US State Dept Presser

State Dept Presser Feb 14, 2023

30 Min
State Dept Presser Feb 14, 2023

 The US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price held a press briefing on Feb 14, 2023.


India related question tweaked to the front

2:04 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone.

QUESTION: Hello. Happy Valentine’s Day.

MR PRICE: Happy Valentine’s Day. Maybe that’s why we have a smaller crowd today than usual. I will turn to your questions in just a moment, but we have a couple things at the top.

First, as we near the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the scale, the scope, the brutality of Russia’s efforts to subjugate the country continue to appall the world. A report released today by Yale University’s Humanitarian Research Lab, through the department-supported Conflict Observatory program, details Russia’s systematic government?wide efforts to permanently relocate thousands of Ukraine’s children to areas under Russian Government control via a network of 43 camps and other facilities. In many cases, Russia purported to temporarily evacuate children in Ukraine under the guise of a free summer camp, only to later refuse to return the children and to cut off all contact with their families. Such actions obviously will have serious long-term implications on these children’s development. The network of facilities which these children are sent is vast, spanning from Russia-occupied Crimea across Russia itself, from the Black Sea region to its far east. The report indicates how these abusive practices involve officials and other individuals at all levels of Russia’s government.

Putin seeks to rob Ukraine of its future by taking its children. Russia’s system of forced relocation, re-education, and adoption of Ukraine’s children is a key element of the Kremlin’s systematic efforts to deny and suppress Ukraine’s identity, its history, and its culture. The devastating impacts of Russia’s failing war of aggression will be felt for generations to come. This report and others like it reinforce U.S. and international resolve to pursue accountability for Russia’s war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine for as long as it takes.

Next and finally, today marks the start of the first senior officials and related meetings for the U.S. Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, 2023 host year in Palm Springs, California, which will run until February 28th. During these meetings, U.S. officials from multiple departments and agencies – including senior officials Meeting Chair and U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics Mike Pyle, and U.S. Senior Official for APEC Matt Murray – will underscore the United States enduring commitment to inclusive and sustainable economic growth throughout the Asia Pacific region. These two weeks will include more than 100 meetings and workshops, as well as extensive stakeholder engagement. More than 1,500 delegates from 21 APEC economies have registered to attend.

Palm Springs was selected to host the first of four series of meetings during this U.S. APEC host year because of its location, its history, its international ties. Together, they set a unique example to help strengthen APEC’s engagement on economic inclusion and environmental sustainability.

Under our host year theme, “Creating a Resilient and Sustainable Future for All,” we will collaborate with like-minded partners to strengthen the international economic system and showcase the importance of engagement with the Asia Pacific region for American prosperity. Our 2023 host year will focus on three overarching policy priorities: interconnected, innovative, inclusive.

APEC is the premier platform to advance economic policies in the Asia Pacific region, to promote free, fair, and open trade and investment, and to advance inclusive and sustainable growth. The United States remains committed to expanding and deepening economic ties within APEC for the benefit of the American people and for all of our partners.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on tax investigators raiding the BBC office? This comes, of course, after a documentary by the BBC that was banned by the Indian Government.

MR PRICE: Shaun, we’re aware of the search of the BBC offices in Delhi by Indian tax authorities. I would need to refer you to Indian authorities for the details of this search. Beyond this discrete action, what I’ll say more broadly is the general point that I’ve consistently made in this context but in the universal context as well: We support the importance of free press around the world. We continue to highlight the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief as human rights that contribute to strengthening democracies around the world. It has strengthened this democracy here in this country; it has strengthened India’s democracy. These universal rights are the bedrock of democracies around the world.

QUESTION: Just to tie those two strands together, the – talking about the importance of a free press, do you think that this action went against that spirit or – or the banning of the document?

MR PRICE: I couldn’t say. I couldn’t say. We’re aware that these – we are aware of the fact of the searches, but I’m just not in a position to offer a judgement.

QUESTION:  your opening thing on Ukraine.


QUESTION: So you talk about how you’re collecting all this evidence and you’re going to pursue accountability for what Russia has done. But really there hasn’t been any movement towards actual – I mean, I get that the investigations are underway, evidence is being collected. But where are you going to seek accountability?

MR PRICE: It’s not just that we’re seeking accountability; I would vehemently disagree with the premise of the question, because there has been accountability in some cases. You look at what has —

QUESTION: No, in the – yeah, like, a very limited number of Russians have been convicted in Ukrainian courts. But what you’re talking about now is something beyond that, isn’t it?

MR PRICE: Yes, and I will come to that.


MR PRICE: But one, I wouldn’t want to underestimate the effectiveness of what the Ukrainian prosecutor general and that office is doing. When you look at the jurisdictions that have the wherewithal, have the capability, have the basis to pursue to try to convict individuals for war crimes in Ukraine, we are looking to the Ukrainian prosecutor general to continue that important work, and we’re supporting that work.

