The US State Department Spokesman, Ned Price held a press briefing on Monday, July 18, 2022 and fielded questions on Afghanistan, UAE, Koreas, Russia, China, Ukraine war, and a host of other issue.
MR PRICE: Hello. Happy Monday. Welcome back. A few things at the top and then I’ll take your questions.
First, the United States continues to demonstrate its commitments to the thousands of brave Afghans who stood side-by-side with us over the course of the past two decades. We’ve already undertaken substantial steps to improve the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program, and today we announced a change that will simplify and streamline the application process for Afghan applicants. Starting this week, as you heard earlier this morning, new Afghan SIV Program applicants will only need to fill one form, a revised Form DS-157, as their SIV petition. New applicants will no longer need to file the Form I-360, petition for special immigrant status, with DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. This new streamlined process will help eliminate barriers for applicants and reduce application times. This change does not reduce or remove any of the robust security vetting processes required before the benefit is granted.
This is one of the many steps we have taken to improve the SIV process while safeguarding national security. Since the beginning of the administration, we have surged resources to this vital program and have reviewed every stage of the statutorily required application process to streamline wherever possible, and you heard about the latest steps today.
Next, last Friday, the administration released the 2022 Elie Wiesel Act Report to Congress, alongside the new U.S. Strategy to Anticipate, Prevent, and Respond to Atrocities. These products reaffirm that preventing atrocities, including genocide, is both a core U.S. national security interest and a core moral responsibility. The report describes countries experiencing atrocities and recovering from atrocities during the past year. It includes our alarm at and continued condemnation of President Putin’s brutal, premeditated, and unprovoked war against Ukraine.
The report also documents alarming conditions in countries ranging from Afghanistan to Burma to the People’s Republic of China. The report highlights joint efforts to strengthen countries’ capacity to protect their populations and to also account for past human rights violations and abuses, including in Colombia and Guatemala. The new strategy institutionalizes whole-of-government processes by enumerating roles and coordination mechanisms of our interagency Atrocity Prevention Task Force …
And finally, tomorrow and Wednesday, Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Commerce Raimondo will co-host a supply chain ministerial forum to work with partners to reduce both short-term bottlenecks and long-term supply chain challenges that hurt all Americans, especially working families. …..
With that, we’ll turn to your questions.
QUESTION: Can I ask about this American citizen detained in UAE over the weekend? I mean, right groups basically say he was detained for political reasons. He has links with Khashoggi. Does the U.S. share that assessment, and what exactly are you guys doing with the Emiratis to try to bring him home or seek a fair trial?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve been actively and closely engaged on this case ever since we learned of it shortly after his detention late last week. We’ve raised his detention with senior levels of the Emirati Government. We have requested additional information from our Emirati partners. And we’re watching this case closely, and we’re providing appropriate consular support. In fact, consular officers from our embassy on the ground visited Mr. Ghafoor on July 15th. They again visited him on July 17th. Embassy officials also observed his virtual hearing today on July 18th. We have conveyed our expectations to our Emirati partners that Mr. Ghafoor receive continued consular access, that he be afforded a fair and transparent legal process, and that he be treated humanely.
You asked about the basis for his detention and the charges against him. Of course, we would refer you to Emirati authorities to speak to that, but what I can say is that we’ve seen no indication at this point that his detention has anything to do with his association with Jamal Khashoggi, but we are still gathering information. Again, as I said, we’ve raised this case at senior levels, and we are doing everything we can to ensure that Mr. Ghafoor is treated fairly and humanely
QUESTION: On China, it is reported that China has exported military goods to Russia. Can you confirm what kind of material it is?
MR PRICE: We have not seen, as we have said, the PRC engage in the type of systemic evasion or provide military equipment to Russia, but we will be watching very closely. This is a message that we have made clear publicly that the provision of weapons or any assistance on the part of the PRC to help Russia systemically evade the unprecedented sanctions, export controls, other financial measures that have been imposed on Moscow, that would come with a very steep cost.
