State Dept Press Briefing, Nov 8, 2022
State Dept spokesperson Ned Price held a presser on Nov 8, 2022 and fielded questions on a wide range of issues; Ukraine war dominated the Q-A session though.
MR PRICE: Let’s do a couple things at the top and then turn to your questions.
First, Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Geoffrey Pyatt has been asked to coordinate the United States Government’s energy support for Ukraine with international partners. This includes leading our engagement in the G7 effort that foreign ministers announced last week. Assistant Secretary Pyatt is uniquely qualified to lead these efforts, having served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2013 to 2016, in addition to heading the department’s international energy policy and assistance programs.
Within the United States Government, the Department of State will work with the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the National Security Council to assess requests from the Government of Ukraine and identify resources or equipment that may be suitable to the task.
The interagency group will work with international partners through the G7 mechanism to provide needed equipment and assistance to repair, maintain, and fortify the Ukrainian energy sector over this winter.
The intensity of Russia’s strikes targeting Ukrainian power has increased dramatically since October 10th. Russia aims to fracture the energy grid and leave millions without power, water, or heat, in an attempt to reduce Ukraine’s resilience and determination during the cold winter months.
The Government of Ukraine will need assistance to ensure Ukraine remains resilient and strong despite Russia’s efforts to cut off heat and light this winter. President Putin has failed on the battlefield, so he is now waging war on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure. We must ensure he fails there too.
And next and finally, the United States is alarmed by the continued pattern of actions against judges and prosecutors in Guatemala who handle anti-corruption and human rights cases.
Upholding due process for all citizens, including judges, prosecutors, and journalists, is vital for citizens’ confidence in their justice institutions. Clear and consistent application of the law is essential for good governance.
The Guatemalan people deserve justice institutions they can trust, and the United States notes continued actions to prosecute current and former justice actors are weakening Guatemalans’ most – Guatemala’s most important safeguards against corruption, impunity, and human rights abuses.
QUESTION: All right. Okay. I want to start with something that we haven’t talked about, or at least we didn’t talk about it yesterday, and it’s kind of fallen off the radar just a tiny bit. And I just want to know what the latest is, if anything, there is on Haiti and the effort to get a multinational presence in there?
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, as you know, we’ve been working when it comes to the challenges the Haitian people are facing for a number of weeks now. You raised one component of that. I hope that in focusing on that component, the other elements of our work are not overlooked. This is the work to hold accountable those who are responsible for some of the conditions – the humanitarian emergency – that the Haitian people have faced.
The United States Government has levied sanctions against some of these actors. The UN Security Council issued sanctions against some of these actors. We have been working, as we have for – since the start of this administration and over the course of successive administrations, to enhance the capabilities of the Haitian state, Haitian institutions, including the Haitian National Police.
A number of weeks ago, in October now, the United States and Canada delivered much-needed supplies to the Haitian National Police. Even in recent hours, over the past couple days, you’ve seen those supplies put to good use by Haitian authorities in breaking the blockade that had been effectively instituted against the port, allowing fuel to once again flow to those who need it most. We’ve been very pleased to see the progress that Haitian National Police have made, but still the situation needs to improve. It needs to improve for the welfare and the well-being of Haiti’s people, especially those in Port-au-Prince who have suffered as a result of the malicious activities and efforts on the part of gang leaders and criminal actors.
So we continue to work with partners from this building, from New York, capitals around the world to discuss the potential for a mission endorsed by the UN Security Council under Chapter VII. We believe that such a mission would be important to be as an enabling element to what the Haitian National Police and Haitian authorities are already doing. These conversations are ongoing. There are a number of countries that have indicated their interest in learning more about such an effort, potentially taking part in such an effort. Secretary Blinken did discuss this with Foreign Minister Joly, Prime Minister Trudeau in Canada. They both – the foreign minister and Secretary Blinken spoke to it in the aftermath of their visit last month, but these conversations are very much ongoing.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, two things. One is you seem to suggest that the situation might have improved somewhat so that the – so that it might be less – a little less urgent than it was before to get – to get something passed. And then the second thing is that I was under the impression that Chapter VII was out, a Chapter VII resolution was – wouldn’t pass muster with one – at least one member of the council. The country begins with the letter C and ends with the letter A.
MR PRICE: So we’ve – there are a couple of countries that could apply to. I won’t ask you to elaborate. But first – remind me of your first question. Sorry.
QUESTION: Well, it just seems – you said the blockade at the port had been eased or – if not entirely lifted, but at least eased, and so fuel has been getting out. So does that make it a little less urgent to get a mission on the ground?
MR PRICE: There is still – there is still urgency. The status quo remains untenable. It remains untenable for the Haitian people. We hope to see continued improvement in the humanitarian situation. The actions of the Haitian National Police may lead to further improvements. But there continue to be longer-term challenges that an enabling force authorized by the UN Security Council would be able to help address.
QUESTION: Okay, so that’s still the goal. And then the second thing – so Chapter VII resolution?
MR PRICE: So this is an effort that, as you know, directly responds to the call that was put forward by the UN secretary-general, by the secretary general of the OAS. We believe that a UN Security Council resolution authorizing a non-UN multinational force under Chapter VII of the UN Charter would give the force the legal authorization and the imprimatur of the UN Security Council. This is not something that would be the work of any one country; this would be something that we would do in partnership with a number of countries and that ultimately would be done in partnership with Haitian authorities. After all, it was Haitian authorities, it was the UN secretary-general, it was the OAS secretary general that called for this in the first place.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Other questions? Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. Different subject. And this is not a trick question at all. (Laughter.) The OSCE is in town, the observers, and to observe the election here, and every day at this podium you call on different countries over the world to have and hold free and fair elections. So my question to you is, as the State Department spokesperson, is – would you consider – do you consider that there are free and fair elections in the United States given that there are concerns with how it’s run, given that a lot of people contest the results, as you know? And are you concerned about the image that it gives of the United States, that it has been giving over the years to fellow countries over the world?
