US State Dept Presser

State Dept Presser Mar 8, 2023

30 Min
State Dept Presser Mar 8, 2023

The US State Dept held a Press Briefing  on March 8, 2023 with Ned Price, the spokesman articulating the American view on a host of issues including Afghan and Pakistan scene, and new US envoy to India.

Some excerpts.  The Q-A on Af-Pak is brought up

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. This year, in honour of Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s legacy and her championship of women’s rights, we are proud to announce a new, annual Madeleine Albright Honorary Group International Women of Courage Award. Given her longstanding support for women’s empowerment and leadership, we can’t think of someone who exemplifies the goals and values of the IWOC Award better than Former Secretary Albright.

This honorary group award provides us the opportunity to recognize the courage and leadership of women who would not normally be able to be feasibly or safely recognized with an individual IWOC Award. We’re proud to recognize the women and girl protestors of Iran with the inaugural Madeleine Albright Group Honorary Award this year.

Next and finally, the Black Sea Grain Initiative is a vital tool to combat global food insecurity and stabilize food prices. The United States strongly supports the efforts of Secretary General Guterres, in partnership with Türkiye, to bring Ukrainian and Russian grain to world markets. We echo the secretary general’s call from Kyiv today for the initiative to be extended and expanded before March 18th, and we agree that the initiative should enable the greatest possible use of Black Sea export infrastructure.

The bottom line is that the world needs Ukrainian grain – and we are all better off when Ukrainian grain gets to world markets.

QUESTION: The U.S. intelligence threat assessment report that was released today mentions Pakistan’s long history of supporting anti-India terrorist groups. The U.S. is having a counterterrorism dialogue with Pakistan and Mr. Christopher Landberg was there recently. So will the U.S. take up the issue of support by the Pakistani army and ISI to terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, active in Kashmir, and to Khalistani terrorist groups?

MR PRICE: So the U.S.-Pakistan counterterrorism dialogue – it provides an opportunity for the United States and Pakistan to – for the United States to convey our willingness to work with Pakistan to address terrorist threats and counter violent extremism, the threats that are in the region, the threats that have the potential to transcend the region as well. We have a shared interest in combating threats to regional security. The goal of a stable and secure South and Central Asia, free from terrorism, depends on the strength of, in large part, our partnership with Pakistan.

The dialogue is a testament to our shared commitment to resilient security relationship and an opportunity for candid discussion on steps we can take together to counter all terrorist groups that threaten regional and global stability. The United States seeks to expand our partnership to address these challenges. Any group that threatens regional and global stability of course is a concern to us. It is something that we discuss in the context of this counterterrorism dialogue.

QUESTION: I have one more.

QUESTION: Question on Pakistan.

MR PRICE: Okay. One more and then I’ll go to you.

QUESTION: So while the issue of support by Pakistan of terror groups against India and its dangers are mentioned in the report, what are your views on some of these groups, like Khalistani activists that are active in North America and which were responsible for the bombing of Air India in 1985? Is the U.S. keeping a watch on the activities of these groups?

MR PRICE: So we condemn terrorism in all of its forms. We condemn terrorism; we condemn violent extremism. We condemn all of those who resort to violence to achieve their ends, whether they are political or otherwise. There is never a justification to resort to violence. Regardless of the motivation, regardless of the perpetrator, we take the threat of terrorism around the world, whether that’s to regional peace and security or to our own security, extraordinarily seriously.


QUESTION: Thank you. (Inaudible) from VOA. So a nuclear-armed country like Pakistan who’s facing major economic issues right now, political challenges as well, and terror attacks are on the rise – is U.S. worried that this strategically important country could fail?

MR PRICE: We are a partner to Pakistan. We have been there for Pakistan since its independence. We seek a stable, peaceful, and prosperous Pakistan. We know that the Pakistani people are facing tremendous hardship, including economic hardship. We continue to look for ways in which we can support the Pakistani people to rebuild and to deepen the economic partnership that has existed with the United States over the course of decades now.

We are working with our Pakistani partners. Of course, Pakistan in turn is also working with international financial institutions, the IMF, to put itself on a sustainable growth path. But when it comes to economic challenges, when it comes to security challenges, when it comes to political challenges, the United States is ready and able to continue to be a partner to the people of Pakistan and to our Pakistani counterparts as well.

QUESTION: Some circles in Pakistan are accusing that because they are looking for and wanting an IMF deal, but they’re saying that because of tensions between U.S., China there’s a possibility that U.S., the friendly influence that they have at the IMF, are not using – could use but is not using for Pakistan to help Pakistan, which is an ally country.

MR PRICE: Ultimately it’s going to have to be decisions on the part of our Pakistani counterparts to unlock this IMF funding. We encourage Pakistan to continue working with the IMF, especially on reforms that will improve Pakistan’s business environment. We believe that doing so – and the IMF believes this – will make Pakistani business more competitive, will also help Pakistan attract high-quality investment.

