2:09 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Hello. Happy Monday. Welcome back. Welcome back to the tundra. It has been a very long time. It is very good to see everyone from this perch. Hope I remember how to do this. We’ll go ahead and get started. A few things at the top and then I’ll take your questions.
First, the United States continues to demonstrate its commitments to the thousands of brave Afghans who stood side-by-side with us over the course of the past two decades. We’ve already undertaken substantial steps to improve the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program, and today we announced a change that will simplify and streamline the application process for Afghan applicants. Starting this week, as you heard earlier this morning, new Afghan SIV Program applicants will only need to fill one form, a revised Form DS-157, as their SIV petition. New applicants will no longer need to file the Form I-360, petition for special immigrant status, with DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. This new streamlined process will help eliminate barriers for applicants and reduce application times. This change does not reduce or remove any of the robust security vetting processes required before the benefit is granted.
This is one of the many steps we have taken to improve the SIV process while safeguarding national security. Since the beginning of the administration, we have surged resources to this vital program and have reviewed every stage of the statutorily required application process to streamline wherever possible, and you heard about the latest steps today.
Next, last Friday, the administration released the 2022 Elie Wiesel Act Report to Congress, alongside the new U.S. Strategy to Anticipate, Prevent, and Respond to Atrocities. These products reaffirm that preventing atrocities, including genocide, is both a core U.S. national security interest and a core moral responsibility. The report describes countries experiencing atrocities and recovering from atrocities during the past year. It includes our alarm at and continued condemnation of President Putin’s brutal, premeditated, and unprovoked war against Ukraine.
Of course, Russia’s ongoing slaughter in Ukraine is not the only place where we’ve witnessed atrocities committed or seen warning signs of atrocities. The report also documents alarming conditions in countries ranging from Afghanistan to Burma to the People’s Republic of China. The report highlights joint efforts to strengthen countries’ capacity to protect their populations and to also account for past human rights violations and abuses, including in Colombia and Guatemala. The new strategy institutionalizes whole-of-government processes by enumerating roles and coordination mechanisms of our interagency Atrocity Prevention Task Force. Many atrocities are the result of deliberate planning over time and can be prevented. If we can detect early the early warning signs of atrocities, we can also act early to disrupt the path of deadly escalation.
The strategy recognizes that a key aspect of response and recovery is justice for survivors and victims and prosecution of those responsible for atrocities. This approach informs our work within the United – with the United Kingdom and the European Union through the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group to assist the office of the prosecutor general of Ukraine. In addition, the United States is supporting a range of efforts to detect and document human rights abuses or violations of international humanitarian law which can be used by national and international accountability mechanisms. This includes the Conflict Observatory Program, which captures, analyzes, and makes publicly available open-source information that documents evidence of atrocities committed by Russia’s forces in Ukraine.
Together, the report and the strategy reinforce our enduring commitment to call out, condemn, and bring justice to bear against the perpetrators of humanity’s most heinous crimes and to prevent those crimes from being perpetrated in the first place.
And finally, tomorrow and Wednesday, Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Commerce Raimondo will cohost a supply chain ministerial forum to work with partners to reduce both short-term bottlenecks and long-term supply chain challenges that hurt all Americans, especially working families. Supply chain disruptions hamper economic growth and they fuel inflationary pressures. The ministerial forum builds on the Summit on Global Supply Chain Resilience that President Biden held in October of last year with the European Union and over a dozen countries who also recognize the importance of strong and resilient supply chains. It will include partners from around the world and will feature sessions with domestic and foreign partners, stakeholders, and subnational officials from 17 economies on July 19th and a ministerial plenary on July 20th. The participants from labor, industry, civil society, and subnational governments include members of historically under-represented communities whose presence at the table is necessary to solve these problems.
The administration is committed to inclusive economic growth. We can improve our global supply chains through international diplomacy and make them secure and resilient, and we’ll seek political commitments to cooperate with allies and partners to reduce near-term supply chain disruptions. We’ll also seek to work together to build long-term supply chain resilience to prevent future disruptions by increasing transparency, creating and solidifying diverse supply chains through co-investment, improving security by sharing best practices, and sustaining resilient supply chains by following high labor and environmental standards. This forms part of the department’s ongoing work to deliver solutions for the American people by addressing supply chain challenges.
With that, we’ll turn to your questions.
QUESTION: Right. Thanks, Ned. I’ve got a couple, but neither of them are earth-shaking, groundbreaking. So I’ll pass to —
MR PRICE: Okay. Humeyra, please.
QUESTION: Can I ask about this American citizen detained in UAE over the weekend? I mean, right groups basically say he was detained for political reasons. He has links with Khashoggi. Does the U.S. share that assessment, and what exactly are you guys doing with the Emiratis to try to bring him home or seek a fair trial?
MR PRICE: Well, Humeyra, we’ve been actively and closely engaged on this case ever since we learned of it shortly after his detention late last week. We’ve raised his detention with senior levels of the Emirati Government. We have requested additional information from our Emirati partners. And we’re watching this case closely, and we’re providing appropriate consular support. In fact, consular officers from our embassy on the ground visited Mr. Ghafoor on July 15th. They again visited him on July 17th. Embassy officials also observed his virtual hearing today on July 18th. We have conveyed our expectations to our Emirati partners that Mr. Ghafoor receive continued consular access, that he be afforded a fair and transparent legal process, and that he be treated humanely.