MR PRICE: So a couple things on that. First of all, I’m not going to render an assessment on elections in this country. It’s just not part of our remit here in the Department of State. But I’ll make a couple points.
Number one, you made an allusion to the OSCE monitors. I think that in itself is important because we believe in transparency. We believe that we need to model the behavior that we hope and expect to see from fellow democracies around the world by regularly inviting OSCE monitors to be present for our elections, whether it’s a midterm year, whether it’s a presidential cycle. We demonstrate that we are committed to the principle of transparency. We’re committed to walking the walk when it comes to what we call for around the world.
Election officials in this country here will speak to the processes that unfold over the course of the day. I’ll leave that to them. I imagine as they always do, the OSCE will render their own report on this.
One of the strengths of our democracy is the fact that we acknowledge our challenges. We have never attempted to sweep our challenges, any shortcomings we might have, under the rug. And that’s because there is something uniquely American in our belief that our democracy is not perfect, never will be perfect. It is very much a work in progress. It is very much something that is – that we are striving to continually improve. It’s unfinished; it will always remain unfinished.
So, of course, you’ve heard Secretary Blinken speak about some of the challenges we’ve had in our own country. We don’t see that as a weakness around the world. In fact, our ability to acknowledge openly and honestly and candidly with countries around the world that we, too, have our challenges and rather than sweep them under the rug, we acknowledge them. The President of the United States on a couple of instances over the past couple of months has given primetime addresses referencing some of those challenges. That is the defining feature of this democracy, is that we are candid where we do have challenges, where we have shortcomings. We work together as a country – fellow citizens – to improve where we can. And that’s something that we’ll continue to do.
QUESTION: Especially when you consider that it was only in the early ‘50s that included civil rights and things like that. Just a comment.
MR PRICE: Simon.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask about Egypt given the meetings being held there, and the Secretary will be there with the President in the coming days. There’s a lot of attention – and particularly a statement from the UN high commissioner for human rights on the case of Alaa Abd el-Fattah, who is on hunger strike and is jailed in Egypt. I wonder if you had any response to that. Is that something that the U.S. delegation is going to raise specifically with the Egyptians? And does that give you pause over the conclusion that the department reached earlier this year that Egypt had made progress on the issue of political detentions?
MR PRICE: So a couple things on this. So broadly, since taking office, this administration, including at the highest levels – President Biden, Secretary Blinken – we have underscored that the U.S.-Egypt relationship is stronger, it is strengthened when there’s tangible progress on human rights. To that end, we’ve welcomed the releases and pardons of political prisoners over the past few months, and we’ve been clear that we support further releases of all Egyptian human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, and others who remain detained for peacefully exercising their universal rights: freedom of expression, freedom of association, to name just two.
That includes pardoning and releasing Alaa Abd el-Fattah, his co-defendants Mohamed El-Baqer and Mohammed “Oxygen” Ibrahim, among many others. We have followed, when it comes to Mr. Abd el-Fattah, his case very closely, since even before his conviction last December by an Egyptian emergency court. And we’ve raised his case and his continued detention repeatedly and at all levels with the Government of Egypt. We, as are so many around the world, are seriously concerned about Mr. Abd el-Fattah’s health, especially given the length of his hunger strike and reports that he is now foregoing even water over the past several days.
As you know, the President and the Secretary will be off to Sharm El-Sheikh for COP27 later this week. President Biden will meet with President Sisi on Friday as the host of the COP. Of course, not going to get into the contents of a meeting that has yet to occur, but President Biden himself has said that when he meets with foreign leaders, human rights is always on the agenda and that, as President, he will never remain silent on the issue. I can tell you that in the senior interactions that individuals in this building have had with their Egyptian counterparts, including when Secretary Blinken was in Cairo last May, in May of 2021 – had a lengthy meeting with President Sisi – human rights was at – was a prominent feature in that discussion as well. That includes the issue broadly, but to some of the issues we’ve talked about just now, it also includes specific cases.
And we’ve been clear with the Egyptian Government regarding cases where we would like to see improvement, cases where we would like to see individuals released or pardoned, and that includes in the case of Mr. Abd el-Fattah and his co-defendants.
QUESTION: Is – going forward, would you tie military aid, some of the military aid specifically to that case? Or, as you say, you keep – you’re raising this, but this has been raised over a long period and he obviously hasn’t been released. So when you’re communicating that to the Egyptians, what are you sort of – what’s the downside for them if they don’t take action?
MR PRICE: So there are a number of tools we have when it comes to working on this issue. One is the fact that Congress, of course, has put restrictions on certain aid that we can provide to the Government of Egypt. We need to make representations to our congressional overseers that Egypt is making progress where we collectively think it needs to make progress. The Secretary determined earlier this year that Egypt had made progress in some of those areas. There is no denying that we’ve seen a number – hundreds – of Egyptian political prisoners released in recent months. That’s not to say that we do not think that more can and should be done. And in fact, we do think that more must be done, including in the case of Mr. Abd el-Fattah and his co-defendants.
We are going to continue to do what we believe to be most effective when it comes to seeking progress on these cases. Oftentimes that engagement will be in private diplomatic channels. If we feel that it is most helpful to a particular case to speak of it publicly, we won’t hesitate to do that, and we’ll continue to measure the progress so that we can gauge the strength of the bilateral relationship and, as necessary, report back to Congress, which is obviously keenly interested in this as well.
QUESTION: On COP, do you have any thoughts or comment on former Secretary Kerry greeting and shaking hands with President Maduro of Venezuela?
