State Dept Presser on May 17

The State Department Spokesman Ned Price held a press briefing on May 17 and fielded questions from Russia-Ukraine war to NATO expansion and Turkey besides on issues related to North Korea, Georgia, UAE and Afghanistan.

Some excerpts

MR PRICE:  ……. This week we marked the occasion of Vesak Day, joining Buddhists around the world in celebration of a day honoring the life, legacy, and teachings of Buddha. This occasion also provides us with an opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of Buddhist communities around the world, communities that have helped to build a better world for people of all faith traditions. Let us all recommit ourselves to upholding the timeless values of tolerance, compassion, and respect that are imbued in the Buddhist faith.

Happy Buddha Purnima….

And finally, on Monday, May 23rd, the United States will welcome the Organization of Islamic Cooperation – OIC – Secretary General, His Excellency Hissein Brahim Taha, and the OIC delegation to Washington, D.C., for the inaugural U.S.-OIC Strategic Dialogue.

On Wednesday, May 25th, Secretary Blinken will meet with the OIC Secretary General. We’ll discuss shared challenges and opportunities in the fight against climate change, our support for greater respect for human rights the world over, mutual goals regarding women’s empowerment and health issues, and our commitment to countering violent extremism.

The strategic dialogue with the OIC is also part of our commitment to working closely with multilateral organizations, and it shows the depth and breadth of our shared interests. Through our sustained engagement, we will further this important partnership and enable greater joint efforts to address shared challenges.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. About the corona crisis in North Korea, it was reported that three North Korean cargo planes were carrying corona treatment medicine from China yesterday. You know that the North Korea likes Chinese vaccines. What if North Korea requests assistance through COVAX  

MR PRICE: Your question is what has North Korea requested?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PRICE: Well, unfortunately, to date the DPRK has refused all vaccine donations from COVAX. I say it is unfortunate because we are deeply concerned about the apparent COVID outbreak within the DPRK, how it might affect the North Korean people. And the United States continues to support the provision of vaccines to the DPRK. We would like to see humanitarian, including medical relief, provided to the people of the DPRK. To that end, we strongly support and encourage the efforts of U.S. and international aid and health organizations in seeking to prevent and, as necessary, to contain the outbreak, the spread of COVID-19 in the DPRK, and to provide other forms of humanitarian assistance to the North Korean people.

It is COVAX that determines allocations for the Pfizer vaccines we have donated. Those are the brunt of the vaccines that we have donated. Should COVAX allocate doses to the DPRK, we would be supportive of that, as we would to any member of the grouping and to the African Union as well. As I said before, however, it is the DPRK that has consistently refused all vaccine donations. We don’t currently have bilateral plans to share vaccines with the DPRK, but we continue to support, as I’ve said before, those international efforts aimed at the provision of critical humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable within North Korea.

There is another great irony, or perhaps it’s even a tragedy, in that even as the DPRK continues to refuse the donation of much – apparently much-needed COVID vaccines, they continue to invest untold sums in ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs that do nothing to alleviate the humanitarian plight of the North Korean people. The DPRK leadership continues to enrich themselves, to take care of their cronies, while the people of the North – of the DPRK suffer, apparently now with the added burden of COVID.

Yes, Nazira.

QUESTION: Thank you. Two questions, and surprise, one is about Haqqani’s recent interview in CNN, and he said the United States is not our enemy. So good thing. If United State not your enemy, United State has expectation to reopen girls’ school. Number one, do you have the same – United States has the same position, establish friendship – new friendship – with Haqqani Network, leader of the Taliban?

MR PRICE: It is our position that the women and girls of Afghanistan, including those girls who have been denied the opportunity to attend post-secondary education for weeks now – it is our strong position, it is the position of countries around the world, as you may have seen in a statement that came out from the G7 and other multilateral statements as well, that these girls have – should have the opportunity to attend school, to build skills, to develop the capacity to improve their own lives, to improve the lives of their families, and ultimately the welfare and the livelihood of their communities and their country. We have made the point before that any society that seeks to suppress, to hold back, half of its population is not a society that can be thriving, is not even a society that can succeed.

So, of course, we’ve seen the remarks from Siraj Haqqani. I think you will understand that we have developed a well-earned skepticism of these sorts of comments. We’ve heard these types of comments before. What we care much more about rather than rhetoric is action, and we await the Taliban acting on these positive signals and reopening schools at all levels across the country, which itself would be a very welcome development.

