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State Dept Press Briefing – October 24, 2022

18 Min
State Dept Press Briefing – October 24, 2022

The US State Department held a presser on Oct 24 with spokesman Ned Price fielding a wide range of questions.

Some Excerpts (The order was tweaked to bring upfront the questions on Pakistan media)

QUESTION: Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV, Pakistan. Senior Pakistani journalist, and my colleague, my friend, Arshad Sharif was killed in Nairobi, and he was forced to live in exile due to his investigative reporting about the specific political system of Pakistan. Sir, we often talk about this. What is your message to the Pakistani leadership to fulfill their commitments regarding press freedom?

MR PRICE: Well, first, I express my condolences to you. I express my condolences to Arshad’s colleagues, to his loved ones, to family members, to all those who knew him, who knew his work. We’re deeply saddened by the death of Arshad Sharif. We encourage a full investigation by the Government of Kenya into his death. It’s not entirely clear that we know all the circumstances at this point regarding what led to his death, but we do urge a full investigation.

QUESTION: Sir, Arshad Sharif called me the day before yesterday. I was talking to him on the phone, and he told me that he applied to renew his U.S. visa from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, but it was rejected. So, sir, is there any kind of – special kind of thing that you – like have those kind of journalists or people who just, like, facing death threats and apply for the visa? I mean, just came into my mind, this question. I was talking to him the day before yesterday, and I was trying to help him.

MR PRICE: It’s difficult for me to speak with any specificity regarding what we could do with a particular individual, but we have programs around the world in the first instance to bolster protections for those who are exercising what is another universal right, the right to freedom of expression, the right to information. And it’s clear through his work that Arshad Sharif was dedicated to that fundamental right of freedom of expression – took him around the world. His work was known around the world.

USAID has a number of programs to work with governments around the world to bolster those rights, to bolster independent media. We have taken action. The department and others have taken action when we are aware of efforts on the part of governments around the world to intimidate, to harass, to otherwise seek to silence the voices of those who are so committed to that freedom of expression.

QUESTION: Sir, there are many Pakistani journalists who are living in exile due to this kind of threats. To be honest, I feel 100 percent safe here in Washington, D.C., but just wanted to hear from you – the journalists who are a little critical about Pakistani political system, should we – should they all feel safe here in United States of America?

MR PRICE: This is a country that cherishes the rights that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our Bill of Rights. I, of course, am not here to offer advice to everyone, but these are rights that are embedded in our country’s experience, that are embedded in America’s DNA. We also believe that these rights are universal. These are rights that should not be only protected here. These are rights that should be at the heart of societies around the world. And when countries fail to respect these rights, when they actively try to contravene these rights – in this case, when they attempt to suppress, repress, or otherwise harass journalists – they tend to hear about it from the United States. And that’s a good thing.

QUESTION: Just – may I ask one more on Pakistan, since we’re on the topic?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Does the United States have anything to say about the decision to bar Imran Khan from standing for election for five years?

MR PRICE: We are not going to inject ourselves into internal Pakistani politics or into a dispute between the court and the Pakistani political system.

QUESTION:   Just in terms of the comments that we’ve been hearing from Russian officials and the response to those comments from you guys, from the French, from the Brits – and I notice that there was a call today, another one, between the – Gerasimov and the British chief of staff, I guess is what you would call it, basically outlining the same things, that they think that the Ukrainians are going to – or they accuse the Ukrainians of plotting to use a dirty bomb and that they will respond in kind. So, without getting into what happened over the weekend and what has already been said, is there anything new that you guys have to say on this topic today?

MR PRICE: Well, you asked that we not get into the weekend, but I think the weekend is important context for what we’re speaking to, because over the weekend you did hear and you saw a number of calls take place not only from senior officials here in Washington but from capitals in Europe. And you saw a remarkably consistent message in those readouts of those calls as well as in the joint statement that we put out last night with the forbearance of our French and British partners, who were working late – early into this morning, I should say – to finalize it, that made clear that we’re concerned when we hear this type of patently false disinformation emanating from the Kremlin. We know the Kremlin’s track record when it comes to these types of claims. That’s what – of course what is the predicate, what ultimately undergirds our concern. We reject the transparently false allegation that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory. That was a message you saw in the readouts, in the joint statement that we issued yesterday.