MR PRICE: Well, I think those of you who have seen the video will recognize that Nicolás Maduro, he interrupted what was an ongoing meeting at COP27 to engage Special Envoy Kerry, and this was very much an unplanned interaction, just in the same way that other world leaders have been presented with unplanned interactions from Nicolás Maduro. He briefly spoke to Special Envoy Kerry during COP27.
This was not, as I said before, planned or substantive in any way. Maduro has unfortunately, as it pertains to COP, overseen a period of significant environmental degradation – the destruction of the Amazon through deforestation, through oil spills, and illegal mining. And we believe it’s in the interest of the entire region that such activities come to an end. But as far as that conversation goes, it was unplanned; it was non-substantive as well.
QUESTION: Okay. So former Secretary Kerry was caught by surprise and he was basically just being polite? Is that – is that the —
MR PRICE: He was caught by surprise. I understand that Nicolás Maduro has done this to a number of world leaders. This was certainly an interaction that was —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) sort of jump out?
MR PRICE: — planned.
QUESTION: Who else has he done this to?
MR PRICE: I am not going to put a spotlight on his other interactions, but you can check out some of the video that’s available on social media.
MR PRICE: Alex.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. A couple questions. But let me start with Azerbaijan-Armenia (inaudible) on this one. I’ve seen the readout – actually, it’s open right here in front of me – that you put together this morning. Actually, I was surprised by the length – I think shortness is the right way to put that – of the statement. Your statements about Secretary’s phone calls with the ministers contain more words than – this is like 60 words long. How do you want us to read the fact that you have close to nothing to say about the results of the meeting?
MR PRICE: So let me say a couple things on this first, Alex, just to make sure we’re – we have the same context. I think it’s important to note first that following Secretary Blinken’s meeting with his two counterparts – his Armenian and his Azerbaijani counterpart yesterday – the two countries issued a joint statement. That statement, their statement – I will point out that it is longer than our readout – it’s available on the Armenian and the Azerbaijani government websites.
Now, we don’t try to make too much of joint statements, but a joint statement in the context of these two countries is something to take note of. It’s a very positive sign that these two countries could agree to not only issue a joint statement but to agree on the substance behind it.
In the meeting, the foreign ministers agreed to expediate their negotiations and to organize another meeting in the coming weeks. They expressed their appreciation to Secretary Blinken, to the U.S. side for organizing the discussions yesterday. I should note that Secretary Blinken was involved in the discussions yesterday, but there were opportunities throughout the course of the day for the two sides to meet and to attempt to bridge their differences, in some cases without the United States as an active participant. We remain committed to promoting a peaceful future for the South Caucasus region. We believe that continued direct dialogue is key to resolving issues and to reaching a lasting peace.
I think going back to your original question, our role in this has been one of facilitator. We provided, over the course of the day yesterday, a space – Blair House, in this case – for the two countries to come together, just as we did in New York a few weeks ago in late September. But this is not an agreement that the United States is attempting to or seeking to – or even can – impose on the two sides. What we are doing is trying to create a space and an opportunity for the two sides to come together, to identify their differences – of which there are many – and to attempt to bridge them.
And I think there was – yesterday was positive in that the two sides met, they surfaced many of their areas of disagreement. At the end of the day, they were able to agree on a joint statement. They were able to agree to continue meeting and engaging in direct dialogue and diplomacy in the weeks that follow. That, to us, is quite important.
But it is not for us to prescribe what this lasting comprehensive peace between the two countries might look like. We are not presenting them with a document that is ready to sign. We are doing everything we can to help enable the diplomacy that they themselves will need to undertake – and this is not unlike our approach to a number of challenges around the world, where we’ve demonstrated the viability and the effectiveness of this model. The historic agreement that was reached between Israel and Lebanon just a couple of weeks ago – the United States played the role of facilitator, played the role of mediator, but of course we weren’t dictating the terms.
What’s happening in Nairobi right now, what was happening in Pretoria last week with Special Envoy Hammer – engaging with the Ethiopian parties, working as an observer to the talks, and helping the talks along where we could. What we’ve done in Yemen, what we’ve done with a number of conflicts and challenges around the globe – it is not for us to prescribe, to dictate the terms of any peace agreement, of any accord, of any deal not involving the United States. But it is incumbent on the United States to use the leverage and the authority, the good offices that we have, the expertise and experience that we have in this building and throughout this government to try and help these processes along.
We think yesterday with Armenia and Azerbaijan was an opportunity to do that, and we think the results are quite positive.
QUESTION: In his opening statement, the Secretary was talking about the real steps, the courageous steps. Can you help us put into context what exactly was he talking about?
MR PRICE: Well, the fact that the two parties have continued to engage, that itself is a real step. That is actually a step that we hope in the coming weeks will continue to allow the parties to build on the momentum that they have been able to sustain since the outbreak of hostilities. There have, of course, been setbacks. But we believe that if they continue down the path of dialogue and diplomacy, they’ll be able to build on that momentum, they’ll be able to build confidence between them, trust between them, and we will do everything we can to support those processes so that they’re able to reach that comprehensive and lasting peace.
QUESTION: And based on what the Secretary heard from his counterparts, is it his hope or belief that the sides are in fact ready to sign the peace contract by the end of the year?
MR PRICE: We will leave that to the parties. This is a decision that they are going to have to make. I think as you read from their joint statement, the ministers used the opportunity yesterday to share views on elements of a possible peace treaty, and they acknowledge that there are a range of issues that needed to be addressed. But they agreed to expedite their negotiations and organize another meeting in the coming weeks. We will do everything we can to see to it that they are able to make progress towards that comprehensive and lasting peace as quickly as possible, ultimately leading to a comprehensive and lasting peace.
QUESTION: Thank you. On the Palestinian issue, a couple of quick ones. The Israeli army declared that the Hebron home of a well-known Palestinian activist, Issa Amro, is declared a military post or whatever, because he complained about the settlements. I wonder if you have any comment on that. He also faces possible deportation or imprisonment.
