No respect to Taliban until they respect human rights: US State Dept
“The Taliban cannot expect the respect and support of the international community until they respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Afghans including women and girl”, Ned Price, spokesperson of the State Department told a presser on Feb 2, 2023, while fielding a wide range of questions. The Q-A on Afghanistan is brought upfront by tweaking the transcript though questions on China, Palestine issue, and Ukraine war dominated the presser.
2:10 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. I’ll mention a couple things at the top, and then we’ll turn to your questions.
First, today marks three months since the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front signed a permanent cessation of hostilities agreement in Pretoria, ending a horrific two-year conflict.
We commend the parties for their commitment to the cessation of hostilities agreement and encourage continued implementation, including ensuring the protection of civilians through international human rights monitoring, as well as following through on accountability for human rights abuses and transitional justice.
Next, as further details have come to light, the United States strongly condemns the unilateral January 30th release by Sudanese authorities of Abdel-Ra’uf Abuzaid, the individual convicted of the 2008 killing of our colleagues John Granville and Abdel Rahman Abbas. The Sudanese claim that the Granville family had extended forgiveness is false. We call on the Sudanese Government to exercise all available legal means to reverse this decision and to re-arrest Abuzaid.
Finally, yesterday, the Department of State announced actions to impose additional visa restrictions under Section 212(a)(3)(C) or 3C of the Immigration and Nationality Act for certain current or former Taliban members, members of non-state security groups, and other individuals believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, repressing women and girls in Afghanistan. The immediate family members of such persons may also be subject to these visa restrictions.
This is consistent with our prior actions under the associated 3C policy and includes six individuals involved in discontinuing and/or restricting access to secondary and university-level education for girls and women; preventing women’s full participation in the workforce and their ability to choose their careers; and restricting women’s and girls’ exercise of their human rights. Due to visa confidentiality laws, we are unable to name the individuals who are subject to this policy.
But the Taliban cannot expect the respect and support of the international community until they respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Afghans, and of course that includes women and girls.
We condemn in the strongest terms the Taliban’s actions. The United States stands with the Afghan people, and we remain committed to doing all we can to promote and to advance the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Afghans, including – again, of course, – both women and girls.
With that, I turn it over to you.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have few questions. Number one, today was a hot topic in Afghanistan about the former President Ghani, that he received a hundred million, hundred and ten, something around this amount. He received this amount from Qatar Government as – they say it was a gift. President Ghani follower say this was a gift, but people said – Afghan people said it’s not gift, bribe, something, and sold Afghanistan. Different people have a different idea. Italian reporter reported about this – disclosed this information. Any comment on that?
And the second question, you mentioned about more restrictions on the Taliban. They don’t pay attention in the past also. Taliban travel a lot and they don’t care about U.S. sanction. Any comment about that?
And the third question, so many Afghan refugees who stay in Abu Dhabi, they (inaudible), and there is (inaudible), and it took a long time for them to come to the United States. Any comment about that too?
MR PRICE: Sure. I’ll see if I can remember and get through of all three of those.
On your first question, I’ve seen the Italian report. I’m aware of it. We’re certainly not in a position to confirm it, so I don’t have anything more for you there beyond to say that Qatar is an indispensable partner of the United States. We are deeply appreciative of the role that Qatar has played when it comes to our approach to Afghanistan. Qatar, of course, has hosted those individuals that have departed Afghanistan during and since the end of U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan in August of 2021. Qatar has opened its doors. It’s been a generous host. It’s been a stalwart partner to the United States, but more importantly, to so many of the people of Afghanistan who have sought to begin new lives in the United States and countries around the world.
Of course, our partnership with Qatar goes well beyond our shared approach to Afghanistan. Qatar has also been a force for stability and broader integration across the Middle East region. We work with Qatar on a number of bilateral and multilateral priorities, and, of course, that cooperation will continue going forward.
On the question of the Taliban, you are correct in the sense that the Taliban have repeatedly failed to uphold the commitments that they have made to the international community, but more importantly, the commitments that they themselves have made to their own people. You will have to ask the Taliban for the thinking behind the egregious decisions they have made. It could well be that the Taliban is under the impression that it could have it – it can have it both ways, that it can take these draconian, brutal, repressive measures against its own people and still cultivate improved relations with the international community.
We seek to make very clear to the Taliban that it cannot have it both ways, that it can fail to uphold its commitments to the Afghan people and thereby close all avenues of opportunity for improved relations. We are doing that ourselves, but much more importantly, we’re acting in a coordinated way with dozens of countries around the world to signal very clearly both in words and in deed, including the actions that we made public yesterday, that any Taliban illusion that they can continue to take this approach when it comes to their own people is nothing more than an illusion if they do seek improved relations with the rest of the world.
