US State Dept Presser

State Dept Presser, Dec 13, 2022

15 Min
State Dept Presser, Dec 13, 2022

Ned Price: Thanks very much. Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining today’s telephonic briefing. A couple things at the top and then we’ll turn to your questions. First, following Secretary Blinken’s November 29 announcement at the NATO Ministerial of over $53 million in emergency support for Ukraine’s electric grid, today we are very pleased to say that the first tranche of the support is on its way. The administration continues to work in partnership with the National Labs, industry, utility, and the Ukrainian Government to locate available equipment in the United States that can be delivered to Ukraine for emergency support. Procurement and movement of this equipment is a coordinated effort between the Department of State, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, USAID, the White House, and of course Ukraine’s government.

Russia is struggling on the battlefield, so it is increasingly turning to attacking infrastructure to bring the battlefield into Ukrainian homes. The United States is committed to bolstering Ukraine’s resilience to the Kremlin missiles and drones deliberately damaging Ukraine’s energy grid and infrastructure. This will require continued coordination throughout the international community, which is why the State Department continues to lead our G7+ coordination group that complements parallel efforts – like today’s emergency response conference for Ukraine convened by Presidents Macron and Zelenskyy – to help Ukraine build its resilience during the winter in the face of Russia’s attacks.

Our ongoing support and that of our allies and partners will help Ukraine restore the backbone of its power transmission system, which is critical in keeping the lights on and homes warm throughout the winter. We will continue to identify components that we can send from the United States while supporting a global effort to find compatible equipment that suits the specifications of the Ukrainian system. Once Ukraine’s urgent needs are met, the administration will then focus on meeting Ukraine’s longer-term grid reconstruction efforts.

Next, and finally, as we learned from HIV/AIDS, COVID-19, Ebola, MPOX, and other global health threats time and again, health security is national security. We’ve seen how a virus can spread quickly across borders and around the globe, endangering lives and livelihoods and disrupting economies. We must have strong U.S. leadership to address health threats that impact the entire world.

This is why today the Secretary notified Congress of his intention to establish a new Global Health Security and Diplomacy Bureau. Once stood up, the new bureau will bring together as one team our health and security experts from across three existing teams, namely the Office of International Health and Biodefense in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Studies[1]; the functions of the Coordinator for Global COVID-19 Response and Health Security; and the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator that leads and coordinates the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, or PEPFAR, and is home to the Office of Global Health Diplomacy.

The Secretary intends to ask Global AIDS Coordinator, Ambassador John Nkengasong, to lead the new bureau. Ambassador Nkengasong was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Health Diplomacy in May, following a five?year stint as the first director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Once we complete the congressional notification process, this new bureau will ensure the department can effectively strengthen global health security architecture and efficiently respond to global health threats.

With that, we will turn to questions. Lia, if you wouldn’t mind just repeating the instructions to ask a question?

OPERATOR: Certainly. Once again, ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question, please press 1, 0 on your telephone keypad.

MR PRICE: Great. We will start with the line of Missy Ryan, please.

OPERATOR: And go ahead, Ms. Ryan, or Missy Ryan.

MR PRICE: Missy, we’re —

QUESTION: Hi, Ned, can you hear me?

MR PRICE: Hi, go ahead. Yes, we have you now. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. I’m just wondering if you can talk about what the Secretary’s message will be to the leadership of Tunisia this week during the – during the Africa summit, especially when it comes to the Tunisian Government’s hope that the upcoming elections – the parliamentary elections will sort of reset the criticism or the view around democratic backsliding in Tunisia. Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Missy. I – sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t like want to get too far ahead of the specifics of a meeting that will take place this week when the Secretary will have an opportunity to meet with Tunisian President Saied on the margins of the African Leaders Summit.

