State Dept Presser, Jan 18, 2023
State Department Spokesperson Ned Price held a Press Briefing at 2:18 p.m. EST on Jan 18, 2023, and fielded questions on a wide range of issues. Nepal and Pakistan also figured in the Q-A session and these have been brought upfront.
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR PRICE: Welcome. Welcome to our visitors as well. A couple items before we get started. First, we are deeply saddened to hear of the tragic Yeti Airlines crash over the weekend, which killed 72 people, including two U.S. citizens and two lawful permanent residents.
Our thoughts are with the families of those on board.
The United States stands ready to support Nepal in any way we can at this difficult hour.
Similarly, I believe many of you will have heard the Secretary offer his own condolences in response to the tragic helicopter crash that took place earlier today in Ukraine, as did President Biden. We were saddened – deeply saddened to learn of the passing this morning of so many of those aboard, including some of our key partners: Minister of Internal Affairs Denis Monastyrsky, First Deputy Minister of Interior Yevheniy Yenin, Minister of Interior State Secretary Yuriy Lubkovychis, and the parents and children who were also killed in that devastating crash. We have offered our full support, full assistance to Ukraine, and of course our thoughts are with them as well in this difficult hour.
With that, happy to start where you would like.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Pakistan has less than $5 billion left in its FOREX reserves. Is the U.S. paying any attention to or is planning to give maybe, like, some sort of debt relief to the country, or not?
MR PRICE: So this is a challenge that we are attuned to. I know that Pakistan has been working with the IMF, with international financial institutions. We want to see Pakistan in a economically sustainable position. Those conversations, as I understand it, are ongoing. We are supportive where we can be of our Pakistani partners, but ultimately these are conversations between Pakistan and international financial institutions.
QUESTION: But in this critical time, does the U.S. – on government-to-government level, are you guys giving any, like, suggestions for Pakistan to take some immediate steps which could improve the economy?
MR PRICE: These conversations with our Pakistani partners often do entail technical issues. Oftentimes these are addressed between the Department of the Treasury and our Pakistani partners. But Pakistan’s macroeconomic stability is a topic of conversation between the Department of State and our counterparts, the White House, the Treasury Department, among others.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thanks. Yes.
QUESTION: I want to start with the Palestinian issue.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Can you comment on the embassy issue in Jerusalem? It is alleged that it is being built on land that was confiscated from the Palestinians. There was a big op-ed yesterday in The New York Times. I wonder if you saw it.
MR PRICE: I did see it, and I appreciate the opportunity to comment on it – primarily because there has been some misinformation or some misimpressions about our plans. To be very clear, we have not decided on which site to pursue. A number of factors, including the history of the various sites that are in contention will be part of that very site selection process. We are committed, as you know, Said, to keeping the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. The United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Jerusalem itself, of course, is a final status issue to be resolved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and we’re currently considering two options for our future embassy facility in Jerusalem. One is the Allenby site and the second is the Arnona site. But again no decision has been made on site selection. In accordance with Israeli law, we started the process to amend the town plan for both potential locations. The public comment period for the Allenby site remains open. We also expect to advance the plan for the Arnona site shortly, with a separate comment period to open soon.
The reason there is a comment period is so that we can garner a fuller sense of public reaction, public response to sites that may be in contention. The public comment periods will allow the public to voice any objections to the proposed zoning changes before the district committee asks for any adjustments to those proposed zoning changes. Construction, location, and a range of other factors, including – as I said before – the history of these very sites will be part of that ultimate site selection.
QUESTION: So let me ask you, in retrospect – I mean, this has been since 2017 when the former administration recognized Jerusalem as capital. No one really has followed through, none of your allies – not the British, not the Germans – nobody did. Was it a mistake, perhaps, maybe you can nullify this and go back to Tel Aviv until the Jerusalem issue is resolved? I mean, there is an international status for Jerusalem that you could – that you have followed for a very long time – for decades – but you could redo the same thing.
MR PRICE: Said, Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. The last administration recognized that; this administration recognizes that. But what has not changed is the fact of the status of Jerusalem as a final status issue. This issue – the final status of the Holy City – is to be determined between and by the parties themselves, Israelis and Palestinians.
QUESTION: One more —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: One more question on this issue. This year has been very bloody for the Palestinians, as has the last year. More than 14 or 15 Palestinians – many of them kids, teenagers, and so on – have been killed. Are you concerned that maybe the Israeli occupation army has been too trigger happy, that they shoot and then find out what was – what’s going on? And would you call on them perhaps to pull back from this shoot first policy?
MR PRICE: Said, you made reference to the tragic loss of life that we’ve seen on the part of Palestinians and Israelis over the course of the latter part of last year and then this year. Today, of course, is the 18th of January. We’re only 18 days into this month, and already, since the beginning of this year alone, 15 Palestinians have been killed. Several Israelis have been injured in the West Bank. We are deeply concerned by the situation in the West Bank. The preceding period has seen a sharp and alarming increase in Palestinian and Israeli deaths and injuries, including many children among them.
We continue to emphasize to both parties, Israelis and Palestinians, that we want to see a de-escalation of tensions. We want to see constructive engagement. We continue to emphasize to both Israelis and Palestinians that they both equally deserve to have equal measures of security, stability, justice, dignity, and democracy. It is alarming to see the pace of violence, the rate of deaths, of injuries. It is also incumbent on the parties to take steps themselves to see a diminution in the tensions that have spiked in recent weeks and months.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on Jerusalem?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: As you know, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Brett McGurk are in Israel now. They expect also to meet with President Abbas. You know that, right?
