the depth of knowledge, experience, and relationships that she brings to bear on North Korean human rights issues.

This administration, as you know, is committed to placing human rights at the center of our foreign policy. And for decades the United States has championed efforts to improve respect for human rights and dignity of North Koreans and we’ll continue to promote accountability for the DPRK Government, for its egregious human rights records, including through the appointment of the special envoy for North Korean human rights.

Even has this position has been vacant – and of course, it’s a position that wasn’t filled by the previous administration, so it’s been some time since we’ve had a Senate-confirmed individual in this position – State Department officials at all levels, from the Secretary on down, have been actively engaged on issues of North Korean human rights. This engagement has included working with the international community to raise awareness of these issues and introducing resolutions in multilateral bodies, documenting violations and abuses through our annually Congressionally mandated reports, and supporting efforts to increase the flow of information into, out of, and through the DPRK.

Julie Turner’s appointment reflects our priority in addressing the DPRK’s deplorable human rights situation.

Kylie.

QUESTION: Just a quick one on that.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: So by nominating her, the administration doesn’t plan to elevate its focus on North Korea human rights abuses?

MR PRICE: She will be the special envoy for North Korea human rights issues, of course. She will fulfill a position that, as I mentioned before, was vacant for the entirety of the last administration, hasn’t had a Senate-confirmed individual in place for a number of years now. I would add, however, that even in the absence of a Senate-confirmed individual in this role, it’s been a focus of ours. We are very pleased to see Julie Turner’s nomination and, again, we hope that she is swiftly confirmed by the Senate so she can be in place formally in this role before long.

QUESTION: And if I could just ask one quick question about the letter from Congressman McCaul to the Secretary yesterday. A lot of questions related to the documents found in the President’s former office in the Penn Biden Center. I’m wondering if you have any update for us as to if the department knows if any of those documents are State Department documents, because that’s one the questions in this letter. And if you don’t yet know that, if you expect that you’ll be getting any update from the IC or from DOJ on the content of those documents.

MR PRICE: So first, on the letter we received yesterday, let me just add that we’ve had productive, constructive engagement with the 117th Congress, with the last Congress. We had thousands of engagements on that Congress’s priorities and importantly on the priorities that matter most to the American people. This is what we certainly hope and expect to have with this Congress, with the 118th Congress.

Chairman McCaul, as you know, was in the building earlier this month. It was, from our vantage point, a very useful, constructive meeting. In the aftermath of that meeting, we’ve received multiple letters from his committee, and we’ve made initial responses to several of those letters. We’ve done so quickly. We’re actively engaged with the committee on multiple fronts, wanting to be responsive to their interests.

Regarding the letter that was transmitted yesterday, we’re going to coordinate with the Executive Branch and consult with the committee, as is standard in all of these cases. These are discussions that we’ll have internally and that we’ll have with the committee going forward.

On the question of the documents themselves, I’m just not in a position to go beyond what you’ve heard from me before, and now from the Secretary before. He – just as the President was, he was surprised that there were any government records found in the Penn Biden Center. Obviously, there’s an ongoing DOJ review. We’re going to let that review play out.

QUESTION: And just one more question. There’s a lot of questions in this letter. Some of them pertain to the Secretary’s life before he was the Secretary of State. So is there a plan for a personal lawyer for the Secretary to be responding to some of those?

MR PRICE: These are precisely the kinds of questions that we are going to discuss internally and then we’re also going to discuss with the committee. We’re going to have those discussions before we say anything publicly on that front.

Yeah, Dylan?

QUESTION: Yes. You said twice in the last week or so that China is no longer a major source of fentanyl coming into the United States. Joe Biden, President Biden’s, top official working on the overdose crisis through said just this past weekend that it’s still a major source of a components of fentanyl flowing into the United States. I know you’ve mentioned those when you were talking about the subject, but isn’t that a bit of a distinction without a difference to say – to commend China for restricting the flow of fentanyl itself when it’s still distributing all the components needed to make fentanyl, is still a major source of that?

MR PRICE: I think it’s a distinction that I laid out very clearly yesterday, when I was last asked about this. Made the point that the PRC scheduled fentanyl and related substances as a class in 2019, but we continue to see the PRC-origin precursor chemicals used in illicit fentanyl production. Don’t want to discount – and in fact, I pointed out earlier this week, yesterday I believe it was – that we have a concerted focus on fentanyl at this department because it is a leading killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 49. The Secretary is determined to see to it that we are doing everything that we can from the equities of this department to be responsive to addressing this challenge, working with countries around the world, working with our partners in the Executive Branch to see to it that there’s no stern – stone unturned. And when we travel around the world, this is an issue that he routinely raises.

When it comes to the PRC, of course it’s a complex, multifaceted relationship. One of those facets is the potential for deeper cooperation in some areas. We would like to see that. We would like to see greater cooperation between the United States and the PRC on fentanyl, specifically on these precursor elements that, as you alluded to, do still make their way to third countries and ultimately form the basis of so much of the fentanyl that arrives in the United States and kills our citizens.

This is not a challenge that affects Americans alone – far from it. That’s why it is incumbent on countries like ours – in this case, the United States and the PRC – to work together where we can – and we believe we can, in this case – to take on a challenge that is such a threat to our citizens and citizens of the world. This is precisely what the rest of the world, what the international community expects of the United States and the PRC, to do everything we possibly can to tackle a challenge like this.

QUESTION: You did say yesterday also that there hasn’t been much engagement on this issue in recent months. And now you’re saying that it’s a top priority, of course, and that the Secretary mentions it often. So does that mean that the PRC are the ones that are holding up that engagement, are the ones not engaging on the issue?

MR PRICE: I didn’t intend to suggest – and I don’t think I did – that there hasn’t been a priority in this building. The point I made is that engagement on these issues has been limited in recent months. We’re actively seeking to engage the PRC to accelerate the engagement on this particular issue with them in that bilateral relationship.

Shannon.