It would come with a very steep cost not only from the United States but the United States acting with the dozens of countries around the world with whom we have enacted this sanctions and export control regime. We have made this clear to the PRC from the earliest days of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Secretary Blinken reiterated this message when he met with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bali just a few days ago.
QUESTION: On this streamlining of the SIV application process, is the U.S. still helping facilitate flights from out of Afghanistan with any SIV applicants? Is that something that is starting up again or has been happening over the past few weeks?
MR PRICE: This has been something that has been happening consistently since late last year. You recall, of course, that during the evacuation period there were some 124,000 individuals who were airlifted out of Afghanistan. Of those, there were some 75,000 or so Afghans. We expect a majority of those individuals are SIV-eligible. Many of them are at somewhere – are somewhere in that SIV application process.
When it comes to relocation since August 31st of last year, you’ve heard us speak consistently to the progress we’ve made when it comes to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. As of today, the United States has facilitated the departure from Afghanistan of 803 U.S. citizens and 594 lawful permanent residents. When we said at the time that our commitment to those who would seek to leave Afghanistan, including U.S. citizens and LPRs, would be enduring, we meant it.
But we also said that when it came to our partners, the many thousands of Afghans who assisted the United States Government in various ways over the course of our 20-year military engagement in Afghanistan – I can’t provide you a firm figure, but I can tell you that there have been thousands of Afghans, Afghans at risk, who have – who we have been in a position – whose travel, I should say, we have been in a position to help facilitate.
QUESTION: But you can’t say how many flights? How regularly?
MR PRICE: I can tell you that flights regularly depart. Flights regularly depart with those groups we are determined and committed to helping. That includes U.S. citizens, LPRs, and Afghans who have worked with us over that 20-year period.
QUESTION: …… President Erdo?an today again made a comment that seemed to suggest that it’s not a done deal on NATO accession for Finland and Sweden. How confident is the United States that this is actually a done deal, that this – that the Turks have given their approval for it, or is this still a work in progress?
MR PRICE: … There is strong consensus and support within the NATO Alliance for their accession, knowing that the accession of these two longstanding partners, these two great democracies, will make the Alliance stronger, will make it more effective, and will contribute to the underlying mission of the NATO Alliance.…… I know our Congress is eagerly working to put its stamp on the accession bid of these two countries together. Turkey, Finland, Sweden – they signed a trilateral memorandum in Madrid to set this process in motion. The United States will continue to work with those three countries to see to it that this accession process and ratification here and around the world is as swift and efficient as it can possibly be.
QUESTION: On the same topic, Putin said today that his country cannot be cut off from the rest of the world. Is that a wishful thinking, in your opinion, or that reflects the truth given the previous question on his upcoming trip?
MR PRICE: Well, regardless of what we might hear from the Kremlin, the fact is that Russia has been economically, politically, diplomatically, financially isolated from the rest of the world. And it has been isolated from the rest of the world precisely because of the decisions that President Putin has made in, of course namely, the decision to wage this unjustified, illegal, brutal war against the people of Ukraine.
It is always a bit surprising to us to hear any degree of surprise from senior Russian officials that they might find themselves in these economic, financial, political, diplomatic dire straits because we were very clear and consistent in our warnings prior to February 24th that if Vladimir Putin went forward with his plans for invasion precisely the types of costs that he would incur, and those are the costs that the Russian Federation has incurred.
These costs have built as we have placed new measures, as we have coordinated them with our allies and partners, and they have – as they have been compounded and will be compounded over time as they take effect and gain steam.
Many of you – some of you, I should say – were with us in Bali just the other week, where among the participants in the G20 was Foreign Minister Lavrov, who I think may well have been surprised at the reception he received from his counterparts from around the world. The Russian Federation was sent a very clear message that it is not business as usual, it cannot be business as usual. The same message was reiterated at the G20 finance ministers meeting just a couple days ago, and that same meeting will – same message will be consistently conveyed to Russia time and again until and unless it ceases its brutal war in Ukraine, withdraws its forces, and stops the violence.