MR PRICE: I am aware.
QUESTION: You look a bit surprised. (Laughter.)
MR PRICE: I am aware. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Okay. So basically, John Kirby told me today that the purpose of the visit was to emphasize the U.S. position vis-à-vis the two-state solution, and also to encourage the parties, as you said, to not to undermine that prospect. So is the U. S. current policy – is to keep the status quo in the Palestinian areas or not to be involved in any peace prospect, not to encourage the Israelis and Palestinians to get into any peace process or negotiation considering the – Netanyahu may have government being right wing – I mean, are there ways like basically we will be happy just to keep things as they are and not to initiate anything new?
MR PRICE: Our policy is fundamentally a pragmatic one. At the present moment – and this goes back to Said’s question – we recognize the deeply concerning trends that have taken place and, in some ways, accelerated in recent months, but also over the course of several years now. Those are the very trends that, over the course of last year and then earlier this year, have led to extraordinarily high, far too high numbers of deaths and injuries, both on the part of Palestinians and Israelis.
So task number one, as we see it, is to do what we can to help de-escalate tensions, to see to it that this alarming rate of violence is diminished, that tensions are eased, and to encourage both sides to refrain from steps that only further exacerbate tensions. Our first priority at the present moment is doing just that, is seeing if we can be a constructive voice, a constructive partner in helping the two sides de-escalate and put an end to this cycle of violence.
Now, of course our longer-term approach continues to be support for a negotiated two-state solution, a negotiated two-state solution that will bring into existence what we ultimately hope to see: Israelis and Palestinians living side by side equally, enjoying equal measures of stability, of security, of democracy, of dignity, of prosperity as well. Now, of course, this is a moment in some ways of triage. Our end goal is one that is quite far off. We recognize that at the moment. No one at the moment is speaking to the possibility of near-term constructive dialogue culminating anytime soon in a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. We acknowledge that; we appreciate that. That’s why our approach is practical, it’s pragmatic, it is focused on what Palestinians need at the moment and what Israelis need at the moment.
In delivering that, what we are trying to do is to set the stage so that the parties can, over the longer term, make progress towards what remains our goal, what has remained the goal of Israelis and Palestinians over successive decades, and that is a two-state solution to this longstanding conflict.
QUESTION: I want to ask you about Yemen unless somebody want to ask about Israel.
MR PRICE: Anything else on Israel?
QUESTION: Just one more on this Israel-related trip. Are you in a position to confirm the media reports that the U.S. has moved munitions stored in Israel to Ukraine for use in Ukraine? If so, can you speak to the significance of that, and also what other steps do you expect from Israel given the fact that there’s a negotiation going on?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to speak to that report. I would refer you to DOD if they’re in a position to speak to those types of tactical movements. That’s not something we would speak to from here. I suspect it’s also not something that our partners throughout the government would speak to in any detail as well.
QUESTION: May I ask (inaudible) topic, if possible – housekeeping —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Housekeeping first, you started the briefing by welcoming our guests. When it comes to foreign leaders’ trips to this building, the recent practice has been on the part – the trips from – not the countries like (inaudible) countries, but allies and partners, the practice has been the Secretary would put together a press conference along with the guest leader. The fact that there is no press conference featuring the today’s dialogue, how do you want us to read that? Is it a reflection of the nature of the trip or the nature of the relationship between Türkiye and the U.S. or the nature of the state of press freedom in Türkiye.
MR PRICE: I certainly wouldn’t read much into it. This is a discussion we have with our guests. It is also a factor of the Secretary’s schedule, of the schedule of the visiting dignitary. Of course, you’re asking this one day after Secretary Blinken spent 45 minutes to an hour in front of all of you with Foreign Secretary Cleverly, and we were in a position —
QUESTION: No, no, hold on – let’s say you started 45 minutes to an hour late.
MR PRICE: Thank you, Matt.
QUESTION: I’m not sure that they actually spent 45 minutes to an hour in front of —
MR PRICE: I wasn’t – I wasn’t counting the time, but it was about 45 minutes, if I recall – rough estimate, at least. So as you know, with some visiting dignitaries, we are in a position to have a joint press avail with some scheduling constraints; preferences on the part of our guests or other considerations preclude that.
QUESTION: I mean – and there’s no other reason why Turkish foreign minister would be deprived of the State Department podium, right?
MR PRICE: You all heard from Foreign Minister Cavusoglu today. You all heard from Secretary Blinken today as well. These are questions that we coordinate with our visiting guests.
QUESTION: May I move to South Caucasus, if possible?
MR PRICE: Let – let me —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) something about Türkiye?
MR PRICE: Yeah, sure. Türkiye?
QUESTION: Yeah, so – specifically on Türkiye. The foreign – Turkish foreign minister said he expected the United States to approve the sale of F-16s – he said that to the Secretary, obviously. What will be the message of the Secretary, given that the U.S. Government officially supports this deal, but there’s strong opposition in Congress? So what are your expectations the Secretary will tell the Turkish foreign minister on this issue?
MR PRICE: Well, I expect our Turkish allies will be hearing – because the meeting is ongoing now – a similar message to what they have heard, President Erdogan has heard directly from President Biden, and what all of you have heard, because President Biden said this publicly in June in Madrid. When it comes to the F-16s, President Biden said that as a general matter, he believes that we should sell Türkiye the F-16 jets and modernize their existing fleet as well.