QUESTION: Thanks. Also on China and the allegations that the U.S. has communicated with China, that state-owned companies are supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine through non-lethal and economic means, the White House said today that it’s not clear whether the Chinese Government knows about this activity. I wanted to ask how much of the onus is on the Chinese Government that – given these are state-owned companies to monitor their activity and know what they’re doing? And could they still face repercussions?

MR PRICE: So let me make the point that this is something that we have been closely monitoring since even before Russia’s – the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine in February of last year. We’ve been very clear with the PRC of the implications of providing materiel to support Russia’s war against Ukraine.

I’m not in a position to confirm some of the accounts you’ve read, but we would be concerned if we were to see not only the PRC itself engaging in this, but Chinese companies, PRC companies doing this. Obviously there is close synergy, cooperation, coordination between the PRC Government and companies operating in and out of the PRC. And in all of our conversations, we have emphasized to our PRC counterparts the importance of – that we attach to this and to the need to – our ongoing monitoring of this. I suspect it’s something that we’ll discuss in the coming days, when the Secretary has an opportunity to travel to Beijing.

Let me take a couple more questions. Yes. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. There was an incident today in Ankara, Türkiye. A Voice of America reporter was harassed by the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party today. And one of the members he also said on Twitter that her permanent duty on – in foreign media outlet VOA, which is a prominent propaganda tool for the U.S., are revealing of her true intention. Do you have any reaction or comment to this?

MR PRICE: I’m not immediately familiar with this incident, so I would need to look into it. What I can say is, as a general matter, is that we support freedom of the press, the ability of journalists and reporters to conduct their indispensable work free of harassment, free of threats, free of violence around the world. It’s a principle that applies to countries around the world. So we’ll have to look into that.

QUESTION: I have a follow up on that.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: This is not the first time VOA reporters, especially in Türkiye, are being harassed. And VOA Turkish website is still blocked in Türkiye since I believe June 2022. Is there an ongoing conversation between Ankara and Washington about this U.S. public broadcaster position in Türkiye?

MR PRICE: What I can say is that in our engagements with our Turkish allies we raise issues that are of mutual concerns, issues that are a concern to us as well. We talk quite a bit about security issues, about diplomatic issues, economic issues, but also issues of human rights and civil liberties. Those are a staple of our conversations with our Turkish allies. We emphasize the universality of universal rights. One of those universal rights is the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, in this case freedom of the press as fundamentally important.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Follow-up on North Korea. When it come to the North Korean issue, I think Ambassador Sung Kim is still concurrently serving as special representative for the DPRK. If you are seriously looking for the diplomatic path with DPRK, why don’t you guys just appoint a full-time special representative for DPRK?

MR PRICE: When it comes to Sung Kim, who is serving concurrently as our special envoy to the DPRK and as our bilateral ambassador to Indonesia, he is an extraordinary talent. There is – there’s few people, if anyone, who has his level and depth of knowledge when it comes to the issues that are at play with the DPRK. He’s been involved with this for many years. We want to make sure that we’re leveraging that experience, that knowledge, that expertise as well.

Now, there’s a very practical issue at play. We’ve made very clear that we seek to engage directly with the DPRK to see if we can arrive at practical, pragmatic steps we can take towards what is our ultimate objective of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The DPRK, unfortunately, has demonstrated no interest or willingness or ability to engage with us on these questions. So it may be a different story were there active diplomacy ongoing with the DPRK, were there active dialogue ongoing.

In the absence of that, Sung Kim has been very focused on working with our Japanese allies, on our South Korean allies, other allies in the Indo-Pacific, other allies and partners around the world. That is a significant amount of work, and if we are to arrive at a position where it does make sense to have an individual singularly focused as special envoy for the DPRK, we can cross that bridge, but right now Sung Kim has been doing a really tremendous job as our ambassador and as our special envoy.

Take – yes, go ahead. Final question or so.

QUESTION: Thank you. Reportedly, House Speaker McCarthy has planned to visit Taiwan in the spring this year. So as we remember, last year after Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, China conducted a large-scale military exercises along Taiwan. So my question is: What would be the State Department position on Speaker McCarthy’s potential trip to Taiwan?

MR PRICE: I’m not aware that the Speaker’s office has announced any planned travel; would have to refer you to the Speaker’s office. Of course, Congress – and we made this point last summer as well – is a co-equal, independent branch of government. They are going to make their own decisions when it comes to every issue under the sun, and that includes potential travel.

Now, what concerned us last summer and what has concerned us throughout this administration with Beijing’s approach to cross-strait issues is the apparent desire on the part of the PRC to undermine the longstanding status quo that has really held up decades of stability, peace across the Taiwan Strait. We do not want to see that eroded. Our concern is that in the aftermath of Speaker Pelosi’s visit, the PRC used that as a pretext to accelerate what it had already been doing, trying to create a new normal, trying to undermine the status quo that, far from undermining, we seek to preserve.

That continues to be our concern going forward. Just as we discuss issues of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in meeting with our PRC officials, we also discuss cross-strait issues, and in all of those discussions we emphasize the priority the international community attaches to peace and stability across the strait and to upholding rather than diluting the status quo that has really been at the crux of that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. Follow-up question to the North Korean human rights ambassador. Why the – was the ambassador post appointed at this time after being vacant for six years? Dialogue with North Korea remained disconnected. What message does it send to North Korea? What do you think?

MR PRICE: Well, I can’t comment on those six years. Of course, four of those years were in the last administration, when the position went unfilled for the entire time. What I can say is that this administration has prioritized and put human rights at the center of our foreign policy, and that includes in the context of the DPRK. Secretary Blinken, senior officials in our Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, in our Bureau of Democracy, Rights, and Labor as well, have worked fervently to do everything we can to raise awareness, to work with allies and partners, to shine a spotlight on the human rights abuses that are ongoing in the DPRK. We’re very pleased now that we have a nominee who will be able to do this day in, day out upon her confirmation by the Senate, and we urge the Senate to act swiftly on that.