But more value than the potential investment dollars are the technologies, are the market connections and management systems that accompany foreign investment. They improve the competitiveness of partnering Pakistani firms, fueling economic growth that increases employment and household incomes. We believe that by continuing down this path and continuing to make the necessary decisions – economic decisions – that Pakistan can put itself, with the support of the international community, of course with the support of the United States, on a path to sustainable growth.

QUESTION: Last question about women’s march. Are you aware about the violence that took place in Pakistan during the women’s march and news of police being involved? Is the U.S. going to raise that issue with the allies in Pakistan, with Pakistani Government?

MR PRICE: We are aware of reports about clashes in Lahore ahead of a planned rally by former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. We encourage all to exhibit restraint. We offer our condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and wish a speedy recovery to those who were injured in this.

QUESTION: Are you going to talk to the government that they should uphold the democratic values that you share and the country —

MR PRICE: It is a constant topic of discussion with our counterparts around the world, including in Pakistan, the importance of upholding the universal rights of citizens around the world, including the right to peaceful assembly.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we just stay on the same (inaudible)?


QUESTION: As you probably saw, the Foreign Relations Committee – the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave a green light finally to Garcetti, Mayor Garcetti, to be ambassador to India. Obviously the administration supports that, I presume, but could you say a little bit about whether there’s optimism about the Senate floor vote? Maybe you don’t want to get into congressional moves, but more broadly what it means to have – what it would mean to have a full ambassador in India after this two-year gap.

MR PRICE: Well, we did see the action on the part of the Senate today. We heartily applaud that. Put simply, the United States needs a confirmed ambassador in India. Our team on the ground, including chargés who have served in the place of an ambassador, have done extraordinary work. But this is one of the most consequential bilateral relationships we have. When Secretary Blinken was in New Delhi last week, much of the breadth and the depth of that relationship was on full display. And our embassy staff, our Mission India, deserves to have a Senate-confirmed ambassador who is – again, with the consent of the Senate – a representative of not only the Secretary of State but also the President of the United States.

There is no other country around the world that would put itself in a position to have a vacancy open in a strategically important and valuable place like India for two-plus years now. We certainly hope that the action that the Senate took today was – foretells additional action. It would be in our interest. It would be in the interest of India. It would be in the interests of both of our people to have a confirmed ambassador in place, and we hope that Mayor and soon-to-be Ambassador Garcetti is able to take up that post before long.

QUESTION: I’m very curious about this flurry of reports both here and in Germany over the Nord Stream 2 sabotage, and these what appear to be more than just suggestions and fanciful speculation that Ukraine or pro-Ukrainian groups, Ukrainian partisans were responsible. And I’m just wondering what you make of all this, particularly in light of a report – one specific report – that I think remains unmatched by anyone – that the U.S. was actually responsible for this.

MR PRICE:  Matt, I’m glad you posed the question, because I want to be very clear about this. First, importantly, we’re not in a position to confirm the report you’re alluding to.  I want to be very clear about that. The anonymous claim in the first report, as I understand the chronology of this, to be clear, is not downgraded intelligence shared by the U.S. Government and the sources quoted in that piece were not authorized to speak on behalf of the U.S. Government.

Our point on this has been consistent. There is an active, ongoing investigation on the part of the three of our European partners – the Germans, the Swedes, the Danes – and that is ongoing. As we always do when there’s a matter that’s a subject of an ongoing investigation, we will let those investigations play out before we’ll offer any comment.

QUESTION: On this point – but you certainly have suspects. I mean, you suspect someone is behind this sabotage, correct? I mean, do you suspect the Russians, for instance? Could the Russians have done something to their own pipeline or their own oil to destroy it?

MR PRICE: Said, it’s not productive or constructive for me to engage in speculation, certainly not from the podium, and certainly not when there are ongoing investigations. And these are not just any investigations; these are ongoing investigations by competent, capable authorities in three of our close European partners – the Germans, the Danes, the Swedes. So we will defer to them, obviously, on the course of those investigations. They will be the one to report on the findings that they come up with in the course of these investigations, but we’re just not going to get ahead of what they may uncover.

QUESTION: So you dismiss the – what was written in The New York Times on this group?

MR PRICE: I’m not dismissing anything. I’m not ruling anything in. I’m not ruling anything out. I’m just saying we’re not confirming, we’re not commenting on the specifics in any of the reports that have emanated over recent days, and we’re not doing that for a very simple reason: there are ongoing investigations. Whether it’s an investigation into an undersea blast like this, or an investigation into any other criminal or terrorist activity, we – our typical posture is to let the investigation play out, and that’s what we’re doing here.