MR PRICE: Said, we continue to make clear with both the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority that members of civil society must be in a position to carry out their important work. We urge the full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, and as we’ve said many times before, we believe the Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve equal measure of security, of prosperity, of freedom, of dignity. We’re deeply concerned by the deteriorating security situation in the West Bank. We call on the parties to do everything they can to de-escalate the situation, return to a period of calm. We know this would be in the interests of Palestinians, it would be in the interests of Israelis, it would be in the interests of the region.
And I’ll just say that Issa Amro is someone many of us know. The Secretary had an opportunity to meet him when we were in the West Bank in May of 2021. I’d had an opportunity to meet him before that. The importance of civil society, of human rights defenders – that’s something that we protect and promote around the world. The West Bank, Gaza, Israel – it’s no different.
QUESTION: So would you call on the Israelis to vacate Mr. Amro’s home and return it to him, not as a military post?
MR PRICE: Again, Israel of course faces very real and acute security challenges and security threats. We’ve been —
QUESTION: Not from Mr. Amro. I mean, he’s —
MR PRICE: We’ve been reminded of that even in recent days.
QUESTION: He’s the subject of attacks.
MR PRICE: We think – and there is a way to address those real, those very real security threats while of course respecting the ability of civil society actors, including human rights defenders, to carry out their important work.
We’re not going to be prescriptive, but we believe that Israel is in a position to do both.
QUESTION: Yeah. Let me ask you, on your statement last Friday on the IHRA, you said that the recent report by the UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism misrepresented the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism. How did it do that? How did it misrepresent the definition of the IHRA?
MR PRICE: Well, the IHRA definition is a public definition. That’s actually the great effectiveness of it. It’s a definition that is available to the world; it’s a definition that the United States has adopted as a working definition of anti-Semitism going back years now. It helpfully provides examples of what anti-Semitism could look like, illustrative examples of how anti-Semitism can rear its ugly head around the world, and unfortunately how it’s reared its ugly head around the world in far too many instances, including in far too many recent instances.
So I’m not going to parse the statement that we saw emanate from the UN official compared to the IHRA definition. The good news is that the definition is available for all to see, as is the statement in question.
QUESTION: So you believe that this definition, as it is, would stem the rise of anti-Semitism everywhere?
MR PRICE: It’s —
QUESTION: And will not – it will not jeopardize the Palestinians or Palestinian activists or supporters of the Palestinians to work on behalf of the Palestinian cause —
MR PRICE: It’s an important tool.
QUESTION: — especially in boycott?
MR PRICE: It is an important tool to help policymakers, to help civil society, to help private sector actors determine what ultimately is and what may not be anti-Semitic language or activity. I was looking at the definition myself late last week, and the examples that it lays out provide a very useful tool for those who want to take a look at what may be said, what may be happening around the world, and to provide guideposts for, again, policymakers or anyone else who would be interested in this.
But it is one tool. It’s a tool that the United States Government has used. It’s a tool that a number of governments have used. We’ve encouraged governments around the world to use it to help inform those policy decisions.
Yes, please, Cindy.
QUESTION: Thank you. On Ukraine and Russia, with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy laying out his preconditions for any real negotiations with Russia, what is your best understanding of what Russia’s preconditions would be, and do you see any movement at all there towards negotiations?
MR PRICE: Well, unfortunately, it’s quite simple when it comes to Russia. We have seen nothing to indicate that the Russians are at the present moment willing to engage in good-faith negotiations. There would be a number of ways the Russians could signal their willingness, their ability to engage in dialogue and diplomacy, good-faith dialogue and diplomacy, with Ukraine. One would be to stop the bombing of civilian targets, to stop pursuing infrastructure, to stop pursuing heating, water, electricity for the people of Ukraine. Another would be to stop with what appears to be, at best, indiscriminate targeting of residential areas, civilian buildings, playgrounds, schools, hospitals, or at worst, the intentional targeting of these same locations.
Russia had an opportunity to demonstrate that it was committed to dialogue and diplomacy by not taking the profoundly unhelpful steps it took just a few days ago by, at least temporarily, suspending the grain initiative, continuing to holding the Black Sea Grain – continuing to hold the Black Sea Grain Initiative hostage for some sort of leverage, as the grain initiative comes up for renewal in the coming days.
So again, it is not for us to be prescriptive to the Ukrainians in this case about what would be indicative of a good-faith willingness on the part of Russia to negotiate. But looking as an observer at what has transpired in Ukraine over the past months and even recent days, we just don’t see any indication that Russia is ready and willing to seriously engage.
QUESTION: Bloomberg just – Bloomberg mentioned that there may be talks held in Cairo between the Russians and the Americans on the START treaty. Is that something that —
MR PRICE: So the Bloomberg report was referring to the New START Treaty’s Bilateral Consultative Commission, the BCC. That’s the bilateral mechanism for discussing treaty implementation issues under the New START Treaty. We have agreed that the BCC will meet in the near future under the terms of the New START Treaty. The work of the BCC is confidential, but we do hope for a constructive session.
This gets back to the point we were making yesterday: we believe deeply, around the world, in the transformative power and the importance of diplomacy and dialogue. When it comes to Russia, of course, we are clear eyed, we’re realistic about what dialogue between the United States and Russia can – both what it can entail and what it can accomplish. We – we have focused on risk reduction in these conversations, but we’ve been very intentional about seeing to it that the ability of our two countries to pass messages back and forth and to engage in dialogue has not, does not atrophy.
We have a number of channels for communication. We have a functioning embassy in Moscow. Secretary Blinken has picked up the phone to speak to Foreign Minister Lavrov since February 24th. Secretary Austin, Chairman Milley, Jake Sullivan have all been in a position to speak to Russian counterparts. And here in this building – there’s a Russian ambassador in Washington, there’s a Russian Embassy in Washington. We have the ability to convey the important bilateral message – messages that we need to convey.
