Department of State Offers Reward Increase for Information to Bring Transnational Criminal to Justice

5 Mar

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Today the U.S. Department of State announces a reward increase of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Kamchybek Kolbaev and/or for information leading to the disruption of financial mechanisms of Kolbaev’s criminal organization.

In 2000, Kolbaev was convicted for the attempted murder of his one-time criminal boss and murder of two others. Kolbaev was sentenced to 25 years for these crimes, but after serving six years he escaped from prison. In 2007, the U.S. Department of State described Kolbaev as “the leader of the most influential criminal group” in the country, and on April 23, 2008, Kolbaev was “crowned” as a thief-in-law in Moscow by Russian organized crime leaders.

In June 2011, the Obama administration identified Kolbaev as a significant foreign narcotics trafficker under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. In 2012, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Kolbaev as an associate of the Brothers’ Circle crime syndicate. In 2013, he was charged with several offenses in the Kyrgyz Republic, including extortion, kidnapping, and weapons and drug crimes, but only served a three-year sentence for extortion. In 2017, the Treasury Department designated Kolbaev for acting on behalf of the thieves-in-law. His most recent arrest in October 2020 in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic, was for the creation of and participation in a criminal organization.

This reward is offered under the Department of State’s Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program (TOCRP). More than 75 transnational criminals and major narcotics traffickers have been brought to justice under the TOCRP and the Narcotics Rewards Program (NRP) since the NRP’s inception in 1986. The Department has paid more than $130 million in rewards for information leading to apprehensions.

The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) manages the TOCRP in close coordination with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, and other U.S. government agencies. These actions demonstrate the Department’s commitment to supporting U.S. and international law enforcement efforts and a whole of government approach to combatting drug trafficking and transnational organized crime.

All information should be reported to the DEA and OFAC at +1 202-643-0383, which can receive messages via WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal. Individuals may also visit the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, or via e-mail at Kolbayev_Tips@usdoj.gov. All individuals who provide information will be treated with complete confidentiality.

For more information on the individual listed above and the TOCRP and NRP, please see https://www.state.gov/bureau-of-international-narcotics-and-law-enforcement-affairs/inl-rewards-program/.

Department Press Briefing – March 3, 2021

4 Mar

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:43 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. A few items at the top. And I’ll start, of course, by highlighting Secretary Blinken’s speech outlining this administration’s vision of a foreign policy that delivers for the American people.

Our foreign policy will be entirely focused on making the lives of all Americans more secure, creating opportunity for them and for their families, and tackling the global crises that are increasingly shaping our collective futures.

The Secretary outlined a number of key priorities that get to the heart of those efforts: contain COVID-19 and strengthen global health security more broadly; turn around the economic crisis and build a more inclusive global economy; renew democracy at home and abroad; work to create a humane and effective immigration system; revitalize our ties with partners and allies; and tackle the climate crisis and drive a green energy revolution; secure our leadership in technology; and to manage the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century, and, of course, that is our relationship with China.

We will approach these priorities, as the Secretary said today, through the lens that diplomacy is the best way to deal with today’s challenges. Our strategy recognizes that American leadership and engagement matter because America is uniquely capable of bringing countries together to solve the problems that no other country can solve on its own.

We will adhere to clear principles, standing firm on our commitment to human rights, to democracy, to the rule of law.

We will balance humility and confidence.

We will build a non-partisan national security workforce that reflects America in all its diversity, because we represent all Americans. We believe that diversity is a core source of strength.

And we will hold ourselves accountable to a single, overarching measure of success: Are we delivering results for the American people?

Next, in keeping with our commitment to stand firm on support for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, the United States is deeply concerned by Russia’s increasingly repressive efforts to clamp down on the exercise of freedom of expression, including by members of the press.

In particular, we are concerned by today’s denial of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s appeals of fines unjustly imposed under Russia’s repressive foreign agent registration laws.

These laws are a further transparent effort to impede the work of RFE/RL outlets, which are already severely limited in their ability to broadcast on television and radio in Russia, and to prevent them from bringing real and objective news to the Russian people.  This is unacceptable, and we will continue to support the presence of independent and international media outlets in Russia.

And finally, before we go to questions, I wanted to be sure to take a moment to state that as reports and shocking images continue to stream in, we are appalled and revulsed to see the horrific violence perpetrated against the people of Burma for their peaceful calls to restore civilian governance.  We call on all countries to speak with one voice to condemn brutal violence by the Burmese military against its own people and to promote accountability for the military’s actions that have led to the life – loss of life of so many people in Burma.

So with that, Matt.

QUESTION: Thanks. Let’s just stay on Burma for a second. I want to get – I want to see if you can be a little bit more specific about this, because as you may know, we have – the AP has a journalist who has been arrested and detained under this Section 505 law. And he’s not the only one, but he is in this batch of people that was – that were picked up, is the only one who works for a foreign news outlet – in this case, an American one. And I’m wondering if you have anything you can say specifically about his case and what you might do.

And I just want to point out also that I and others asked similar questions about Reuters correspondents who have – were arrested several years ago and charged under the same law for reporting on the situation in Rakhine with the Rohingya.

MR PRICE: Thank you for the question, Matt. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this. We are, of course, very familiar with these reports that the military has charged additional journalists with crimes. We are deeply concerned about the increasing attacks on and arrests of journalists. We call on the military to immediately release these individuals, and to cease intimidation and harassment of the media and others unjustly detained merely for doing their jobs, for exercising their universal rights. A free and independent media, as we have said in other contexts, plays a critical role in ensuring that people are able to make informed decisions. We call upon the military to allow journalists and – journalists to work independently, without harassment, intimidation, or fear of reprisals. We’ve taken, of course, as you know, a number of measures against the military leaders responsible for this coup and related violence, including visa restrictions and asset-blocking sanctions. We will continue and we will expand those efforts to promote accountability for what we have witnessed over the past few weeks.

QUESTION: Okay. Are you aware of or have you – are you aware of any efforts that have been made on his behalf or on behalf of the other – I believe it’s five others, journalists who were detained? Anything specific on them?

MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to get into specifics. What we have said broadly is that, of course, we stand with the people of Burma. We support their peaceful exercise of their universal rights, including the right of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly. And, of course, when it comes to these journalists, we have spoken out as I just did here, forcefully, making clear that it is unacceptable that journalists who are merely furthering their rights, furthering their obligation to an informed citizenry be detained for undertaking that activity.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I continue with —

MR PRICE: Humeyra. Yep.

QUESTION: — Myanmar?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: So in response to this escalation, are you guys thinking about further action? I have another one.

MR PRICE: We are. We are always looking at policy options that are available to us and that are appropriate given the circumstances. The loss of life, especially the loss of life in recent days, is abhorrent. As I said today, it is repulsive. We are evaluating policy measures that may be appropriate and relevant to respond, and to ensure accountability for the military’s actions, including their overthrow of the democratically elected Burmese Government on February 1st. We are doing this both within our own system, but we are also closely coordinating with our likeminded partners and allies around the world.

We have, as I said just a moment ago, encouraged the world to speak with one voice, but we have also sought to pursue ways that we can act consistent with one another. We’ve been heartened by the measures that some of our close partners, including the Canadians and the Brits, have taken in this context. We will look to what else might be appropriate for us to do and we will continue to work closely with our allies and partners as to what they might do.

QUESTION: So let me read you something from UN special envoy on Myanmar who spoke to Myanmar’s military, that basically highlights the difficulty of having any leverage with those policy tools. She says – she talks about how she spoke with the Myanmar military and they told her, “We are used to sanctions. We survived. We can just keep going with fewer friends.” So how do you deal with that? What action could the U.S. possibly take in the face of this that would actually improve things for Myanmar people?

MR PRICE: Well, as I’ve said more recently in a different context, but also in this context as well, in our policy response to the Burmese military’s coup, its overthrow of the civilian democratically elected government, in the first instance, we are not going to do anything that worsens the suffering, the humanitarian suffering of the Burmese people. We are not going to institute measures that would redound on them. Our measures are going to continue to be very tightly targeted at the members of their – of the military. And you have seen this in the steps we have taken to date. We have enacted policy measures against senior members of the junta as well as entities controlled by the military. Some of our closest allies have done the same as well.

And I think it is fair to say – I know it is fair to say, in fact, that these targeted measures have a significant impact on the Burmese military, on their ability to wield power and influence. In all of this, we are continuing to stand with the people of Burma, and the people of Burma, as we have seen, have made very clear in their own actions and words and deeds that they do not support, of course, this military junta that has overthrown their own democratically elected government. We are standing with them, with our word, with our deed to advance their aspirations to restore a democratically elected government in Burma.

Yes.

QUESTION: Still on Burma, and then I have an Afghan question for when you switch topics. Secretary Blinken today talked about working with China when there was a common cause. How much discussion is there with them about Burma? And also India and Japan, since they are the other two major trading partners. Can you elaborate at all on that?

MR PRICE: Well, what we have said throughout is that our focus has been on working closely, cooperating, and coordinating with our likeminded allies and partners. We’ve spoken about that in the context of our European allies, as well as with our allies in the Indo-Pacific and our partners in the Indo-Pacific. Now, you are right that China does have influence in the region. It does have influence with the military junta. We have called upon the Chinese to use that influence in a constructive way, in a way that advances the interests of the people of Burma.

And again, we know what the interests of the people of Burma are because they have told us. They have demonstrated with their own two feet by taking to the streets peacefully to protest what the junta has attempted to do. So we continue to call on China to act constructively in this context, even as we focus our coordination and cooperation with our likeminded partners and allies.

Anything else on Burma before we go to Afghanistan?

QUESTION: It doesn’t – India and Japan – and it doesn’t sound like you’re in direct communication with Beijing actively working this problem right now.

MR PRICE: Well, we have had a number of engagements with the Chinese. Of course, Secretary Blinken has taken part in a call with Director Yang that we have read out. There have been other engagements with the Chinese at various levels. The message we have sent to them has been pretty simple, in fact. It is that we are looking for China to play a constructive role in the restoration of civilian-led government in Burma.

QUESTION: And India and Japan?

MR PRICE: And India and Japan as well, of course. The Secretary has had an opportunity to speak on a bilateral basis with his Indian and Japanese counterpart. The Secretary has had an opportunity to speak with the Quad on – at the ministerial level, where Burma, of course, was raised as well. So India and Japan are key partners in the Indo-Pacific and key partners that we will continue to work with towards our collective goal of seeking a restoration of Burma’s democratically elected civilian government.

Elsewhere on Burma?

QUESTION: Sure. Do you – just let me follow up on the UN ambassador. I know you spoke to it yesterday, but Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun. Any update on his status, whether the United States is able to help him and ensure that he stays there?

MR PRICE: Well, we are aware of notification to the UN regarding the permanent representative, Kyaw Moe Tun. That said, we also understand that Kyaw Moe Tun remains in his position at present. Obviously, this is a credentialing issue that we will look to the UN to resolve.

QUESTION: Sorry, that’s pretty much the same thing you said yesterday.

MR PRICE: Right. There has been no update. Of course, I would also point to what we said on Friday with the heroic words that we heard from inside the UN chamber that we continue to commend and applaud.

Elsewhere on Burma or can we move on? One more?

QUESTION: Just one more. We haven’t talked about the issue of the Rohingya in Burma. And I’m just wondering – you just mentioned discussions about the interests of the people of Burma, and I’m wondering if the issue of the Rohingya have come up at all in the context of these discussions.

MR PRICE: Discussions with our likeminded partners and allies?

QUESTION: That’s right, or in – as you talk to people inside Burma and trying to figure out the path forward.

MR PRICE: Well, of course. Look, the plight of the Rohingya has been a priority of us. It was a priority of ours before February 1st; it remains a priority of ours after February 1st. Right after February 1st, of course, our concern has broadened for the people of Burma, not just the Rohingya, but also those that are seeking to have their voices known when it comes to their desire to see a restoration of the civilian-led government.

The United States has been the most generous contributor to humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya in the region. Over the course of recent years, I believe that has totaled $1.2 billion, with hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years alone. We will continue to work to support the Rohingya in Burma but also in the broader region even as we now work to show our support for all the people of Burma who have taken peacefully to make clear that they seek a restoration of their democratically elected government.

Should we go to Afghanistan, Kim?

QUESTION: Yeah. It’s about the worst-kept secret in D.C. and Kabul that Envoy Khalilzad has been talking about some sort of a bond to get together, perhaps in a place like Turkey, where you get the Taliban and the Afghan Government and other elements of power in the same room to talk about divvying up power in some sort of interim government setting. Critics – is the Taliban not being encouraged to go to the ballot box?

MR PRICE: Well, I think in the first instance what I would say is that this is an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process. The United States, of course, is seeking to support a diplomatic solution to help Afghans achieve a political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire. To that end, as we announced over the weekend, the special representative and his team are now in the midst of their first travel to the region since January 20th.

SRAR Khalilzad and his team wrapped up today three days of productive consultations with government officials in Kabul. They met with civil society leaders. They met with other Afghan political leaders focused on accelerating progress towards peace. In all of this, Ambassador Khalilzad emphasized our focus on diplomacy as I mentioned and garnering wider international support for – to help Afghanistan achieve that political settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire that I mentioned before. I think it is fair to say that they found and over time have found widespread support for the need to move quickly and to deliver that just and durable peace that has been at the center of our diplomatic efforts and the center of what Afghans are demanding and in fact what they deserve.

Ambassador Khalilzad is now in Doha. He will continue engagements in Doha. I expect there may be additional travel from there, but he is hard at work – not at dictating anything, but in facilitating this Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process the United States is firmly behind.

Yes.

QUESTION: Switch topic? Yemen? Any readout for —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Afghanistan actually.

MR PRICE: One more question on Afghanistan. Sure.

QUESTION: I’m just curious. When you say they found widespread support for the need to move quickly, what exactly are you referencing?

MR PRICE: I am not talking about our internal evaluation, if that’s what you’re alluding to. I am speaking generally to the need to arrive at a diplomatic, just, and durable diplomatic solution to this longstanding conflict. That is what we’re talking about in this context.

QUESTION: And just one more, there were three female journalists that were reportedly murdered in Afghanistan, and the Afghan police chief said that the person who was suspected to be the gunman was connected to the Taliban. Do you have any response?

MR PRICE: Well, we have seen the devastating news that you reference that three female media workers were gunned down in Jalalabad. Our charge d’affaires in Kabul stated that Afghans across the country are facing threat. We know that these attacks are meant to do one thing. They are meant to intimidate. They are intended to make reporters cower. The culprits hope to stifle freedom in a nation where the media has in many ways flourished for the past 20 years.

This cannot be tolerated. We do not tolerate it. We seek to end the impunity with open and transparent investigations into these vicious murders. We call on the government to defend press freedoms and to protect journalists. The perpetrators must be held accountable and to stop their terrorism against Afghan civilians, including in this case journalists. We offer our sincere condolences to the families, to the friends, to their loved ones of three – of these three journalists. When it comes to the culprit, I’ve seen the report you referenced. We have called for an investigation. More broadly, we continue to believe that levels of violence in Afghanistan remain unacceptably high.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Any readout for the meeting – for the U.S. officials meeting with Houthi officials in Oman last week?

MR PRICE: So as we noted in the travel announcement, Special Envoy Lenderking is traveling to several Gulf countries. He’s been meeting with senior government officials and UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths during his trip to the region. Special Envoy Lenderking is now back in Riyadh for further consultations with Saudi Arabia on resolving the conflict and bringing relief to the humanitarian plight of the Yemeni people. I believe it is true that Special Envoy Lenderking has visited every GCC country except for Bahrain, but on the way over to the region several days ago, the first call he made was to the foreign minister of Bahrain. So he has been in contact with officials in every GCC country. I believe it is also true that NEA has issued readouts of these – some of these key meetings, and so I would refer you to those readouts for additional details.

QUESTION: And what about his meetings with the Houthis? Can you confirm that he met with the Houthis in Oman or not?

MR PRICE: He has been meeting with senior government officials and UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths during his trip. NEA has issued readouts of key meetings. I don’t have anything for you beyond that.

QUESTION: Sorry, can —

QUESTION: Did you mean that he didn’t meet with them?

MR PRICE: I am saying that he has been in the region, where he has undertaken consultations with senior government officials, with Martin Griffith – Martin Griffiths, but we don’t have any additional readouts beyond the —

QUESTION: But there is a story in Reuters today confirming, based on two sources, that U.S. officials have met with Houthis in Oman. Is this story accurate or false?

