State Dept Presser, Sept 13
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price held a press briefing on Sept 13, 2022. And fielded questions on Palestinian affairs, Iran nuclear deal, Armenia-Azerbaijan clashes, Pakistan Media Freedom, and Ukraine amongst several other issues.
Some Excerpts –
QUESTION: … today marks the 29th anniversary of the Oslo agreement, the Oslo Accords. Do you think that it has outlived its purpose? Do you think the time has come for all parties to drop the façade of the Oslo Accords and maybe go on and do something else?
MR PRICE: The Oslo Accords were an historic agreement. You are right that we haven’t achieved a negotiated two-state solution between the parties, but the Oslo Accords set out the framework under which Israelis and Palestinians have lived side by side for nearly three decades. It demonstrated, in a very visceral and real way, the possibility for peace – and Israeli leader shaking hands with a Palestinian leader, brokered by an American president, something that just a few years earlier might have been inconceivable.
It is precisely why we have continued to place an emphasis on the importance of normalization agreements in the region to bring and to build bridges between Israel and its neighbors in ways that, again, just a few years ago might have been inconceivable.
So, the promise of Oslo is not yet fulfilled, but we are continuing to work with our partners – Israelis, Palestinians, partners in the region – to do all we can to support an eventual two-state solution to this protracted conflict.
QUESTION: Does the administration this year plan to withhold 300 – the full 300 million in foreign military financing that Congress has conditioned? And when can we expect a decision on that?
MR PRICE: So, these are conversations that we are having internally, that we will have with our congressional partners, our congressional overseers. Of course, we made clear last year our concerns on some accounts. We have continued to have a discussion with our Egyptian partners over the course of the last year, making abundantly clear that an improvement in – when it comes to human rights, when it comes to civil liberties, when it comes to specific cases, would ultimately lead to a stronger and more durable bilateral relationship between the United States and Egypt.
There is no question that Egypt is an indispensable partner. I’ve already said once the important role Egypt plays in the region, not only as a guarantor of the 1979 Camp David Accords but also serving as an important broker between Israelis and Palestinians, maintaining relationships with the Palestinian people that often work to our advantage when we are in times of enhanced tensions. So we’ll continue to work closely with our Egyptian partners, but we’ll also continue to have regular conversations with them about the importance of human rights.
QUESTION: The Secretary yesterday said that given the response from the Iranian, a possibility to have a deal is unlikely now. So, can you elaborate a little bit?
MR PRICE: So, on Iran, you heard the Secretary’s comments yesterday, and then he spoke to this on Friday from Brussels when he was standing next to Secretary General Stoltenberg. To recap the state of play, the European Union, High Representative Borrell, and his team tabled a proposal, a proposal that was largely based on the draft agreement that had been deliberated and negotiated painstakingly over the course of many months, an agreement that had largely been on the table since the spring of this year. That was tabled a number of weeks ago.
We’ve gone back and forth – through the EU as the intermediary – with Iran on that proposed text. We have provided feedback to the latest Iranian response, but we’re not going to detail that feedback publicly beyond what we have said. The most recent Iranian response did not, of course, put us in a position to close the deal. In fact, it was a step backwards in many ways. This is a negotiation. There are going to be back-and-forth. Some gaps have closed in recent weeks, but others clearly remain.
Our bottom-line contention is this: it is not too late to conclude a deal. And as we’ve consistently said, as long as we believe that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA would be in America’s national security interest, that is a diplomatic objective we will continue to pursue.
QUESTION: — Iranian drones have been found in Ukraine. In fact, Russians had been using it. How much does it add up to Iran portfolio when you think about engaging —
MR PRICE: How much does it add up to —
QUESTION: To Iran story, Iran portfolio, when you think about engagement, or JCPOA, or other angles.
