WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. State Department held a press briefing on November 4, 2021, touching on subjects ranging from Ukraine, resettlement of Afghan allies, women’s reproductive rights, African war, Winter Olympics.
Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
MR PRICE: A few elements at the top, and then we’ll get started, take your questions.
In this administration, advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is a central pillar of U.S. foreign policy. This includes promoting gender equity, gender equality, and the human rights of women and girls, and improved women’s health outcomes. And that is why today, the United States has released an addendum to the 2020 Country Report on Human Rights Practices addressing reproductive rights.
For many years, this section was included in the annual Human Rights Reports. Secretary Blinken announced when he rolled out this year’s – the 2020 report in March that the department would renew the practice of documenting these issues via an addendum to each 2020 country report. And today, we are fulfilling that promise.
Each 2020 country report, available online at state.gov, our website, now contains a section covering a broad range of women’s health issues, such as maternal mortality, government policy adversely affecting access to contraception, access to emergency health care, and discrimination against women in accessing sexual and reproductive health care.
The United States is committed to promoting women’s health empowerment at home and abroad. Access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning and maternal health interventions, are lifesaving. We know that. Women’s rights are human rights, and we reaffirm our full commitment to promote and protect the sexual and reproductive health of all individuals, recognizing the essential and transformative role they play in gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment around the world.
Next, we are pleased to announce that Secretary Blinken will host Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba next week for the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership Commission. That will take place next week, on November 10th.
The U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership Commission began in 2008 and has been an important mechanism for the United States and Ukraine to communicate and collaborate on shared priorities across a broad range of issues. Thirteen years later, the U.S.-Ukraine bilateral relationship has strengthened and matured, resulting in the need to refresh the charter to address the challenges of the 21st century and to reflect the elevated bilateral partnership we have with Ukraine.
With the new charter, the United States and Ukraine intend to continue to advance the bilateral priorities set forth in the September 1 Joint Statement on U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership.
In addition, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Dr. Karen Donfried is currently in Kyiv, Ukraine to meet senior leaders in the Ukrainian Government. The meetings this week and next are an important opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to – and support for – Ukraine’s independence, its sovereignty, and its territorial integrity, including in the face of ongoing Russian aggression.
And finally, today the U.S. Department of State is hosting a virtual Town Hall for Afghanistan Resettlement Stakeholders next Tuesday – that’s November 9th – at 1:30 p.m.
We’ll provide updates on Operation Allies Welcome to the community of Americans working to support the resettlement of our Afghan allies.
We, along with our partners, will share opportunities for individuals, for communities, for organizations to help welcome many of our newest neighbors. These Afghans have contributed greatly to our country.
The event will be hosted by Assistant Secretary Don Lu. He’ll be joined by Governor Jack Markell from the White House, Under Secretary Uzra Zeya, Ambassador Tracey Jacobson, and Senior Bureau Official Nancy Izzo Jackson from the Department of State.
Key external partners are also participating from Welcome.us, the Afghan-American community, and the Afghan Evac Coalition.
Individuals can register for the event and learn more by visiting our DipNote blog on our State Department website.
And with that, I would be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I’ve got two really brief kind of logistical ones.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: And they will hopefully be extremely brief. One, the IG came out with a report or an update to a report about gifts to senior officials. And it talked about kind of a lax – maybe not lax is the right word, but that the vault in which they’re kept is not adequately secured. There are no cameras there. And I’m just wondering – I realize you can’t – you don’t speak for the IG, but why is the department – why is DS resisting this idea that you put a camera on this facility?
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, you’re correct; we don’t speak for the inspector general. We very much appreciate the reviews that the inspector general conducts, including this one. We will review it very closely, as we do all products that emanate from the IG.
QUESTION: That’s all (inaudible) —
MR PRICE: But let me get there.
QUESTION: But I’ve already stipulated that you don’t speak for the IG, and I know you don’t.
MR PRICE: But you also don’t speak for the Department of State, so even though you stipulate something, I need to say it myself.
QUESTION: I know, I know. That’s why I’m asking you what the – Diplomatic Security, which is a part of the Department of State and not the IG – why are they resisting putting cameras in there?
MR PRICE: I can tell you, Matt, that the Department of State has a special responsibility when it comes to accepting, on behalf of the American people, certain gifts. And we recognize, as the Constitution stipulates, that these gifts are not the property of the individuals to whom they are gifted, in most circumstances; they’re the property of the American people. And so we recognize that as the custodian of some of these gifts, or at least for a certain time, we have a responsibility to safeguard, to protect them, to ensure they end up in the right place, wherever that is, according to policy and regulation at play. So we take that very seriously. We’re going to review the IG findings very closely, as we always do. If it requires a change in our practices, I can guarantee you we will do that.
QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t have a response on behalf of DS – not a part of the IG – as to the whole thing about cameras?
MR PRICE: I do not have anything to offer you today on whether we will install cameras in certain vaults.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the second logistical one is that – I brought this up a couple times now, but now it’s been almost five months since the swastika was found carved into the elevator. How’s the investigation going? I mean, what kind of update can you give us?
MR PRICE: So Matt, you know that as soon as this abhorrent symbol was discovered we sent a note – Secretary Blinken sent a note to the entire workforce, making clear that this was a symbol of hate, it was a symbol that the department leadership and the department writ large rejects, and everything that it symbolizes is everything that this department works day in, day out to counter in the world.
The – our Bureau of Diplomatic Security has launched an investigation. They launched that investigation immediately. As is the case with many investigations, I’m not able to provide regular investigative updates. If there are findings that are relevant and that are appropriate for public release, we will do that.
But to go back to your first question, if there are additional steps that we can and should take appropriately to prevent these types of things from occurring in the future, we will not hesitate to do so. The – our seventh-floor leadership has been in close contact with Diplomatic Security, not only on this investigation, but on procedures, tactics, resources that we can have in place to see to it that should something as horrific as this take place again we will be in a position to quickly determine the culprit.
QUESTION: Well, I have to say that five months in it doesn’t engender a lot of confidence in the investigative abilities here, because as we’re talking about cameras at a gift vault, you would think that there are cameras around this building, and certainly in elevators. Maybe not. I’ve always assumed that there are. Don’t you?
MR PRICE: Matt, as you know, there certainly are cameras in this building. Not going to detail where each and every one is, but clearly it’s an important mission to ensure that we are appropriately protecting the people, personnel, property in this building.
QUESTION: Okay. And then my one policy question is just then: Can you give us any kind of update on Jeff Feltman’s meetings in Addis today?
MR PRICE: Happy to do that. So before we get into what Ambassador Feltman has been doing in Addis today, let me just start by noting that today is a somber anniversary. It is the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the fighting and the conflict in northern Ethiopia. And as that fighting, as that conflict has escalated, as it has spread from Tigray in recent weeks, we remained gravely concerned by the expanding conflict, by the violence, the expansion of the fighting throughout the country, and the growing risks that it poses to the unity, to the integrity of the Ethiopian state.
Consistent with that, the safety, the security of U.S. citizens, U.S. Government personnel, their dependents, and also the security of our facilities is among our highest priorities. And that’s why, among other steps, we call on the TPLF, we call upon the Oramo Liberation Army, the OLA, to halt their advance Addis, and we call on all parties to engage in dialogue on a cessation of hostilities. We note the nationwide state of emergency that was declared by the Ethiopian Council of Ministers, and we urge all parties to use restraint, to end hostilities, and to ensure civilians’ rights are respected.
As you know, Ambassador Feltman traveled to Ethiopia yesterday. He has been engaged in meetings with Ethiopian officials today. Today he met with the African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki, he met with the Minister of Defense Abraham Belay, he met with Minister of Finance Ahmed Shide, and he met with Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen Hassen.
There will be, I would expect, a readout after his visit. As you know, he’s there both today; he’ll be there tomorrow, where he will continue to engage. And he is there to do what we have set out to do for some time now, and that is to find an acceptable path to resolving the expanding conflict in Ethiopia. And to that end, that is why we have reiterated our calls for all parties to end hostilities immediately. That includes the TPLF. That includes the Ethiopian Government. We call on them to enter negotiations without preconditions towards a sustainable ceasefire. We again call for Eritrean forces to withdraw immediately and permanently from Ethiopia, and we again call for all those who are responsible for the human rights abuses and violations to be held accountable.
Let me make one other point. As you know, yesterday we spoke to the Level 4 Travel Advisory that we have issued for Ethiopia giving – given the tenuous security situation and the advances towards the capital. We again urge all private American citizens to take advantage of the commercial air options that continue to be available in and out of the capital city, Addis Ababa, to leave. We are encouraging them to do that very strongly. We have no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens, and of course that includes private American citizens, and that is why we are speaking as starkly as we can, urging them to leave the country given that there are commercial options available —
MR PRICE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: No, no, I – so – okay. I just want to – so you don’t expect anything substantive out of his talks until he finishes them tomorrow?
MR PRICE: Well, no. I —
QUESTION: So we shouldn’t expect anything tonight?