As you know, there is a process for these types of sales, these types of transfers. This is a process that involves Congress, of course, and we would decline to comment on the particulars of that process until and unless there is any formal notification to Congress. We are not in a position to do that yet; our position has not changed. It is also fair to say – and I don’t think I’m betraying any secrets, because our partners on the Hill have been quite vocal about this as well – is that there are strong opinions on the Hill.
So we will continue to engage with our Turkish partners. We will, as appropriate, engage with our partners on the Hill. We want to see to it that Türkiye, as a NATO Ally, has what it needs to be – continue to be a valued member of that Alliance and to address the very real security concerns that Türkiye itself faces.
QUESTION: Thank you, please. Senator Menendez said that he is going to block the transfer of F-16s to Türkiye, and he said till Ankara, as he said, improves its human rights record and cease threatening U.S. regional allies like Greece and Cyprus. He said that Erdogan is undermining international law, and Türkiye is not a good ally. I don’t know if you agree with the senator, but I wanted to hear your comment, please.
MR PRICE: Well, Congress has a key role to play when it comes to these decisions. This is a process that we respect. It has been a priority of this Secretary to engage with Congress not only, as he likes to say, on landing, but also at the takeoff; that is to say, at every step of the process, to have iterative engagement with our congressional overseers, but also the authorizers and approvers, including those who sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
We have a very constructive relationship with Türkiye. We are grateful for the role that Türkiye has played in helping to address many of the most pressing challenges of our time, and that includes, of course, Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that without Türkiye’s constructive role, we would not have the Black Sea Grain Initiative, certainly not the grain initiative that is functioning at the scope and scale that it is now. We’ve consistently said that we are grateful for Türkiye’s role in that. We’re also appreciative of the fact that President Erdogan and his government has used their somewhat unique position to seek to address Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Now, it is not for any lack of trying on Ankara’s part that those efforts have not diminished or put an end to this war. That is a function of President Putin – his determination to continue this brutal war despite the costs that it’s inflicting on his own people.
Now, as allies, where and when we have disagreements, we can be candid about those disagreements, and we’ll speak clearly when it comes to shared values and shared interests. We’ve said this many times before: We remain deeply concerned by the continued judicial harassment of civil society, media, political and business leaders in Türkiye, including through prolonged pretrial detention, overly broad claims of support for terrorism, and criminal insult cases.
The people of Türkiye, like people everywhere, deserve to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms without fear of retribution. The right to exercise freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association is enshrined in Türkiye’s constitution, and in its international law obligations, and in its OSCE commitments.
We urge Türkiye to respect and ensure freedom of expression, these very fair pretrial guarantees, fair trial guarantees, judicial independence, and other human rights and fundamental freedoms. And we urge the government to cease prosecutions, these prosecutions, and to respect the rights and freedoms of all Turkish citizens. Our Turkish allies know where we stand on this; the message we convey in private is precisely the message we’ve consistently conveyed in public.
QUESTION: Another question, please. You said that you are happy, of course, with the role that Türkiye has played with the Ukraine. But are you happy with the role that Türkiye is playing in northern Syria? I mean, Mr. Kalin said two days ago that they are going to invade.
MR PRICE: And this is an area where we’ve also been in a position to have candid conversations with our ally, precisely because we are allies. And when you’re friends, let alone when you’re allies, you have the ability to sit down together and to be frank with one another, and we’ve done that. But we’ve also recognized that Türkiye faces legitimate threats to its own security. Türkiye has endured more terrorist attacks on its soil than any other NATO Ally. This goes back to the point I was making before about our desire to see Türkiye continue to be an important, constructive NATO Ally with the means by which to participate meaningfully in that Alliance, as Türkiye has.
When it comes to Syria, we’ve been clear publicly – also privately – that we don’t want to see any unilateral actions that have the potential to set back the tremendous progress that the international community has achieved in the effort to counter ISIS, counter Daesh, over the past several years. The so-called territorial caliphate of ISIS has been virtually destroyed. It has been virtually destroyed because of the stalwart coordination and cooperation on the part of dozens of countries who are part of the global coalition to counter ISIS or Daesh.
We are concerned that any unilateral moves have the potential to set that back and have the potential to set back the prospects for a political resolution to the longstanding – 12 years now – conflict in Syria in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
QUESTION: Sorry. At the very beginning of your – you said you are grateful for the – I think this is a quote – “grateful for the role that Türkiye has played in helping to address many of the most pressing challenges of our time.” You named one, which was the Black Sea initiative. But then after that, you listed a whole bunch of problems that you have with Türkiye, including the human rights situation, Syria just now. You didn’t mention but it’s clear that there are differences over NATO expansion as well. So can you name – I mean, you only named one. So when you say “many of the most pressing challenges of our time,” I’d like to give you the opportunity to identify another —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — other than the Black Sea initiative.
MR PRICE: So embedded in what I said were two high-profile priorities of ours. Number one is Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and I believe I mentioned this, but Türkiye has played a very helpful, meaningfully helpful role in seeking to put an end to this conflict, or at the very least diminish the violence. They have —
QUESTION: Well – okay. But whatever they’ve done, as laudable as it might be, it doesn’t seem to have worked.
MR PRICE: And again, that is – that is not – that is not for lack of trying on the part of Ankara. That is —
QUESTION: Okay. So you’re – so you’re giving them credit for trying to push the Russians to stop —
MR PRICE: Of course.
