State Dept Presser – July 25, 2022

Ned Price, spokespersons of the US State Department held a regular press briefing on July 25 and answered a wide range of questions from democracy in Myanmar to Iranian Nuclear issue and non-proliferation issues besides Russia-Ukraine war.  

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Welcome to Monday.

You all heard this from the Secretary this morning, but I think it bears repeating, and that is that we strongly condemn the Burmese military’s executions of pro-democracy activists and elected leaders.??These heinous acts of violence demonstrate the regime’s brutality in a new and horrible light, and we remain concerned it also reflects an ongoing disregard for the human rights and rule of law, as reports indicate the activists were denied legal representation and the ability to appeal.??The United States urges all partners and allies to join us in condemning the regime’s actions and stepping up pressure on the regime and its supporters.  We call on the regime to cease executions, release all those unjustly detained, and restore Burma’s path to democracy.

With that, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION:  So what are you going to do about it?

MR PRICE: Well, obviously this is – has just transpired in recent hours. We have been in touch with our partners around the world, to include our partners in ASEAN. We are urging, as I said just a moment ago, all countries, all partners, all allies to add their voices when it comes to the condemnation of this heinous affront to the rule of law, this heinous affront to human rights, this heinous affront to the Burmese people, who have since February of last year expressed an ardent and sincere desire to put their country on the path back to democracy.

At the same time, we are urging all of our partners to step up that economic pressure, that political pressure on the regime in Burma. Not only is this an affront to the human rights of the Burmese people, not only is it a slap in the face to the millions of Burmese who wish to see their country back on the path to democracy, it’s also a direct rebuke of the appeal that the junta heard and the world heard from the ASEAN chair, Cambodia in this case, and other ASEAN leaders who warned the junta in no uncertain terms not to carry out these executions.

We underscore that with the escalating violence with these horrific atrocities that the junta has carried out, there can be no business as usual with this regime. We urge all countries to ban the sale of military equipment to Burma, to refrain from lending the regime any degree of international credibility, and we call on ASEAN to maintain its important precedent only allowing Burmese non-political representation at regional events.

QUESTION: What is the Biden administration going to do?

MR PRICE: We are already responding to this. I said we have been in close touch with our partners, including our ASEAN partners. I think you will see more from us and from our partners in terms of condemnation. And we have made clear all along – since February of last year – that the costs on the Burmese regime, the costs on the junta, will continue to escalate. We will continue to escalate those costs with the economic pressure that we have imposed and that we’re prepared to impose.

We of course don’t preview our own sanctions, but all options that serve to cut off the regime’s revenue, which it uses to perpetrate this violence – it’s on the table. We – when considering any such actions, we’re of course looking to any potential humanitarian implications for the people of Burma, who have already suffered far too much for far too long, since this junta came to power. But again, all options are on the table. We’re going to work with our partners to see to it that the steps we take going forward are coordinated so that they have maximum effect on the regime.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, do you – you’re urging partners to step up. I think a lot of activists, a lot of Myanmar people have been asking for you – for the U.S. Government to step up in terms of its response for a long time in that you’ve done a lot of sanctions, but you haven’t done any sanctions that target the gas exports that are the main source of foreign revenue for the junta. So why haven’t you taken any action on that, if you’re asking for – not to be business as usual for the junta? Why haven’t you taken any action on these gas revenues, and will you do that now?

MR PRICE: All means all. When I say that all options are on the table, I mean that all options are on the table. We are discussing additional response options that we could implement ourselves, that we could implement in coordination with our partners – our partners in ASEAN, our other likeminded partners with whom we’ve worked since February of last year to seek to put Burma back on the path to democracy.

Even as we consider all of those measures, we are also cognizant of what needs to be a central charge, and that is to do no harm, or to do no additional harm in this case. It’s clear that the coup has done tremendous harm to the people of Burma, hundreds of whom have been killed in this senseless violence, too many of whom find themselves political prisoner of a regime that isn’t tolerating any form of dissent or opposition.

So as we consider our next steps, as we consider all potential options, we are also taking a very close look at any potential humanitarian implications of steps that we might take.

QUESTION:  You’re talking about enhancing support for the Burmese people, though obviously a lot of the Burmese people have taken up arms against the junta. Do you still draw the line on military support for the opposition to the junta, or is that something you’re going to consider?

MR PRICE:  We are seeking to put Burma on the path back to democracy. Our goal in this is a political one. Our goal in this is to help advance the same objective and the same goal that we’ve heard the people of Burma, so many of whom have taken peacefully to the streets to demonstrate their support for a return to democracy. It’s our goal to support them, and we will continue to support them with appropriate means.