You asked about the basis for his detention and the charges against him. Of course, we would refer you to Emirati authorities to speak to that, but what I can say is that we’ve seen no indication at this point that his detention has anything to do with his association with Jamal Khashoggi, but we are still gathering information. Again, as I said, we’ve raised this case at senior levels, and we are doing everything we can to ensure that Mr. Ghafoor is treated fairly and humanely.
QUESTION: Does it not strike you, though, it came – it comes on the heels of President Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, it’s a little bit too much of a coincidence?
MR PRICE: Humeyra, again, we’ve seen nothing —
QUESTION: Were you given a heads-up by the Emiratis, by the way, on the detention?
MR PRICE: Again, what I can say is that we certainly did not request – we have not sought the arrest of Mr. Ghafoor. The Emiratis have spoken to their rationale for the detention. We’re going to remain engaged with them. We have been engaged at very high levels on this case, and that will continue.
QUESTION: Just one thing – one last thing on that. I understand that the detention did not come at the request of U.S. But the investigation on him by the Emiratis predates this, it goes back to a couple of years, I understand. Did U.S. request that investigation?
MR PRICE: If any such investigative assistance was requested, it would’ve been made by the Department of Justice. It’s not for me to speak to the Department of Justice. I would need to refer you there.
QUESTION: Which declined to comment also.
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Which declined to comment on this.
MR PRICE: Which is their prerogative. Janne.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Welcome back.
MR PRICE: Thank you.
QUESTION: I have two questions on Korea and China. First question in Korea. Regarding the case in which the former South Korean Moon Jae-in government forcibly repatriated fishermen who escaped from North Korea, can you comment on how will this affect human right issues? And I follow up after this.
MR PRICE: Well, Janne, we have a number of concerns with the DPRK, with its conduct on the international stage. Of course, we’ve spoken on a number of recent occasions about the unprecedented number of ballistic missile tests that the DPRK regime has undertaken in recent weeks. But our concerns with the DPRK regime doesn’t stop with its WMD programs. Of course, we have profound concerns with the human rights record of the regime in the DPRK. These are concerns that we share with our allies and partners around the world. These are concerns that we share with our ally, the Republic of Korea. These are concerns that we talk about with our allies and partners as well, and we have certain tools, including tools that we’ve wielded, to exact a degree of accountability for the atrocities and the human rights abuses that have taken place within the DPRK.
When it comes to the removals of individuals from the ROK, I would have to defer to the ROK Government to speak to that process.
MR PRICE: Can I – sorry. What was the last part of your question?
QUESTION: Can you confirm what kind of material it is?
MR PRICE: Ah, we have spoken since February 24th and consistently thereafter about the steps we have taken to limit the types of sensitive technologies that can be exported to the Russian Federation. Not only have we enacted a series of punishing sanctions and financial measures against the Russian economy, but our export controls have taken a significant toll.
Since the invasion, there’s been a 74 percent reduction by value of global exports of semiconductors, to name just one example, to Russia compared to the same period of last year. This is the period of March through May in 2022 of this year compared to 2021 of last year. We are watching very closely as countries pursue and maintain, in some cases, a relationship with the Russian Federation.
We have not seen, as we have said, the PRC engage in the type of systemic evasion or provide military equipment to Russia, but we will be watching very closely. This is a message that we have made clear publicly that the provision of weapons or any assistance on the part of the PRC to help Russia systemically evade the unprecedented sanctions, export controls, other financial measures that have been imposed on Moscow, that would come with a very steep cost.
It would come with a very steep cost not only from the United States but the United States acting with the dozens of countries around the world with whom we have enacted this sanctions and export control regime. We have made this clear to the PRC from the earliest days of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Secretary Blinken reiterated this message when he met with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bali just a few days ago.
QUESTION: On this streamlining of the SIV application process, is the U.S. still helping facilitate flights from out of Afghanistan with any SIV applicants? Is that something that is starting up again or has been happening over the past few weeks?
MR PRICE: This has been something that has been happening consistently since late last year. And what I can say is that in addition to – well, let me start – back up just a bit.
You recall, of course, that during the evacuation period there were some 124,000 individuals who were airlifted out of Afghanistan. Of those, there were some 75,000 or so Afghans. We expect a majority of those individuals are SIV-eligible. Many of them are at somewhere – are somewhere in that SIV application process.
When it comes to relocation since August 31st of last year, you’ve heard us speak consistently to the progress we’ve made when it comes to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. As of today, the United States has facilitated the departure from Afghanistan of 803 U.S. citizens and 594 lawful permanent residents. When we said at the time that our commitment to those who would seek to leave Afghanistan, including U.S. citizens and LPRs, would be enduring, we meant it.
But we also said that when it came to our partners, the many thousands of Afghans who assisted the United States Government in various ways over the course of our 20-year military engagement in Afghanistan – I can’t provide you a firm figure, but I can tell you that there have been thousands of Afghans, Afghans at risk, who have – who we have been in a position – whose travel, I should say, we have been in a position to help facilitate.