Quick —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Let me follow up on Secretary’s recent calls to South Caucasus. He urged Azerbaijan’s Aliyev to redouble his efforts on peace negotiations, and he also welcomed Pashinyan’s – Prime Minister Pashinyan’s – commitment. Is it your impression that the ball is on Azerbaijani side? And in that case, may I get your reaction to – actually, the Secretary’s take on how he envisions the process moving forward? What is his conclusion?

MR PRICE: Well, we don’t go into it with a conclusion. We go into it hoping to see direct dialogue – direct dialogue leading to a resolution of the issues that have long divided Armenia and Azerbaijan – and through that dialogue, hopefully reaching a lasting peace. We’re continuing to engage in direct discussions with Armenia and Azerbaijan. We’re doing that bilaterally; we’re doing that with partners; we’re doing that through multilateral institutions. We’ve had an occasion to do that trilaterally a couple times last year as well. We are going to do what is most effective to bring about a resolution to these very thorny issues.

QUESTION: But does the Secretary have clear understanding of where the negotiation process is stalled at this point?

MR PRICE: We have a good sense of the state of play. We have various concerns. Let me just state, on the topic of those concerns, our concerns regarding the Lachin corridor. We are concerned that the situation there is worsening; the worsening humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh has been a focus of not only the Secretary but others in this building. Ongoing obstruction of normal commercial and private travel along the Lachin corridor is causing shortages of food, fuel, and medicine for the residents who depend on the corridor for those very basic supplies. Periodic disruptions to natural gas and other basic utilities exacerbate the worsening humanitarian situation. We call for the full restoration of free movement through the corridor, including commercial and private travel. We believe we need a solution to this impasse that will ensure the safety and well-being of the population living in the area, and we believe the way forward is, as I said before, through negotiations. We remain committed to supporting a lasting peace.

Yes, Julie.

QUESTION: He also raised human rights —

MR PRICE: I need to move on, Alex.

QUESTION: Just very —

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, I need to move on. Yes, go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah, I wanted to go back to the meeting that was hosted this – co-hosted this morning between the Secretary and foreign minister – the Japanese foreign minister on the energy sector in Ukraine. There are a lot of other issues that are going on in Ukraine. There’s no water. A lot of other utilities are damaged as well as the energy infrastructure. Are there plans also to include some – try to address some of that within the international community, within this cohort of G7 that came together this morning?

MR PRICE: So the basic answer is yes. I would add, though, that some of the challenges that you alluded to – water, for example – is a consequence of Russia’s targeting of energy infrastructure. If you don’t have energy, you can’t purify, you can’t dispense, you can’t see to it that water is distributed to the civilian population that so needs it. And so really, many of the humanitarian predicaments that our Ukrainian partners face, the root of that is what Russia has sought to do to the civilian energy infrastructure.

Participants today had an opportunity to hear directly from Foreign Minister Kuleba of their needs. Among the needs that he put forward was a call for additional air-defense assets. Those air-defense assets of course can protect electricity and energy infrastructure just as they can protect other forms of critical infrastructure, including water, as you alluded to.

Other participants laid out what they are in the process of providing. Secretary Blinken noted what we already had announced – the fact that we’ve had two planeloads travel to Ukraine in recent weeks; the fact that we expect additional supplies to arrive in the coming days. And he really put an emphasis on how we can continue to leverage this group of foreign ministers, the G7 plus a number of other countries, to in the first instance keep this group going, providing Ukraine what we have and what we can in the form of assistance for their energy infrastructure, but also as we effect the shift from emergency response to long-term reconstruction.

We have demonstrated an ability to help our Ukrainian partners with that emergency response, and the resilience that we’ve seen from our Ukrainian partners turning the lights back on, being in a position to turn those lights back on within hours or even minutes of these deadly strikes I think speaks to not only the Ukrainian resourcefulness but also the determination of countries around the world to provide that. But we’re also thinking about the longer term, how we can make Ukraine’s – help Ukraine’s energy infrastructure to be stronger, more resilient, green; how we can see to it that it is integrated with that of Europe as well.

QUESTION: And then can I – can I have a follow-up on – also on Ukraine? The designation of the Wagner Group as its power within the military, or the Russian military organization, rises – how – could you speak for a few minutes about how – or for a second about how you think – what you think the impact of that will be? Will that be helpful, and how soon?

MR PRICE: Sure. So I will limit my comments today because we spoke to it yesterday at some length, and I expect we’ll have more to say later this week. But suffice to say we have a number of authorities that we’ve already levied against the Wagner Group to attempt to counter some of its nefarious activities around the world. It is a primary export of chaos, of instability, of violence. We see that in Ukraine, but we also see that in other parts of the world, including in Africa.

The announcement that you heard that we would label the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organization provides us with another tool. It will leave senior officials and employees of the Wagner Group susceptible to visa bans. For example, it will allow our law enforcement entities to work with law enforcement counterparts around the world to counter the Wagner Group’s activities from that angle.

But again, we are going to use every appropriate and relevant authority we have to try to counter, to try to neutralize what this group is attempting to do around the world.

Thanks very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:43 p.m.)


1. an Alliance of 32 upon Sweden and Finland’s accession

Sanctioning a Hizballah Money Exchange Network

24 Jan

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

The United States is designating a financial network, spearheaded by Lebanese money exchanger Hassan Moukalled, that facilitates financial activities for Hizballah.  Moukalled has presented himself as an advocate for Lebanon’s economic prosperity but instead has been helping Hizballah and himself to profit from Lebanon’s economic crisis.

In addition to Moukalled, the Department of the Treasury is designating CTEX Exchange, a purported money service business established by Moukalled in coordination with Hizballah to exploit the increased demand for currency exchange services in Lebanon and benefit Hizballah.  The United States is taking today’s actions pursuant to counterterrorism sanctions authorities.

