WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. State Department held a press briefing on October 18, 2021, touching on subjects ranging from Colin Powell, Ethiopia war, Iran, Russia/NATO, China’s nuclear-capable hypersonic missile, and more.
Department Press Briefing – October 18, 2021
10/18/2021 06:01 PM EDT
Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
2:10 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone.
Before we turn to today’s business, I just want to spend a moment picking up where Secretary Blinken left off this morning. As you know, today is a very somber day here at the Department of State. Some of my colleagues were lucky enough to work for Secretary Powell. I’ve heard many of them over the course of this morning tell their favorite stories about Secretary Powell. They have, without exception, done so with a spark in their eye and with appropriate warmth in their voice. All of us here are fortunate enough to work in an institution that Secretary Powell has shaped and one that continues to reflect his tremendous legacy.
Speaking for myself as a child of the late Cold War and the first Gulf War, I remember thinking there could be no leader bigger, no leader greater than someone like General Powell, whom we now know as Secretary Powell, at least in this building. He was an inspiration to not only my generation, but many generations of America. Americans across this country are lucky enough to have experienced a trailblazing leader with integrity, with character, perhaps most of all with decency. And this institution in this country are better off because of Colin Powell, whom we all miss very dearly.
Now turning to today, the United States welcomes the opening of the Syrian Constitutional Committee’s sixth round of negotiations today in Geneva. We stand firmly behind UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and UN Special Envoy Pedersen, who brought the co-chairs together in advance of the Constitutional Committee for the first time yesterday.
It is essential the Syrian regime and leaders of the opposition engage constructively in Geneva, consistent with the political process outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
The Syrian people deserve nothing less after more than a decade of war.
And with that, I will be happy to turn to your questions. Matt, do you want to start?
QUESTION: Yes, please. Thank you. A couple of brief one. On Russia and NATO, you, I’m sure, have seen that they had suspended their office – their liaison office with NATO in Brussels, and I’m wondering if you have anything to say about that. And if you don’t or if you don’t care, that’s fine, but do you have any reaction to them also closing down NATO’s office in Moscow?
MR PRICE: Well, we would refer you to NATO for further information, but we do note that NATO recently withdrew the accreditation of eight members of the Russian mission to NATO who were serving as undeclared Russian intelligence officers. NATO’s policy towards Russia remains consistent. It has strengthened its deterrence and its defense in response to Russia’s aggressive action while, at the same time, leaving the door open for meaningful dialogue. That continues to be the case.
QUESTION: Okay, so no specific reaction to them suspending or closing down the office in Moscow?
MR PRICE: Nothing now on that.
QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, do you have any comment on the bombing in Tigray by Ethiopian planes?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve seen these reports of an attack on the capital in Mekelle. We are in the process of looking into them. We, broadly speaking, do remain gravely concerned by what has been escalating violence for some time. That includes the expansion of fighting in northern Ethiopia and in regions throughout the country, and, of course, the growing risk that that fighting poses to the integrity of the Ethiopian state. Not only does it pose a risk to the state, it undermines critical efforts to keep civilians safe, and importantly, to deliver humanitarian aid to Ethiopians who are in dire need of such support.
We urge all parties to end hostilities immediately, and for the Ethiopian Government and the TPLF, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, to enter into negotiation without preconditions toward a sustainable ceasefire. We continue to believe that a sustainable ceasefire will help establish conditions for a dialogue that is credible, a dialogue that is inclusive, and to find a political settlement to the longstanding political grievances that have led to the conflict.
Moreover, as we’ve said before, the Government of Eritrea must immediately and permanently withdraw its forces from Ethiopia, consistent with the comments already made by both Ethiopia and Eritrea.
QUESTION: Can I have one more on Ethiopia?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: The executive order on sanctions went into effect weeks ago. What is the administration waiting for to impose sanctions under that regime?