QUESTION: Well, except – the problem with that is that you were very quick to say that the report – the earlier report from last month that said that President Biden had ordered this –

MR PRICE: When – when – when —

QUESTION: You were very quick to say “No, absolutely not, that’s preposterous, that’s ridiculous,” instead of saying “Well, let’s let the investigation play out.”

MR PRICE: (Laughter.) Yeah.

QUESTION: So what are we to think, then, when a report —

MR PRICE: You are to think that the reports that the United States Government had anything to do with the undersea blast against the Nord Stream pipelines is ridiculous. We can discount that out of hand.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then why can’t – well, but you can’t say the same about the reports that it was a Ukraine or Ukrainian partisans were behind it, right?

MR PRICE: Because Matt, we can speak to our actions. When it comes —

QUESTION: Or non-actions.

MR PRICE: Or actions that we did not take, in this case. Yes, thank you. When it comes to who may have been responsible for what did, in fact, happen to these undersea pipelines, we’re going to have to defer to the investigations.


QUESTION: Is it okay if switch to Mexico?

MR PRICE: Please.

QUESTION: The Americans that were kidnapped by gunmen in Mexico – have the bodies of the two who died been repatriated?

MR PRICE: So Daphne, we’re continuing to work very closely with our Mexican counterparts on this. We’ve asked Mexican officials to fulfill the families’ wishes for the remains to be repatriated as expeditiously as possible. As of earlier today, that process was still underway. We know that our Mexican partners are working just as quickly as they can to finalize that process.

Again, we express our deepest condolences to the families, to the loved ones of the two Americans who were killed in this violence. Our embassy in Mexico City, our consulate in Matamoros, have been working to support the families, to support their wishes, and working hand-in-glove with Mexican authorities and our U.S. Government counterparts as well.

QUESTION: And do you know if any of the four Americans had any previous trips or dealings with Mexico?

MR PRICE: I couldn’t say, and that’s not the sort of thing we typically would say from the podium. We want to respect the privacy of the Americans who were brought to safety and are now back in the United States. Of course, they are free to speak as much or as little as they would like. It’s not our place to do so. But it is our place to remind all Americans of the travel advisories that are on our website and that we have pointed to a number of times when it comes to this incident and when it comes to the threat risk more broadly. This is an area that we categorize as a Level 4. We have a Level 4 Travel Advisory, meaning that Americans should not travel to this particular Mexican state, because it is dangerous. We have seen incidents of criminality, of violence, and we certainly don’t want to see Americans unnecessarily in harm’s way.

QUESTION: And have you gotten any additional information since yesterday on why you believe they were kidnapped and what happened?

MR PRICE: There’s an active – and this goes back to the first topic we were discussing – there is an active investigation. Our Mexican counterparts are investigating. The FBI, of course, is involved because of the deaths and abduction of American citizens. So we’re going to let that investigation play out.

We won’t be in a position to provide investigative updates, because we want to see accountability rendered in this case. It is important to us that justice is done for the deaths of these two Americans, for the abduction of these four Americans, and we don’t want to do – do or say anything that could stand in the way of that accountability.

QUESTION: Could I go to Taiwan?


QUESTION: I know you were asked about this yesterday, but Speaker McCarthy has said publicly that he’s planning to meet President Tsai in California. I know congressional decisions are for Congress or for the Speaker himself, but do you have any stance on whether this is a good idea, and particularly whether it’s okay for President Tsai to come to the United States?

MR PRICE: This is a decision – when it comes to Speaker McCarthy’s travel – that the Speaker himself will make, a decision that only the Speaker and his office can make. So of course we refer you to the Speaker’s office for further information about his potential travel. I understand that his office has commented. He has confirmed this meeting, but we would refer you to him and to his office for the details.

What I will say – and this gets to your question – that transits of the United States by high-level Taiwan officials are consistent with longstanding U.S. policy and with our unofficial and strong relations with Taiwan. President Tsai herself has transited the United States six times in the last seven years. There has been absolutely no change to the U.S. “one China” policy. We remain committed to our longstanding “one China” policy, which has not changed. It is and has always been guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three U.S.-China Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances.

QUESTION: I noticed you used the word “transit” rather than visit. I know consistent – that’s in the past been the case, but actually having a meeting in California, that’s consistent with the “transit” by the Taiwanese president?

MR PRICE: Well, again, I would have to refer you to the Speaker for any additional details on what his plans may be. But the presence of the United – in the United States of high-ranking Taiwanese officials, that is nothing new. It is not something that would break any new ground. It is entirely consistent with the status quo, the status quo that’s been dictated by our “one China” policy.

QUESTION: Well, but I noticed that you dropped the standard line. Maybe this has been dropped before and I just missed it. But why is it that these transits are okay for the – do I have to spell it out for you? Safety, comfort, and convenience, right? Is that no longer in the talking points?