MR PRICE: What I said is that we’ll have a readout when he —
QUESTION: Well, I know, but tomorrow or —
MR PRICE: Tomorrow. Tomorrow. He’s going to continue to have discussions tomorrow, so we’ll provide additional detail as we can tomorrow.
QUESTION: Will he be going to Sudan?
MR PRICE: We don’t have any follow-on travel to announce at this time. As I said, he had a productive set of discussions with Ethiopian interlocutors today. He appreciated the opportunity to do so. He’ll have an opportunity to continue discussions tomorrow. We’ll update you should his travel plans change.
QUESTION: Can you tell us who he’ll meet with tomorrow?
MR PRICE: He will meet with – we expect he will meet with additional interlocutors from the Government of Ethiopia, but nothing further to preview at this time.
QUESTION: Does this building have any comment on the joint investigation that came out yesterday on the atrocities that were committed?
MR PRICE: So yesterday the Office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, they jointly released a report detailing human rights abuses and violations in Tigray. We are reviewing this report. We do welcome its release, and we welcome its release in part because, as I said before, we are determined to see to it that those responsible for committing these human rights abuses, these violations are held to account. And in this case, we commend the two offices that produced these report – this report for fulfilling their mandates and for releasing their joint report. We believe that it sets a standard for similar reporting done in other parts of the world. We are carefully reviewing the report. We appreciate the fact that it sets forth a sobering account of extensive, of serious human rights abuses and violations committed by all parties to the conflict.
We – as I said before, for a year now we have expressed grave concerns over the horrific violence committed against civilians during the conflict in northern Ethiopia by all parties, and that includes egregious acts such as killings, sexual and gender-based violence, abductions, and other human rights abuses.
The joint report outlines a number of recommendations, including for the parties to end violations and abuses of human rights and to – as we have called for, to end hostilities without preconditions to enable a space for peaceful resolution.
For its part, the Government of Ethiopia is specifically urged to work towards a transparent, holistic, and victim-centered transitional justice process, including those – holding those responsible for abuses and – human rights abuses and violations. Similarly, we also expect that the TPLF and allied parties commit to ending the horrific human rights abuses perpetrated against Ethiopian civilians as well as Eritrean refugees. We continue, as I said before, to call for an immediate cessation of combat operations and any further military advances to be brought to a halt as a negotiated ceasefire begins.
QUESTION: Can I go next door to Sudan?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: The – General Burhan just announced today the release of four ministers who had been detained and is talking about the formation soon of another government of some form. How do you see these moves? Are these positive signs at all? How do you sense where things are going right now in Sudan?
MR PRICE: Well, since this military takeover, we have made very clear that we stand with the people of Sudan, the people of Sudan who themselves have stood in the streets, have taken to the streets peacefully to make very clear that their aspirations for democracy remain and they remain strong. We join the Sudanese people in calling for justice and accountability for the abuses of human rights, and we urge the military to end the internet shutdown and the state of emergency and – to your question, Shaun – to release all civilian leaders and protest organized – organizers detained since the takeover. So we have taken note of some of these actions, but again, we and, importantly, the international community – and yesterday we spoke to a joint statement that we issued with our British partners, with our Emirati partners, with our Saudi partners, and much of the international community has issued a similar message calling for restoration of the civilian-led democratic government and calling for release of all of those detained since October 26th when the military takeover occurred.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, but do you find that it’s going in a slightly positive direction with these moves that we see here today, or is it premature?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to characterize it piecemeal. What we would like to do is to be able to characterize the restoration of the democratic transitional government when that takes place, and we are working with our partners around the clock – Secretary Blinken is engaged, Deputy Secretary Sherman is engaged, Ambassador Feltman is engaged, Ambassador Phee is engaged, as well as many others in this building – towards that end. So when that takes place, that is when we’ll be able to offer a broader characterization.
QUESTION: On that Quad statement that you mentioned with Saudi Arabia and others, notably absent was Egypt. And there has also been reporting that Sudanese armed forces chief Burhan went to Egypt for secret talks to ensure that his plot has regional support. There has been reporting I believe by us, but Wall Street Journal as well in a story yesterday.
So what is the U.S. understanding of Egypt’s role in this? Are you disappointed that Egypt was absent from that statement yesterday? And what are you doing to get them on board? That is three questions.
MR PRICE: Well, I will give you, I think, what is one answer. We have – I consistently make —
QUESTION: Wait, is it the same one you gave yesterday to a similar question?
MR PRICE: We have consistently and I have consistently made the point that except in the instance of joint statements, I speak for the United States. We will leave it to countries around the world to speak for themselves.