When it comes to the Afghans who are remaining in the UAE, this is another country, the UAE, that has demonstrated incredible generosity to the people of Afghanistan, incredible partnership with the United States and many countries who have been helping the people of Afghanistan in any number of ways, including by facilitating the departure of those who wish to depart the country.
We’re working with the Emiratis and our partners on the ground to process Afghans who remain at the Emirates – Emiratis’ Humanitarian City just as quickly as we can. As you know, for those Afghans who ultimately will arrive in the United States, there is a vetting process that is undertaken in the Emirates, in this case. That process can take some time, but we’re working very closely with our partners throughout the Executive Branch to do everything we can to cut down that processing time while ensuring that we’re not cutting any corners whatsoever when it comes to the vetting process. We’ve been able to improve that over time. We’re going to keep at it to address the concerns when it comes to Humanitarian City.
QUESTION: I’ve got a couple things, but I promise they’ll each be brief. The first one, on your statement on Sudan – just a couple days ago, the Secretary met with the Israeli foreign minister who was earlier today in Sudan. And I’m wondering if he mentioned the case of Mr. Granville’s murder. He – Granville was actually from my hometown. Did you ask the Israelis to raise this, or did you not know that the visit was happening?
MR PRICE: These reports have, of course, broken over the past couple days. It is our understanding that the Israeli foreign minister’s travel has also developed over recent days. But suffice to say that we are raising this at the highest levels, in the starkest terms, with the Sudanese authorities to see to it that there’s justice in this case.
QUESTION: All right, thanks. And then the last one – Vedant may have addressed this yesterday, and I’m sorry if I missed it on my way back from Israel. But there seems to be – and so if it has been addressed, you can ignore it. But this kerfuffle in the Hungarian Government and your ambassador there has been —
MR PRICE: I don’t know that that was addressed yesterday, and also not sure I would call it a kerfuffle. We have an ambassador in Budapest, as we do have ambassadors in capitals around the world who are standing up for American interests, American values, who are promoting those elements in ways that is appropriate, given their roles and responsibilities. Of course, we have a long relationship with our Hungarian ally. Hungary is an important NATO Ally.
That is not to say that we see eye-to-eye on every issue. Of course, there are many issues where we do have divergences of opinion or just flat-out disagreements. Ambassador Pressman is there in Budapest to represent our interests, our values. When we do have those disagreements, he can convey that to our Hungarian allies (inaudible), and that’s what he does.
QUESTION: Yeah. A couple of questions about the sort of – looking back on the trip to the Middle East —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — in terms of what was achieved during that. Well then, firstly, on the issue of the consulate for the Palestinians, have you made any more progress from that trip towards reopening them?
MR PRICE: I think you heard this from the Secretary when he was sitting next to President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. Our position on a consulate in Jerusalem has not changed. We remain committed to reopening the consulate in Jerusalem, just as we have remained committed to re-establishing our relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people. This is a relationship that goes back many decades, well over a century. It was an early task of this administration to see to it that we had a relationship that served our interests, that was consistent with our values, that served the interests of the Palestinian people. We’ve taken a number of steps.
We have spoken of our commitment to reopening this consulate in Jerusalem. Late last year, in December, we established a Washington-based special representative for Palestinian affairs. Hady Amr is now serving in that role. He was sitting close to the Secretary in that meeting with President Abbas. Since April of 2021, we have demonstrated in very real and significant terms our commitment to the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people. We’ve provided over $890 million for Palestinians, including over $680 in humanitarian assistance for refugees in the region through UNRWA and an additional $150 million in development and economic assistance through USAID.
When Secretary Blinken was in Ramallah, he announced another $50 million in funding for UNRWA. That marked the first tranche of UNRWA funding we’ve provided in Fiscal Year 2023 funding. So, in a number of ways, we are going to continue to support the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people as well as the aspirations of the Palestinian people. That was a central point of conversation on the most recent trip.
QUESTION: But given all that, why is it that you’re still not able to do the quite basic thing of reopening a consulate?
MR PRICE: These things take time. Obviously, there are various parties that are involved in a process like this working through those. But I don’t want to suggest that reopening of the consulate is the totality of what we are doing to improve the lives of the humanitarian people. And in fact, it is only a rather single and perhaps even small element of that compared to all that we have put forward already, what we have contributed in terms of our humanitarian assistance, the team that we have in Jerusalem and our Office of Palestinian Affairs, and now the new position of special representative based here in Washington, looking at ways to help the Palestinian people, to alleviate their humanitarian plight, and to do that in very real and practical ways. .