And then just today, you saw from Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba – he put out a statement about his call with Director General Grossi of the IAEA, and Foreign Minister Kuleba said in that statement that he invited the IAEA to, quote, “urgently send experts to peaceful facilities in Ukraine which Russia deceitfully claims to be developing a dirty bomb.” And the IAEA has agreed. Secretary Blinken will be meeting later today with Director General Grossi of the IAEA. I imagine this will be a topic of discussion.

The broader point – and again, you heard this not only from us but from our European allies as well – is that the world would see through any Russian attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation. We wanted to be very clear in our calls, in our joint statements, in the readouts of those calls today, and some of which have – started yesterday and that have continued today – we wanted to send a very clear message that any such effort would be transparent, any such effort would not fool the world.

QUESTION: …  Jake Sullivan a few weeks ago have talked about – without going into detail – the kind of response that Russia would get if they – if it were to deploy nuclear weapons. Would you be treating a dirty bomb attack in the same way? Would it be different? Have you communicated to allies what response you would be giving if that were the case?

MR PRICE: We’ve been very clear with the Russians. We’ve been very clear with the world – publicly with the world, privately with the Russians about the severe consequences that would result from nuclear use. Again, to Matt’s question, I’m not going to weigh in on every conceivable hypothetical. It would certainly be another example of President Putin’s brutality if he were to use a so-called dirty bomb. There would be consequences for Russia whether it uses a dirty bomb or a nuclear bomb. We’ve been very clear about that.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you one other thing? Do you read anything into it that it has been Russian defense officials reaching out to defense counterparts, rather than the

foreign minister, rather than diplomats? Does that mean anything to you at all?

MR PRICE: Look, it’s not helpful, I think, for us to try to read the tea leaves.

QUESTION: I’m not asking you read the tea leaves.

MR PRICE: Certainly not – certainly not publicly. Whenever we see a leaf that is suggestive of a potential Russian pretext for further escalation, that’s something of concern with – concern to us, and we sought to be very clear and on the record about that concern.

QUESTION: Yeah, Ned, thanks so much. Back to Matt’s question on the defense line, the communication line. It’s important – I don’t want to let this slide because today marks eight months of – into this war. When the Secretary decided to call his colleague a couple of months ago, he came down here to make sure first we are aware in advance, and secondly, there is nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. What happened in the administration’s policy? Why is it okay now to pick up a phone call from Shoigu, who is personally responsible for hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians’ lives? And secondly, what happened to the administration’s “nothing without Ukraine about Ukraine” policy?

MR PRICE: That is still very much our mantra. That is still very much our policy. I think it’s important, Alex, to note that the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense have different responsibilities; they have different mandates. When the Secretary picked up the phone to speak with Foreign Minister Lavrov several months ago now, he did so because there were several important bilateral concerns that he thought it important to relay through his channel, which is foreign policy, which is a policy channel. In the first instance, it was our efforts to see the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner. He also was very clear about the consequences that would befall Moscow that we’ve now seen implemented against Moscow were it to move forward with, at the time, was the threat of annexation by force.

Of course, Secretary Austin has a different set of responsibilities. I will let the Pentagon speak to his calls. They have issued a public readout. But when Secretary Austin picks up the phone to speak to secretary – to Minister of Defense Shoigu, as he has done on a couple of occasions now, there are a different set of topics than Secretary Blinken would discuss with Foreign Minister Lavrov.

I can assure you – again, without speaking – purporting to speak for Secretary Austin or the Pentagon – that Secretary Austin would not engage in anything about Ukraine without Ukraine. That is a mantra that is at the heart of our approach both in this building, at the Pentagon, from the White House, and throughout this administration.

QUESTION:  President Zelenskyy today spoke at a conference virtually of Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper. And he spoke about the – what he terms a Russian-Iranian alliance, and saying that Israel should do more, including supply of defensive weapons of the Iron Dome. Does the United States have anything to say about that? Does it want to weigh in on whether Israel could be doing more to help Ukraine right now?

MR PRICE:  Shaun, as a general matter, we don’t weigh in specifically on what countries could be doing or are doing. We offer our gratitude and our appreciation for the dozens of countries around the world that are providing support to the Ukrainian people. Some of those countries are providing security assistance. Some of those countries are providing economic assistance. Some of those countries are providing humanitarian assistance. Some of those countries are providing all three, like the United States.

When we were last in Israel in March, our Israeli counterparts took the Secretary to the command center and they showed us a very impressive presentation of a functioning Israeli field hospital that, as I recall, had just been constructed. Israel has provided important humanitarian support to the people of Ukraine. Israel has consistently signalled that it stands on the side of the Ukrainian people and the side of the broader rules-based international order that Russia is seeking to undermine and to contravene.