Now, you are raising a broader question about other venues and other fora where we are also seeking accountability. We’re doing these things simultaneously. To support all of those efforts, we have undertaken a number of steps. Together with the EU and the UK, we announced last year that we established the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group to provide advice and operational assistance to Ukraine’s —

QUESTION: I get all that.

MR PRICE: — prosecutor general.

QUESTION: I know that you’ve done a lot of this stuff, but where exactly is it – is the accountability going to happen in Ukrainian courts or is it going to happen elsewhere?

MR PRICE: The accountability will continue to take place in Ukrainian courts. That part is sure. We’re also supporting other venues that have the potential to bring war criminals to justice. Among the mechanisms that we’re supporting is the ICC; we’re supporting the Commission of Inquiry that’s been established within the UN, that we helped to establish within the UN. The OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism has been an important instrument to shine a light and to put consensus behind what is becoming increasingly clear regarding what the Russians are doing inside of Ukraine. All of these are part and parcel of a much broader push to pursue and ultimately to secure accountability for those who are responsible for what are war crimes in Ukraine.

Now, these can be processes that can take time. They may not be satisfying in the moment. They may not seem sufficient in the moment, but we know that justice can take time. We are prepared to play the long game when it comes to accountability. We may see, we may continue to see trials of those who are relatively – had been relatively unknown, obscure. That will continue to be the case, but we are committed to doing everything we can to follow the evidence up the evidentiary ladder, leading to wherever it leads. I think that history has proven that these mechanisms can be effective going after even the senior-most figures when there is appropriate evidence.

QUESTION: The report identifies 12 individuals that the UN – U.S. Government has not sanctioned yet. Are you planning to sanction those individuals?

MR PRICE: We are always looking at individuals who may be responsible for war crimes, for atrocities inside of Ukraine. Just because we have not sanctioned an individual to date says nothing about any future action that we may take. When we put together sanctions packages, we look across the full realm of information that’s available to us. In many cases that will be information that is known to the U.S. Government that is otherwise private, maybe classified in some instances, but we also look at open-source information.

And what the Conflict Observatory has produced and released today is a compelling and exquisitely documented piece of open source reporting – a comprehensive, open source report that we can be – that we can use, that other fora can use going forward for their own accountability efforts. They have followed best practices in terms of putting together, documenting precisely the sources, making sure that the information that they have produced is admissible, whether in national courts or other multilateral venues. It is a product that will be useful not only to us but to institutions and to organizations around the world who share our goal.

QUESTION: Can I switch topics? The earthquake.


QUESTION: Syria. You spoke at length about this yesterday, but there have been developments since then – the opening of two more border questions. Do you have any general reaction to that and the impact, and also the situation with insurgent groups? Some of them have been unenthusiastic about having aid even indirectly going through the regime-held territories.

MR PRICE: Sure. And I know that our Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, spoke to this earlier today as well, but what you heard from me yesterday as this was emerging, what you heard from Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield this morning, is that we very much welcome the UN diplomacy. We take note of the regime’s arrangement with the UN to use the Bab al?Salam and al-Raee crossings as our focus remains on helping people in need, helping all people in need: of course, our Turkish allies, but this people of Syria as well. To that end, we welcome the news that some UN aid moved through the Bab al-Salam and al-Raee crossings today, and we look forward to receiving more from the UN about how this arrangement is playing out on the ground.

When it comes to the various groups inside of Syria, first let me just make – reiterate the broader point: Our focus right now is on saving lives, is doing as – our focus is on doing as much as we can to see as much aid as the international community can muster both in Türkiye and making its way into Syria. We have called for unhindered access to this aid. We have made that call when it comes to the regime. We have made that call when it comes to opponents of the regime. Everyone should put aside their agendas and affiliations in service of one pursuit and one pursuit only, and that’s addressing the humanitarian emergency, the humanitarian nightmare that’s unfolding in parts of northwest Syria.

QUESTION: Just on Türkiye, Ned, can you give an update on what exactly the USAID team is doing there right now? You said our focus is saving lives, but unfortunately, it’s day nine now. So, how is their mission going to evolve going forward?

MR PRICE: Sure. So as we’ve talked about this mission to date, we’ve talked about the search and rescue, the urgent search and rescue function of it. Of course, this operation will continue to evolve as we get further away from the first tremors and the earthquakes that shook large swaths of Türkiye and Syria earlier this month.

But as you know, Humeyra, we responded immediately in the aftermath of these earthquakes. We deployed the Disaster Assistance Response Teams within hours. We announced last week that we’re providing an additional $85 million above and beyond our initial response. We deployed the urban search and rescue teams with nearly 200 members, 12 dogs, 170,000 pounds of specialized equipment, and the new funding that we announced last week will support our broader response efforts. And by the way, those components are intended both for Türkiye but also for use in Syria as well, as appropriate.