QUESTION:  When you said that all countries need to condemn and take action, could you talk to the role of some of the major players there, including China in particular, India to a certain extent, that haven’t completely distanced themselves from the junta?

MR PRICE:  Well, now is the time, because you were right, Shaun, in your question that there are countries around the world that haven’t done enough, certainly, when it comes to rhetorical condemnation, when it comes to imposing costs, when it comes to the core charge that it cannot be business as usual with the junta. We have discussed the goal of putting Burma back on the path to democracy with virtually all of our allies and partners in the region. There are some countries in the region – you named a couple of them – where we have had in-depth discussions.

When the Secretary met with Wong Yi not all that long ago, Burma was a topic of discussion. We have discussed it with other senior PRC officials. Arguably, no country has the potential to influence the trajectory of Burma’s next steps more so than the PRC. And we’ve called on all countries to act responsibility, to use their influence in a way that is constructive, to use their influence in a way that works for the interests of the Burmese people, and that ultimately puts Burma back on the path to democracy.

The fact is that the regime has not faced the level of economic and in some cases diplomatic pressure that we would like to see. We are calling on countries around the world to do more. We will be doing more as well.

QUESTION: So you said last week that Russian grain is not in any way sanctioned or there are no sanctions imposed —

MR PRICE: That’s right.

QUESTION: — but the Russians claim that there are secondary sanctions that impact their ability to export their grain and so on. Can you comment on this?

MR PRICE: The Russians have made a number of claims in recent days, but also over recent months in the context of Russia and Ukraine that amount to nothing more than misinformation or, in some cases, disinformation. The fact is that we have been very specific in designing this sanctions regime to see to it that food and fertilizer from Russia is entirely exempted, to see to it that companies around the world have the assurances that they need to export these products, knowing the vital role that Ukraine’s grain, Ukraine’s fertilizer – fertilizer and food from the region plays given that it is essentially a breadbasket for the world.

QUESTION: Ned, you keep saying this – making this comment about the Russians being isolated and Lavrov walking out of the G20. The guy just got off of a – has just finished up a five – or four or five country tour of Africa starting in Egypt, going to Ethiopia, then Uganda, the Congo. That’s not exactly a picture of isolation, is it?

MR PRICE: You saw and you heard some of the messages that emanated from the G20, the G20 being a fairly diverse cross-section of countries with diverse interests and perspectives. But there was a broad consensus among this collection of countries, some of the world’s leading economies, that Russia should be condemned for its actions, that its actions were exacerbating and perpetuating the global food crisis. The – it is becoming clear that Russia is recognizing that its own actions have caused it to become a pariah. I made an allusion —

QUESTION: So —

MR PRICE: — to this a moment ago, but —

QUESTION: So you’re saying that these trips that they’re – I mean, the defense minister was just in Turkey, right, signing this agreement. Now, what happened in Odessa happened in Odessa, but I mean he – he went there. President Putin was just in Iran. Okay, fine, it’s Iran, and you might say that, okay, that shows desperation, but you’re saying that all these foreign visits that they’re doing are signs of desperation, of Russia’s increasing isolation? Because it doesn’t really compute that way.

MR PRICE: It’s very clear that Foreign Minister Lavrov is seeking to engage with countries to try to stem the onslaught of outrage against Russia. We’ve made this point before. We are much less concerned with whom Russia is speaking than the messages that Russia is hearing from countries. The message that Foreign Minister Lavrov heard, the message that Russia heard from the G20, the message that Russia has heard from the UN, the message that Russia has heard from other countries – other blocs of countries – has been increasingly clear about the toll of Moscow’s invasion, the toll of Moscow’s brutal aggression against Ukraine.

QUESTION: May I follow on grain?

MR PRICE: Sure, please.

QUESTION: Ambassador Power told CNN today that U.S. administration is preparing so-called Plan B, means alternative plan to transport grain from Ukraine. Could you provide more details? And does it mean that we need this plan in case if Istanbul agreement will not work, or it will be realized at the same time?

MR PRICE: So, we are looking at all options when it comes to the disposition of Ukrainian grain, and we’re working with our Ukrainian partners, who are in the first instance responsible for seeing the export of their grain because it is, again, their grain. The – it is clear that opening Ukraine’s Black Sea ports would be the most effective means by which to increase exports of Ukrainian grain and other foodstuffs. We’ve made this point before, but there are some 20 tons of grain that are in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports ready to go, have been ready to go for in some cases months, and they have been stuck there owing principally to one element and one element alone. That is Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea.

