The State Department held a press briefing on May 20 with Ned Price, Spokesperson, fielding questions about the Summit of the Americas, North Korea, NATO, and Xinjiang among other hot topics.
QUESTION: On China, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is – has confirmed a trip next week to China. Civil rights groups are critical of this, saying she could be seeing a Potemkin village. What – does the United States have an assessment of whether the trip is appropriate at this point, whether be useful, whether the Chinese will be giving access?
And just finally, briefly, Brittney Griner – I was wondering if there’s any update. I know the Secretary spoke to her wife recently. Do you have any more updates on the case there? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Sure, let me start with that last question first. I do have an update to offer. I can confirm that a consular officer visited Brittney Griner in detention yesterday, on Thursday, May 19th. The consular officer found her continuing to do as well as could be expected under these exceedingly challenging circumstances. But again, our message is a clear and simple one. We continue to insist that Russia allow consistent and timely consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees. One-off visits are not sufficient, and we will continue to call on Moscow to uphold its commitments under the Vienna Convention for consistent and timely access as well.
When it comes to China and the visit of High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to the PRC, what I’ll say is that we are deeply concerned about the upcoming visit. Our understanding of the planned restrictions that she will be subjected to during the visit – based on that, we have no expectation that the PRC will grant the necessary access required to conduct a complete, unmanipulated assessment of the human rights environment in Xinjiang. The high commissioner, we believe, must act, and be allowed to act, independently; and the high commissioner must report objectively and factually on the human rights situation.
A credible visit to the region would feature unhindered, transparent, and unsupervised access to affected communities of the high commissioner’s choosing, as well as timely, candid, and complete reporting of the visit’s full findings. We have repeatedly made our concerns known to the PRC and to the high commissioner, and for months we and others in the international community have called upon the high commissioner to release a report drafted by her staff detailing the situation in Xinjiang. Despite frequent assurances by her office that the report would be released in short order, it remains unavailable to us, and we call on the high commissioner to release the report without delay and not to wait for the visit to do so.
The high commissioner’s continued silence in the face of indisputable evidence of atrocities in Xinjiang and other human rights violations and abuses throughout the PRC, it is deeply concerning, particularly as she is and should be the leading UN voice on human rights. The United States remains gravely concerned by the genocide and crimes against humanity that PRC authorities are perpetrating against Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. And we call on the PRC to immediately cease committing these atrocities, release those unjustly detained, and allow independent investigators full and unhindered access to the region. We’ll continue to work closely with our likeminded partners and the international community to urge an end to these atrocities and provide justice to the many victims.
QUESTION: Hi. Not sure if you guys can hear me or if you have to unmute to be unmuted, but just wondering, Ned, if you could give us an update on the discussions in NATO about the ongoing troop presence in Eastern Europe. There was a record today from CNN that’s saying that there would be a ongoing presence of 100,000 troops in Europe. And that is something that – that seems like it would be something as – sort of a forerunner to the decisions that are going to be locked in or out in Madrid. Any comment on that would be helpful. Thanks.
MR PRICE: Missy, I’m confident these discussions will continue, especially as we look forward to the NATO Summit in Madrid next month. These are conversations that we’ve been having within Alliance both since and before President Putin’s decision to further invade Ukraine on February 24th.
Before that invasion, we were clear that we would do a few things if President Putin’s aggression went ahead. We made clear that we would provide unprecedented levels of security assistance to support our Ukrainian partners so that they could effectively defend their freedom, defend their democracy, defend their country from what was then the potential of Russian aggression. We made clear that we would impose severe consequences on the Russian economy, on the Russian financial system. But to your question, we also said that we would reinforce and take steps to reassure the Alliance, the member states of the Alliance, and particularly those on the eastern flank of the NATO Alliance, and that’s what we’ve done.
We have – there are now some 100,000 U.S. service members on the European continent. That number has risen in recent weeks precisely because we are fulfilling the pledge that we made prior to Russian – prior to Russia’s invasion. But we will continue to speak to questions of force posture, both in terms of NATO forces and in terms of U.S. deployment as an alliance and bilaterally and multilaterally with our Allies and partners in Europe, in the weeks ahead – especially as we look towards the summit in June.
QUESTION: A question on the NATO issue. While the dispute is officially between Turkey, Sweden, and Finland, American officials have said if there is anything they can do to be supportive, they’ll do it. And it’s no secret that Turkey has a number of asks from Washington. I’m wondering if the U.S. is willing to entertain any of these to solve this issue. Some of those would be expediting the F-16 sale or expediting the smaller F-16 package, or lifting any of the S-400-related sanctions. Basically, if there is anything you’re prepared to do beyond expressing your support and having consultations with Turkey.
Second question is: Israel said they’re holding an operational inquiry into the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, but they’re not launching a criminal probe for now. Is the United States satisfied with that? Can you say if the Biden administration is committed to making sure that there will be accountability for her killing? Thanks.
MR PRICE: Thanks, Humeyra. On your first question, you raised a series of bilateral topics of conversation and potential topics of conversation between the United States and Turkey. The question of Turkey’s approach to the NATO accession of Finland and Sweden, that is not a bilateral question between the United States and Turkey; that is a question before Turkey as a member of the NATO Alliance, and between and among Turkey and other members of the NATO Alliance.
For our part, you heard President Biden say this yesterday when he greeted his Swedish and Finnish counterparts at the White House. You heard Secretary Blinken make this same point in Berlin last week when he attended the NATO ministerial. But we strongly support NATO’s “Open Door” policy, the right of each country to decide its own future, its foreign policy, its security arrangements. And when it comes to Sweden and Finland, two countries that have now made that decision for themselves, we are proud to offer the strong support of the United States for their applications.
The President yesterday called them two great democracies, two close, highly capable partners to join the strongest, most powerful, defensive Alliance in the history of the world. These are countries that have been longstanding partners of the United States in terms of security, in terms of our economic integration, in terms of the important ties that bind us to the region as well.
As you know, we did have an opportunity to meet with – Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to meet with his Turkish counterpart yesterday in New York City. Turkey is a longstanding, valued NATO Ally. We understand Turkey’s longstanding concerns, and will continue to work together in our efforts to end the scourge of terrorism. For their part, Finland and Sweden are working directly with Turkey. But we’re also talking to Turkey about this issue. Yesterday the Secretary had a good, constructive conversation with Foreign Minister Çavu?o?lu. I’m not going to go into the full details of that engagement, beyond saying that we remain confident that Turkey’s concerns will be addressed and that we’ll be able to reach consensus as an Alliance on the accession process for Finland and Sweden. We’ve heard strong allied support for their applications, and we look forward to quickly bringing them into the strongest defensive Alliance in history.
Finally, on your question into – regarding the investigation on the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, we reiterate the administration’s call for a thorough and transparent investigation to determine the circumstances of her killing. Investigating attacks on independent media and prosecuting those responsible are of paramount importance. We urge countries around the world to pursue accountability for attacks on journalists anywhere. And we’ll continue to promote media freedom and to protect journalists’ ability to do their jobs without fear of violence, threats to their lives or safety, or unjust detention. So again, we’ve been clear that there must be a transparent and credible investigation of Ms. Abu Akleh’s killing, and that any such investigation must include accountability.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:28 p.m.)