State Dept Presser, July 28, 2022

Ned Price, spokesperson of State Dept held a press briefing on July 28, 20022.

Excerpts

QUESTION:  Following up on the Secretary’s remarks from yesterday on the – on Russia, has there been any movement on either the proposal that you have submitted or on arranging the Secretary’s phone call with Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR PRICE: …… we have made clear to the Russian Federation, that we are seeking a conversation between Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov. Before the Secretary spoke yesterday, we had made contact with the appropriate Russian counterparts to put in a call request. The Russians acknowledged that call request yesterday. We have continued to go back and forth.

As you know, Foreign Minister Lavrov is in the midst of travel, so I don’t have any update to provide in terms of when they may be able to connect, but we continue to discuss that in the appropriate channels.

Among the issues that the Secretary outlined that he would broach with Foreign Minister Lavrov first and foremost in this case is the continued wrongful detention of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. As part of that, the Secretary said yesterday that we had put forth a substantial proposal and that he would seek to use that call to attempt to move towards a resolution on the basis of that substantial proposal.

QUESTION:  Thanks so much.  Is there any scenario at this point that this call might not happen?  Because the Secretary was very diplomatic yesterday; he said he expects to speak with Lavrov. 

MR PRICE: Well, we do expect to speak with Foreign Minister Lavrov. We request – we put in a call request yesterday before you heard from the Secretary. It remains our expectation that the two will have an opportunity to speak, but again, I don’t have any updates to add at this point in terms of specific timing.

QUESTION:  I asked the Secretary earlier this month at the G20 summit specifically if there was a price to pay for Americans like Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, for his lack of engagement with his Russian counterpart. He said the same thing basically – Russia’s not ready to engage in meaningful diplomacy. Can you tell us where that calculus shifted? And also, that substantial proposal – that is for the freedom of Griner and Whelan – do you see any scenario where the U.S. completes a deal where just one of those detainees comes home?

MR PRICE: So, let me make a couple points. What you heard yesterday from the Secretary – of course, that isn’t something we do every day. But this is a horrifying practice that puts lives in the balance and, in cases, it calls for extraordinary tactics and measures.

And a few things to your question. The Secretary wanted to – and we wanted – to convey very clearly and directly to Foreign Minister Lavrov, so there is no mistake in Moscow, the priority we attach to the prompt resolution of these cases, meaning the prompt release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner. We believe that now that this message, this substantial proposal, has been conveyed directly and repeatedly through appropriate channels in recent weeks, of course without resolution, that now was the time for the Secretary to convey that message very clearly.

There are a range of concerns we have with Russia. The continued wrongful detention of these two individuals is one of them, but there are other issues that are vital priorities to us and also to the international community. And I mentioned two of them already – concerns regarding potential annexation by force, and then the fact that it remains incumbent on Moscow to uphold its commitments to the international community, but specifically in this case to Turkey, to Ukraine, and to the UN regarding the grain deal.

So again, this is not an opportunity for these two foreign ministers to engage in a negotiation. This is an opportunity for Secretary Blinken to convey very clearly, very directly on these areas that are of vital interest to us.

QUESTION: And can I quickly follow up? Do you have any update on Marc Fogel’s case and whether he’ll be deemed wrongfully detained?

MR PRICE: There’s nothing additional I’m in a position to offer at this stage. I addressed this issue broadly earlier this week, made a point of saying that we are providing all appropriate assistance to Americans who are detained in Russia. We continue to call on Moscow to provide regular, consistent consular access to our embassy to Americans who are in pretrial detention, to Americans who have been sentenced in Russia.

And again, there has been a discussion of this process of determining whether someone is wrongfully held. What I will say is that in all cases we consistently review the totality of the circumstances. And without going into a particular case, I will just say that we are always looking at developments; we are always looking at those circumstances in determining whether someone may be wrongfully held.

Yes. Anything else on this? Go ahead.

QUESTION: On China.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: And President Biden call with President Xi of PRC this morning. But the Chinese foreign minister – ministry spokesman announced that today that China will take crucial actions while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visit Taiwan. Do you know what the crucial actions is?