QUESTION: If you can give us an update on the work that officials stayed behind to do. Is there any progress on potentially restoring security cooperation or convincing the Palestinian Authority to do more in terms of taking more responsibility for security at different parts of the West Bank?
MR PRICE: Well, it was an important moment for the Secretary to travel to Israel and the West Bank for a number of reasons. But of course, the travel came in the context of really horrific levels of violence, levels of violence that have taken far too many innocent lives. The – while there, the Secretary was in a position to hear from the parties, and by parties in this case I mean not only Israelis and Palestinians but also our first stop was Egypt, and Egypt has played an important role over many decades now helping to maintain or restore calm and stability. That’s been the case in recent years as well.
So, it was important that we first travelled to Cairo to speak with President Sisi, with Foreign Minister Shoukry, with other members of the Egyptian Government to hear their ideas, to see to it that our actions, our messaging, was coordinated. With that in hand, the Secretary then travelled to Jerusalem and Ramallah to hear ideas from Israelis and Palestinians, and really to impart the message of the urgency of de-escalating, of taking concrete steps to stop the violence, to reduce tensions, but also, over the longer term, to create a foundation for a more positive, ambitious horizon going forward for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
As he noted in his final press conference, two senior members of our State Department team have stayed behind; Barbara Leaf, our assistant secretary for the Near East, as well as Hady Amr, the aforementioned Hady Amr, did stay back to continue those consultations. They are holding consultations with key parties to hear ideas and to make clear that the United States is willing and able to support the steps, to support the parties as they take steps that we certainly hope will restore calm.
They’re meeting with a range of Palestinian and Israeli leaders, including security officials, including political officials, as did the Secretary. And the Secretary also had an opportunity while there to meet with elements of civil society, which is also important. Stemming the violence paramount; they are there to support the parties and the steps the parties will have to take to break this cycle of violence. Our overarching goal is to support the de-escalation of tensions and to work with the parties to take action again to lessen the violence which, as I mentioned before, has already taken far too many – far too many lives.
QUESTION: Let me follow up on a couple of points. The – Axios published a story yesterday that the Secretary of State pressed Abbas to accept U.S. security plan for Jenin. Is there anything you can share with us on this?
MR PRICE: Secretary had some fairly lengthy remarks after his meeting with President Abbas. We travelled to Ramallah just as we travelled to Jerusalem, to hear from the parties themselves the steps that they could take to de-escalate tensions, to reduce the level of violence, and to put relations between Israelis and Palestinians on a more sustainable path. Our team works very closely with the U.S. security coordinator on the ground. He regularly consults with both parties as well. But ultimately, these are steps that the parties themselves are going to have to take.
QUESTION: What does that mean? I mean, according to this story, it says that we were hard on Abbas because they are not doing their part in terms of chasing after militants and so on in Jenin and other places; you want to revamp or restructure their security forces and so on. Is that what happened? Is that a fair assessment of what happened?
MR PRICE: I’m not going to go into the meeting beyond what Secretary Blinken said in that rather lengthy statement. But the Palestinian Authority has certain responsibilities. One of those is to condemn violence and to do everything in its authority, everything within its power to prevent acts of violence, to certainly refrain from incitement to violence, and to do everything it can to, in this case, restore a sense of calm, a sense of stability so that, again, we can put relations between Israelis and Palestinians on a more peaceful, on a more sustainable path so that we can emerge from this current period of tensions and hopefully build on that to create a brighter horizon for both Palestinians and Israelis.
QUESTION: And my last on – Amnesty International just issued a report painting a very bleak picture on the system in place. It calls it apartheid and says that this is getting much worse for the Palestinians, that in fact, while so much energy is spent on talking about (inaudible), it has never been so improbable. (Inaudible.)
MR PRICE: As a general matter, Said, we don’t offer comprehensive evaluations or assessments on reports by third-party groups. We have our own rigorous process for documenting or reporting on human rights issues around the world. We issue those findings annually in the global Human Rights Report. That report, and throughout every other 364 days of the year, we make clear our commitment to promoting respect for human rights in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip and around the world, for that matter. We have an enduring partnership with Israel and discuss a wide range of issues with the Israeli Government, including those related to human rights.