MR PRICE: Well, we have been very clear that we are prepared to use every tool at our disposal until and unless the various parties change their course. Obviously, the executive order that went into effect in September, I believe it is, does afford the U.S. Government an important tool to hold accountable those who are responsible for the violence, those who are responsible for the suffering of the Ethiopian people. We are absolutely prepared to use that tool and other appropriate tools as might be appropriate.
QUESTION: Ned, on Iran. I wonder how the United States view Iran’s request for a meeting in Brussels with EU officials to discuss the draft text from June. Do you think this is a way of them trying to slow roll you?
MR PRICE: Well, to be clear, we do not think it is necessary. We are, together with our allies and partners in the P5+1, of the same mind that negotiations in Vienna – a seventh round of talks between the P5+1 and Iran, indirect in the case of the United States – should resume as soon as possible. We have been very clear at that. The destination we seek is in Vienna, not an intermediate step in Brussels. Of course, we understand that Mr. Mora recently is in Tehran. Certainly appreciate the efforts of the EU to engage in this dialogue on behalf of the Joint Commission, on behalf of our allies and partners who seek the same goal, and that is a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA as negotiated in Vienna – and importantly, picking up in Vienna with a seventh round that takes up where the sixth round left off.
This is the message that we heard consistently from our allies and partners when we were in New York City on the margins of the UN General Assembly. This is the message that the Secretary has heard on a bilateral and multilateral basis in his conversations before the UN General Assembly and after the UN General Assembly. There is no daylight with our partners. There is no disagreement that a mutual return to compliance remains in our interests, it remains in the interests of our allies and partners, and that we should resume the work of testing the proposition as to whether we can get there in Vienna as soon as possible.
QUESTION: One on Iran as well, if I could. Saudi Arabia said last week that they’ve had four interactions, or what they call interactions or discussions, with Iran since April. And is this department encouraged by these interactions? Do you see it as good for possibly encouraging Iran back to the table, and/or any concern with these interactions given that they’re both regional foes?
MR PRICE: Well, we certainly think constructive dialogue can be a useful tool for de-escalating tensions, regional tensions. We’re supportive of dialogue broadly speaking. We’re supportive of dialogue in this case.
QUESTION: Well, I don’t know if this has to do with Iran or not, but since I haven’t seen a readout of it, what was the purpose of this virtual call the Secretary did with the Israelis and the Emiratis and the Indians?
MR PRICE: So you will see a readout of that later today, but —
QUESTION: If it wasn’t Iran, then we can move on to Shaun.
MR PRICE: It was not Iran. It was not Iran.
QUESTION: Okay. So —
MR PRICE: It was – well, you’ll have a readout later today.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Okay.
MR PRICE: But obviously this is a collection of four countries – the United States, the UAE, Israel, and India – with whom we share many interests. It was an opportunity for the ministers to discuss a range of topics, including expanding economic and political cooperation in the respective regions, deepening economic – excuse me, discussed climate change, energy cooperation, maritime security, a whole range of issues. But you’ll see a readout of it later today.
QUESTION: Can we go to Venezuela?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Can we do more on Iran?
MR PRICE: One more on Iran? Sure.
QUESTION: Right – would you say that the administration is sort of growing increasingly pessimistic that Iran even wants to come back into a deal? Are you preparing now for the possibility that this whole thing might just fail and it’s time to move on to not necessarily a plan B or other options, as the Secretary put it, but a new policy prerogative and declare sort of the death of the return to the JCPOA?
MR PRICE: Well, to your question, Nick, look, we’re not optimistic; we are not pessimistic. We are clear-eyed. And we are taking into account precisely what we are hearing from the Iranians, what we are not hearing from the Iranians, what we are seeing from the Iranians, what we are not seeing from the Iranians. We are in the midst of – in the midst of watching closely as the Iranians, it seems, form their own consensus as to what path they would like to choose. We are engaged in ongoing consultations with our allies and partners. As you know, Rob Malley is now in the Middle East. He has just concluded a set of good meetings in the UAE. He’ll be going on to Qatar, to Saudi Arabia, as well during this trip.