MR PRICE: That is. That —

QUESTION: Okay. And so exactly how is spending, like, three days in L.A. – I mean, it may be comfortable and it may be convenient, kind of like spending two weeks in Palm Springs on U.S. Government dime preparing for APEC. But why are you not repeating them now? Or is it just that you’ve decided not —

MR PRICE: There’s no reason. There has been no change in our policy on this. The transit of high-level Taiwan officials is consistent. It’s been done before. It is a practice.

QUESTION: No one’s saying it hasn’t been done before.

MR PRICE: Right.

QUESTION: But, I mean, can you honestly say that having her – that allowing her to transit through L.A. and spend several days there is in keeping with the safety, comfort, and convenience line in the policy?

MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to President Tsai’s travel plans. I can’t speak specifically to Speaker McCarthy’s travel plans. But what I can say is that this sort of transit is entirely consistent with our “one China” policy and the unofficial and strong relations we have with Taiwan.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, if I was flying from the U.S. to China and decided to stop in L.A. for three days, I don’t think the airline would say that that’s transit, right? So, I don’t know. I think something’s got to change. If you’re no longer using that, then those three words for the – as the buzzwords for why Taiwanese officials are allowed to visit the U.S., then I’d just like to know why and when they were dropped.

MR PRICE: Matt, this – the core point here, despite those three words, is that – is the status quo. This is consistent with the status quo. It’s consistent with our “one China” policy. There hasn’t been any change in the way in which we apply our “one China” policy, the types of things that we’re discussing – and again, we’d have to refer you to the Speaker and to President Tsai for their particular plans. But they are entirely consistent with the unofficial and the strong relationship we have with Taiwan.

QUESTION: But there are no plans – last one. There are no plans for any State Department officials to see her?

MR PRICE: I am not aware of any such plans.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Just one more on Taiwan?


QUESTION: The Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, he said recently that the U.S. statements – I’m paraphrasing, but that the U.S. warnings against Russia – against China militarily supplying Russia, that there’s a hypocrisy issue and that the U.S. is supplying weapons to Taiwan. Does – do you have any response to that?

MR PRICE: Look, I’m not going to get into a tit for tat with the Chinese foreign minister. But what I will say is that comments like that seem to overlook precisely the state of play. What the United States is doing, along with dozens of countries around the world, is supporting the rules-based order, supporting the order that is enshrined in the UN Charter and international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the principles at play that a big country can’t bully a small country, a larger country can’t attempt to redraw borders by force, that might doesn’t make right. These are the same principles that in this case the PRC has signed on to as a member state of the UN and as a country that purports to believe in these very documents and principles – the UN Charter, the precepts of international law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

What we are doing similarly in Taiwan – with Taiwan – is attempting to strengthen and to protect and preserve the status quo. This is all about the preservation of the status quo, because the status quo has, over the course of decades now, really been at the crux of peace and security across the Taiwan Strait and in the broader region. This is the same rules-based order that has been at the core of peace and security, whether it’s in Europe, whether it’s in the Indo-Pacific.

So for the – for anyone to suggest that what we are doing is inconsistent is overlooking, I think, the core concepts that are at play. Everything that we’re doing in the course of Ukraine, everything that we’re doing in support of Taiwan is consistent with the rules-based order. It is an effort to undermine the status quo which in Europe and the Indo-Pacific is responsible, has been responsible for the peace and security that has prevailed for much of the past seven decades.


QUESTION: Moving to Georgia, if you don’t mind. I was wondering if the events of past 24 hours have changed your view on how to respond to the events.

MR PRICE: Well, Alex, just as we were yesterday, we’re continuing to closely monitor the ongoing protests and the developments on the ground. We urge the Government of Georgia to respect the freedom of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest. We urge all parties to exercise restraint and to avoid any escalatory or violent actions while respecting the rule of law and Georgia’s democratic values. We are, as we’ve said consistently in recent days, deeply troubled by the recently introduced draft foreign agent laws, which – if actually made law – would stigmatize and silence independent voices and citizens of Georgia who are dedicated to building a better future within their own communities.

Parliament’s advancing of these Kremlin-inspired draft laws is incompatible with the people of Georgia’s clear desire for European integration and its democratic development. Pursuing these laws, we believe, will damage Georgia’s relations with its strategic partners and jeopardizes Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic future. These are at the heart of the aspirations of the Georgian people, the project that the Georgian people have pursued over the course of decades now since Georgia’s independence. The United States has been a strategic partner to Georgia; Georgia has aspirations for fuller integration with Europe and the EU. All of those things are in play in the context of the debate that we see raging now in Tbilisi.

QUESTION: Thanks. Thank you for that. Let me unpack that a little bit. What we see is the Georgian Dream government on one hand has already made its choice. It’s bidding the – Russian bidding. And there is Georgian people out there, they are standing strong, as you articulated yesterday as well, that they are expressing their desire to stick with European pathway. Who are you standing with at this point?