QUESTION: But you can’t say how many flights? How regularly?
MR PRICE: I can tell you that flights regularly depart. Flights regularly depart with those groups we are determined and committed to helping. That includes U.S. citizens, LPRs, and Afghans who have worked with us over that 20-year period.
QUESTION: Could I ask you about the upcoming meeting, the three-way meeting between Turkey, Russia, and Iran, coming up in Tehran this week? Maybe just in general terms, what is the U.S. hoping from this? Do you think there is any possibility of progress on whether it’s Syria or whether it’s the grain shipments out of Ukraine? And specifically on Putin traveling, is there any concern about him having diplomatic engagements like this?
MR PRICE: I will leave it to these three countries to speak to the agenda. We have seen various statements emanate from these countries regarding the topics of discussion, but I will leave it to these three countries to speak to it.
QUESTION: Just specific – sure, just one thing on that. President Erdoğan today again made a comment that seemed to suggest that it’s not a done deal on NATO accession for Finland and Sweden. How confident is the United States that this is actually a done deal, that this – that the Turks have given their approval for it, or is this still a work in progress?
MR PRICE: We were just in Madrid, Spain late last month. Some of you were there with us. The President and the Secretary of State, others, and all of those of you who were watching heard from the 30 NATO Allies in the room at that NATO summit in Madrid support for the application and the ultimate accession of Finland and Sweden. There is strong consensus and support within the NATO Alliance for their accession, knowing that the accession of these two longstanding partners, these two great democracies, will make the Alliance stronger, will make it more effective, and will contribute to the underlying mission of the NATO Alliance.
Since then, there have been several national assemblies and legislatures around the world that have taken the necessary ratification steps. I know our Congress is eagerly working to put its stamp on the accession bid of these two countries together. Turkey, Finland, Sweden – they signed a trilateral memorandum in Madrid to set this process in motion. The United States will continue to work with those three countries to see to it that this accession process and ratification here and around the world is as swift and efficient as it can possibly be.
QUESTION: On the same topic, Putin said today that his country cannot be cut off from the rest of the world. Is that a wishful thinking, in your opinion, or that reflects the truth given the previous question on his upcoming trip?
MR PRICE: Well, regardless of what we might hear from the Kremlin, the fact is that Russia has been economically, politically, diplomatically, financially isolated from the rest of the world. And it has been isolated from the rest of the world precisely because of the decisions that President Putin has made in, of course namely, the decision to wage this unjustified, illegal, brutal war against the people of Ukraine.
It is always a bit surprising to us to hear any degree of surprise from senior Russian officials that they might find themselves in these economic, financial, political, diplomatic dire straits because we were very clear and consistent in our warnings prior to February 24th that if Vladimir Putin went forward with his plans for invasion precisely the types of costs that he would incur, and those are the costs that the Russian Federation has incurred.
These costs have built as we have placed new measures, as we have coordinated them with our allies and partners, and they have – as they have been compounded and will be compounded over time as they take effect and gain steam.
Many of you – some of you, I should say – were with us in Bali just the other week, where among the participants in the G20 was Foreign Minister Lavrov, who I think may well have been surprised at the reception he received from his counterparts from around the world. The Russian Federation was sent a very clear message that it is not business as usual, it cannot be business as usual. The same message was reiterated at the G20 finance ministers meeting just a couple days ago, and that same meeting will – same message will be consistently conveyed to Russia time and again until and unless it ceases its brutal war in Ukraine, withdraws its forces, and stops the violence.
QUESTION: I have one more question on Ukraine, if you don’t mind. The Secretary met with Ukrainian first lady here at the State Department this morning, and she is slated to address the Congress on Wednesday. Any particular message the Secretary want to convey and so on?
MR PRICE: I expect we’ll have a readout of the Secretary’s meeting with Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska later today, but this really was an opportunity for the Secretary to underscore the United States’ comprehensive and enduring commitment to the people of Ukraine. He had an opportunity to commend the first lady’s work to support the many civilians, Ukrainian civilians, who have been in different ways impacted by this brutal war against Ukraine. He noted that our embassy in Kyiv looks forward to continuing to work with the first lady to support some of her programs. She has a really tremendous mental health initiative for citizens affected by the war. USAID has supported this as well. And he ultimately reiterated that we remain committed to helping the people of Ukraine recover, to helping them rebuild, and that we will continue to stand by their side going forward.
QUESTION: Thank you. I want to ask about the visa waiver for Israelis and the Jerusalem consulate, but I would be remiss if I don’t bring up the issue of the visit of the President and winners and losers. Analysts like to talk about winners and losers and so on, and missed opportunities perhaps. Do you think the President missed the opportunity of emphasizing that, at this day and age, you cannot remove Palestinians by force, like in Masafer Yatta while he was there, while this is really ongoing as he was there?
MR PRICE: Said, the President took advantage, both in Israel and the West Bank, of an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the Israeli people and to the Palestinian people. He made that point in both locations. He made the point very clearly, sitting next to President Abbas, that the United States continues to believe steadfastly in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the 1967 lines with agreed mutual swaps. It was an important signal of where the United States stands.