As these search and rescue teams continue expanding their search across all hard-hit communities in Adiyaman, we’ll continue to work as hard as we can to search for survivors. There have been stories, even though we are in day eight and nine, in recent hours of people almost miraculously being pulled from the rubble. We are not going to give up hope. We are not going to relent in our commitment to doing everything we can to save every single life that we can.

But we are planning beyond this initial stage for the longer-term needs of survivors and their communities as well. We know that the people of Türkiye and the people of Syria over the much longer term will need shelter, food, medical supplies, and clean water. And our partners – we and our partners are already working to provide this critical support.

The State Department is working through UN agencies and NGOs to provide emergency assistance on both sides of the border in both Türkiye and Syria, including providing hot meals, water, medical care, nonfood items such as blankets and hygiene kits, temporary shelters, and structural engineers.

The international community also has a collective moral obligation to do all it can. There have been appeals from the UN. We have put out our own appeal. We’ve made an appeal to the American people knowing that this is a response effort that will need to transcend any single country, any single government, and will really need to involve the entire international community.

We remain in close touch with our Turkish allies. As you know, earlier this week the Secretary again had an opportunity to speak to Foreign Minister Cavusoglu for his second call with his counterpart since the earthquake. President Biden —

QUESTION: Earlier this week?

MR PRICE: Excuse me. No, it was a couple days ago now. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: The Thursday call?

MR PRICE: Thursday. That’s right. President Biden also had an opportunity to speak to President Erdogan. Secretary Austin has been in touch with his counterpart as well.

Just to give you a little bit more granular texture, since arriving, the search and rescue team that I alluded to has assessed more than 5,500 buildings across Adiyaman. Just this weekend, those teams assisted Turkish rescuers in providing medical consultation to a mother and to a child freed from the wreckage there. In Syria, our humanitarian partners have been responding since the earliest moments. And we’ve been, as you know, the leading humanitarian donor to Syria over the course of this now 12-year civil war. We’ve provided $15 billion over the course of that conflict, which in the first instanced allowed a number of NGO partners to be present on the ground and to begin that response just as soon as the earthquake struck.

As of Sunday, and this number has increased since then, a total of 52 UN trucks have successfully crossed into Syria from Türkiye. That followed a fourth UN convoy of 10 trucks with supplies from USAID and the State Department. We know this – every single truck that makes its way across is welcome, it is needed, but it is insufficient. And we are going to continue to do all we can to see as much assistance flowing, again, to both sides of the border.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up?


QUESTION: On Syria. Now, there are no American teams on the ground in Syria, the search and rescue, are there?

MR PRICE: We are operating primarily through our humanitarian partners on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay. But no actual American teams that – because the other teams I think are probably folding up and leaving, so – especially from Türkiye and so on. Now, two things. How do you monitor what’s going on in terms of search and rescue in Syria and let’s say the number of casualties or how it’s coming along? How do you keep track of it?

MR PRICE: Said, even before this earthquake we were in daily contact with our humanitarian partners on the ground in Syria. Since the earthquake, the cadence of that contact has increased. They provide us with situation reports. They let us know what they’re finding on the ground, the scale of the devastation they’re seeing. But perhaps most importantly, they provide us with precisely what is needed on the ground by the victims, by the communities, what the United States can do, what the international community can do. So that conversation is vital as we calibrate our response and as we seek to, with the international community, to do everything we can to enhance the scale and scope of that response.

QUESTION: So, but there is an area that is under the control one way or another of the United States. Are there movements from that area to the stricken area and so on?

MR PRICE: I would – I don’t think it’s a fair assessment to say that there are regions of Syria that are under control of the United States. There are regions of Syria that are disputed, that are not controlled by the regime, but the United States is not in control in those areas.

QUESTION: Well, I was saying that there is some military presence in Syria, and from this – from that area, is there movement between that area and the stricken area in terms of maybe trucks or (inaudible) or otherwise?

MR PRICE: It’s what we’re calling for. We want to see unhindered flow of humanitarian goods, humanitarian supplies to opposition-held areas, to regime-held areas, and to areas where there may be both actors present. We want to see humanitarian supplies have full and free mobility across Syria to where it’s needed most.

QUESTION: And since – I’m sorry, but just a – since the Department of the Treasury issued its – lifted its restriction and so on, how has that impacted the situation? Do you have any way of assessing that, that in the last four or five days this happened as a result of that decision?

MR PRICE: It’s a question, Said, that’s difficult to answer because it involves a counterfactual: what would not have happened had it not been for the issue – issuance of that general license.