MR PRICE: Again, we are standing with the people of Georgia and the aspirations that they have. It would be our hope that the Government of Georgia, as is our hope around the world – that governments reflect the aspirations of their own people. When it comes to what we’re seeing now, of course we always stand with the right of citizens around the world to exercise their universal rights. It is a universal right to freedom of assembly. It is a universal right to peaceful protest. It is a universal right to freedom of expression. We always stand with those who are peacefully exercising their universal rights.

Now, when it comes to this – these draft laws, this is ultimately a question for the Georgian Government. We have made our views on this very clear. We’ve made those views very clear as a partner to Georgia over the course of decades now, a partner that has helped usher Georgia from its immediate post-independent phase to its consolidation of its democracy, the development of its economy, its aspirations for greater integration in the Euro-Atlantic region. We want to be in a position to continue to do that.

Now, obviously there are a number of countries and entities around the world who share these concerns. We’ve heard from the EU. We’ve heard from the UN. But the voices that we are listening to most closely are those voices on the ground in Georgia. And we have heard strong protests and concern expressed on the part of Georgian civil society, of civil society groups, of independent actors who are in our view legitimately concerned that the passage and the ratification of these laws would hamper and hinder their ability to exercise the very universal rights that are at play in these protests.

QUESTION: That’s a strong reaction. Now, their argument on the ground is that it’s time – if not now, then when is the time to translate that reaction into action? You mentioned that lawmakers who will now vote for that will be responsible. Isn’t it better to hold them accountable beforehand, before they move to a second read, third reading, instead of waiting and seeing what’s going to happen next?

MR PRICE: Alex, this is a logic that really applies across the board. We are not in a position to make choices for any other country. We are in a position to see to it that actors, countries, governments around the world make informed decisions and that they are witting of the consequences of those decisions. We are concerned that the passage of this type of legislation would have consequences for our ability to continue to be the strategic partner that we have sought to be for Georgia and the people of Georgia over the course of decades now. The same would be true of – the same could be true, I should say, of the EU and others.

But again, this is a matter before the parliament. It is a matter that has engendered a good deal of debate and protest among the people of Georgia, we think with good reason, because the implications would be hefty on the people of Georgia and the implications could well be meaningful for the type of relationship we want to continue to have with the Government of Georgia.

QUESTION: And my last one on this. There are also comments on the ground that what we are seeing today is also result of ignorance or maybe like we didn’t pay enough attention from the West to what’s – what was going on in the – in Georgia for a long time, you know there being after U.S. ambassador – UN ambassador, they – what they are doing to their former president. The criticism is that even today when we see this annual threat assessment report came out, there is no mentioning of Georgia at all. The criticism is that U.S. turn its blind eyes and let this just slide. And that’s the result of U.S. – lack of U.S. attention in the region.

MR PRICE: Alex, I think it’s hard to accept the premise of that when we’ve been talking about this very issue over the course of the past week. We’ve had a number of occasion before these foreign agent laws became a live subject in Georgia to talk about the strategic partnership that we have with Georgia. This is a project that the United States has been engaged in, deeply engaged in, over the course of decades now, since Georgia first declared its independence in 1991. We have been a partner along the way. We have sought to do everything we can to support the development of Georgia’s democracy, of its economy, of its further integration into Europe and with Europe as well. The EU has been a partner in that. The international community has been a partner in that.

Now, the testimony you heard today from our senior intelligence officials, that’s focused on threats. That is focused on threats to the United States. There is – and again, I don’t want to characterize intelligence, but we see Georgia as a place that holds tremendous opportunity. It is not in the category of threats as we traditionally conceive of them. There is an opportunity with Georgia to continue to be that partner, to continue to walk down that path of democracy, of responsive, responsible governance, and a Georgia that is in a position to achieve the aspirations of its citizens. That’s an opportunity for the United States as a partner to Georgia. First and foremost, it’s an opportunity for the people of Georgia to fulfill those aspirations.

QUESTION: On Israel.

MR PRICE:  Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. Syrian state media reported yesterday that an Israeli air strike knocked Aleppo airport out of service and forced the Syrian authorities to reroute flights carrying aid for people affected by the earthquake. Do you have any information on this? Can you confirm whether it was an Israeli air strike?

MR PRICE: I can’t speak to attribution, but we have seen these reports. I don’t have any additional information I can share at this time.

QUESTION: Or any information.

MR PRICE: Well, but let me – let me –

QUESTION: “Additional?” Additional to what?

MR PRICE: Let me say this, let me say this: Again, without speaking to the details of this, we would be concerned about the effects of any prolonged closure on the flow of humanitarian aid into those in need. This is an airport that has provided – has been a landing point for humanitarian assistance to those who have been affected in Syria by this devastating earthquake. And that would be a concern of ours if there was a prolonged closure and a prolonged impediment to the flow of humanitarian assistance.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have a question on North Macedonia.