MR PRICE: Well, for us it is a reminder, a reminder of the likes of which we receive – I don’t want to be hyperbolic, but if not every day just about every day of the malign influence that Iran represents and that in many ways Iran exports throughout the region and in this case well beyond. We have no illusions about the nature of the Iranian regime. That is not a reason not to pursue a deal that would block permanently and verifiably an Iranian nuclear weapon. That is a reason to pursue such a deal that would permanently and verifiably prohibit Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Every single challenge we face from Iran’s ballistic missile program, to its support for proxies and terrorist groups, to its support for Russia in this case, to its malicious cyber programs – every single one of those challenges becomes all the more difficult if Iran has the perceived impunity that would come with a nuclear weapon. That’s why President Biden is committed that Iran will never obtain a nuclear weapon. We continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is the most effective means by which to achieve that, but that is a commitment that will remain at the center of our foreign policy, JCPOA or not.
QUESTION: And a change in subject, if I may. Azerbaijan-Armenia.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: I was hoping you would offer us something more than the readouts on Azerbaijan-Armenia. What is the (inaudible) assessment – first the reasoning, and secondly the timing – behind the latest clashes yesterday?
MR PRICE: Well, events are fast-moving. I would say broadly it’s unclear if there is one proximate cause and one proximate factor. Oftentimes that is not the case. It’s unlikely to be the case here. Of course, we’ve seen tensions simmering in the Caucasus for quite some time. It’s precisely why we have been concerned about the potential for violence and in more recent hours the reports of attacks along the Armenian-Azerbaijan border.
Secretary Blinken has been personally engaged on this. It is why we and he put out a statement last night just within hours of these escalation of tensions calling for an immediate cessation of violence. It’s why he picked up the phone in the wee hours. He was on the phone until after 1:00 a.m. Eastern with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan underscoring for them the importance of the core message that he issued in his statement, namely the imperative of an immediate cessation of these hostilities. He urged President Aliyev to cease hostilities immediately, to disengage military forces, and to work to resolve all outstanding issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan through peaceful negotiations.
That has been our contention all along: There is no military solution to this conflict. We urge restraint from any further military hostilities. We also encourage both governments to re?establish – to let direct lines of communication across diplomatic as well as military channels, and to recommit to constructive dialogue and to that diplomatic process. We are going to remain actively engaged diplomatically with both of these governments. You mentioned this already, but Ambassador Reeker, who was recently named our senior adviser for Caucasus negotiations, was in Baku yesterday. He remains there. He met earlier today with senior Azerbaijani leaders, and we remain committed to promoting peaceful, a democratic and prosperous future for the South Caucasus region.
QUESTION: My question is: Did the diplomacy fail you or it was not given a chance?
MR PRICE: Well, diplomacy is still very much alive. And this is a simmering conflict and a simmering sort of tension that has been around for decades. And we have been focused on this since the earliest days of this administration. Of course, we inherited a South Caucasus region that had only recently emerged from a fairly intense flare-up of violence in 2020. With our successive senior advisers now, we have placed a high level of personnel overseeing the day?to?day activity of this file. Of course, Ambassador Reeker is someone who is well known to the department. He has been the acting assistant secretary in charge of our Bureau for European and Eurasian Affairs. He has held senior posts overseas as well. He is someone who knows this issue set as well as anyone.
Secretary Blinken has repeatedly engaged with Prime Minister Pashinyan and with President Aliyev, knowing that – knowing the importance, recognizing the importance of his personal diplomacy, of his personal time and attention on this topic. We have made very clear our willingness and we’ve demonstrated our willingness to engage bilaterally with the parties, but also multilaterally as appropriate, bringing in allies as well as other partners in the region to achieve a de-escalation of tensions and to set these countries towards a comprehensive settlement.
QUESTION: Are you coordinating with Russia, or there is zero coordination in these efforts? And how do you see Russia’s role at this point?
MR PRICE: There is also no question that Russia has outsized influence with both Azerbaijan and Armenia. We have called on Russia and we do call on Russia to use that influence and to use that leverage in a way that helps to achieve a cessation of hostilities, and more broadly a de-escalation of those tensions.