But look, we have been very clear and we have been clear for some time now this is not an exercise that can go on indefinitely. The Secretary made this point on the 8th floor of this building last week when he was with his Emirati and Israeli counterpart. We continue to believe that there is a path for diplomacy. We continue to believe, as I said before, that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, one that is diplomatically negotiated, is the best and most effective means at our disposal to see to it that Iran is once again permanently and verifiably prevented from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.
But of course, diplomacy, like many things in life, it takes two. And we have not seen – heard those messages, we’ve not seen actions to date that are all that comforting when it comes to what the Iranians might seek in the near term. But of course, the door remains open.
All the while – you heard this from the Secretary, you heard this after National Security Advisor Sullivan’s meeting with his Israeli counterpart on October 5th – the President has made clear that if diplomacy fails we are prepared to turn to other options, and this is part of the intensive consultations that we are undertaking with our allies and partners in the region and beyond.
QUESTION: Can I just ask a quick follow-up? What do you make of the fact that it now looks like Iran is exporting about a million barrels of oil a day and seemingly has no financial incentive to come back to negotiations? The economy is doing better, it’s gone back into positive territory, the currency is no longer in freefall. It feels like sanctions enforcement has tailed off and, really, there’s no leverage, economic leverage, despite the sanctions that the administration has in place to compel them back to the table.
MR PRICE: Look, I would dispute the premise that Iran doesn’t have economic incentives to come back to the table. These were economic incentives that led Iran to the table in the deal that came together in July of 2015 that was implemented in January 2016. These are some of the same incentives that remain today.
When it comes to our sanctions and sanctions enforcement, I just want to be very clear that our sanctions on Iranian oil and petrochemicals remain fully in place. We will continue to enforce them together with our allies and partners around the world until and unless Iran chooses a path of diplomacy and a path to a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.
QUESTION: And what are you doing, then, about the fact that China continues to import, like, 750,000 barrels a day from Iran?
MR PRICE: Look, these are consultations that we’re having with our allies and partners. We have been very clear about where we stand in terms of our sanctions, in terms of our sanctions enforcement. The PRC has also been very clear in terms of where they stand on a potential mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. The PRC is an original member – a founding member, you might say – of the P5+1. The authorities in Beijing have made very clear that, like the United States, like the Russian Federation, like the EU, like the French, like the Germans, like the Brits, we are all of the mindset that a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action remains in our collective interest. And right now, we are waiting to be able to render a verdict as to whether Iran is willing and able to return to the negotiating table in Vienna.
QUESTION: Venezuela. Over the weekend, the Maduro government said it was suspending talks with Guaido. They were citing the extradition of Mr. Saab. Do you have any reaction, first, to the severing of the dialogue, what this bodes for the future in Venezuela, and also to the linkage with the extradition?
MR PRICE: Sure. Look, at the broadest level, Nicolas Maduro needs to end the human rights abuses and needs to allow the Venezuelan people, his people, to participate in free and fair presidential, parliamentary, regional, and local elections. We have been consistent in terms of where we stand with the Venezuelan-led negotiations between the Unity Platform and the Maduro regime. We support them, we continue to support them, and we continue to believe that they should lead to the peaceful restoration of democracy that the people of Venezuela so earnestly desire and deserve. They should end – they should result in an end to the regime’s human rights abuses and to the alleviation of Venezuela’s dire humanitarian suffering and put an end to a crisis that has gone on for far too long.
By suspending participation in these negotiations, the Maduro regime, on the other hand, has made very clear that it is putting its interests once again above the interests of the Venezuela people. Just think about it. They are putting the case of one individual above the welfare, above the well-being, above the livelihoods of the millions of Venezuelans who have made clear their aspirations for democracy, for greater freedom, for prosperity, and, at a most basic level, an alleviation of the humanitarian suffering that the regime has inflicted on the Venezuela people.