QUESTION: Yes, but I’m asking —
MR PRICE: What I – what I will say is that as you have listened to the feedback from the international community since October 26th, leaders and organizations from around the world – from the African Union to the Arab League to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to individual countries to countries acting together in unison – have come together to condemn the military takeover in Sudan. The Arab League itself released a statement urging all parties to, quote, “fully abide” by the Constitutional Declaration signed in August 2019 and to pursue dialogue. That is from the Arab League.
Special Envoy Feltman, Secretary Blinken, others have said that we’ve been in very close contact with regional leaders, including in North Africa and the Gulf. I made the point that Secretary Blinken himself had an opportunity to meet with his Emirati counterpart, with his Saudi counterpart. He’s had discussions with other counterparts from the region and beyond regarding Sudan to make sure that we’re closely coordinating and sending a clear message to the military in Sudan that, first and foremost, they must cease any violence against innocent civilians, they should release all of those that have been detained since October 26th, and they should put Sudan back on the path towards democracy.
QUESTION: But all the three questions I asked are actually about U.S. thinking. I’m not asking you to speculate or say why you think Egypt might be absent, and I think even that would be a fair question. What I’m asking is: Is the U.S. disappointed that Egypt’s not there? Is it hurting U.S. and the international community’s effort to put pressure on Sudanese military? And what are you going to do to get them on board? These are squarely questions about what U.S. intends to do.
MR PRICE: Humeyra, our impression is that whether we are talking to our partners in the UAE, to our partners in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to our partners in Egypt, to our partners throughout the region, there is a real desire – there is a genuine desire for stability in Sudan and, yes, for a full restoration to a civilian-led government. That’s precisely what our so-called QUAD statement said yesterday. That is what the Arab League statement has alluded to as well.
So you talk about the message that the Sudanese military is hearing. They are hearing this message loud and clear. They are hearing it from the United States; they are hearing it from a chorus of countries, organizations, and institutions that have made clear that the path to democracy must be restored in Sudan. There are positive incentives but there are also repercussions, potential and real repercussions. When it comes to the repercussions that the United States has enacted already, we’ve spoken about the $700 million in Emergency Support Funding that have been paused unless and until the past democracy is restored.
There are billions more in terms of debt relief, in terms of lending and financing from international financial institutions that is beyond the message that we’re hearing, that the Sudanese military is hearing from its neighbors, regional partners, countries further afield. Those are very real implications that they have felt or in some cases they will feel unless Sudan is restored to the democratic path.
QUESTION: Right. So you’re saying that message is strong enough, we don’t need Egypt?
MR PRICE: I am not saying that. I am not saying that. What I said on that score is that the – what we’ve heard from our partners, including in discussions with our Egyptian partners, is that there is a desire for stability and there is a desire to see a restoration of Sudan towards the democratic path.
QUESTION: Yes, I have two questions. The first one is on Ethiopia, and the second one is about North Korea. So I’m a little confused about how close the TPLF forces are to Addis Ababa, so what is the State Department’s assessment? Are they, like, outskirts of the capital?
And my second question is about North Korean sanction, is like – China and Russia submitted a draft resolution yesterday to lift all sanctions on North Korea, and two days ago Deputy Special Representative Jung Pak had consultative meeting with South Korean counterparts about humanitarian cooperation. So where are we now exactly in terms of, like, aid to North Korea?
MR PRICE: Where are we in terms of – what was the last part of the question?
QUESTION: So humanitarian aid to North Korea.
MR PRICE: Got it. So in terms of Ethiopia, look, we are not in the habit of offering military assessments or tactical assessments from the podium. What we have said is that we are concerned by the expansion of the conflict, by the expansion of the fighting from Tigray and into surrounding areas. Of course, public accounts have spoken to the advance of the TPLF and the OLA and their allies, including towards the capital city.
That is in part why we have urged in no uncertain terms American citizens to make arrangements to leave the country using the commercial options that remain available in and out of the capital city of Addis Ababa. It’s also why we have underscored the need and the imperative for all parties to the conflict – the TPLF, the Ethiopian Government, the OLA, and others – to engage in negotiations towards a ceasefire immediately and without preconditions.
When it comes to North Korea, you were referring to, I believe, a draft UN Security Council resolution on the part of the PRC and Russia. As you know, we don’t comment on the internal workings of the UN Security Council system, but we do remain committed to the sanctions regime. We call on all UN members to fulfill their sanctions obligations under existing UN Security Council resolutions to limit the DPRK’s ability to acquire resources and technology needed to advance its threatening and unlawful WMD and ballistic missile programs.