MR PRICE: I’m just not going to comment on that story. What I’m going to say is that he has been in the region. He’s been undertaking consultations. We’ve issued readouts of key meetings. I don’t have anything for you beyond that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Wait, hold on. Just on that, on the meetings, because you’re – I don’t know what this other story that he’s talking about is, but we’ve heard that the Houthis rejected a meeting with Special Envoy Lenderking. But what I want to ask about, going back to something that I’ve been asking you about for two weeks now: The removal of the Houthi leadership from the SGT – SDGT terrorism list, not the other one related to – the main difference, the main thing that was – that changed because they were taken off that was that U.S. officials were allowed to meet with the Houthi leadership who had been previously, under the previous administration’s order, they had – that was verboten. It was not allowed.

Is that why they were taken off, the three were taken off that – this list? And did Special Envoy Lenderking attempt to or meet with any of them?

MR PRICE: Matt, I think you’re continuing to mischaracterize —

QUESTION: No, actually, Ned, I think you are mischaracterizing, because you still refuse to say that you’ve taken these guys off that list.

MR PRICE: Matt —

QUESTION: And you did.

MR PRICE: — we have been very clear —

QUESTION: You did. You notified Congress that you’ve moved them off the list.

MR PRICE: — that we revoked – that we revoked the broad designation for Ansarallah.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PRICE: For the benefit of this room —

QUESTION: I’m talking about the specific three leaders who you kept on the list because they were destabilizing Yemen, but you took off the terrorism list. And there are —

MR PRICE: What you are – what you are omitting —

QUESTION: There is – there is – and you’re going to call this picayune or whatever you want to do, but —

MR PRICE: What you are omitting, Matt, is the fact that these three individuals, now plus two additional Houthi leaders whom we sanctioned earlier this week, have always remained subject to U.S. and to UN sanctions. We have an executive order —

QUESTION: Is it prohibited for U.S. officials to meet with any of them?

MR PRICE: — regarding the conflict in Yemen to which these —

QUESTION: Is it – is it —

MR PRICE: — individuals have always been subject.

QUESTION: Is it —

MR PRICE: Any property they have has been subject to – subject to U.S. jurisdiction has remained blocked. U.S. persons cannot do business with them.

QUESTION: Of which they have – of which they have none.

MR PRICE: U.S. persons cannot do business with them.

QUESTION: They don’t have any. It’s —

MR PRICE: We’ve talked about the reasons why we revoked this broad designation of Ansarallah. Again, it had nothing to do with the reprehensible conduct of Houthi leaders, of these three Houthi leaders, of any other Houthi leaders, now five of whom are subject to U.S. sanctions, several of whom are subject to UN sanctions. It had everything to do with the fact that in the first instance, what we did not want to do was to add to the humanitarian plight of the Yemeni people, some 80 percent of whom live under Houthi control in Yemen. That was the reason —

QUESTION: Yeah, but you still —

MR PRICE: — for the revocation.

QUESTION: You’re still not answering the question about whether you actually reversed these sanctions.

MR PRICE: Let’s move around so we —

QUESTION: That’s fine.

MR PRICE: Yes, and I’ll go in a line here. Yes, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. After taking charge, Secretary Blinken talked with India’s leadership (inaudible). And I was wondering, did he also talk about the human rights situation in Kashmir? My second part is, what is Biden administration’s foreign policy towards Pakistan given that it borders Afghanistan and India?

MR PRICE: Sure. So your first question was, has Secretary Blinken addressed Kashmir?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PRICE: Yes. So, as I think we have said from this room before, as a government, certainly as the State Department, we continue to follow developments in Jammu and Kashmir closely. Our policy when it comes to – when it comes to it has not changed. We welcome steps to return the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir to full economic and political normalcy consistent with India’s democratic values. As we’ve said before, Secretary Blinken has had now a couple opportunities to speak to his Indian counterpart, both bilaterally and in the context of the Quad.

When it comes to our relationship with Pakistan – was that your other question? Look, I think the point we would want to make is that United States has important relationships with India, as I said, but also with Pakistan. These relationships stand on their own in our view. They are not a zero-sum proposition when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. We are – we have productive, constructive relations, and productive and constructive relationships with one does not detract from the relationship we have at the other. It does not come at the expense at the relationship we have with the other.

When it comes to India, we have a global comprehensive strategic partnership, and we’ve talked about that. When it comes to Pakistan, I addressed this the other week: We have important shared interests in the region. And we will continue to work closely with the Pakistani authorities on those shared interests.

Yes.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on his question first. You mean to say the Secretary of State, when he spoke to the Indian counterpart (inaudible) Jaishankar, he raised the issue of Kashmir with him, right?

MR PRICE: We issued a readout of that call, so I would refer you to the readout of that conversation.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) had any mention of Kashmir in that.

MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to go beyond the readout.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Don’t you – do you think that Kashmir region is not controversial anymore, it’s not – it’s like – because – after the 370 in August 2019? So do you still want to revoke that? Do you still – do you think it’s – the territory is India’s territory? Is it still a disputed territory between India and Pakistan?

MR PRICE: What we have done is we continue to support direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and other areas of – and other issues of concern. Of course, we’ve continued to call for a reduction of tensions along the line of control, returning to that 2003 ceasefire.

Yes.

QUESTION: Going back again on China, the previous administration had a policy on 5G and Chinese predatory economy. Does that policy continues, or they will change in the policy of the new administration?

MR PRICE: Well, the Biden administration views 5G as a high priority, of course. We advocate for a vibrant digital economy that enables all citizens to benefit from the promise of 5G wireless networks. We also know that the stakes for securing these networks could not be any higher. 5G, of course, is transformative and will touch every aspect of our lives, including – and this is important – critical infrastructure sectors: transportation, electrical distribution, health care, public health, and many more. And so that is why we are concerned about the dangers of installing networks with equipment that can be manipulated, disrupted, or even controlled by the People’s Republic of China, which as we know, of course, has no regard for human rights or privacy.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I have one more question. In last – about a month or so, Secretary has spoken to around 60 world leaders, his counterparts. What’s the general common message that he is receiving from them?

MR PRICE: Well, I think the number is even higher now. I think it is veering towards 100. The Secretary – in terms of total calls – the Secretary has often remarked that it is a good thing that we are on the friends and family plan here at the State Department, because he has been burning up the phone lines. He spoke to this a bit in his speech today. He spoke to – he has spoken to it publicly in other fora as well. I think what he is hearing broadly speaking is that the world is glad America’s back. America is now re-engaged. We are re-engaged bilaterally in terms of important relationships. We are re-engaged multilaterally in terms of international bodies. We are working cooperatively and closely with allies and partners around the world. And I think there has been – that has been greeted with a good degree of welcome. And so I think that has been the overriding message that he has heard from many of our closest friends and partners.

QUESTION: I have one more, a small quick one. The administration is reviewing several of the arms deal that the previous administration had done with other countries like UAE. Is those with the U.S. had with India is under review, like the arms drones to India?

MR PRICE: Well, I believe as of this year, the United States has authorized over $20 billion in defense sales to India. It’s these offers of advanced U.S. defense platforms that demonstrate our commitment to India’s security and sovereignty. It demonstrates our commitment to that global, comprehensive, strategic partnership.

I don’t have anything for you on pending sales or the review process for them. As I understand it, they’re – we are – there is nothing currently in train that India has accepted. But if there is any change in the status of pending transfers, I’m happy to let you know.

QUESTION: Iraq?

QUESTION: On Yemen.

MR PRICE: Iraq, Yemen – I just want to make sure we have some —

QUESTION: There’s ICC too.

MR PRICE: Let’s cover the ICC.

QUESTION: ICC. Not Iraq.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: As you wish.

QUESTION: Okay. Good. (Laughter.) Thanks. So can I – I’ll go with Iraq. I’m sure ICC’s going to come up as well. So there was another round of rocket attacks in Iraq yesterday. You’ve previously said that you won’t lash out, but these attacks are definitely on the rise, so what will you do to stop them? And you had talked about an investigation for the previous attacks to see who was the perpetrator. What is the latest in that investigation?

MR PRICE: Well, this was an investigation that was principally undertaken by our Iraqi and Kurdish partners. Of course, we cooperated closely. There was good sharing of information when it came to their investigation.

Look, we said this in the aftermath of the heinous attack on Erbil, I repeat it today: We won’t preview any particular or specific response. But we have demonstrated our resolve to take necessary and proportionate action in self-defense where appropriate. Whatever response we take, we will act with appropriate coordination with the Government of Iraq and of our – and with our coalition partners. We responded to recent attacks by Iran-backed militias on coalition U.S. forces in a manner that was calculated, proportionate, and fully covered by legal authorities. I think you will see the same hallmarks of any forthcoming responses.

QUESTION: Yeah, Ned, on that – and just broadening out a little bit, since you guys said that you were ready to go back to talks with Iran over the nuclear deal – I mean, in the context of the P5+1 with a European invitation – since you lifted the FTO thing on the Houthis and the others which we already talked about, Iranian-backed militia in Yemen have stepped up their offensive in Marib. They have increased the number of rocket attacks going into Saudi Arabia – that you condemned now, like, three times just in this last couple days – and also attacked in Saudi Arabia. On top of that, they also rejected your offer to get back into the talks and have stepped up their violations of the JCPOA.

So if you were going to give a grade about how your approach to Iran has been since the administration began, what kind of grade would you give it?

MR PRICE: Well, Matt, I think our work with Iran is yet incomplete, and it won’t be complete until —

QUESTION: Okay, can I – the one-word answer, then, is the grade is “incomplete”?

MR PRICE: No, our answer is that our work won’t be complete until we have what we are seeking, and that is a verifiable, permanent prohibition —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: — on Iran ever obtaining a nuclear program. But there’s one other –

QUESTION: Are you —

MR PRICE: — there’s one other —

QUESTION: Are you getting closer to that goal —

MR PRICE: — there’s one other —

QUESTION: — or further away from that goal?

MR PRICE: — there’s one other historical point that you didn’t mention —

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR PRICE: — in your history lesson, Matt. And that is the fact that these attacks —

QUESTION: My history lesson only went back, like, three weeks.

MR PRICE: — these attacks – well, again, you’re looking a slice of history that may not be fully representative, and in fact, it’s not.

QUESTION: It’s your slice of history.

MR PRICE: Because these attacks, including on coalition and certainly U.S. forces in Iraq, they did not start three weeks ago, Matt.

QUESTION: No, I know they didn’t.

MR PRICE: They did not start a month ago. They started in the aftermath of the so-called policy of maximum pressure, a policy of maximum pressure that did not avail itself of a diplomatic opening of any sort. So to attribute what we have seen over the past several weeks to this administration, I think you are missing – anyone, I should say, would be missing the forest for the trees.

QUESTION: Okay, hold on. I’m not attributing it to this administration. You guys aren’t the ones who are doing the attacks. I’m saying the – Iran and its proxies are doing the attacks. I’m not —

MR PRICE: I think it’s an important —

QUESTION: I wasn’t asking you if you —

MR PRICE: It’s —

QUESTION: — if there is any concern.

MR PRICE: And I am just telling you that it is an important historical point to recognize when these escalations and these provocations began. Because again, as I said I believe it was last week now, maximum pressure sought to do a few things.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, when you —

MR PRICE: It sought to deliver a so-called better deal. It sought to unite the United States with our closest partners and allies. It sought to cow Iran and its proxies into submission. And in fact, the opposite of all of those things has happened.

QUESTION: No, no, but you’re – but you’re —

MR PRICE: Of course, Iran has advanced key elements of its nuclear program. Of course, it was the United States, not Iran, that became isolated under the previous policy. And of course, as we’ve been talking about now, these escalations and these provocations by Iran and its proxies started in the aftermath of this maximum pressure policy that did not have any sort of diplomatic offramp.

QUESTION: Okay. But all of your overtures that have been made since the – since January 20th, the situation has not gotten any better. Can you at least – can you at least acknowledge that?

MR PRICE: What —

QUESTION: It hasn’t gotten any better from where it was three, five months ago.

MR PRICE: What I would acknowledge is that we are measuring in terms of our overarching objective. Our overarching objective is to have a – to impose verifiable and permanent limits on Iran’s nuclear program. That is what we are seeking here.

Yes, in the back, please.

QUESTION: I’d be happy to have someone else – can someone else ask about Israel and the ICC?

MR PRICE: Matt, they’re welcome to ask whatever they would like.

QUESTION: I don’t want to – I’m not saying that I have to ask it, but it needs to be asked.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Please.

QUESTION: A follow-up question?

MR PRICE: No, sorry, let’s go to the back and then we’ll come back.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. My question is about Ethiopia. As you all know, since the war broke in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, it has caused wider spread of – widespread suffering to the people of Tigray, and my heart bleeds for the Tigray people who are suffering. Right now, urgent steps are needed to alleviate suffering in Ethiopian – Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Is there any plan by the State Department or by the U.S. Government to provide significant humanitarian assistance to the people of Tigray region in Ethiopia? I have a follow-up question after this.

MR PRICE: Well, thank you. Thank you for the question. As we have said, we are gravely concerned by reported atrocities and the overall deteriorating situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. We strongly condemn the killings, the forced removals, the sexual assaults, the other human rights abuses by several parties that multiple organizations have reported on in Tigray, including recently the Amnesty International investigation.

We have repeatedly engaged with the Ethiopian Government on the importance of ending the violence, on ensuring unhindered humanitarian access to Tigray, and allowing a full, independent international investigation into all reports of human rights abuses. We continue to contend that anyone responsible for human rights abuses must be held to account. You may have seen that – it was earlier this week – that USAID announced that they would be deploying a so-called DART – a Disaster Assistance Response Team – to help with the humanitarian suffering in Tigray. Of course, the United States has called for unhindered humanitarian access so that we can continue to alleviate – do all we can to alleviate the enormous humanitarian suffering that has taken part in Tigray.

QUESTION: Yeah, my second question is: Recently, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for Ethiopia to immediately withdraw troops from Tigray. Then the Ethiopian Government responded, “It should be clear that” – sorry – “It should be clear that such matters are the sole responsibility of the Ethiopian Government.” “No foreign country should try to dictate a sovereign nation’s internal affairs.”

What is your thought regarding the response of the Ethiopian Government?

MR PRICE: Well, we issued a readout of Secretary Blinken’s recent call with Prime Minister Abiy. It was a conversation where the Secretary made very clear our profound concerns with the reports that are emanating out of Tigray. He emphasized his concern about the humanitarian and the human rights crisis that is ongoing in the region. He noted many of those credible reports that have emerged from the region, and as I just said now, the Secretary urged the prime minister to take immediate, concrete steps to protect civilians, including refugees, and to prevent further violence. He pressed for an immediate end to the hostilities in Tigray and for the withdrawal of all outside forces from the region, and that includes the Amhara regional security forces and Eritrean troops. He asked that the Government of Ethiopia work with the international community to facilitate independent, international – again, credible investigations into the abuses that have been reported in Tigray.

And he also acknowledged the fact that we have heard positive signs from the Ethiopian Government – of course, the recent announcement of full and unhindered humanitarian access into Tigray. What we are looking for now are signs on the ground that those pledges will come to fruition so that the United States together with the international community can do all we can to alleviate the humanitarian suffering of the people of Tigray.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR PRICE: Please.

QUESTION: Thank you. So does the State Department have a reaction to the ICC investigation into war crime allegations in Palestinian – excuse me – in Palestinian territories? And also, the prior administration had imposed sanctions against the ICC prosecutor and two of her aides who were conducting this investigation. Are those sanctions still in place? What does this administration plan to do about them?

MR PRICE: Well, let me just start generally and say that we firmly oppose and are disappointed by the ICC prosecutor’s announcement of an investigation into the Palestinian situation. We will continue to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly. The ICC, as we have said, has no jurisdiction over this matter. Israel is not a party to the ICC, and it has not consented to the court’s jurisdiction. And we have serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel.

The Palestinians do not qualify as a sovereign state and therefore are not qualified to obtain membership as a state in or to participate as a state in or to delegate jurisdiction to the ICC. The current ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, indicated that her office would need to assess priorities and resources before determining when and how to proceed. We noted that.

The United States has always taken the position that the court’s jurisdiction should be reserved for countries that consent to it or that are referred by the UN Security Council. As we made clear when the Palestinians purported to join the Rome Statute in 2015, again, we do not believe the Palestinians qualify as a sovereign state and therefore are not qualified to obtain membership as a state or to participate as a state in international organizations and that includes in the ICC.

The United States – we are committed to promoting accountability, respect for human rights, and justice for the victims of atrocities.

When it comes to the sanctions you mentioned, look, much as we disagree with the ICC’s actions relating to the Palestinian situation and of course to Afghanistan, the administration – we are thoroughly reviewing sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13928 as we determine our next steps.