We will continue to work with the Venezuelan – with our Venezuelan international partners to, in the meantime, provide assistance to address the crisis in Venezuela. We call on the international community to redouble its support to the Venezuela people as they work to peacefully restore democracy to their country.
As I think all of you know, we’ll be headed in that direction tomorrow. We’ll be going to Ecuador and Colombia Tuesday through Thursday of this week, and we’ll have an opportunity there to discuss some of these broad themes as well.
QUESTION: Ned, on the CITGO-6.
Let – Shaun, were you – yeah.
QUESTION: Happy to go to that. But just a brief follow-up on that.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: I think I know the answer, but I want to ask if the – linking the extradition to this, is that something that would be under discussion for the United States? Do you see some – any type of linkage there that you could have?
MR PRICE: It is often difficult for undemocratic, autocratic, repressive governments to understand a simple and fundamental truth about how we operate in this country, and that is that our law enforcement is independent of politics, of policy. The criminal charges against Alex Saab long predate and have no relation to the political negotiations between the Unity Platform and the Maduro regime. These operate on a second track. So no, there is no linkage.
QUESTION: Well, then how do you – how would you explain the whole Huawei case?
QUESTION: Ned, to follow up on that, just because it’s —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — unclear where they are, and if this – if you’re worried about their fate being linked to this as well.
MR PRICE: Well, we are aware of the reports that the CITGO-6 have been moved from – back from house arrest into custody, but we can’t confirm their current locations. We often do have difficulty obtaining access to and confirming reports about detained individuals in Venezuela, but we make every effort to provide appropriate consular assistance even if that’s by phone, by video conference, by other means. We have been in frequent and direct contact with their families, however, and that will continue.
QUESTION: Ned, I don’t think you just – just had said that the criminal charges are another thing in terms of the political negotiation in Mexico, but regarding the CITGO-6, their families here in the U.S. are demanding that the Biden administration take steps towards guarantee their safety and their release. And they are even suggesting that you kind of make some kind of exchange between Alex Saab and the CITGO-6. Is this even possible? Are you considering?
MR PRICE: Look, to be very clear, these are wrongful detainees. These are individuals who were lured to Venezuela by the Maduro regime and arrested upon their arrival. The regime continues to detain them to gain political leverage. They are holding them as political pawns. We call on the regime to release them immediately so that they can return to be reunited with their families in the United States.
If you take a look at the history of this case, after cancelling their initial appearance before a judge dozens of times over the last three years, a Venezuelan court convicted these individuals after a sham trial without any evidence. Having already spent four years wrongfully detained in Venezuela on these specious charges, they should be immediately and unconditionally released.
We have spoken many times before about the practice, the heinous practice of arbitrary detention of individuals, of holding individuals on trumped up charges, putting them through sham trials, refusing to afford them real due process. It is a practice that is as reprehensible in Venezuela as it is anywhere else in the world. And Secretary Blinken has made a point of working closely with our partners and allies, including, prominently, with our Canadian allies, to reinforce the norm that taking and holding individuals for nothing more than political gain is a practice that must be discarded, is a practice that has no place in the modern world. And that’s what we’ll continue to do.
QUESTION: So no exchange? No Saab for CITGO-6?
MR PRICE: These are individuals who were wrongfully detained who should be released unconditionally.
QUESTION: Ned, I want to ask you about the visit of Secretary Blinken to Colombia in two days. The U.S. has said that Colombia is a strategic ally, and with this trip I think that you want to show that. However, President Ivan Duque was here in Washington two times in the last three weeks looking for a meeting with President Joe Biden. Is President Joe Biden ignoring President Ivan Duque, or is he avoiding a meeting with Duque?