It was also an important signal that we continue to redouble our financial commitments to the Palestinian people. Since the beginning of this administration – and I would remind you that we inherited a relationship with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority that had essentially been severed. Since the beginning of this administration, we have repaired and we have re-energized that partnership. And you heard from President Biden of the commitment to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, you heard from President Biden of additional commitment to UNRWA, bringing our total support for the Palestinian people since the start of this administration to more than half a billion dollars.
When it comes to the challenges that Palestinians face, those were topics of discussion both in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, the two-state solution with a caveat that maybe in light – I don’t know when it will happen. But I mean, there are some things that the United States should be able to say very clearly and very bluntly about the forced removal of people like in Masafer Yatta.
MR PRICE: Said —
QUESTION: I mean, this is —
MR PRICE: Said, we say those things very clearly and very bluntly all of – consistently. If you’re talking about evictions, Said, I don’t have to remind you that you’ve heard me say on any number of occasions, you’ve heard Secretary Blinken say on any number of occasions —
MR PRICE: — you’ve heard senior officials say on a number of occasions that we believe it’s critical for Israel and for the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions, that undercut efforts to advance —
QUESTION: You keep saying the Palestinians and the Israelis, but in fact – but forgive me.
MR PRICE: — the two-state solution that the President endorsed once again. That certainly includes, Said, as you’ve heard us say, the evictions of families from their homes.
QUESTION: Okay, but the Palestinians are not evicting anyone. I mean, you keep saying both sides. But never mind. Let me ask you about the visa waiver. What is the status of the visa waiver for Israelis?
MR PRICE: This is something that I know we are continuing to discuss with our Israeli partners. There are a number of steps that have to be completed before any country can be admitted into the Visa Waiver Program. This is a decision, this is a process, that’s coordinated closely between the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security.
QUESTION: And finally, I want to ask you about the consulate. Is the consulate still doable? I mean, do you think that the United States is determined as when you guys started 18 months ago about reopening the consulate? You were determined then. Are you still as determined as you were then?
MR PRICE: Well, if you want to talk about taking advantage of the opportunity, you heard and you saw President Biden take advantage of the opportunity, again, sitting right next to President Abbas, to confirm once again that we remain committed to opening our consulate – to reopening our consulate in Jerusalem. We continue to believe it’s an important way for our country to engage with the Palestinian people. In the interim, as you know, we have a team on the ground in Jerusalem as part of our Palestinian Affairs office that does that in the interim. But yes, we remain committed to reopening our consulate in Jerusalem.
QUESTION: Despite whatever opposition that you might get from Capitol Hill? There’s a group of Republicans who are introducing a measure not to have it ever reopen.
MR PRICE: We’re continuing to consult closely with Congress, but we do remain committed to reopening the consulate in Jerusalem.
QUESTION: On a related matter, last year the Israelis accused and shut down six Palestinian NGOs, accusing them of terrorism. Last week – I believe it was last week, at least – the Europeans, who had been presented with the same evidence as the Israelis gave you, said that they didn’t see anything in what the Israelis had presented to prove or to make a case against any of these NGOs. What’s the status of your look into this?
MR PRICE: That look is ongoing. The last time we talked about this, I made the point that our Israeli partners have presented us with the predicate for their decision. That information was shared with the State Department. We in turn have shared it with partners throughout the interagency. We’ve discussed this with other partners around the world as well, including some of those who have come out with their own determination, but I don’t have an update for you in terms of where that stands.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, do you expect that you will have a determination one way or another, whether you agree or – whether you agree with the Israelis or whether you take a similar tack as the Europeans do?
MR PRICE: Well, what I would say right now is that it is never a matter of closing the book. And we are going to do, and we are doing, an assessment of the information that our Israeli partners have provided to us. But these types of assessments are continuously updated based on any new information that we may receive. So I can’t speak to —
QUESTION: Well, it’s been like a year, and the Europeans have – they’ve managed to come up with their own – whether you agree with it or not, I don’t know, but I mean, they’ve managed to come up with their own assessment, and they don’t agree with the Israelis. So if you do or if you do not agree with the Israelis, will you be putting out something to that effect?
MR PRICE: I – we always strive to be as transparent as possible, but we just don’t have an update today to provide in terms of the status of that analysis.
QUESTION: I have a quick question on China. When President Biden was in Saudi, he said that the U.S. will not leave any vacuum to Russia and China. In terms of China, what specific areas is he referring to?
MR PRICE: What he was referring to was the fact that the United States has an affirmative vision, an affirmative vision for our partnerships around the world. The – we have made the point in the run-up to this trip to the Middle East that over the course of recent months, the United States – including at senior levels, to include at the most senior levels, with President Biden in his own travel – we’ve had an opportunity to engage our European partners. We did so with the G7, we did so at NATO. We’ve had an opportunity to engage our partners in Latin America, with the LA summit at the end of May. We’ve had an opportunity, including at the highest levels, to engage our partners in the Indo-Pacific. President Biden traveled to Japan, he traveled to South Korea in late May, and Secretary Blinken, of course, has had an opportunity as recently as just a couple weeks ago to travel to the Indo-Pacific as well.