QUESTION: – their aggression against Ukraine. And you’ve got – okay. So that’s two.
MR PRICE: And dealing with the implications of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, food insecurity being one of them. That’s embedded in the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
QUESTION: Okay, but that’s – that’s the second one. So there’s two. But you said “many of the most pressing challenges of our time.” So give me another example.
MR PRICE: Another example, Matt, is terrorism and the joint efforts that we’ve —
QUESTION: You just went after them about Syria, which —
MR PRICE: — that Türkiye has taken, including the steps that we announced together just a couple weeks ago now to go after a network of ISIS facilitators.
QUESTION: That was, like, four people.
MR PRICE: Yes, Matt. But Türkiye has been a valued member of this coalition. Its efforts have been —
QUESTION: Okay. I’m not saying that they’re not doing any of this. I’d just like to have another example. When you say “many,” does “many” mean two?
MR PRICE: Many ways —
QUESTION: Does it mean – does it mean three? Okay. So you’ve got Black Sea and then they attempt to get the Russians – not successfully, but they attempt to get the Russians to ease up in Ukraine. You don’t like what they’re doing or what they’re threatening to do in Syria. On terrorism, yeah, okay, so you have one joint statement over the course of the last year about sanctions. I’m just wondering where the “many of the most pressing challenges” are, and I’m not – again, I’m not saying the Turks aren’t doing anything about this, but I’d just like you – I’d like to give you the opportunity to explain what those are.
MR PRICE: And I think we’ve just gone through a number of them, not to mention Türkiye’s role in NATO over the course of several —
QUESTION: Türkiye’s role in NATO – they’re stopping —
MR PRICE: Over the – over the – over the course —
QUESTION: They are the main obstacle to NATO doing what it wants to do right now in expansion.
MR PRICE: Over the course of several decades.
QUESTION: Can you explain that deal —
MR PRICE: Yes. Let me move around to someone who hasn’t had a question yet.
QUESTION: On the Turks —
QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you. Let’s do a – different issues, please. Thank you. Yeah, I have two questions for the North Korea. North Korea refuted the message from the UN Security Council that it should return to denuclearization negotiations. At the same time, the North Korean foreign ministry announced that their status as a nuclear power was a stark reality. Do you think North Korea declared itself a nuclear state? How do you see this?
MR PRICE: Well, it doesn’t change our overarching goal, and that remains the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Of course, the DPRK has demonstrated its capabilities when it comes to its illegal nuclear weapons program, when it comes to its ballistic missile program. We continue to be concerned that the DPRK may make additional provocations, and “provocations” is probably too euphemistic of a term for it. Each and every one of the DPRK’s ballistic missile launches – certainly each and every one of the DPRK’s six tests of its nuclear weapons – pose a profound and, in some cases, grave threat to international peace and security, certainly to the security and to the peace of the Indo-Pacific region.
So despite the comments that we’ve heard from the DPRK, despite the provocations that we’ve seen from the DPRK and that we may yet see, our approach will remain steadfast. It’s an approach that we honed early on in this administration, but just as importantly if not more importantly, it’s an approach that we’ve adopted jointly with our treaty allies – in this case, Japan and the ROK.
We are committed to the security of our treaty allies. We will take steps as appropriate in response to any additional provocations by the DPRK, and we’ll continue to work with partners and allies around the world to see to it that the DPRK is held accountable for its unlawful programs – its ballistic missile program, its nuclear weapons program – and to do everything we can to see to it that especially members of the UN Security Council uphold the commitments that they’ve made – the binding commitments that they’ve made in successive UN Security Council resolutions – to impose cause and – costs and consequences on the DPRK for these illegal acts.
QUESTION: The last one – this is very serious issues; maybe you (inaudible). Recently, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has purged many North Korean officials who led the dialogue between the United States and North Korea in the past, including the North Korean foreign minister and the highest-ranking officials. How do you see the future prospect for dialogue between the United States and North Korea?
MR PRICE: I’ve seen those reports; I’m not in a position to confirm them. But the latter part of your question is really a better question for the DPRK, because we have a vision for what could be if only the DPRK would agree to engage in the pragmatic, practical discussion and dialogue that we’ve put on the table for months and months now. We have made no secret of the fact we wish to engage with the DPRK on the basis of the ultimate denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula to discuss how we might – again, with practical, pragmatic steps – advance that vision that we’ve put forward that would be in the interests of the United States, of our partners and allies, of the broader region, and, we think, in the interests of the DPRK itself.
Of course, the DPRK has to date shunned those offers. It has responded to our repeated statements that we harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK, to our repeated offers to engage in dialogue, with only more provocations and more threats. That is a dynamic that we are using various tools at our disposal to seek to change. It’s a dynamic that we would like to see changed.
QUESTION: The last one – China. And China said that there are limits to – persuading North Korea. Would Secretary Blinken discuss these issues during the – his visit to China this time?
MR PRICE: I am certain that the challenge that the DPRK poses to the Indo-Pacific region and beyond will be on the agenda when Secretary Blinken travels to Beijing.
QUESTION: A China question?
MR PRICE: Okay, one more —
QUESTION: China? China?