We support the efforts of the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority, alongside human rights activists, to ensure accountability for human rights abuses and potential violations. We continue to emphasize to Israel and the Palestinian Authority the need to refrain from unilateral actions that only serve to exacerbate those very tensions. This includes annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, incitement to violence, and providing compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism. This was a part of the conversations we had in Jerusalem and Ramallah. I suspect it will continue to be a central element of our engagement going forward.
QUESTION: King Abdullah had a meeting with the Secretary this morning. Do you have anything to read out from that meeting? And I’ve got one more on Israel.
MR PRICE: Well, we will have a more formal readout later today, but we were very glad to welcome King Abdullah back to Washington. The Secretary did have an opportunity to meet with His Majesty King Abdullah, this morning at the Jordanian embassy.
Generally speaking, we continue to work together to advance our mutual objectives in key areas. That includes promoting a more stable, more integrated, more prosperous Middle East. Jordan in carrying this out is our long-time close friend. It’s an invaluable partner and an essential strategic partner on a wide range of shared concerns and regional challenges. Our close cooperation on security issues has helped keep Jordanians and Americans safer over many years. Jordan plays an indispensable role when it comes to Jerusalem as the Custodian of the Holy Sites in Jerusalem. Jordan of course has an important role to play when it comes to the current moment between Israelis and Palestinians.
QUESTION: Just one on Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu said in his CNN interview this week that he wouldn’t name a final peace solution as a two-state solution as such, and that any final deal would involve Israel having overriding security of the Palestinian territories. Does that square with U.S. policies understanding of what a two-state solution is? Does the U.S. understand a two-state solution to be sovereignty over each state’s borders and security, or not?
MR PRICE: Well, again, I will let the prime minister characterize his remarks and to spell that out. I think with issues as complex as this, it’s often difficult to convey what one means in a single sentence or an interview as such.
Our vision of what is ultimately required has not changed. We continue to believe that a negotiated, two-state solution is the only way to bring a sustainable, durable end to this longstanding conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. A two-state solution is the only means by which to protect Israel’s identity as a democracy and a Jewish state while also fulfilling the aspirations, the legitimate aspirations, of the Palestinian people – legitimate aspirations to govern a state of their own, to live in stability, security, to have prosperity and opportunity at their own hands.
QUESTION: Regarding China, I wonder if you have any more information to share about Secretary Blinken’s trip to Beijing. And it’s reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping is going to meet him in Beijing.
MR PRICE: I don’t have anything else to offer on the Secretary’s planned trip to the PRC. This is a planned trip that was an outgrowth, as you know, of the two presidents meeting in Bali last November. The two presidents there discussed the full breadth of what we believe to be the most consequential bilateral relationship on the planet. The – what is – when it comes to our engagement with the PRC, when we have an opportunity to sit down, we discuss the full breadth of that relationship. That includes the competition that we believe is at the heart of the relationship, but also the collaborative and also the potentially conflictual elements of the relationship as well.
That’s always what we do when we engage the PRC. We speak and act in ways that protect and promote our interests and those of the broader international community as we seek to see to it that the competition that really is at the heart of our relationship isn’t in a position to spiral into conflict. So, I don’t have anything more to add on any planned travel, but we’ll let you know when that changes.
QUESTION: Follow-up. So, pundits in Washington, D.C. said they don’t expect any breakthrough or major deliverables from this trip. Is that what we should expect?
MR PRICE: Every time we engage at a high level with the PRC, it’s really about one thing and one thing only, and that’s responsible management of, again, what is, we think, the most consequential, complex bilateral relationship on the planet. And so of course what we seek to do is to have these conversations, to see to it that competition doesn’t veer into conflict, to see to it that there are guardrails on that relationship so that in the course of our foreign policy, in the course of pursuing our values and our interests, we can do so in a way that serves them, that works for the broader good, the interests of the broader international community, and does so in a way that doesn’t have the potential or certainly minimizes the potential for what our two countries are doing around the world to veer into something potentially much more dangerous.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that Speaker McCarthy’s potential trip to Taiwan may undermine any agreement Secretary Blinken’s going to reach with China?
MR PRICE: Look, I am not aware that the Speaker has announced any travel to Taiwan. The travel on the part of any Speaker of the House of Representatives, it is – is a decision that he or she, and he or she alone, would make. Congress is a coequal, independent branch of government.
What I can say – and we made the same message clear last summer – is our concern with the PRC’s reaction to the previous speaker’s travel to Taiwan. In the aftermath of a visit that was not unprecedented, the PRC, our concern is, used that travel as a pretext to intensify what it has been doing over the course of many years now: attempting to erode the status quo, the status quo that has really been at the heart of decades of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. So any member of Congress, any speaker current or future, is going to make his or her own decisions about travel consistent with the independence and the coequality of the Legislative Branch, but we’ll continue to speak out when we see the PRC attempting to undermine the status quo that at every step we and our partners and allies around the world have only sought to strengthen and preserve.
