WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. State Department held a press briefing on November 15, 2021, touching on subjects ranging from Russia’s anti-satellite missile strike, US citizens leaving Afghanistan, and more.
Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
2:19 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Monday.
MR PRICE: A few things at the top, and then happy to take your questions. Today, I join Secretary Blinken and the rest of the country in welcoming the release of U.S. journalist Daniel Fenster from prison in Burma, where he was wrongfully detained for almost six months. We commend and thank Ambassador Tom Vajda and his team at U.S. Embassy Rangoon, Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, the expertise of Consular Affairs and the dedicated partners, including Governor Bill Richardson, who helped facilitate Danny’s release.
U.S. officials met briefly with Danny upon his release, and Ambassador Carstens will join Governor Richardson at the airport to welcome Danny when his flight touches down in the United States.
We are extremely grateful that Danny will soon be reunited with his family as we continue to call for the release of others who remain unjustly imprisoned in Burma.
Next, Japan and the Republic of Korea are two of the United States closest allies, and our cooperation is essential to tackling today’s most pressing challenges in the region and around the globe. As a reflection of this close cooperation, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific Daniel Kritenbrink visited Tokyo from November 7th through the 10th and Seoul from November 10th through the 12th for his first travel to the region since assuming his new role some weeks ago.
In Tokyo, with senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National Defense, including Vice Foreign Minister Mori and Vice Minister of Defense Shimada, as well as with members of the Diet, to discuss a broad range of opportunities for the U.S.-Japan alliance and to reassert the – to reassert that the alliance serves as the cornerstone to promote peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
In Seoul, he met with senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Blue House officials – that includes First Vice Foreign Minister Choi and Deputy National Security Advisor Kim – to reaffirm the ironclad U.S.-ROK Alliance and discuss how we can continue to broaden our cooperation to tackle the most pressing global challenges of the 21st century.
In both Tokyo and Seoul, he stressed the importance of trilateral cooperation to tackle challenges including the climate crisis and COVID-19, as well as to coordinate our efforts to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
And finally, earlier today the Russian Federation recklessly conducted a destructive satellite test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile against one of its own satellites.
The test has so far generated over fifteen hundred pieces of trackable orbital debris and hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris that now threaten the interests of all nations. In addition, this test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, as well as to other human spaceflight activities.
Russia’s dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of outer space and clearly demonstrates that Russia’s claims of opposing the weaponization of space are disingenuous and hypocritical.
The United States will work with our allies and partners to respond to Russia’s irresponsible act.
With that, I am happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Welcome back from the weekend.
MR PRICE: Thank you. Thank you.
QUESTION: Just – I don’t have a lot even though there’s a lot going on. But just on the Russia statement, I mean, are you making some kind of a formal diplomatic protest to the Russians about this? Why is this a State Department thing? Are you getting into diplomacy in space?
MR PRICE: Well, this is a State Department thing because it is a reckless and dangerous act, as we said, that threatens the interests of all nations. This is something that before the test we had raised repeatedly with senior officials in Moscow to underscore the irresponsibility that such a maneuver would entail for the international community.
Let me just reiterate one point —
QUESTION: I’m not suggesting that what they did was okay or —
MR PRICE: Oh, no, I wasn’t suggesting you were. I was —
QUESTION: I just want to know exactly why it is that it’s not the Pentagon or NASA or – why is it the State Department? Did you launch, file some kind of formal diplomatic protest to the Russians about this? Why is this (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: Again, this is something we have repeatedly raised with Russian counterparts, our concerns for a potential satellite test. And Matt, let me also be clear that we are going to be working with allies and partners around the world to make very clear that this behavior is not something the United States will tolerate.
QUESTION: Okay, fine. Did you diplomatically file some kind of a protest, a demarche, whatever, with the Russians about this? Why is it that you’re getting up here and saying this as opposed to the Pentagon, as opposed to NASA? Is it because you have the platform?
MR PRICE: Because this —
QUESTION: Did you file – all right, let me make it very easy. Have you guys lodged some kind of formal diplomatic protest with the Russians about this incident?
MR PRICE: Let me make it very clear. We have spoken to senior Russian officials multiple times to warn them of the irresponsibility and dangerousness of such a test.
MR PRICE: And Matt, we are going to be – we – I can’t speak to what has been conveyed today, but of course we are not going to shy away from condemning this type of irresponsible activity. The point I was going to make – the point I was going to make – and I think it’s worth repeating – is that today, miles above us, there are American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts on the International Space Station. What the Russians did today with these 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris poses a risk not only to those astronauts, not only to those cosmonauts, but to satellites, to the interests of all nations.
QUESTION: All right. Can I – just on one other subject, and that is that I understand the Secretary met this morning – couple hours ago – with the group of – or representatives of some groups that are doing – organizing evacuations from Afghanistan, and I just wanted to ask you what that meeting was about. Did it produce anything new?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: And then related to that, in his meeting with the head of the IOM, the issue of Afghanistan was raised, but I wanted to know – according to the transcript of the brief remarks that they gave, there was nothing in there about Belarus and Poland, which would seem to me to be also a significant issue. So why – or why not?
MR PRICE: Yeah. Sure. So when it comes to the engagement the Secretary had this morning, the Secretary had an opportunity to speak to 17 members of something that’s known as the Afghan Evac Coalition. We have said for quite some time that our efforts to facilitate the departure of American citizens, of lawful permanent residents, of Afghans to whom we have a special commitment is something that really requires a robust partnership between the U.S. Government and other elements. That includes the advocacy community, it includes members of Congress, it includes those who have been working this issue for quite some time.