MR PRICE: China, and then I’ll come back.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. Last week we heard a lot about what the U.S. and Mexico can do to stop fentanyl to arrive to the Western Hemisphere. But we didn’t hear that much about what the U.S. and Mexico are doing to press China on the illegal exportation of precursor chemicals to produce fentanyl. Can you describe what’s the current status of any dialogue between the U.S. and China on precisely this issue, the illegal exportation of fentanyl precursors?
MR PRICE: Sure. Let me start by saying that this is a priority of Secretary Blinken. He consistently brings up to his senior team the threat that fentanyl poses to the international community but, in very real terms, poses to the American people. It is the leading killer of Americans between the age – ages of 18 to 49. It presents a clear and present danger to our people but, to your question, to people around the world. This is the very definition of a transnational challenge because it is a drug whose precursors originate in various places around the world. its manufacturing takes place in very places – various places around the world, and it kills far too many people around the world as well.
That is why he has directed his team to do everything we can, often in concert with our partners in the U.S. Government – whether that’s the DEA, whether that’s customs – the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border enforcement, whether that is other partners as well – to address the challenge that fentanyl poses.
When it comes to the PRC, since the PRC scheduled fentanyl and related substances as a – as a class in 2019, the PRC is no longer a major source of fentanyl flowing into the United States. We continue to see PRC-origin precursor chemicals being used in illicit fentanyl production. Though its past action has helped to counter illicit synthetic drugs, we continue to urge the PRC to take additional meaningful concrete action to curb the diversion of precursor chemicals and equipment used by criminals to manufacture fentanyl and other synthetic drugs.
We are committed to working with the PRC. We often talk about the areas in which the United States and the PRC can work together constructively to deepen that collaboration to the betterment of our two peoples but also to the betterment of people around the world. This is very much one of those areas. It is a challenge for the Chinese people, it is a challenge for the American people, and we hope that we can continue to collaborate effectively and constructively with the PRC to take on this challenge.
QUESTION: Over the last week there’s been a little bit more data sharing from China on COVID after a back and forth with the WHO. Is the U.S. satisfied with the level of transparency in recent days from China on COVID, or would you like to see more transparency over data on illnesses and infections and deaths?
MR PRICE: So this is really a better question for the WHO. The WHO is in the best position to judge the level of transparency that the PRC is exhibiting. They’ve made various statements. There was a session between WHO officials and PRC officials early this year. In the aftermath of that session, the WHO issued a public statement. Over the weekend, I believe it was, the PRC provided additional data, and that was welcomed by the WHO. We continue to urge transparency on COVID-19 data, including from the PRC. Our position is the position of scientists; public health experts around the world that without this data, it will be difficult for public health officials to ensure they will be prepared to reduce the spread and identify any new potential variants.
So we continue to urge the PRC to be fully transparent. The measures that we put in place, the measures that we announced just before the new year and put into place earlier this year, the pre?departure testing for individuals traveling from the PRC to the United States also made this point. Those measures are based on both the prevalence of COVID in the PRC, but also what we were seeing at the time – or namely what we were not seeing at the time – the lack of transparent data distribution from the PRC, principally to the WHO, including the genomic sequencing so that the WHO could have an early warning should any new variants develop and be spreading beyond the PRC’s borders.
QUESTION: And has that lack of data colored any of the discussions between the U.S. and China in the leadup to the – to Blinken’s visit in February? Has it —
MR PRICE: If by colored, do you mean has it derailed, has it disrupted the planning? I’ll say that Secretary Blinken fully expects to travel to Beijing next month. That is something that we are still planning for on a daily basis, including – we’re working closely with our counterparts in the PRC to see to it that this trip is constructive, it is productive, that it’s substantive as well.
QUESTION: European Parliament is calling on European Union to blacklist Iran’s IRGC. On Thursday European Parliament is expected to pass another resolution which includes a call to declare the IRGC a terrorist organization. Do you have any comment on that? Do you have a word of encouragement – because four years ago, U.S. decided to put IRGC on FTO, and four years later European countries seems to reach the same point as U.S. was four years ago.
MR PRICE: On questions like this, we tend not to be prescriptive just because each country, or in this case each bloc of countries, have their own authorities, they have their own evidentiary requirements and evidentiary basis for determining whether a particular group – in this case the IRGC – would qualify under their own legislation, be it domestic or be it continent-wide in this case.
What – where we do see eye to eye with our European partners is a recognition that Iran is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. There is no more nefarious exporter of international terrorism than Iran. There is no disagreement between the United States and our European allies on this. We’re also clear-eyed about the need to cooperate to counter the threats that are posed by the IRGC over the past – well, certainly in recent years. Europe, the United States, countries around the world and regions around the world have seen all too vivid demonstrations of the lethality of the IRGC, of its repugnant willingness to take innocent lives in its operations. So we’re committed to continuing to work with the EU and with other allies and partners on this very challenge.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. In reaction to this development in the European Union parliament, a member of the Iranian parliament has said that if the EU does designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization, the Islamic Republic would designate Britain, Germany, France, and the EU also as terrorists. And he continued to say, and I quote, that “the defenders of Iran know how to deal with terrorists,” unquote. Any comments? Do you think this is clearly a threat and it should be – should it be taken seriously?
MR PRICE: We don’t respond to threats. We condemn them. What we do respond to is any threat to American citizens, threat to our partners. Countries around the world, including Iran, know full well that we take such – any such real threats seriously, and we’re prepared to respond and respond decisively if appropriate. Anything else on Iran?
QUESTION: Related, kind of.
MR PRICE: Okay. We’ll see how related or kind of that is.