So we would refer to our Israeli partners to speak specifically to the type of support they are providing, to the type of support they may consider providing.

QUESTION:  On the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Ned, four days ago the Israelis began implementing a law that restricts entry into the West Bank, and I know you’ve been talking to the Israelis on this issue. And I want to ask you: How far along have you gotten with them? What kind of promises have the Israelis been able to give you on this issue?

MR PRICE:  We continue to have discussions with our Israeli counterparts on this. When we’ve had concerns, we voice those concerns very clearly to our Israeli counterparts. You’ve heard us voice some of those concerns publicly as well. So, it’s something we continue to discuss.

QUESTION:  Yeah. But in the meantime, if, let’s say, someone like me wants to go, they would have to request a visa 45 days in advance and so on. Is that okay with you?

MR PRICE:  This dialogue, this is a conversation that is continuing. Obviously, Israel has important security concerns. There are also important humanitarian considerations at play here. We want to make sure that the balance of all of those interests and all of those factors is appropriate.

QUESTION:  But Israel does not do this to other Americans. It imposes this law on Palestinian Americans. So, there is quite a distinction. They do have security concerns, but are you just expressing that you are annoyed with this law, or are you   willing to take any measures to ensure that people who carry American passport and American citizenship are treated equally?

MR PRICE:  This has been a longstanding conversation, and this has been going on for some time prior to the implementation of this as these rules have evolved in recent months, and even in recent days. So, we’ll continue to have this conversation when it comes to the ability of American citizens to travel, but also as it pertains to the security, the humanitarian considerations that are also at play.

QUESTION: These are both Iran-related questions, two questions. Iranian drones – actually, drone instructors – have been spotted in Belarus over the weekend. Do you have any comment on that?  And secondly, Iran also announced on Sunday that it can supply Russia with 40 turbines to help it with gas industry. As you know, the Russian gas industry is facing Western sanctions, so Iran is trying to help Russia out on that as well. Any comment?

MR PRICE: When it comes to your first question, we’re aware of reports but we are not in a position to comment on them, that there are these Iranian trainers in Belarus. We’ve noted more broadly our great concern about Iranian presence in Russian-occupied Ukraine – in Crimea in particular – and its actions with Russia in this regard, and we’re following these reports very closely.

As we’ve said, we’re continually working to ensure that the Russian Federation and the Lukashenka regime in Belarus pay a severe price, an economic toll, for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. With our allies and partners, we have taken actions that target the financial networks and the assets of the Kremlin’s, as well as those belonging to the Lukashenka regime for enabling this Russian posture.

The Lukashenka regime, well before Russia’s war against Ukraine started, made a decision to cede the sovereignty of Belarus – which should be, which is, a sovereign country – to cede its sovereign rights to Russia to allow Russian forces to stage in Belarus, to mount a multifront attack against Ukraine. In doing so, the Lukashenka regime again put its own interests ahead of those of the people of Belarus. This has been a consistent pattern of behavior on the part of the Lukashenka regime, and we have taken action, together with allies and partners, to see to it that the regime pays a price.

QUESTION:  Special Envoy Rob Malley’s tweet over the weekend has angered Iranian activists about the demonstrations, where he said that the demonstrators want their government to respect their dignity and human rights.  When the State Department looks at these videos out of Iran as well as those demonstrations held across the world, what do you see these people asking for? Because, okay, it all started – yes, we want more freedom – but then it has evolved. It has changed into chants of “Death to dictator, death to the Islamic Republic.” They’re asking for regime change. What does the State Department see in these videos?

MR PRICE: It’s not for us to interpret what the people of Iran are asking for. It is up to them to be very clear with their voice, with their own government and with the world, to state what they are asking for.

It is up to us – and what we have done is – to provide the Iranian people with some of the tools that can help their voice be heard. The Iranian people by peacefully taking to the streets, by making these demands, we have sought to lend them and to certainly not stand in the way of services, the provision of hardware, of software that will allow their voices to be heard both within Iran, between Iranian citizens inside Iran, and to allow their voices to be heard outside of Iran. It is important that the world listen to the people of Iran.

We would never intend to characterize what it is that they seek. That is for the Iranian people to define and to express themselves.

QUESTION: Can I ask something completely different?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION:  … can you say where things stand now on having an international force for Haiti? Is there a partner country? Does the United States still find this to be an urgent priority?