QUESTION:  My question – North Macedonia is supposed to change the preamble of the constitution to recognize ethnic Bulgarians as a constituent group; however, this didn’t happen thus far. My question: In what way, if any, their Euro-Atlantic integration process could be affected in a negative way perhaps if they fail to implement that change through the preamble of the constitution and include ethnic Bulgarians? What is the U.S. stance? Is there some way you can maybe help them achieve that?

MR PRICE: This is a question for North Macedonia. It’s a question for the European Union. It’s not a question for the United States. Of course, these decisions are ones that our partners on the other side of the Atlantic are going to have to make. We are a partner to North Macedonia. We want to support the aspirations of the people of North Macedonia for that further European integration. It is similar to the approach that we’ve taken to Georgia and a number of other countries over the course of several decades. We want to continue to be a partner, but ultimately these are going to have to be decisions that are made in North Macedonia and decisions that are made in Brussels.

QUESTION: Just one more question about the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue that is now taking place in North Macedonia in March. Now that the European proposal has been made public, and we have all the articles in front of us, they are now talking about the implementation of the agreement. In what order of implementation does Serbian majority municipalities are going to be implemented? Is this the first thing – first item on the agenda now in March, or you have some other information? Or how do you see from U.S. perspective this going forward – the implementation?

MR PRICE: So a couple things on that. First, I think we’ve said before, but we welcome the leaders’ talks under the EU-facilitated dialogue that took place late last month. We strongly support the process of normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. To your question, this meeting was a good step forward, but difficult work remains. And some of these questions are part and parcel of that difficult work. Agreement on the implementation annex is essential to normalization under this EU proposal, and progress towards establishing the association of Serb-majority municipalities remains critical to building Kosovo’s future as a sovereign, as a multiethnic and independent country integrated into Euro-Atlantic structures.

Through the dialogue, Serbia and Kosovo, we believe, should come to comprehensive agreement on normalization of relations. Progress will then open the door to European integration of both countries, and it’s essential to greater security, stability, and prosperity in the Western Balkans. We believe that normalized relations should be centered on eventual mutual recognition.

This is an EU-led process. The United States has supported our allies in the European Union in every way we can. We have been present for these talks. Gabe Escobar, our deputy assistant secretary, has been actively engaged with the parties as well, and we’ll continue to do what we can to support this process that, again, is – has moved forward in important ways with some difficult work ahead.

QUESTION: So this is a question on China. Does the administration plan to relax COVID restrictions from people coming from China soon? And if so, why?

MR PRICE: This is not a question for the Department of State. It’s more of a question for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The restrictions that – and requirements that had been put in place, whether on the PRC or, in other times and other contexts, other countries are based on the science. They are based on public health. They are not based on diplomacy. They are not based on matters of policy or policy disagreement. So this is a question for the CDC. The epidemiologists and the scientists and the public health experts at the CDC will make informed decisions about when it’s prudent, if it’s prudent to relax requirements that are in place.

QUESTION: Okay. And just one more on the whole Taiwan status quo issue.


QUESTION: What’s the difference between the status quo and the “one China” policy? Because “one China” policy treats Taiwan as China, correct? And then how does – when you say you want to maintain the status quo, does that mean the same thing as “one China” policy?

MR PRICE: Our “one China” policy is a key element of our efforts to preserve the status quo by adhering – always, consistently – to our “one China” policy. We are, in turn, contributing to the preservation of the status quo – strengthening the status quo, seeing to it that the status quo, in every way we can, that has existed across the Taiwan Strait over the course of several decades now, remains – remains intact and remains strong.

QUESTION: And – sorry. But how is China disrupting the status quo?

MR PRICE: Well, I think we can point to any number of things that are of concern to us. It is a concern to us when China – when the PRC attempts to intimidate Taiwan through aerial sorties, through naval cases, through coercive actions, coercive rhetoric. That, of course, is of concern to us.

In the aftermath of the visit to Taiwan last August by Speaker Pelosi, we saw our – we saw the PRC use that visit – which had been, of course, not unprecedented – as a pretext to attempt to undermine that status quo. And you can look at all of the actions, the coercive actions that sought to do little more than intimidate Taiwan and the broader region and to undermine the status quo that has been at the crux of peace and security across the Taiwan Strait.

QUESTION: But don’t we run military drills in that area as well?

MR PRICE: We fly wherever international law allows. We sail wherever international law allows. All of our operations are consistent with international law. All of our operations are – whether land, sea, air – are consistent with our “one China” policy.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for taking my question. Seems like there are some Chinese-made cranes around the Baltimore and also some other port in the United States. Some report has pointed out those giant cargo crane have a possibility of Chinese spy tool. Do you have any – how do you – how does the State Department view those Chinese cranes?