QUESTION: Yemen, Yemen. So yesterday the White House issued a statement – and then – I think it’s a year anniversary of the Houthis’ attack on UAE, and they said basically that this is a heinous terrorist attack. So if this is the case – if you describe the Houthis as a terrorist organization, why are they not on the FTO till now? I mean, what is this deliberation as we speak?
MR PRICE: So when it comes to the Houthis, you are right that we did condemn the terrorist attack that the Houthis perpetrated against our Emirati partners one year ago yesterday. President Biden issued a statement. Secretary Blinken issued a statement. In both of those statements, we reiterated our commitment to working with our Emirati partners to help them, help them defend against such cross-border attacks.
We do that in a variety of ways. We’re committed to continuing to do that going forward, just as we’re committed to our much broader partnership with the UAE. It’s a partnership that has realized but also has far more potential to bring about a region that is more stable, is more integrated, and more prosperous as well. And we’re committed to working with President MBZ and Foreign Minister ABZ in an effort to promote that vision.
When it comes to the Houthis, we are under no illusions about the Houthis, the challenge they pose, and the threat that they have the potential to pose as well. What you’ve seen over the course of this administration is a focus on putting an end to the civil war in Yemen, a civil war that the Houthis have at key moments only sought to propagate and extend. Over the past year or so, we have achieved a great deal of success. Levels of violence are greatly diminished. There was a cessation of hostilities that was formally in place.
Even as that cessation of hostilities has at least formally expired, the level of violence have remained quite low. That is good for the people of Yemen. It is also good for our partners in the region as they have endured fewer of these repugnant cross-border attacks that have targeted the UAE, have targeted Saudi Arabia, and others as well.
There are ways that we have to hold the Houthis to account. They – we have taken action against specific Houthi leaders. The group as a whole is designated under various authorities, but we made very clear that when the last administration in the final hour – almost literally – labeled the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, that came with a series of consequences – some perhaps intended; many perhaps unintended. Among those unintended consequences were profound costs on the people of Yemen.
We heard loud and clear from humanitarian actors, NGOs who were operating on the ground that the FTOs, that the – the fact that the Houthis had been labeled an FTO precluded them from providing, or at least limited their ability to provide, lifesaving humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen. So we made a determination early in this administration that we could do two things at once: We could hold the Houthis to account with various authorities, including authorities attached to individual Houthi leaders, while removing the roadblocks that had stymied the provision, or potentially in some cases stymied the provision, of humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen.
I think our approach to the Houthis, our approach to investing so much in diplomacy with Special Envoy Tim Lenderking leading the charge under the direction of Secretary Blinken, has proved its effectiveness. We have seen a period of stability and diminution of tensions that we have not seen in some eight years, since the start of this conflict in 2014. It is our hope to build on the progress that we’ve achieved, even as we continue to partner with our partners and allies in the region, including the Emiratis, including the Saudis, to see to it they have what they need to defend themselves.
Let me move to someone who hasn’t had a question. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. I just wanted to go back to Türkiye really quickly.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Specifically – pardon me – Senator Menendez. As you know – as you know, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, he can basically block this F-16 sale as long as he wants. So if the Biden administration is committed to getting this sale done, it will have to persuade him to get on board with it. So what’s the State Department’s game plan to get Senator Menendez to lift his opposition to the sale?
MR PRICE: Sure. As you know, we don’t often detail our private diplomacy. The same principle applies to our private conversations with our congressional partners, so I don’t want to go too far down this road. What I will say is that we have conveyed to our partners on the Hill our support for the provision of F-16s and for enabling Türkiye to maintain its existing fleet of F?16s. Again, our partners on the Hill – at least several of them – have made no secret about their opposition to this. They have pointed to various elements. These are questions that will – are better addressed for our congressional partners.
We are going to continue to work with the Turks on priorities of ours. Again, that is the war in Ukraine, the constructive role that Türkiye has played. It is its unique role as a bridge between East and West, in this case using its good offices, or at least its voice, to encourage Russia to end this brutal war against the people of Ukraine. We’re going to continue to work on food security, we’re going to continue to work on our shared counterterrorism agenda, even as we continue to encourage Türkiye, Finland, Sweden to find a way to achieve what we would all like to see, and that is the quick accession of Finland and Sweden as NATO’s newest Allies.
There is strong support within the Alliance, but, to the point of your question, there is strong support within the U.S. Congress for Finland and Sweden to be – to become NATO’s newest members. When the treaty was put before the Senate last year, it was approved in near record time on an overwhelming and bipartisan basis. Congress has made no secret of its support. Of course, we share the enthusiasm that we’ve heard from our Hill partners when it comes to Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership. And we’re going to continue to encourage Finland, Sweden, Türkiye to engage in constructive dialogue to see this through just as quickly as can be managed.
Let me – Kylie. Kylie.
QUESTION: Could I just ask one question for a minute?
MR PRICE: Kylie, go ahead. Kylie.
QUESTION: There’s a few articles out right now about targeting in Crimea, the Crimean Peninsula. I’m just wondering: Over the course of the last year, has the U.S. ever put limits on where Ukraine can or cannot use their weapons? Have they been allowed to use those weapons to attack Russians in the Crimean Peninsula or in Crimea?
MR PRICE: To the first part of your question, we are providing Ukraine with the security assistance, the weapons and supplies it needs to defend its territory, to defend its territory against this Russian aggression, against these Russian invaders.