But all along we’ve made the point that we are looking at and helping our Ukrainian partners with every option to increase Ukrainian grain exports. And in fact, prior to the signing of this deal, Ukraine’s grain exports have increased somewhat given the use of overland routes, given other tactics that our Ukrainian partners have put into play.

Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine was exporting some six tons of grain per month. Ukraine is nowhere near that at the presence – at the present, excuse me – but Ukraine’s exports have increased month over month from February to March to April to May and in subsequent months. So we have been able to work with them in – to increase those exports in some ways, but we all know that the most effective means and the largest-scale means by which to increase those exports will be through the Black Sea.

 QUESTION:  I have a question on Russia and North Korea. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced recently Western countries were opposed to peace talks with Ukraine. Is this true?

MR PRICE: That is absolutely not true. President Zelenskyy has said very clearly that this war will have to end diplomatically. We know this war will have to end through diplomacy, through dialogue. What is also true is that the Russians have shown no indication whatsoever that they are prepared to engage in constructive dialogue, in constructive diplomacy. You don’t have to take our word for it; just about every world leader that has spoken to President Putin has in some cases said publicly, in some cases conveyed to us privately, that there seems to be no room on the part of the Russian Federation for any sort of real negotiation, the kind of negotiation that the Ukrainians have been willing to take part in since the beginning of this Russian invasion of Ukraine.

I am reminded of another lie that we heard emanate from the Kremlin that peace talks were ongoing in March only to have what the Russians claimed was a Ukrainian withdrawal from them. The great irony, of course, is that it is Russia, not Ukraine, that is responsible for perpetrating this brutality against the Ukrainian people; that is responsible for the continued bombardment, the continued military operations on sovereign Ukrainian soil; and it’s Ukraine’s leadership, including President Zelenskyy, that has consistently said they are – they recognize this will have to end diplomatically and they are prepared to engage diplomatically. Russia could not say the same.

QUESTION: On North Korea, recently National Security Council also said that North Korea is exploiting funds through ransomware hacking. How is the United States responding to this cyber hacking, I mean cyber hacking criminal groups?

MR PRICE: We have spoken quite a bit in this briefing room, and you’ve heard from other senior officials our profound concerns, the international community’s profound concerns, with the DPRK WMD programs. But that is not the extent of the challenge that the DPRK poses to the international community, and its activities in cyberspace are another such challenge.

We have released information indicating some of these nefarious and malign activities that the DPRK regime is undertaking online – in some cases to raise funds that go towards its illicit WMD programs. We have used the suite of policy tools at our disposal, be it economic, be it political, be it law enforcement tools as well, to pursue those actors from the DPRK who are responsible for this, just as we have used some of those same suites of tools to go after those responsible for the proliferation of the DPRK’s WMD programs.

QUESTION: After the phone call between the French president and the Iranian president, do you expect any new steps regarding the talks between the U.S. and Iran?

MR PRICE: Well, it’s difficult for me to say because the fact is that it is – the onus is on Iran to come forward to make clear that Tehran is ready to engage constructively, to put aside extraneous issues, and to talk in good faith about the deal that has been on the table for some time.

The Élysée put out a statement and made clear that President Macron of France conveyed precisely the same message we have conveyed indirectly to the Iranians, the same message we had issued publicly for some time: We are prepared to re-enter on a mutual basis the JCPOA. But of course, mutual means it’s a two-way street; the Iranians would need to do the same. We have not yet, at least to date, seen the Iranians indicate that they’re ready to do that.

QUESTION: Thank you. The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency today said that they’re not going to allow the IAEA cameras to operate until the deal is restored. Could that have any impact on the negotiations?

MR PRICE: Well, we talked about this in recent weeks, and we noted last month that Iran’s decision to turn off multiple JCPOA-related IAEA cameras responding to the very clear call that Iran heard from the international community for more transparency by offering only less transparency was extremely regrettable, to put it mildly. It was the latest in a series of such steps. We know, and the fact is that maintaining reduced JCPOA-related transparency with the IAEA only complicates the challenges associated with a potential mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. It only deepens the nuclear crisis that Iran itself has created.

When it comes to potential implications, as part of any negotiated mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, Iran will have to provide whatever information and transparency the IAEA deems necessary to allow it to verify Iran’s JCPOA declarations. 

QUESTION: Can I ask a quick question on the Palestinian issue?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The Times of Israel reported that the administration, the Biden administration, is leaning on the – on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to join or laud or speak well of the Abraham Accords, and that it is to the benefit of the Palestinians. Could you clarify this point for us?