MR PRICE: We do still find it to be an urgent priority. We, along with Haitian leaders, along with OAS leadership, along with many of our partners and allies around the world, do see the status quo as unsustainable given the security situation, the public health situation, the economic situation that Haitians are confronting. We believe the Haitian people must find a way to achieve an inclusive, broad-based, consistent – broad-based consensus on the way forward for their country’s government and development, and, of course, there have been discrete actors who have sought to stand in the way. We strongly condemn acts of violence that occurred in Haiti over the past weeks and those malign actors who continue to block the distribution of food and fuel to Haitian businesses and other essential Haitian institutions.

We are encouraging actions that will lead to the conditions for elections to take place as soon as possible. As you know, just last week, on October 21st, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted the sanctions resolution that we put forth together with our Mexican partners to hold some of these malign actors accountable, and by taking this step, we’ve taken – we have helped to stymie the activities of criminal actors in Haiti. And after robust and inclusive negotiations, this resolution is truly reflective of the council consensus.

As you know, we’re continuing to work with our partners to determine the next steps. We have in the meantime provided Haitian officials with vital security-related equipment. We did so earlier this month on October 15th, when the United States and Canada together provided security-related equipment to Port-au-Prince flown in by military aircraft. This equipment was purchased by the Haitian Government for their fight against criminal gangs.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you, Ned, for giving me the chance. My name is Mesfin from TG Ethiopia, and my question is about Ethiopia. Here’s my first question, then. Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians gathered Saturday in Addis Ababa and other cities in Ethiopia to demand that the United States and other European countries stop their interference and pressure in Ethiopia’s internal affairs. Some demonstrators even displayed banners accusing the United States of disrespecting Ethiopia’s sovereignty. What is the State Department’s response to the demonstrators’ demands?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, I missed the first part of your question in terms of the demonstrators’ demands.

QUESTION: Yes, they are accusing the United States disrespecting Ethiopia’s sovereignty. They are saying that the United States is interfering in Ethiopia’s internal affairs. So what is your response to that?

MR PRICE: Our response, of course, is that those claims are wholly inaccurate, they are wholly wrong. The interest of the United States is the interest of the Ethiopian people: to see the restoration of peace, to see an end to the violence, to see a sovereign, whole Ethiopia. And that’s why we’ve supported the African Union-led talks.

And tomorrow in fact, these African Union-led talks will kick off in South Africa to address the ongoing conflict in northern Ethiopia that has cost so many lives, has led to atrocities, has led to bloodshed, has led to starvation, has aggravated so many underlying factors. We commend South Africa for hosting the talks. We stand ready to support the African Union High Representative Obasanjo and the AU panel members, former South African Deputy Prime Minister Mlambo-Ngcuka, and former Kenyan President Kenyatta in facilitating an agreement.

And to that end, our Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer is in South Africa to observe and to participate in the AU-led talks along with United Nations and IGAD, and to support efforts to have an immediate cessation of hostilities, to deliver humanitarian assistance to all Ethiopians in need, to prevent further human rights abuses and atrocity – atrocities, and to secure Eritrea’s withdrawal from northern Ethiopia. Those are our interests, but importantly, those are also the interests of the Ethiopian people.

QUESTION: Ned, yesterday also Ethiopians and Eritreans demonstrated in front of the White House asking the same question. Did you get their messages?

MR PRICE: We have heard loud and clear messages from Ethiopians around the world, first – in the first instance, in Ethiopia. Our special envoy has spent significant time in Addis in recent weeks meeting with a range of stakeholders. Of course there are vibrant Ethiopian diaspora communities around the world, including here in the United States. We’re engaging with appropriate stakeholders to determine how best we can help the people of Ethiopia achieve their aspirations to end the violence, to provide humanitarian assistance, to restore Ethiopia’s sovereignty, and to put an end to the atrocities and human rights abuses.

QUESTION: Yes, Ned. On China, do you have – does the U.S. have a – has an assessment on the outcome of China’s 20th Party Congress, and does the outcome in any way, shape, or form change the U.S. calculation in dealing with the People’s Republic of China (inaudible) and if you could share with us any U.S. intelligence on the former President Hu Jintao being escorted out, apparently non-voluntarily? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Of course, the conclusion of the party conference doesn’t change our approach. You’ve heard our approach articulated most clearly and most at length by Secretary Blinken in May when he outlined our approach to the PRC. We do note the conclusion of the 20th Party Congress and we would welcome cooperation of the PRC where our interests align, and that includes cooperation on climate change, on global health, counternarcotics, non-proliferation as well.