I think without violating that rule I just set for myself, I will say that the messages that our Tunisian counterparts will hear from the Secretary will be very consistent with the messages we’ve been issuing publicly for some time now. We support the aspirations of the Tunisian people for a democratic and prosperous future, including through inclusive and transparent democratic governance, the rule of law, equal economic opportunity as well. We have and will maintain a robust partnership with Tunisia’s civil society. We know that it plays a wide range of critical roles, including by advocating for ensuring that the government is accountable to the people of Tunisia.

On the political front, we have consistently encouraged Tunisia to undertake reforms to strengthen democratic checks and balances, including through holding free and fair parliamentary elections. And on the economic front, obviously Tunisia faces considerable headwinds and will need to undertake meaningful reforms to stabilize its finances, ensure private-sector-led growth, and expand economic opportunities for all Tunisians.

So the meeting that the Secretary will have with the Tunisian president will be an opportunity to discuss all of these issues and to hear in turn from President Saied and his team updates from their end. And I suspect we’ll have more to say after that meeting takes place.

We will go to the line of Jennifer Hansler, please.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thanks for doing the call. Yesterday, Jake Sullivan mentioned there would be a high-level engagement with the Russians on Paul Whelan’s case this week. When will that engagement take place, and who from the State Department, if anyone, will be on it? And are you prepared to put a new proposal on the table for Russia to secure his release? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Hey, Jenny. Thanks for that. So a couple things.

One, in terms of Paul Whelan, we have been consistent repeatedly that we are going to do everything we can to secure his release as quickly as we can, as soon as we can. We are committed to seeing to it that Paul Whelan is able to enjoy the same opportunity that Trevor Reed and more recently Brittney Griner have had with their loved ones upon being returned to the United States. We are absolutely committed to that. We have been committed to that since the start of this administration.

In July, the Secretary made public for the first time that we had put on the table what we called a substantial proposal that would have seen the release of both Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner. Of course, we all know how this particular chapter of that story concluded. The Russians, to date, had not been willing to negotiate seriously or constructively for the release of Paul Whelan even as we were able to bring Brittney Griner home.

Nevertheless, we are going to continue to be committed to this. We are going to be creative, we are going to be determined, to do everything we can to see Paul Whelan freed and back home with his family and loved ones.

We’re not in a position to provide specific details on our engagements with Russian interlocutors. Our first imperative, as I said before, is to see to it that Paul Whelan is reunited with his loved ones just as quickly as can be managed, and wouldn’t want to say anything publicly that could jeopardize that or set back the prospects of that successful outcome.

We had an opportunity to speak directly with the Whelan family. We went through the next steps of the strategy. That took place yesterday. We are going to remain in close contact with his family, working with his family, and in turn engage directly through the appropriate channel with Russian interlocutors to see to it that we can find a successful outcome to this, as we have through this same channel with this same mechanism to the cases of Trevor Reed and Brittney Griner before him. But we’re just not in a position to provide exacting detail on what that might look like.

We will go to the line of Alex Raufoglu.

OPERATOR: Alex, your line is open.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

OPERATOR: There you go.

MR PRICE: Hey, go ahead. We got you.

QUESTION: Okay, awesome. Thanks so much for doing this, Ned. Jennifer asked my first question, so I have only two questions left, if I might. The Kremlin today rebuffed Kyiv’s call to withdraw troops at Christmas, saying that Ukraine has to accept “new realities,” meaning Russia’s illegal capture of territories. I know this is a familiar statement coming out of Moscow. I’m just curious: what does it tell you about who we are dealing with here?

And secondly, I know we discussed the South Caucasus yesterday, but since I’m moving rapidly between Armenia and Azerbaijan – you made the case that you have eyes on the ground. I’m just curious if you have anything to add, given what we have seen during the past 24 hours.

And speaking of eyes on the ground, a (inaudible) that question. With the caveat that we are two weeks away before the new year, I’m also wondering how much the fact that you will have no ambassador on the ground in the new year might drain your efforts. Your presidential nominee to Azerbaijan hasn’t even granted a hearing for more than six months now. And these days, ambassador to Armenia is leaving – leaving the region.