The point the Secretary was referring to today was very much a reflection of the influence and leverage that Russia has. Russia could use that influence to help bring about what it is we all seek, and that’s an immediate end to this violence and a de?escalation of tensions.
QUESTION: It could also be in Russia’s interests in – to divert attention from Ukraine given the latest developments in Ukraine. Isn’t that an option?
MR PRICE: I will leave it to Russia to speak to what’s in their interests, but it is hard for us to envision from here how another conflict on Russia’s borders would be in anyone’s interests, including the interests of those in Moscow.
QUESTION: Are you in contact with Russia regarding Azerbaijan and Armenia, or the special envoy Reeker?
MR PRICE: Ambassador Reeker is engaged with the parties. He is engaged with Armenia. He is engaged with Azerbaijan. We’ve made very clear that we’re willing to engage bilaterally as well as multilaterally in any forum or format that helps to bring about a cessation of hostilities and, over time, a de-escalation of tensions. Not in a position to read out all of our diplomacy on this, but we have been very public, as I was just a moment ago, calling upon all stakeholders, including the Russians, to use the influence – the significant influence that they do have – in a way that is constructive.
QUESTION: And also, we heard that Armenia called on Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization to intervene the – in the conflict. Would United States – what’s the reaction from United States? Would United States endorse something like this?
MR PRICE: We have called on call countries in the region to use their influence in ways that are constructive to bringing about a cessation of hostilities and a de-escalation of tensions. Of course, it is hard to imagine how the introduction of foreign forces into one side of the conflict could serve those purposes, but again, our emphasis is on bringing about an end to this spike in violence.
QUESTION: After the invasion of Ukraine, a bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Congress by Senators Shaheen and Romney requesting the U.S. administration to develop a comprehensive strategy about the Black Sea region. I wonder if the administration has any strategy today about Black Sea region until this legislation passes. I will say that United States is supporting Romania, Bulgaria, its NATO Allies. But there are some – some partners like Georgia are very vulnerable in the region.
MR PRICE: Well, you’ve heard us speak to all of our partners in the Black Sea region, and of course, it’s a vital – a region of vital importance not only to the region, but also to the world. And we’ve talked about the vitality and the indispensability of this region to the broader international community in the context of the grain deal that Ukraine and Turkey and the UN as well as Russia have agreed to and implemented, given that countries along the Black Sea are – and especially Ukraine – it’s the breadbasket to the world. It is a region that is rich with energy. It’s a region that is otherwise rich with natural resources. It is a region that is rich with friendship for the United States.
And you mentioned several of our NATO Allies are in the region. We’ve spoken to our commitment to their defense, our commitment to working with them to achieve our shared interest, to protect our shared values. And that is, to your question, something that we’re also discussing with our partners on the Hill.
QUESTION: So, what is the U.S. strategy in Black Sea actually? Because I don’t think you’ve answered that.
MR PRICE: It is – so I’m not sure this is the right forum to espouse fully our strategy to the Black Sea in toto. What I can say and what we’ve talked about here is the commitments we’ve made to our allies and to our partners in the Black Sea region, recognizing that it is a region that is of vital importance, not only to countries in that neighborhood but to well beyond. And to the gentleman’s question, we’ve had these conversations with Congress as well.
QUESTION: Does the Secretary have any plans to go to Bulgaria or Romania anytime soon, for example? He’s been to, I think – I can’t remember, maybe 25 countries since the beginning of the administration. And with Ukraine war, you would assume maybe the importance of Black Sea is heightened, but he hasn’t been to either of those —
MR PRICE: There are only so many days in the week and hours in the days that serve as a limiting function for our ability to travel everywhere we would like to go. But of course, there are a number of senior officials in this building and in this administration who have travelled to the region, and I have every expectation that the Secretary certainly would like to get out there and, at some point, at the right moment, will.
QUESTION: Right. Can I just quickly follow up on Ukraine, if the gentleman doesn’t mind? On – and Kirby was asked about this as well, but do you think the recent events on the ground in Ukraine, Ukraine’s gains, do you think that could help with some of the reluctance that Europe has in terms of sending weapons? And you might have seen Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba criticizing Germany today. I mean, do you think that that could help with Europeans to sort of be more willing to send weapons?
MR PRICE: I’d make a couple points. First, Secretary Blinken, in his meeting with President Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister Kuleba and their team on Thursday in Kyiv, made this point privately but made it publicly as well. It’s early days, and it was earlier days when our Ukrainian partners briefed us on the progress that they had made as of late last week. We’ve seen them make additional and quite remarkable progress both in the north and in the south in the intervening days since we’ve left Ukraine.
This is a function of several factors. It is a function of the grit and the determination and bravery and courage of our Ukrainian partners, but a grit and bravery and determination that has been enabled in many key ways by the security assistance that the United States and our partners around the world have been in a position to provide. Since February 24th, since the start of this invasion, the United States alone has provided some $14.5 billion in security assistance. This is security assistance to meet the need in the moment, precisely what our Ukrainian partners have requested for the fight that they are in at any given juncture, for the battle of Kyiv in the earliest days, as the battle moved to the south and the east in the Donbas in more recent weeks and months.
The – this strategy, a strategy that we’ve implemented with our partners and allies, has proved itself. It proved itself when Ukraine decisively won the battle of Kyiv in the earliest days of this war. It’s a strategy that once again is proving itself by positioning our Ukrainian partners to be able to be effective on the battlefield.
But ultimately, it is our security assistance, it’s the security assistance of dozens of countries, some 50 countries around the world, including security assistance from our European allies that plays an important role. But ultimately, the decisive factor here is that our Ukrainian partners are always going to have a determination that the Russians never will. And Secretary Blinken referred to this last week; he referred to it earlier this week as well. The Ukrainians are fighting for their democracy. They’re fighting for their freedom; they’re fighting for their future; they’re fighting for their country. The Russians who have been deployed, in some cases conscripted, in some cases let out of jail, in some cases put in the employ of private military contractors inside Ukraine – they’re not fighting for those things. In many cases, they don’t know what they’re fighting for.
So as Ukraine mounts this counteroffensive, in some cases we have seen Russian defences prove not all that resilient, and it speaks to the progress that our Ukrainian partners have made. We’ve always said this conflict, this war, Russia’s war against Ukraine, won’t be linear in terms of territorial gains. But we believe that we have put our Ukrainian partners on a path to help them mount an effective defense of their country. We saw that in the earliest days. We’ve seen that in the more recent days.
QUESTION: So, don’t you think that Ukraine thinking that one of the most important European countries not committing to them in that sense is actually undermining that solidarity you talked about? This isn’t specific to Germany.
MR PRICE: European countries across the board, certainly our NATO allies, have provided important humanitarian assistance, but also economic assistance and security assistance. Our European allies have provided, when it comes to security assistance, supplies and systems that complement the billions of dollars’ worth of supplies and systems that we have provided our Ukrainian partners.
And I think the point here is that what we have provided, what Europe has provided, what countries around the world has – have provided, it hasn’t been static. It has evolved as the nature of the conflict has evolved. When the challenge was the potential for urban warfare in the earliest days, when Moscow thought it could decapitate the capital city, take the entire country by force, it was the sort of antiarmor, antitank systems that we provided in large numbers. As it moved to the south, to the east, where the battle is now, the longer-range antiaircraft systems, the artillery, the munitions, the armoured vehicles, the radar, the Stingers, the other types of systems that the Ukrainians have used to such great effect to defend their homeland, to defend their country, that has been a key enabling force for that grit and that determination that our Ukrainian partners have been able to display.
QUESTION: Sothere’s been documentation of Russian state media now including some diverging opinions about the war in Ukraine with some folks on the Russian side even suggesting that there should be peace negotiations. So I’m wondering from the Biden administration’s perspective if you guys see that a door opening to potential talks with Russia or if you’re waiting for the Kremlin to actually say that they want to engage in negotiations?
MR PRICE: Well, were it that easy. Were Russia a representative democracy, a democracy that were informed by the will of the people, that might be a different question. Unfortunately, President Putin and his cronies have done everything they can in the first instance to limit that information from reaching the Russian people to feed the Russian people a steady diet of lies and disinformation, in an effort to hide the true costs of this war.
As the war has ground on, as additional Russians have come home in body bags, have come home missing limbs, as stories of the abject brutality of this war return to Russia, it does seem we are starting to see more of a conversation within the Russian people. There have been high-profile instances of defiance. There has also been the sort of lower-level discussion and dialogue that you point to across Russia.
Unfortunately, this is a system that is ruled by and large by one individual. It is an individual surrounded not by democratically elected aides, but by individuals who have set up, in many ways, safeguards against popular opinion in some cases even reaching the inner most sanctum of the Kremlin.
So – and on top of that we’ve seen the Russian Government go to extraordinary lengths to try to limit and to crack down on the ability of these indications of objections or defiance from propagating. And in the earliest days of the war, tens of thousands of Russians were arrested for peacefully protesting, marching across dozens of cities across Russia. More recently, we have seen journalists, we have seen civil society advocates and activists, we have seen advocates all arrested for the so-called crime of speaking the truth, whether that is calling this a war, whether that is criticizing President Putin, criticizing the Kremlin. All of that has been criminalized in the most reprehensible way possible.
QUESTION: And can I just ask one final question on this? Because this obviously brings up concerns about Russia meddling in U.S. elections, the midterms, have or will U.S. officials clearly articulate to Russia that there will be costs if they meddle in the midterms that are coming up this fall?
MR PRICE: This has been a very clear message from this administration. You may recall that this was a message that we underscored quite prominently when, in the first months of this administration, we mounted sanctions against the Russian Federation for their interference, for SolarWinds, for what they had done and what they continue to do to Mr. Navalny, for their use of chemical weapons. So this is a message that applies to all countries around the world. Any attempt to meddle in our democratic system will be met with strong and stiff consequences.
QUESTION: So, there’s no need to directly reiterate that message as we get closer to the election (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: This is a message that is well known to our competitors, to our challengers, and to our adversaries around the world.
A couple final questions. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV, Pakistan. My question is about media freedom. Our news channel, the transmission of our news channel, ARY News, is banned in Pakistan like for the last 40 days, like it’s on and off now controlled by the government agency. Our head of news, Ammad Yousaf, was picked up in the middle of the night and tortured for dishonoring the opposition political parties’ comments. Secretary Blinken and you always spoke about the media freedom in Pakistan and around the globe. Would you like to say something about that?
MR PRICE: I believe we discussed this before, but we continue to be concerned by significant restrictions on media outlets and civil society in Pakistan. I know that your outlet, ARY, has not been immune to this constricted space. We routinely raise our concerns about press freedom to all stakeholders around the world, including to our partners and our counterparts in Pakistan.
We’re concerned that media and content restrictions, as well as a lack of accountability for attacks against journalists, undermine the exercise of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. A free press and informed citizenry we believe are key to democratic societies around the world, key to our democratic future. That applies equally to Pakistan as it does to other countries around the world.
QUESTION: United States recently announced foreign military sales to Pakistan worth $450 million to upgrade F-16 jets. Would you like to share some details?
MR PRICE: Well, we did recently notify Congress of a proposed foreign military sale valued at $450 million, as you said, for maintenance and sustainment services for the Pakistani Air Force’s F-16 program. Pakistan is an important partner in a number of regards, an important counter-terrorism partner. And as part of our long-standing policy, we provide life cycle maintenance and sustainment packages for U.S.-origin platforms.