QUESTION: On Israel too. Israel has said today that Iran is linked to a recent oil spill off Israel shores that caused major ecological damage, calling the incident environmental terrorism. Do you have anything on this?

MR PRICE: I don’t have anything for you on that. If we do, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: Do you have – and considering —

MR PRICE: Matt, let’s – I know —

QUESTION: Considering your position on the Palestinians now, so where – where do the – where should the Palestinians go to get accountability for what they claim to be problems? To Israeli courts? Where do they go?

MR PRICE: Matt, look, we – of course the United States is always going to stand up for human rights. We’re always going to stand up —

QUESTION: Where do they go? Where do they go?

MR PRICE: Matt, that is why I think you have —

QUESTION: Where?

MR PRICE: That is why you have heard us continue to endorse and —

QUESTION: Ned, where?

MR PRICE: — to call for a two-state solution to this long-running conflict. A two-state solution —

QUESTION: Should they go to the Israeli courts? Where do they go?

MR PRICE: — because it protects Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state, but also because it will give the Palestinians —

QUESTION: Where do they go?

MR PRICE: — a viable state of their own and fulfill —

QUESTION: Where do they go?

MR PRICE: — their legitimate aspirations for dignity and self-determination.

QUESTION: Where do they go? Where do they go?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Just following up on the ICC, of course the – Ms. Bensouda, her term is coming to an end, and there’s a new prosecutor who has been chosen. Do you have any message to – I believe Karim Khan is his name. Do you have any message to him? Are you expecting him to end these – to end these probes in the Palestinian territories and Afghanistan? Is there any leverage that the U.S. plans to exert with him?

MR PRICE: Well, we’re of course aware that the states parties to the Rome Statute have selected Karim Khan to serve as the next chief prosecutor of the ICC beginning in June of this year, I believe it is. As I just said, the United States did not join the court. We didn’t participate in this selection process. I think what we would say is that as member states consider reforms, including those recommended by independent experts to help the court better prioritize its resources and achieve its core missions, it will be critical to ensure that the next prosecutor has the time and support to conduct a careful review of reform proposals.

A final question here.

QUESTION: Final question. On Yemen, just a follow-up on Yemen. The special envoy acknowledged before that there is an active diplomatic or active back channel that the U.S. Government depends on to convey messages to the Houthis. I understand you don’t want to comment on the story of the meeting between the SE and the Houthi last month in Oman, but is the special envoy or any other officials, U.S. officials, open to the idea of having direct talks with the Houthis if they find that helpful to their efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Yemen?

MR PRICE: Look, of course we are working closely with our partners in the region on resolving this devastating conflict in Yemen. We have spoken of our coordination and our work with the UN envoy. Of course, we’ve read out meetings with members of the GCC. I would also add that the Houthis have no doubt about where we stand, about what we seek to do, about how we seek to do it. I wouldn’t want to go into any further detail. I know the special envoy has conveyed a similar message, and I think that’s where we’d leave it.

Thank you very much, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:32 p.m.)

 

Department Press Briefing – March 2, 2021

3 Mar

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:46 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. A few things at the top.

Yesterday, the department submitted to Congress and publicly released the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, or INCSR. The INCSR is the Department of State’s annual country-by-country report that describes the efforts of governments to address all aspects of illicit global drug trade and associated money laundering.

The illicit drug trade remains one of the most pernicious threats to U.S. public health and security, as well as to international stability. The United States has a critical national interest in keeping dangerous illegal drugs from reaching our citizens, and the INCSR highlights the importance of working with the source and transit countries to reduce supplies of these drugs. Continuing global efforts to reduce drug demand remains the most effective and cost-efficient means to achieve this goal.

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on drug control and drug treatment efforts around the world. The pandemic contributed to the lethal effects of drug use and also hampered counter-drug efforts as governments diverted resources to other public health needs. Law enforcement responders were among the hardest hit, with lives tragically lost due to the virus.

The United States recognizes that political will is the most important determinant of success in a global fight to achieve a reduction in drug production, and we will remain committed to working with likeminded governments to reduce illicit drug flows and drug use.

Moving over to Yemen now. Based on the recent complex Ansarallah attacks, including those on Saudi Arabia this past weekend and even again last night, the United States is imposing sanctions on two senior Ansarallah militant leaders, Mansur al-Sa’adi and Ahmad Ali Ahsan al-Hamzi.

These are in addition to the three Ansarallah leaders that remained sanctioned when the group’s designations were revoked last month.

As the Secretary has said, we will continue to closely monitor the activities of Ansarallah and its leaders, and we are actively identifying additional measures to promote accountability for the perpetuation of violence in Yemen.

And finally, on Russia. Today, the Department of State joined Treasury and Commerce in a coordinated, whole-of-government action against Russian Government entities and Russian officials for attempting to assassinate opposition figure Aleksey Navalny with a chemical weapon in Russia in August of 2020 and for his subsequent arrest and imprisonment.

The heinous poisoning of Mr. Navalny preceded his arrest and imprisonment on politically motivated grounds. It is clear that Russian officials targeted Mr. Navalny for his activism and his efforts to reveal uncomfortable truths about Russian officials’ corruption and to give voice to Russian citizens’ legitimate grievances with their government and its policies.

We are exercising our authorities to send a clear signal that Russia’s use of chemical weapons and human rights abuses have severe consequences. Any use of chemical weapons, anywhere, at any time, by anyone, under any circumstance is unacceptable and it contravenes international norms.

We also welcome the action taken by the EU earlier today to impose costs on Russia under its own new global human rights authorities.

These actions today demonstrate that there will be accountability for the use of chemical weapons and actions that violate international norms and abuse human rights.

The United States calls upon Russia to comply with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and to declare and destroy its chemical weapons program under international verification.

We reiterate our call for the Russian Government to immediately and to unconditionally release Mr. Navalny.

With that, Matt, happy to turn over to you.

QUESTION: Great. Thanks. Before I get to questions, I just wanted to make a very brief kind of opening little thing. And it’s just to say that it has not gone unnoticed by the people who cover this building and the people in this room, people in Washington, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, people out around the world that you have gotten up here every day, four days a week at least, one day on the phone, to try to explain, or defend if needed, administration policy. And I just want to make the point that it’s appreciated. Whether you’re successful in what your goal is or not, it is – it’s a welcome change. And I just want to make that clear —

MR PRICE: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, everyone. We’ll see you tomorrow. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: — for the record. Right. Now, on to the questions. So why is this administration’s foreign policy so far an abject and epic colossal failure? No, that’s not my question. (Laughter.)

My – I know that people want to talk about Russia, but I want to just start with Yemen. Isn’t – so I’ve been after you on this very subject of Yemen and the leaders of the – the Houthi leadership for more than two weeks now. And you continue to say that you left the three Ansarallah leaders on the sanctions list, but yet you removed them from the terrorism sanctions list. So now that you – and you said that you tried to make that same point again today by saying that you left them – you had left them on the other list.

But doesn’t the designation of these two additional people today suggest that you’re at least having second thoughts, or you think that it may have been a mistake to remove the three other ones from the terrorism list in the first place? Because the situation has gotten worse, not better, and so if it was intended as an overture to try to get them to moderate their behavior, it hasn’t worked.

MR PRICE: Matt, I would take the two additional designations today as a sign that we will continue to hold Houthi leaders, Ansarallah leaders, to account for their reprehensible conduct, including their continued attacks against Saudi Arabia. I’ve said this previously. You referenced this. But the three Houthi leaders you referenced have been and they still are subject to U.S. and UN sanctions. Any property they have subject to U.S. jurisdiction is blocked. That was the case before; it remains the case now. U.S. persons cannot do business with them. That was the case before; that remains the case now.

The practical implications for the three Houthi leaders you mentioned, the three – not including the two we added today, but today with the two, now five – they – the implications for them are similar whether they’re designated under our authorities related to Yemen, which we used in the case today of these additional two, or our authorities related to terrorism.

I think the point is that we are not focused on a label. We are focused on taking steps to end the conflict in Yemen through a political track, and importantly, this gets back to the revocation of the broad designation to alleviate the suffering of the people of Yemen, to alleviate the humanitarian suffering that has afflicted this country for so many years now. I’ve cited this stat before, but it’s so important: eighty percent of Yemen’s civilian population lives under Houthi control. When Ansarallah was subject to a broad designation, it was the 80 percent of Yemenis – of Yemen’s people that suffered as a result.

We want and we will continue to hold Ansarallah’s leadership to account. We did that today with two additional leaders – Ansarallah leaders who are now subject to sanctions under our Yemen authorities. We, at the same time, do not and will not do anything that adds to the humanitarian suffering of the Yemeni people. We can do two things at once. We can hold Ansarallah’s leaders to account while not adding to the humanitarian suffering of the people of Yemen.

QUESTION: So is there a metric by which you can demonstrate that the removal of the Houthis broadly from the FTO list and for the three leaders from the terrorism list – not from the other list – but is there a metric by which you can show to us that – demonstrate to us that the humanitarian situation in Yemen has improved since the administration’s decision?

MR PRICE: Well, Matt, we are —

QUESTION: Or has it, in fact, gotten worse, which is a lot – what a lot of people think, including the UN?

MR PRICE: I’m not confident, and in fact, I’m quite certain we can’t measure humanitarian impact over the course of hours or days. It’s been just —

QUESTION: Well, it’s for a couple weeks now.

MR PRICE: It’s been just a couple weeks now since that broad designation was lifted. I think we’re going to be looking —

QUESTION: Well, can you point to anything, then, to suggest that it’s not worse?

MR PRICE: We’re going to be looking at trends – we’re going to be looking at trends over time. Obviously, there was an important funding conference yesterday. The United States pledged nearly $200 million. We’ve encouraged the rest of the world, including our partners in the region, to raise their ambition when it comes to the humanitarian suffering of the Yemeni people.

I think the other metric, if you will, that we’re looking at is measured in our efforts to promote a political solution to this horrific conflict in Yemen. And we look at that in terms of what Tim Lenderking, the special envoy, is doing in the region. He is now on his second trip there in just a few short weeks of having held that position, working closely with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, working closely with governments in the region, to try and bring a sustainable, durable end to this conflict in Yemen. Again, that’s not something we can measure in hours. It’s probably not something we can measure in days. But it is something we are prioritizing at every level to achieve progress on going forward.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you measure it in any aspect at all, whether it’s gotten better or worse in the two weeks that you guys are – two and a half weeks? Because I get it, yeah, you appointed someone. He’s a good guy; he’s an accomplished diplomat; he’s been there – he’s now been there twice. But that’s just a lot of talk. And a donor conference – well, that’s great. But you know what, a bunch of people speaking virtually from air-conditioned rooms in Washington and Berlin and London – I mean, it goes back to, like, the Syria political talks. A bunch of people hanging out in Swiss hotels, yakking away, doesn’t affect the situation on the ground necessarily.

MR PRICE: Matt, I —

QUESTION: So what can you – just what, if anything, can you point to to suggest that since you’ve lifted the FTO designation and the other designations, it has gotten better for the people in Yemen who are suffering so horribly?

MR PRICE: Matt, we lifted that broad designation in the first instance so as not to add to the humanitarian suffering of the people of Yemen. I don’t disagree with you in one respect. No one is satisfied with where we are in Yemen. No one is satisfied with the status quo. That is precisely why as one of his first acts in the foreign policy realm President Biden appointed Tim Lenderking to a position that had not existed before, to a position as special envoy for the conflict in Yemen. That is precisely why Tim Lenderking, in his few weeks on the job, has already been in the region twice. It is precisely why he has met on multiple occasions with the UN special envoy.

QUESTION: Okay, but (inaudible) greatest —

MR PRICE: And why he has continued to meet with regional partners. This progress, we are doing everything we can. And there is a lot we can do, number one, to reverse some of the measures, including the revocation that we’ve talked about that added to the suffering of the Yemeni people, just as then – we then go about the business of prioritizing a political solution to this conflict. That is what Mr. Lenderking is doing, that is what the President has prioritized, that is what Secretary Blinken has prioritized, and that’s something where we will measure progress not in minutes, not in days, but going forward it’s something where we expect we will be able to find progress because we’re investing in it quite heavily.

QUESTION: I’m sure Tim appreciates all the confidence that you have in him, but his appointment is not like some grand, big – I mean, it’s one guy, and I get that he’s doing a good job, he’s a good diplomat, he’s – knows what he’s doing. But the appointment of one guy is not – it’s not a game-changer. And you seem to be saying that it is. So anyway, I’ll stop.

MR PRICE: Please.

QUESTION: And on this, on Tim Lenderking. Has he met with or spoken with any Houthi representative while in the region? Does he plan to? Is that something —

MR PRICE: So —

QUESTION: — we should expect to happen soon?

MR PRICE: Sorry, is it something —

QUESTION: Is that something we should expect to happen soon?

MR PRICE: Well, we certainly have ways to get messages to the Houthis if we need to. There is no doubt in their minds about where the United States stands when it comes to their conduct, when it comes to our expectations of Houthi leadership. They saw that again today with the two designations we announced. Tim Lenderking, he is traveling throughout the region again. This is his second trip. He’s met with the UN special envoy, he’s met with regional partners there, and he will continue to do so in the conduct of that diplomacy that we think is necessary to help bring about a political solution to this conflict in Yemen.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Voice of America, Russian service. And I will join colleague in gratitude. Your work is outstanding.

MR PRICE: Thank you, I appreciate that.

QUESTION: Really.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) I didn’t say (inaudible).

MR PRICE: (Laughter.) Let the record show that Matt Lee also said we were outstanding.

QUESTION: No, I did not say that.

MR PRICE: But before – are you going to ask about Yemen, or any – something else?

QUESTION: No, no, no. I —

MR PRICE: Or was that your only statement? Which I’m fine with, too.

QUESTION: No, no, no, no, no. My questions, of course, were about Russia.

MR PRICE: Russia. Is anyone want to ask about Yemen, or related topics? Yes.

QUESTION: Just quickly, what message do you think that the sanctions today sent to Iran? Because I believe Iran was mentioned in some of the documents, and that – the ties to the Yemen figures. And how does that conflict with Yemen and Saudi Arabia affect what you’re trying to do with Iran?

MR PRICE: Well, look, what we said today in that statement is that it is undeniable that Iran has fanned the flames of conflict in Yemen. Iran has exacerbated tensions. Iran has added to the already combustible situation that has been ongoing in Yemen for some time, threatening even greater escalation, miscalculation, regional stability. Ansarallah, of course, relies on Iran for weapons, for other forms of support. And so when we have talked about our approach to Iran, we have talked about the proposition that is on the table and has been on the table for quite some time when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program.

We’ve also talked about that as a necessary, but not sufficient element. Because what the – first candidate Biden – now President Biden – has propositioned is this so-called “compliance for compliance” prospect, the idea that Iran returns to compliance with the JCPOA, the United States will – would do the same. We would then lengthen and strengthen the – that nuclear agreement, but then use it, importantly here, as a platform to negotiate follow-on agreements that cover other areas of malign activity.

And we’ve talked about Iran’s ballistic missile program, but clearly when it comes to Iran’s malign activity, we have to talk about Iran’s dangerous adventurism in the region. That is certainly an area that we would seek to address. It’s certainly something that we will address going forward, because it does add to the combustible situation that we find ourselves with in Yemen.

We’ll move to Navalny unless —

QUESTION: May I?

MR PRICE: Yes, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. So we see that Washington joined Europe in sanctioning Russia, but in difference with Europe, European Union sanctioned only people in uniform like special services, interior ministers, so on. You sanctioned – I mean, U.S. leadership sanctioned two guys directly from the Kremlin, from political leadership, Sergei Kiriyenko and Andrei Yarin. Does it mean that Washington believes that political leadership, Kremlin, was in control of Navalny’s fate – that it was not, like, excessive behavior of some, again, people in uniform? It’s – yeah.

And short second question: It was, like, pronounced that you did – that sanctions were adopted in coordination with Europe. What do you expect in return, like, to be on the same page on Nord Stream 2? Do you have any progress with Europe on Nord Stream 2 at all? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Sure. So let me take your first question first. Of course, we have worked closely with our European partners on the challenge of Russia since day one of this administration. Secretary Blinken, President Biden have had the opportunity to speak on a bilateral basis with a number of their counterparts in Europe. Secretary Blinken, for his part, has attended – virtually, of course – three meetings of the E3+1 that included him. He attended a meeting with the Foreign Affairs Council, the EU FAC, last Monday, I believe it was. In just about every one of these engagements, the issue of Russia has come up. The issue of Mr. Navalny has been a constant topic of discussion bilaterally and in multilateral fora between the United States and our European partners.