MR PRICE: No. There is no avoiding; it is very true that Colombia is a strategic partner of ours. That is precisely why the Secretary will be visiting Colombia on his first trip to South America as Secretary of State in just a couple days. He, of course, will have an opportunity to meet with President Duque, with his foreign minister counterpart. We’ll have an opportunity to meet with other government officials, with civil society, with business counterparts. So this is very much an effort to showcase, to strengthen, and to deepen the relationship – the important relationship – between the United States and Colombia, and we’ll have an opportunity to speak to that in the coming days.
QUESTION: On Haiti, do you have any update on the kidnapped Americans and Canadian? Do you – does the State Department know where they are? Who is taking the lead on trying to get them?
MR PRICE: Well, as you heard from us over the weekend, we can confirm that 17 individuals – 16 of whom are U.S. citizens – were kidnapped on October 16th, on Saturday, in the greater Port-au-Prince area. We have made this point before, but the welfare, the safety, the security of U.S. citizens abroad is one of our highest priorities.
Our embassy team in Haiti has been in constant contact with the Haitian National Police, with the missionary group Christian Aid Ministries, and family members of the victims. We’ll continue to work with them; we’ll continue to work with the Canadian Government, given that one of the victims is a Canadian citizen; and with our interagency partners in this ongoing investigation.
The State Department has – is part of a small team that is now on the ground that has been dispatched to Haiti to work closely with Haitian authorities on this matter. This is something that we have treated as – with the utmost priority since Saturday. Our teams across the building have been working closely with our interagency partners, and as I said before, with our partners on the ground in Haiti to do all we can to seek a quick resolution to this.
QUESTION: Is the State Department aware of their whereabouts? Are you in touch with this gang that has said they kidnapped them?
MR PRICE: Well, we’re not going to go into specifics, but we have been in close touch with the families, with the group to which this group of missionaries belongs, and we’ll continue to coordinate closely with them.
QUESTION: Following up on Haiti. Thank you. There were calls in the wake of the assassination for the U.S. to become involved in Haiti, to help provide security. Is that the kind of thing, being reminded how dangerous it is there, that the U.S. is re-evaluating?
And then on the other hand, there’s a question of whether migrants should be deported back to a country like Haiti that’s just dangerous, where gangs operate with impunity. Is the administration re-evaluating that policy, or is it – are we going to proceed forward with not intervening in Haiti and sending migrants back to the country?
MR PRICE: Well, let me start with the first element of your question, the conditions in Haiti. We have had a series of engagement – engagements with Haitian authorities, with civil society, with other actors on the ground, of course, before the assassination of President Moïse and in the weeks after. And one of the messages we’ve heard at every level is the real concern about security, about security conditions in Port-au-Prince and across the country.
It is no secret that Haiti faces severe security challenges. That is why our International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Bureau, or INL, has provided capacity building to the Haitian National Police to support the Haitian National Police’s development as a professional and an accountable institution able to – better equipped to take on some of these challenges. INL provides technical assistance through embedded subject matter experts, training, equipment, and other security assistance to help improve citizen security in Haiti.
We realize what a priority this is for the people of Haiti, and that’s why we have provided funding to the tune of $312 million in assistance over the last decade alone to strengthen law enforcement and capacity of the Haitian National Police and to maintain peace and stability throughout the country.
In response to the increasingly perilous security situation on the ground, in recent weeks alone we’ve allocated an additional $15 million to partnering with the Haitian National Police on top of those existing efforts, including $12 million specifically to strengthen the police’s capacity to respond to gangs, including efforts with communities to resist gangs and additional anti-gang subject matter experts in support of the Haitian National Police to establish and anti-gang task force among other measures that have been implemented as well.
To the second part of your question, we are a partner to the Haitian people and to the Haitian Government. We remain committed to supporting the Haitian people during this especially difficult time. We have been clear. We have been resolute on that both before the killing of President Moïse and, of course, in the weeks since.