QUESTION: Yeah. I just wanted to ask about the three Americans wrongfully detained in China – David Lin, Kai Li, and Mark Swidan. Can you commit that the Secretary will raise their names in his meetings with Chinese officials when he goes over the course of the next few weeks?
MR PRICE: Again, I’m not going to get into a meeting that we haven’t formally announced just yet, and certainly not in any detail. But what I will say is that I can commit to you that every time the Secretary has a significant bilateral engagement with a country where this is in fact a concern of ours, it is something that is raised. We raise these cases on an individual basis; we raise the broader systemic challenge. The Secretary has no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens around the world. Of course, that includes American citizens who are wrongfully detained anywhere in the world.
The Secretary has very much personally invested in this. He often speaks with the families of wrongful detainees on the specifics of their cases. He has invested quite a bit in the diplomacy to try to deter this type of activity in the first place, to make clear to those countries who would engage in wrongful detention that this is not only something that the United States vehemently opposes, but it will carry costs and consequences from the rest of the world.
That’s an ongoing project. We are committed, just as we work with countries around the world, to create and to reinforce that norm, to doing everything we can to see our wrongful detainees returned home to their families as quickly as we can. And oftentimes that includes very direct, very blunt, very frank conversations with our counterparts in countries where this is applicable.
QUESTION: And as far as we know, there aren’t any active negotiations between the U.S. and China to secure the release of these three Americans. Is that accurate, or would you describe it in a different way?
MR PRICE: I would describe it in a different way. But again, I’m not going to go into detail. I would describe it as the fact that we are always working to see the release of wrongful detainees. We do that in ways – in different ways, oftentimes in discreet ways, but just because something may not be on the surface doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not happening.
QUESTION: Couple questions on Russia-Ukraine. Let me get them both in, but please come back to me on Caucasus (inaudible). The EU leaders today said that international center for prosecution of crimes in Ukraine will be established in the Hague. Does the Biden administration support this idea?
MR PRICE: So, on this, Alex, you know that we are promoting and supporting accountability in every viable way, in every way that we think will be effective. We’ve spoken quite a bit about our support for the Ukrainian prosecutor general, for that office that has already undertaken prosecutions, has secured convictions through free and fair trials, and has actually sentenced individuals to prison terms for the war crimes that they have committed on sovereign Ukrainian soil. That is a process that is well underway. There are other processes that are underway to varying degrees as well. The OSCE has its own process that we’ve supported. The ICC is engaged in a process that we are supporting. The UN, too, has an accountability mechanism that the United States helped to establish.
We’re in constant conversation with our Ukrainian partners, in this case, with other allies and partners around the – around the world, to determine if there are other venues, if there are other mechanisms that can promote the goal of accountability for those Russian officials who were either directly responsible for perpetrating or responsible for ordering what ultimately turned out to be war crimes. Those are conversations that are ongoing.
QUESTION: Is it your position that President Putin should be punished in a courtroom? Thank you.
MR PRICE: That is a question not for me; that is a question for legal authorities. There is – war crimes carry with it various definitions and criteria. It’s a – we don’t render legal verdicts from the podium here. We leave that to the appropriate authorities.
QUESTION: You have —
QUESTION: And there has been discussion over coming up with alternative, let’s say, (inaudible) designation when it comes to Russian crimes, which is maybe not designate as a rogue state but an aggressive state. Has (inaudible) reached to any conclusion?
MR PRICE: So, we continue to have conversations with our partners on the Hill about new vehicles that we might be able to take advantage of that would allow us to apply on the Russian Federation additional measures in response to the atrocities that it is perpetrating against the people of Ukraine. You know, Alex, that we have already levied against Russia financial sanctions, export controls, other economic measures as well that are having a tremendous bite not only in the Russian economy but also in Russia’s ability to wage war against Ukraine. You can see reflections of that in any number of steps that Russia has been forced to take.