What we can say is that Treasury and the administration thought it important to issue that general license to leave no doubt in the minds of any of those who would seek to assist the people of Syria that our sanctions are not targeting humanitarian assistance, they will not be penalized for providing humanitarian assistance. And to the contrary, we are encouraging the world to provide humanitarian assistance, to follow the lead of the United States that over the course of the past dozen years has been the world’s leading humanitarian provider to the Syrian people. We want to see countries, we want to see aid organizations, we want to see private individuals do everything that they can to help the people of Türkiye and the people of Syria.

QUESTION: And just a follow-up?


QUESTION: Just to put a point on that, have there been any contacts with Assad or these – probably not Assad personally, but the Assad regime since the earthquake from the U.S.?

MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to speak to any high-level contact, and I couldn’t say what has – what may have happened at a lower level, an operational level on the ground, for instance. But the message that we’re sending to the Assad regime is precisely what I said. We are seeking to assist the Syrian people first and foremost. We want to see aid flow unhindered between parts of Syria and across the border into Syria.

QUESTION: Do you mind if I change the topic?

QUESTION: Two questions on this. Is the U.S. considering using its military bases in Syria for aid?

MR PRICE: We’re going to do what is needed most, and if there is an appropriate role for any installations in the region that we control to be a part of that response, we are absolutely determined to do that. As you know, our base in Incirlik has been an important hub for our response effort inside Türkiye, and a response effort inside Türkiye that has enabled us to continue to flow humanitarian assistance across the border into Syria. If there is a role to play for any installations inside of Syria, obviously that’s something we’ll take a close look at.

QUESTION: And Secretary Blinken has met with the UAE foreign minister an hour ago. Is there any connection between his visit last week to Damascus and his visit today? And did he discuss with him the Austin Tice case?

MR PRICE: We will have a readout of their engagement later today, but I’ll say a couple of things.

Number one, the UAE is a partner of the United States. We share a number of important interests, and so we always avail ourselves of opportunities to meet with our Emirati counterparts, in this instance the Foreign Minister of the UAE, ABZ. There will be a number of – or there were a number of topics on the agenda. They’ll discuss the Negev process. As you know, the UAE has been a part of the Negev process since its inception.

Staying in the region, they’ll discuss tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, steps that the international community can take to support the parties as they seek – we hope and we are encouraging them – to de-escalate the situation. We’re also going to – well, and I should say they presumably discussed – I haven’t gotten a full readout. But it’s my expectation that they will have discussed broader regional challenges, including the challenge of Iran.

When it comes to Austin Tice, we are and we have consistently pursued every channel to seek to effect his safe return to his family. Austin is on our minds in every engagement in virtually every region. And so we’ve discussed this case with a number of countries in the region, and we’re going to continue to keep a focus on it to see his safe return.


QUESTION: Can I change topics?


QUESTION: On Iran. Yesterday you were asked, Ned, about the coming together of a number of prominent Iranians in exile joining hands to get together to prepare for a time when there is no Islamic Republic in Iran. And you said that the Biden administration is listening to the Iranian diaspora and wants to hear their views. What has changed that the – that you’re now openly saying that you want to hear from the Iranian diaspora?

MR PRICE: We’ve consistently said that. I’m not aware of a time where we said we don’t want to hear ideas from stakeholders, we don’t want to hear ideas from the Iranian diaspora. That has always been our view. It’s why, within a couple weeks of the start of this movement in Iran, the Secretary was meeting with members of the Iranian diaspora, the Deputy Secretary was meeting with members of the Iranian diaspora.

We undertake that recognizing that no one, certainly not the U.S. Government but no one other than the people in Iran, can claim to speak for the people in Iran. Only they can do that. But diaspora communities from regions near and far have important linkages back to their home countries; that’s certainly true in the case of Iran. We’ve consistently wanted to hear from the diaspora community.

QUESTION: Do you – does the Biden administration now agree with the Iranians, both inside and outside, that the Islamic Republic cannot reform itself and there needs to be a regime change?

MR PRICE: This is a question that is not for us. This is a question that is for the people of Iran. We are listening to the people of Iran. We are hearing ideas from, in this instance, the diaspora. And we’re seeking to find ways to support their movement and their aspirations. But it’s a question for them to answer, not for us.

QUESTION: A couple more short ones. Iranian president is in China, as you are aware. The Iranian media are now saying that there’s talk about resuming negotiations, nuclear negotiations, and that they will be in touch soon or something like that. Is the State Department willing to – or the Biden administration willing – should there be a proposal on this, on meeting and resuming and finalizing those talks? Would the Biden administration go through with it, given what’s still going on in Iran?