Despite Moukalled’s attempts to maintain a facade as a financial expert and economist, he is in fact an opportunistic businessman exploiting Lebanon’s suffering population to financially support the Hizballah terrorist organization, and even help it secure weapons.  Today’s action is another warning to those who provide support to terrorist groups that the United States will continue to pursue accountability for these actions.

For more information on today’s action, please see the Department of the Treasury’s press release.

Department Press Briefing – January 23, 2023

24 Jan

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:10 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Happy Monday. Good afternoon to everyone. It’s quite a full briefing room. I was joking with my colleague that I have a hard out today at 5:00 p.m. – (laughter) – so we’ll make good use of our time. Just one announcement at the top, and then we’ll turn to your questions.

The United States took further action today, concurrently with the United Kingdom and the European Union, to promote accountability for the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses by imposing sanctions on 10 additional Iranian individuals, including Iran’s deputy minister of intelligence and key commanders in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as one additional Iranian entity.

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

With that, we’ll turn to your questions.

QUESTION: I was late so I will allow others to —

MR PRICE: That’s very magnanimous of you.

QUESTION: Could I?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Nothing? I’ve always said that about you, Matt. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I think people may want to start elsewhere, but can I start in Ethiopia?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The withdrawal of Eritrean troops. There was the call over the weekend with Prime Minister Abiy. To what extent is this verified that this is a withdrawal? Do you expect it to be permanent, expect it as in do you acknowledge that it’s permanent?

MR PRICE: This was a subject of the call with the prime minister over the weekend. As you know, they had an opportunity to speak on January 21st. They spoke of numerous elements, but that included the ongoing withdrawal of Eritrean troops from northern Ethiopia. The Secretary welcomed this development, noting that it was a key to securing a sustainable peace in northern Ethiopia, and he urged access for international human rights monitors. The Secretary also affirmed the commitment of the United States to support the AU-led peace process in northern Ethiopia. They also discussed the need to bring an end to ongoing instability in the Oromia region of Ethiopia.

We do applaud the continued steady progress towards implementing the key elements of the cessation of hostilities agreement that was reached a number of months ago as well as the positive role of the AU’s Joint Monitoring Verification and Compliance team.

When it comes to Eritrea, as I mentioned before, Shaun, we are aware that Eritrean forces are beginning to withdraw from Ethiopia. We reiterate the call that you’ve heard consistently from us, including the call that was included in the communique that emanated from the talks in South Africa, for the withdrawal of all foreign forces. We reiterate the call for the complete withdrawal in line with that November 12th Nairobi agreement as well.

The departure of Eritrean and other forces is crucial, as I said before, to achieving lasting peace, securing full humanitarian access, and ensuring the territorial integrity of Ethiopia. Even as we continue to see positive signs, including the ongoing withdrawal of Eritrean forces, we are concerned by reports that Eritrean forces have committed human rights abuses against civilians, and we continue – and continue to impede the delivery of much-needed humanitarian assistance. We call on the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea to investigate these reports and to hold those responsible to account. We also call on the Government of Ethiopia to fulfill its commitment to grant full access to international human rights monitors.

QUESTION: Sure, just to follow up on a couple of these. The abuses that you’re talking about, you’re talking about in the past, not currently?

MR PRICE: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Prior to the withdrawal?

MR PRICE: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Two things. As far as you know, has there been any contact with the Eritreans? Obviously the U.S. has a difficult relationship there, and of course there are sanctions that are imposed on Eritrea in the course of the war. Will those – not today, I’m sure, but will those – will those be lifted in some sense for this?

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

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

If this continues, if we continue to see positive momentum, we of course will take that into account. We will take into account everything we see – the good, the bad – as we evaluate the next steps and determine whether any additional accountability measures are warranted or, to the contrary, if certain sanctions that are in place no longer have a basis in that executive order.

Yeah, Humeyra.

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

MR PRICE: First, let me take the second part of your question first. At virtually every step of Russia’s war against Ukraine, we’ve heard these prognostications or predictions that the transatlantic unity that we’ve marshaled and maintained is fraying at the seams, it’s coming apart. In fact, we heard that even before the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th. At every step of the way, those predictions have proved to be premature and just flat out wrong. You – let me just give you one example: Look at what came out of the latest convening of the Defense Contact Group that Secretary of Defense Austin and Chairman Milley attended last week.

And you saw announcements – new announcements from any number of allies and partners that speak to the tremendous amount of not only unity but determination from countries around the world to continue to stick with it. France and Germany and the UK, they’ve all donated air-defense systems to Ukraine. That includes from Germany a Patriot battery. The Netherlands is donating a Patriot – Patriot missiles and launchers and training. Canada has procured a NASAM system and associated munitions for Ukraine. The UK of course announced the provision of Challenger 2 tanks for Ukraine. Sweden announced it’s donating CV90 infantry fighting vehicles and additional donations soon of ARCHER Howitzers. Denmark, Latvia, other countries all announced new provision of support to Ukraine in the context of the Defense Contact Group, and that was just last week. Oh, and I should be – I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that we also announced $2.5 billion of our own —

QUESTION: Yeah, but all of the –

MR PRICE: — of our own security assistance.

QUESTION: All of that lacks —

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: All of that lacks tanks, and that’s the urgent request from the Ukrainians. So like great cooperation and agreement on all of those, but they say this is the most urgent one —

MR PRICE: So tanks —

QUESTION: — and you guys seem to have lacked —

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

When it comes to any —

QUESTION: Are you saying their request is irrational or —

MR PRICE: When it —

QUESTION: — unnecessary?

MR PRICE: When it comes to any particular capability – you’ve heard us say this before and you actually summed it up – this is a sovereign decision on the part of each country to decide what types of security assistance to provide, what they’re in a position to provide. We applaud all of our allies and partners for what they have done so far, and I just recounted some of that that we’ve heard over the past 72 hours or so. We’ve previously, when it comes to Germany, applauded its announcements that they’ll send Ukraine infantry fighting vehicles, MLRS systems, air-defense capabilities including the IRS-T air-defense system, and as I mentioned before a Patriot missile battery. We also applaud the decision by the UK, as I mentioned before, to send these Challenger tanks to Ukraine.