MR PRICE: When it comes to President Biden’s conversation today with President Xi, the White House issued a readout just a few moments ago. I expect you or your colleagues will have an opportunity to hear more about that call from my colleagues at the White House. So, I will refrain from commenting on that.

Again, we have all heard the statements from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I suspect they, too, have heard our statements. It is not for us to speak to any potential travel of any member of Congress, and that includes the speaker of the House in this case. I understand that her office has not announced or confirmed any travel.

What it is for us to do, on the other hand, is to provide members of Congress, including of course the speaker of the House, with relevant information and context for any potential travel. That includes security considerations; that includes geopolitical considerations. But we’re just not going to detail any such conversations.

QUESTION: The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced through the Korean Central News Agency yesterday that he was making full preparation to deter nuclear war and warned of the annihilation of South Korean Government and military. He also warned that the war would break out on the Korean Peninsula if Korea – U.S. and Korea exercise was continued. What is your comment on —

MR PRICE: The comments we’ve heard in recent hours are not categorically different from what we’ve heard from the DPRK regime over the course of recent months and recent years, unfortunately. We’re not going to respond to them. I think it is fair to say that the DPRK also won’t be surprised to hear the same message from us, and that is our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan, a commitment that remains ironclad.

The DPRK, as we’ve consistently said, constitutes a threat to international peace and security and the global non-proliferation regime. We have a vital interest in deterring the DPRK, defending against its provocation or the use of force, limiting the reach of the most dangerous weapons programs, and above all, keeping the American people, our deployed forces in the region, and our allies safe from any threat to international peace and security.

And to that end, we continue to consult closely with Japan, with the ROK, and with partners throughout the broader Indo-Pacific region and beyond on the threat that is posed by the DPRK’s WMD programs.

QUESTION: Ned, can you talk about the Chinese Americans who are believed to be wrongfully detained by the Chinese Government or who are under exit bans? Was that addressed during President Biden’s call with the Chinese President Xi Jinping? And is there any progress to bring them home?

MR PRICE: What I would say, Nike, is that in all relevant conversations with countries around the world, we raise cases of Americans who are wrongfully or arbitrarily detained or Americans who are otherwise unable to leave a particular country on their own free will. That is no exception in the case of the PRC, but it’s just not something that I’m going to be in a position to detail from here.

QUESTION: Is there a substantial proposal to the Chinese similar to the one to Russia?

MR PRICE: What I would say is that countries around the world where this is applicable know the priority, we attach to seeing to it that – to see to it that Americans who are arbitrarily detained or wrongfully held behind bars or otherwise prevented from leaving the country in cases of a coercive exit ban, for example, they know the priority we attach to that. They know that we are going to continue to seek to resolve these cases on a bilateral basis.

QUESTION: I recognize the White House will be briefing on the Biden-Xi call, but just to go back to that for a second. Your counterparts in the Chinese foreign ministry have already issued a readout on the call, and they kind of pointedly failed to use the word constructive to describe the talks, which they have used on a previous occasion. I’m just wondering – previous occasions for the Biden and Xi conversations. I’m just wondering: does the State Department believe that this call was constructive in terms of a high-level engagement between the U.S. and China? And I’m just wondering if I can get your assessment of the current trajectory of U.S.-China talks.

MR PRICE: I am going to let my White House counterparts characterize this call. What I can say from our part here at the State Department – of course, Secretary Blinken just a couple of weeks ago had an opportunity to engage Director, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang in Bali.

We found that engagement to be constructive and to be useful on key fronts, but perhaps no front is more important than the fact of that engagement, keeping open the lines of communication, ensuring that we are doing everything we can to ensure that the competition that defines the relationship between the United States and China – the most consequential bilateral relationship we have – does not veer from competition into conflict.

So again, I’ll defer to my White House colleagues, but that has been our experience, including with the most recent engagement that Foreign – that Secretary Blinken had with Foreign Minister Wang.

QUESTION: Could I ask you two things in Europe unrelated? In Greece, the top court – I believe it was yesterday – ruled effectively in favor of Iran, which has complained about the seizure of a Russian-operated oil tanker with its oil on there. Does the United States have any comment on this? Where does it go from here?