So if there is – and it sounds like there will be a meeting of the BCC, that is a good thing. It demonstrates our commitment to risk reduction, to strategic stability, something we remain committed to, something that is profoundly in the bilateral interest. And we hope the upcoming meeting is constructive and leads to —
QUESTION: When was the last meeting that Ambassador Antonov had in this building?
MR PRICE: I couldn’t say when the last time he was – I couldn’t say when he was last in the building, but we have the ability to convey messages to the Russian embassy here and vice versa. Our embassy in Moscow regularly conveys messages to the Russian MFA.
QUESTION: Is – sorry, you said – you kept saying if this meeting happens, and then you said the upcoming meeting. Well, has it actually been a hundred percent agreed to by both sides?
MR PRICE: There will be the – the BCC will meet in the near future.
QUESTION: Will Ukraine be part of that discussion? Because you had the policy – nothing without Ukraine about Ukraine.
MR PRICE: This is about the New START Treaty. Of course, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine is a cardinal principle that applies to Russia’s war in Ukraine. The New START Treaty is a treaty between the United States and Russia. It has to do with the disposition of our respective nuclear assets.
QUESTION: And when was the last time that the BCC met?
MR PRICE: The BCC, it was – so as you know, this pertains to the New START Treaty. Inspections were paused in March of 2020 by —
QUESTION: Yeah, that was because of COVID.
MR PRICE: Well, by – because of COVID, by mutual consent, but then they were unilaterally suspended by Russia in August. And we’ve made clear to Russia that measures imposed as a result of Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine don’t prevent Russian inspections – Russian inspectors from conducting New START Treaty inspections in the United States. So we hope that the meeting of the BCC will allow us to continue with those inspections.
QUESTION: Right. But the question was when was the last time —
MR PRICE: I will see if we can – it took place in October of 2021 actually.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV. Just wanted to request your comments on assassination attempt on former Prime Minister Imran Khan. As per tradition and his habits, he’s blaming current Prime Minister Sharif and some intelligences agencies, officials, without any evidence. But what are your comments and thoughts?
MR PRICE: So I think you saw the statement that Secretary Blinken issued last week, shortly after these reports emerged. He said that we strongly condemn the shooting. We continue to strongly condemn the shooting of Imran Khan. We offer our condolences to the family of the individual who was killed. We express our hope for a quick and thorough recovery of all who were injured, including Imran Kahn.
Violence has no place in politics. We’re concerned about these reports of violence. We call on all parties to refrain from violence, harassment, intimidation, and to respect the rule of law. We are deeply committed to a democratic and peaceful Pakistan, and we stand with the people of Pakistan.
QUESTION: Pakistan is a close ally of the United States, but the current political chaos taking the nation towards destruction. What would you like to say to the heads of the political party and the military leadership to calm down the situation?
MR PRICE: Well, precisely the message that the Secretary relayed last week and that I reiterated just now: violence has no place in politics. We are concerned about what has happened in Pakistan in recent days. All parties should never resort to violence. They should express their disagreements peacefully, using – employing universal rights – freedom of expression, freedom of assembly – but violence is never the answer. We’re deeply committed to Pakistan, which has a long history of and democratic identity. We stand with the people of Pakistan.
QUESTION: We talked about the media freedom recently, but right now criminal cases are being registered against CEO and owner of ARY News Salman Iqbal. According to his close associates, current Pakistani Government with the help of some military officials are behind it and try to involve him in the murder of senior journalist Arshad Sharif. So owner of ARY is not able to go to Pakistan due to threats. We talked about media freedom many times, but things are getting worse. Would you like to say something about that?
MR PRICE: We routinely raise our concerns about press freedom to all stakeholders around the world. We do that as a matter of course in Pakistan. We’ll continue to have those conversations with Pakistani authorities. A free press, informed citizenry – they’re key for any nation and its democratic future. It’s key in Pakistan; it’s key around the world.
QUESTION: So one last question. Indian foreign minister is visiting Moscow very soon, and as you know that India is becoming the largest oil customer – Russian oil customer after China and expanding their trade ties. Recently, U.S. Trade Secretary was in India to talk about this – or these things. In your opinion, why the United States is not able to convince India to stay away from Russia in this difficult hour?
MR PRICE: So a couple things on that. We’ve had a number of high-level engagements with our Indian counterparts in recent weeks and recent months. Just yesterday Deputy Secretary Sherman met with Indian Foreign Secretary Kwatra and had a wide?ranging discussion about the U.S.?India relationship. Secretary Blinken met with Foreign Minister Jaishankar here in this building just a couple of months ago. And there have been a number of conversations in between.
The messages we heard from Foreign Minister Jaishankar in Russia were not dissimilar in some ways from what we heard from Prime Minister Modi at the UN, when he made it very clear that this is not an era of war. India, again, reaffirmed that it stands against this war, that it wants to see dialogue, it wants to see diplomacy, it wants to see an end to this needless bloodshed that Russia is responsible for inside of Ukraine. It’s important that the Russians hear that message from countries around the world. It’s especially important that the Russians hear that message from countries like India that are neighbors, that have economic, diplomatic, social, and political might, and that’s precisely the message that Foreign Minister Jaishankar delivered.
When it comes to Russia’s – India’s relationship with Russia, we’ve consistently made the point that it’s a relationship that developed and was cemented over the course of decades, really came to be during the Cold War at a time when the United States was not in a position to be an economic partner, a security partner, a military partner to India. That has changed. That’s changed over the past 25 or so years. It’s really a legacy – a bipartisan legacy – that this country has achieved over the course of the past quarter century. President George W. Bush’s administration was really the first to put this into effect.