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

QUESTION: But what role —

MR PRICE: I see you —

QUESTION: — do you play in the —

MR PRICE: I see you having a follow-up question. I suspected you would go there.

Our role there will be to continue to speak with our Ukrainian partners, to speak with our allies, including in the context of NATO, including in the context of the Defense Contact Group, to determine the needs of the Ukrainian fighters and also what members of this coalition of some 50 countries are in a position to provide.

We are not going to be prescriptive. The only thing that we’re continuing to prescribe is that President Putin’s aggression will be – continue to be a strategic failure. We are going to provide Ukraine with what it needs to take on the battle that it’s facing at any given moment. We can say that until we’re blue in the face, but more importantly, we can continue to demonstrate that. And I think you see that with the success that our Ukrainian partners have had on the battlefield, including with the security assistance that we have provided and some 50 other countries around the world have provided.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: In the meantime, Ned – Ned —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: In the back, yes. Yes, please.

QUESTION: In the meantime, on this issue. Ned —

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I have follow-up, obviously, to the tank question. What impact does Germany’s hesitation have on the German-American relationship when it comes to not sending tanks now, question number one? And Poland says that they want to send Leopards to Ukraine without the permit of Germany. Would Secretary Blinken support that decision?

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

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

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

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: A follow-up, please?

MR PRICE: Is it on this? Is it on this?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. On this issue. In the meantime, you are really pressuring Germany to send the Leopard tanks. Right?

MR PRICE: Said —

QUESTION: Why not send the A1M1 Abrams?

MR PRICE: Said, I just went to some length to say that —

QUESTION: No, no. I’m just saying.

MR PRICE: — to say that it is a sovereign decision of each country.

QUESTION: I understand. But there is a lot of pressure to send the Leopard tank. Why not send the A1M1 Abrams tank? I mean, why not? It’s the best tank in the world, admittedly. Right?

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

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

We also announced, as I said before, on Friday an assistance package that included 500 additional armed vehicles in addition to the Bradley Fighting Vehicles that we announced for the first time a couple weeks ago.

QUESTION: Although – although – just a quick follow-up.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

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

MR PRICE: You’re basically describing what we’re already doing. Yes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Follow-up? Go ahead. Okay.

QUESTION: Same topic.

QUESTION: Okay. So TVN Warner Bros. Discovery from Poland, so it’s obviously a question about Poland’s role here. So Poland wants to build, and it’s a quote from the prime minister, at least a small coalition of countries that would send Leopards to Ukraine. Would you diplomatically help build such a coalition so that Poland and other countries in the region could send those Leopards to Ukraine?

MR PRICE: We have marshaled, built, led a coalition of countries, of 50 countries, that for – over the course of the better part of a year has provided billions and billions of dollars’ worth of security assistance to Ukraine. And we keep talking about security assistance because that’s where the questions are coming. But I would be remiss not to mention the economic assistance, the humanitarian assistance that countries around the world have also provided. I don’t want to suggest that security assistance is the only form of assistance our Ukrainian partners need. They need all of it, and they need it from as many countries as are positioned to provide it.

So to answer your question, there is an extant coalition. The United States has helped to put this together, helped to lead it. We’ll continue to do that.

QUESTION: How about Leopard coalition to provide tanks?

MR PRICE: Let me just make a quick point. We don’t have Leopard tanks, as I think you know. This is a question for countries in Europe that do have them.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Any – okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: So, Ned, to understand your position on this. We aren’t questioning about the unity. That’s clear. That part has been established, and thank you for that. The question’s about the leadership. Germany says the U.S. needs to lead by providing with one single Abrams so we can release all the Leopards. So are you waiting to —

MR PRICE: Alex, I think – I think oftentimes people in this room put words into my mouth. I think you might be putting words into the mouths of German officials. I’m not sure I’ve heard that from our German allies.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Change topic —

QUESTION: The Polish —

MR PRICE: Are you asking a question on this?

QUESTION: No, no.

MR PRICE: Okay. Let’s try and move on in a couple (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Anything else on this, Kylie?

QUESTION: Today the Polish prime – or maybe yesterday – but today or yesterday the Polish prime minister made a remark saying that they’re going to try and put together a coalition of European countries that would like to send these Leopard tanks, and essentially made the argument that they might do it without getting the approval of Germany. Would the U.S. support those countries in doing that if Germany doesn’t give them the green light?

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

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

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

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Sorry, did you just say that just say that you guys would actually prefer unanimity or you would want unanimity?

MR PRICE: We – of course, it has been indispensable to the success – and I’m not speaking to the provision of a system; I’m speaking –

QUESTION: And it would be indispensable on this occasion as well?

MR PRICE: I am speaking in terms of the indispensability of the consensus, the coordination, the consultation that we have achieved and maintained with partners around the world in support of Ukraine. That’s my point.

QUESTION: Russia?

QUESTION: Just on – Ned, one – yes, on this subject.

MR PRICE: Anything – we’ll take one more question on this. You seem particularly – here, yeah.

QUESTION: Yes, sir. A little bit on the peace side of these tanks, because I know Putin has been talking about if these tanks were to be given, nuclear war could have started. So let’s – if you could change the subject a little bit to the peace side of it, is it true that Ukraine has asked China to help out in this issue, and maybe bring about some peaceful result to this whole thing? Or no?

MR PRICE: That’s a better question for our Ukrainian partners. I can say that we are looking to all countries around the world that have relations with Russia, including a relationship with Russia that we certainly don’t have and many of our closest partners in NATO and in the broader international community don’t have, to use their voice, to use their pull, to use their leverage to encourage President Putin to put an end to this brutal war. China is a country that, perhaps more so than any other country, has leverage with Russia – political leverage, economic leverage – that we would like to see the PRC use to bring about an end to needless bloodshed, an end to civilian harm, suffering, destruction; and, by the way, to hold up the very principles that the PRC over the course of many decades now has at least maintained that they hold dear.