That – having said all that, the United States and the EU and the UK, we have different authorities. And so the sanctions that we announced today, the designations that we rolled out today, they certainly complement, even if they may not be entirely identical to what you have seen from the EU and from the UK in recent months. But together they send an unambiguous signal: that the United States is working closely with our closest allies and partners in Europe to make clear that this kind of behavior is not acceptable. We will not countenance it, we will not tolerate it, and there will be penalties going forward.

Now, in terms of our sanctions today, we released a five-page fact sheet from here that go through the various entities that were sanctioned. The Russian Federal Security Service, the FSB, was among those entities, including for the attempted assassination of Mr. Navalny. So I think that speaks to the other element of your question.

Remind me of your second question now.

QUESTION: No, my – actually – question was: Do you believe the political leadership is directly involved? Because we know and European Union decided as well the secret service is involved. Do you think the Kremlin is involved?

MR PRICE: Well, today we – among those entities we sanctioned was the Russian Federal Security Service, the FSB, and so I think that speaks to where we believe culpability lies. But I would need to refer you to the Intelligence Community for a broader assessment of that specific culpability.

QUESTION: Second question was about do you expect something from Europe in return to – for this cooperation, on, let’s say, Nord Stream 2.

MR PRICE: So I’ve spoken to our coordination and our correspondence and communication with Europe in a different context. Of course, we have had an opportunity to speak to our European allies and our European partners about the Nord Stream 2 project, specifically our profound concerns with Nord Stream 2. President Biden even before he assumed this high office made very clear his position that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal. It is an example of Russia’s aggressive actions in the region, provides a means for Russia to potentially use a critical natural resource for political pressure and malign influence in the region. We will continue to work with our allies and partners, including Germany, Ukraine, other European countries to counter Russian efforts to undermine our collective security. So we have made very clear to our European partners across the continent where we stand when it comes to Nord Stream 2 and that hasn’t changed.

Simon.

QUESTION: Staying on Russia, the seven officials that you sanctioned today, do you have any reason to believe that they have assets under U.S. jurisdiction? And whether that’s the case or not, what makes you believe that Russia is going to change its behavior because of these latest sanctions? The EU had already delivered sanctions in October, and that’s even before he was arrested, so why do you think that this is going to trigger a behavior change that hasn’t happened already?

MR PRICE: Well, we announce these actions today to make clear that with the poisoning, the attempted assassination of Mr. Navalny with his continued imprisonment that is politically motivated with the, in some cases, brutal treatment of his supporters who took to the streets to exercise the very rights that are granted to them under Russia’s own constitution, that is not something that the United States will abide, it is not something that our European partners and allies will abide.

As you mentioned, there were sanctions both on – from both sides of the Atlantic today. Our sanctions were significant. Europe’s actions were significant. Taken together, this is a sizable penalty for Russia. It is a sizable penalty to which Russia was not subject prior to today. With these actions, the United States in many ways caught up to where Europe had been, because, as you said, Europe announced measures last October. With our measures today, we are bringing our actions very closely in line with what our European partners had already spoken to.

So when the United States and Europe act in conjunction with one another, when we both take steps to impose these costs, those costs will be noticed in Moscow. And it will also be noticed that the international community is standing up to underscore a norm that chemical weapons cannot ever be used anytime, anyplace, and by anyone. That is a clear signal that we sought to send today with our closest allies and partners.

QUESTION: So what about on the issue of assets, though? Did you have a —

MR PRICE: I would need to refer you to Treasury if there are specific assets.

More on Russia?

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, just following up on —

MR PRICE: I’ll come right to you.

QUESTION: — on Nord Stream. You’ve mentioned several times from the podium that you want to work with allies and partners to stop Russia from building the pipeline. Of course, Germany is a partner of Russia’s in building that pipeline and disagrees with your efforts to stop that pipeline from being built.

So the first question is: How do you square your desire to work with allies and partners when the key ally – in this case, Germany – fundamentally disagrees with you on whether that pipeline should go ahead?

And second, would the U.S. be prepared to sanction German entities such as Nord Stream 2, the company which is undeniably actually building the pipeline? Thanks.

MR PRICE: What we have said, and we have made very clear to partners all across Europe, whether those are – whether that’s Ukraine, whether it’s Poland, whether it’s others, whether it’s Germany, that the United States has profound concerns with this pipeline. It is a bad deal. It is not only in the interest of the United States; it also runs contrary to Europe’s own stated energy goals.

Now, we have engaged in good faith with our German partners. We continue to discuss this with them to make clear where the United States stands. We announced we submitted a report to Congress just a few days ago with additional action against KVT-RUS, an entity which we had identified as taking part in sanctionable activity.

We are continuing to evaluate the entities involved in this Nord Stream 2 project. I believe it is that we owe a report to Congress every 90 days. The next report will be due to Congress in May, I believe it is. And so in between now and May, if we have additional information that meets the threshold for enacting sanctions, I expect we will be informing Congress of that.

QUESTION: But just a quick follow-up: Would the U.S. be prepared to sanction German entities like Nord Stream 2? I mean, its involvement in this pipeline is, on its face, pretty obvious.

MR PRICE: We are prepared to uphold our legal and policy commitments. I wouldn’t want to get ahead of that.

QUESTION: Yes –.

MR PRICE: Sorry, I promised I’d come back to you. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: This is a question for a co-worker who are not able to be here on Russia. So there were – there are eight names that were not sanctioned today by the U.S. but who were requested by Navalny’s team in January. Is there a reason why?

MR PRICE: Well, U.S. sanctions – we have a certain threshold. We have certain requirements that we must meet in order to sanction a particular individual or entity. So, in the first instance, we have to satisfy our own criteria when it comes to enacting sanctions.

We took a close look at the available information, the available evidence drawing on public sources, drawing on sources that are unique to the United States Government. And the target set that we sanctioned today, those are the targets that are consistent with our obligations under the various laws and executive orders to enact sanctions.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can I ask —

QUESTION: Would you say – would you say that that information that you used to do that is equivalent or roughly the same as the same intelligence information that linked Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?

MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to characterize an intelligence assessment from here.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Just following on those two questions and the question about the deterrence effect of today’s sanctions, is it then – the fact that those – the names of oligarchs that Navalny’s foundation had identified as saying would really have the only true way to effectuate change from the regime in Russia – does this mean that going forward then that those names would be – that the U.S. has made a determination that those names aren’t necessarily subject to American sanctions?

MR PRICE: What we announced today was a discrete set of actions. I certainly don’t expect that what we announced today was the totality of our efforts to hold Russia to account going forward for its human rights abuses. As I was mentioning before, we have certain thresholds and criteria we have to satisfy under executive orders, under law, in order to enact sanctions. If we determine that it is in our interest to pursue designations against additional targets for human rights violations, whether it’s in the case of Mr. Navalny, whether it’s in the case of Russia’s broader conduct, we’ll have to meet those thresholds. And if we do and if it’s our interest – in our interest, I expect you’ll be hearing more about potential policy responses to that.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Iran, what is your next step on Iran? Will you be waiting for them to come to the table? You will – you’ll put more pressure on them, sanctions – what’s next?

MR PRICE: Well, I think as I said yesterday, when it comes to Iran, we remain willing to re-engage in meaningful diplomacy to help bring about a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA commitments. We plan to be in close contact with our P5+1 counterparts, certainly our European partners that entail the P5+1. We have made our position quite clear now for some time. We are prepared to meet with Iran to address the way forward on a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. We also know that a mutual return to compliance can’t happen without all sides engaging in constructive diplomacy.

For our part, that constructive diplomacy will be carefully coordinated with our European partners and allies. It’ll be principled; it will be clear-eyed. And it will be in pursuit of one aim, and that is to ensure and to see to it that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon and to apply verifiable limits to Iran’s nuclear program.

QUESTION: Will there be any meeting with the Europeans or other partners to discuss this or —

MR PRICE: Well, we’re going to coordinate closely with the P3 – and with the P5+1 more broadly on the way forward. As we’ve said – and we spent the first several weeks of the administration doing just this, consulting closely with allies, with partners, with members of Congress. All three of those are very important to us. We’re not going to do anything without that close coordination with all three of those elements. If it’s in our determination that there is a better way forward to engage in that dialogue with Iran together with our partners and allies, as I said yesterday, we’re not dogmatic about the format. What we are dogmatic about is our ultimate objective, and that is to ensure that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon.

Michael.

QUESTION: Ned, do you agree with the Iranian position that Iran was in compliance with the agreement when the Trump administration – when President Trump left the agreement? And if so, then what is your response to the Iranian position that the U.S. should undo that Trump action and then move forward from there.

MR PRICE: My response is precisely what I just said. The United States has put a path forward really in two meaningful ways: one strategic and one tactical. The strategic way is what we have referred to, is compliance for compliance. If Iran resumes full compliance with the JCPOA, we will be prepared to do the same. We will meet our commitments under the JCPOA. The tactical proposition we put forward is precisely what we said – what, a couple weeks ago now – that if the EU were to broker a meeting, we would be willing to attend together with our European partners and allies. Again, we think that resumption of compliance – compliance for compliance – can’t happen without all sides discussing those details. That’s what we put on the table. That’s what we remain ready to engage in.

QUESTION: And any movement on the South Korean Iranian assets? Any further conversations or anything to report on whether they might be unfrozen?

MR PRICE: I would put that in the context of things we would want to discuss in the context of perspective talks with the Iranians. Again, we’re not dogmatic about the format. We are dogmatic about other elements, including our overriding objective in this.

QUESTION: One more on Iran.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Israel has blamed Iran for the attack on its ship in the Gulf. Do you have anything on this?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, with its —

QUESTION: The ship.

MR PRICE: Oh, the ship in the Gulf. So yes, certainly we’re calling for an investigation into that. I would need to refer you to Israeli authorities though for their assessment. I just don’t have anything to add from here.

QUESTION: Can we move on to Haiti?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Given the current political instability in Haiti, would the State Department recommend the Biden administration to continue giving TPS, temporary protected status, to Haitians who have been seeking refuge in the U.S. since the 2010 earthquake? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Well, by law, TPS designations are made by the Department of Homeland Security after consultation with the appropriate agencies. So we wouldn’t want to comment on any sort of internal deliberations when it comes to TPS.

QUESTION: Can you comment on the political instability there currently? Do you think there will be more asylum seekers?

MR PRICE: Well, on – with the situation broadly, what I would say is that it is the responsibility of Haiti’s government to organize elections in 2021 that are free, that are fair, that are credible. We join the international community in calling Haitian stakeholders to come together to find a way forward. What we have said is that the Haitian people deserve the opportunity to elect their leaders and to restore Haiti’s democratic institutions. If we have more on TPS, we’ll be certain to let you know. Anything else?

Francesco.

QUESTION: Ethiopia?

MR PRICE: Ethiopia.

QUESTION: Yeah. So we saw the readout of the Secretary’s call with the prime minister. Can you confirm that the U.S. Government has reached its own assessment that there is a campaign of ethnic cleansing ongoing in Tigray, and did the Secretary raise this with the prime minister? And also, did he raise the detention of several – at least four journalists and translators working for several medias, including BBC or Financial Times?

QUESTION: Well, we issued a rather lengthy readout of the Secretary’s call this morning. What I would say is that we are gravely concerned by reported atrocities and the overall deteriorating situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. We strongly condemn the killings, the forced removals and displacement, the sexual assaults, and other human rights violations and abuses by several parties and multiple – that multiple organizations now have reported in Tigray. When it comes to the detention of the journalists that you mentioned, we’re following those reports closely. We’ve been in touch with the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority and other Ethiopian Government officials to express our concern and to seek an explanation. These actions appear inconsistent with the Ethiopian Government’s commitment to permit international media access to Tigray.

QUESTION: Burma?

QUESTION: But you wouldn’t characterize it as a ethnic cleansing campaign?

MR PRICE: Look, if we – I have said we’re gravely concerned by it. If we have more to add, I will let you know. I heard Burma. Let’s be sure to cover that before we close.

QUESTION: Sure. The situation with the ambassador to the United Nations – granted he presents his credentials to the secretary-general, not to the U.S. Government per se – but it’s been reported that he is insisting that he is the representative of Burma or Myanmar at the United Nations, not the deputy at the mission, and that apparently he has sent a letter to the Secretary of State indicating that he’s standing firm, that he is not going along with the junta in Naypyitaw. What is the building’s understanding of the situation in Burma? What is the understanding about the situation with its diplomats in this country? Is the U.S. prepared to provide refuge to any of these people if they may be running afoul of the junta?

MR PRICE: Well, Secretary Blinken, UN Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, others in the United States Government last week – last Friday I believe it was – commended the courageous statement made by Permanent Representative Kyaw Moe Tun. We collectively have commended the bravery shown by the permanent representative during her own remarks at the General Assembly moments later.

When it comes to Kyaw Moe Tun, we understand the permanent representative remains in his position. Again, I think generally we continue to stand with the people of Burma. We continue to work with the international community, especially our likeminded allies and partners around the world, to signal very clearly, both in word and in deed – and we’ve talked about deeds in recent days – that we will stand by the people of Burma. We will continue to oppose the military coup and we will continue to support the restoration of Burma’s democratically elected civilian government going forward.

QUESTION: Has this building had any direct contact with Burmese or Myanmar officials, with their ambassador, for example, to express your deep concern about the political situation in that country?

MR PRICE: So as diplomats, individuals in this building speak with a wide range of people and their representatives wherever they are in the world. In Burma in particular, it’s important that we speak with all of those who seek to restore democracy in the country, including those whom the people of Burma democratically elected to serve as their representative – representatives. I’ll take one final question here.

QUESTION: Syria? Thank you. A couple of days ago, a New York Times article highlighted that the only country in Idlib protecting civilians from being slaughtered by Assad regime and Russian – its Russian and Iranian backers – is Turkey. So – and by the way, I remember your statement yesterday about Turkish soldiers martyred in Idlib last year, so thank you. So considering the civilians over there, is there a chance that the Biden administration might be working with Turkey when it comes to Idlib? Thank you.

MR PRICE: When it comes to Idlib?

QUESTION: Idlib, yes.

QUESTION: Look, what we have said is that we certainly have common interests with our Turkish partners. You mentioned the statement that we put out last night about the anniversary of the horrific loss of Turkish personnel. We have shared interest with Turkey, specifically on – when it comes to Syria. We will continue to work with Turkey and to work constructively with Turkey to achieve our common interests when it comes to Syria going forward. Thank you very much, everyone, and we’ll see you tomorrow.

QUESTION: Wait, Ned, just really quickly, can you take this if you don’t – and I don’t know if you’ll have an answer. Are you aware of this letter, reported letter that was written, a joint letter from Fatah and Hamas to NEA, to Hady Amr about – are you aware of this, one? Have you seen it, two? And do you have any response to it?

MR PRICE: We – I’m aware of the reports. I don’t have anything for you today, though. Thank you very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:27 p.m.)

 

 

Elections in El Salvador

3 Mar

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

The United States congratulates the people of El Salvador on holding successful legislative, municipal, and PARLACEN elections. We applaud the broad participation of Salvadorans in the elections despite the many challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. These results represent the voices of the Salvadoran people. We urge all parties to work together to resolve any remaining concerns about this election peacefully.

We value the strong relationship between El Salvador and the United States and look forward to continuing to work with Salvadoran officials to promote a safe and prosperous El Salvador where all Salvadorans can thrive. Social, economic, and political stability require the strengthening of El Salvador’s democratic institutions, and its political leaders must commit to eliminating corruption, respecting the separation of powers, increasing transparency, and respecting human rights, including freedom of expression.

12th Annual HBCU Foreign Policy Conference

3 Mar

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

The Department of State was delighted to host the 12th Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Foreign Policy Conference last week. Department leaders discussed U.S. foreign policy priorities with students from HBCUs, while also sharing information about the Department’s educational programs and career options. In his welcoming remarks, Secretary Blinken emphasized the importance of diversity and inclusion at the State Department, describing it as an institution that values the contributions of people of all backgrounds, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or national origin. As the Secretary said, “Diversity makes any organization stronger – and for the State Department, it’s mission-critical. We are representing the United States, and we need a workforce that reflects the diverse country we are.”

The Biden-Harris Administration  has made clear that diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility are top priorities, and it is committed to ensuring our institutions and our workforce reflect the full strength and diversity of our country.

Department Press Briefing – March 1, 2021

2 Mar

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:47 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: I’m sorry on two fronts: one, that we’re starting a couple minutes late, and two, it is obviously very warm in here. I’m – been told we’ll have this fixed tomorrow. But let’s get started.

On Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence published an unclassified report on the gruesome killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

Today, as President Biden mentioned, I’d like to place this step in the context of a larger effort to recalibrate the terms of our relationship with Saudi Arabia.