We continue to seek sustained and serious diplomacy with the DPRK. We call on Pyongyang to refrain from provocations and to engage in discussions. Our goal, as we have said on any number of occasions, remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We have no hostile intent towards the DPRK. Our intent is to engage in sustained, constructive diplomacy, including with the DPRK.
We have also made the point that even when we have profound disagreements with a particular government or a particular regime, as of course we do in the case of the DPRK, we take into account the humanitarian conditions of the people of that country, and so we are concerned about the humanitarian situation in the DPRK. We are working with our allies and our partners to determine how we might be able to support the humanitarian needs of the North Korean people, and that is something that we’re committed to do.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on – I’m sorry – Ethiopia? The head of the – or a spokesperson for the TPLF was on the BBC – I think it was this morning, but it might have been last night – and was asked essentially could you possibly be headed towards the capital, is that your goal? And he said no, we will; that is where we’re going.
So as you’re telling to us you’re calling for a halt to military advances, is that something the U.S. has communicated directly to the TPLF? And how are you working towards halting those advances?
MR PRICE: We have been in direct contact with the parties. We’ve been in direct contact, as I offered in some detail, to the Ethiopian Government, including in recent hours. We’ve also been in direct contact with the TPLF.
QUESTION: Who is making that contact?
MR PRICE: We don’t have details to offer on that, but we have made our messaging very clear. We have done that in public, as you’ve heard from me today and yesterday, and in the preceding weeks and months, but we’ve also underscored that message privately as well, that the only solution in this case is for the parties to the conflict to engage in dialogue towards a negotiated ceasefire. That is the only way that the violence will be diminished and ultimately be abated. That is the only way that the humanitarian emergency that people in Tigray and surrounding regions are experiencing – that’s the only way that humanitarian emergency will be mitigated. So we’ve been very clear with the parties and publicly – in public and in private as well.
QUESTION: But it sounds like if you’re calling for them to stop the military advances there is some genuine concern that they might not stop, right, and they could threaten the capital?
MR PRICE: We have been very clear that we are concerned by the escalating violence. We are concerned by the expansion of the fighting. So we have not been shy about highlighting our concern for the situation.
QUESTION: On Lebanon, Ned, the Lebanese information minister has refused to resign, and Hizballah condemned the American and external intervention in the Lebanese Government affairs. Do you have any comment?
MR PRICE: We had an opportunity, as you know, to address this yesterday. Our point has been that we urge diplomatic channels to remain open between the parties to ensure meaningful dialogue on the pressing issues facing Lebanon. In this case, those diplomatic channels, Lebanon’s ties in different forms with its regional partners and neighbors, are important not only for the sake of diplomacy but also for the sake of the Lebanese people.
You – on the topic of humanitarian – dire humanitarian conditions, the people of Lebanon have suffered for far too long from mismanagement, from corruption, from inflation, from other economic pressures that the international community, on an urgent basis, has sought to alleviate. As you know, the Secretary had an opportunity to meet with the prime minister. We did so on the margins of COP26 in Glasgow. We had an opportunity to meet with – the Secretary had an opportunity to meet with his Emirati counterpart, with his Saudi counterpart. Lebanon was a topic of discussion. And the point that – the point of all of those engagements was to underscore that the needs of the Lebanese people, the need for channels of communication to remain open, as we look for ways to alleviate the suffering of the people of Lebanon.
QUESTION: But any reaction to Hizballah’s statement condemning the external and American intervention in the Lebanese Government affairs?
MR PRICE: You are not finding the United States intervening in the Government of Lebanon. What we are doing is using appropriate resources to help the people of Lebanon, to see to it that we can work with the international community to provide the people of Lebanon with much-needed humanitarian relief.
QUESTION: Well, and the military of Lebanon with what you might say is much-needed military assistance, correct?
MR PRICE: Correct. The Lebanese Armed Forces is an important actor in Lebanese society, and we have, again, engaged partners in the region not to intervene in Lebanon’s internal politics, but in an effort to help the people of Lebanon. And frankly, if – I think there would be a desire to see all actors set aside their parochial agendas and to focus on the urgent needs of the people of Lebanon.
QUESTION: Speaking about foreign intervention in Lebanon and Hizballah takes us to Iran, and I apologize if you touched this yesterday, but with news that the Iranians are willing to come back to the table, I just want to ask again if it is the policy of the administration to lengthen and strengthen the deal, and if indeed, for example, the sunset clause, which expires in 2025, is something that you’re absolutely intent on extending.