MR PRICE: Well, this case went through the Greek judicial process. We’re respectful of that. We don’t have a comment beyond that.

QUESTION: You don’t regret that it didn’t go what’s perceived as the United States’ way?

MR PRICE: It went through the Greek judicial system.

QUESTION: A few on Iran if that’s okay. Do you see the release of Morad Tahbaz as a positive sign for the other Americans held in Iran, or is this strictly tied to the Oman-facilitated UK-Iran prisoner exchange?

MR PRICE: Well, let me just say on his release – and you may have seen this, but we welcome the news that Iran has released U.S.-UK citizen Morad Tahbaz from prison, that he has been since released on bail. We’re grateful to Oman. We’re grateful to the UK for continuing to press Iran to fulfill this commitment. It remains one of our upmost priorities to secure the release and the safe return home of wrongfully detained Americans, and that includes Morad Tahbaz.

We’ve talked about this before – and I think Secretary Blinken alluded to it just yesterday – but the fact is that Iran is unjustly detaining innocent Americans and others and should release them immediately. Iran should also account for the fate of Bob Levinson. This is an issue that Secretary Blinken, that Special Envoy Malley, that our Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens – they regularly speak to the families of these wrongful detainees. They keep them apprised of our efforts to bring them home, of the priority we attach to this. I’m not going to speculate on what the furlough of Morad Tahbaz may signal beyond reiterating that the release of the Americans who are wrongfully detained in Iran is of utmost priority for us.

QUESTION: And then on a different topic, the G7 condemned Myanmar’s executions today. Is the U.S. planning on taking any additional steps, sanctions to further condemn the killings?

MR PRICE: All options are on the table. We have consistently said that as long as the junta continues to stand in the way of a return to Burma’s path to democracy, we will continue to impose costs and consequences on the junta. We are, again, looking at all potential options to do so. We’re considering and discussing some of those options with partners in the region and beyond. We are also cognizant of humanitarian concerns and the humanitarian imperatives facing the people of Burma, so of course we’re going to calibrate our response consistent with what is in the best humanitarian interests of the Burmese people. But as long as the junta continues its repression, as long as its senseless violence continues against the people of Burma, as long as it continues to stand in the way of a return to Burma’s democratic path, we’ll continue to increase the costs.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News, Pakistan. A couple of weeks ago, there were a few media reports in Pakistan claimed that close associate of Prime Minister Khan – former Prime Minister Khan – met with Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu here in State Department and conveyed the message, like, to forget the past and move forward. Is it – any kind of meeting held here?

MR PRICE: Again, if there was any such meeting, I just am not in a position to speak to it. We have – we remain engaged with a range of stakeholders in Pakistan, with those currently in government, and a broad array of others. But I’m just not in a position to speak to any such meeting.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Khan is leading a campaign in Pakistan, and the slogan of his campaign is, like, he will not be a slave of America. But with the current political wave in Pakistan supporting Khan, is the U.S. thinking open a window to talk to him?

MR PRICE: What we’ve said on this before remains true. We support the peaceful upholding of constitutional and democratic principles, including respect for human rights. We don’t support one political party over another. We support those broader principles of the rule of law and equal justice under the law.

QUESTION: So one last question. Last week, special assistant to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif met with assistant secretary of state here. Can you confirm that meeting, that in fact he was here?

MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to confirm that, but if we have anything to add or to confirm, we’ll let you know.

 QUESTION: About the political deadlock in Iraq, Iraqis’ failure to form a government. Does that raise concern here? Just yesterday, protesters loyal to Sadr stormed the Iraqi parliament in protest of a new candidate for the prime minister.

MR PRICE: On the issue of the protests, whether it’s in Iraq or elsewhere, we believe that public demonstrations are a fundamental element of all democracies, but there is no place for violence in these demonstrations, either on the part of security forces or on the part of protesters. We’ve consistently reaffirmed our commitment to a strong, stable, prosperous Iraq. A long-term, deep, multifaceted, strategic partnership with Iraq serves both our interests as well as Iraq’s interests. We’ve urged all parties to remain calm.