So what is your strategy here? Perhaps it’s also a good chance to address the fact that one out of five ambassadorships still remain vacant. Is the administration planning to use your recess appointment power in the coming days? Thank you so much, Ned.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Alex. So on your first question, what we’ve heard from the Kremlin in recent hours has not told us anything we didn’t already know. And I say that because what we have heard from Russia stands in stark contrast to what we have heard from Ukraine, and for that matter, much of the rest of the world over the course of many months now.

To give you just one example, during the G20 when world leaders were gathered in Bali, Indonesia to discuss the pressing issues of the day, including issues of peace and security, including of course the question of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, President Zelenskyy participated by video conference, where he laid out his vision, Ukraine’s vision, for a just peace, a just end to this war.

That vision of a just peace wasn’t met with a reciprocal vision for a just peace on the part of the Russian Federation. Instead, it was met with bombs and missiles raining down on Ukrainian towns and cities, a continuation of the brutal escalation and assault that Russia’s forces have undertaken against civilian targets, including the energy infrastructure sites that we’ve talked about at some length in recent days.

At every opportunity the Russians seem to be meeting Ukraine’s call for a just peace with more escalation and with a very clear acknowledgement that Russia is in no mood for constructive dialogue, the type of constructive dialogue and diplomacy that will ultimately be necessary to move forward the vision for a just peace that we’ve heard from President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainians.

So in the meantime as Russia continues to demonstrate this attitude, we are continuing to do what has proven effective: provide Ukraine with the security assistance it needs, with the economic assistance it needs, including the infrastructure assistance it needs, and with the humanitarian assistance the people of Ukraine need to be able to weather this cold winter. We’re doing that in conjunction with dozens of countries around the world. Not only is it providing support to the Ukrainian people during their time of need, but we believe that doing so is the best means by which to accelerate the process of developing a negotiating table, and once that negotiating table has come to fruition, the best means by which to strengthen Ukraine’s hand at that negotiating table. So that is the strategy we’ve laid out as we hold Russia accountable and as we ensure NATO’s defense and deterrent capabilities as well, and that’s a strategy we’re going to continue to press forward with.

On your question of Armenia and Azerbaijan, I believe you will have seen a statement, a tweet that we have just issued on the latest developments. We made clear that the closure of the Lachin corridor has severe humanitarian implications. It sets back the peace process. We call on the Government of Azerbaijan to restore free movement through the corridor. The way forward is through negotiations.

I want to be especially clear that any disruption – and we’ve seen reports of disruption to energy infrastructure – any disruption to energy infrastructure could precipitate a humanitarian crisis, especially as we’re entering the winter months. If deliberate, it’s unacceptable to target the civilian population of Nagorno-Karabakh.

On the second part of your question, Alex, we are in the fortunate position of having very capable and effective stewards of our diplomacy at our missions around the world where we don’t have a confirmed ambassador in place. These dedicated members of the Foreign Service have helped us carry forward the President’s foreign policy vision, the Secretary’s foreign policy vision, and have helped us to address many of the most urgent challenges that we face.

Nevertheless, we continue to note the long queue of nominees who are awaiting Senate confirmation. As of earlier this month, there were some 50 nominees who were awaiting confirmation. We continue to ask the Senate to move swiftly on these nominees, knowing that no other country, certainly no other major power around the world, would tie its hands behind its back the way that we have had to do given the lack of Senate-confirmed ambassadors in place in many of our most important missions around the world. So we’re going to continue to work very closely with the Congress on this to identify and advance opportunities to see more Senate-confirmed ambassadors be in place at our posts around the world.

Let’s go to Eunjong Cho.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned, for taking my question. Today the Special Representative for DPRK Ambassador Sung Kim met with his Japanese and Korean counterparts in Indonesia. During the meeting, South Korea’s Special Representative Kim Gunn said that the international community pursues a denuclearization of North Korea and will not reconsider that goal in a million years. Does the State Department share the same sentiment that it will not reconsider denuclearization of North Korea in a million years?