MR PRICE: Thank you for that. So let me just make one broad point before I get to your question, that under the terms of the 2015 deal, that there are provisions that expire within 15, 20, 25 years. But the most important provision, the requirement that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon, that never expires. That is permanent. What the JCPOA put forward was a permanent, was a verifiable mechanism to ensure that Iran is never able or allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. So yes, we remain interested to determine whether we can achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. We continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance is the most effective means by which to put Iran’s nuclear program back in the box that it was in for several years after the deal was implemented in 2016. So that is the first step.
Now, your question was about lengthening and strengthening the deal. We have always said that, as the first step, we want to see to it that Iran’s nuclear program is once again constrained. And so that is why in the first instance we’ve focused on determining whether a mutual return to compliance could be feasible. We remain interested in that. If we are able to achieve a mutual return to compliance, we will then use that JCPOA, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as a baseline to negotiate what we have – the – not only to lengthen and strengthen the provisions of the deal, but to put on the table and to discuss, in a productive and hopefully useful way, other issues of concern, issues that are of concern not only to the United States, but also of concern to our allies and partners in the region as well.
QUESTION: So is that the framework, that the first step in negotiation is just to return to compliance? And if that’s the case, why is there any incentive for Iran to go any further once they’ve agreed that?
MR PRICE: So absolutely, the most pressing challenge we face with Iran, and I would say in the in the Middle East more broadly, is an Iranian nuclear program that does not have the constraints that are spelled out in the JCPOA. So yes, our first priority is to determine whether we can negotiate a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, not as a means to salvage the JCPOA but as a means to see to it that Iran is once again permanently and verifiably prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Look, we are focused on that as our first step. We do hope we’ll be able to get there, and we do hope from there we’ll be able to engage in constructive diplomacy vis-à-vis the other challenges that Iran poses to the United States, to our allies, to our partners in the region.
QUESTION: What leverage would you have beyond reducing sanctions? After that, they’ve come back to compliance, then what leverage have you got?
MR PRICE: So we have tremendous leverage acting not only ourselves, but much more so when we act in concert with our allies and partners in the region. The forms of leverage, some of them are well known, some of them are included in the formula that is at – that is the predicate of the JCPOA. But again, right now, we are focused on that first task, and that is to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is once again constrained and that Iran is once again permanently and verifiably prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: So can you just drill down on what it is your understanding – what is it in the JCPOA that you understand to mean that Iran commits to a permanent and verifiable situation where it will not acquire a nuclear weapon? Is it the NPT, the mention of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in the JCPOA? Is it the fatwah? What is it? Because otherwise, it’s not in there. So if it’s your understanding that those – that that’s what it is that makes it permanent, okay. But is that what it is?
MR PRICE: So the verification and monitoring stipulations of the JCPOA —
QUESTION: No, the point is —
MR PRICE: No, but – but you asked about a couple elements. So the verification and monitoring elements of the JCPOA, they do not expire. We’re not reliant on any proclamations or fatwah, to use the term you did, that the Iranian Government has put forward. What we are relying on are the international instruments that have been negotiated and that, until recent years, had been in place that had permanently and verifiably constrained Iran’s ability to acquire a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: But the point is they hadn’t permanently done it. There might have been – it might be verifiable in terms of —
MR PRICE: There is a —
QUESTION: The limits, the limits. The – it’s verifiable in terms of what the deal sets out to be verifiable. But I don’t understand, is the permanence that you’re talking about – is it your understanding – and covered this, the whole negotiation. I still don’t get what the permanence here is unless it is you’re hanging your hopes on Iran’s compliance with an NPT.
MR PRICE: The NPT is an important tool. It is an important —
QUESTION: And that worked so well that that worked with North Korea?
MR PRICE: It is an important complement to the JCPOA. To the North Korea comparison, the verification and monitoring that the JCPOA spells out for Iran is certainly not what the United States and what the international community had in place with the DPRK prior to its production of a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: But when you talk about the – in terms of the JCPOA, in terms of the agreement itself, when you talk about the permanence of it, you’re talking about the NPT.
MR PRICE: The prohibition on Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon does not expire. And the JCPOA gives us —
QUESTION: But – but Ned —
MR PRICE: — gives us —
QUESTION: But that’s because of the NPT, right? It is not because of any of the provisions.
MR PRICE: Affords us – affords us important tools, including the verification and monitoring regime, to see to it that Iran is abiding by that —
QUESTION: Well, there is nothing in the JCPOA which says —
MR PRICE: — permanent prohibition on ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Is there anything in the JCPOA itself, as you understand it, outside of Iranian compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, that permanently constrains them?
