Ned Price, spokesperson of the US State Department held a presser on May 9. And fielded questions on Russia, Korea, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Armenia, Syria, and several hotspots besides the war in Ukraine.
QUESTION: Now Ambassador Antonov, I believe, said that he has not met with any American officials for the past two or three months and so on, and conversely. Can you also share with us what is Ambassador Sullivan doing in Moscow and so on?
MR PRICE: Ambassador Sullivan and his team at the embassy in Moscow are continuing to engage with their MFA counterparts. Of course, those engagements are largely limited to the bilateral relationship. There is a lot that Ambassador Sullivan and his team have on their plate, attempting to keep afloat a mission that has been severely constrained in terms of personnel, in terms of our ability to sustain an embassy community there, given some of the restrictions that the Russian Federation has placed on us. So, they are continuing to engage with their MFA counterparts.
QUESTION: Mr. Price. As you know, Taliban didn’t keep their commitment, and recently they ordered all women in Afghanistan to wear burqa hijab – not regular hijab, burqa like that. Yesterday Afghan women celebrated Mother’s Day with the crying. Everybody contact with me cry, I cried, all women in Afghanistan. Do you think it’s not very backwards? That’s crazy.
MR PRICE: We have expressed our deep dismay, we have expressed our deep concern with what we have seen from the Taliban, with what we have heard from the Taliban in recent days and in recent weeks. Over the weekend most recently, our Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West; our Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights Rina Amiri; Ian McCary, our chargé – our Embassy Kabul chargé who’s now based in Doha – issued statements to this effect.
And we have noted that the Taliban continue to adopt policies oppressing women and girls, in many ways as a substitute for addressing the acute economic crisis and the need for inclusive government. And we have called for an end to these restrictive measures. Importantly, Afghans across the country have voiced their opposition to an edict that proposes severe restrictions and limitations on half the country’s ability to participate in society. This follows, of course, on the heels of the decision with girls’ secondary education. No country can succeed that holds back half of its population – its women, its girls – that doesn’t allow them to go to secondary school, that dictates what they must wear in a restrictive way. Combined with the ban on secondary education, restrictions on freedom of movement and these edicts related to clothing, the Taliban’s policies towards women we think are an affront to human rights and will continue to impair their relations with the international community.
QUESTION: So, Ned, what happened to the assessment that – or at least the hope that the Taliban wouldn’t do anything that – or would – understood that if it wanted to be internationally recognized, that if it wanted all the benefits that come with such recognition, they wouldn’t impose the kind of draconian rules and regulations that they did the first time they were in power? I mean, I remember conversations with you in this very room pre-withdrawal about why did you – why did you think that they had changed at all? Why did you think that – they didn’t care what the world thought the first time around they were in charge; why would you possibly think that they would care the second?
MR PRICE: Matt, our point has always been – well, let me start by saying our point was never that the Taliban is fundamentally different from the Taliban that existed in years prior. Our contention was always that the United States, when – especially when we’re acting with partners around the world, we have sources of leverage to wield with the Taliban. In response to the decision on secondary school, in response to this most recent decree, in response to some of the other human rights abuses and atrocities that we’ve seen in Afghanistan, we are working with our allies and partners to use that leverage.
QUESTION: Well, what have you done? I mean, the school – the secondary school decision is old now. I mean, it’s not new, but there’s been nothing done in response to it. What are you going to do now?
MR PRICE: We have consulted closely with our allies and partners. There are steps that we will continue to take to increase pressure on the Taliban to reverse some of these decisions, to make good on the promises that they have made, first and foremost to their own people, not to mention to the international community.
QUESTION: Well, what are those steps? I mean, other than you coming out and saying we deeply deplore this and we don’t think it’s – you don’t think it’s – I mean, they don’t care if you – if you insult them or if you criticize them. They just – it doesn’t matter to them. So, what —
MR PRICE: Leaving aside whether or not they care, there are sources of leverage, including —
QUESTION: Well, what are they, and why you haven’t you been —
MR PRICE: — including incentives and disincentives —
QUESTION: Okay, but why haven’t they been used now that they’ve done – taken these two very dramatic steps as it relates to women and girls?