QUESTION: Okay. The second question, Mr. Price, can you update U.S. on Afghan funds frozen by the New York courts?

MR PRICE: You may recall that several months ago now there was an executive order that came forth from the White House that spoke to the disposition of the $7 billion – approximately $7 billion – in frozen assets. It provided for a sum, an element, a part of these assets to be used for the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people. So that is something that we continue to work closely with our colleagues throughout the administration, including in the Department of Justice.

But as you know, Nazira, we have continued to be the world’s leader in terms of our humanitarian support to the people of Afghanistan, contributing hundreds of millions of dollars for education, for health care, for shelter, for food, for clean water, for sanitation, and for winterization projects at the appropriate time. We will continue to do that going forward, using the humanitarian funding that we currently have available to us.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Nick.

QUESTION: Just back to Afghanistan quickly, there was some reporting that the Afghans during the NEO who didn’t pass vet and were being held at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo – there were about some 16 of them – that the State Department is making a final determination of what to do with these 16 or more. Has a final determination been made on what to do with them? And if so, where are they going?

MR PRICE: So, I don’t have anything to share in terms of specific cases, but as you know, every individual who was transported out of Afghanistan underwent and has undergone, in most cases, vetting throughout by the interagency, by our partners within law enforcement, within the Intelligence Community, within the Department of Homeland Security as well. In some cases, there have been individuals who have required additional vetting. They have undergone that additional vetting at Camp Bondsteel. In many cases, that remains ongoing, but I just don’t have anything to offer in terms of disposition.

Yes.

QUESTION: One follow-up. Is there a time limit on how long they can be held at Camp Bondsteel?

MR PRICE: Again, the vetting usually can take place fairly quickly. There will be limited cases that require a longer vetting period. Our goal always is to see to it that we can complete the process as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that, please?

MR PRICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just one question. Can you definitively say that they won’t be sent back to Afghanistan?

MR PRICE: I will – I can definitively say that we will comply with all regulations and guidelines when it comes to international humanitarian law and the principle of non-refoulement.

QUESTION: I have another one about a phone call between Secretary Blinken and the Qatari Foreign Minister Al-Thani. He thanked him for the mediating role he played between Iran and America. My question is that – can you give us detail about what sort of a role Qatar played and what exactly Al-Thani achieved from his trip to Iran?

MR PRICE: So, I will have to refer you to the Qatari authorities to speak to the Amir’s visit to Iran. What I can say is that we’re grateful for the constructive role that Qatar has played in our efforts to achieve diplomatic resolutions to some of the important and difficult issues between the U.S. and Iran, and that includes what you referred to just a moment ago, the unjust detention of several U.S. citizens and our efforts to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

QUESTION: I have a couple questions on the Middle East. First, how will the U.S. delegation visit to UAE to offer condolences affect the relations between the two countries, and how was or how can you describe the meeting between Secretary Blinken and UAE foreign minister yesterday?

MR PRICE: Well, as you know, Secretary Blinken did join the delegation that was led by the Vice President to offer condolences and to pay respects to Sheikh Khalifa, and to honor his memory, his legacy in the context of his passing. The Vice President underscored the strength and the – of the partnership between our countries and our desire to further deepen our ties in the coming months and years. Really, the visit itself was an opportunity to commemorate the life of Sheikh Khalifa and to congratulate His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed on assuming the presidency of the United Arab Emirates.

The Secretary did – on Monday night, I believe it was – have an opportunity to have dinner with his Emirati counterpart. It was a session that, again, commemorated the life and legacy of Sheikh Khalifa and was held in that context, but they were able to discuss a number of substantive areas, both regional and bilateral issues. They discussed our joint efforts to reinforce the ceasefire in Yemen; they discussed our – the international emphasis on defusing tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem; they discussed our joint cooperation in countering Iran and the threat that it poses; and ways that we can build on what is already a strong partnership between our two countries.

As you know, this is a relationship that Secretary Blinken – where Secretary Blinken has been fortunate to have had a lot of face time in recent weeks. He saw his Emirati counterpart in the Negev for the summit focused on the Abraham Accords. We then later traveled to Morocco, where he saw his Emirati counterpart, but of course met with Mohammed bin Zayed, then the crown prince, to discuss the relationship – the valued and valuable relationship – between the United States and the United Arab Emirates. And the conversation that he had with ABZ at dinner yesterday evening was an opportunity to build on those conversations and to look ahead to additional cooperation.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:38 p.m.)