The fact that Russia is now turning to, shall we say, non-traditional partners like Iran and the DPRK to backfill its military wares is a very concrete sign to us that we are starving the Russian Federation systematically of the inputs that it needs to create the outputs that ultimately would perpetrate such violence and brutality on the Ukrainian people. We’re always going to look for additional measures we can take under existing authorities that are available to us, but we’re working with the Hill, taking into – taking into consideration their concerns, taking into consideration the concerns that we’ve heard from various stakeholders, including humanitarian organizations and other humanitarian actors, about the implications of a potential state sponsor of terror designation to determine if there are other vehicles that could be crafted that would allow us to apply additional accountability on the Russian Federation.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) give your thoughts on the ongoing debate over Paris 2024 Games. And as you know, a couple of countries have issued a statement and they are asking for banning Russia and Belarusian athletes. First of all, are you able to reflect that statement from the U.S. position? Also, will the United States take part if there is different outcome?
MR PRICE: So, in December the International Olympic Committee outlined its continued sanctions of Russia and reaffirmed its support for Ukraine, which was also supported by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. The United States has signed on to three letters to support Ukraine and to hold Russia accountable for its war. These letters call for a series of measures. Namely, to suspend Russia and Belarus’s sports – sport national governing boards from international sport federations; to remove individuals closely aligned to the Russian and Belarusian states, including but not limited to government officials, from positions of influence on international sport federations such as boards, organizing committees, other elements; and to encourage national and international sports organizations to suspend the broadcasting of sports competition into Russia and Belarus.
Look, in cases where national and international sports organizations and other event organizers choose to permit athletes – but not just athletes, officials, administrators, others – from Russia and Belarus to participate in sporting events, a couple things apply. It should be clear that they are not representing the Russian or Belarusian states. The use of official state Russian and Belarusian flags, emblems, and anthems should be prohibited. And appropriate steps should be taken to ensure that any public statement made, or symbols displayed at sporting events by, again, athletes, administrators, officials, are consistent with this approach.
We are proud of our close partnership with Team USA, and we look forward to our collective work around the world to use sport for good. That includes in the United States and in countries around the world. We continue to support the people of Ukraine and to hold Russia accountable for this unjust war in Ukraine, but ultimately, we would defer you to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee to comment on its position.
QUESTION: But I didn’t hear your answer to my second part of the question, that if they don’t go through that banning process.
MR PRICE: That’s a – we’ve put forward our position, as have a number of other countries, so we’ll entertain that question if it’s a real question.
Let me move around just a little bit. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: A follow-up on China. China suspended and then cancelled the eight lines or channels of communication with the United States in response to the Speaker Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan last August. So, could you tell us the current situation or status of these channels, and especially the ones with security issues such as defence policy and coordination talks? And if they are still suspended, will Secretary ask Beijing to restore these channels?
MR PRICE: So, this goes back to your colleague’s question when I noted the fact that this relationship is the most consequential and complex on the face of the Earth. When we think about our bilateral relationship with the PRC, we tend to think about it in three ways: the areas that are competitive, and that’s a realm that really dominates our relationship with and our approach to the PRC; the elements that have the potential to be conflictual – that is to say the elements that may be prone to veer from competition into conflict, and those are elements where we seek to establish those guardrails to do everything we can to avoid unintended conflict with the PRC; but third, there are areas that are collaborative or have the potential to be collaborative. Some of them are quite obvious – climate, public health, drugs, and other transnational threats that our two countries face but also the rest of the world confronts.
To us, it’s important that we do all we can to act responsibly in those realms, to cooperate as much as we can in those realms – again, because it’s profoundly in our interest but also because it is expected of us. It’s expected of us by the rest of the world that the United States, in the case of climate for example, the number one and the number two emitters in the world do everything we can to reduce greenhouse gasses and to limit global warming consistent with the Paris pledges. That’s just one area.
When the PRC curtailed this cooperation in the summer in the aftermath of the former Speaker’s visit, we made very clear that the PRC was not doing this solely as a disservice to us, but this really was disregarding the interests and the wishes of the rest of the world. Part of the conversation the two presidents had in Bali was about seeing to it that our teams work together to seek to maximize collaboration and cooperation in these potentially collaborative areas. When we sit down with the PRC, not only will we discuss the competitive elements and the adversarial elements, but we will discuss how we can potentially deepen those areas of cooperation in real, practical ways.
QUESTION: But are those channels open? Can you speak to that?
MR PRICE: Let me move it on. Yes.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Can I just —
MR PRICE: You’ve seen from Secretary Kerry – let me take climate. You’ve seen from Secretary Kerry and his team that he has had engagement in recent weeks with his PRC counterpart. I would leave it to the PRC to characterize their level of cooperation. But we think it is vital and we know the rest of the world thinks it’s vital as well.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Ned. There are some reports saying that Iran got a portion of dollar that Iraq has received in the last two weeks, and the U.S. has solid evidence on that and working to support restrictions on Iraq in getting dollar from its oil revenue. What’s your comment on these reports, and how does the U.S. working with Iraq to overcome the concerns you have on the cashflow to Iran?