MR PRICE: This is a better question for some of our colleagues throughout the government. Of course, as an administration, as a government, we are acutely attuned to the various challenges we face from the PRC, including the challenge of espionage. And we’ve had an occasion in recent weeks, as some of you might recall, to talk about the challenge of PRC espionage, including in the United States. We are – it is something that we take extraordinarily seriously, including and especially when it comes to strategically important sectors. But this is a better question for our colleagues across the government.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more question?


QUESTION: So the United States has made an offer to Japan and South Korea to establish a new trial consultative deterrence – no, consultative body on nuclear deterrence. Can you confirm those?

MR PRICE: Our extended deterrence commitment to Japan and the ROK is ironclad. We have taken every opportunity we have to deepen and to make real, to ensure that we’ve made real the extended deterrence commitments that we have. We continue to work with the ROK, Japan, and other partners and allies to jointly strengthen deterrence and to work to limit the advancement of the DPRK’s unlawful weapons programs.

Yes, in the back. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Congratulations (inaudible).

MR PRICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: But we’ll miss you, I’m sure.

MR PRICE: Thanks.

QUESTION: So about a month ago the UN World Food Project – Program published a report pointing out that Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Yemen are on the brink of starvation with – moving toward widespread deaths. Since then we’ve had – there are indications, reports of stress on food in Cuba and then also in Türkiye and Syria, parts of Syria because of the catastrophe there. Is grain from Ukraine going to be enough, and Russia, or do we need to do something additional? And is this the beginning of greater stresses on foods?

MR PRICE: Well, we believe it certainly has to be part of the solution, and I think you only look at the counterexample. When grain from Ukraine was blocked from – by the Russians from leaving Ukrainian ports, we saw a spike in food prices around the world that had the most devastating impact on, unfortunately, the world’s neediest – a 30 percent price spike after Russia’s invasion when Russia was blocking ships from leaving Ukrainian ports.

Now, the implementation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative and what we hope is the renewal and the expansion of the grain initiative will have to be part of that solution. The World Food Program has been able to export Ukrainian grain precisely because of this initiative. Since August of last year, some 16 total World Food Program ships have left Ukraine, including more than half a million metric tons of wheat to places like what you mentioned – Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Algeria, Kenya. Spain and Egypt also received shipments. The total World Food Program exports just from this single initiative, the Black Sea Grain Initiative, has totaled about a billion loaves of bread.

Now, the world needs far more, and it is far more than conflict that has exacerbated the price spike. It has been COVID, it has been climate, but it has been conflict. And so we’re going to do everything that we can to see to it that this initiative remains in place and ideally is expanded so that the world’s neediest in some of the countries you mentioned can continue to benefit from this.


QUESTION: Yeah. Defense officials confirmed this past weekend that there were Ukrainian pilots being evaluated in the U.S. on F-16s. So I just wanted to check: has there been any change in the administration’s position that you guys don’t think Ukraine particularly needs those right now and it’s not being considered to send them there?

MR PRICE: There’s been no change in the position. Of course, we’re always working closely with our Ukrainian partners to discuss and to assess with them what their needs are at the moment, what their needs may be down the road. But there has been no change in our position. For additional details on the training that you reference, I’d have to refer you to DOD.

QUESTION: So it remains the case that your main goal right now is to give Ukraine as much of an advantage as you can on the battlefield, and they’re saying they need F-16s and have asked for them. We’ve now got Ukrainian pilots in the U.S. being evaluated on F-16s, but they’re still – even with all that, there’s still no plans to send them there?

MR PRICE: Our position on this has not changed. What we have consistently done is to provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need to take on the battle they’re facing with an eye to the direction in which the battle’s evolving, and I think you can see the effectiveness of that strategy across all of the fronts that our Ukrainian partners have not only withstood Russian aggression but in many cases have wrested back from Russian control territory that invading Russian forces have – had taken from them. So, obviously, this is a reflection of the bravery and the resilience, the determination of our Ukrainian partners; but the enabling support that the United States Government has provided at every phase of this conflict, along with the support of dozens of countries around the world, has been – has provided a decisive edge in some ways to our Ukrainian partners in their ability to defend their country against this aggression.


QUESTION: And I want to follow up on the question of U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral cooperation. Now the U.S. has a bilateral consultative mechanism on extended deterrence with ROK and Japan separately, and recently ROK and Japan has announced on the historical issues of the forced labor. And generally speaking, what do you think about the need to deepen the trilateral cooperation in order to enhance the extended deterrence for ROK and Japan?

MR PRICE: Well, our commitment to extended deterrence today, going forward, is ironclad. There is no question about that. The ROK, Japan are covered by that policy of extended deterrence. We’re going to continue to work together in every way we can, bilaterally and trilaterally, to counter and to limit the advancements of the DPRK’s unlawful weapons programs. We have done that for decades now.