In each of those engagements, we have spoken of the ability of the United States to be a partner of choice, to be a partner of choice that brings and helps these countries achieve our mutual interests. And the fact is that we often do share a profound number of mutual interests. Our relationships are ones that are – that add value to the United States, to our partners. They are distinct from some of the relationships that we’ve seen other countries around the world, including China, pursue in that they are not extractive, they are not predicated on a race to the bottom. They uphold high labor standards, they uphold the highest standards when it comes to climate change, when it comes to human rights.
And so in all of our conversations, we emphasize primarily what it is that we are able to bring to the table. Oftentimes the contrast between the United States and other countries is implicit; sometimes we do underline it so that it is explicit. I won’t speak to what the PRC seeks out of the Middle East, what the PRC seeks out of Africa or elsewhere, but what I will say is that the United States seeks a series of relationships – bilateral and regional relationships – that are predicated on partnership, and that’s what we describe.
QUESTION: So when those countries do choose to do business with China, do you respect their independent decision?
MR PRICE: Of course. And our point, as you’ve heard from us on any number of occasions, is not to force countries to choose between the United States and China. Our goal is to give countries around the world choices, to give them high-quality choices in which the United States – we are able to present ourselves and give ourselves – present ourselves in the most favorable terms and to explain exactly the type of partnership we seek, to make clear the ways in which we can work together to achieve our mutual interests, and to offer very clearly the high standards that we bring to the table, the highest standards when it comes to labor, when it comes to human rights, when it comes to supply chains, when it comes to all of the things that matters – that matter to our partners around the world.
QUESTION: And lastly, during the last meeting in Bali between Secretary Blinken and Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi, China stressed that Three Joint Communiques are the most reliable guard rails for the two countries. What is your response to that? And is the recent arms sales to Taiwan inconsistent with your words to China in terms of establishing the guard rails?
MR PRICE: We believe that our “one China” policy provides an appropriate framework to continue to engage our PRC counterparts. One of the primary objectives of the meeting with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi was to continue and to in some ways even deepen the avenues of dialogue, because we know that the relationship between the United States and between the PRC is the most consequential bilateral relationship on the face of the Earth. We know that it is a relationship that is predicated on competition, and we want to see to it that that competition is not able to veer into conflict.
And so that is why we continue to believe that engagement with our PRC counterparts is in our interest, but it’s also in the broader interest of countries around the world. We came away from the meeting with Wang Yi with a better understanding of the perspective of our counterparts. I think we saw from their readout that they appreciated the dialogue as well. We will continue that dialogue to do all that we can to see to it that those avenues for conversation, that those avenues for diplomacy remain readily accessible.
QUESTION: But actions speak louder than words. On Taiwan, how do you explain these arms sales to Taiwan is going to affect the relationship right after the meeting?
MR PRICE: Well, we have always said that we have obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act, and under the Taiwan Relations Act we make available to Taiwan defense articles and services necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability. This is something that successive administrations has – have done. It in – it is entirely consistent with our “one China” policy.
QUESTION: About two – two answers ago I think you said something about how you want to be able to present yourself in the most favorable terms possible. Is it the administration’s position that China is preventing you somehow from presenting yourself in the most favorable terms possible when you go to countries in the South Pacific or Africa or elsewhere to —
MR PRICE: No, I did not intend to signal that at all.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MR PRICE: My intention was to say that —
QUESTION: Well, I mean, so you’re able to do that now, right?
MR PRICE: That’s right. That’s right.
QUESTION: So what’s the issue, then?
MR PRICE: Well, the question was about the relationship that the PRC seeks with other countries around the world, and so I was making a distinction between —
QUESTION: Well, right, no, I understand that. But I – but you said you don’t have a problem with them seeking relations around the world —
MR PRICE: No, of course not.
QUESTION: — and this is not you forcing other countries to make a choice.
MR PRICE: It is about us describing what we’re able to bring to the table.
QUESTION: Well, so – right, okay. But you’re not saying that the Chinese are preventing you from putting your best case forward.
MR PRICE: No, I did not intend to signal that at all, no.
QUESTION: In your response to (inaudible), you mentioned human rights and so on. But on the other hand, we saw that the President just met with the OPEC leaders and so on, not known for their human rights and so on. Isn’t that a compromise on this issue? Is the United States compromising on the issue of human rights?
MR PRICE: Said, if we are going to have human rights at the center of our foreign policy – which we do – it is important that we meet with counterparts from around the world and that we speak about human rights. So if the contention is that we should only speak with our closest allies on which we see eye to eye on almost everything, that would limit our ability to conduct diplomacy, but more to the point, it would limit our ability to achieve results for the American people around the world. We can do both. We can have frank, we can have candid discussions about human rights, both at the systemic level and in terms of specific cases with our – with other countries around the world, just as we have conversations about what is in our interest.
And the fact is that in his travel to the Middle East, the President was able to engage in both of those conversations. You heard from him in response to the bilateral engagement he had with our Saudi partners that human rights featured prominently on the agenda, but we do have a multiplicity of interests with Saudi Arabia, and we were able to make good progress on those fronts as well.
QUESTION: I’m sure that you and I – most everybody in this room, so experts in this part of the world and in their part of the world, saying that basically the President conceded on the issue of human rights for nothing in return. He’s got nothing in return. How do you assess that?
