State Dept Press Briefing on Aug 18
US State Dept spokesperson Ned Price held a press conference on Aug 18, 2022.
MR PRICE: Good to see so many people. I have one element at the top and then I’ll turn to your questions. The United States remains deeply concerned about Russia’s military takeover and continued control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The International Atomic Energy Agency must be given access to ZNPP as soon as possible and in a manner that respects Ukraine’s full sovereignty, to help ensure the safety and security of the plant and monitoring of its nuclear material.
Brutality has been a hallmark of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The United States is aware of reports that Russian personnel have abused and coerced members of the ZNPP staff. We applaud the Ukrainian authorities and operators for their commitment to nuclear safety and security under the most trying of circumstances. The United States condemns in the strongest terms Russia’s reckless disregard for nuclear safety and security. Along with our allies and partners, we call on Russia to cease all military operations at or near Ukraine’s nuclear facilities, and to return full control of the ZNPP to Ukraine.
We continue to support the efforts of the International Atomic Energy Agency to fulfill its safeguards mandate, and to assist Ukraine with nuclear safety and security measures across its nuclear facilities.
QUESTION: Can we start with Israel?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: You have seen, no doubt, reports about the raid that – raids that were conducted on these NGOs and the closure of the offices. And I’m wondering what, if anything, you guys have to – you guys have to say about it, and what, if anything, you have to say about the review of the material that the Israelis gave to you last year about them being terrorist organizations.
MR PRICE: Sure. We are concerned about the Israeli security forces’ closure of the six offices of the Palestinian NGOs in and around Ramallah today. We have reached out to the Israeli Governments including at senior levels, including here from Washington as well as from our embassy in Jerusalem, for more information regarding the basis for these closures. And we’ll will continue to seek additional information and to convey our concern directly and privately to our Israeli partners. Our Israeli partners, in turn, have assured us that more information will be forthcoming regarding the basis for their actions. We of course, have assured them that we will review that information on a timely basis and very carefully as well.
We have, in the course of recent events but also in recent months and beyond, made clear to our Israeli Government partners – and to the Palestinian Authority as well – the fact that independent civil society organizations in the West Bank and Israel must be able to continue their important work.
To your specific question about our review of the material that has been provided to us to date from our Israeli partners, what I can say is that we have provided that information to our partners within the U.S. Government. There are various departments and agencies who have taken a look at this material.
What I can also say is that when it comes to reviewing information, whether that’s intelligence information, whether that’s open-source information, we’re always reviewing new material, which is why we’ve conveyed directly to the Israelis that any new information they provide, including the information that have pledged to provide regarding the basis for today’s action, that would be something that we would review carefully, thoroughly, and immediately.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask, on the Iran issue – although I want to go back to the Palestinian issue at one point, but since we’re on Iran, you told our colleagues at Alhurra today that you made it clear for Iran – or to Iran – in the past that releasing Americans is a priority. Does that mean that any signing of the deal is contingent upon the release of Americans beforehand?
MR PRICE: It means that our approach to the Americans who are detained unjustly, wrongfully, by the Iranian regime – our approach has not changed. The priority that we attach to their return, as a matter of urgency, has not changed. We have conveyed quite clearly to the Iranian regime over the course of 18 months now the priority we attach to this as a foreign policy goal of this administration.
QUESTION: Okay. You’re saying is it contingent upon their release? I mean are they connected, or are they one issue?
MR PRICE: These are two separate issues, and we’ve been very clear that we have sought to maintain these as two separate issues, precisely because the Iran deal has always been a very uncertain, at times quite dubious, proposition. It has always been a priority of ours to see these Americans, these dual nationals, released. We want that to be a certainty. So, from our perspective, we have very intentionally not tied the fates of these Americans to what has always been an uncertain proposition.
QUESTION: It seems like today there was indirect communication between Tehran and Washington. The Iranian foreign minister called the Omani counterpart, and then the Omani foreign minister apparently called Special Envoy Malley. The topic, according to the Omani foreign ministry, was the implementation or the nuclear agreement. Can you add anything else for us? Has there been progress towards giving an answer to Iran’s answer to the EU text?
