Ned Price, State Dept spokesman, held a regular press briefing on July 21 afternoon.
QUESTION: Could I – I know you’ve been asked this before in a different context, but Speaker Pelosi – the President himself, he made some remarks to reporters last night saying that the military has concerns about her visiting Taiwan. She was asked about it today and, of course, said she doesn’t have anything to announce, but is that a concern that’s shared by the State Department, by U.S. diplomacy, about a potential visit to Taiwan by the speaker?
MR PRICE: Well, Shaun, it’s not for me to speak to any potential travel the speaker may or may not make. In fact, I saw a statement from her office making clear that her office as a matter of course does not confirm or deny potential travel before it takes place. So, this remains a hypothetical. We’ll need to defer to the speaker’s office in the first instance to speak to any plans that they may have.
QUESTION: So what the President said, is it the official stance of this administration? Would you advise Speaker Pelosi against her visit?
MR PRICE: I’m not going to be offering any advice from this podium in part because any travel, potential travel, remains a hypothetical. Whether it is this question or any other question, I have a practice of not entertaining hypotheticals. If and when the Speaker’s office, or any other member, for that matter, were to announce travel, we’d be in a position to speak to something then, but that day is not today.
QUESTION: And just one lastly on Taiwan. Yesterday the Chinese ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, he blasted your “one China” policy. Basically, he’s saying that the United States is hollowing out, blurring out the “one China” policy. What’s your response to that?
MR PRICE: Our position is that our “one China” policy continues to be the policy we follow. We are guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances. Under the rubric of our “one China” policy, we are committed to maintaining cross-strait peace and stability. We don’t have, as you know, diplomatic relations with Taiwan or support Taiwan independence, but we have a robust unofficial relationship as well as an abiding interest in maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
QUESTION: There are reports that there’s new pressure from Congress for Secretary Blinken to designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, and that if he doesn’t, Congress is just going to do it themselves. Is the State Department thinking about designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, and is it worried that if it does do that, that there will be drawbacks down the line, if it gets to the point of negotiations?
MR PRICE: So, let me make a couple broad points on this, some of which may be self-evident. First, it goes without saying, but in all cases, we are obligated to follow the law. And when it comes to the state sponsor of terrorism statute, there are criteria against which the Secretary must make such a determination. Those criteria are – because they’re in statute, they are defined by Congress.
And so, our task is to take the criteria that Congress has written into law and to compare that to the facts on the ground. Whether it’s the SST statute, or any other authority available to us, that’s what we’ve done throughout the course of this war. That’s what we’re doing as part of our fulfilment of our pledge, of the pledge that we’ve made with many of our closest allies and partners around the world, to impose massive costs and massive consequences on Russia.
There is another relevant data point here, and that is the fact that we have aligned and remained aligned with more than 30 countries across four continents on our multilateral sanctions, as well as export controls and other measures. We have additionally curtailed international assistance and foreign aid. In short, the costs that we’ve imposed on Russia are in line with the consequences of an SST designation.
So as we always do, we will follow the law. We will examine the facts, and we will take the steps in accordance with the law and the facts to continue to hold Russia accountable.
QUESTION: Do you have any update about U.S. relationship with the Taliban, because Taliban would like to compromise with the United States? And number two, lot of Afghan – your friends, the people who work with the United States – they would like to come to United States. The process is very slow. Any new idea to bring them or give them more facility to process get expedite?
MR PRICE: So, in terms of engagement with the Taliban – we spoke about this a few days ago, but late last month our Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West had an opportunity to lead a delegation, accompanied by a senior Treasury Department official, a senior USAID official to Doha, which was, at the time, the first in-person engagement with a high-level Taliban representative since the Taliban’s egregious decision on March 23rd to limit the ability of girls to attend secondary education. We made clear, as we do in all of our engagements with them, that the United States expects the Taliban to uphold the commitments they’ve made to the international community, but even more so in some ways the commitments that they have to the Afghan people.
The decision – we made clear our stark opposition to that decision that was announced on March 23rd, a decision that is inconsistent with the commitments that the Taliban has to the Afghan people. This is an area where our Special Envoy Rina Amiri has also been deeply engaged, working with our likeminded partners around the world to use the tools that are available to us, whether that is humanitarian assistance, whether that is tools at the UN, to not only hold the Taliban accountable but to support the people of Afghanistan and their humanitarian needs.
QUESTION: And also, there was another report, John Dobbinson – Jim Dobbinson, a former U.S. representative in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a week ago. Now he’s member of RAND Corporation. He said that United States should compromise with the Taliban; otherwise, there is no solution to Taliban to open even the school for women and bring the peace. Do you think that RAND Corporation expert’s idea is going to be useful? You guys listen to them?