MR PRICE: Said, I think if you were watching closely over the past few days, you would have seen some of the really historic announcements to come out of the President’s travel to the Middle East. I’ll name just a few from his time in Jeddah. Of course, we saw the announcement from Saudi Arabia that it will open Saudi airspace for flights to and from Israel. It’s a decision that will – has the potential to pave the way for a more integrated, stable, and secure Middle East. It’s the latest step in our consistent efforts and consistent efforts over the course of multiple administrations to build bridges between countries in the region and something we committed – we commit to advancing even further.
The GCC+3 – the President was there for the GCC+3 summit – pledged to – pledged billions in – of dollars’ worth of assistance to address food security that – in response to President Putin’s war against Ukraine. Saudi Arabia committed to support global oil market balancing for sustained economic growth. This followed on the heels of OPEC+’s decision to increase production by 50 percent above what had been planned for July and August. We had an opportunity – the President, the Secretary had an opportunity to discuss the ongoing truce in Yemen for the first time in more than seven years. We have had months of a humanitarian pause in the fighting. It’s during this period that we’ve been able to – the UN specifically has been able to orchestrate the delivery of tons of humanitarian assistance to parts of Yemen that have been bereft of it for far too long. And we discussed with the GCC+3, including our Saudi partners who were so instrumental to putting – and to getting the ceasefire to be put in place initially the – our profound desire to see it extended once again.
And then running through all of these discussions – and this includes in our time in Israel – was a discussion of Iran and the challenge that Iran poses to the region and potentially beyond, and some strategies and ways in which we can continue to coordinate our efforts to push back on Iran’s malign activities and influence throughout the region.
MR PRICE: Let me move around a little bit. Yes.
QUESTION: During the President’s visit to Saudi Arabia, did the administration secure any commitments regarding U.S. citizens and residents who are considered unfairly imprisoned or under travel ban in Saudi Arabia?
MR PRICE: These types of issues are always on the agenda. The President has no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens around the world. But I’d need to refer you to the White House for the specifics of that.
QUESTION: Do President Zelenskyy’s allegations of treason and collaborating with Russia against many members of his own government, do they – are they cause for concern, especially in regards to sharing U.S. intelligence and the prosecuting of war crimes?
MR PRICE: Well, let me make a couple broad points. First, when it comes to the news we’ve heard out of Kyiv, we are aware of the reports and we’ll continue to carefully monitor the situation. We are in daily contact with our Ukrainian partners. We are – we – I think the fact is that over – in all of our relationships and including in this relationship, we invest not in personalities; we invest in institutions. And of course, President Zelenskyy has spoken to his rationale for making these personnel shifts. We’d, of course, refer you to him and to his office for more on that.
The broader point, however, is that we all know – and it has been clear since well before February 24th and really for the better part of a decade – that Moscow has long sought to subvert and to destabilize the Ukrainian Government. Ever since Ukraine chose the path of democracy in a Western orientation, this has been something that Moscow has sought to subvert. Now, I’m not speaking to the personnel changes that were announced today; I’m speaking to the broader strategic intent on the part of Moscow. It looked a certain way, in 2014 to February of 2022 with the start of the invasion, but what we’re seeing and what we saw in the earliest days of Russia’s war against Ukraine was very clearly an effort to not only subvert but we think overthrow the Ukrainian Government, of course an effort where – in which the Russian Government has been unsuccessful.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: But you didn’t say if you’re concerned or not about sharing U.S. information with the prosecutor general’s office. So is that a concern? Have you put any of that sharing on hold? Because this wasn’t about a personality, according to Zelenskyy; it was about a broader problem within that office.
MR PRICE: Well, again, we’ve invested in the institution. Of course, there had been a relationship between the prosecutor general and individuals in this building and throughout the interagency. But I am confident that that personal relationship can be built between people like Beth Van Schaack and others with the incoming prosecutor general. We are leaning forward in terms of the information that we are sharing with our Ukrainian partners to help them build the case for accountability against those who may have perpetrated war crimes and other atrocities.
The fact is that accountability and what is useful in terms of building these cases oftentimes is not especially sensitive. And you may recall that a couple of months ago, we established the Conflict Observatory, whose role is to collect, to assimilate, and to make accessible open-source information that points to potential atrocity crimes. And so much of the information, much of what we do pass to the office of the prosecutor general on a routine basis, is open-source information. We do have an intelligence-sharing relationship with our Ukrainian counterparts. That is, we continue to proceed ahead with that. It’s an important element of the assistance that we are providing to our Ukrainian partners in an effort to help them defend themselves.
QUESTION: So two questions on Mexico. Two weeks ago, The New York Times published a report citing several officials within the administration very critical of the cozy relationship that Ambassador Ken Salazar has with President AMLO in Mexico. Has the Secretary called Ambassador Salazar to reassure that there is full confidence in him?
And second, last Friday Mexico detained, arrested one of the top drug lords in the country, which is – who is also part of the Narcotics Rewards Program from the State Department. What kind of collaboration did the U.S. provided, information-sharing or any other details, to the Mexican Government to conduct this operation?