My second question. The Kurdistan Region parties have a loggerhead in different areas for weeks and months. This has led to raised eyebrows elsewhere, including the United States. So how does the U.S. view worsening relations between KR parties, and what engagements do you have for this (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: The second – the second one was how do we do – how do we view engagement between Baghdad and Erbil?
QUESTION: No. How do you deem the worsening relations between the Kurdistan Region parties, the Kurdistan Region parties, and what engagements do you have to help them to overcome the loggerhead they have for so long time?
MR PRICE: So, on your second question, this is really a question for Iraqi authorities. The Iraqi people seek a government that is responsible and responsive to their needs. The Prime Minister Sudani and his team have stated their commitment to doing everything they can to serve the needs of the Iraqi people. The United States stands as a partner to the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi people to assist in any way we can. We have assisted over the years when it comes to security, when it comes to economic assistance, when it comes to humanitarian assistance. That partnership is ongoing. But when it comes to relations between parties within the Iraqi Government, that’s a question for the Government of Iraq.
To the first part of your question, this goes back to the point I was making in response to your colleague’s earlier question. We know that Iran’s chief export around the world is instability. Iran’s chief export is insecurity – attempting to take advantage of potential power vacuums, to spread its influence in ways that are typically profoundly unhelpful. We seek to be a partner to Iraq to help with stability, to help with security, to help with economic prosperity as well. We’re doing that in any number of ways. But it goes back to the commitment that we have to the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi people to use our resources, to use our voice, to use our standing on the international stage to help fulfil the aspirations of the Iraqi people.
QUESTION: Thank you. Today 27 senators, both Democratic and Republican, sent a letter to President Biden asking him to not approve the sale of F-16 until Türkiye agrees to let the Finland and Sweden to join NATO. Do you share the same position with the sale of those? Can you explain to us, since the technical talks have been concluded, why you are delaying to send the official – the formal notification to the Congress?
MR PRICE: We’ve had an opportunity to speak about this both in recent weeks but going back into the summer, when President Biden was sitting right next to President Erdogan in Madrid during the NATO summit and President Biden made very clear that the United States supports the provision of F-16s to Türkiye. Türkiye, of course, is a NATO Ally; it has legitimate security concerns. We want to do everything we can to bring NATO – and to – and see to it that it’s fully integrated into the NATO Alliance. So that speaks to our support for the F-16s.
In our government, these are decisions that are not only within – that are not only left to the Executive Branch. These are the types of decisions that our legislative colleagues, our colleagues in Congress, also have a say over. We’ve made clear to Congress our support for the F-16s. Congress has made its position clear, or I should say individual senators – or groups of senators, in some cases – have made their positions clear.
We’re continuing to engage Türkiye. We’re continuing to engage the Hill. But our point is that Türkiye is a valuable NATO Ally. It’s role in the Alliance has been a profoundly important one over the course of decades now. And so, we’ll continue to find ways to see to it that we can work together with Türkiye, even as we seek to make the NATO Alliance even stronger. And we think making the NATO Alliance stronger would entail bringing the membership from 30 to 32.
Finland and Sweden have expressed their aspirations to join the Alliance. Not only have they expressed their aspirations, but 28 out of 30 countries in the Alliance have ratified the Articles of Accession. The United States Senate did so in what was record time or near-record time when it comes to such a treaty. So, there is overwhelming bipartisan support for the accession of Finland and Sweden into NATO. It is something that the administration strongly supports. We believe that both countries are ready, and these are countries with advanced militaries; they are advanced democracies, and they are in a position to make the Alliance to which we belong and Türkiye belongs, and 28 other countries belong even stronger than it already is.
QUESTION: But they are —
MR PRICE: Let me move around. Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Back on Secretary Blinken’s trip to China. Will he raise the human rights situation of Tibetans and Uyghurs during that trip?
MR PRICE: Again, I don’t want to preview the agenda items of a meeting we haven’t announced. But I will just say that in every engagement around the world, human rights are a feature of those discussions. That is the case in countries where we work together to promote and to protect human rights around the world. That is also the case in countries that fail to uphold commitments to human rights. We’ve discussed this previously with our PRC counterparts, and I would expect that in any extended meeting between the Secretary and PRC officials, that it will feature once again.