MR PRICE: Matt, we are working on this closely with our allies and partners. We’ve addressed it directly with the Taliban. We have a number of tools that, if we feel these won’t be reversed, these won’t be undone, that we are prepared to move forward with.
In the meantime, the United States continues to be the world’s largest humanitarian provider to the Afghan people. We have provided hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of humanitarian support, including an additional instalment of humanitarian support recently. We’ve spoken, of course, of the reserves, half of which will be available to the people of Afghanistan. We’ll continue, even in the midst of the setbacks on the part of the Taliban, to do all we can – which is in some ways quite a lot – to support directly the Afghan people in a way that doesn’t benefit the Taliban.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. This is Mushfiqul Fazal. I’m representing HAS News Media. I have two questions, one on Sri Lanka and one on Bangladesh. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has resigned. A mass protest, five people have died and more than 190 injured in violent in the capital. The island nation is facing its worst economic crisis since its independence. So, what is your comment on this one?
MR PRICE: Well, we’re closely following the ongoing developments in Sri Lanka, including the resignation of the prime minister. We urge the government to work quickly to identify and implement solutions to achieve long-term economic stability and address the Sri Lankan people’s discontent over the worsening economic conditions, including power, food, and medicine shortages as well. We condemn violence against peaceful protesters, and call for a full investigation, arrests and prosecutions of anyone involved. We are also concerned with the state of emergency declarations which can be used to curb dissent. So we’re continuing to watch this very closely.
QUESTION: One more on Bangladesh.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: As you know, Bangladesh is struggling for democracy, voting rights, and freedom of expression. The Digital Security Act is on our shoulder. And the – our country’s reputed economist and Nobel Laureate Professor Yunus facing false charges. And former prime minister and main opposition leader still is in jail. Your recent State Department report mentioned that it’s a political ploy to remove her from the electoral process.
So will you urge or you will call for her immediate release, as everybody knows it’s a political ploy for —
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to speak to this specific case, but what I can say is that we continue to engage with our partners in Bangladesh. A senior State Department official recently took part in bilateral engagements in Bangladesh. We value our partnership with the people, with the Government of Bangladesh. Issues of human rights, issues of civil liberties, those are always on the agenda when we engage around the world.
QUESTION: And one more on the conference on Syria in Brussels: What was the main message that the U.S. wanted to send, and did the U.S. make any pledge?
MR PRICE: Well, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield is representing us in Brussels. This conference is May 9th and 10th. It is hosted by the EU. I think the message that you will hear from the ambassador is one to underscore our commitment and our determination to work in partnership with the international community to support the Syrian people.
On the margins of the Brussels conference, she’ll host a ministerial meeting to discuss the future of international support for the Syrian political process and the importance of accountability for human rights violations abuses and violations of the Law of Armed Conflict. She also, while in Brussels, will meet with NATO and EU officials to discuss Russia’s war in Ukraine, but I suspect you’ll hear more shortly on that.
Final couple quick questions. Yes.
QUESTION: Two questions. One is on Armenia. Can I get your reaction to ongoing protests in Armenia – it has been two weeks already – and its implications for the country and the region?
MR PRICE: In terms of protests in Armenia – and as you know, we had a Strategic Dialogue with the Armenians last week, I suppose it was – and it was in that forum that we reaffirmed our mutual commitment to Armenia’s democratic development and the United States support for lasting peace in the South Caucasus.
We believe that peaceful protests are an element of an open political system. We fully support the fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. We urge people to express their opinions in a peaceful manner. We urge authorities to exercise restraint and encourage those protesting to refrain from violence and to respect the rule of law and Armenia’s democracy.
(The briefing concluded at 3:19 p.m.) https://www.state.gov/briefings/department-press-briefing-may-9-2022/