Whether it’s in the United Nations system, whether it’s in any number of international fora, we’ve heard from the PRC over the course of decades an emphasis on state sovereignty, an emphasis on the rules-based international order, an emphasis on the UN Charter. By tacitly – and in some cases explicitly – supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they are eroding their standing on all of those issues. They are taking actions that counteract everything they have said that they believe in.

QUESTION: And Ned, one question on India. India.

MR PRICE: We’ll come back.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Go ahead, Russia. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have Russia and North Korea together. The head of Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group sent a message of action to the White House refuting the arms deal between North Korea and the Wagner Group announced by the White House last week, and they asked what the crime was. What is the State Department position on the objection of the Wagner Group?

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

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

QUESTION: Regarding UN Security Council sanctions, if China and Russia oppose sanctions against the Wagner Group, will the U.S. pursue its own sanctions?

MR PRICE: Yes, and we are. What the White House noted last week is that we are imposing additional designations, using additional authorities to pursue the Wagner Group. This is a group that for quite some time has been subject to U.S. sanctions. We imposed further sanctions in March of 2022 related to Mr. Prigozhin’s funding of the Internet Research Agency, which he uses to propagate his global influence operations.

So we are going to use every appropriate tool to pursue the Wagner Group, to attempt to counter its destabilizing actions, its destabilizing influence – again in the Ukrainian context and more broadly as well.

QUESTION: And then will you engage in diplomatic cooperation with South Korea on these matters, these issues?

MR PRICE: On this particular issue?

QUESTION: Yes.

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

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on —

MR PRICE: I need to move around to – yes – to get everyone.

QUESTION: How do you respond to Erdogan? He said today that Sweden cannot count anymore on Türkiye to join NATO.

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

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

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

QUESTION: On the same subject?

QUESTION: And on Russia – sorry.

MR PRICE: Let’s stay on the same subject and come back. Sure.

QUESTION: So the United States, we all know, that says that it fights extremism in all its forms around the world. And that might be true, but the – from so many Muslim countries and international organizations alike, even the United Nations, have come out condemning this extremist behavior. So does the United States condemn this behavior? Because it is going to send a pretty clear signal to the whole world – wider Muslim world – that if there’s no condemnation from the United States, it’s kind of a clear-cut message that the reaction might be a little bit softer than expected.

MR PRICE: So a couple things. As I said before, we support freedom of association and the right of peaceful assembly as elements in any democracy, and one of the reasons Finland and Sweden are ready to join NATO is because they are advanced democracies. We have had our own challenges along these lines in this country. There was a famous incident not so long ago in this country that would fall in the – under the same terms, something that may be legal but that is profoundly disrespectful; that is profoundly, we might think, inappropriate, profoundly incendiary – something that is lawful but in this case awful. It is up to Sweden, it is up to Finland to interpret and to enforce their own laws, just as it is up to us in this country to interpret and enforce our own laws when we’re confronted with something that a provocateur might wish to take on.

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

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

QUESTION: Ned, just to follow up on that.

QUESTION: Follow-up, please.

QUESTION: What is the U.S. assessment on Erdogan’s specific comments, though? Like, do you think – is the U.S. assessment that he is closing the door, or he’s just very angry with what happened over the weekend and this is a temporary thing?

MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to interpret President Erdogan’s comments from here.

QUESTION: It’s not interpretation. What do you guys understand? Like, what is your take?

MR PRICE: Well, you’re asking me – you are asking me to interpret his comments.

QUESTION: Well, the – Washington would have an assessment on this. Like, is he closing the door on this or is he —

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

QUESTION: Change subject?

MR PRICE: Yes, Nike.

QUESTION: Ned, do you have anything for the Asian community regarding the tragic Monterey Park shootings over the weekend?

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

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

QUESTION: Can I also ask about U.S.-China cooperation on (inaudible) to fight narcotics? When was the last time the two countries talked or had meeting to talk about combating narcotic (inaudible) including the illicit fentanyl? And do you expect that to be on the agenda for Secretary Blinken’s travel to Beijing?

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

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

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

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

Yes.

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

MR PRICE: Sure. I appreciate the question. The two did have an opportunity to speak on January 19th, late last week. We issued a readout in the aftermath of that call. But it was an important moment for Secretary Blinken to speak to President Lourenço about a couple of things.

Number one was Angola’s constructive engagement through the Luanda process – Luanda process to engage with authorities from the DRC, authorities from Rwanda, to try to bring about an end to this conflict, this needless violence in the eastern DRC. When we were in the DRC and Rwanda over the summer, the Secretary spoke in very complimentary terms with high praise about the role that we’ve seen Angola and other countries play to try and address the disagreements between the DRC and Rwanda and to bring about an end to the bloodshed that has cost far too many lives.

We also have a burgeoning economic partnership with Angola. It was a topic of conversation between the two leaders. The Secretary raised the upcoming visit of Amos Hochstein, who is the special presidential coordinator for the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, something that we are very bullish on as an opportunity to bring additional economic prosperity, partnership to countries and places around the world where the United States has not always been the partner of first resort when it comes to infrastructure, when it comes to investment projects. And we hope to see that change.

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

QUESTION: And can you tell us if there is any upcoming visit from U.S. officials to Angola?

MR PRICE: What I can say —

QUESTION: Obviously the coordinator for —

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

QUESTION: So Angola is one of the countries?

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

QUESTION: Can I just get your comment real quick?

MR PRICE: Sure.

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

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

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

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

Yes.

QUESTION: On the Taliban?

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, follow up so —

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The United Nations human rights representative for Afghanistan released a report today that shows a new high level of human rights violations by the Taliban in many levels. They torture women, human rights activists, and so on and so forth. So may I ask you, which kind of action the United States would take to keep the Taliban accountable? So far we have seen that the Taliban asked many things from the United States, and they got it – many of them. They got money and also they are flexible, some sort of. But they haven’t given anything so far. Especially, the United States asked for including women’s right; they banned women from universities, and they are torturing journalists and human rights activists. So the people are asking this question that which kind of action the United States would take to keep them accountable?