MR PRICE: So, what I can say on that front is that our review of Iran’s comments on the EU’s proposal continues. We have continued to convey our feedback directly and privately to the EU, as has been requested. When it comes to Oman, I don’t have any calls to confirm or to read out, but what I can say is that Oman has played an important role – an important role when it comes to discussions regarding a potential mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, and has also played an important role when it comes to our efforts to see those Americans who are unjustly and wrongfully detained in Iran – to see them free. We thank Oman for that role it’s played.
MR PRICE: Syria. Okay.
QUESTION: I’ve recently been in northeast Syria, so I just wanted to pick your brains about a few things there. On the 20th of January, ISIS carried out, as you know, its biggest attack since it lost all of its territory when it tried to break out thousands of its members from a prison in northeast Syria. And as you also know, hundreds of people were killed in the battle. On the 22nd of January you said that ISIS had been planning this attack for a year. If you knew that ISIS had been planning to attack that prison for so long, why were thousands of men, some of them allegedly the most dangerous in the region of the world, kept in – why were so many men kept in a makeshift prison that was once a school, where it was overcrowded and clearly a security risk?
And just a follow-up from that as well. We know that there were hundreds of children that were being held in that prison, and we know that some of them were killed. Yet nobody seems to have any figures; no one seems to be able to tell us how many of those children were killed. Do you know how many children were killed? And why did the United States, which leads the coalition, sanction children being indefinitely held in a prison that has been described by human rights organizations as Guantanamo on steroids?
MR PRICE: So, there are a lot of premises and suppositions in your question, several of which are just not supported by the facts. When it comes to the region you’re talking about, it is not exactly a permissive security environment. Of course, there are a number of threats, not the least of which is the threat that’s posed by ISIS, the threat that manifested itself in the ISIS attack on that prison. Of course, no country has done more than the United States working with the dozens – some 70 countries who are now part of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS that the United States started to put together in 2014, and we’ve continued in the nearly decade since to amass this coalition and to maintain it.
Through that coalition, we’ve been able to make significant progress against ISIS, against its so-called territorial caliphate, including in parts of Iraq, more recently parts of Syria. We’ve been able to shrink the size of the territory that ISIS controls substantially by some 90 percent by some estimates. So, the idea that the United States or any member of the counter-ISIS coalition has given license to ISIS to conduct any attack or to undertake or take part in any activity, that is just belied by the facts. And again, this is not exactly a permissive security environment. This is not U.S. soil. American troops are in Syria in small numbers as part of the counter-ISIS mission – again, as part of our collective efforts, but efforts in which the United States is still engaged, to maintain that pressure against ISIS – pressure that has prevented a number of ISIS attacks, pressure that has precluded the group’s ability to at least some extent to project power, to project attacks beyond the territory it controls. But this is a group that, as this attack illustrates, still continues to pose a threat.
QUESTION: On the same issue, there was apparently an incursion by Turkish forces into northern Syria. They killed 17 – I guess three Syrian soldiers and maybe 12 or 14 SDF members, and so on. Do you have any comment on that? Is that the beginning of the much talked about entry into Syria and occupation of the northern part?
MR PRICE: I’m not aware that we’ve seen any indication that this is the prelude to a broader offensive, but what I can say is that we remain deeply concerned about the destabilizing impact military activity has had on the region, including our efforts to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS. We urge all parties to de-escalate, maintain, and respect ceasefire zones, and to work towards a political solution to the conflict.
QUESTION: The Chinese ministry of defense announced that the People’s Liberation Army of China is participating in the eastern army exercise in Russia. They also – they’re reported that North Korea and China will conduct its own military exercise – I mean technical exercises. These three countries are ignoring U.S diplomatic efforts and are having strong military ties. In this regard, what kind of readiness do U.S. and ROK, Japan, our allies have?
MR PRICE: So, on your first question, if you’re referring to the exercises that are taking place in Russia, this is something that we discussed yesterday. These are exercises that involve a number of countries, not only the countries that you mentioned but a number of countries including some partners with whom we regularly conduct our own exercises. So as far as these broader exercises are concerned, we don’t read much into the specific participation of individual countries.
What I can say more broadly, however, is that there are a number of challenges to the security environment in the Indo-Pacific, including in North Asia. There is perhaps no greater challenge to peace and security in the region – in that region than that posed by the DPRK. And in the face of the DPRK’s provocations, including its multiple ballistic missile launches, including its ICBM tests and launches in recent months, we have taken action with our treaty allies – Japan and the ROK – to ensure readiness, to ensure appropriate deterrence against the threat that we collectively face from the DPRK.