At the same time, the administration has been clear that we’re focused on responsibly managing the competition with the PRC. This is perhaps the most consequential bilateral relationship we have. We’ll continue our efforts to keep lines of communication open, including at the leader level. We think it is incumbent on the United States to do that. It’s why Secretary Blinken has not hesitated to meet with Wang Yi, others have not hesitated to meet with, to speak with, their PRC counterparts, and we’ll continue to keep those lines of communication open.

QUESTION: Any take on the Hu Jintao being escorted out?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any comment or assessment to offer.

QUESTION: And you mentioned that the Secretary in May – the speech in May. Do you have anything on the status of China House? Is it up and running or is there a timeline?

MR PRICE: This is something that we’re continuing to discuss with members of Congress. We know that our approach to the PRC will be most effective when we have buy-in from congressional overseers, congressional appropriators, congressional authorizers. These are conversations that are ongoing, but we look forward to launching China House at the first possible opportunity, knowing that if we are to compete effectively against or with the PRC, we need to be able to pull on all of the resources that are within and under this roof. And that is the point of China House, to integrate the resources that we have here at the State Department and to ensure that in turn we can integrate them with what the White House is doing, what our partners in the interagency are doing as well.

QUESTION: One more quick one. North Korea mocks South Korea for being rejected by the United States to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea. How you can analyse this?

MR PRICE: Our commitment to the security of our allies, including the ROK, including Japan is ironclad. That commitment is sacrosanct. As you know, we recently resumed the extended deterrence working group. We are committed to extended deterrence for our allies Japan and South Korea.

QUESTION: One short clarification on Ukraine. Could you clarify the administration position about the possibility of the American troops being — physically being present at or settled on the Ukrainian territory? Why I got this question? This Saturday CBS News made a reportage from Romania, and they spoke with the leadership of the U.S. Army 101 Airborne, and American military told them that – I’m quoting – they are fully prepared to cross the border into Ukraine. And I got my audience in Ukraine and people are curious: is it any shift in a new U.S. administration position, or may one consider this as a signal to Moscow?

MR PRICE: There has been no shift in the administration’s position. Our position has been clear. We’re going to do everything we can to stand with Ukraine, to stand for the rules-based international order that Russia is attempting to undermine and to contravene. We are doing that through the provision of security assistance. We are doing that by holding the Kremlin and its key decision leaders to account with sanctions, other economic and financial measures. But the President has been clear we are not going to get into – certainly not going to seek to get into a war with Russia. What we are doing is providing Ukraine with what it needs to defend itself against what is clearly Russian aggression.

QUESTION: Yeah, back on China. The Department of Justice announced about an hour ago, give or take, that they’re charging several members of the Chinese Communist Party, the security apparatus there, with interfering in various affairs here in the U.S. Obviously, the DOJ is going to handle the criminal prosecutions, but when it comes to the Department of State, how are you guys going to respond to this threat and deal with it going forward? Some of the things they mentioned are things that have been going on for a while. Some of these people allegedly set up a fake think tank to try to influence American institutions. They tried to recruit former law enforcement, professors. These things have been happening for quite some time; there’s been a lot of reporting about it. The DOJ, like I said, will do the criminal prosecution, but what are you guys doing to try to rein in this problem that seems to be still very pervasive?

MR PRICE: I only saw these reports as I was walking out, and in any case, we wouldn’t comment on charges that have been unsealed by the Department of Justice. But more broadly, leaving aside what the Department of Justice alleged in a charging document today, what I can say is that this is a relationship that is multifaceted. We seek to cooperate with the PRC when it is in America’s national interests to do so. But this is a relationship that is primarily predicated on competition. And we are doing everything we can to compete and ultimately to out-compete with the PRC across the board. There are also elements of this relationship that are adversarial. And again, without speaking to any details that DOJ may have made public today, this certainly would seem to be in the category of adversarial elements of this relationship. We’re clear-eyed about the multifaceted nature of this relationship. We are prepared for the competition; we are prepared to defend our interests when they are challenged by the PRC.

QUESTION: Iran’s foreign minister said over the weekend that they had received a message indicating the U.S. was in a hurry to reach a nuclear agreement. Do you have any response to that, and has there been any indirect communication recently?

MR PRICE: Of course, there has been no such message to Iran. Those reports are not at all accurate. Our only message would be a simple one: stop killing your people. Stop sending weapons to Russia to kill Ukrainians. These are the same messages that we have conveyed publicly that we would convey privately.

Thank you all very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:09 p.m.)