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

When it comes to the trust fund that we established, we established a trust fund so – precisely so that this funding would not be able to be diverted to the Taliban and to use for their own ends. The trust fund – the $3.5 billion in the so-called Afghan Fund that we established is for broader macroeconomic stability, again, for the people of Afghanistan but certainly not to support the Taliban in any way. Much to the contrary, we’ve been reviewing our approach and engagement with the Taliban in the context of many of the human rights violations, the draconian edicts, the repugnant actions that we’ve seen from the Taliban in recent weeks and in recent months. I’m just not in a position to detail where we are in that process, but I can tell you we are actively evaluating with allies and partners the appropriate next steps.

We’ve been clear that there will be costs for the Taliban for these actions. Absolutely everything remains on the table. And we’re looking at a range of options that will allow us to maintain our position as – principled position as the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan – again, that’s funding that goes directly to the Afghan people – while also doing everything we can to prevent the humanitarian situation from deteriorating even further. These responses take some time. They involve significant coordination with our allies, with international partners, and Afghan women themselves. We have been in touch with senior UN officials as well. There have been delegations from the UN to Afghanistan to investigate the situation and to be a constructive force vis-à-vis what we’ve seen from the Taliban. But the human – humanitarian and human rights communities, there’s no question, are facing extremely difficult options as they strive to help those in dire need while also remaining neutral, impartial, and independent in their provision of support to the Afghan people. Because, as a result of these edicts, men are not allowed to enter women-headed households, NGOs cannot reach most of the most vulnerable inside of Afghanistan, including in women-run households and mothers who must maintain adequate nutrition for their newborn babies without female workers present.

As of earlier this month, about 83 percent of organizations operating in Afghanistan have suspended or reduced their operations because they came to the conclusion that they could not do their work under these new edicts. This is unacceptable to us, but more importantly to the international community, because it imperils some 28 million Afghans who need this humanitarian assistance to survive, and especially women and children, those who are especially vulnerable. So we’re firmly committed to helping alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people. And as I mentioned before, we’ve been the world’s leading humanitarian provider – $1.1 billion in assistance since August of 2021to provide critical aid. And I have no doubt that we’ll continue to do everything we can to support the weighty humanitarian needs of the Afghan people.

QUESTION: Yeah. The concern is that the Taliban are getting that money, because there is not any clear strategy to give that money to ordinary people and vulnerable people. So the concern is and there are reports that Taliban are obviously using that money for their own benefits.

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

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News, Pakistan. This is about press freedom again. Our director of news – of ARY News, Ammad Yousaf, is facing criminal charges for just doing his job. He’s also being dragged for extradition case, which can get him a death sentence. And we talked about this press freedom many times. Your thoughts on that, please?

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

QUESTION: Sir, Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has called for the peace talks with India. He says that he’s ready to talk about all the burning issues, including Kashmir, but India rejected that offer. They say this is not, like, the right time to talk about these issues. What are your comments on that? Because you always talk about the peace and stability in the region.

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

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) with respect to today’s Quran burning incident in Sweden. Ned, you used so many words, so many terrible words – like repugnant, disrespectful, disgusting – but for condemning it. What take you from saying that you condemn this act of hatred? And even Russians came out condemning it.

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

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

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

Yes, in the back.

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

MR PRICE: I am not aware of this documentary that you point to, but I – what I will say broadly is that there are a number of elements that undergird the global strategic partnership that we have with our Indian partners. There are close political ties, there are economic ties, there are exceptionally deep people-to-people ties between the United States and India. But one of those additional elements are the values that we share, the values that are common to American democracy and to Indian democracy.

India, of course, is the world’s largest democracy. It’s a vibrant democracy. And again, we look to everything that ties us together, and we look to reinforce all of those elements that tie us together.

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

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

QUESTION: One follow-up. But does – do you think that such foreign policy has affected President Biden’s Indian voters here in the U.S., though?

MR PRICE: We don’t think about it through those terms. I don’t think about domestic politics, and neither does anyone in this building.

Yes.

QUESTION: On China, one on China. What is your assessment of the COVID situation in China? Do you have any – because the figures that are coming from inside China are not – said to be not very reliable. Do you have any estimate how many people have died, how many people have been impacted by COVID-19? And has it impacted its aggressive behavior against its neighbors?

MR PRICE: One, I wouldn’t want to even speak to the toll of COVID inside the PRC. That’s a better question for the WHO, for global health authorities, including those like the WHO, who have had an opportunity to sit down with PRC authorities to look at the data.

The point that we have routinely made is that we wish to see transparency from the PRC. We wish to see transparency towards the WHO so that the broader international community can be best prepared to detect and prevent the spread of any new variants that may be circulating and could have the potential to emerge. It’s not just a point we have made, but it’s a point that the WHO has made as well.

QUESTION: Has China asked for any help and assistance from the U.S. in terms of any supplies, medical supplies or vaccinations?

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

QUESTION: I have one more question on Pakistan. There is a massive national grid collapse inside Pakistan. The federal minister has said that even the emergency services are being shut down, like hospitals. I know U.S. has played a big role in Pakistan’s power electricity generation. Is U.S. sending someone over there to look into it for a long-term solution to the collapse of the power grids?

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

Yes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Real quick here.

MR PRICE: Let me move around to others who haven’t gotten a question.

QUESTION: Yeah, very quickly on the Palestine-Israeli issue. Human Rights Watch issued a report today saying that the new Israeli measures regarding the entry of foreigners into the West Bank threatened to exacerbate the separation of Palestinians from the local civil society. Do you have any comment on that? Because they are not allowed – they can go into Israel, but apparently they’re not allowed to go into West Bank towns and villages.

MR PRICE: Said, I haven’t seen that particular report. If we do have a comment, we can get back to you.