QUESTION: Including Crimea?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Including Crimea?
MR PRICE: Crimea is Ukraine. We are, of course, not making targeting decisions on behalf of our Ukrainian partners. These decisions are up to them. But as you know, the United States and countries around the world have never recognized Russia’s purported annexation of parts of eastern Ukraine or its purported annexation of Crimea. Crimea is Ukraine. That is not going to change. We have provided our Ukrainian partners with precisely what they need to take on the threat where it is raging most violently. Right now that is in the east, it’s in the Donbas. This has been the case for some time.
But as you track the provision of U.S. security assistance from well before February 24th, as we saw the potential storm clouds approaching to the start of Russia’s war on February 24th, you see the evolution, going from the battle of Kyiv, where Stingers and Javelins were in need and requested by our Ukrainian partners, to what we’ve provided in recent weeks and months: HIMARS, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, long-range artillery, the longer-range systems that Ukraine needs to take on Russian positions on sovereign Ukrainian soil.
Now, what we have not done, we have neither encouraged nor enabled our Ukrainian partners to strike beyond their borders. Everything we are providing to Ukraine is for a singular purpose, and that’s for its self-defense.
QUESTION: And just one quick question. You said the advice of the U.S. is – would be to take on the threat where it’s raging most violently, and right now that’s in the east and in the Donbas. So if they are using the weaponry to go after targets in Crimea or the Crimean Peninsula, is that supported by the U.S.? Is that a move that you see as the most productive use of the weaponry that they have at their dispense right now?
MR PRICE: So we are not calling the shots when it comes to targeting. We are – and when I say “we,” in this case it’s our Department of Defense counterparts – they are in constant conversation with our Ukrainian partners about the dynamics, about the systems that would be appropriate for the threat that Ukraine is facing at each moment during the course of this invasion. But ultimately, it is up to our Ukrainian partners to determine how – how best, where – to use these weapons and supplies to defend their sovereign territory.
QUESTION: And if that – and if they believe they’re best used targeting the Crimean Peninsula, then you support that?
MR PRICE: Again, it is – we are not calling the shots. These are questions – just as the ultimate question of negotiations, what that looks like, what the Ukrainians are vying for in the course of any future negotiations, these are questions for our Ukrainian partners.
QUESTION: Can you clarify something on (inaudible)…
MR PRICE: Yes. Let me move to people who have not had a question.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Yesterday – two days ago, Peskov, Kremlin spokesperson, didn’t rule out a meeting between CIA Burns – Director Burns and any Russian officials. Do we expect something in the near future, such a meeting?
MR PRICE: Even if we had something to say there, that is not a question I would wade into. Now, of course the Russians consistently like to allude to potential engagement with the United States, just as they do with other close allies of ours. Our longstanding position since the start of Russia’s aggression is that it can’t be business as usual.
If there are discreet elements that we need to convey to our Russian partners, elements that are profoundly in our national security interest, we have channels to be able to do so. Secretary Blinken has picked up the phone to Foreign Minister Lavrov when it came to Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, the detained AMCITs at the time. We’ve conveyed in no uncertain terms the consequences of annexation. Secretary Blinken did that as well. We’ve also conveyed in no uncertain terms the costs and consequences that would come with the use of a chemical weapon or a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Next Monday there is a meeting on Lebanon between the Saudis, the Qataris, and the French, and the U.S. Would Assistant Secretary Leaf attend this meeting? And also, what’s your position on the presidential election in Lebanon? I mean, do you support an agreement ahead of the election or do you want a president to be elected ahead of an agreement?
MR PRICE: To the second part of your question, this is a question for the Lebanese parliament. It’s a question for the Lebanese parliament to determine the next president in accordance with the demands of the Lebanese people, who continue to face a number of crises. We call on Lebanese – Lebanon’s leaders to quickly select a president and to subsequently form a government. The Lebanese people deserve political leadership willing to put the interests of the country first and a government able to implement long-overdue reforms critical to unlocking crucial international support.
QUESTION: What’s the date on that guidance?
MR PRICE: We’ve been saying this for —
QUESTION: For about – what, about like 10 years?
MR PRICE: Well, not quite that long. But as to any engagements next week, if we have details to share in advance, we’ll do that.
QUESTION: Just one more question, please, on Saudi Arabia.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Yesterday in an interview with Bloomberg, Saudi finance minister said – hinted that the Saudis are open to discussion – discussions about the trade in currencies other than the U.S. dollar. Do you have any comment on that?
MR PRICE: I do not. I do not.
QUESTION: Can you clarify something on Türkiye? You said that Türkiye faces real threat of terrorism, and you understand that. But you don’t see eye to eye with them, because they consider the YPG to be a terrorist organization and the flipside of the PKK. You don’t see eye to eye on that, do you?
MR PRICE: Said, we’ve been clear that with our allies, we may not always see eye to eye. We have disagreements with our Turkish allies. That doesn’t diminish the alliance between our two countries. That doesn’t diminish the fact that we share interests, and as partners, as an alliance, there are fundamental values that we want to see protected as well.
QUESTION: But you’re on opposite sides. I mean, you support the YPG, and they are your allies and so on, and Türkiye is going to attack them, maybe any time. So what will your position be if this happens?
MR PRICE: Our position will be precisely what I spent probably five minutes describing earlier in this briefing.