We have sought to deepen our partnership with India in every sector, including when it comes to economics, including when it comes to our security ties, including when it comes to our military cooperation as well.
Now, this is a transition that we’ve always been clear-eyed will not take place overnight, over the course even a few months or probably even over the course of a couple years. India is a large country, a vast country, a large economy that has demanding needs. And so the transition and the reorientation that we hope to see from India is something that this administration will be committed to working with India on. But this will likely be a task not only for this administration but for administrations to come.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) you are saying any country can have trade ties with Russia, can buy their oil, expand their trade ties, but they just need to condemn the Russia on the Ukraine war? And —
MR PRICE: No. To be very clear, we’ve been intentional about exempting oil and gas – the energy sector – from the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia. So the fact that India has high demand for energy, that it continues to seek oil and other forms of energy from Russia – that is not something that runs afoul of the sanctions that have been imposed.
We’ve also been clear that now is not the time for business as usual with Russia, and it’s incumbent on countries around the world to do what they can to lessen those economic ties with Russia. That’s something that’s in the collective interest, but it’s also in the bilateral interest of countries around the world to end and certainly over the course of time to wean their dependence on Russian energy. There have been a number of countries that have learned the hard way of the fact that Russia is not a reliable source of energy. Russia is not a reliable supplier of security assistance. Russia is far from reliable in any realm. So it is not only in the interest of Ukraine, it is not only in the interest of the region, of the collective interests that India decrease its dependence on Russia over time, but it’s also in India’s own bilateral interest, given what we’ve seen from Russia.
QUESTION: Thank you. There are reports the UK Government is about to announce a major deal to buy natural gas from the United States to ease the energy crisis. Can you tell us more about this – the U.S.-UK deal from the U.S. perspective?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to shed any additional light on those reports. What I can say is that we have worked concertedly with Europe, with our British allies as well when it comes to their energy needs, especially over the course of this winter. We’ve taken a number of steps both in the short term and over the longer term to see to it that Europe is more resilient to the shocks that we’ve experienced and some of the shocks that we may yet experience in the coming months, given, again, Russia’s continued weaponization of energy.
We have been in a position to increase our exports of LNG supplies to Europe. We’ve been in a position to export – to increase our export of oil supplies to Europe. We’ve been in a position to surge excess capacity of LNG from other parts of the world to Europe for use this winter. But I’m just not in a position to confirm reports of a separate deal.
QUESTION: On – just one more question on Serbia-Kosovo talks. According to the Brussels Agreement, Kosovo Government was supposed to allow the formation of the community – of the Serbian municipalities in Kosovo, but that did not happen. Does Secretary Blinken want to see this happening, and what is his overall message when it comes to this specific provision of the agreement?
MR PRICE: Well, we agree with the European Union that recent developments are of concern; they put important progress achieved at the EU-facilitated dialogue at risk. The Kosovan Serbs’ withdrawal from Kosovan institutions is not a solution to the current disputes. It has the potential to further escalate the tensions on the ground. All parties must take steps to reduce tensions and to ensure peace and stability. Actions and rhetoric that increase the possibility of violence place innocent lives and those of international peacekeeping forces on the ground at unnecessary risk. Both Kosovo and Serbia should implement the agreements they’ve already signed through the dialogue process, and that includes by starting negotiations to establish the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities.
QUESTION: And what if Kurti decides not to follow on the execution and formation of the municipalities?
MR PRICE: Again, we are urging both parties to follow through with the commitments that they have signed through the EU-facilitated process.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. As usual, my question is about Ethiopia. When you talked about the peace agreement during yesterday’s press briefing, you said the following: The parties are in Nairobi in keeping with the provision that the Ethiopian National Defense Force and the Tigrayan Defense Force would meet within five days to work out the implementation. The agreement signed by the Ethiopian Government and TPLF stated that – I don’t know if you read that agreement – agree and recognize that the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has only one defense force – page four, article six. Even in the peace agreement signed by both sides, there is also not a single mention of Tigray Defense Force. In the agreement it says TPLF combatants.
When you say “Tigray Defense Force,” many people – before I came here, many people ask me, and that consider that it violates Ethiopia’s sovereignty. And Ned, many Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans are asking you why did you choose to say the Tigrayan Defense Force instead of TPLF or TPLF combatants or fighters or rebels. What’s your response to them?
MR PRICE: So Mesfin, the parties are moving to Nairobi. They have moved to Nairobi to continue the important dialogue that was cemented in Pretoria. These are precisely the types of issues that they’re discussing in Nairobi. The AU is following up with talks focused on the implementation of the cessation of hostilities agreement, the establishment of a joint verification and monitoring mechanism, and the military-to-military talks between the Ethiopian National Defense Force and the Tigrayan Defense Forces. And our Special Envoy Mike Hammer will continue to participate in the process as an observer.
The agreement that was reached between the parties in Pretoria was itself hugely important, but implementation of the agreement is crucial to making sure the cessation of hostilities sticks and, importantly, to seeing a resumption of the flow of humanitarian assistance to the people of northern Ethiopia, including to the people of Tigray. So we are going to remain engaged with the parties. We are going to continue to be a partner to the AU, which continues to lead this process, and right now the responsibility is on the parties who are in Nairobi continuing those talks, including those military-to-military talks, to see to it that this agreement has follow?through.
QUESTION: I haven’t finished yet.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: When the peace agreement between the Ethiopian Government and TPLF achieves its purpose, it will be an honest triumph in the – in the eyes of many people, peace?loving people like me. We pray that this peace agreement achieves its purpose. Ned, what kind of support the United States provides so that this peace agreement does not fall apart?