MR PRICE: Well, a broader point on this. I spoke yesterday to this, but we’ve consistently made the point that we’ve engaged with the PRC and other global stakeholders on – to encourage, in this case, the PRC to take steps to counter Iran’s policies that destabilize the region and threaten our partners and our allies. Iran’s nuclear program, its ballistic missile program, its other malign activities and influence, are profoundly destabilizing in the region. That is of concern not only to us – it should also be of concern to the PRC. Presumably, that’s why the PRC came together with us the better part of a decade ago by now in the original configuration of the P5+1 to work with us to ultimately negotiate what became known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

My point is that the PRC has a role to play in very clearly signaling to Iran that its destabilizing activities, that its brinksmanship is not going to be rewarded. It’s not going to be countenanced. It is not something that the international community is prepared to sit idly by and watch. Now, I would need to refer you to the PRC regarding any messages that they have – they may have conveyed in that direction or otherwise. But it’s our hope that, on this challenge, the PRC will use its influence in a direction that would be in both of our interests.

QUESTION: So should the opportunity present, should they want to go back to finalize the talks, with the U.S. go in?

MR PRICE: Again, the JCPOA has not been on the agenda for some time. We continue to discount, if not dismiss repeated claims from Iranian officials that we are eager to go back to the JCPOA, we’re calling for a return to JCPOA negotiations. We’re not. We’re sending very clear messages to the Iranian regime. Those messages are: Stop killing your own people, stop sending UAV technology to Russia, and free those wrongfully detained American citizens.

QUESTION: And one last one. I’m sorry, Shaun. The UN human rights experts have put out a statement today saying that there’s over-compliance with Iranian – with U.S. sanctions against Iran, and they’re pointing to a couple of companies – interesting, one of them is Swiss – refusing to send medicine, pharmaceuticals for Thalassemia patients in Iran. Is the State Department aware? I’m sure – you have always said that you work with other countries, tell them about humanitarian assistance.

MR PRICE: When it comes to sanctions compliance, we are concerned about both ends of the spectrum. We’re concerned about under-compliance when it comes to Iran. We’re concerned about over-compliance because in some cases it will have – could have – implications for the Iranian people. And of course, our sanctions don’t target the Iranian people; our sanctions are a means to an end, not an end of themselves. And the end in this case is centered on Iran’s nuclear program, its ballistic missile program, its human rights abuses, its destabilizing actions in the region.

So of course we have not imposed any authority that would have humanitarian implications on the Iranian people. Our sanctions regimes have humanitarian carveouts. We go through them systematically to make sure that there is not a proviso or a detail that could be seen or interpreted to limit the flow of what should be humanitarian assistance to people around the world. That includes in Iran.

We engage with private companies, we engage with private entities, we engage with countries all the time to emphasize that message that our sanctions are not punitive. We do not want to see, whether it is countries or companies limiting what they’re prepared to do to support the needs of the Iranian people or people around the world who may be subject – whose countries may be subject to our sanctions.

QUESTION: On Friday you announced the candidacy of Professor James Cavallaro to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Professor Cavallaro’s made some pretty extraordinary statements about U.S. elected officials, the Biden – President Biden, then a candidate – and about Israel, including that Israel is an apartheid state, that Hakeem Jeffries was bought, purchased, and controlled by the pro-Israel lobby. He wrote of then-Candidate Biden that he’s a senile gaffe machine. Did you know about these tweets when you announced his candidacy?

MR PRICE: Let me make a point that should be obvious, but it’s worth making nonetheless. His statements clearly do not reflect U.S. policy. They are not a reflection of what we believe, and they are inappropriate to say the least. We have decided to withdraw our nomination of this individual from – to withdraw his nomination to serve on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. And I think, judging by some of the statements that have since been uncovered, it is fair to conclude – it, in fact, is true – that we were not aware of the statements and writings that you’ve produced.

QUESTION: This happened – I first became aware of it, the withdrawal, about 90 minutes ago or two hours ago. Can you say exactly when? I understand he was here in the building today or at least had a meeting with the – when did you inform him that you were withdrawing his candidacy, his nomination?

MR PRICE: These writings and statements came – I became aware of them only very recently.

QUESTION: No, no, no, not when you became aware – when did you make the decision, though? Because I didn’t – the person who asked the question just now didn’t seem to know that the candidacy had been withdrawn.

MR PRICE: We came to this conclusion today, and We informed the professor today, within recent hours.

QUESTION: Thank you. Moving on to the Palestinian issue. Channel 13, the Israeli channel 13, claims that Israeli officials at the highest level informed the Biden administration at the highest level that every time there is going to be an attack, they will expand settlements or legalize new accords and so on. And that’s one claim they made. And the other, they said that they were actually going to legalize 14 settlements, not nine; but due to your pressure or whatever they backtracked to nine. Can you confirm this report?

MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to confirm that report, nor would I speak to any private conversations we’ve had with our Israeli partners. But what I can tell you is that in all of our private conversations, the messages we convey may have been precisely those messages that you heard from me yesterday, that you’ve heard from us routinely every time this question is asked. We are opposed to unilateral measures that have the potential to exacerbate tensions and that can move us further away from a negotiated two-state solutions. We are opposed to any unilateral measures that, put simply, can be an obstacle to peace. There is no question in the minds of our Israeli interlocutors, I would imagine, about where America stands. We made that very clear in our statements yesterday. You probably saw the multilateral statement that we released today with some of our European allies as well.

QUESTION: And the other thing. If the Israelis make good on their promise to do this, would that amount to collective punishment, in your view?

MR PRICE: Said, I’m just not going to engage in a hypothetical on something that I certainly am not in a position to confirm.

QUESTION: Okay. And lastly, Israel has denied the Palestinian peace activists from entering. Do you have any comment on that? Are you aware of the report, and do you have any comment on it?

MR PRICE: I am aware of the report. We’re looking to gather further information on any new regulations. But broadly speaking, we understand the very real security challenges that Israel faces. We’ve noted before that it is important that civil society and humanitarian organizations based in the West Bank and Gaza as well as in Israel have the space to carry out their important work.

Thanks. Alex. Let me move around. I’ll come back to you. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Excuse me, I was going – going to ask already, and then you just —

MR PRICE: I will – I will get to you next. Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) So today Deputy Secretary Sherman had a meeting with Japanese Vice Minister Mori this morning. It seems like Japan was being monitored by Chinese spy balloons. In that meeting, like was there any conversation to discuss about like joint effort for – against Chinese spy balloons?

MR PRICE: Sorry, could you repeat the last part of your question? I didn’t catch that.

QUESTION: Like in that meeting with Japanese vice minister, like Secretary – so Deputy Secretary Sherman, they had any conversation with – discuss about the Chinese balloon like joint effort?

MR PRICE: Chinese balloon, you said?

QUESTION: Yeah, Chinese spy balloon.

MR PRICE: Chinese spy – we’ll have a readout if it hasn’t been issued already of the Deputy’s meeting that took place earlier today. But as you know, she had an opportunity yesterday to engage trilaterally with her Japanese and ROK counterparts in the context of that session both yesterday and today. She’s held bilateral sessions with her Japanese and ROK counterparts.

Again, the readout will provide a better sense of the meeting, but in virtually all of our engagements with our Japanese and ROK counterparts we discuss our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region. We also discuss the challenges to that shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific. The PRC presents a challenge to that vision on a number of fronts.

Without speaking to the Deputy’s meeting today and yesterday, we have discussed our profound concerns with a number of countries, including a number of countries in the Indo?Pacific region, regarding the program of which the high-altitude surveillance balloon that we detected and ultimately disabled last week was a part. These are conversations that we’re having with countries around the world, countries that may have been subjected to this. It’s part of our broader effort to share what we know about the challenges both systemic, tactical that the PRC poses to the vision we share with our allies and partners around the world.

QUESTION: Could I just briefly follow that up?


QUESTION: Just more directly, the Japanese defense ministry, I think just today, said that they do have evidence of Chinese – reported Chinese surveillance balloons going over its territory in recent weeks. Do you have any reaction directly to that? Does that match what the U.S. sees? Do you see a particular threat to Japan from this balloon?

MR PRICE: Beyond what we’ve said publicly, namely that this was a program that over the course of several years spanned five continents and some 40 countries, we are going to let individual countries speak to what they may or may not have been subjected to. In many cases, we have had direct conversations with our partners and allies to impart to them, if they did not already know, what we have in our possession regarding this particular program. If they wish to share those details that is their prerogative, but we’re going to defer to individual countries.

Yeah, Shannon.

QUESTION: Thanks. We saw Beijing today double down on those claims that the U.S. is flying spy balloons over their country. Of course, administration officials have flatly denied that. Is the State Department concerned that the foreign ministry continuing to push forward those so?far baseless claims might further deteriorate the relationship between the two powers and not prove constructive towards working toward – working to get closer to a meeting between Secretary Blinken and his counterpart?

MR PRICE: So a couple points on that. First, there is no question that the PRC is operating from its heels at the moment. The PRC is facing questions – legitimate questions – from a number of countries around the world regarding this high-altitude spy balloon program that we’ve detailed in recent days. Countries have every right to take up with, in this case, the PRC the issue of having had their sovereignty violated.

I can’t say specifically what countries the PRC is hearing from, but it’s quite clear that they are under some pressure, as we expect they might be given the scope and the scale and the brazen nature of this program which, again, violated the sovereignty of dozens of countries around the world.

We always like to encourage constructive dialogue. We encourage constructive dialogue in our private bilateral conversations, but we also encourage constructive dialogue in terms of public messaging. And the use of misinformation, disinformation in some cases, is not something that we do. What we have been focused on in recent days has been fact-based. We’ve been laying out as much as we can in public what we know, and when it comes to this particular program, the scope and the scale of that program.