From the start, this administration sent a frank message to Saudi leaders. We seek a partnership that reflects our important work together and our shared interests and priorities, but also one conducted with greater transparency, responsibility, and accord with America’s values. In re-establishing U.S. expectations for our relationship with Saudi Arabia, our intent is to make this partnership – which already spans some 80 years – even more sustainable going forward.

That starts with Yemen. President Biden used his first major foreign policy address right here at the State Department to reorient U.S. policy around ending the war in Yemen and addressing the humanitarian crisis in that country. He announced the end of U.S. support for offensive operations, including relevant arms sales, and the administration immediately halted two arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

President Biden not simply change our policy to cut off U.S. support for offensive military operations, he doubled and redoubled American diplomacy to end the war itself. The administration named a special envoy for Yemen, a well-respected senior diplomat, a Foreign Service officer, Tim Lenderking, who is traveling in the Gulf right now, his second in the region since assuming that position. And he’s working closely with the UN to bring the parties together to bring this conflict to an end. We have been encouraged by the cooperation we’ve received to date from Saudi Arabia and believe we initiated a process that is gaining momentum to achieve a negotiated settlement to the conflict and to bring peace to the Yemeni people.

On the humanitarian front, earlier today Secretary Blinken participated in a high-level pledging conference for Yemen where he announced nearly $191 million in additional U.S. humanitarian assistance, bringing total U.S. aid to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people as well as refugees and other forcibly displaced persons in Yemen to more than 3.4 billion since this crisis began some six years ago. Our assistance reaches all corners of Yemen. We also have been working to ensure generous contributions to the humanitarian relief effort by other donors, including, importantly, governments in the region. But the political track must support these humanitarian efforts.

We also continue our efforts to help Saudi Arabia defend itself from external attacks against the kingdom. On Saturday night, with our support, Saudi Arabia successfully intercepted several UAVs and a ballistic missile with which the Houthis tried to attack innocent civilians in Riyadh and other locations in the kingdom. Based on these complex Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, we are considering taking additional steps to promote accountability for the Houthi leadership. We call on the Houthis to cease not only their cross-border raids into Saudi Arabia, but also their military offensive in Marib, agree to a ceasefire, and to come to the negotiating table. To make progress towards peace, Houthi conduct will have to change, too.

Now, on human rights, we have made clear to Saudi leaders that we see value in sustaining our partnership, but actions like jailing women’s rights activists and Americans and holding them for months or even years without charges – those undermine our ties. It undermines our cooperation. We have been encouraged in recent weeks to see Saudi Arabia release several U.S. citizens and human rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul from custody. But we are urging Saudi Arabia to take additional steps to lift travel bans on those released, to commute sentences, and resolve cases such as those women rights activists and others.

We also want to make clear that our leadership would not ignore or minimize egregious misconduct. That takes us back to the beginning. On Friday, our Office of the Director of National Intelligence released an unclassified assessment of the responsibility for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Going forward, our aim is to take steps to ensure a crime like this can never happen again.

To that end, the State Department will further enhance documentation in its annual Human Rights Report of incidents where countries extraterritorially harass or target dissidents, activists, or journalists.

We added another former senior Saudi intelligence official, Ahmad al-Asiri, to the list of those designated under Global Magnitsky sanctions for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

The department announced a new visa policy that empowers the Secretary of State to suspend entry into this country by any individual believed to be actively engaged in extraterritorial abuse of dissidents or journalists on behalf of a foreign government. We call this visa restrictions policy under Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the INA, the Khashoggi Ban. As an initial step under this new global authority, we’ve taken action to impose visa restrictions on 76 Saudi individuals involved in the Khashoggi killing or in other acts of territorial repression. It is our intention to prevent them and their immediate family members from ever setting foot on American soil again.

We are aware of a network known as the Rapid Intervention Force, a unit of the Saudi royal guard,that has engaged in counter-dissident operations, including the operation that resulted in the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Others, like Saud al-Qahtani and Ahmad al-Asiri, led the planning of the operation against Khashoggi. We have sanctioned the group and these individuals under the Global Magnitsky sanctions that are working – and we are working to share information about this group’s practices with other governments as well.

We are committed to applying the Khashoggi Ban and other tools as deemed appropriate. We have urged Saudi Arabia to disband this group and then adopt institutional, systemic reforms and controls to ensure that anti-dissident activities and operations cease and cease completely. We have made crystal clear and will continue to do so that the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi 28 months ago remains unacceptable conduct.

At the same time, our relationship with Saudi Arabia is important. It’s important to U.S. interests and it requires continued progress and reforms to ensure that this important partnership rests on strong fundamentals and continues to advance our shared objectives in the Middle East. We seek to accomplish a great deal with the Saudis: to end the war in Yemen and ease Yemen’s humanitarian crisis; to use our leadership to forge ties across the region’s most bitter divide, whether that’s finding the way back from the brink of war with Iran into a meaningful regional dialogue or forging a historic peace with Israel; to help young Saudis open their society to connect to the world, to seize their full potential, and to build ties with Americans. But we can only address these many important challenges in a partnership with Saudi Arabia that respects America’s values.

Looking ahead, Saudi actions will determine how much of this ambitious shared positive agenda we can achieve. We are working to put the Saudi relationship on the right footing, to move the region toward greater peace and prosperity while also addressing those very grave concerns that the President and our team share with Congress and many Americans. In all that we do, U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia will be guided by and founded on America’s foundational values. That is what you saw last week and that is what you will see going forward.

So with that, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. Wow. Well, there was a lot there, and I’ve got a lot to ask, but I’ll start with just on Saudi. You do acknowledge, though, that the fact that you did not impose any specific sanctions on the crown prince on Friday or today has raised some concerns among people. You accept that, yes?

MR PRICE: I’ve heard reactions since Friday.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) not asking – okay. So, over the weekend – I guess yesterday, specifically – your White House colleague said that the reason or one of the reasons is that you traditionally – historically – don’t impose sanctions on the leadership of countries with which you have diplomatic relations. Is that also your take on this?

MR PRICE: I stand by what my colleague said.

QUESTION: Okay. Because – and the reason I ask is that’s just simply not true. I can give you a number of examples. I’ve written down – Nicaragua, Zimbabwe, Belarus, Myanmar. Even yesterday the National Security Advisor threatened new sanctions on Myanmar’s leadership. We can go to Sudan. All of these are countries with which the United States has had – has diplomatic relations. We can look at Syria and Venezuela, places where the U.S. has suspended operations at its embassy but has not severed diplomatic ties. All of those countries, the leaders have had sanctions imposed on them. So I don’t understand how this is an argument.

MR PRICE: Matt, what is also true is that there are countries around the world – and I need not name them; I’m sure they are familiar to you – with whom we have profound disagreements. These countries in many cases are competitors; in some cases, some of our staunchest competitors. In some cases, they are adversaries. And in most of those cases, we do not have sanctions on their leadership.

I think what I would say to your question – and this gets back to what I was referring to at the top – we have talked about this, in terms of our partnership with Saudi Arabia, as a recalibration. It’s not a rupture. And I would contextualize that by making the point that it is undeniable that Saudi Arabia is a hugely influential country in the Arab world and beyond. What happens in Saudi Arabia will and has had profound implications well beyond Saudi Arabia’s borders. To be sure, the choices that Riyadh makes will have outsized implications for the region and outsized implications for countries in the region and countries beyond the region, including for the United States.

Our goal in all of this, Matt, is to be able to shape those choices going forward. That’s why we have talked about this not as a rupture, but a recalibration, to ensure that we retain that influence in what we need for our own interests to be a partnership.

QUESTION: Okay, I get that. But it’s not correct that the United States has historically not imposed sanctions on countries or the leaders of countries, the leadership of countries —

MR PRICE: Matt, there are – there are limited exceptions to that, but they are exceptional because – precisely because they are exceptions.

QUESTION: No, no, no. One, two, three, four – I just named five, six countries plus two that you’ve closed down the embassies on and —

MR PRICE: Matt, there are other countries – and I need not name them; you know them – with whom we have adversarial relationships or competitive relationships —

QUESTION: North Korea, but you don’t have diplomatic relations with them. So I just – that argument – I’m trying to get you to say that you acknowledge that that argument is not correct.

MR PRICE: Matt, I would rather not argue about a rather picayune point. I would rather talk about —

QUESTION: Well, you might think that it’s picayune, but I don’t. And if you’re going to go out and say that this is historically an American foreign policy tradition, then it should be historically an American foreign policy tradition. It isn’t.

Anyway, moving on, just – and I’ll stop after this. In terms of the weapons, you’ve talked about the President’s announcement that you’re going to stop selling offensive weapons to Saudi for the Yemen campaign, but what about offensive weapons for Saudi to defend itself in the event that it is attacked? I guess you could – I guess there’s a fine-line distinction between offensive and defensive, but —

MR PRICE: Right.

QUESTION: Well, how are you going to deal with that?

MR PRICE: So we have made clear repeatedly – I just did in the topper; I did over the weekend on Sunday, I believe it was, in the aftermath of the latest attempted Houthi attack on Saudi Arabia – that we stand with Saudi Arabia in its efforts to defend itself. Our technology was important to the defense in the particular attack – attempted attack, I should say, this week. The broader point is that for any weapons sales or transfers, there is now a process in place, thanks to President Biden and his efforts to recalibrate this relationship from the start, that will evaluate, on a case-by-case basis, proposed weapons sales and transfers based on two criteria: our interests and our values. And that second point, that latter point, is incredibly important in this case.

The point we have been making from the start, and it’s a point I have made before from this podium, is that America, the United States, we will never check our values at the door even when it comes to our closest security relationships. It was actually President Biden himself who made precisely that point in October of last year on the second anniversary of the brutal murder – excuse me – of Jamal Khashoggi. You have seen that take place and come to fruition, including in the context of this very relationship we’re talking about. The NSC leads a process to evaluate proposed weapons transfers. That’s the way it should be. They’ll be evaluated based on those criteria on a case-by-case basis going forward.

Yes, Humeyra.

QUESTION: Following up on Khashoggi, so your White House colleague today said the United States reserves the right to sanction Saudi crown prince if necessary. I mean, what more needs to happen for the U.S. to consider sanctioning the crown prince, since the intel community has concluded that this is a person that approved the operation of a hit squad, taking along with themselves the bone saw that resulted in the horrific murder of Khashoggi. Are you guys giving them some time to fix behavior or something? What is the “if necessary?”

MR PRICE: Well, as I have said, we are very focused on future conduct, and that is part of why we have cast this not as a rupture but a recalibration. We are trying to get to the system – systemic issues underlying the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi. It’s precisely why the Department of the Treasury sanctioned Ahmad al-Asiri for his direct role in the Istanbul operation. It’s also why we designated this underlying group, the Rapid Intervention Force, as an entity under the Global Magnitsky Act. It’s precisely why we’ve added 76 individuals to the Khashoggi Ban, and it’s precisely why we announced that Khashoggi Ban in the first place. And that is a policy, that is a ban that applies not only to Saudi Arabia – of course, it was rolled out and its namesake is, of course, what we’re talking about now – but it is a policy that will apply across the board to all of those countries, including to Saudi Arabia, that would dare undertake extraterritorial harassment, persecution, even violence against dissidents.

Now, it is true that we talked about the 76 who were – that we made reference of in the context of the Khashoggi Ban on Friday. As we said at that time, we’re not in a position to detail the identity of those included in that list of 76, nor will we be able to preview those who may be added in the future.

But there will certainly be consequences. There has been consequences for the conduct we’ve saw. I enumerated those measures before. And there will – there was remedial action taken to get to those systemic challenges that we saw come to the fore in the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi more than two years ago now.

Yes.

QUESTION: Could you please respond specifically to the criticism of the UN human rights investigator Agnes Callamard? She said it was “extremely dangerous” for the U.S. to have named Mohammed bin Salman as having approved the operation and not to take action against it. She called it like going to court, being found guilty, and then escaping punishment.

And a second question on the same topic: What message does it send if the Biden administration does not sanction Mohammed bin Salman because it’s not in the national interest, but it keeps its maximum pressure campaign on the sanctions side of it with Iran without even easing any sanctions as a confidence-building measure before getting to talks? What message does that send? It seems uneven.

MR PRICE: Let me take your first question first. In her confirmation hearing, then-designate Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines made clear that the United States would follow the law. When it comes to this report – this is not a new report. This is a report that was completed by our Intelligence Community more than a year ago. That law has been on the books for quite some time. DNI Designate Haines made clear that this administration, which at the time was the incoming administration and now the present administration, would follow the law. And I believe she said in all instances we will follow the law, which, of course, is true.

But she also spoke of our commitment to transparency. So yes, we are fulfilling the legislative prerogative that has been on the books for some time now. We are complying with the law. But we are also complying with our respect for the principle of transparency. We think that transparency is important in this case not only because it is enshrined in law, but also because it is a foundational principle of the principle of informed citizenry. This was a brutal murder, and we are committed – committed to seeing to it that this report saw the light of day.

Now, I take it there was some criticism of this. I don’t think we’re going to apologize for being predisposed to transparency or to ceaselessly fulfilling our commitment to follow the law. That is precisely what we will do going forward: ensuring we remain committed to the principle of transparency consistent with national security, and, of course, to following the law.

Now, on the issue of Iran, look, these are apples and oranges. I would hesitate to even address these two issues in the same breath. But since you raised Iran, look, we have been very clear that the best place for the United States and the Iranians to discuss the diplomatic path forward, the path forward that President Biden spoke to even before he assumed high office, was in the context of talks with the P5+1 that the Europeans have brokered – have offered to broker.

Now, understand there have been developments in that regard. I’m happy to speak to that. We are not dogmatic about the form and the format of those talks. We believe that – we continue to believe that diplomacy is the most effective means to ensure that Iran is permanently and verifiably prevented from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon. But again, I think these things are apples and oranges. We have addressed our approach to Iran, we have addressed our approach to Saudi Arabia, and we stand by that.

Yes.

QUESTION: So Friday’s report included a list of the individuals the U.S. says is complicit with Khashoggi’s murder. But shortly after the publication, three names were removed, leading some to ask if the Biden administration was protecting some Saudi officials. What’s your response to that?

MR PRICE: No, this was a report that was put out by the director of – the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It was a report that was authored by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. This President has said – and I believe Avril Haines, the current DNI, said on Friday – that under this administration, politics and political influence and intelligence are completely separate. So I would have to refer you to the DNI to speak to the details of that report. I just don’t have anything for you from here.

Andrea.

QUESTION: When you are ready to switch to Navalny.

MR PRICE: Anything else on Saudi?

QUESTION: One more on Saudi.

QUESTION: Take two?

MR PRICE: Sure. Couple more, sure.

QUESTION: So one thing that you said just now is that the Biden administration has taken steps to ensure that a crime like this – obviously the murder of Khashoggi – will never happen again. But I just – I think what we’re all trying to get at still is why do you think that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will never back an action like this to murder a dissident if he himself isn’t facing any direct consequence?

MR PRICE: Again, we feel that we can have the most influence over this partnership when it is cast as a recalibration and not a rupture. Were there to be something more dramatic and something more drastic than what we have talked about, I think the influence that we would have over any foreign leader, be it Mohammed bin Salman or any other world leader in question, would be greatly diminished. That is why we have cast this the way we have.

But look, you can look at this in terms of what we have done since January of this year, and you can also look at it in terms of the steps, albeit incomplete, in the right direction that we’ve seen. So let me start with the former. When you talk about how our approach has set to – has set out to recalibrate this relationship, first, we released the report. That’s what we’ve been talking about since Friday. It is what has sparked the dialogue that we have had since then. Again, we complied with the law, but we also complied with our own commitment to transparency.

We have – second, we have ended America’s support for this brutal war in Yemen. We have not only ended our support for that – for those offensive weapons, but we have prioritized diplomacy and humanitarian assistance. On diplomacy, you saw the President himself appoint Tim Lenderking, a career Foreign Service officer. Tim Lenderking, who is now – is now on his second trip to the region in just a few weeks since taking that post.

And today, you heard Secretary Blinken pledge nearly $191 million in humanitarian assistance for the people of Yemen. We have worked with the region, and well beyond the region, in fact, to encourage the international community to raise its ambition knowing that Yemen is now home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe, and the international community has a special responsibility to the long-suffering people of Yemen, and that’s what we’re committed to.

Third, I’ve talked about our new approach to arms sales and to arms transfers putting this back into regular order, putting this back into a framework that preserves not only our interests but also our values through this NSC-led process.

Fourth, we haven’t been afraid to speak up on behalf of human rights, on behalf of the values we share with countries around the world. Whether that’s in the context of Saudi Arabia, whether that is in any other context, that constitutes this recalibration of the relationship that we’ve talked about.