MR PRICE: We are continuing to remain engaged. As I said just a moment ago, Special Envoy Hammer is in Nairobi. He is there as an observer, as he was in Pretoria. Ultimately, however, this is an AU-led process. We played a role as a facilitator for the parties, supporting the AU. There are instances in which we have expertise, in which we have capacity to help the parties. We provided that where it was appropriate for us to do so, but ultimately, we’re in support of this AU process, in support of the prospects for a permanent peace that brings stability, security, and humanitarian relief to the people of northern Ethiopia.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned, but if you have time, I have also unplanned interaction with Secretary Blinken at the White House, which is a good one. If you give me permission, I will say it later, but continue.
MR PRICE: Great. Thank you, thank you.
QUESTION: I wonder if you could share with us any additional detail on the path ahead for assistance to Ukraine coming this winter since winter is fast approaching, especially the timeline when Assistant Secretary Pyatt might be able to bring the parties together to provide assistance that is effective and —
MR PRICE: Well, to be clear, this assistance has been ongoing for some time now. We have spent quite a bit of time on the security assistance we’ve provided to our Ukrainian partners, to the economic assistance we’ve provided, to the humanitarian assistance. But what we’ve been able to provide in terms of infrastructure, that’s something that has been ongoing for some time and it’s something where we intend to intensify our efforts. It’s why we announced today that Assistant Secretary Pyatt is going to lead the efforts on behalf of the U.S. Government, coordinating closely with departments and agencies but also with our international partners.
You may have seen that at the conclusion of the G7 ministerial last week in Münster, Germany the G7 established a coordination mechanism to help Ukraine repair, restore, defend its critical energy and water infrastructure. They made note of an upcoming December 13th international conference in Paris aimed at supporting Ukraine’s civilian resilience. It’s a conference that will be organized by and co-hosted by both Ukraine and France. This is something where – it’s a forum where the United States will be deeply engaged as well.
But as we intensify these efforts, there are a number of steps that need to be taken. We need to survey what exactly it is, working closely with our Ukrainian partners – the needs they have – to determine how best we can assist them. There are different elements to this. It’s restoration, it’s repair, but it’s also strengthening and fortifying Ukraine’s infrastructure resilience. These are all elements that we’re committed to. We’re going to coordinate closely with the G7 but also partners around the world to see to it that we can optimize that delivery of assistance for Ukraine’s infrastructure and energy needs.
Any other —
QUESTION: Yeah, I’ve got —
QUESTION: One is you said in your opening statement that Putin has failed in battlefield and now he’s waging on – a war on energy infrastructure and we’re going to make sure that he fails there too. Can you give us a little more on that? So in the short term, what are you going to do to make him fail faster?
MR PRICE: Well, we are going to continue to carry out the approach that has really been at the heart of our efforts since even before President Putin ordered his forces into Ukraine. It has been really a strategy that’s been twofold when it comes to Ukraine and Russia. One is to provide Ukraine with the assistance that it needs to defend itself – that’s the security assistance – but also the assistance that it needs to ensure that its people are resilient – that’s the economic assistance, that’s the humanitarian assistance, that’s the direct budgetary support that is part of that as well.
We are also going to continue down the path that we set forward very clearly prior to February 24th. That’s the path of severe costs and consequences for Russia. We’ve collectively enacted hundreds of sanctions on the Russian Government, impacting the Russian economy, the export controls that have in many ways hamstrung key strategic sectors for the Kremlin. We’ve seen the Kremlin have to resort to partners with whom it has previously not had the type of relationship it’s seeking out now. That includes with Iran. That includes with the DPRK.
So I think we’re seeing across the board the costs, the consequences of this strategy, and we’re seeing the ways in which it is helping our Ukrainian partners be effective in their efforts to defend their country, to defend their territory, to defend their democracy.
QUESTION: And can I also —
MR PRICE: We need to – we need to move on, Alex. Thanks.
QUESTION: Just before I get to two Americans detained overseas, I want to just ask you if you – real quickly, if you had any thoughts or comments on the – these comments allegedly made by the – Qatar’s World Cup ambassador about homosexuality being “damage in the mind.” Did you notice those? Do you have anything to say about that?
MR PRICE: I have noticed those. Of course, we have a strategic partnership with Qatar. We have a relationship with Qatar that allows us to discuss our areas of mutual interest, but it also allows us to discuss what is important to the United States. And values of tolerance, of diversity, of respecting all people regardless of who they are or whom they love, these are the types of discussions that we’re in a position to have with our Qatari partners. Obviously those partners – those comments – excuse me – were of great concern and I suspect we’ll be addressing that directly.
QUESTION: Okay. So you’re saying that if, for instance, there was a meeting between a senior Qatari and U.S. officials in the coming days or weeks or month, this would be a topic that would be raise – these comments specifically?
MR PRICE: We regularly engage our Qatari partners, including when it comes to issues of human rights. So we take advantage of every appropriate opportunity we have to do that.
QUESTION: Okay. Staying on human rights, are you familiar with this case of an American woman who was just arrested, detained yesterday in Saudi Arabia, Carly Morris?
MR PRICE: I am, yes.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to —
MR PRICE: We’re aware of the reports that Ms. Morris has been detained. Of course, the safety, the welfare of U.S. citizens overseas is the highest priority we have at the Department of State. We take our role in assisting U.S. citizens abroad extremely seriously. Whenever a person is detained abroad, we seek immediate access to visit the individual, to aid him or her with all appropriate consular assistance. Our embassy in Riyadh is very engaged on this case; they’re following the situation very closely.
QUESTION: Okay. So does that mean that the Saudis notified you that she – they had detained her?
MR PRICE: We’re aware of this case. I’m just not going to speak to that.
QUESTION: Well, okay. Have you been able to – has any consular officer been able to meet with her?
MR PRICE: This was a case that has just come to my attention in the past few hours. If we have an update to provide, we’ll do that.