QUESTION: Thank you. I want to ask about the visa waiver for Israelis and the Jerusalem consulate, but I would be remiss if I don’t bring up the issue of the visit of the President and winners and losers. Analysts like to talk about winners and losers and so on, and missed opportunities perhaps. Do you think the President missed the opportunity of emphasizing that, at this day and age, you cannot remove Palestinians by force, like in Masafer Yatta while he was there, while this is really ongoing as he was there?
MR PRICE: Said, the President took advantage, both in Israel and the West Bank, of an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the Israeli people and to the Palestinian people. He made that point in both locations. He made the point very clearly, sitting next to President Abbas, that the United States continues to believe steadfastly in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the 1967 lines with agreed mutual swaps. It was an important signal of where the United States stands.
It was also an important signal that we continue to redouble our financial commitments to the Palestinian people. Since the beginning of this administration – and I would remind you that we inherited a relationship with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority that had essentially been severed. Since the beginning of this administration, we have repaired and we have re-energized that partnership. And you heard from President Biden of the commitment to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, you heard from President Biden of additional commitment to UNRWA, bringing our total support for the Palestinian people since the start of this administration to more than half a billion dollars.
When it comes to the challenges that Palestinians face, those were topics of discussion both in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
MR PRICE: This (visa waiver for Israelis) is something that I know we are continuing to discuss with our Israeli partners. There are a number of steps that have to be completed before any country can be admitted into the Visa Waiver Program. This is a decision, this is a process, that’s coordinated closely between the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security.
QUESTION: And finally, I want to ask you about the consulate. Is the consulate still doable? ….
MR PRICE: Well, if you want to talk about taking advantage of the opportunity, you heard and you saw President Biden take advantage of the opportunity, again, sitting right next to President Abbas, to confirm once again that we remain committed to opening our consulate – to reopening our consulate in Jerusalem. We continue to believe it’s an important way for our country to engage with the Palestinian people. In the interim, as you know, we have a team on the ground in Jerusalem as part of our Palestinian Affairs office that does that in the interim. But yes, we remain committed to reopening our consulate in Jerusalem.
QUESTION: On a related matter, last year the Israelis accused and shut down six Palestinian NGOs, accusing them of terrorism. Last week – I believe it was last week, at least – the Europeans, who had been presented with the same evidence as the Israelis gave you, said that they didn’t see anything in what the Israelis had presented to prove or to make a case against any of these NGOs. What’s the status of your look into this?
MR PRICE: That look is ongoing. The last time we talked about this, I made the point that our Israeli partners have presented us with the predicate for their decision. That information was shared with the State Department. We in turn have shared it with partners throughout the interagency. We’ve discussed this with other partners around the world as well, including some of those who have come out with their own determination, but I don’t have an update for you in terms of where that stands.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, do you expect that you will have a determination one way or another, whether you agree or – whether you agree with the Israelis or whether you take a similar tack as the Europeans do?
MR PRICE: Well, what I would say right now is that it is never a matter of closing the book. And we are going to do, and we are doing, an assessment of the information that our Israeli partners have provided to us. But these types of assessments are continuously updated based on any new information that we may receive. So, I can’t speak to —
QUESTION: I have a quick question on China. When President Biden was in Saudi, he said that the U.S. will not leave any vacuum to Russia and China. In terms of China, what specific areas is he referring to?
MR PRICE: What he was referring to was the fact that the United States has an affirmative vision, an affirmative vision for our partnerships around the world. The – we have made the point in the run-up to this trip to the Middle East that over the course of recent months, the United States – including at senior levels, to include at the most senior levels, with President Biden in his own travel – we’ve had an opportunity to engage our European partners. We did so with the G7, we did so at NATO. We’ve had an opportunity to engage our partners in Latin America, with the LA summit at the end of May. We’ve had an opportunity, including at the highest levels, to engage our partners in the Indo-Pacific. President Biden traveled to Japan, he traveled to South Korea in late May, and Secretary Blinken, of course, has had an opportunity as recently as just a couple weeks ago to travel to the Indo-Pacific as well.