MR PRICE: So on your second question, there’s not much I can provide beyond noting that counternarcotics is an area of cooperation between our two governments. It’s an area that was discussed when President Biden met with AMLO, President López Obrador, in the Oval Office just under a week ago. But when it comes to specific investigations and the specific operations as such, it’s not something I’d be able to speak to in any detail.
When it comes to Ambassador Salazar, he often speaks to the seniormost individuals in this building. He’s an outstanding ambassador who represents the interests of the American people in his role as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico. We have a broad and deep relationship with Mexico, with agencies across the U.S. Government that collaborate very closely with their Mexican partners to advance our many shared interests. Just spoke to one of them, but there are many more. Since the beginning of this administration, we’ve relaunched the U.S.-Mexico High-Level Economic Dialogue, the bilateral high-level security dialogue, and the North American Leaders Summit. And Ambassador Salazar has been a leading voice and a leading force in all of these efforts.
Now, of course, there is a lot to do bilaterally with our Mexican counterparts. There was a lot on the table when AMLO met with President Biden at the White House just last week, and we’ll continue to have those conversations. And Ambassador Salazar will continue to lead our engagement with the Mexican Government when it comes to those conversations.
QUESTION: Hi. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what former Japanese Prime Minister Abe meant for U.S.-Japan relations. And while the U.S.-Japan relationship is of course much stronger than any one individual, how might Abe’s death impact U.S.-Japan relations moving forward?
MR PRICE: You heard from the Secretary, who was honored to have both the opportunity and the invitation to visit Japan a week ago today in the tragic aftermath of the assassination of former Prime Minister Abe. The Secretary attended a private convening with the prime minister. He presented the prime minister with a letter from President Biden addressed to the family of Prime Minister Abe. But Secretary Blinken also spoke on behalf not only of the American Government, but on behalf of the American people when he spoke of the legacy that the Prime Minister leaves behind.
Secretary Blinken made the point that Prime Minister Abe is one of the rare figures in history who had a vision, who had a vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, who advanced that idea, and someone who at the same time was able to implement that vision. Prime Minister Abe worked closely with successive American administrations on that vision. I think it is only appropriate for his legacy today that we have an Indo-Pacific that together we are – with our Japanese allies and our other allies and partners around the world – are seeking to make even freer, even more open, very much as Prime Minister Abe envisioned and articulated.
QUESTION: Can you think of any ways in which the former prime minister’s death might affect relationships between the United States and Japan moving forward?
MR PRICE: I think, as Secretary Blinken said, it only redoubles our conviction that we need to continue to do everything we can to advance the vision that he put forward. We have a tremendous relationship with Prime Minister Kishida and his government but – and I’ve already said this in a different context during this briefing – when it comes to partners, when it comes to the closest of allies like Japan, these are relationships that transcend any one prime minister, any one individual, any one leader. And the relationship between the prime – between the United States and Japan is such that it is an enduring relationship between two allies, between two countries, and a relationship that will endure for decades to come.
MR PRICE: Let me – yes, please. Yes.
QUESTION: On COVID-19 ministerial meeting, which will be held tomorrow morning, what deliverables can we expect from the meeting?
Secondly, the Taiwan has not received an invitation. So why will Taiwan be out of this meeting this time?
MR PRICE: We’ll have more to say on the ministerial tomorrow. This is a ministerial that we’re cohosting with our Japanese allies. Again, this speaks, I think, to the breadth of our relationship with Japan, the many shared values and the many shared interests that we have with our Japanese allies.
This is an opportunity for the convening countries to discuss the urgent need to continue to address the acute phase of this pandemic and to continue to execute against the various lines of effort that are part of what we refer to as the GAP, or the Global Action Plan, that we unveiled earlier this year, in February of this year, I believe. And the GAP is – it’s an approach that looks holistically at the challenge not only posed by COVID-19, but also the requirements of global health infrastructure that go well beyond the current pandemic, to see to it that the world is better equipped to respond to the next outbreak or the next epidemic before it can become a pandemic.
There are a number of countries with whom we’ve partnered over the course of the past 16 months in this administration on COVID-19. The ministerial tomorrow will bring together some of them, but certainly not all of them. There are other partners who have also played an important role. When it comes to Taiwan, the world, as we’ve said before, has a lot to learn from Taiwan when it comes to public health, when it comes to global health. We’ll continue to engage our – we’ll continue to engage Taiwanese authorities, consistent with our unofficial relationship with Taiwan, on public health and global health going forward.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: President Biden and Secretary Blinken always affirm that they will never, ever let Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon of any sort. Now, if we believe what is coming out of Iran – and not from anyone in Iran, from the Iranian supreme leader’s advisor, who is a very credible source – that Iran is indeed a threshold state. So do you have any new assessment, do you have any new policy towards Iran, specifically after Biden’s trip to the region?
MR PRICE: Well, we have made clear – and I think you’ve heard me make this point – that ever since the last administration left the JCPOA, it’s no secret that Iran’s fissile material and its breakout time has – its fissile material has increased and its breakout time, that is to say the amount of time it would need to acquire enough fissile material to create a nuclear weapon if it chose to weaponize, that time has decreased significantly. It has gone from about a year at its height to a matter of a few weeks or less.