QUESTION: And then I wanted to follow up on my questions yesterday about Theary Seng in Cambodia, and to just ask you if there has been a change in the determination or if you’re making a semantic argument that unjustly detained is not the same thing as wrongfully detained under the terms of the Levinson Act.
MR PRICE: Sure. No, Matt, there has been no change in our determination or the way in which we are prioritizing this case. This case, of course, is a priority for us. I do appreciate the opportunity to make clear just how deeply concerned we are by the mass conviction in June of this year of opposition activists in Cambodia, including Theary Seng, who was convicted along with this group. The sentencing of these opposition activists, many of whom are associated with the now-disbanded Cambodia National Rescue Party, is the latest instance in an alarming pattern of threats, of intimidation, of persecution of opposition political leaders and parties.
These actions undermine multiparty democracy and the rule of law. We believe that all Cambodians should be in a position to exercise their human rights, to express their views freely, to assemble peacefully, to choose their leaders, and we call on Cambodian authorities to release all those unjustly detained, including Theary Seng, and to protect freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, consistent with Cambodia’s constitution and its international obligations and commitments. We stand with the Cambodian people. We are steadfast in support of their aspirations for greater democracy and human rights.
QUESTION: Right. But you – but you’re making a distinction between unjustly detained, which you just repeated there, and wrongfully detained, right?
MR PRICE: We could spend quite a while on the semantics. I think —
QUESTION: I don’t want to. I just want to know if you think that there’s a – I’m not the one – it’s – look, wrongfully detained means that her case would be transferred to SPEHA office, right? And she – and it —
MR PRICE: And this is —
QUESTION: — would be treated slightly differently or differently than a – the case – just an average case of an American detained abroad.
MR PRICE: This is a matter that you’re referring to of where something is handled internally, deep within our bureaucracy. What matters most is that we have called for her release, we have called for all of those to be released who are unjustly held as political prisoners in Cambodia, around the world. We call for the release of political prisoners, those who are unjustly held on political grounds in countries around the world.
When it comes to how we characterize any particular case, this is one of the areas where we have an obligation to follow the law. There is the Robert Levinson legislation – it’s legislation that spells out a number of criteria that any particular case would need to satisfy if we are to make the formal determination that someone is wrongfully detained. What happens in such cases is that our special presidential envoy for hostage affairs would then be responsible for that case. In this case, we have called Seng Theary – we have called her unjustly detained. We believe she should be released, as should all of those human rights defenders and activists who were sentenced and convicted alongside her.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I just – I can’t understand. If she is an unjustly detained political prisoner and an American citizen, why is that not – why does that not meet the criteria for SPEHA to take over?
MR PRICE: What I can tell you, Matt, is that we look at the totality of circumstances of any particular case, and we marry the facts relevant to any particular case with the criteria that is spelled out by Congress in the Levinson legislation. We never close the book on any particular —
QUESTION: Okay, well, what criteria does she not meet?
MR PRICE: Matt, I’m just not going to litigate publicly the particulars of an American citizen’s case. This is something we take a close look at privately. This is something that we’re always looking at. We never close the book when it comes to a wrongful detainee determination. If information emerges, new information emerges, or if information is portrayed in a different light, we of course will look closely at that. But what I can tell you, what is most important to this case is that it is a priority for us – Secretary Blinken raised it with Hun Sen when we were there in August. We have called for the release of Seng Theary and for all of those who were convicted alongside of her.
QUESTION: The problem – the problem with your answer, though, is that it leaves the door open that – for people to get the impression that you think that there might be some legitimacy behind either her detention, or her prison sentence, or her transfer up to a prison in the very remote north of the country.
MR PRICE: We are making very clear —
QUESTION: Do you think that there’s anything legitimate about this?
MR PRICE: We are being very clear in calling for the release of all of the human rights defenders and activists that were sentenced alongside of her, including the release of Seng Theary.
QUESTION: Yeah, but she’s an American citizen, and you had – you said – every day you get up here and say that your number-one priority is the safety and welfare of Americans overseas. Now, you can call for the release of all 60 all you want, but don’t you – doesn’t this building believe that it’s got a special obligation toward an American citizen who has been —
MR PRICE: Of course. And —
QUESTION: — caught up —
MR PRICE: And of course, Matt, the —
QUESTION: — in this and unjustly detained?
MR PRICE: The level of support that we have provided to Seng Theary as an American citizen is categorically different from what we are doing for those who do not have U.S. citizenship. We have a special —
QUESTION: Yeah, but it’s also different than what you’ve been giving to, say, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan and to people who are not even American citizens, like the case of —
MR PRICE: Matt, you’re really talking about —
QUESTION: — in Rwanda that was mentioned earlier.
MR PRICE: You’re really talking about boxes within an organizational chart. What matters to us is that —
QUESTION: Really? If it was just a box within an organizational chart, why did you make such a big deal about it when you found – when you determined that Brittney Griner was wrongfully detained and transfer her case to SPEHA?
MR PRICE: Because, Matt, in that case, when she was deemed to be wrongfully detained, we called for her to be released. Before that, as you may remember, we made the point that we were providing all appropriate assistance.
QUESTION: Okay, well then, I —
MR PRICE: There is no distinction in this case.
QUESTION: But I don’t get it, because you’re calling her – you’re saying that this case in Cambodia, you’re calling for her to be released and you have been since she was sentenced back in June. So I don’t understand what —
MR PRICE: Matt, I – there —
MR PRICE: This may be one of those issues where perhaps you and a couple other people around the world are deeply fixated on this. What I hope people are deeply fixated on is the fact that we’re calling for her release. We believe that she, along with all those who were convicted in the trial, were – are held unjustly and should be released. This is a conversation we’ve had at the highest levels with Cambodian leadership, and I expect that we’ll continue to have those conversations.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:10 p.m.)
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