And my second question. European Union added eight individuals and four entities to its sanctions list for their involvement in North Korea’s missile development yesterday. What is the significance of EU’s new sanctions measures in terms of sending signals?

MR PRICE: Thanks very much. So as to the first part of your question, we all have our own ways of conveying our messages and our policy positions. We have conveyed our policy position by noting that we undertook a comprehensive review of our policy towards the DPRK in the early part of this administration. In the aftermath of that policy review, we identified the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as our overarching objective. And as you heard from our South Korean counterpart in perhaps slightly different language, I don’t foresee that changing.

You raised Ambassador Sun Kim’s trilateral meeting today. He did, in fact, host ROK Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Kim Gunn, whom you mentioned, and Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General for Asian and Oceanian Affairs Funakoshi Takehiro in bilateral and trilateral meetings in Jakarta to discuss the U.S.-ROK-Japan cooperation in response to the DPRK’s unprecedented numbers of unlawful ballistic missile launches this year, including a number of ICBM launches.

The officials shared their assessment of the DPRK’s recent actions. They expressed concern about Pyongyang’s continued flagrant disregard for the various UN Security Council resolutions. They also reviewed the synchronized trilateral release of sanctions targeting the DPRK in early December and emphasized the need to use all available tools to further limit the growth of the DPRK’s destabilizing ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.

Along these lines, they underscored the need to raise global awareness of the DPRK’s malicious cyber activities and its egregious record of human rights violations and abuses. They called upon Pyongyang to immediately cease its unlawful and dangerous behavior and return to constructive dialogue to promote peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the region more broadly.

These meetings follow a trilateral leaders-level meeting, of course, that happened recently between President Biden and President Yoon of the ROK and Prime Minister Kishida of Japan last month in Cambodia, and it underscores the close and ongoing U.S. collaboration with our trilateral partners, the ROK and Japan, on DPRK issues and the ironclad U.S. commitments to the security of our ROK and Japan allies.

To the second part of your question, we have a number of partners and allies with whom we work in lockstep on the challenge posed by the DPRK’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons program. Those partners and allies extend well beyond the Indo-Pacific and do include our allies in Europe, and the fact that our allies in Europe have taken additional concrete steps to hold the DPRK accountable is something we applaud. We are working with allies and partners around the world to see to it that the DPRK is held to account.

We will go to the line of Courtney McBride.

QUESTION: Thanks. So there are multiple reports out that the U.S. is preparing to approve sending Patriot missile defense systems to Ukraine. Just if you’re able to confirm or comment, I’d appreciate it. And then separately, do you have comment on the latest China-India border clashes that the Indian Government has announced, and what is the U.S. assessment on the timing of those clashes? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Courtney. So broadly, we have been very clear that the United States will continue to prioritize sending air defense systems to Ukraine to help our Ukrainian partners defend themselves from the brutal Russian aggression that we’ve seen for the better part of a year now. I don’t have anything to preview or announce, but our commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense capabilities, including through the provision of air defense systems, is something we are committed to.

In fact, in recent weeks alone our assistance has included equipment to help Ukraine counter the Russian use of unmanned aerial vehicles. We’ve provided two National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS, which the Ukrainians have reported have been quite effective, as well as missiles for the so-called HAWK air defense systems that have been donated by allies and partners around the world. We will continue to provide Ukraine with the type of defensive capabilities that it needs for as long as it takes.

And to your second question, on China and India, we’re closely monitoring the situation. We are glad to hear that both sides appear to have quickly disengaged from the clashes. I don’t have anything to offer in terms of the timing behind the most recent clashes, but we’re continuing to monitor very closely and to engage with our Indian partners.

We will go to the line of Khushboo Razdan.

QUESTION: Hey, thanks for taking my question. Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: Yes, we can hear you.