MR PRICE: I haven’t seen that particular report. But what I can say more broadly is that there is no compromise when it comes to the basic commitments that the Taliban has put forward in private, that the Taliban has put forward in public, and even more importantly that the Taliban has made to its own people. These are, in some ways, very simple commitments respecting the basic rights of all of the people of Afghanistan – its women, its girls, its minorities, its religious minorities – respecting the right of free passage for those who seek to leave, upholding its counterterrorism commitments, including in the context of al-Qaida, including in the context of the ISIS branch in Afghanistan, forging a government that is representative of the Afghan people.
And when it comes to our concerns, we are committed to the proposition that we cannot have a normal relationship with any entity that continues to hold an American citizen – in this case, Mark Frerichs – hostage.
QUESTION: Ned, is the U.S. ready to go back to Doha to negotiate with Iran regarding the JCPOA, especially that Qatari foreign minister has a phone conversation today with his Iranian counterpart who said that they are ready to go back to the agreement and to put the ball in the U.S. field?
MR PRICE: The short summary of the Iranian statement to us, unfortunately, sounds like more of the same. Rather than put this in the context of going back to Doha, let me say that the United States and our partners within the P5+1 are committed to the course of a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, but the key adjective there is “mutual.” To date, we have not seen any indication that Iran is ready or willing at this stage to return to the JCPOA. As I said before, a deal has been on the table for months now. If Iran wanted to avail itself of that deal, it has had any number of opportunities – in Vienna, in Doha, through our partners in the Middle East, through our partners in the EU. Iran, again, to date has chosen not to do so.
QUESTION: But are you ready to go back to Doha for a new set of talks with —
MR PRICE: We are fully prepared to return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA. I think it is probably more appropriate to focus on our overarching goal rather than the tactic to get there. We continue to believe that diplomacy is the most durable approach to contain Iran’s nuclear program. We continue to believe that within that diplomatic rubric, a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is the most effective, is the most feasible option that has been within reach for quite some time now: to reapply those stringent limits on Iran’s nuclear program, to reimpose the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever peacefully negotiated, and, in the case of Iran, to see to it that appropriate sanctions relief is applied if Iran once again curtails its nuclear activity.
QUESTION: Two more things. One, U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary Blinken noting their concerns about Israel’s designation of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist groups. Do you have anything on this letter?
MR PRICE: You know that we don’t comment on congressional correspondence. I’m familiar with it, but let me just say we’ve made clear to our Israeli Government and Palestinian Authority counterparts that independent civil society organizations in the West Bank and in Israel must be able to continue their important work. We value the monitoring of human rights violations and abuses that these independent NGOs undertake in this region and around the world, and we strongly believe that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible or responsive and democratic governance around the world.
And I made this point yesterday, but I’ll make it again. We have designated the PFLP as a foreign terrorist organization for more than 20 years now, going on 30 years. It’s an SDGT as well. It remains designated today. When it comes to these six NGOs, we’ve not designated any of them, but neither have we funded these groups.
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask a couple questions on behalf of a couple of colleagues who aren’t here. One is: Apparently Secretary Blinken met this morning with AfghanEvac. It’s a non-profit that’s trying to bring interpreters out of Afghanistan. Wondering if there’s anything you could say about it. Did he make any additional commitments, any assurances on speeding up processing or relocation?
MR PRICE: Sure. You have heard us say for the better part of a year now that the United States has an enduring commitment not only to the people of Afghanistan but, of course, to American citizens, to lawful permanent residents, some 1,300 of whom we have helped transport out of Afghanistan over the course of the past year, but also to Afghans to whom we have a special commitment. And today, as part of a regular engagement, the Secretary met with representatives of a self-organized coalition of more than 180 organizations, including veterans, frontline civilians, social workers, attorneys, non-profits, congressional staff, and private sector employees, all of whom we have worked with to support relocation and resettlement of our Afghan allies and partners over the better part of a year now.
The meeting was part of the department’s ongoing collaboration with this coalition and a recognition of the commitment that we have as a country made to supporting our new Afghan neighbors. The Secretary during the course of this meeting today – he’s now met with this coalition multiple times, but today he listened to stories of Afghans beginning their new lives here in the United States. The coalition we think represents the extraordinary contributions of individuals and communities across the country that are helping to make good on that commitment that we have to our Afghan allies, including by welcoming tens of thousands of them into our community.
QUESTION: Ukraine’s state nuclear company has accused Russia of storing explosives within the heart of one of its active plants, the largest atomic energy center in Europe. Is this something the State Department is investigating? And, if verified, what kind of response might we expect to see given the potential for a widespread catastrophe?