Now, again, our preferred approach is one of dialogue and diplomacy. We seek to take part in dialogue – direct dialogue with the DPRK – as a means by which to advance our shared objective of the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. But in the absence of the DPRK’s willingness to do so, and in the presence of the DPRK’s continued provocations, including those provocations that create a very – a much more unstable environment. We’ll continue to coordinate closely with Japan, with the ROK, and to take appropriate steps when it comes to their security and our collective deterrence.
QUESTION: There’s a report that the Ukrainians believe that the Russia is laying groundwork for a false flag operation on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant tomorrow. Does the U.S. have any reason to believe that they are making plans for that?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to speak to what Russia may or may not be planning, but these types of statements, including some of what we’ve heard from Russian officials, are cause for concern. They’re cause for concern because they fit squarely within the Russian playbook: accuse others of what it is you have done or what it is you intend to do. We have seen both before February 24th, before the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but also since that Russia has engaged in a number of false flag operations. And typically, what they have done – and what they have done over the years now going back for quite some time – is to level statements along these lines to accuse others of planning or conducting the types of operations that they have either undertaken or plan to undertake.
So again, it’s something we’re watching very closely when it comes to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. We just reiterated our desire to see IAEA access consistent with Ukraine’s sovereignty. And just today, we heard President Zelenskyy invite IAEA inspectors onto Ukrainian territory to be present at or near the nuclear power plant. And we reiterated our calls for a demilitarized zone in and around the ZNPP because Russia’s continued conduct of operations, its continued pursuit of military objectives in and around a nuclear power plant, that’s the height of irresponsibility.
QUESTION: The Solomon Islands are moving ahead with a plan to build Huawei mobile towers with a $100 million loan from Beijing. This comes just after Wendy Sherman was in the Solomon Islands. What’s your reaction to this, and was this part of Sherman’s conversations when she was there?
MR PRICE: It’s always part of our conversations – the shared threats and challenges we have, including the threats and challenges that may be posed by technology, including telecom issues. These are regularly on the agenda. I’m not in a position to speak to her specific agenda, but these are conversations that we regularly have. It’s important with our partners the world over that we have confidence in the security and the integrity of networks. And of course, Huawei has a track record as a vendor that is not in a position to provide the appropriate assurances that either the United States or our partners should require when it comes to network security.
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink said the U.S. has conveyed to China in every conversation that it does not seek, will not provoke a crisis. But right after Speaker Pelosi’s visit, we’ve seen a group of lawmakers just visited Taiwan, and yesterday USTR just announced a new initiative on trade and investment. How can you convey – how can you convince China that the United States is not taking provocative actions?
MR PRICE: There is absolutely nothing provocative about a lawmaker – a duly elected lawmaker of an independent and coequal branch of government – making a peaceful visit to Taiwan. Whether that is the speaker of the House, whether that is a member of the House or member of the Senate, there is nothing provocative or unprecedented about that whatsoever. Even in the past year alone, there have been a dozen or so congressional delegations that have visited Taiwan. The same is true of recent years. The same is true of the past 40 or so years.
We have been publicly and privately very clear. Our policy towards Taiwan has remained consistent for decades and across administrations. We remain committed to our “one China” policy. It’s guided, as it always has been, by the Taiwan Relations Act, by the Three Joint Communiques, by the Six Assurances. We oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side. So, you’ve heard from us before: we don’t support Taiwan independence. We expect cross-strait differences to be resolved by peaceful means. We’ve conveyed this message very clearly, privately, to our PRC interlocutors. We regularly take the opportunity to convey it publicly, because we believe it is so important.
Now, the same, unfortunately, could not be true of the PRC. The aggressive manoeuvres and military operations that we saw in the aftermath of the speaker’s visit was nothing more than a pretext for the PRC to continue taking aim at the cross-strait status quo that has been at the crux of peace and security and stability across the Taiwan Strait for some 40 years. We have seen the PRC, in recent years, grow increasingly aggressive in an effort to rewrite the rules, to rewrite the status quo, and to challenge what has been one of the central elements undergirding stability in the region.
QUESTION: But this is a very sensitive time of period. Are you saying those visits by speaker or by other lawmakers are help? Are they helpful to calm the situation down?