On the broader question of government formation following the elections, we’re prepared to work with the government that puts Iraqi sovereignty and the best interests of the people of Iraq at the heart of its agenda.

QUESTION: What does that “prepared” mean? Do you guys have a communication with the Iraqis on that?

MR PRICE: We are in close contact with our Iraqi partners as a matter of course from our embassy in Baghdad, as well as senior officials here, and this is not a process in which we involve ourselves – the internal political process. But again, we stand ready to work with any Iraqi government that puts the interests of the Iraqi people at the heart of its agenda.

QUESTION: Israel will allow Palestinians in the West Bank to travel abroad through the Ramon airport, and the PA is not excited at all about this idea and demanding that Israel allow the Palestinians to build a new airport in the West Bank. What is the U.S. view in this regard?

MR PRICE: Well, without speaking to this specifically, we would welcome all efforts that enable Israelis and Palestinians to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy. That includes all measures to facilitate increased freedom of travel for the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: And on another topic – on Israel too – Axios has reported that Israeli officials had a call with Senior Advisor Hochstein and White House Middle East Coordinator Brett McGurk on Tuesday and provided their updated position towards the maritime dispute with Lebanon. Per the report, the Israeli officials see a moment of opportunity to solve the dispute. What’s your assessment in this regard?

MR PRICE: I’m not in position to confirm the details of that report, but what I can say is that, as you know, Amos Hochstein was in the region, both in Israel and Lebanon, just a few weeks ago. Since then, he has remained in close contact with Israeli counterparts as well as with Lebanese counterparts. We have been able to help facilitate some progress, and that continued engagement with both parties is part of an effort to see to it that that momentum continues. And I suspect that he will remain in close touch with both governments going forward.

QUESTION: And my last question on Lebanon. Reuters has reported that a U.S.-sanctioned ship owned by the Syrian Government has docked in Lebanon’s Tripoli carrying grain stolen from Ukraine. Do you have any comment on that?

MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to comments on any particular ship or this report specifically. I saw it just shortly before I came out here. But what I can say is that we have been in a position to confirm the fact that the Russians have pilfered grain belonging to Ukraine. Tons of Ukrainian grain has made its way to the international market that has – on Russian ships, grain that belongs to the people of Ukraine.

So we have sought to shine a spotlight on this, to shine a spotlight on it as one of the practices that is preventing the free flow of grain to the global marketplace, to a marketplace that would enable that grain to reach the people who need it most. It is part and parcel of the broader set of Russian actions that have exacerbated the challenge of food insecurity that has led to such devastating consequences throughout the world, from sub-Saharan Africa to Latin America to parts of the Indo-Pacific as well.

Final question. Alex.

QUESTION: I have one more.

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: Ned, yes, back to Investment Climate Statements. Whoever got involved into this, thank you, because they’re very compelling reports. I just read reports on Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. I’m just wondering: how much do they reflect the latest situation given the implications of Russian aggression in the region?

And my second question: is there any reason why I cannot find Ukrainian report? And there’s no Russia report either, which is totally fair given the sanctions, but why Ukraine?

MR PRICE: So, you’re right that among the 160 or so economies included in these reports, Ukraine and Russia are not featured. We weren’t in a position to collect the appropriate data for Ukraine. And of course, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to dramatic shifts in the marketplace conditions in Russia. It’s no secret – and you heard from the Secretary yesterday, in fact – that some 1,000 multinational companies have left the Russian marketplace. It’s a very quickly evolving set of market conditions, evolving in a way that is not conducive to business or international investments. So, we were not in a position to write a country report for Russia.

QUESTION: And my first question on implications for the other regions, the South Caucasus – so how much do you think current ongoing Russian war is affecting the region, and how much is it reflected in this report?

MR PRICE: How much is reflected in this report?

QUESTION: I’m just wondering how much do they reflect current, latest situation in the region.

MR PRICE: Well, again, our goal with engagement with the South Caucasus is to move forward towards that comprehensive peace that we’ve talked about. I’m not certain that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine – I think the reports will discuss if there’s any implication for market conditions in the South Caucasus, but would need to refer you to the reports for that.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:07 p.m.)