Now, as I said, there have been some steps in recent months in the right direction. The release of Loujain al-Hathloul I mentioned before. Two American citizens – two other American citizens have been released in Saudi Arabia. These have obviously been goals of ours. And we certainly welcomed the release, and we will continue pressing for similar release of other – of others who are held.

Of course, Saudi Arabia has also ended the blockade against Qatar. All of these constitutes – constitute steps in the right direction – very incomplete. We will remain committed to seeing additional progress on these and other areas, but they are signs of progress nevertheless, yes.

QUESTION: Okay, one question just on travel.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Secretary Blinken said in his statement on Friday, “As a matter of safety for all within our borders, perpetrators targeting perceived dissidents on behalf of any foreign government should not be permitted to reach American soil.” Clearly MBS falls into that category based on the report that was declassified last week. So will MBS be given a waiver to visit the United States? Will he be able to come to the United States at all?

MR PRICE: So let me just repeat: As we have said, we are not in a position to detail the names of those who are subject to the Khashoggi Ban or other potential remedial measures, nor will we be able to preview those who may be added in the future. Having said that, I am certainly not aware of any plans for the crown prince to travel to the United States in the near term.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can I move on?

QUESTION: Do you regard MBS as – do you regard the crown prince as a head of government? Because that’s not his title. And while everyone assumes that he’s the de facto not only head of government but head of state, his title is deputy prime minister and defense minister. So do you —

MR PRICE: I – I don’t think you’re going to hear any arguing from me on that point. As my colleague at the White House has repeatedly said, we are moving this back into a framework of counterpart to counterpart. The counterpart of the President of the United States is King Salman.

QUESTION: No, no, I got – I get that. But that’s head of state to head of state, and so you have – you know the difference between the head of state and the head of government, right? So in a country like Saudi Arabia or in Great Britain, for example, the head of state is different than the head of government. So you don’t regard – well, in Saudi Arabia it is the same person, so —

MR PRICE: The counterpart of the President of the United States is King Salman. The counterpart —

QUESTION: You do not regard MBS as the head of government of Saudi Arabia?

MR PRICE: I am – what I am saying is that the counterpart of President Biden is King Salman. The counterpart of Secretary Blinken is Foreign Minister Farhan. The counterpart of Secretary Austin is Mohammed bin Salman.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I move on?

MR PRICE: Anything else on Saudi before we move on? I see a lot of hands, so I think the answer is no. I’m also cognizant it is very hot in here.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Navalny.

QUESTION: Just one quick —

MR PRICE: I hear Navalny. Anything else on Saudi?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PRICE: Okay. All right. Yes, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. Abderrahim from Al Jazeera. For the Biden administration, the political future of Mohammed bin Salman, is it something for the Saudis to decide themselves or does the U.S. think it has and must have a dog in the race?

MR PRICE: That we must have a – I didn’t hear you.

QUESTION: A dog in the race.

MR PRICE: Well, we have a dog in the race to ensure that the partnership we have with Saudi Arabia is consistent with our interests but also is reflective of and respects our values. That is the dog we have in this race. That is why we have announced the measures that we did on Friday.

Anything else on Saudi? You’ve asked – yes, Conor.

QUESTION: Just quickly, you mentioned the Yemen donor conference. It fell short by half of what the United Nations was asking for. Are you disappointed, as the secretary-general said that he is? And if so, why didn’t you provide more funding?

MR PRICE: Well, what I would say is that this fiscal year is not yet over. I certainly wouldn’t commit to the idea of the 191 million, which is not an insignificant sum, being the totality of what the United States will be able to put forward going forward. What I would also say is that combined with the nearly 160 million the United States provided at the end of last year, the United States has provided more than 350 million since the beginning of FY 2021. In total – and I mentioned this before – we are one of the largest single donors to the humanitarian response. We have provided more than $3.4 billion to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people since this humanitarian crisis began several years ago.

We are – our message to the region, to the international community more broadly, is that collectively we have to raise our ambition. Collectively we have to do all we can to ensure the alleviation of the people of Yemen. The United States put up today; other countries made generous donations. We need to keep that momentum going. We need to build on that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Were you disappointed as well?

MR PRICE: We need to build on that momentum.

QUESTION: So are you saying – are you just saying that —

QUESTION: Can I ask – just follow up on this?

MR PRICE: Matt, we need to – it’s —

QUESTION: I get it, but are we going to stay on Yemen or are we going to go on to —

MR PRICE: No, I am staying on Saudi and – yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can you say how far up, how senior the list of 76 are? And can you exclude the presence of MBS on that list?

MR PRICE: I’m not including or excluding anyone specifically on that list. What we have said is that we’re not in a position to detail who may be on that list. It is a policy when it comes to visa bans generally.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. I want to move on.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Okay, we’re – Matt, I’ll handle —

QUESTION: Perhaps to things that are a bit more mundane, but —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Yemen?

MR PRICE: I think we are still on Yemen/Saudi.

QUESTION: Oh, Jesus Christ.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Anas Elsabbar from Sky News Arabia. I was wondering – you have mentioned that you have contributed or helped the Saudis to counter one of the attacks, Houthi attacks. And I was wondering if you are considering any other measures besides the mission of the special envoy to put more pressure on the Houthis.

MR PRICE: Oh, we are. And I mentioned in the topper – I know it was very long, but – that we are looking at additional ways to apply additional pressure on the Houthi leadership. The reprehensible conduct of the Houthi leadership, its threats and its attacks against the Saudis, its – the way it has inflicted humanitarian suffering on the people of Yemen, those are things we will not countenance. So we are looking at ways we can counter that conduct in a productive and constructive way.

Others on Yemen/Saudi?

QUESTION: Well, yeah, on exactly that point. You’re looking at additional ways to put – you just took, less than a month ago, took pressure off the Houthi leadership by removing the three Houthi leaders from the SDG – specially designated – SDGT list. So are you now – have you now come to the conclusion that that may have been a mistake? Because since that happened and since the Houthis were removed from the FTO list, I count at least four times that you guys have come out with condemnations of Houthi offensive operations, both in Yemen itself and attacks on Saudi Arabia. So was that a mistake in retrospect, to remove the leaders, the three leaders?

MR PRICE: As you and I have discussed previously, the Houthi leadership, they remain subject to U.S. and UN sanctions. It was not a mistake to do everything we could within our power to alleviate the humanitarian suffering of the Yemeni people. Again, more than 80 percent of Yemen’s population lives under Houthi control. The broad designation of Ansarallah we determined – the Biden administration determined, and Secretary Blinken signed off on the fact that the – this broad designation was not alleviating, but it was in fact adding to the humanitarian suffering of the Yemeni people. We can hold the Houthi leadership to account without leaving Yemen’s civilian population in the rhetorical crossfire.

QUESTION: Yeah, and if I —

MR PRICE: We can do both of those things.

QUESTION: And if I pull out my lighter, I can burn the strawman down that you just created. I am talking about the specific designations of the leaders, not the FTO. They were removed at the same time as the FTO designation. And now you’re saying today that we’re looking at additional ways to put pressure on the Houthi leadership. So are you saying now that you’re considering putting them back on the SDGT list, or not?

MR PRICE: Matt, I am saying —

QUESTION: Don’t – let’s not talk about the broad – the FTO designation. I’m talking specifically about the leaders, because that’s who you’re talking about.

MR PRICE: I am saying that we are looking at ways – policy measures – that will advance our interests consistent with our values. That is what we do across the board. It is in our interest to ensure that – or to see to it, to do everything we can, that this reprehensible conduct on the part of the Houthi leadership comes to an end. It is also in our interests – and consistent with our values – to ensure we do not add to the humanitarian suffering of the Yemeni people. We can do both.

QUESTION: So what additional measures can you take, then?

MR PRICE: Obviously, we’re not going to preview any measures before we’re in a position to announce them, so —

QUESTION: Can we move on? Thank you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: We’ve covered a lot on this front. I hear Navalny, and I see my colleague pointing to the clock, so we’ll go to Navalny briefly. Said, I’ll come to you before the end.

QUESTION: I really need to ask you, on the record, a couple questions on the Palestinian issue. Okay.

MR PRICE: But let’s —

QUESTION: Can I just get one question on Russia?

QUESTION: Go ahead. (Inaudible.)

MR PRICE: I will come right back to you.

QUESTION: As long as I’m in line after —

MR PRICE: I will come right back to you.

QUESTION: Okay. Navalny has been sent to a particular labor camp which, according to our colleagues there and others in the movement, is particularly difficult – out of touch, no mail, no contact for at least two years if not longer. Is there – first, what are we doing with the EU? Because the EU mentioned that there was perhaps this week going to be steps taken. Are we working with the EU, and is that coming imminently? And what else might we be doing unilaterally, if anything?

MR PRICE: We have been working extraordinarily closely with the European Union, with our broader like-minded partners, on the issue of human rights and Russia, including the issue of Mr. Navalny, and those who have been unjustly detained in the aftermath of his arrest.

I wouldn’t want to speak to measures that the EU may have coming. I wouldn’t want to speak to any measures that we may have coming. But suffice it to say that we have coordinated very closely. Nothing we do would take the EU by surprise, and vice versa. Because we know, across every challenge, whether it is human rights in Russia, whether it’s ending this horrific war in Yemen, whether it is taking on our competitors, we know that across every challenge, when we bring our allies and partners with us, we have maximum impact. That’s what we have been doing on human rights in Russia, and I suspect you will see more of that going forward.

QUESTION: Well, what – can you give us a time frame? How imminent is action going to be?

MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to characterize it. I will say that we’ve been working on it as an urgent challenge. We recognize that this is a challenge we have to speak out on, continue to speak out on with one voice, and we need to work on both in rhetoric. And indeed, in terms of rhetoric, you saw the G7 statement from our closest partners and allies condemning the arrest of Mr. Navalny several weeks ago now. That will not be the extent of our coordination on this, but I wouldn’t want to put a specific time frame on it beyond noting that we see this as an urgent priority and have treated it as such.

QUESTION: But what’s the message to the dissident movement, which may indeed be crushed by Russia?

MR PRICE: Our message to the dissident community has been consistent. Our message is that Russia must release those detained for exercising their human rights. That includes Aleksey Navalny. We’ve condemned the Russian Government’s sustained efforts to silence the Russian people, including those of the opposition. As we have said, we consider Mr. Navalny’s detention to be politically motivated. We’re concerned at the latest actions, including what you referenced as well. We have reiterated – excuse me – our call for the Russian Government to immediately and to unconditionally release Mr. Navalny, all those wrongfully detained during the peaceful demonstrations now – in January, and all those since detained for exercising their rights to free expression, free assembly, and to free association.

Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. Very quickly. Today the Israelis announced expanding (inaudible), which is a settlement just north of Bethlehem on privately owned Palestinian land. Now, in the past, not the past administration but before that, there was always a very strong position taken by U.S. administration whenever settlements were built on privately owned land. Do you have a position on this? Are you aware of this?

MR PRICE: We do have a position on this, and it is a position that I have voiced in this room before.

QUESTION: Yes, but – that’s today. Thank you, Ned.

MR PRICE: Well, our position hasn’t changed today. Our position is consistent. We encouraged Israel to avoid unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and make it more difficult to preserve the viability of a two-state solution. You have heard in many different forms this administration endorse its vision and the longstanding bipartisan vision of a two-state solution. Any steps that put that two-state solution further out of reach, we have opposed and we continue to do so.

QUESTION: Now, Ned, last week you issued a statement on the meeting of the AHLC, the Ad Hoc Committee. Now, there was no mention normally – on Palestine – there was no mention of UNRWA or restoring aid, or let’s say aiding the hospitals in East Jerusalem and so on. So tell us about what’s going on with UNRWA. Are you resuming aid to UNRWA? Is it going to be retroactive aid? Is it happening now? Is it not happening?

MR PRICE: Said, I think as you’ve heard me say before, we intend to provide assistance that will benefit all Palestinians, including refugees. We are in the process of determining how to move forward on resuming all forms of that assistance consistent with U.S. law.

QUESTION: But we’re not talking about refugees, we’re talking about UNRWA. Are you going to resume aid to UNRWA?

MR PRICE: Said, we have said before —

QUESTION: Very simple, UNRWA is – you’ve aided UNRWA all throughout its existence. Now, are you going to resume that aid, or are you not going to resume that?

MR PRICE: I don’t have anything new for you today beyond saying and reiterating that we intend to provide assistance that will benefit all Palestinians, including refugees.

QUESTION: Just briefly on Israel and Palestine. Has the State Department reversed the – Mr. Pompeo’s determination that the settlements in the occupied territories are not necessarily illegal?

MR PRICE: So we wouldn’t comment on any internal deliberative processes here, and that’s a rule across the board. What we would stress is that our focus is on encouraging Israel and the Palestinians to avoid, as I said before, unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and that make it more difficult to preserve the viability of a two-state solution.

QUESTION: So is it under review, then? Is it under review?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Again, we’re not going to comment on any internal deliberative process.

QUESTION: Well, wait, wait, does that – that suggests that there is a deliberative process going on.

MR PRICE: We —

QUESTION: So the previous administration, when it came to a conclusion that it did not think that the Hansell Memorandum was appropriate or accurate, came out and announced it. Will this administration, if it determines that either you’re going to keep it – the previous administration’s position – or change it, will you announce it? Or is that now a deliberative process that you won’t talk about?

MR PRICE: What I would stress is that what will not change is our longstanding position – our position and the longstanding position of successive administrations, is that —

QUESTION: Well, except for the last – well, except for the last one.

MR PRICE: — is – is encouraging – is discouraging, excuse me – unilateral steps that would put a two-state solution further out of reach. If we have —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: If we have something more to say on this, we will say it.

QUESTION: So there is no change right now?

MR PRICE: We have nothing – we have nothing more to announce. If we do, we will announce it.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: On Iran?

QUESTION: Ned, please – please, Ned.

MR PRICE: Let’s just go to Iran quickly, because we’ve covered —

QUESTION: Wait – on this, please. On this point —

QUESTION: And then can you go to Myanmar? And I want to ask a question on —

QUESTION: On Matt’s point, I —

MR PRICE: We’ll go to Iran quickly. We’ve been up here for quite some time.

QUESTION: What’s the response to the Iranians saying they won’t attend these European informal talks?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry. Say that one more time.

QUESTION: What’s the response to the Iranians saying they will not attend these European-brokered informal talks?

MR PRICE: Well, I think you heard us say over the weekend or at least saw us say over the weekend that we are disappointed at Iran’s response, but we remain ready to re-engage in meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance under the JCPOA commitments. We’ll be consulting our P5+1 partners as – on the best way forward. As we have made clear, the United States is prepared to meet with Iran to address the way forward on a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. Resumption of a compliance can’t happen with all – without all sides discussing the details. As I believe I said previously in this briefing, we’re not dogmatic about what form that takes. What we are dogmatic about is the underlying commitment to the fact that President Biden has, that Secretary Blinken has, that this administration broadly has that Iran cannot be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: On that —

MR PRICE: Anything else on —

QUESTION: On Iran, yes.

MR PRICE: On – on —

QUESTION: On Iran.

MR PRICE: On Iran.

QUESTION: Yeah. On that, given the state of play with the – the current state of play with Iran, and given Iran’s influence in both Syria and Iraq, could you talk a little bit about your vision of the U.S. military role in Iraq and Syria?

MR PRICE: Well, look, I am going to leave that to my Department of Defense colleagues to speak to. I know they have spoken to this in the past. I am here to speak to the position of the Department of State, to speak to our diplomacy and our diplomatic approaches. And since we have gone on for some time, I wouldn’t want to go into that today.

Yes.

QUESTION: What is that meaningful diplomacy, though, if you guys cannot talk to each other? And how are you thinking about breaking that impasse?

MR PRICE: Well, look, we have made very clear that we are willing to meet with the Iranians in the context of the P5+1 with the invitation from the EU. That offer of ours is on the table. If there are other ideas for ways in which we can engage in this principled, clear-eyed diplomacy together with our closest allies and partners, in coordination with our closest allies and partners, we’re, again, not dogmatic about the form. What we are dogmatic about is the fact that Iran can never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. That is the point of this diplomacy. That is our strategic objective in all of this. What we’re talking about now is tactics.

QUESTION: Are you dogmatic about not lifting any sanctions? Because that’s what they want.

MR PRICE: What we are dogmatic about is that the best way to discuss the path forward is in dialogue. Yes.

QUESTION: Any update on the U.S. involvement in the negotiations of the Ethiopian Grand Dam between Egypt, Sudan? Any update on that?

MR PRICE: Sorry, in the – say that one more time.

QUESTION: The U.S. involvement —

MR PRICE: Oh.