What we’ve been able to do more in recent years and even more so recent months is that trilateral cooperation, and we believe that the bilateral aspect is important between the United States, the ROK; between the United States and Japan. But the trilateral element is also fundamentally important, not only for the threat that our three countries face from the DPRK but for our shared and collective vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific. The fact is that we share – the three of us, the United States, ROK, and Japan – we share interests and we share values.

And so from the perspective of the United States – and increasingly what we’re seeing from the perspective of our treaty allies – is the importance of a trilateral relationship that reflects those interests, that reflects those values, and is effective in protecting and promoting those values in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.

QUESTION: Ned, can I go to Africa for a second?


QUESTION: Uganda specifically. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on this legislation that is perceived or widely seen as anti-LGBTQ, and also apparently the sponsor – if not the prime sponsor of it – is currently representing Uganda at a UN Women’s Commission meeting in New York, and if you have any thoughts about that.

MR PRICE: So broadly, Matt, I would say that the – we firmly oppose violence and discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons, and we urge governments everywhere to repeal laws that criminalize LGBTQI+ status or conduct, and we condemn laws that would undermine freedoms of speech, peaceful assembly, and association for LGBTQI+ human rights defenders and their allies. We condemn this, any violence or discrimination targeting vulnerable populations, including LGBTQI+ persons anywhere and everywhere, and governments must work to ensure that all individuals can freely enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms to which they are universally entitled.

We remain committed to supporting health, democracy, the rule of law, freedom of expression, and prosperity in Uganda, and we continue to engage with our Government of Uganda counterparts on a wide range of issues, including those related to human rights, to improve the lives of all Ugandans.

Now, when it comes to the representative that you referred to, I’m not in a position to confirm that. The UN may be in a better position to speak to it. What I will say broadly, however, is that the issues that are at play on the Commission on the Status of Women are the very issues that are at play when it comes to the rights of all individuals, including vulnerable individuals, including those of LGBTQI+ persons. It is impossible to separate something like the rights of women from the rights of marginalized people around the world. These are universal rights. We uphold all of them everywhere at all times.

QUESTION: Okay. But have you spoken specifically to the Ugandans about this piece of legislation? Because I get – you speak in broad terms everywhere, and then Uganda, you say you talk about human rights. This is obviously a human rights issue. But have you specifically talked to the Ugandans about this piece of legislation?

MR PRICE: Look, we are going to do and we are going to say from here what we think is most likely to benefit the populations that we’re talking about. In this case it is marginalized citizens of Uganda, including its LGBTQI —

QUESTION: So someone has made a determination that calling the Ugandans out specifically on this piece of legislation will not help the LGBTQ —

MR PRICE: We are going to do – we are going to do what is most helpful to those we’re seeking to protect in Uganda and around the world. Ugandan law already criminalizes same-sex conduct. A bill that further targets LGBTQI+ persons would constituent a significant step backwards for the protection of human rights and would undermine lifesaving programs to address, for example, HIV/AIDS. This is a point that we make around the world. It’s what we believe in this case.

QUESTION: Okay. That wasn’t so hard to say, was it? Why couldn’t you have said that at the very beginning? Then you could have —

MR PRICE: Very quick questions, and we’ll wrap up.

QUESTION: A UN envoy in Afghanistan warned today that a Taliban administration crackdown on women’s rights is likely to a drop in aid and development funding in the country. Is the U.S. considering cutting funding?

MR PRICE: The UN has been at the forefront of these efforts. It was a number of weeks ago now that a senior UN official visited Kabul to make very clear to the Taliban that the draconian edict that they implemented on December 24th of last year would have consequences for the ability of the international community to provide the humanitarian assistance that the people of Afghanistan so desperately need. We are in close touch with the UN; we are in close touch with other allies and partners who have also provided humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan over the course of many years now and over the course, especially, of the past 18 months or so.

You may have seen that United States today with 21 other countries, or 21 countries, and the EU put out a joint statement on the women and girls in Afghanistan on the occasion of International Women’s Day. We are going to continue to do everything we can to work with the international community and to make sure that the Taliban is under no illusions that they can have it both ways, that they can fail to fulfill the commitments that they’ve made to the people of Afghanistan; that they can take draconian steps like the ones they did last year with girls’ educations, girls’ education last December, with the ability of women to work with international NGOs, and not face consequences from the international community.

The UN has made that clear, that that is not the case. The United States has made that clear that that is not the case. And dozens of countries around the world, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a number of Muslim-majority countries, have made very clear to the Taliban that their actions, their efforts to suppress the rights especially of women and girls, but all minorities, will have real costs and consequences for them.

QUESTION: But are you considering cutting funding?

MR PRICE: Again, we’re taking a close look at the implications on our ability to deliver the type of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan, the type of assistance that we know they so desperately need. We’re closely consulting with the UN – much of this is done under the auspices of the UN – so we want to make sure that we are in close coordination with our UN partners and other international partners.

All right. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 4:02 p.m.)