MR PRICE: So, I’m not immediately familiar with those reports. We have spoken in the past of Russia’s irresponsible behavior in the vicinity of Ukraine’s nuclear power generation facilities. If we have anything particularly on this angle, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Turkish President Erdo?an has said that his country is considering an offensive campaign in northern Syria, so I’m wondering what you think about this news. And also, is the administration reconsidering its sale of F-16 jets to Turkey in light of this development?
MR PRICE: So, we spoke yesterday regarding the importance and the concern that we’ve expressed regarding the stated plans for an incursion in northeastern Syria by Turkish forces. It is important to us that existing ceasefire lines be preserved. Any new operation, any new Turkish offensive in the region would have the potential to set back some of the tremendous progress that the coalition has made in the face of Daesh’s so-called caliphate in recent years. It would have the potential to be detrimental in the context of the ongoing political process pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 2254. We have expressed this concern publicly, as we did again yesterday and today. We have expressed it privately with our Turkish allies as well.
When it comes to F-16s, we made the point – and you heard this from the President in the aftermath of his bilateral meeting with President Erdo?an of Turkey on the sidelines of the NATO summit earlier in June – we strongly value our partnership with Turkey. Turkey is an important NATO Ally. We and Turkey have longstanding, deep – longstanding and deep bilateral defense ties, and Turkey’s continued NATO interoperability remains a priority for us. As a matter of policy, we don’t publicly comment or confirm proposed defense transfers until they have been formally notified to Congress. But what I can say is that we continue to engage Congress on this question.
QUESTION: Just a clarification, Ned. I have heard you say many times – you used the term “ceasefire lines.” Could you just remind us where those lines fall and when was that ceasefire, between whom and whom? Because I have been following the case and I don’t remember that Turkey – Turkey has signed or anything with YPG in that sense.
MR PRICE: Our position has long been that we support the maintenance of current ceasefire lines. We condemn any escalation. Of course, I don’t have a map in front of me, but we also expect Turkey to live up to the joint statement that it signed on October 17th, 2019, including as part of that joint statement to halt operations in northeast Syria. We’ve consistently said that we recognize Turkey’s legitimate security concerns. No other NATO Ally has faced as many terrorist attacks as our Turkish allies. But any new offensive would run the risk of further undermining stability, would put U.S. forces and the coalition’s campaign against ISIS potentially at risk.
QUESTION: There’s a report coming out saying 16 U.S. officials were sent to quarantine in China against their will. Can you confirm that?
MR PRICE: I am not immediately familiar with that, but we’ll get back to you.
QUESTION: Just one more on Lavrov. He is addressing the Arab League on Sunday. I know, as we saw in the G20 and in other places, we’ve – the United States has been looking to isolate Russia. Is there any concern that he’s going to address the Arab League? Has there been any discussion with the Arab League about his appearance?
MR PRICE: As I said before, we are less concerned with whom Foreign Minister Lavrov and his colleagues are communicating and more focused on the messages that they’re hearing. And when it comes to the G20 in Bali – and you alluded to this – the message that Foreign Minister Lavrov heard was loud and clear. It was one in condemnation of Russia’s illegal, unprovoked, unjustified, brutal war against Ukraine. It was a message that was largely in support of our Ukrainian partners. It was a message that was nearly unanimous in its condemnation of what Russia has done when it comes to global food security.
We understand that countries around the world have individual, unique relations with Russia, but there are basic principles at play that apply equally in the Middle East, as they do to Europe, as they do in the Indo-Pacific and everywhere else. Those are the central tenets of the rules-based international system: the idea that might in the 21st century can’t make right; the idea that a large country shouldn’t be in a position to bully a small country; the idea that no other country should be able to dictate the foreign policy orientation or the foreign policy choices of any other country. Those are principles that we seek to preserve and to promote, again, when it comes to the Middle East, in Europe, the Indo-Pacific and everywhere else.
QUESTION: The UK’s intelligence chief said today that they predict Russia’s military is about to hit a wall – “run out of steam” was the exact phrase – giving Ukraine a chance to strike back. Does the U.S. share this assessment?
MR PRICE: What we are doing is putting Ukraine in the best position to defend its territory against this naked aggression. That is what we have done well before the start of Russia’s invasion. After all, the first drawdown for Ukraine was nearly a year ago – it was, as I recall, Labor Day of last year. There was another $200 million drawdown in December of last year, and then in the run-up to and, of course, during the course of this invasion, billions of dollars’ worth of support to our Ukrainian partners, so that together, with our partners around the world, we can put Ukraine in the strongest possible position on the battlefield and, by extension, in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table if and when any such negotiating table develops.
All right. Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded.)