MR PRICE: Well, what I can say – and you heard this very clearly from Secretary Blinken and from his counterparts in the Negev Summit, when we travelled to the Negev desert in March – and Secretary Blinken, for his part, said that we have to be essentially clear that regional peace agreements and the construction of bridges between Israel and its Arab neighbors is not a substitute for progress between Palestinians and Israelis. That is a message that we heard in the Negev. It is a message that we’ve heard since from other signatories to the Abraham Accords and to normalization agreements, acknowledging that the onus is on all of us to continue to strive for a world in which Israelis and Palestinians enjoy equal levels of security, of prosperity, of freedom, of dignity.

So we unequivocally support the Abraham Accords. We unequivocally support normalization agreements. As you know, we’ve made no secret of the fact that we are looking to expand the circle of friendships and relationships between Israel and its neighbors, just as we continue to do everything we can, in many cases with our partners in the region beyond, to support the aspirations and support the needs of the Palestinian people.

QUESTION:  On Rwanda. I know you don’t usually comment on the congressional correspondence, but I wonder if I could ask sort of broadly on the U.S. policy towards Rwanda in the light of the Senate Foreign Relations Chair Menendez’s letter, which highlights concerns about human rights and political repression in Rwanda.  

MR PRICE: Well, you’re right that we don’t comment publicly on congressional correspondence. In this case, I have seen that the senator’s office has spoken publicly to the letter with which I’m familiar. I have every expectation that Rwanda will be a topic of discussion between the United States – between the Department of State and our congressional partners. It is absolutely the prerogative of Congress in pursuing and conducting its oversight role to ask questions of our policy, our policy that is always responsive to events on the ground. And so of course we are taking a close eye to events on the ground, including tensions between the DRC and Rwanda. We’ve said before that we’re concerned about the rising tensions between the DRC and Rwanda. We’ve urged both sides to exercise restraint and to engage in immediate dialogue, to de-escalate tensions and hostilities. We’ve made clear the fact that we continue to support the Nairobi Process as an effort to de-escalate these tensions.

But when it comes to Paul Rusesabagina, this gets back to the last question, but we do have no higher priority to seeing the release of those Americans who were held unjustly anywhere around the world, and that includes Paul Rusesabagina in Rwanda. This is a case that Roger Carsten – Ambassador Carstens – and his office are working on. We’ve renewed our call for the – for the Rwanda Government to address procedural shortcomings in its judicial process. We’re aware of the serious concerns about Paul’s health. We continue to urge the Government of Rwanda to ensure he receives all necessary medical care. We have concluded for some time now there were violations of his fair trail guarantees as well.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask on House Speaker Pelosi’s potential trip to Taiwan. I’m just wondering if there’s anything you could tell us about the State Department’s analysis around the planning of the trip…..

MR PRICE: Well, it’s impossible for me to speak to some of those elements for the very reason that the speaker’s office has not confirmed any travel or potential travel. We’ll of course refer to the office of the speaker for any travel she may undertake. When it comes to what we’ve heard publicly from the PRC, from the ministry of foreign affairs in this case, I’m not going to respond directly, but I will just restate our policy, and that is that we remain committed to maintaining cross-strait peace and stability and our “one China” policy, which is guided, as you know, by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances. We of course don’t have diplomatic relations with Taiwan or support Taiwan independence, but we have a robust, unofficial relationship as well as abiding interest in maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Yes.

QUESTION: Well, wait a minute, just before we move on from that – so you’re saying that the State Department has no opinion about this potential visit?

MR PRICE: We don’t have an opinion about a visit that hasn’t been announced. It is not for us to weigh in on potential – potential travel or hypotheticals. We’ll defer to the speaker’s office to speak to any plans she may have.

QUESTION:  I have a question about Review Conference of NPT treaty on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, which will start next Monday. First, do you expect Secretary Blinken will attend the conference next week, and what do you think is the significance of Review Conference this time, especially in light of Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons? And what will the U.S. call for to make an international consensus during this Review Conference?

MR PRICE: Sure. So I’m not in a position to announce any travel at the moment, but let me just say broadly that the United States stands by the NPT, the Non-Proliferation Treaty. We think it is extraordinarily important to underline the obligations that the NPT puts forward for nuclear weapon states and for non-nuclear weapon states alike.

In the face of challenges to the global non-proliferation regime, we think it’s important that the United States stands with the signatories of the NPT to make clear that even though it has been in effect for some time now, its relevance, its importance, has not diminished a single iota over the years and over the decades.

So, without getting too far, I think you can expect Secretary Blinken to be personally involved in this effort, including in the coming days.

Thank you all very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:24 p.m.)