QUESTION: Yeah. Because —

MR PRICE: Not since we last spoke about this. We’ve talked about our decision to de-link certain assistance on Ethiopia from our policy on the GERD. We continue to support collaborative and constructive efforts by Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan to reach an agreement on the GERD. Let me take one final question here.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. I’d like to ask you about Hong Kong.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the Secretary put out a statement regarding the arrest of pro-democracy activists. And last month during an interview he was asked whether the U.S. should open its doors for refugees fleeing Hong Kong, and he said that we should do something to give them haven. Has the administration come to a decision whether they’ll welcome Hong Kong asylum seekers?

MR PRICE: Well, let me say generally that we condemn the re-detention of these individuals under Hong Kong’s national security law. We call on the Hong Kong authorities to immediately release those still held, and to drop the charges against them. Political participation should never be a crime. These individuals simply sought to exercise their rights by participating or helping others to participate in elections. This is yet another example of how the national security law is being used to stifle dissent, not to improve security. We continue to call on Beijing to stop undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and to – and its democratic process, and to uphold China’s obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

When it comes to the people of Hong Kong, we continue to stand with them. We continue to stand with their aspirations for nothing more than the system that they have been promised. The Secretary did speak to additional ways we might be able to support them. I don’t have an update for you, but we’ll continue to look into that. We’ve gone on for quite —

QUESTION: No – yeah, but Ned, we haven’t talked about Burma yet. And I think that you might want to talk about Burma, no? If you don’t, then that’s fine, and we can all write that Ned Price refused to take a question about Burma.

MR PRICE: Matt, I hope you write that Ned Price has been up here at this podium in a very hot room for over an hour and that Ned Price has been here every day briefing you —

QUESTION: Yes, yes, he is.

MR PRICE: — because of our commitment to transparency, so I hope you write that.

QUESTION: I will do that. Can I ask one brief one on Burma, please?

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: So yesterday – and in order, there were a series of statements. I’ll put them in order of importance. There was your statement, then there was some guy named Blinken, and then some guy named Sullivan all put out statements about —

MR PRICE: No offense taken at that.

QUESTION: No, no, no, in order of importance, as I —

MR PRICE: Oh, sorry, I —

QUESTION: You were first.

MR PRICE: For my own job security, I would take offense at that. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You were at the top. Anyway, in the last one that came out, the National Security Advisor said you’re looking at new sanctions, the new —

MR PRICE: That’s right. That’s right.

QUESTION: So should the Burmese authorities expect something soon if they don’t reverse course? Is this something that can be stopped if they do reverse course, or are you guys going to go ahead and do it?

MR PRICE: So let me just say generally – because you’re right, we haven’t had an opportunity to speak to this important issue set during this briefing – that we condemn Burmese security forces’ brutal killing of unarmed people, its attacks on journalists and activists, and ongoing unjust detentions. The United States, in close coordination with our partners and allies, we have made clear to the Burmese military that violence against the people of Burma is abhorrent, the recent escalation and tactics by security forces is reprehensible.

The United States stands in solidarity with the tens of thousands of people in Burma who once again came out peacefully across the country with courage and determination to reject this military coup and to voice their aspirations for a return to democratic governance, peace, and the rule of law.

It is true that we have announced now multiple tranches of sanctions against the Burmese military, both individuals and entities. Some of our closest partners – the Brits and the Canadians, among others – have announced their own sanctions. It is also true that if the Burmese military continues down this path, if the Burmese military refuses to restore the democratically elected government and to cease this abhorrent violence against peaceful demonstrators, there will be additional measures forthcoming from the United States.

QUESTION: And then just the last thing, to put a fine point on this. You do have diplomatic relations with Burma, right?

MR PRICE: I am not —

QUESTION: Yes. Yes, you do.

MR PRICE: I am not familiar with any change in our diplomatic status.

QUESTION: Exactly. And yet the leadership of the country now is going to be subject to sanctions, right?

MR PRICE: Matt, as far as I know, the NLD is still the internationally recognized Government of Burma.

Yes.

QUESTION: I apologize, but there is an email from one of our colleagues, from Lara Jakes at the Times, and I just want to nail something down on Khashoggi. Is the U.S. going to grant a waiver to MBS should he want to come to the United States? Because he’s not on the list of those banned; and under a law passed last year, he would need a waiver as someone who has been deemed committing gross human rights violations. He would need a waiver to come to the United States.

MR PRICE: Andrea, you are right that anyone on the so-called Khashoggi Ban list or anyone otherwise subject to a visa ban would need a waiver.

QUESTION: No. Under a separate law passed by Congress last year, anyone in general, prior to the Khashoggi list, would need a waiver —

MR PRICE: I am —

QUESTION: — unless there were extenuating circumstances (inaudible) national interest.

MR PRICE: I am familiar with the law you’re referring to. As we have said, we are not in a position to detail the identities of those presently subject to these measures – the Khashoggi Ban, the law you’ve referenced – nor would we be able to preview those who may be added in the future. Nevertheless, I am not aware of any plans for the crown prince to travel to the United States in the near term.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you very much, everyone. I appreciate it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:41 p.m.)

Honoring the Contributions of the Citizens of the Republic of the Marshall Islands

28 Feb

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

March 1 is Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Seventy-five years ago, the United States conducted the first of 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands as part of its nuclear testing program. The United States honors the memory of those affected from the atolls of Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap, and Utrik, and we should never forget those lost family members and loved ones. The United States honors the historical and current contributions of the Marshallese people that help promote peace and stability throughout the world. The United States is committed to our longstanding partnership with the Marshall Islands and to our shared vision for a better and safer future.

Houthi Attacks on Saudi Arabia

28 Feb

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

The United States strongly condemns the Houthis’ attacks on population centers in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, February 27.  These attacks threaten not only innocent civilians but also prospects for peace and stability in Yemen.  We call on the Houthis to end these egregious attacks and engage constructively with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and U.S. Special Envoy Tim Lenderking with the goal of bringing peace, prosperity, and security to the Yemeni people.  The United States remains committed to its longstanding partnership with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and to helping Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups.

 

Department Press Briefing – February 25, 2021

26 Feb

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

2:32 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. A few things at the top. To start things off, you probably saw and heard that Secretary Blinken is making his first virtual visit as Secretary of State to Mexico and Canada tomorrow, February 26th. Expanding on his previous calls with the Foreign Secretary Ebrard and Foreign Minister Garneau, this visit will include a series of meetings in each country.

In Mexico, Secretary Blinken will meet individually with Foreign Secretary Ebrard and Secretary of Economy Tatiana Clouthier to discuss a number of issues, including the bilateral trade relationship, shared security challenges, regional migration, climate change, and other issues of mutual interest.

In Canada, Secretary Blinken will meet with Prime Minister Trudeau, Foreign Minister Garneau, and other cabinet members to follow up on the outcomes of President Biden’s meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau, President Biden’s first virtual bilateral meeting as President, including the U.S.-Canada partnership roadmap the leaders jointly announced on Tuesday. Secretary Blinken and Canadian leaders will continue conversations about the pandemic and reinvigorating our economies and discuss taking bold action on climate change, defending human rights in the Western Hemisphere and around the world, and bolstering our shared defense and security.

In addition to government meetings, Secretary Blinken will also tour the border crossing between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and will meet with students in Canada to discuss opportunities and policy options for our two Arctic nations. And we’ll obviously have much more for you on that tomorrow.

I also want to highlight that yesterday President Biden rescinded presidential proclamation 10014, entitled Proclamation Suspending Entry of Immigrants Who Present Risks to the U.S. Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the COVID-19 Outbreak. The President also suspended the sections of presidential proclamation 10052 and 10131 which continued presidential proclamation 10014 past its original expiration. These proclamations restricted the issuance of certain immigrant visas. We recognize the impact on families and individuals affected by these proclamations.

We also recognize that COVID-19 has delayed visa processing operations around the world. I want to emphasize: The Department of State is committed to serving the American people and to restoring our visa operations to normal as soon as possible, always prioritizing the health and safety of our applicants, their loved ones, and our staff. Many recipients of diversity visas in 2020 were unable to travel to the United States due to this and the other travel restrictions. Diversity visa recipients holding valid and unexpired visas may now seek immediate entry into the United States, as they are covered by a blanket national interest exception.

On Monday, March 1st, officials from the Bureau of Consular Affairs will be holding a briefing to discuss this and other recent visa developments in more depth. We’ll be sharing details of this calls – of this call shortly.

And finally, we welcome a joint – the joint statement between India and Pakistan that the two countries have agreed to maintain strict observance of a ceasefire along the Line of Control starting on February 25th. We encourage continued efforts to improve communication between the two sides and to reduce tensions and violence along the Line of Control.

So with that, I would be happy to take your questions. I normally look right there, but —

QUESTION: I know, it’s weird, right?

MR PRICE: It’s very weird.

QUESTION: Matt, I’m just warming your seat. (Laughter.) Don’t put a horse head in my bed. I will ask you, just because you ended with India and Pakistan, if we could start off there. To what extent, if any, did the United States play a role in helping broker this new ceasefire agreement? And I’m curious, I mean, when President Biden was vice president, he had a very warm relationship with Pakistan, especially to the extent that he saw Pakistan as a vital partner in the war in Afghanistan, and I’m just kind of wondering how his policy – how this is going to portend to his policy towards Pakistan now that he’s President and how that will interplay with his relationship with India.

MR PRICE: Well, to your first question, I think what I can say and what you’ve heard me say from this podium and others from this administration say is that we had called on the parties to reduce tensions along the Line of Control by returning to that 2003 ceasefire agreement. We have been very clear that we condemn the terrorists who seek to infiltrate across the Line of Control.

When it comes to the U.S. role, we continue to support direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and other issues of concern. And as I said just a moment ago, we certainly welcome the arrangement that was announced that will take place – go into effect, I should say, on February 25th.

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about the relationship that this administration is going to have with Pakistan specifically, but also how it intends to walk what, as you know, is a very fine line between trying to stay neutral between the two states?

MR PRICE: Well, Pakistan is an important partner with whom we share many interests. We, as I said, have been clear in terms of this issue. Obviously, Pakistan has an important role to play when it comes to Afghanistan and what takes place across its other border. So clearly we will be paying close attention, and we urge the Pakistanis to play a constructive role in all of these areas of mutual interest, including in Afghanistan, including with Kashmir, including with our other shared interests.

Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions, Ned. The first one is to know the reaction of the United States to the Venezuelan Government to expel the European Union ambassador to Caracas in the last hours. They gave 72 hours to leave the country. And is the main U.S. objective the departure or removal of Maduro from power?

And the second question is regarding to Secretary Blinken virtual tour tomorrow. In his meetings with the Mexican counterparts, is the situation of Emma Coronel, the wife of El Chapo Guzman, be part of the conversations? Is the Venezuelan situation be part of the conversations?

MR PRICE: So on the question about the wife of El Chapo, that’s an issue that I would need to refer you to the Department of Justice on. I wouldn’t want to go further from here.

To your first question, the expulsion that I believe was announced yesterday – by expelling the EU ambassador to Venezuela, Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa, the Maduro regime has removed one of the more international – one of the international champions standing up for democracy in Venezuela and human rights of the Venezuelan people. This action will only further isolate the Maduro regime, and the world remains united in calling for a return to democracy in Venezuela.

Maduro knows, of course, that his record can’t stand up to scrutiny. And so he’s expelled Europe’s ambassador because of the EU’s February 22nd, I believe it was, announcement of new sanctions on 19 additional individuals for their role in human rights abuses and the rule of law in Venezuela. We are committed to working with our partners in the international community – that includes, of course, Europe, but that also includes partners in this hemisphere – to promote accountability for these human rights abuses. We have seen human rights abuses continue to escalate at the hands of Maduro and his allies. They have used violence to maintain control and to further undermine democracy. And the result is that millions of Venezuelans are suffering as a consequence.

The Secretary has called for strengthening coordination with likeminded partners to rebuild multilateral pressure, including through targeted sanctions against those responsible for corruption and human rights abuses in Venezuela. We feel strongly that coordinated action with our allies and partners – and again, our allies and partners in this hemisphere, in Europe, and elsewhere – is crucial to supporting the Venezuelan people as they work to build the democratic future that they very much deserve.

QUESTION: Is the removal or departure of Maduro the U.S. objective?

MR PRICE: We believe that Maduro is a dictator, that Maduro is corrupt, that Maduro is responsible for the suffering of his people. And we will continue to support the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I move to Armenia?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Yes. What is your assessment of what’s going on in Armenia, and do you believe, as the prime minister said, that there was an attempted military coup? And do you support him as prime minister?

MR PRICE: Well, we are, of course, aware of recent developments in Armenia. We’re following the situation very closely. We urge all parties to exercise restraint and to avoid any escalatory or violent actions. We remind all parties of the bedrock democratic principle that states’ armed forces should not intervene in domestic politics. The United States has been a steadfast supporter of the development of democratic processes and institutions in Armenia. We continue to support Armenia’s democracy and its sovereignty, and we urge its leaders to resolve their differences peacefully while respecting the rule of law, Armenia’s democracy, and its institutions.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. So follow up, so how about the statement from the General Staff of the Armenia Armed Forces? Would you consider it as an incitement or attempt – a coup attempt?

MR PRICE: Well, as you know, the Department of State has a process to determine whether a coup has transpired. We talked about that process in the context of a very different setting, and that was Burma and the coup determination that we arrived at in the aftermath of the military’s overthrow of Burma’s democratic civilian leadership on February 1st. I think I said at the time that there are three criteria that this department looks for in making that determination. Of course, there has been no such determination in this case. We continue to support Armenia’s democracy and its sovereignty, and we’ll continue to watch developments very closely as they unfold.

QUESTION: Go to Saudi Arabia?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you give us any more information, Ned, on the timing of the release of the Khashoggi report?

And then secondly, in 2018, Secretary Blinken’s predecessor, Mike Pompeo, said there was no direct evidence linking the crown prince to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Does Secretary Blinken have – has he come to a conclusion on whether the crown prince was involved in Khashoggi’s killing?

MR PRICE: Secretary Blinken has full faith and confidence in our Intelligence Community. It is our Intelligence Community, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, that has put this report together. They will be the ones who will issue this report at the appropriate moment. Secretary Blinken will have full faith and confidence in their findings.

I, of course, wouldn’t want to characterize those findings, because that is at the center of the report in question here.

QUESTION: And do you have a sense about when it might be released?

MR PRICE: I would want to refer to the DNI. I understand that my White House counterpart Jen Psaki has said it will be soon, but I wouldn’t want to go beyond that.

QUESTION: Staying on Saudi Arabia, the Saudi state news agency said that the foreign minister has spoken to his counterpart. Can you tell us about that call and what Secretary Blinken conveyed during that?

MR PRICE: Well, the Secretary has had a – has had at least a couple opportunities to speak to his Saudi counterpart. We’ve read out, I believe it has been, two of those calls. If there is another call we’re in a position to read out, we will absolutely do so.

I think I’ve mentioned this statement before, but when it comes to our discussions with the Saudis, I would point you to what the President has said, and he first said this as a candidate for high office; namely, that across every relationship we have, including with our closest security partners, human rights and universal values will always feature in those relationships. And so I have every expectation that Secretary Blinken will continue to convey that message to his Saudi counterpart but also his counterparts across the world.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this? The National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that the release of the report would be accompanied by the answer of this administration to ensure full accountability. Do you think this administration is ready to take sanctions or actions against anyone found responsible in the intelligence assessment of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?

MR PRICE: Do we think that this administration is —

QUESTION: Is this administration ready to take actions or sanctions against anyone found by the U.S. intelligence responsible for the murder?

MR PRICE: The United States – first of all, I should say we’ve been very clear that the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it was a horrific crime. That, of course, is going to be at the center of the report that we have been speaking to. This was enshrined in legislation that the administration should provide an unclassified version of the report to Congress. As then DNI-designate Avril Haines first said, we intend to comply with the law. And as my White House counterpart has said, we will do that – we will be in a position to do that very soon.

Of course, this is a crime that, as I said before, shocked the conscience. I expect that we will be in a position in – before long to speak to steps to promote accountability going forward for this horrific crime.

QUESTION: How do you think it will change the relationship between the United States and the kingdom, assuming that the President agrees with what the IC conclusions are?

MR PRICE: Well, I think as I said, when it comes to Secretary Blinken, the same applies to President Biden, that he has full faith and confidence in our Intelligence Community, and I think you will see that respected – reflected, I should say, in the aftermath of the release of this report.

When it comes to the bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia, President Biden has said that we will review the entirety of that relationship to make sure that it advances the interests of the American people, and to ensure that it reflects the values the United States brings to that partnership.