In each of those engagements, we have spoken of the ability of the United States to be a partner of choice, to be a partner of choice that brings and helps these countries achieve our mutual interests. And the fact is that we often do share a profound number of mutual interests. Our relationships are ones that are – that add value to the United States, to our partners. They are distinct from some of the relationships that we’ve seen other countries around the world, including China, pursue in that they are not extractive, they are not predicated on a race to the bottom. They uphold high labor standards, they uphold the highest standards when it comes to climate change, when it comes to human rights.
And so, in all of our conversations, we emphasize primarily what it is that we are able to bring to the table. Oftentimes the contrast between the United States and other countries is implicit; sometimes we do underline it so that it is explicit. I won’t speak to what the PRC seeks out of the Middle East, what the PRC seeks out of Africa or elsewhere, but what I will say is that the United States seeks a series of relationships – bilateral and regional relationships – that are predicated on partnership, and that’s what we describe.
QUESTION: So, when those countries do choose to do business with China, do you respect their independent decision?
MR PRICE: Of course. And our point, as you’ve heard from us on any number of occasions, is not to force countries to choose between the United States and China. Our goal is to give countries around the world choices, to give them high-quality choices in which the United States – we are able to present ourselves and give ourselves – present ourselves in the most favorable terms and to explain exactly the type of partnership we seek, to make clear the ways in which we can work together to achieve our mutual interests, and to offer very clearly the high standards that we bring to the table, the highest standards when it comes to labor, when it comes to human rights, when it comes to supply chains, when it comes to all of the things that matters – that matter to our partners around the world.
QUESTION: And lastly, during the last meeting in Bali between Secretary Blinken and Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi, China stressed that Three Joint Communiques are the most reliable guard rails for the two countries. What is your response to that? And is the recent arms sales to Taiwan inconsistent with your words to China in terms of establishing the guard rails?
MR PRICE: We believe that our “one China” policy provides an appropriate framework to continue to engage our PRC counterparts. One of the primary objectives of the meeting with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi was to continue and to in some ways even deepen the avenues of dialogue, because we know that the relationship between the United States and between the PRC is the most consequential bilateral relationship on the face of the Earth. We know that it is a relationship that is predicated on competition, and we want to see to it that that competition is not able to veer into conflict.
And so that is why we continue to believe that engagement with our PRC counterparts is in our interest, but it’s also in the broader interest of countries around the world. We came away from the meeting with Wang Yi with a better understanding of the perspective of our counterparts. I think we saw from their readout that they appreciated the dialogue as well. We will continue that dialogue to do all that we can to see to it that those avenues for conversation, that those avenues for diplomacy remain readily accessible.
QUESTION: But actions speak louder than words. On Taiwan, how do you explain these arms sales to Taiwan is going to affect the relationship right after the meeting?
MR PRICE: Well, we have always said that we have obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act, and under the Taiwan Relations Act we make available to Taiwan defense articles and services necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defence capability. This is something successive administrations have done. It is entirely consistent with our “one China” policy.
QUESTION: Is it the administration’s position that China is preventing you somehow from presenting yourself in the most favorable terms possible when you go to countries in the South Pacific or Africa or elsewhere to —
MR PRICE: No, I did not intend to signal that at all.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MR PRICE: My intention was to say that —
QUESTION: Well, I mean, so you’re able to do that now, right?
MR PRICE: That’s right. That’s right.
QUESTION: So what’s the issue, then?
MR PRICE: Well, the question was about the relationship that the PRC seeks with other countries around the world, and so I was making a distinction between —
QUESTION: Well, right, no, I understand that. But I – but you said you don’t have a problem with them seeking relations around the world —
MR PRICE: No, of course not.
QUESTION: — and this is not you forcing other countries to make a choice.
MR PRICE: It is about us describing what we’re able to bring to the table.