QUESTION: My question is about U.S. citizens in Mexico. There is a prominent front-page story in The Los Angeles Times today showing how pharmacists in Mexican resorts are selling fake prescription pills laced with fentanyl. They’re targeting precisely the U.S. tourists who are visiting. Are you aware or the State Department is aware of any cases of U.S. tourists that have fallen victims of these kind of pills? And what steps can the U.S. take to prevent this terrible trend?
MR PRICE: I am not immediately aware of individual cases. In any case, it’s not something we would speak to from a podium, for example. But we are intimately aware of the threat that is posed by fentanyl, not only to U.S. tourists in Mexico but to Americans and to people around the world. This is something that Secretary Blinken is seized with, and he is seized with it because fentanyl is the leading killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 49. It is a threat that our country has been grappling with. It’s a threat that has ended far too many lives, in too many cases far too many young, promising lives prematurely.
So, we are working with partners around the world, including Mexico but in some cases countries much further afield, to stem not only the flow of fentanyl itself, but oftentimes the precursors; that is to say, the ingredients that are later assembled in third countries to produce fentanyl, that in far too many cases is then shipped into American communities and takes a devastating toll on people within those communities. It’s something we’re committed to. We’re committed to doing it with partners. We’re committed to redoubling our efforts with our partners within the Executive Branch, within this government as well, to do everything we can to address this lethal threat.
QUESTION: Ukraine? On —
MR PRICE: Guita? Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you. Russian state media – are citing a comment made by Under Secretary Nuland in an Al Jazeera interview. And the comment is that, and I quote, “The U.S. is working to meet Ukraine’s needs, including long-range missiles.” Is the U.S. considering giving Ukraine long-range missiles?
MR PRICE: You know we don’t preview security assistance announcements that have not yet been made, but what I can say generally is that we are always in conversation with our Ukrainian partners. We’re always in conversation with the dozens of countries who have signed up to help Ukraine with security assistance, with economic assistance, with humanitarian assistance, to determine what, in the first instance, Ukraine needs, and from there to determine what we have and what we’re in a position to provide. So, these are conversations that are ongoing on multiple fronts when it comes to the needs of our Ukrainian partners, but I don’t have anything to announce or to preview.
QUESTION: So, 14 Republican senators wrote a letter to Secretary Blinken to press him on China. I just wonder how do this affect your agenda, and what is your response?
MR PRICE: Well, we appreciate constructive engagement from Congress when it comes to our approach to the PRC. In fact, Secretary Blinken was on the Hill last week. He met with a bicameral, bipartisan group of House members and senators to hear their perspective on our approach the PRC, to hear from them what they would like to see from us in our engagement with the PRC, and in turn to discuss with them what we’ve seen and heard and what we intend to convey to our – to the PRC.
So, this is a process that is ongoing, but we very much welcome this sort of constructive engagement, these constructive ideas, and it’s a conversation that will continue in the aftermath of engagement with the PRC.
QUESTION: Can I ask my Morocco question? Really quick.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: Really quick. There’s a – I don’t know if you’re aware of it. There is a Saudi who is being extradited from Morocco. His family says that if he is extradited – his name is Hassan al-Rabea. I don’t know if you know his case. Do you know this case?
MR PRICE: I’m not immediately familiar with it. But we’ll see if we can —
QUESTION: Well, could you find out, take it as —
MR PRICE: Yep, okay. Michel.
QUESTION: He’s being extradited, and they fear if he’s extradited, he will be subject to imprisonment and torture.
MR PRICE: Got it.
QUESTION: Do you have any – anything on the – a meeting between the U.S., France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia on Lebanon, and news reports saying that French officials are coming to Washington to discuss sanctions needed on the importation of gas and electric from Egypt and Jordan to Lebanon?
MR PRICE: When it comes to the meeting that you’re referring to next week in Paris, I suspect we’ll have more details on this in the coming days. But we look forward to meeting with French, Egyptian, Qatari, and Saudi partners in Paris to discuss ways to encourage and support Lebanese leaders to elect a president, form a government, and to implement necessary economic reforms. So, we’ll have more for you on that engagement in the up-run.
QUESTION: On what level — on what level – would happen in – is going to happen in Paris?
MR PRICE: We haven’t announced representation just yet, but I suspect we’ll have more details as it gets closer.
QUESTION: And on the French official, do you have anything.
MR PRICE: Again, I don’t have anything to offer specifically on that. But France is a partner on many fronts, including when it comes to our shared approach to the challenges faced by the people of Lebanon, the humanitarian plight that the Lebanese people are enduring, and as this Paris meeting indicates, the approach that together we can take to address – help address the humanitarian, the economic, and the other needs of the Lebanese people.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:21 p.m.)
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