We think it’s important for us to engage in this fact-based dialogue in just a simple, straightforward way out of transparency for the American people, but again, to leave our allies and partners equipped with what they need to know about potential violations of their sovereignty.

When it comes to the PRC, our position hasn’t changed. The lines of communication with the PRC remain open. We want to see that continue to be the case. We think it’s important at all times; it’s especially important at times when tensions may be somewhat higher.

We think we should handle this responsibly. We have attempted, again, to model the responsible reaction that we would like to see from countries around the world in instances like this, knowing that this incident is rather unique. We’ve acted responsibly. We have acted prudently. We have acted in an abundance of transparency – again, not only for the American people, but for people around the world.

Yeah, Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. On Russia. Can I get the department’s reaction to increasing concerns over Russian potential – trying to topple leadership in Moldova? Ukrainian president spoke to that, Moldovan leadership spoke. Russia denies it, but they also were denying meddling in the U.S. election. But today we heard Prigozhin admit his link to election meddling troll factory.

MR PRICE: So Alex, on this, we’re deeply concerned by reports of a plot by Russia to destabilize Moldova’s democratically elected government. Russia has a long history of malign influence both in Moldova and the region, and as such we’ve worked closely with Moldova to build its political resilience and to counter long-term efforts by Russia to undermine Moldova’s democratic institutions. We firmly support Moldova’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity. Russia’s recent violations of Moldovan airspace to launch missile attacks on Ukraine are an unacceptable risk, and they demonstrate blatant disrespect for Moldova’s sovereign territory.

That said, at this time we continue to see no direct military threat to Moldova. We’ve been in close contact with our Moldovan partners during this critical time. We strongly support the leadership of Moldovan President Maia Sandu, and we look forward to continuing our cooperation with the new prime minister and cabinet once that government is formed. We remain firmly committed to assisting Moldova as it pursues the political, economic, and anti?corruption reforms needed to build on the European future it seeks.

QUESTION: Thank you. And any reaction to Prigozhin’s statement on his links to U.S. election meddling troll factory? So I know you —

MR PRICE: Just as I was telling your colleague that we don’t engage in disinformation, misinformation, we do everything we can not to provide it a microphone. So I’m just not going to comment on that. Yeah.

QUESTION: My last question on Azerbaijan and maybe follow up on your Saturday statement on the case of Bakhityar Hajiyev. As I understand, the Secretary two weeks ago raised his case during his phone call with President Aliyev. Am I right?

MR PRICE: Again, we issued a readout of that call. When the Secretary engages with his Azerbaijani counterpart, they discuss a broad range of issues. They of course discuss Nagorno?Karabakh, they discuss regional issues, but there is also a broader conversation on human rights and the emphasis that we place on human rights and the notion that by strengthening human rights in any country, including in Azerbaijan, that in turn strengthens the bilateral relationship we have.

QUESTION: As you mentioned in your statement, his health is worsening. Is the United States Government willing to hold those responsible accountable if something happens to him in jail? He is on hunger strike for almost 40 days now.

MR PRICE: Of course. When someone is imprisoned, when someone is imprisoned in this case for political reasons, it is incumbent on the authorities to provide medical care, to provide for the humanitarian needs of this individual, and of course, just as we said in other contexts, those who are holding him are ultimately responsible for his welfare and his well-being.


QUESTION: Media reports suggest that previous Chinese surveillance balloon efforts have collected information on military assets in India as well. Have there been any conversations or information-sharing between the U.S. and India regarding this?

MR PRICE: We have engaged in conversation on this topic with dozens of countries around the world – with the countries that have been directly affected by this, countries that may have an interest in something like this, countries that could one day be subjected to something like this. We’re just not going to name those countries, for reasons that may be self-evident. But we’re having these conversations privately and we’re sharing those details with our allies and partners around the world.


QUESTION: A question on Haiti, Ned. As of tomorrow, Caribbean leaders are coming together to talk about the human crisis, the people fleeing Haiti. Can you give us an update on the situation on the ground and what the U.S. is doing trying to help?

MR PRICE: Sure. So we have, as you know, been engaged in an effort to help the Haitian people for some time now. Part of that is what we are doing affirmatively. And we have been working with our partners, including our Canadian partners and other partners in this hemisphere, to provide Haitian authorities, including the Haitian national police, with the supplies that they need to restore security, to restore stability to parts of Haiti that have seen a descent into lawlessness. That itself is important.

We are also working to hold accountable those actors who are responsible for some of the lawlessness, some of the bloodshed and violence, and the impasses that have had humanitarian implications on far too many Haitian people.

We’ve announced now tranches of sanctions. Some of our partners have done the same on the gang leaders who have been responsible for, in one particular instance, the blockage of the port. We continue to have discussions with the Haitian National Police, with our partners in the hemisphere, with the OAS, with the UN regarding what more the international community should do, can do to restore stability – to help restore stability and security for the Haitian people, knowing that any effort to do so will ultimately have to be led by Haitians themselves.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Two questions, Ned. Any updates on the U.S. delegation meetings and talks in Saudi Arabia?

MR PRICE: I don’t have an update beyond what we provided yesterday. These talks are ongoing. I suspect we’ll have more to say once they conclude.

QUESTION: And do you have any statement on the anniversary of the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri?

MR PRICE: This is a terrible, tragic milestone in Lebanon’s history. It’s one that we mark every year both in sorrow and sadness, and with a sense of determination to help the people of Lebanon move beyond the crisis that that country has been in for far too long. Really, since his assassination, the people – and certainly in more recent years as well – the people of Lebanon have suffered needlessly as a result of the political intransigence and the broader intransigence that their elected leaders have demonstrated, failing repeatedly to put the needs of the Lebanese people ahead of more narrow political agendas.

We are providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Lebanon. We are supporting what we hope will be a successful government formation process in Lebanon, knowing that ultimately these political decisions are, in the end, only decisions that Lebanese officials themselves can make.


QUESTION: Can I ask a quick Ukraine weapons question?


QUESTION: Jonathan Lord, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, wrote an article in the Post yesterday, I believe, suggesting that you guys should give Ukraine the weapons that were seized – Iranian weapons that were seized. And he says that the U.S. Navy and the French Navy have seized weapons that were going to the Houthis. Is that something that the U.S. would consider?

MR PRICE: I’m not going to speak to that specific proposal, but what I will say is that we have demonstrated what I would call remarkable ingenuity in finding ways to support our Ukrainian partners. We’ve been doing that when it comes to security assistance. We’ve been doing that through our own stocks. We’ve been doing that by engaging with our defense industrial base here in this country. We have played the role of broker and middleman between countries around the world who may have supplies that our Ukrainian partners need.

So we’re going to continue to think creatively about how we can use what we have, how we can use what countries around the world have, how we can get to Ukraine what our Ukrainian partners need most.

QUESTION: So – but the there is no international law that would prohibit you, if you decide to send it to – from – take it to them this way?

MR PRICE: I’m just not commenting on this specific proposal. Of course, anything we do would have to be consistent with international law and our domestic laws.

Yeah, Dylan.

QUESTION: You just mentioned a few minutes ago you want to keep the diplomatic lines open with China. You’ve said that the Secretary’s trip to Beijing was postponed – it wasn’t cancelled but it was postponed because conditions weren’t right. So are there any preconditions you can lay out for what you’re looking for to potentially reschedule that meeting? Is there something in particular you’re waiting to see as China looks like they’re continuing to dig in and to start making accusations towards the U.S.?

MR PRICE: Dylan, first and foremost, we believe it’s important that lines of communication remain open, and there are various ways to communicate between any two countries, between in this case Washington and Beijing. We have demonstrated an ability to keep those lines of communication open through phone calls, and there have been multiple phone calls between fairly senior PRC officials and American officials in recent days. We have spoken before and we’ve previously met with PRC officials in third countries. Secretary Blinken was prepared to travel to Beijing to have a broader discussion with several PRC counterparts as a follow-up to the meeting that President Biden and President Xi had in Bali of last year.

I’m not going to spell out publicly any specific preconditions for what it might take to get that meeting back on track, but we believe that it is up to the PRC to show that it is serious about being a responsible country that wants and is positioned to build on the meeting that President Biden and President Xi had in November of last year. Secretary Blinken’s meetings that were to have taken place a couple weeks ago now were to have been an extension of that – to cover the waterfront, as it were, all elements of what is the most complex and consequential bilateral relationship we have and that is probably – and that probably exists on the face of the Earth.

So we’re going to continue to assess, we’re going to continue to listen to what the PRC says privately, what they say publicly, and make our own determination about when the time is right, when it’s in our interest to have the Secretary make that trip to Beijing to engage in those face-to-face discussions.

QUESTION: So if you’re not going to lay that out publicly, does that mean there are private preconditions you’ve communicated to them or —

MR PRICE: I’m just not going to detail those conversations. As you might have guessed, many of those conversations in recent days were more tactical, were focused on the discovery and ultimately the disposition of the high-altitude surveillance balloon that we took down a couple of weeks ago now. But the message that we convey to the PRC in private is precisely the message that I conveyed in public. It is incumbent on the PRC to act responsibly, to act responsibly in every realm. If the PRC is serious about setting the conditions for a useful and constructive meeting that is a follow-on to the meeting that President Biden and President Xi had in Bali last November, that is something that we are also prepared to do. We are prepared to meet them on that goal, and we’ll be watching and assessing closely in the coming days and coming weeks.

Thanks very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:59 p.m.)