Pakistan’s F-16 program, it’s an important part of the broader U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relationship, and this proposed sale will sustain Pakistan’s capability to meet current and future counterterrorism threats by maintaining the F-16 fleet. This is a fleet that allows Pakistan to support counterterrorism operations, and we expect Pakistan will take sustained action against all terrorist groups.
QUESTION: Sir, one last question. Like always, United States came forward to help Pakistan, giving millions of dollars in response to floods in Pakistan right now. Sir, can you say something about that?
MR PRICE: Happy to, and I know my colleague at the White House, John Kirby, just said something at the top of the White House press briefing as well. But we are deeply saddened by the devastation and by the loss of life throughout Pakistan that these historic floods have caused. We stand with the people of Pakistan at this difficult time.
As of September 12th, earlier this week, a total of nine U.S. Central Command flights delivered more than half of the 630 metric tons of relief supplies from USAID’s Dubai warehouse for the response to these massive floods. In total, CENTCOM will airlift more than 41,000 kitchen sets, 1,500 rolls of plastic sheeting, tens of thousands of plastic tarps, 8,700 shelter fixing kits – all in support of USAID’s flood relief.
In this fiscal year alone, we’ve provided more than $53 million in humanitarian assistance, including urgently needed support for food, nutrition, multipurpose cash, safe drinking water, nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, as well as shelter assistance. We’re going to continue to work very closely with our Pakistani partners to continue to assess the damage that has been wrought by these floods, and we’ll continue to provide assistance to our partners in this time of need.
QUESTION: Briefly going back to that counteroffensive in Ukraine, I know you and others – much has been said about the value that material security assistance has played, about the fighters themselves. But I was wondering if you could speak specifically to intelligence sharing and the role you see that playing.
MR PRICE: Well, there’s only so much I can say about this, of course, for obvious reasons. But we’ve said all along that we will provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need to defend themselves. Oftentimes in that context we refer to security assistance, but we have provided them with information they need to defend their homeland, to defend their territory, to defend against Russia’s ongoing aggression. We have a close relationship with Ukraine in a number of ways – military-to-military, diplomacy, and other channels as well. And we’re going to continue to provide our Ukrainian partners with the tools they need to defend their freedom, to defend their homeland, to defend their country.
QUESTION: On this one last point, you know that know Senator Warner – sorry.
QUESTION: Senator Warner has basically suggested that these late successes by the Ukrainians, all due to U.S.-provided intelligence. Is that direct interference in the war?
MR PRICE: This is this is a result of Ukrainian determination.
QUESTION: I understand you’re saying militarily.
MR PRICE: This is a result of what the Ukrainians are doing on the battlefield. This is principally a result of the determination that they have – that the Russians very clearly do not have because they can’t have it – to defend their homeland, to defend their freedom, to defend their democracy. We have – and our partners around the world have – played an enabling function. We’ve provided the type of defensive security assistance that our Ukrainian partners need to be effective. They have used that to great effect, but no one but the Ukrainians should be in a position to take credit for what they’re achieving.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) with this topic is that what you just told in your response to Humeyra, that last weekend’s events proved us right. It also proved Ukrainians right. They were telling all along that give us what we need, we’re gonna finish the job. But I think the key word you’re using is defend Ukraine. Is your – has last weekend’s events changed your objective at all from helping them to defend versus helping them win the war?
MR PRICE: Our objective has remained constant since the start of this aggression. It is to see a Ukraine that remains democratic, that remains sovereign, that remains independent, and that, going forward, is prosperous and has the means to defend itself against future aggression. That is the very definition of success that the President defined in his op-ed that he wrote on the topic several months ago now, and it’s really the predicate of our strategy to support our Ukrainian partners.
Thank you all very much###.
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