QUESTION: Well, so – right, okay. But you’re not saying that the Chinese are preventing you from putting your best case forward.
MR PRICE: No, I did not intend to signal that at all, no.
QUESTION: During the President’s visit to Saudi Arabia, did the administration secure any commitments regarding U.S. citizens and residents who are considered unfairly imprisoned or under travel ban in Saudi Arabia?
MR PRICE: These types of issues are always on the agenda. The President has no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens around the world. But I’d need to refer you to the White House for the specifics of that.
QUESTION: So two questions on Mexico. Two weeks ago, The New York Times published a report citing several officials within the administration very critical of the cozy relationship that Ambassador Ken Salazar has with President AMLO in Mexico. Has the Secretary called Ambassador Salazar to reassure that there is full confidence in him?
And second, last Friday Mexico detained, arrested one of the top drug lords in the country, which is – who is also part of the Narcotics Rewards Program from the State Department. What kind of collaboration did the U.S. provided, information-sharing or any other details, to the Mexican Government to conduct this operation?
MR PRICE: So, on your second question, there’s not much I can provide beyond noting that counternarcotics is an area of cooperation between our two governments. It’s an area that was discussed when President Biden met with AMLO, President López Obrador, in the Oval Office just under a week ago. But when it comes to specific investigations and the specific operations as such, it’s not something I’d be able to speak to in any detail.
When it comes to Ambassador Salazar, he often speaks to the senior most individuals in this building. He’s an outstanding ambassador who represents the interests of the American people in his role as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico. We have a broad and deep relationship with Mexico, with agencies across the U.S. Government that collaborate very closely with their Mexican partners to advance our many shared interests. Just spoke to one of them, but there are many more. Since the beginning of this administration, we’ve relaunched the U.S.-Mexico High-Level Economic Dialogue, the bilateral high-level security dialogue, and the North American Leaders Summit. And Ambassador Salazar has been a leading voice and a leading force in all of these efforts.
Now, of course, there is a lot to do bilaterally with our Mexican counterparts. There was a lot on the table when AMLO met with President Biden at the White House just last week, and we’ll continue to have those conversations. And Ambassador Salazar will continue to lead our engagement with the Mexican Government when it comes to those conversations.
QUESTION: Hi. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what former Japanese Prime Minister Abe meant for U.S.-Japan relations. And while the U.S.-Japan relationship is of course much stronger than any one individual, how might Abe’s death impact U.S.-Japan relations moving forward?
MR PRICE: You heard from the Secretary, who was honored to have both the opportunity and the invitation to visit Japan a week ago today in the tragic aftermath of the assassination of former Prime Minister Abe. The Secretary attended a private convening with the prime minister. He presented the prime minister with a letter from President Biden addressed to the family of Prime Minister Abe. But Secretary Blinken also spoke on behalf not only of the American Government, but on behalf of the American people when he spoke of the legacy that the Prime Minister leaves behind.
Secretary Blinken made the point that Prime Minister Abe is one of the rare figures in history who had a vision, who had a vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, who advanced that idea, and someone who at the same time was able to implement that vision. Prime Minister Abe worked closely with successive American administrations on that vision. I think it is only appropriate for his legacy today that we have an Indo-Pacific that together we are – with our Japanese allies and our other allies and partners around the world – are seeking to make even freer, even more open, very much as Prime Minister Abe envisioned and articulated.
QUESTION: Can you think of any ways in which the former prime minister’s death might affect relationships between the United States and Japan moving forward?
MR PRICE: I think, as Secretary Blinken said, it only redoubles our conviction that we need to continue to do everything we can to advance the vision that he put forward. We have a tremendous relationship with Prime Minister Kishida and his government but – and I’ve already said this in a different context during this briefing – when it comes to partners, when it comes to the closest of allies like Japan, these are relationships that transcend any one prime minister, any one individual, any one leader. And the relationship between the United States and Japan is such that it is an enduring relationship between two allies, between two countries, and a relationship that will endure for decades to come.