It is important to us that we are doing all we can, and we continue to do all we can to provide assistance that supports and promotes stability, resilience, health, and safety for Haitians at home. And in accord with that we have provided $5.5 million in assistance and support – to support the reception of Haitian migrants returning to Haiti. This is administered by USAID and it supports several aspects of the International Organization for Migration’s ongoing efforts to provide immediate reception services for migrants returned to Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien.
When it comes to our immigration policy, U.S. immigration law remains in effect. Migrants arriving by irregular means and without a legal basis to remain are subject to removal under U.S. law. We are committed to supporting safe, orderly, and humane migration throughout our region, and we’re engaging with partners throughout the migratory corridor in the region to underscore our shared responsibility for helping to manage migration, knowing that what happens in Central and South America, what happens in the Caribbean, is of collective interest to all of us.
It is part of the reason why Secretary Blinken is eager to take part in a ministerial this week when we travel to South America precisely on the challenge of regional migration. It is a follow-on discussion in some ways to the ministerial that we attended in Costa Rica earlier this year, and we’ve had any number of opportunities, including recently in the General Assembly with some of our regional partners, to discuss how together as a hemisphere, as partners and allies throughout the hemisphere, we can work together to manage migration and how the United States can continue to develop a partnership, including in the Northern Triangle, to provide opportunities for individuals in their home countries.
The right to remain is what one of the participants at the SICA Ministerial called it. Making sure that those throughout the region, whether that’s in Haiti, whether that’s in the Northern Triangle, whether that is in any other country in our hemisphere or beyond, that individuals who might seek or aspire to seek a better life somewhere actually feel the promise and the hope and the potential within their own countries. And that’s precisely what our partnership with the region is all about.
QUESTION: Secretary Powell is being remembered for many significant achievements today. But do you think that his reputation on the world stage is at all diminished by him garnering support for the Iraq War from allies like Australia based on poor intelligence?
MR PRICE: Secretary Powell is remembered in this building, in this country, and I think around the world as someone who exemplified the utmost integrity, character, and decency in all that he did. Secretary Blinken made the point today that he was a man of ideas, but he wasn’t ideological. And in that same vein, he was someone who could admit when he was wrong. And I think he is someone whose example really exudes leadership. When you think about a leader and you think about the qualities, whether that’s in a military leader or in a leader within this institution, a leader within our body politic, I think we would all do well if we were able to emulate what General Powell, what Secretary Powell, exemplified in this country and on the world stage.
QUESTION: Ned, so on Turkey, President Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said, United States has proposed the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. There was a recent request that was sent up – that you guys did not comment on, but it was sent up – in return for Turkey’s investment in the F-35 program. So can you confirm the president’s comments that it was indeed this – this was a proposal that was coming from the U.S. side?
MR PRICE: Let me say as a matter of general policy, and you know this, Humeyra, the department does not confirm or comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until and unless they have been formally notified to Congress. When it comes to Turkey, we strongly value our partnership with our NATO Ally Turkey. It’s an important NATO Ally. We have longstanding and deep bilateral ties, and Turkey’s continued NATO interoperability remains a priority.
Now, when it comes to the issue you raised, I will say that we remain – the Department of Defense, I should say – remains in consultation with Turkey on an F-35 dispute resolutions – dispute resolution. Turkish officials have publicly acknowledged their interest in purchasing F-16 aircraft. We would refer you to Turkish Government – to the Turkish Government to speak to its defense procurement plans. What I can say is the United States has not made any financing offers on Turkey’s F-16 request.
QUESTION: Okay. So let me elaborate just a little bit on that. Has the United States encouraged Turkey at any of its consultations to submit that request for F-16s?
MR PRICE: As I said, the Department of Defense does remain in consultations with Turkey on the F-35 program. How that dispute may be resolved, I’m not in a position to speak to that dialogue what – but to be clear, we have not made any financing offers on Turkey’s F-16 request.
QUESTION: Does that mean that the arguments that President Erdogan is making, like we have paid this amount of money for the F-35 program and we would like that to be counted for our potential F-16 request, you’re basically saying you have never told Turkey that that is possible.