QUESTION: Hi. My question is about the India-China clashes. You said you have nothing to offer on the timing, but this clash comes just weeks after China slammed India-U.S. war games just a hundred kilometers from the border. And so my question is that – has the State Department been briefed about what’s the situation right now at the border, because Tawang is a very sensitive area? And when will the State Department brief? Because the Indian Government is right now (inaudible) citizens in part, not – revealing that there were clashes for two days. So if you could share about the brief that you’ve received from India and what’s the situation, like, on the border right now, and when will you brief. And what is the strategy of the U.S. if the situation escalates given India is a Quad ally of the U.S.?

MR PRICE: Thanks very much. India is indeed an important strategic partner of the United States bilaterally, in the Quad, and other multilateral fora as well. So we’re always, with that in mind, in close contact with our Indian partners, both from our mission in India as well as from the State Department here in Washington. I would need to refer you to the Indians for their perspective on this as we’re going to keep our diplomatic conversations within those channels, but we do strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to advance territorial claims by incursions, military or civilian, across the border at the established Line of Actual Control, and we encourage India and China to utilize existing bilateral channels to discuss disputed boundaries.

We’ll take a final question from Eduard Rivas.

QUESTION: Ned, thank you. Do you have any comment on the violent protests in some cities of Peru? And do you support the new Peruvian Government?

MR PRICE: We do commend Peruvian institutions and civil authorities for safeguarding democratic stability. The people of Peru deserve stable democratic institutions that follow Peru’s constitution and carry out the mandates of democratic governance.

To your question, we are troubled by scattered reports of violent demonstrations and by reports of attacks on the press and private property, including businesses. We support peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, including from members of the press, and we encourage Peruvians to express their grievances through peaceful protests and democratic channels. We continue to closely monitor events on the ground and we remain in close contact with regional governments and the Organization of American States.

When it comes to Peruvian President Dina Boluarte, we of course do recognize her as such. We will continue to work with Peru’s democratic institutions, and we look forward to working closely with President Boluarte and all branches of the government in Peru.

And we’ll take a final question, in fact, from Humeyra Pamuk of Reuters.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thanks for doing this. Just wanted to clarify this engagement about Paul Whelan, because Russian deputy foreign minister is saying today that he knows of no new scheduled contacts with the United States regarding further prisoner swaps, and that was in response to what Jake Sullivan said yesterday. So should we think – should we assume he doesn’t know, or is that a way of them ruling out any engagements this week? Can you just, like, clarify or, like, give us an update, like what this engagement is going to be and whether there has been any contact through the designated channels with the Russians since last Thursday when Griner was released, whether there’s been any communication with the Russians on Paul Whelan?

And just to follow up on the Reuters story about Nigeria, I believe yesterday you guys have said you raised the allegations with the Government of Nigeria and you’re continuing to seek information. I just wanted an updated comment from you, like what did the Nigerian Government say and whether you’ve got more. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks very much. So to your final question, we have indeed raised the allegations with the Government of Nigeria. We were – we are continuing to seek further information from them, and we’re doing so because we were deeply troubled by the allegations in this report. As you heard from us, we’re urging the Government of Nigeria to establish an independent investigation into these troubling reports.

On Paul Whelan and the efforts to secure his release, Humeyra, as I said before, we’re just not in a position to detail the specifics of our engagement with our Russian counterparts as part of the effort to see his release. I think the fact is that our engagement with Russia on this narrow issue now twice has led to the successful return of wrongfully detained Americans to their families and loved ones in the United States. We have worked with relevant and appropriate Russian counterparts through this channel now for about 18 months since it was established by the two presidents in the context of their meeting in Geneva in June of 2021, and we are going to continue to be committed and relentless in our efforts to see Paul Whelan released.

We are committed to that successful outcome, and we have a track record now that demonstrates our ability to leverage this channel and to work with Russia again on this narrow set of issues to see to it that we have successful outcomes.

Thank you all very much. We will leave it there for today and we will look forward to speaking with you tomorrow.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)