MR PRICE: They are part of a demonstration for our support and for our unofficial relations with Taiwan and the people on Taiwan. It is nothing more, nothing less. It is entirely peaceful. It is entirely consistent with our “one China” policy. It is entirely precedented, given that these types of delegations have been taking place for decades now.
QUESTION: But talking about “one China” policy you have – keep emphasizing it, what have you done to honour this commitment?
MR PRICE: Every element of our approach to Taiwan, to cross-strait issues, is centered on our “one China” policy. We have not done anything that runs contrary to our “one China” approach. We’ve been very clear about what that means, in terms of our support for Taiwan, in terms of our lack of support for Taiwan independence. We have been nothing but transparent, but clear and stable in both our actions and our words as well.
QUESTION: The status quo in the past 25 years was there’s no speakers visited Taiwan. And there were four speakers actually in the past 25 years who chose not to visit Taiwan. So, who is breaking the status quo here by having the speaker going to Taiwan?
MR PRICE: At the center of the status quo is peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. There is nothing that runs counter to the status quo with a peaceful visit by an elected lawmaker from this country. There was nothing aggressive; there was nothing provocative, there was nothing unprecedented about Speaker Pelosi’s travel. Speaker Pelosi decided to undertake this travel on her own volition, but we fully support the right of an elected lawmaker of a coequal, independent branch of government to undertake what is nothing more than a peaceful visit to Taiwan.
QUESTION: Yesterday, you said sanction will continue unless North Korea alter its fundamental approach. The South Korea Government, however, said it will seek to exempt U.S. sanctions from the beginning of the negotiation with North Korea through its Resources-Food Exchange Program. So, do you believe this level of sanction relief is possible or helpful for denuclearization of North Korea?
MR PRICE: We believe that there are practical steps that can be taken that help advance that shared goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We don’t believe that the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will take place in one fell swoop. We don’t think it will take place overnight. We think that it will be an incremental process where both sides will be in the position to take incremental steps that help move us along towards that collective goal.
The first step would need – would need to be for the DPRK to indicate some willingness to engage in dialogue and diplomacy. We’ve taken the precursor step many times; I’ll repeat it here today. We are prepared to engage with the DPRK in direct diplomacy. We believe that diplomacy, direct dialogue, presents the best means by which to accomplish our collective task of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula; but we have not heard yet an affirmative response. Were the DPRK to accept the offer that they have heard from us, from our treaty allies in the region as well, that would be a welcome first step, and we could start the conversation from there about what those incremental steps would look like.
QUESTION: So fundamental changes. Do you think that showing their confidence of the denuclearization could be the fundamental change?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to weigh in on hypothetical steps because we haven’t seen any of these steps. Were the DPRK to voice its support for the ultimate denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, that would be welcome. But again, the – it is incumbent on the DPRK to respond, and we hope to respond positively to the overtures that they’ve heard from us, they’ve heard from our treaty allies in the region.
QUESTION: The Voice of America, citing a UN Security Council official, reported South Korea’s Resources-Food Exchange Program could violate sanctions against North Korea and also said it’s almost impossible to exempt sanctions. Does the U.S. Government have the similar view?
MR PRICE: So, I can’t be categorical about this. I haven’t seen precisely what the UN official was referring to. But broadly speaking, our sanctions regimes – our sanctions regime and international sanctions regimes do exempt humanitarian assistance, including food.
QUESTION: Any updates on the talks between Israel and Lebanon on the maritime dispute?
MR PRICE: Nothing that we’re prepared to announce today. I can tell you that – and as you know, Amos Hochstein was recently in the region. He’s continued to engage with the parties to build upon some of the progress that has recently been made to see a satisfactory resolution to this issue.
QUESTION: Ned, a quick final question. Is there any U.S. analysis regarding North Korea’s cruise missile launch yesterday?
MR PRICE: Again, I don’t have a specific reaction to that, but the broader point is that the DPRK has taken part in a slew of provocations – really at an unprecedented pace in recent months – provocations that have included ballistic missile launches, including intercontinental ballistic missile launches. These are cause for concern. They’re a threat to international peace and security. And we’ll take an appropriate response to see to it that we have appropriate defense and deterrence together with our allies in the region.
QUESTION: So, you mean, U.S. didn’t make an assessment (inaudible) —
MR PRICE: There’s just no assessment that I’m prepared to share.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:27 p.m.)
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