MR PRICE: The JCPOA affords us the tools we need —
QUESTION: What it does, Ned, is —
MR PRICE: Matt, it affords us the tools we need —
QUESTION: Ned, you were having this argument like six years ago.
MR PRICE: — to see to it that Iran is never – is permanently barred from obtaining a nuclear —
QUESTION: Can I just ask one other – non-related to this – I just want to know if – from yesterday, if you guys have made any conclusions or determinations based on what the Israelis gave you about these six Palestinian NGOs. Is there anything new on that?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, there was a delegation in town last week. We receive detailed information from the Israeli Government. We appreciated the consultation. We’re reviewing the information that they provided us.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can I switch gear to Olympic – Winter Olympic will starting three month. Has the U.S. Government made a decision on whether or not to participate in the Winter Olympics? The reason I ask is because the G20 Leaders’ Declaration, which the U.S. is part of, appear to give the wordings – to give the nod.
MR PRICE: I’m sorry, I didn’t – I missed the last part of your question.
QUESTION: Right. The wordings in the G20 Leaders’ Declaration appeared to give the nod.
MR PRICE: Ah. Look, I don’t have anything for you beyond the beyond the text of the G20 communique that you referenced. As for the position of the United States, don’t have anything new. But what I will say, and what should be clear, is that we continue to have profound concerns about the situation in Xinjiang and another – a number of other issues pertaining to human rights in the PRC.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) correctly that the U.S. Government is not boycotting Beijing to host the Winter Olympic? The reason I ask is because the wordings in that declaration said the G20 leaders “look ahead to Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics 2022, as opportunities for competition for athletes from around the world, which serves as a symbol of humanity’s resilience.”
MR PRICE: Again, I don’t have anything for you beyond the text of that communique, but we have been crystal clear about where we stand on what is transpiring in Xinjiang and the human rights abuses that have and that are taking place within the PRC.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Beijing-based foreign correspondents? The FCCC, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China statement this week to express, quote —
MR PRICE: So on – on a number of occasions, we’ve discussed press freedom with our PRC counterparts. We urge PRC officials not to limit freedom of movement and access for journalists, and to ensure that they remain safe and able to report freely, including at the Olympic and the Paralympic Games.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about Venezuela? The International Criminal Court said yesterday that there’ll be an investigation on whether crimes against humanity were committed in 2017 in Venezuela. Does the United States have a position, either on this investigation, whether crimes against humanity were committed, and on Venezuela – that’d mean Maduro – actually cooperating with this?
MR PRICE: Well, we take note of the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor to open an investigation into the situation in Venezuela. This decision follows a preliminary examination phase initiated through a referral from a group of states parties to the Rome Statute, including countries that share the commitment we have to a peaceful, democratic future in Venezuela.
As we’ve said, we support efforts to establish a peaceful, stable, and democratic Venezuela. We also support justice and accountability measures and programs that strengthen democratic institutions, transparency, and the rule of law, as well as inclusion, economic empowerment, and access to information in Venezuela. We remain committed to promoting accountability for human rights violations and abuses and for justice for victims of atrocities. We and many of our likeminded democratic allies and democratic partners are united in denouncing the human rights violations and the human rights abuses that are occurring in Venezuela.
QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up on Venezuela?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: It’s been a couple of weeks since the CITGO-6 were taken from house arrest. Do you have any update on them and their whereabouts right now?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, the safety, the security – the safety of all wrongfully detained U.S. nationals is among our highest priorities. We call on the Maduro regime to release them immediately, the CITGO-6, so that they can return home to their families in the United States. Whether the context is Venezuela, whether the context is any other country, using wrongful detention as a bargaining chip represents a threat to safety of everyone traveling, working, and living abroad. We oppose this practice everywhere; we oppose this practice anywhere.
The department, including our Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Ambassador Carstens, we are committed to bringing these Americans home. We are also committed to bringing home another wrongfully detained American citizen, Matthew Heath. We are in frequent touch with the families of the wrongfully detained CITGO-6, and they have reported to us that the CITGO-6 have been moved back to prison. At this time, however, we don’t have independent confirmation of their precise whereabouts or where they’ve been taken.
QUESTION: Ned, on Syria, it looks like Turkey is building up forces in northeastern Syria to attack the Kurds there. Do you have any reaction?
MR PRICE: I’ve – I don’t have a specific response to that. We have called on all parties to respect the ceasefires that are in place.
QUESTION: Just on Israel, Ned, I don’t think we’ve asked this the past couple of weeks. Is the administration still going ahead with reopening a consulate in Jerusalem? (Laughter.)