The reason we are so – we remain focused on determining whether we can achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is precisely because a mutual return to compliance would put Iran’s nuclear program back in a box. It would lengthen that breakout time, which is now too short for comfort, which has now dwindled well beyond where anyone would like to see it. And it would also ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is once again subject to the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated and subject to IAEA monitoring.
But you said this in your question. The President has committed that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon. We continue to believe that diplomacy is the most effective means by which to fulfill that pledge. We continue to believe under that framework that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is the most advantageous course that remains viable, and we’ll continue to pursue that as long as it’s in our interest.
QUESTION: So you don’t believe in Iranians’ claims? You don’t buy that? You think they are bragging?
MR PRICE: We know that they have acquired additional fissile material. We know that their breakout time has been reduced significantly. But this President has made a commitment that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon.
A couple final questions. Yes, Nick.
QUESTION: Can I just go back to following up on Shaun’s early question on President Putin’s trip to Tehran tomorrow? Are there any concerns that he may use this, at least in part, to advance his country’s acquisition of weapons-capable drones from Iran?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve spoken about our concerns regarding a potential Russian provision – excuse me, a potential Iranian provision of UAV technology to Russia. We will continue to watch very closely. All of our sanctions remain in force. Any transaction of this sort would implicate a number of sanctions that we have on the books and presumably a number of sanctions that countries around the world have on the books. So this is something that we’ll continue to monitor.
QUESTION: Ned, just to follow up on Shaun’s question also about NATO – the NATO memberships of Finland and Sweden, you made some comments but I didn’t hear an answer. Just wondering – Germany ratified the agreement, and I think maybe like a dozen of them also ratified it. Obviously, Turkey has made it clear that they’re going to take longer. So what is the U.S. expectation on how, when this is going to be concluded? Do you guys have, like, a timeframe that you want to get this done? It was as soon as possible. It became clear that it’s – that’s not going to be the case. So, like year end?
MR PRICE: We do have a timeframe. And as you just said, it’s as soon as possible. The fact – the —
QUESTION: But that’s not realistic at this point, is it?
MR PRICE: Well, of course. There is – we do note that the process for ratification involves legislative action or parliamentary action on the part of some 30 countries. Different countries will have to move at different speeds based upon their laws, based upon their procedures. As you’ve noted, several countries have already been in a position to move forward. But because this is the modification to a treaty, it is not something that can be done overnight, but we do want to see it completed just as quickly as possible.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: There has been an uptick in violence in the Blue Nile region, and also there have been some street protests I think over the weekend in Khartoum. On July 4th, General Burhan made his address in which he dismissed the – or sorry, said that he was – wanted to pave the way for the civilian – for civilian leadership. At the time, your reaction was fairly cautious, saying let’s wait and see what happens. Do you have any new assessment of what’s happening in Sudan? Are you confident that there could be some progress in Sudan, or are you concerned with the way things are going there?
MR PRICE: I don’t have an updated assessment to offer. As you rightly noted, we did note at the time that we saw General Burhan’s address to the country and his commitment to dissolve the Sovereign Council once a civilian government has formed. We encouraged, at the time, all sides to re-engage, to find a solution that will keep Sudan moving towards a civilian-led government, democracy, and free and fair elections. And we also urge that violence against protesters be investigated and that perpetrators be held accountable. We have continued to engage with relevant stakeholders, but I don’t have an updated assessment as to the next steps.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Two questions on the South Caucasus. Can you please expand on the Secretary’s Saturday tweet on – about Azerbaijan and Armenian foreign ministers meeting in Georgia, which he called a positive step? I understand this was all discussed by, I think, the Assistant Secretary Donfried’s call, during her call to both Baku and Yerevan yesterday. Has the U.S. been seeking some active role in this process? What is your role at this point?
MR PRICE: Well, we have been taking an active role. We’ve consistently said that we are ready and stand ready to engage bilaterally and with likeminded partners, including through our role as an OSCE Minsk Group co-chair, to help the countries find a long-term, comprehensive peace.
Secretary Blinken had has an opportunity in recent weeks to engage with his foreign ministry – his foreign minister counterparts. Assistant Secretary Donfried, others in this building, have also had an opportunity to engage at high levels with their Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts as well.
We did welcome the meeting between the representatives. We continue to believe that dialogue is the best means by which to achieve a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous future for the South Caucasus region, and we’ll continue to support that in any way we can.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. And last question on EU gas deal on – with Azerbaijan this morning. How reliable is it, in your opinion, given Azerbaijan’s questionable relationship with Russia and also lack of human rights records?
MR PRICE: Sorry, say that one more time? How —
QUESTION: The country’s lack of human rights records and also country’s questionable relationship with Russia. They had partnership ally agreement just days before Russia invaded in Ukraine.
MR PRICE: If we have anything on that, we’ll let you know. We are obviously working very closely with our EU allies as well as with other partners in the region, including Azerbaijan, on the issue of energy security. We want to see a stable global supply of energy during this time. It is something that our U.S.-EU task force is working very closely on. It’s something that we’re working very closely on bilaterally with a number of countries around the world, including Azerbaijan.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:11 p.m.)