QUESTION: Can you look into it? And one other question. Israel, regarding Israel. Today the United States and Israel launched one of the biggest exercises that they have ever held. It’s called Juniper Oak, and it combines all forces together. Does that mean that diplomacy with Iran has – has slid off the table?

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

QUESTION: Yeah, but they made no secret of the fact that it actually resembles now perhaps an attack on Iran or anything like this.

MR PRICE: Again, Said, we are —

QUESTION: Okay.

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

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about there have been ongoing protests in Israel about what’s viewed as stacking or diluting the power of the supreme court? Does the U.S. have anything to say about that and whether this shows respect for judicial independence in the way that the United States would see as consistent with democracy?

MR PRICE: Well, as a matter – in terms of our approach, we support policies that advance Israel’s security and regional integration, support a two-state solution, and lead to equal measures of security, prosperity, and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians. We strongly support freedom of assembly. This includes peaceful protest – countries around the world. Of course that includes inside of Israel as well. We look forward to working with Israel to advance the interests and values that have been at the heart of our relationship for decades, and that includes the equal administration of justice to all of those who live in Israel.

Let me move to people who haven’t – yes, in the back.

QUESTION: On China and human rights, that we have American families, like, who have family members that detained in China. Is that – like, they are calling for negotiations or even prisoner exchange. Is that something the U.S. would consider with the PRC?

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

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Today’s sanctions against the Islamic Republic, along with the UK sanctions and EU sanctions, showed a very remarkable unity. But on the same day, today, we have a comment from Josep Borrell about listing IRGC as a terrorist group. So he said that this cannot be decided without a court, a court decision first, and then EU is going to proceed with that. And then he said something interesting. He said, “You cannot say, ‘I consider you a terrorist because I don’t like you.’” This is what he said, quote unquote. And also, Islamic Republic foreign minister said that he has assurance from Borrell that IRGC is not going to listed as a terror organization. Do you have any comment on this development?

MR PRICE: We’ve heard a number of statements from the Iranian foreign minister that are dubious if not outright lies, so I would just keep that broader context in mind when you point to statements from the Iranian foreign minister.

When it comes to our European allies, we welcome Europe’s strong and principled approach to the IRGC. As you know, the IRGC remains designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization, and a specially designated global terrorist. We’ve also sanctioned many IRGC leaders individually for their involvement in terrorism and human rights abuses. You mentioned the latest tranche of human rights sanctions that we announced in conjunction with many of our closest partners earlier today.

We applaud the EU’s recent designations of IRGC officials and entities for their involvement in providing drones to Russia which are being used to fuel Russia’s unconscionable attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. Our European allies recognize the threat, the challenges posed by the IRGC and Iran more broadly. We have enjoyed exceptionally close cooperation and coordination with Europe on confronting these challenges.

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

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

Yeah, Shannon.

QUESTION: Same topic. Can you say if the U.S. has given the European Union any consult on whether to designate the IRGC? And can you say just would the U.S. welcome – while it’s in the hands of the EU, would the U.S. welcome such a designation?

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

Yes, Elizabeth.

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

MR PRICE: It is always difficult to delve into a hypothetical or a counterfactual like that. We want to send – and I think we are sending – a very clear message to the Iranian regime – two messages, really: that the world is watching, and the world is prepared to take action in response to the violence that Iranian officials are perpetrating against their own people. This is not the first round of sanctions that we have announced against Iranian officials in response to the protests that we’ve seen in Iran since late last year. If Iran continues to engage in these human rights abuses, we will continue to apply even more pressure on Iran. But of course, this is about human rights.

We have other concerns with this regime, and we are going to use every relevant and appropriate authority to hold it account on the various fronts, from human rights to its provision of UAV technology to Russia, to the challenges that are posed by its nuclear program, to its support for terrorist groups and proxies as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible), BOL News, Pakistan. Former prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, has said he wanted to establish good relations with United States of America. As we know, many thing happened in the past. If he get elected as the prime minister of Pakistan, what – would you open the door for talk to him and his party?

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

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. A quick follow-up on Wagner, and I also have another question on the Secretary’s call to Azerbaijan. I’m having trouble understanding the administration’s strategy on, first of all, going with the TCO designation instead of FTO, which we discussed last week, Foreign Terrorist Organization. And if the intention here is to go after their business, why announcing your intention on Friday and not taking action until this week? Aren’t you galloping against the time (inaudible)?

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

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

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

QUESTION: Thank you. My next topic (inaudible).

MR PRICE: I need to move on, Alex. Yes.

QUESTION: One question on Lebanon and the other on Russia. On Lebanon, today the judge investigating Beirut blast resumed his work, and he made charges against senior officials. Some of them are your allies and have been in the States before, a few months ago. Do you have any comment on that?

And my second question is on Russia downgrading relation – diplomatic relation – with Estonia. Do you expect similar behavior from the Russia – from Putin against other NATO members?

MR PRICE: If you’re referring to the decision on the part of Baltic states to downgrade their relations with Moscow, these are sovereign decisions on the part of our partners. We would defer to them as to determine the level of diplomatic representation, if any, that is appropriate with Russia.

When it comes to Lebanon, we in the international community have made it clear since the explosion that we support swift – that we support and urge Lebanese authorities to complete a swift and transparent investigation into the horrific explosion at the Port of Beirut. The victims of this explosion in August of 2020 deserve justice. Those responsible must be held accountable.

Yes – yeah.

QUESTION: Yes, I have a question on – I see the statement that you continue the talks with Türkiye on the F-35 program, and I’m wondering if something changed, because the last we knew was that Türkiye is under CAATSA sanctions for buying the Russians – the Russian system S-400. Why do you talk —

MR PRICE: That’s right. Nothing has changed in terms of Türkiye’s eligibility for the F-35 program. DOD did issue a statement. This is a discussion regarding how to wind down elements of that program.

All right. Thank you all very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:23 p.m.)