MR PRICE: What I’m saying is that the Department of Defense continues to be engaged in a dispute resolution mechanism with Turkey on the F-35, but I’m not going to prejudge the outcome of that.
QUESTION: Is that technically possible, what President Erdogan is referring to, saying something like a store credit – we have paid this much amount of money and now we want that? Is that technically possible?
MR PRICE: This is all part of a dispute resolution mechanism. Again, I don’t want to prejudge it. I don’t want to go into private conversations between the Turkish Government and this administration. So I will leave it that.
QUESTION: Okay. Finale one. On – given the Congress, given the bipartisan opposition, would the administration be looking at perhaps lobbying for F-16 sales to Turkey in Congress?
MR PRICE: Again, this – I think this goes back to my first answer, and that is, we don’t speak to any defense sales or transfers until and unless they’re notified to Congress.
QUESTION: Could I ask you —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — on the F-16s? So when you say the U.S. hasn’t made any financing offer – so you’re confirming the request if you’re —
MR PRICE: Well, the Turkish Government has made public –
QUESTION: Has that been formally submitted to you?
MR PRICE: I would have to refer you to the Turkish Government. They have spoken publicly to their interest, but in terms of a process there, I need to refer you to them.
QUESTION: And then also on the S-400, I mean, do you – would you be comfortable with a situation where they had the S-400 up and running with the F-16? I’m not talking about the F‑35. Separate from that dispute, would you be concerned about a situation where they had the S‑400 operating in a system where they were in an – in a theater where they were also flying the F-16?
MR PRICE: This is, I think, perhaps a more convoluted way of asking the same question Humeyra was asking, so I’m going to give you the same answer, that the Department of Defense is engaged in dispute resolution discussions with Turkey on the F-35 —
QUESTION: I’m not talking about the F-35. I’m talking about the F-16.
MR PRICE: But – well, this question is coming up in the context of discussions regarding the F-35, so don’t want to prejudge those, don’t want to go into private discussions.
QUESTION: But just one more thing, actually. When you say dispute resolution, Turkey has been removed from the F-35, so what are these talks about? Is it about trying to find a way to get their money back, or is it about finding a way to allocate that money to – what is the dispute resolution for?
MR PRICE: As you know, we’ve been very public about the lack of interoperability, the fact that the F-35 program is not consistent with the S-400.
MR PRICE: We have been very clear about that. We’ve also been clear that the imposition of sanctions under Section 231 of CAATSA in response to that S-400 acquisition, it signaled the seriousness with which we approach this.
But again, when it comes to private discussions between the U.S. Government and our Turkish counterparts about follow-on to our very clear decision on the lack of interoperability between the F-35 and the S-400, I’m going to let those discussions take place behind closed doors, as they have been.
QUESTION: On China, the Financial Times reported this weekend that they tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August. Was the State Department aware of this test, and did it catch you by surprise, as characterized in that article?
MR PRICE: Well, we’re not going to comment, of course, on matters that may pertain to intelligence or the specific reference in the article you mentioned. But what we have said for some time now is that we are deeply concerned about the rapid expansion of the PRC’s nuclear capabilities, including its development of novel delivery systems. These developments underscore that the PRC, as we’ve said before, is deviating from its decades-long nuclear strategy based on minimum deterrence.
As of the end of last month, September of 2021, the PRC had launched at least 250 ballistic missiles this year. All of this is concerning, especially concerning, I should say, given the PRC’s lack of transparency into its evolving nuclear posture. And this nuclear buildup just, in our view, reinforces the importance of pursuing practical measures with the PRC to reduce nuclear risk. We have reached out to the PRC. We have made very clear our interest in engaging with the PRC, as responsible countries would and do, in the context of these powerful weapons and weapons systems.