MR PRICE: I can tell you —
QUESTION: We haven’t – we haven’t asked it in the last couple of minutes.
MR PRICE: I can tell you, you – you were not here yesterday, because we did discuss this yesterday.
QUESTION: Oh, sorry.
MR PRICE: Yes. We’ve been clear; the Secretary’s been clear. He’s spoken to this on a couple of occasions now. But don’t have any update beyond that.
QUESTION: So is there a timeline?
MR PRICE: I don’t have a timeline to offer for you at the moment.
QUESTION: I think we’ve discussed this a little bit ago, but not in the past couple of days – Burma. Danny Fenster, the new charges against him – do you have anything —
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: — to say about that?
MR PRICE: So this goes back to the priority I was speaking to, the – regarding the welfare and the safety of American citizens detained overseas. We remain deeply concerned over the continued detention of Danny Fenster. He was working as a journalist in Burma when he was detained. His detention, the detention of so many others, it’s a sad reminder of the continuing human rights and humanitarian crisis facing the country of Burma, facing the Burmese, but also facing foreign nationals, including Americans, who happen to be in Burma.
We are closely monitoring Danny’s situation and his case. We’re continuing to press the Burmese regime to release Danny immediately. We are aware that the regime recently did bring additional charges against Danny. The profoundly unjust nature of Danny’s detention is plain for all the world to see, and these charges only put a further spotlight on that. Again, the regime should take the prudent step of releasing him now.
QUESTION: And can I —
MR PRICE: Yep. Yep.
QUESTION: — follow up quickly on Burma? A different topic there, but Bill Richardson’s visit. Do you have anything to say about particularly his meeting with the junta chief, whether that’s on message for what the United States wants? Obviously he’s going in a private capacity. And do you have any view about his trip?
MR PRICE: Well, we’re aware of his trip. As you said, he was acting – I believe the trip has come to a conclusion, but he was acting in a private capacity. This was a private effort by the former governor to visit Burma. We know that he has extensive experience working on humanitarian issues. This effort was not sponsored by or on behalf of the U.S. Government. But, of course, we hope to see to it that humanitarian conditions, including humanitarian access in Burma, are improved going forward.
QUESTION: The Pentagon released a report yesterday saying that China would have a thousand nuclear warheads by 2030. It was a big surprise to many people. I just wonder how worrying that is for the State Department, to what it says about the future of relations with China and China’s ambitions.
MR PRICE: Well, we have spoken to the PRC’s development and plans to develop its nuclear arsenal. Again, it suggests that China is leaving behind its previous nuclear doctrine of limited deterrence. It is the responsibility of nuclear-armed nations to act prudently and to, in the case of the development of a nuclear weapons program, we have sought to engage the PRC when it comes to arms control. We have called for dialogue. We think all responsible countries that have these weapons should engage in an arms control dialogue. We remain ready and willing to do that, and we’ve made that known to PRC authorities.
QUESTION: They don’t seem willing to listen.
MR PRICE: We have made very clear that we feel that it is the responsibility of responsible countries that have these weapons to do just that. As you know, we’ve engaged in a Strategic Stability Dialogue with the Russian Federation. That dialogue has been constructive. It has been useful. It is our hope, it is our intention, to engage in an arms control dialogue with the PRC as well, given what we know to be true of all countries that possess these weapons and the responsibilities we have.
QUESTION: Is there any update on the Biden-President Xi meeting or a date on that?
MR PRICE: I don’t. I would need to refer you to the White House.
QUESTION: So this is Ines Pohl from Deutsche Welle. I have a follow-up question to China, as there is a certain ambiguity between what President Biden says in the White House. How far would the United States go to protect Taiwan?
MR PRICE: We have been very clear about that. There has been no change in our policy towards Taiwan. Our defense relationship with Taiwan is and has been guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We will uphold our commitments under that act. We’ll continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense, and we’ll continue to oppose any unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo. We remain committed to our “one China” policy, which itself is guided by the six assurances, the three joint communiques, and the Taiwan Relations Act that I mentioned before.
QUESTION: What precisely would that mean? Would this include military action? I mean, this is one big question.
MR PRICE: Under the Taiwan Relations Act, we have a commitment to continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo in cross-strait relations.
QUESTION: Does this include military action? This – you didn’t answer that question.
MR PRICE: The Taiwan Relations Act spells this out. We will continue to act consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act.
QUESTION: Ned, you said “our ‘one China’ policy.” So is that an indication that it’s different than China’s “one China” principle?
MR PRICE: We have a “one China” policy that is distinct from the PRC’s version of it.
Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:59 p.m.)