QUESTION: And my question is on South Caucasus. But before we get there, just to clarify, you – in answer to the question on Crimea, you said you never encouraged them to take the shot. On the reverse side, you will also not discourage them from retaking Crimea, right? You will not do or act in any way that would discourage Ukraine from doing what it —
MR PRICE: These ultimately are questions for our Ukrainian partners.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. And South Caucasus.
MR PRICE: I need to move on to people that have not had a question yet.
QUESTION: Different topic —
MR PRICE: I need to move on.
Yes, go ahead, go ahead.
QUESTION: Are you still in agreement with Türkiye over normalization with Syria? I’m sure this topic was on the table today up on the seventh floor. Are you still opposing Türkiye normalizing with Syria?
MR PRICE: I will allow our Turkish allies to note their approach to the Assad regime in Syria. Our approach to the Assad regime has not changed. We believe that now is not the time for normalization, now is not the time for countries to seek improvements in relations with the Syrian regime. One need only look at the track record of the regime over the past 12 years, the violence and brutality that the Assad regime has inflicted on its own people. We continue to believe in the utility of pursuing the goals and metrics enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
QUESTION: And Foreign Minister [Cavusoglu] was told that today?
MR PRICE: The meeting is still going on, so I’m just not in a position to speak to it.
QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Are you aware of the death of an American in Rosarito Beach, Mexico?
MR PRICE: Yes. Let me just pull this up. I can confirm the death of a U.S. Citizen in Baja California in Mexico. We stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. Out of respect for the privacy of the family, I just wouldn’t be in a position to comment any further.
QUESTION: Is there any investigation into his death, or is there any reason for suspicion of foul play?
MR PRICE: When a U.S. citizen dies in a foreign country, local authorities are responsible for determining the cause of death, issuing a death certificate, among other steps. We’ll support any Mexican investigation, we’ll continue to monitor it closely, but would refer you to Mexican authorities for details of their investigation.
QUESTION: I have a question for the U.S.-Japan. Following up on U.S.-Japan summit meeting, seems like it is necessary continue discuss specific measures such as countering, like, export of, like, a semiconductor. What is current outlook on that meeting? And how soon we can expect a U.S.-Japan economic version of the 2+2? In near future?
MR PRICE: Sorry, I didn’t – I missed the first part of your question. Was this in relation to the prime minister’s visit, or this was in relation to the Dutch prime minister’s visit?
QUESTION: The U.S.-Japan economic version 2+2 meeting.
MR PRICE: I don’t have any additional 2+2 meeting to announce. Of course, we had a meeting, what, I guess it was last week now, of the bilateral consultative committee with Japan, brought together our Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense with their Japanese counterparts. But I just don’t have any additional meetings to announce at this stage.
QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on Secretary Blinken’s visit to PRC. According to a political report last weekend, the date is likely to be on February 5th and 6th. Can you confirm anything on that report, including a possible counterpart in PRC?
MR PRICE: Including a possible —
MR PRICE: Counterpart.
MR PRICE: So I’m not in a position to confirm a date just yet. The Secretary has said for a number of weeks now that he will travel to the PRC early this year. Now that we are in early 2023, I would expect that the Secretary will have an opportunity to travel to Beijing next month. The details of that visit are still being worked out. And I would imagine if and when Secretary Blinken does travel to Beijing, he will have an opportunity to meet with several interlocutors to discuss the broad array of issues that form the basis of what is arguably the most consequential bilateral relationship in the world.
Final question. Alex.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. The Secretary today spoke with Armenian prime minister. Did he have a chance to dial Baku as well?
MR PRICE: Did we have a – I’m sorry?
QUESTION: To call Azerbaijani officials?
MR PRICE: So the Secretary did have an opportunity today to speak to the leader of Armenia. I do expect that he will have an opportunity in the coming days to speak to President Aliyev.
QUESTION: According to your readout, they discussed the steps to restart bilateral talks with Azerbaijan. I was just wondering, are we in the process of putting together another round of meeting, or the Secretary is just trying to test the waters with the side to see if there’s any appetite for next round of dialogue?
MR PRICE: We’re going to do what is ultimately most helpful. And at the end of last year, there were a couple meetings that the Secretary chaired between his counterparts, a trilateral meeting between Armenia, Azerbaijan, with Secretary Blinken in the middle. We did that at Blair House. We did that in New York. Of course, we’ve seen setbacks when it comes to Nagorno-Karabakh of late. We want to see constructive dialogue put back on track. We stand ready to engage bilaterally. We stand ready to engage with and through partners, through the OSCE or, if and when appropriate, trilaterally, as we have done in the past.
QUESTION: The same format or different format —
MR PRICE: We are going to do what is most effective at the right time.
QUESTION: I know who is not going to be behind the table, which is Ambassador Reeker.
MR PRICE: Yes. Yes.
QUESTION: Who is going to be behind table from the sides? Like are you seeking presidential-level meetings or the foreign ministers?
MR PRICE: So, of course, Ambassador Reeker did retire from the Department of State after an illustrious 30-year career just last week. But there are a number of individuals in this department who are deeply invested in this process, not the least of whom is Secretary Blinken himself. This is a personal priority of his. But people like Toria Nuland, people like Karen Donfried, people like a number of the senior officials in our Bureau of European and Eurasian affairs, will remain deeply engaged in this.
QUESTION: But from the other side, ministers or the presidents are you looking for? Who is going to be behind the other side of the table?
MR PRICE: That is for them to decide.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:20 p.m.)
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