In the meantime, we will continue to maintain the capabilities to defend and to deter against a range of threats from the PRC, threats to the United States, threats to our allies, threats to our partners as well.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan, last week this department said the latest figures for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents leaving Afghanistan with American assistance were 129 U.S. citizens, 115 LPRs. Do you have a figure or an approximate figure of those Americans who are leaving without U.S. assistance on these occasional charter flights? And also, do you have an update on a figure, an approximate figure, on the number of Americans who remain in the country and want to leave?
MR PRICE: Sure. Well, you cited the numbers as of last week. It was 129 U.S. citizens, 115 lawful permanent residents the U.S. Government had directly facilitated since August 31st. I can confirm that yesterday, October 17th, another Qatar Airways charter flight with both U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents departed Kabul and landed in Doha. We haven’t been able to update our tally just yet because we are still processing those passengers as they deplane in Doha. But when we do have an updated figure, we’ll be happy to pass that along.
In terms of a broader figure of individuals who have departed Afghanistan via a variety of means since August 31st, our estimate of that is probably a couple thousand, a couple thousand individuals, have departed Afghanistan. Of course, our efforts, we are focused and prioritize American citizens, lawful permanent residents, Afghans to whom we have a special commitment. We will continue to do that.
We will continue to do that through charter flights, which, as we discussed last week, we aim to make more routine and to add a degree of automaticity to their occurrence. We are continuing to work with our partners to see to it that the commercial airport in Kabul, Kabul International Airport, can resume normal commercial activity as quickly as possible. We want to provide additional options, including in the form of a fully functioning commercial airport, to see to it that those who wish to depart the country have another option to do so. In the meantime, we will support these charter flights. We will continue to support overland transfers as well.
In terms of a number of American citizens, this is a figure that, as you know, is not static. It is not immutable precisely because as Americans in the country – some of whom may be identifying themselves to us for the first time – see that we are able to effect the safe departure of Americans and LPRs and others from Afghanistan, that their calculus has changed. They have determined that they do with to depart the country. That range has been anywhere from below a 100 – right now it is somewhere in between 100 and 200 given that some Americans have – additional Americans have raised their hands, seeing our ability to effect their safe departure.
But again, we are constantly in touch with them to determine their status, to determine their plans, determine what kind of documentation they have. And importantly, we are in regular contact with our partners and allies, and additionally with the Taliban to make clear the political side of that equation. Just as we are focused on operations and logistics to put Americans on planes – those Americans who wish to leave – we are focused on ensuring that the Taliban lives up to its commitment to allow safe passage, to allow freedom of movement, again, for those who wish to leave the country.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan, can you confirm that the U.S. will participate in the Moscow talks or won’t?
MR PRICE: We will not participate in the Moscow talks. The Troika Plus has been an effective, a constructive forum. We look forward to engaging in that forum going forward, but we’re not in a position to take part this week.
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Why? If it was effective, why not?
MR PRICE: It has been effective in the past. It’s just logistically difficult for us to take part this week.
QUESTION: So you support the process to —
MR PRICE: We do.
QUESTION: – in the future you might take part?
MR PRICE: That’s right. That’s right.
QUESTION: But – what, are there no flights between here and Moscow? I mean, how is it logistically difficult?
MR PRICE: There – it is just not a meeting we’re able to take part in this week. But again, it is a forum that has been constructive in the past. And so —
QUESTION: Yeah, but presumably, if you thought it was worth going to, you could find a way to get someone – you could find someone to go and get them there, right? So —
MR PRICE: Well, I am non —
QUESTION: The logistics is not – as long as there are flights, that’s not a – so what’s the – so what is it? What is the real reason?
MR PRICE: We are not in a position to take part this week. But again, we look forward —
QUESTION: So if it was next week, you could take part?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to entertain that hypothetical. But again, the Troika Plus, including the Troika Plus that the Russian Federation has hosted in the past, has proven to be a constructive forum. And so we’ll engage with our partners going forward in that forum.
All right. Seeing no hands.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:54 p.m.)