QUESTION: President Biden and Secretary Blinken always affirm that they will never, ever let Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon of any sort. Now, if we believe what is coming out of Iran – and not from anyone in Iran, from the Iranian supreme leader’s advisor, who is a very credible source – that Iran is indeed a threshold state. So, do you have any new assessment, do you have any new policy towards Iran, specifically after Biden’s trip to the region?
MR PRICE: Well, we have made clear – and I think you’ve heard me make this point – that ever since the last administration left the JCPOA, it’s no secret that Iran’s fissile material and its breakout time has – its fissile material has increased and its breakout time, that is to say the amount of time it would need to acquire enough fissile material to create a nuclear weapon if it chose to weaponize, that time has decreased significantly. It has gone from about a year at its height to a matter of a few weeks or less.
The reason we are so – we remain focused on determining whether we can achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is precisely because a mutual return to compliance would put Iran’s nuclear program back in a box. It would lengthen that breakout time, which is now too short for comfort, which has now dwindled well beyond where anyone would like to see it. And it would also ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is once again subject to the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated and subject to IAEA monitoring.
But you said this in your question. The President has committed that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon. We continue to believe that diplomacy is the most effective means by which to fulfill that pledge. We continue to believe under that framework that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is the most advantageous course that remains viable, and we’ll continue to pursue that as long as it’s in our interest.
QUESTION: So, you don’t believe in Iranians’ claims? You don’t buy that? You think they are bragging?
MR PRICE: We know that they have acquired additional fissile material. We know that their breakout time has been reduced significantly. But this President has made a commitment that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon.
A couple final questions. Yes, Nick.
QUESTION: Can I just go back to following up on President Putin’s trip to Tehran tomorrow? Are there any concerns that he may use this, at least in part, to advance his country’s acquisition of weapons-capable drones from Iran?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve spoken about our concerns regarding a potential Russian provision – excuse me, a potential Iranian provision of UAV technology to Russia. We will continue to watch very closely. All of our sanctions remain in force. Any transaction of this sort would implicate a number of sanctions that we have on the books and presumably a number of sanctions that countries around the world have on the books. So this is something that we’ll continue to monitor.
QUESTION: Ned, just to follow up on Shaun’s question also about NATO – the NATO memberships of Finland and Sweden, you made some comments but I didn’t hear an answer. Just wondering – Germany ratified the agreement, and I think maybe like a dozen of them also ratified it. Obviously, Turkey has made it clear that they’re going to take longer. So what is the U.S. expectation on how, when this is going to be concluded? Do you guys have, like, a timeframe that you want to get this done? It was as soon as possible. It became clear that it’s – that’s not going to be the case. So, like year end?
MR PRICE: We do have a timeframe. And as you just said, it’s as soon as possible. we do note that the process for ratification involves legislative action or parliamentary action on the part of some 30 countries. Different countries will have to move at different speeds based upon their laws, based upon their procedures. As you’ve noted, several countries have already been in a position to move forward. But because this is the modification to a treaty, it is not something that can be done overnight, but we do want to see it completed just as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: There has been an uptick in violence in the Blue Nile region, and also there have been some street protests I think over the weekend in Khartoum. On July 4th, General Burhan made his address in which he dismissed the – or sorry, said that he was – wanted to pave the way for the civilian – for civilian leadership. At the time, your reaction was fairly cautious, saying let’s wait and see what happens. Do you have any new assessment of what’s happening in Sudan? Are you confident that there could be some progress in Sudan, or are you concerned with the way things are going there?
MR PRICE: I don’t have an updated assessment to offer. As you rightly noted, we did note at the time that we saw General Burhan’s address to the country and his commitment to dissolve the Sovereign Council once a civilian government has formed. We encouraged, at the time, all sides to re-engage, to find a solution that will keep Sudan moving towards a civilian-led government, democracy, and free and fair elections. And we also urge that violence against protesters be investigated and that perpetrators be held accountable. We have continued to engage with relevant stakeholders, but I don’t have an updated assessment as to the next steps.