Since very early in this administration, we have taken steps to bring that relationship in accord with our interests and our values. We have spoken of our efforts to end the military conflict in Yemen, the changes we have made to the relationship in that regard, including when it comes to future arms transfers. We have spoken to concerns when it comes to human rights. We have welcomed certain steps that the Saudis have taken to move that in a better direction. And we continue to call on Saudi Arabia to take additional such steps.

At the same time, we also know that Saudi Arabia is a key partner on many priorities. We, of course, have been very clear that we condemn the attacks on Saudi territory that have been perpetrated from Yemen by Houthi terrorists. And we will continue to stand with our Saudi partners as they defend themselves from these outrageous attacks.

This relationship, to be sure, is multifaceted, but want to ensure that we bring those facets much closer in line with our interests and our values. And this is an important part of that, this being the release of that report and the accountability that will ensue.

Conor.

QUESTION: On that point, accountability, does the administration believe that so far there has been accountability for the death of – for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?

MR PRICE: Conor, look, I think the release of this report, when that time comes, will be an important step in that direction. It’s an important step in the direction of transparency. Transparency, as it often is, is an element of accountability. I wouldn’t expect the accountability to stop there, however. But I wouldn’t want to go beyond that at this stage.

QUESTION: Can I ask just one more question on Tim Lenderking’s visit to Saudi Arabia? He met with the finance minister yesterday, and the readout from the department is that he encouraged Saudi Arabia to contribute more towards the humanitarian assistance. Are you pressuring the Saudis and the Emiratis to do more, to provide the funding that they pulled back on last year?

MR PRICE: We have made very clear to our partners in the region and even beyond that collectively we need to raise our ambition when it comes to ending or at least alleviating the humanitarian plight of the people of Yemen, now home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. I believe I spoke to this yesterday, but, of course, there is a donors conference on March 1st. We’ll have more details there. But that will be an important venue for our allies and partners around the world to signal their commitment to helping to alleviate the humanitarian situation in Yemen. It’s certainly something we are committed to. It’s something that Special Envoy Lenderking has prioritized in his engagements with our partners in the region.

But I think you will hear a very similar message from Secretary Blinken and other senior officials in this administration, because we do consider it a pressing priority for us, as we also prioritize our efforts to bring a diplomatic conclusion to this long-running conflict in Yemen.

QUESTION: On Rwanda, on behalf of a colleague, can you say whether the U.S. believes it’s possible for Paul Rusesabagina to get a fair trial? And why is the Biden administration not planning to join a bipartisan group of senators calling for his release?

MR PRICE: Well, we – I think we addressed this last week, and we have continued since then to underscore for the Rwandan Government that the legal process adjudicating the Government of Rwanda’s charges against Mr. Rusesabagina must be fair; they must be transparent; they must reflect the rule of law. They must be consistent with Rwanda’s international human rights obligations and commitment. The United States – the State Department, I should say, has engaged the Government of Rwanda at the highest levels, both here in Washington as well as in Kigali, and it is something we will continue to do as the proceedings run apace.

QUESTION: But do you believe he should be released? I mean —

MR PRICE: We believe that the legal process adjudicating his case should be fair and transparent, should respect the rule of law, and it must be consistent with Rwanda’s own commitments and human rights obligations internationally.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. You said yesterday from this podium that the U.S. would not wait forever, and that the American patience towards Iran is not unlimited. What are the limits under which the U.S. Government would consider putting more pressure on Iran, if not imposing sanctions on Tehran if it didn’t comply with the U.S. calls to resume the diplomatic talks?

MR PRICE: Well, to be clear, Tehran is under significant pressure, sanctions pressure from the United States and well beyond that. I made the point yesterday, the point you refer to, precisely because for us this is an urgent challenge. And again, to be clear, I’m not speaking of the urgency of rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. For us, that is a tactic. It is a tactic to achieve our strategic aim, and that strategic aim is to ensure that Iran can never be in a position to acquire a nuclear weapon. President Biden has been clear on that, candidate Biden was clear on that, Vice President Biden was clear on that, Secretary Blinken has been clear on that.

The President, starting as a candidate and more recently, has also been very clear that the most effective, the most durable way to ensure that end state, the idea that Iran can never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon, is through diplomacy. That is why we have put this tactical way forward on the table – shorthand is “compliance for compliance.” If Iran resumes its full performance of its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the United States would be prepared to do the same. We would then seek to lengthen and strengthen the parameters of that deal, as we then seek to – see to it that it is the floor, not the ceiling. And that’s follow-on agreements addressing Iran’s other malign activities, that we negotiate them together with our closest allies and partners.

We are so focused on this challenge because of the stakes, and the stakes, of course, are very clear. Iran, as it has distanced itself from the nuclear agreement, has advanced in its nuclear program in ways that would have been impermissible when it was in full compliance with the nuclear deal. We can speak about that in any number of ways. I’ve spoken about that here in terms of the breakout time, again, the time it would take for Iran to acquire, to develop enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, if it chose to develop one. When Iran was in full compliance with the deal, that breakout time was 12 months. That breakout time was significantly lengthened under the deal from a period of just about a few months before that deal went into effect in January of 2016, on implementation day.

QUESTION: I have another question on the Palestinian issue, please. There are some reports about the U.S. Government intention to postpone reopening the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem until after the Israeli elections. Do you confirm those reports?

MR PRICE: What I can say is that we look forward to deepening our engagement with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian leadership. As part of that, we are reviewing our diplomatic presence on the ground to ensure that that diplomatic presence enables us to fully conduct our complete range of activities. And that includes engagement, public diplomacy, assistance to the Palestinian people, and diplomatic reporting.

QUESTION: On Iran, just as – question on how the administration views the current situation as – the maximum pressure campaign over the last four years, now that – a number of administration officials opposed what the previous administration was doing, but now that you are in this position, does the administration view max pressure and the sanctions that have been built up over Iran almost as leverage or just four years of misguided policy?

MR PRICE: Rich, I think when you look at the results of maximum pressure, you can only be left with one conclusion. Maximum pressure was supposed to result in a better deal. It was supposed to cow Tehran and its proxies, it was supposed to isolate Iran from the rest of the world, and it was supposed to leave America’s interests in a better position.

In fact, every single one of those, the opposite has been true. We are – over the last four years, we came nowhere close to anything resembling a better deal. Those negotiations never even got off the ground. Iran today and Iran at the end of the Trump administration – at the last – at the end of the last administration, I should say – was much closer to a nuclear weapon if it chose to develop one than it was on the first day of the last administration.

Rather than cowing Tehran and its proxies into submission, Tehran and its proxies, as we’ve talked about in this briefing room and as we saw starting really in 2018 and 2019, have been emboldened. And we’ve seen the heinous attacks and violence directed at our partners and some that have even been directed at the United States, or at least have taken the lives of Americans. So I think however you look at maximum pressure, you can only be left with that one conclusion.

Now, our approach recognizes that maximum pressure accompanied by the lack of diplomatic engagement got us to where we are. That is why we are embarking on a different path, one that prioritizes real, principled, clear-eyed diplomacy – clear-eyed diplomacy with our partners and allies. It is also notable that under maximum pressure, we were sitting at the opposite side of the table of our closest European partners and allies. I’ve mentioned this before, but with the E3+1 meeting – the meeting that Secretary Blinken had with our European allies last week – what was so notable about that was that there was a joint statement emanating from that meeting. It was a clear signal that for the first time in years, the United States was on precisely the same page as our closest allies and partners.

And with that unanimity, with that cooperation, with those consultations, we enter this phase of diplomacy from a position of strength and we are confident that this is the sort of position of strength that will allow us to achieve our strategic goal. And that goal, again, is to ensure that Iran cannot ever acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) why not just roll back the sanctions and comply with what Iran wants? Or does the administration not trust Iran to go back into the deal if the U.S. moves first?

MR PRICE: I think it is fair to say that we do not – there is a lack of trust in this relationship, and I think it’s an appropriate lack of trust. The Iran deal, when it was in effect, was not predicated on the idea of “trust but verify.” I think the better moniker for it was “distrust and verify.” That’s precisely what the Iran deal did. It is precisely what we seek to do. It is precisely why we seek to have verifiable, permanent constraints on Iran’s ability to build or acquire a nuclear weapon. That’s what we’re looking for. It’s pretty simple.

QUESTION: I know there’s – just on Iran, if I may quickly – I know there’s a lot of discussion right now on how it will be that the two sides, Iran and the United States, end up back at the Joint Commission talks again with the E3. I’m just wondering, at the end of the day, regardless of this lever or that lever or this concession or that offer, is this building confident – what is the level of confidence that this building has that such talks will in fact happen?

MR PRICE: Look, we believe diplomacy is the most effective way to achieve that end state. We have put an offer on the table together with our European partners. Under the auspices of the P5+1, we would be willing to take part in these principled, clear-eyed negotiations. We have done the needful. I don’t believe that we have heard a firm response from Iran just yet.

QUESTION: So low confidence level?

MR PRICE: Look, I think we are realistic. Certainly, I don’t think you will find anyone wearing rose-colored glasses in this building. But what we know and what we are committed to is the sort of principled, clear-eyed diplomacy that we can most effectively conduct, walking in lockstep with our European allies and partners. That’s precisely why this offer was put on the table in the aftermath of that session with the E3. It’s precisely why we’ve indicated our willingness to take part in such discussions under the auspices of the P5+1. I don’t want to say we’re pessimistic, I don’t want to say we’re optimistic, I want to say what we’re committed to, and we’re committed to this potential offer under the auspices of the P5+1 pending a response from Iran.

Anyone – yes. I don’t think you’ve asked – yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, you mentioned the donor conference in Yemen next week. Can you give us an update on U.S. aid to Houthi-held parts of Yemen which the Trump administration froze last year? Does the Biden administration plan to restore any or all of that funding?

MR PRICE: Well, the fact of the matter is that some 80 percent of Yemen’s population lives under Houthi control, and that is the point that we have been making for some time now in speaking to the profound humanitarian implications that the broad – overly broad, we should say – designation of Ansarallah inflicted upon the people of Yemen. The revocation of that, again, had nothing to do with the reprehensible conduct of Yemen’s Houthi leadership. It had everything to do with the humanitarian implications on the some 80 percent of Yemen’s population who lived under that Houthi leadership.

When it comes to our humanitarian assistance to Yemen, the United States was the largest donor in 2020, having provided almost $800 million, $790 million, since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2020. This includes nearly 16.7 million in humanitarian assistance to respond to COVID-19, to assist refugees, to assist vulnerable migrants, internally displaced persons, and host communities.

Our assistance does, in fact, reach all corners of Yemen, and it is used for vital programs – food assistance, nutrition, protection, education, health, shelter, water, sanitation, hygiene, and other needed resources for the people of Yemen. Of course, there is this donors conference next week. We are hopeful and we will continue to encourage our allies and partners around the world to raise that level of ambition, just because we know how dire the circumstances are for the people of Yemen. It’s something we’ve worked to alleviate over the course of time and something we remain committed to.

QUESTION: Yeah. On Yemen?

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Iran. I just wanted to follow up on some of my colleagues’ questions. The Trump administration imposed sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran, the National Iranian Oil Company, some other institutions, and they did that under counterterrorism authorities. Does the Biden administration believe that it is necessary to lift these sanctions in order to be considered back in compliance with the nuclear deal?

MR PRICE: Well, the nuclear deal, when it was in effect, implicated nuclear sanctions. We have – we were – the previous administration – the penultimate administration, I should say, the Obama-Biden administration, was very clear that we could do two things at once, two things that were very much in our interests. We could have a diplomatic framework that provided limited sanctions relief in return for these verifiable and permanent restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. That was the core idea of the JCPOA, just as we continued to push back and to hold Iran accountable for its malign activity in other realms. And of course, counterterrorism and its support to terrorist groups in the region remains a profound concern for the United States. So rest assured that we will continue to, in concert with our allies and partners, hold Iran accountable for its malign influence in that regard.

QUESTION: But just very specifically, you don’t think that you need to remove those terror designations? There were things like in 2019 and 2020 that were – that hit institutions that had been affected by the JCPOA-related nuclear sanctions that were then – then lifted when – on implementation of the JCPOA.

MR PRICE: What I’m saying very clearly is that we can and we will continue to hold Iran accountable for its support to terrorism in the region and beyond.

Anyone who has not asked a question? I think everyone has. Gustau.

QUESTION: On Columbia, this week, one former FARC guerrilla leader, Jesus Santrich, released video that was reproduced by the international news channel NTN24, making death threats against President Duque. How serious the United States is taking this threat, that threats and is worried about his security, the security of President Duque?

MR PRICE: Well, I wouldn’t want to weigh in on the security of a foreign leader. I would want to defer to our Colombian counterparts to speak to that.

What I would say broadly is that Colombia, it’s a vital strategic partner. The United States is proud to stand with the people of Colombia as they continue down the path to just and lasting peace and prosperity. We, of course, have many overlapping priorities and shared interests, and that includes supporting sustainable peace and reconciliation; combating narcotrafficking and transnational crime; coordinating a regional response to the crisis in Venezuela, including the refugee crisis; expanding our two-way trade and economic ties; and increasing U.S. investment in Colombian infrastructure and people-to-people ties. So it’s an important relationship. Colombia is an important partner with whom we share these important interests.

Let’s see, anyone? I think – yes, I don’t believe you have. Yes.

QUESTION: China?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: China?

MR PRICE: China, sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday, President Biden signed an executive order essentially cutting off supply chains. Can you talk about the work the U.S. will be doing with its allies as a part of this review to eliminate supply chain dependence on China?

MR PRICE: This is – this gets back – and I believe the White House spoke to this yesterday – but our strategy to compete and to outcompete with the Chinese Government ultimately relies on our core sources of strength, and I’ve said this before, and we bring to the table any number of sources of strength.

Our values is certainly one of them, and you’ve heard us speak to our values in the context of our – of the bilateral relationship and our approach to China more broadly: our system of alliances and partnerships around the world, the way in which we confront China not only on a bilateral basis, but we bring much of the world with us, certainly our likeminded partners and allies – those in Europe, those in the Indo-Pacific – with us as we do that.

But there’s also a big component of this that is domestic, that is our domestic sources of strength. Part of that is the resilience and the creativity and the education of the American people. Part and parcel of that is the security of our supply chains. And so that is why that you saw the White House make the announcement that they did, knowing that as long as our supply chains are left unprotected, as long as China is able to take advantage of our vibrant economic system, the vibrant marketplace we have here, our open economy and our open society more broadly, one of those core sources of strength – perhaps the core source of strength – that domestic strength, is sapped.

And so that is why President Biden committed very early on and actually spoke about this on the campaign trail, to – committed to protecting and building on those sources of strength, and yesterday’s step was a key element in that direction.

All right. We have gone on for a very long time, so why don’t we call it a day. I see a very eager question in the back, so —

QUESTION: Yeah, I was requested to ask this question about Russia.

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: Aleksey Navalny’s supporters say he’s being moved from Moscow jail to un-named – an un-named prison somewhere in Russia. What is the U.S. view of this development, and does the U.S. feel Navalny’s life is in great danger? And has the U.S. raised this development with Moscow? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Well, what I would say is that we renew our calls for Russia to release those detained for exercising nothing more than their human rights; in many cases, nothing more than what they’re guaranteed under Russia’s own constitution, and that includes Mr. Navalny. We condemn the Russian Government’s sustained efforts to silence the voices of the Russian people, including of the opposition. There was a – this is one of those issues where we have spoken with one voice with our international partners. There was a G7 statement on this issue last month. We will continue to speak clearly together with our partners and allies, standing up and demanding the release of Mr. Navalny, but also supporting the rights and the democratic aspirations of the Russian people, including the brave Russians who have peacefully taken to the streets to exercise the rights they are guaranteed under their own constitution.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:14 p.m.)

# # #

 

Religious Freedom Concerns in Russia

25 Feb

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

We are disturbed by reports that a Russian court sentenced Valentina Baranovskaya and her son, Roman Baranovsky, to terms of two and six years in a Russian penal colony, respectively, simply for being practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The sentencing of Valentina, a 69-year-old stroke victim, is particularly cruel.  It also marks the first time a Russian court has sentenced a female Jehovah’s Witness.

The decision by the Russian court is the latest development in an ongoing crackdown on members of religious minority groups in Russia.  Since the Russian Supreme Court designated the Jehovah’s Witnesses an “extremist” organization in 2017, 52 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been imprisoned for exercising their beliefs, including Alexandr Ivshin, who was recently given a record-length 7.5 year sentence for a Jehovah’s Witness by a Russian court.

We urge Russia to lift its ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses and to respect the right of all to exercise their freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief.