WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. State Department held a press briefing on November 8, 2021, touching on subjects ranging from war in Africa, U.S. marine and Russia captive Trevor Reed hunter strike, Belarus/Poland border, international travelers to U.S., REvil ransomware, and more.
Department Press Briefing – November 8, 2021
11/08/2021 08:03 PM EST
Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
2:16 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Okay. I will beg your indulgence at the top. We have a few items to get through, and by a few, I mean slightly more than a few.
First, starting today, foreign national air travelers to the United States will be required, with only limited exceptions, to be fully vaccinated and to provide proof of vaccination status prior to boarding an airplane to the United States. The new international air travel policy is stringent. It is consistent across the globe. And it is guided by public health. This new global travel system replaces the existing country-by-country restrictions, putting in place a consistent approach worldwide. There is no need as of today for foreign national travelers who have been in one of the 33 countries with restrictions to obtain national interest exceptions, in order to travel to the United States.
When it comes to testing, fully vaccinated air travelers, age 2 and over, continue to be required to show proof of vaccination and documentation of a negative COVID test, viral COVID test, taken within three days of the flight’s departure to the United States before boarding. That includes all travelers – U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and foreign nationals alike.
To further strengthen protections, unvaccinated travelers, whether they are U.S. citizens, whether they are LPRs, or the small number of accepted unvaccinated foreign nationals, now need to show documentation of a negative COVID – viral COVID test, taken within one day of the flight’s departure to the United States. Again, this goes into effect today, and we know there is a welcome for it around the world.
Next, today the Department of State, through the Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program, announced a reward offer of up to $10 million for information leading to the identification or location of any individual or individuals who hold key leadership positions in the Sodinokibi and REvil ransomware variant transnational organized crime group. The depart is also offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and/or the conviction of any individual conspiring to participate in or attempting to participate in a Sodinokibi/REvil ransomware incident.
Since its first known ransomware incident in April of 2019, this group has allegedly victimized more than 1,000 entities in multiple industry sectors. That includes in private businesses, law enforcement agencies, government agencies, and educational and medical institutions. This announcement complements today’s coordinated counter-ransomware actions from the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the Department of the Treasury. The United States remains committed to protecting all ransomware victims around the world from the exploitation of cyber criminals; and we look to nations who harbor ransomware criminals to bring to justice for businesses and organizations victimized by ransomware incidents.
Next, we are concerned with disturbing images and reports emanating from the Belarus/Poland border this weekend. The United States strongly condemns the Lukashenka regime’s political exploitation and coercion of vulnerable people, and the regime’s callous and inhumane facilitation of irregular migration flows across its borders. We call on the regime to immediately halt its campaign of orchestrating and coercing irregular migrant flows across its borders into Europe. As long as the regime in Belarus refuses to respect its international obligations and commitments, undermines the peace and security of Europe, and continues to repress and abuse people seeking nothing more than to live in freedom, we will continue to pressure Lukashenka and will not lessen our calls for accountability. The United States will continue to stand by Poland, and all of our partners in Europe, who have been threatened by Belarus’s unacceptable actions.
Next, today marks the one-year anniversary since Burma held elections. We previously noted, from independent observers, that the November 8th elections last year, despite some concerns, were credible and reaffirmed the commitment of the Burmese people to democracy. The military’s coup on February 1st of this year and ongoing violent crackdown, however, have undermined human rights and fundamental freedoms, suppressed the will of the people, and reversed a decade of progress towards a genuine democracy that the people of Burma clearly demand.
Today, I join the Secretary in honoring the people of Burma who strive to restore the path to democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law in their country, including the more than 1,300 innocent people who have lost their lives in that struggle. The United States is committed to promoting justice and accountability for these and other abuses. We also reiterate our call for the military regime to immediately cease violence, release all those unjustly detained, and return Burma’s path to a genuine and inclusive democracy.
Next, the United States is deeply concerned about the deteriorating health of PRC citizen journalist Ms. Zhang Zhan. According to multiple reports citing her relatives’ comments, Ms. Zhang is near death. In December of 2020, Beijing authorities sentenced Ms. Zhang to four years in prison on charges associated with her journalism on COVID-19 in Wuhan. The United States, along with other diplomatic missions – we have repeatedly expressed our serious concerns about the arbitrary nature of her detention and her mistreatment during it. We reiterate our call to the PRC for her immediate and unconditional release and for Beijing to respect a free press and the right of people to express themselves freely.
Today Secretary Blinken met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry at the opening of the U.S.-Egypt Strategic Dialogue, the first bilateral dialogue held since 2015. The Secretary and the foreign minister welcome the opportunity to deepen the strong partnership between the United States and Egypt. I assume many of you heard their comments and saw their comments, earlier today. In addition to individuals from the Department of State, U.S. participants in the dialogue include those from USAID, Department of Defense, and senior Egyptian officials representing different cabinet ministries.
The dialogue provides a valuable opportunity to exchange views on key regional security issues. That includes developments in Sudan, Libya, Syria, and the broader region as well. U.S. and Egyptian officials will discuss ongoing efforts to restore the civilian-led transitional government and prevent violence in Sudan.
We also will have conversation on human rights. President Biden has committed to putting human rights at the center of our foreign policy, and we look forward to a constructive discussion on that front, including on civil and political rights, freedom of expression, and Egypt’s recently announced national human rights strategy.
We also discussed President Biden’s support for increased economic cooperation in Egypt’s water security, which was reaffirmed by Secretary Blinken when he met with President Sisi earlier this year in Cairo, and our efforts to encourage negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
Our interagency team and Egyptian delegation will together explore ways to deepen bilateral cooperation on judicial, security, educational, and cultural issues. This strategic dialogue is an opportunity to advance each of these areas of collaboration to improve the lives of both Americans and Egyptians.
And with all that said, I am happy to turn to your questions.
QUESTION: That’s it?
MR PRICE: That’s it.
QUESTION: Oh, I was expecting —
MR PRICE: Saved a minute or two for questions.
QUESTION: I was expecting another hour or so.
MR PRICE: It’s busy times.
QUESTION: Let me – I have a couple things, but I’ll make them extremely brief and won’t get too much into detail. One, on your opening on Belarus, is there – there isn’t anything new, though, in terms of sanctions or actions that you’re taking today, is there? (Inaudible.)
MR PRICE: We’re not announcing any new actions today. As you know, Matt, we have announced a series of policy steps that in some cases we have taken together with our partners and our allies in Europe as well.
QUESTION: All right. Okay. Secondly – and I’m not expecting much on this – but did – you have seen – obviously you’ve seen these reports coming from – I don’t know what you – cyber investigators that the NSO, the Israeli company NSO, it hacked some of the phones of the Palestinian – of members of the Palestinian NGOs that were designated as terrorist groups. I’m wondering what you make of those allegations.
MR PRICE: I’ve seen those reports. I don’t have a response to them. What I can tell you is to reiterate that we had a constructive discussion with an Israeli delegation that was visiting last week. The delegation provided a verbal briefing on information that they had on certain groups. They also provided written materials. We’ve provided those written materials to our counterparts in the administration. We’re going to take a very close look at them as we —
QUESTION: All right, but you haven’t – but you haven’t yet reached any kind of conclusion based on the information they’ve provided, and you don’t have anything – or do you – to say about these allegations, the hacking allegations?
MR PRICE: We intend, and we are, together with our partners throughout the interagency, to take a very close look at the information that was provided to us in written form, to cross-reference that information with what we may have in our own holdings, and from that we’ll form an informed judgment.
QUESTION: And then lastly, on the Egypt, in his discussions with Foreign Minister Shoukry, did the Secretary raise specific cases that you – human rights cases that you guys are concerned about? And did he provide a – I don’t know – a roadmap, for lack of a better word, for what the Egyptians must do or need to do to get the 130 million, that’s been withheld, restored?
MR PRICE: Well, the human rights discussion is actually ongoing right now. I believe it started at 1:45 or perhaps just a little bit thereafter, so I don’t have a readout to provide. We may have some additional – that clock is an hour fast.
MR PRICE: We need to correct that. Obviously, has not accounted for falling back here.
But I would expect that the human rights discussion will have some specificity attached to it, and if we have more details to read out, we will.
QUESTION: But in terms of the withheld – the money that’s being withheld, did they get into details about what must be done to free it up?
MR PRICE: Well – so, Matt, as we discussed – I believe it was in September when we talked about the FMF decision – we have conveyed to Egypt’s leaders specific steps we’ve urged them to take. We’ve made —
QUESTION: Which are?
MR PRICE: Of course, these steps are conveyed privately, but also very clearly, and we will leave them to those private discussions.
QUESTION: A follow-up (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: In the Secretary’s remarks with Mr. Shoukry, we heard a lot of efforts to kind of move forward, to talk about economic ties, to talk about security ties in the region. And Secretary Blinken seemed to say that he appreciated Egypt’s human rights blueprint that they’d put forward. So, is that the correct understanding? Are the two countries moving forward in their relations, despite the previous hang-up of the human rights issue?
MR PRICE: Well, our relationship with Egypt is a multifaceted one. Egypt is a valuable partner across many fronts. That is why the Strategic Dialogue that is occurring both today and tomorrow will cover a broad range of issues. We’ve talked about and they will talk about regional security issues. They will talk about specific countries and developments of concern in Sudan, in Ethiopia. As you mentioned, they will talk about our economic ties. They will talk about energy issues as well. They’ll talk about issues like artifacts as also on the agenda.
But yes, human rights is certainly on the agenda. And as I mentioned just a moment ago, the human rights discussion is ongoing right now. Human rights has always been on the table when we’ve met with our Egyptian counterparts. When we went to Cairo, Secretary Blinken had a conversation with President Sisi on this very topic. Every time he has spoken with his Egyptian counterpart, Foreign Minister Shoukry, he has also raised human rights.
So, we have made very clear to the Egyptians our concerns. We have also welcomed certain steps they have taken, including this human rights strategy that you referred to. We will continue to make clear where we find our areas of concern to be, and we will continue to welcome progress that we see going forward.
QUESTION: Can we go to Ethiopia? Can you tell us if Special Envoy Feltman is still in Ethiopia, is traveling in the region, if he’s back from Ethiopia? What are the results of his multiple engagements over the weekend? Do you have any sense that he is making progress there? And, also, is he having any engagement with the TPLF or the – or Oromo Liberation Army, or you’re not talking to them?
MR PRICE: Sure. To your question, the temporal reference is important. I think the last time we were in this room, Special Envoy Feltman was in Ethiopia. He has since left Ethiopia to return. Let me come back to that and unpack that a little bit.
Before I do, let me just reiterate that we remain fully engaged in efforts to move all sides towards an immediate cessation of hostilities. All of those in need, regardless of ethnicity, should have immediate access to lifesaving humanitarian assistance. We call for an immediate end to human rights abuses and violations being committed against civilians. Our embassy in Addis Ababa remains open under the leadership of our ambassador. Special Envoy Feltman does remain in the region, where he is working to further our diplomatic efforts, and we urge all parties to end restraint – to use restraint, excuse me, to end hostilities, to respect human rights, and to protect civilians on the path towards an immediate cessation of hostilities.
Let me make a couple other points before I talk about our diplomacy. As you know, our embassy went to ordered departure recently. We are urging U.S. citizens in Ethiopia to depart the country, using commercially available options. We’ve been saying this for several days now. We understand that commercial options remain available in Addis. The embassy is in a position to help the American citizen community in Ethiopia secure their departure from the country. We understand there is adequate space available, capacity available, on these flights. And, in the past several days, there have been more than a dozen flights leaving the airport in Addis.
We are providing a range of services to the American citizen community in Addis. We are prioritizing that even as we have gone on ordered departure to reduce our footprint from our embassy in Addis.
We, importantly, can even provide a repatriation loan for U.S. citizens, who cannot afford at this time to purchase a U.S. commercial – a commercial ticket to the United States. U.S. citizens in Ethiopia who are interested in pursuing these options, and we encourage all of them to do so, should contact the embassy. There is an email address available on the embassy website.
We are, as I said, engaged in concerted diplomacy to urge all parties to end the hostilities immediately. We have called on the Ethiopian Government and the TPLF and the OLA to enter into negotiations without preconditions towards a sustainable cessation of hostilities, and for Eritrean forces to withdraw immediately and permanently from Ethiopia.
Now, when it comes to Ambassador Feltman’s activity in the region, he returned to Ethiopia today, from Kenya – and I’ll come to that – to continue to urgently press the parties to de-escalate the conflict and negotiate, as I said before, a cessation of hostilities.
He continues to raise our concern about the risk of intercommunal violence, and that is a concern that we’ve raised repeatedly with Ethiopian authorities and regional authorities in recent days. But following his meeting – meetings on his current trip, we believe there is a small window of opening to work with the AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa, former President Obasanjo, whom he will see again tonight in Addis, where Ambassador Feltman has returned, to further joint efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict in Ethiopia. We are working with international partners to address the crisis in Ethiopia, including through action with the UN, the AU, and other relevant partners and bodies.
You all may have seen some of the statements that have emanated from the region in recent days, in recent hours. Of course, the UN Security Council, which will hold an open session on Ethiopia today, released a statement. And as Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said, the council spoke with one voice, calling for an end to the violence and a cessation of hostilities. You may also have seen that President Kenyatta, with whom Ambassador Feltman has met in Nairobi in recent days, issued a similar statement, calling for dialogue and urging a few points. President Kenyatta made many of the same points that we have been making: All hostilities must cease. A political solution is the only solution. There should be no incitement – no incitement to violence. Instead, we must work to de-escalate tensions and hostilities. He noted the fact that we must address the humanitarian situation with some urgency, and the parties to the conflict must allow humanitarian access, which has been restricted for many of those in need for far too long; and of course, the imperative of respecting human rights for all and by all.
And so, the actors, the forces in Ethiopia have heard a consistent message emanating from the United States, emanating from other countries in the region, emanating from the UN Security Council. Of course, the conflict in Ethiopia predates this administration. Unfortunately, it was last week that we marked a somber milestone: one full year of violence in Tigray. And since the earliest days of this administration, President Biden, Secretary Blinken have prioritized our diplomacy to find a way out of this violence. It has involved not only the special envoy, but Secretary Blinken in his repeated engagements, the National Security Advisor, Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman, Assistant Secretary Phee – all of them have been very much engaged in this.
We have held – and Special Envoy Feltman, in his seven or so months on the job, have held over – has held over 300 engagements with the AU, with the UN, with the EU, with regional neighbors as well. This diplomacy has been concerted. It has been intense. If you just look at the schedule that Ambassador Feltman has maintained over the past few days where he has shuttled back and forth between Ethiopia and Kenya – as I mentioned before, as of today he is now back in Ethiopia, he is back in Addis.
We will have more to read out when his trip concludes, or at least this chapter of his trip concludes. As we’ve made clear, last week on November 4th, he met in Ethiopia with a number of Ethiopian officials and regional officials. He met with African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki. He met with Ethiopian Minister of Defense Belay, Minister of Finance Ahmed Shide, Deputy Prime Minister Hassen. He met with Prime Minister Abiy the following day, on November 5th. And, over the weekend. he met with President Kenyatta in Nairobi to consult on Ethiopia.
As we’ve said, we certainly value the leadership that President Kenyatta has demonstrated, and we appreciate the constructive visit that Special Envoy Feltman had to Nairobi from where he has just traveled, back to Addis.
When it comes to the TPLF, we have engaged with the TPLF, as well. We are engaging with the parties to try and put them on a path to a cessation of hostilities, which is our priority now and going forward.
QUESTION: That was a long one.
QUESTION: Ned, you can say your diplomacy has been concerted and intense, but can you say it’s been successful?
MR PRICE: Matt —
QUESTION: There, or Sudan, or Lebanon, or Yemen?
MR PRICE: Matt, it is —
QUESTION: Can you – I’m not one to blame the U.S. for all the world’s ills —
MR PRICE: For —
QUESTION: — but you’re the one who’s just come out and given a five-minute list of all the meetings that have been going on. And has the situation gotten better or worse —
MR PRICE: Well, I —
QUESTION: — since this administration took office and began —
MR PRICE: I —
QUESTION: — this intense diplomacy?
QUESTION: I was just asking where it was now.
MR PRICE: That’s right.
QUESTION: Well, exactly. But —
MR PRICE: I —
QUESTION: It wasn’t the question. You decided to – so has it been successful?
MR PRICE: I was asked about his activities —
QUESTION: Fair enough. And has the concerted —
MR PRICE: — so I thought it was prudent to answer the question and talk about —
QUESTION: Has the administration’s concerted and intense diplomacy in the —
MR PRICE: Has this —
QUESTION: Has —
MR PRICE: Has this administration’s concerted diplomacy solved a problem that predates this administration?
QUESTION: No, it – that doesn’t matter. I’m just asking you —
MR PRICE: It actually does matter, Matt.
QUESTION: No, it matters. I know you’ve been in office for eight months —
MR PRICE: Matt, what matters —
QUESTION: — and you’re talking about how important this is —
MR PRICE: What matters – what —
QUESTION: — and how much effort and time and money —
MR PRICE: What matters, Matt —
QUESTION: — you’ve put into it, and I just want to know: Can you say that it’s successful or not?
MR PRICE: What matters, Matt, is that we have been engaged on this. We, as I said before, see a window of opportunity here. The United States is engaged. We are working with Ethiopian authorities as well as with the countries in the region. Why don’t we come back to this —
MR PRICE: — in the coming days when this diplomacy will have been ongoing, and we can point to progress.
MR PRICE: It is not in the DNA of this administration to sit on the sidelines, or worse, to take actions or engage in rhetoric that may only inflame tensions. So, it is very much in our DNA to be engaged, to be engaged constructively, to work with our international partners to try and put an end to the suffering, to the violence, to the humanitarian emergency that has afflicted the people of Tigray and other regions of Ethiopia.
QUESTION: Can you talk about Iraq and the assassination attempt? What are your initial findings in terms of who may have been responsible – there’s an obvious – an obvious neighbor that has sponsored militia attacks before – and how that might affect other diplomatic —
MR PRICE: Well, when it comes – go ahead.
QUESTION: And will there be another U.S. response – will there be a U.S. response to —
MR PRICE: When it comes to the culpability, there is an Iraqi investigation that’s underway. We are going to defer to the Iraqis for the progress of that investigation. We have made very clear, Secretary Blinken has made very clear, President Biden has made very clear in his statements that the United States stands ready to assist in any and every way we can with the Iraqi investigation should they request our assistance.
But broadly, and to come back to your question, we are outraged, and we strongly condemn the attack on Iraq’s prime minister. He, the prime minister, Prime Minister Kadhimi, represents not only the head of government, but he represents the state of Iraq. And he is the commander-in-chief of Iraq’s security forces, and therefore we believe that this was an attack not only on him, but also on the sovereignty and stability of the Iraqi state. As I said before, the President has issued a very clear instruction to his national security team that we are to provide every form of appropriate assistance that our Iraqi partners may need in this. As you know, Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to speak yesterday with Prime Minister Kadhimi. He reiterated the same message. He condemned the attack, he noted his relief that the prime minister was unharmed in this, and he also underscored the importance we place on our partnership with the Government of Iraq and pledge to support the Iraqi security forces as they investigate this.
QUESTION: Well, if it – I mean, how can the United States, after pouring decades of support for the legitimate government and legitimate elections in Iraq – how can the United States stand back and not take some kind of action if you find and if the Iraqis find who might be responsible?
MR PRICE: I didn’t say we wouldn’t. I said we are going to defer to the Iraqi investigation, which is ongoing. As you know, we reserve the right in coordination with our partners – in this case, the Government of Iraq – to respond to aggression at a time and place, and with the means of our choosing. But again, before we speak about a response, we will let the Iraqi investigation proceed. We will continue to consult closely with our Iraqi partners. If they determine that they have any needs that their own capacities and capabilities leave unmet, we are happy to provide that assistance and together we will chart the next steps.
QUESTION: One more thing. If it does turn out that Iran is responsible, would this impact other negotiations or other tracks with Iran?
MR PRICE: Again, I’m not going to engage in a hypothetical about who may or may not be responsible. You are correct that we’ve seen a number of attacks that have been – that have had links to Iran-backed groups. But when it comes to this attack, we’re going to let the investigation play out.
QUESTION: Regarding the Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink’s upcoming travel to Seoul, there has been reporting that he will be meeting with South Korean presidential candidates. Is that true?
MR PRICE: We issued a Media Note on this. As you know, Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink is in Seoul right now. He is meeting with government counterparts. He will then travel to Tokyo, where he also will meet with counterparts. We’ll have readouts of those engagements, I suspect, when his travel ends.
QUESTION: And what is he – is the secretary planning – if the secretary’s planning to discuss with the Korean Government during his visit? Are there any topics that you know of, and will the end of war declaration be on table?
MR PRICE: Well, I would suspect that the threat that is posed by the DPRK’s missile and ballistic – ballistic missile and nuclear program will certainly be on the table, as will our strategy to advance the prospects for the complete and total denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will also be a topic of discussion as well. But our relationship with the ROK, our treaty ally, is broad and it’s deep. So, that there will be a number of issues that they discuss together.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up question on that. Mr. Sullivan said that the U.S. and Korea have different perspectives on the end of war declaration. Will there be dialogue to narrow the difference during his visit?
MR PRICE: We see eye-to-eye with our South Korean counterparts that achieving a complete denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and diplomacy is the best and the most effective course. We will continue to seek engagement with the DPRK as part of what we have called a calibrated and practical approach, in order to make tangible progress that increases the security not only for the United States but also for our regional allies. And of course, that includes the ROK and Japan as well.
QUESTION: Sorry, can I go back to Ethiopia? Will Ambassador Feltman meet with Prime Minister Abiy during this current stop while he’s there? And then there’s also reports that Tigrayan residents in Addis are being targeted for mass arrest. Is the State Department aware of these reports, and do you have any comment?
MR PRICE: When it comes to Ambassador Feltman’s travel, and his current stay in Addis, we’ll update you as we’re able with additional meetings. As I mentioned, he is meeting with the AU’s representative for the Horn of Africa, former President Obasanjo, today, but we will update you as additional meetings come into the – are confirmed.
We have seen reports that those with Tigrayan ethnicity are coming under – are being harassed or worse. Of course, those reports are concerning. It is part of the reason why we have called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, knowing that the potential for inter-communal violence remains high. We are deeply concerned about the potential for escalating inter-communal violence. It is why we are engaged with a number of actors, a number of officials in the Ethiopian Government – why we have engaged with the TPLF, why we are working at this very concertedly.
QUESTION: All right, Ned. I have a few follow-ups, first on Iraq and then on Egypt and Sudan.
On Iraq, many experts believe that this attack or attempted assassination on the prime minister’s life has the modus operandi of the pro-Iran militias. Do you believe, does the State Department believe, that these militias can work independently and operate independently, without a green light from Tehran?
MR PRICE: Again, I don’t want to get ahead of the Iraqi investigation. What is true is that we have seen a number of aggressive actions conducted by Iran-backed groups, including in Iraq. But when it comes to this attack, I wouldn’t want to characterize where the investigation – what the investigation has uncovered yet or what it may uncover in the days to come. We will stay in close touch with our Iraqi partners on that.
QUESTION: Okay. So, you can confirm that they used drones, and the only militias that have drones are the one who trained and supplied by Iran.
MR PRICE: Certainly, everything that I have seen speaks to the use of a drone. We have also expressed our concerns with the proliferation of drone technology – some of it Iranian UAV – capabilities. in the region. Again, without speaking to what happened over the weekend, this has been a persistent, prominent concern of ours. As you know, it was just several days ago that we announced additional policy tools to pursue those who have been responsible for proliferating some of this UAV technology in the region, some of which is of Iranian origin.
QUESTION: On Egypt, you said that one of the topics of discussion is regional security. Sudan is one of them. Do you see the Egyptian position identical to the U.S.? Where do you differ? Where do you agree? And why we didn’t see Egypt on the signatory of the Quad statement that you issued last —
MR PRICE: So, I will leave it to Cairo to explain their position on Sudan. What I will say is that regional security and specific – and developments in certain countries will be on the agenda, and that includes what has transpired in Sudan on October 25th, and the days since. They will – Secretary Blinken and his Egyptian counterpart will discuss ongoing efforts to restore the civilian-led transitional government and to prevent violence in Sudan.
A lot has been made of the Quad statement that was issued last week. It was an important statement because it did carry the signatures of the United States, the United Kingdom, of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, calling for a restoration of the civilian-led transitional government. The Quad for Sudan is, as you – as the name would suggest – a collection of four countries in the Sudanese context.
QUESTION: Yeah, it could’ve been five and then you’d call it Quint on Sudan.
QUESTION: It could be five or six, even.
QUESTION: There was no Quad on Sudan before.
MR PRICE: There was a —
QUESTION: You guys just invented it. It could’ve been the septet or an octet.
MR PRICE: There was a Quad for a Sudan statement last week, and a very powerful one at that.
QUESTION: Yeah. Had the Quad on Sudan ever issued a statement before?
MR PRICE: I would have to go back and look.
QUESTION: Okay, just to follow up as well —
QUESTION: I don’t think it existed before. So, it could’ve been a Quint.
MR PRICE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: An assistant to the secretary general of the Arab League said that a solution to the crisis in Sudan is imminent. Are you aware of any development that could indicate, actually, that would be ending the crisis soon?
MR PRICE: Look, we – as I have said already in the context of Ethiopia – but Ambassador Feltman and the team here, including Secretary Blinken, who has had engagements both with Prime Minister Hamdok and General Burhan in recent days – we are working to see a resolution to this. And in our minds, there is only one resolution – one appropriate resolution – and that is the restoration of the civilian-led transitional government. So, we are working on that. We are doing that across multiple diplomatic fronts and through multiple diplomatic channels. I think it’s best not to characterize the progress there. But again, in our mind, there is only one appropriate resolution to this, and that’s the restoration of the civilian-led government.
QUESTION: Sorry, one last question. I don’t get the chance to ask you questions.
MR PRICE: Of course. Of course.
QUESTION: So, one last question on Egypt and Ethiopia as well: You said one of the discussions was about the dam, which was a sticking point between the three countries. Two of them now are going through strife or turmoil, or civil war, if you want. So what’s going to happen to that, considering that what’s happening in Ethiopia and in Sudan – does this adversely affect this negotiation, obviously? And you worry about it, that it might go completely out of hand.
MR PRICE: Well, developments vis-à-vis the GERD and developments in these countries won’t affect the bottom line, and that is that we will continue to support a collaborative and constructive efforts by these three countries to reach an enduring arrangement on the dam. Obviously, this is an issue that is of high importance to all three countries, given their reliance on the Nile River waters, and we’ll continue to engage with these countries to find a solution that’s acceptable to the three of them.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: I had a question on Myanmar. Danny Fenster’s case last week came up in court. He was denied bail and a new charge brought against him – that coincided with the trip of Governor Richardson to Myanmar, and he’s subsequently told press that the State Department told him not to raise Fenster’s case with the Burmese Government, in these meetings that he had. I’m wondering: Why would you ask him not to raise that? And do you not think that Governor Richardson would have – could have some impact on the case where you guys – your diplomacy so far hasn’t been able to get him freed?
MR PRICE: Well, I wouldn’t want to characterize any private discussions that were had with Governor Richardson. As you know, he traveled to Burma not as an emissary, not as a representative of the United States Government, but as a private citizen. This is an effort – this was an effort that was not sponsored by or on behalf of the United States Government. Now, of course we hope that his trip over the longer term does contribute to improved humanitarian access. That, of course, is in our interest. It’s in everyone’s interest, as well.
When it comes to the case of Danny Fenster, look, we have made very clear where we stand on this. We remain deeply concerned over his continued detention. We recognize it as just another sad reminder of the continuing human rights and humanitarian crisis facing the country. We do so today on the one-year anniversary of the Burmese elections that indicated a degree of promise that the military junta has attempted to extinguish, even though the people of Burma have made clear that their democratic aspirations, their demands for human rights and basic freedoms will not be extinguished. We have continued to press the junta for Danny’s release. We will do that until he is able to return home to his family. Consular officers have routinely met and have spoken with Danny. They last did so by phone late last month on October 31st. This case is an absolute priority for the department, and it will be until Danny is able to return to his family.
QUESTION: I just want to go back to Sudan, about these statements from Burhan this morning regional time. He said that he will not walk back the October 25th steps that he took, and he will not be part of any government that comes out of a deal, a negotiated deal. Do you think that this is an approach that you can support, the no Burhan, no Hamdok for the future?
MR PRICE: Again, our bottom line is – and the bottom line of the international community – and we have heard a number of countries, a number of international institutions, a number of international bodies speak with one voice on that. And that is that there needs to be a restoration of the civilian-led transitional government. There needs to be a restoration of what it is that the military sought to topple.
This is – these are – what is most important is that these are not our objectives. These are the aspirations of the Sudanese people. We have seen the Sudanese people take to the streets to march peacefully throughout Khartoum and other cities and towns across Sudan. Millions of Sudanese have done so, and they have done so to clearly underscore where it is that – and what it is that they feel needs to happen. There is no ambiguity about what the people of Sudan want, and there should be no ambiguity about where the United States, where our allies and partners stand on this as well.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that real quickly, because the Secretary said that the U.S. shared that interest with the Egyptians, but there are reports that the Egyptians supported this military takeover. So, can you square that?
MR PRICE: What the Secretary said in his opening remarks and as – what I said in the topper as well – is that we will discuss with our Egyptian partners the need to restore the civilian-led transitional government in Sudan. Again, I’m going to allow the Egyptians to characterize the nuance of their position, but certainly this will be a topic of discussion with our Egyptian counterparts. There is a widespread, shared consensus that the civilian-led transitional government in Sudan needs to be restored and needs to be restored immediately.
QUESTION: The family of Trevor Reed just put out a statement saying they have a report that Trevor has started a hunger strike. Does State have any comment, and when was the last time embassy officials were granted access to him?
MR PRICE: So, I’ve seen those reports, but due to privacy considerations, I’m not in a position to comment on them. When it comes to Trevor Reed, Ambassador Sullivan last visited Trevor Reed on September 22nd. We are continuing to seek contact with Trevor, as we monitor his case closely. I suspect that the ambassador will have another opportunity to visit Trevor and, of course, Paul Whelan going forward.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) COP26, there was an agreement at the end of last week by 40-plus countries to phase out the use of coal. Why didn’t the Biden administration sign that agreement?
MR PRICE: It – we have made very clear where it is that we stand when it comes to coal and when it comes to our use of coal domestically and around the world. I think the important point is that statements are declarations, and they’re important, but they can’t be seen as an end in and of themselves. They have to be backed up by action. And we are and have been moving forward on a just energy transition. In fact, President Biden’s first specific climate pledge was decarbonizing the U.S. energy supply by 2035.
So, no one should underestimate how serious we are. No one should underestimate the ways in which we not have – we have not only raised our own climate ambition with our own ambitious targets, but also the ways in which we’ve galvanized actions by countries around the world to seek to meet the needs of this decisive decade if we are to arrive at —
QUESTION: I apologize.
MR PRICE: Not a problem – if we are to arrive at a means by which to prevent global warming from not exceeding the 1.5 degrees Celsius mark.
QUESTION: But as the third-largest user of coal, I mean, wouldn’t it help to galvanize some more action, if the U.S. did sign on to this pledge? And regardless of the pledge, are you willing to say whether or not the administration thinks it can phase out coal by a certain date?
MR PRICE: Well, we have pushed, in a number of ways, to transition away from some of the most harmful emitters of greenhouse gases. When it comes to coal, we pushed for and won an agreement at the G7 last summer to support, a quote, “transition away from unabated coal capacity,” and to achieve an overwhelmingly decarbonized power system in the 2030s. We did push hard for language like that at the G20 last week – or the other week, I should say – and will continue to do so. Again, we have been very clear in terms of where we stand on our own climate targets, on our own climate ambitions, and that includes with regards to coal.
QUESTION: On Cuba. Yesterday Jake Sullivan said that the circumstances had changed in the island. What does he mean? Is the U.S. mulling new sanctions? Is anything else to sanction?
MR PRICE: Well, I think what the National Security Advisor was referring to is that events in Cuba, certainly the events of July 11th, the events subsequent to July 11th, they have weighed heavily on our approach. And we have not been shy in speaking about and calling out the human rights abuses, the repression, the arbitrary detentions that have taken place in Cuba, since July 11th. And our policy, both before July 11th and certainly since, has focused on support for the Cuban people and accountability for the Cuban officials who have been responsible for some of the human rights abuses that we have seen.
We are – the world is expecting protests in the coming days as well, as the Cuban people have made clear that they will once again peacefully march in the streets to make clear their aspirations for democracy, human rights, civil liberties, and political rights. We have centered our efforts in Cuba, when it comes to Cuba, on this question of the rights of the Cuban people, and steps that we can take to advance the cause of democracy on the island. And we have sought, in doing so, to impose tangible and significant consequences in connection with the abuses that I mentioned before. And we are prepared to continue doing so should the repression, should the human rights abuses, should the abuses of the Cuban regime not cease.
QUESTION: Ned, am I correct in saying that Tom West is doing his first trip as – in his new formal position? And if I am, can you give us any details about it?
MR PRICE: That is correct. So, Tom West is currently in Brussels. He had an opportunity to meet with the NAC in Brussels. He also engaged in a press call earlier this morning.
QUESTION: Oh, he did? Okay.
MR PRICE: He did. And he provided some detail on his travel.
QUESTION: Then we don’t need to —
MR PRICE: I’ll just very quickly make the point that he will go to London, as well. He will go to Pakistan, to Russia, to India. Together with our partners, he will continue to make clear the expectations that we have of the Taliban and of any future Afghanistan government.
QUESTION: Yeah, but he’s not going to Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: There are no plans to do that.
QUESTION: And he’s not going to Doha?
MR PRICE: He did not speak to plans to go to Doha today. But he’s going to London as well as to Pakistan, Russia, and India.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I quickly ask on Haiti? Is there any update on the hostage missionaries there? Reuters reported on Friday that the U.S. had seen proof of life for some of them. Can you confirm that report?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to confirm that, and I’m not in a position to confirm that chiefly because the resolution of these cases oftentimes relies on this activity taking place out of public sight, out of public view. And that is exactly the way we’ve been engaging with the organization, the missionary organization at the center of this. It’s how we’ve been engaging with our Haitian counterparts, including the Haitian National Police, the most senior Haitian authorities as well, including with the Canadian Government, given that one of the hostages is a Canadian citizen. So, our embassy in Port-au-Prince, our senior officials here, have continued to be very focused on this. But I just don’t have an update to offer publicly.
Okay. Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:06 p.m.)