And so the Afghan Evac Coalition – it is an umbrella group of about a hundred organizations, and this is a group that senior State Department officials engage twice per week. They have phone calls with them twice per week. The Secretary was grateful to have the opportunity to take part in the call today. They discussed our collective efforts to provide support to SIV holders and applicants. They discussed our efforts to continue to facilitate the departure of these individuals who are at a stage where it is appropriate to do so.
And the Secretary commended the Afghan Evac Coalition for their tremendous support to our collective efforts in recent weeks and recent months. This is something that the United States Government could not do nearly as effectively without the support of these groups, including and certainly primarily the Afghan Evac Coalition, given that it is an umbrella group that is one of our regular interlocutors.
Just because I have the opportunity, I did want to provide a quick update on the number of American citizens and LPRs who have with direct U.S. Government assistance departed Afghanistan since August 31st. As you know, there have been some recent flights out of Kabul. As of today, the United States Government has directly assisted in the departure of 435 U.S. citizens and 325 lawful permanent residents. You heard us say last week – the Secretary mentioned this when he was meeting with his Qatari counterpart here at the Department of State on Friday – that as of November 10th, last Wednesday, all U.S. citizens who have requested assistance from the U.S. Government to depart Afghanistan and who are ready to do so have been offered an opportunity to leave the country.
Now, of course, this is not the end of our enduring mission to support American citizens, lawful permanent residents, Afghans to whom we have a special commitment. That mission has and will continue. But this is an important milestone. We have said since August 31st and before that it will remain our objective to provide any and all support that we can for these individuals, and we have been able to make good on that and we will continue to do so going forward.
QUESTION: Wait, wait.
MR PRICE: Oh.
QUESTION: IOM. Why no mention of Belarus?
MR PRICE: We’re going to have a readout of the Secretary’s engagement with his IOM counterparts later today. I expect we’ll have more details in there.
QUESTION: Yes, Ned can I just follow-up on the anti-satellite test?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: So can you comment on the timing of this? Do you see this as something – why is this happening now? Why are the Russians doing this now? Is this linked to – especially in the context of arms control talks and recent events in Ukraine, is this something that you see as another escalation in Russian activity around the world and beyond? Can you talk a little bit about that?
MR PRICE: You would need to speak to officials in Russia about their timing, what it was that they may or may not have been attempting to signal with this. What we are very clearly conveying is that the decision to proceed with this anti-satellite test today – it was dangerous, it was reckless, it was irresponsible. And we will and have been consulting with our allies and partners around the world to make clear to the Russian Federation and anyone else who would consider such a dangerous operation that this won’t be tolerated.
And it won’t be tolerated not because we are – not because of a matter of pure policy. This puts our interests, this puts the collective interests of the international community in, in some cases, great danger. I said before there are cosmonauts and astronauts together on the International Space Station, and now there are 1,500 pieces of trackable – meaning at least somewhat sizeable – debris that pose a risk not only to that International Space Station, but to every satellite and piece of orbital material that countries have put in space.
QUESTION: Can I just have a follow-up on that?
QUESTION: Just a follow-up —
MR PRICE: Sure. Kylie, and then we’ll come to Francesco.
QUESTION: Ned, can you just be a little bit more explicit about when you say the U.S. will not tolerate this? I mean, all you’re doing is describing what happened. So what does “not tolerating this” actually mean?
MR PRICE: Well, what we’re doing today is condemning – is, as you said, describing why this was so dangerous, reckless, and irresponsible. We, as you know, don’t telegraph specific measures, but as I have said before, we will work with our allies and partners in different ways to make clear that the United States, that the international community is not going to tolerate this kind of irresponsible behavior. But today, don’t want to get ahead of where we are, but do want to make very clear why this is so dangerous, why this is so – such irresponsible conduct on the part of a nation-state.
QUESTION: And there could be a consequence that the U.S. inflicts on Russia for this?
MR PRICE: Again, I don’t want to get ahead of specific measures that we may pursue, that our partners and allies may pursue. But we are going to continue to make very clear that we won’t tolerate this kind of activity.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you, Ned. Since you were speaking, we have a readout out of the Kremlin of a phone call between President Putin and President Macron, and President Putin said – slammed provocative U.S.-led exercises in Black Sea, saying they were increasing tensions.
So maybe if you can respond to that, and after that, we’re just a few months after the summit in Geneva between President Biden and President Putin. Does all the sanctions that Missy was referring to mean that the message didn’t go through, that this summit was useless? Or how do you see the dialogue going on forward?
MR PRICE: Well, we said in the run-up to the meeting between President Putin and President Biden in June that this meeting would be about testing the proposition that the United States and the Russian Federation could have a more stable, more predictable relationship. You were right that we are now several months out from that summit in June. There have been lower-level engagements between senior State Department officials and working-level State Department officials for that matter and their counterparts from Russia. But in many ways, I think it is too soon to tell whether that sort of more stable, more predictable relationship with Moscow is on the table.
The type of activity we saw today with the anti-satellite missile test, what we are seeing along the border with Ukraine, the unusual military activity that the Secretary spoke to last week – other indications suggest that – certainly give us pause, but again, we are keeping those lines of diplomacy open. It remains our goal to see to it if we can achieve that kind of relationship, but it obviously takes two to achieve a relationship of that sort.
All the while, we have been very clear in speaking out when the Russian Federation has undertaken activities like the one today that is irresponsible, reckless, and/or dangerous. But we have continued to engage robustly with our partners, with our allies, including those in the region.
When it comes to Russia’s unusual military activity near – around the border of Ukraine, we have had extensive interactions with our European allies and partners, including with our Ukrainian partners. Of course, we had a strategic dialogue with Ukraine last week, with Foreign Minister Kuleba. The Secretary and President Biden had an opportunity to see the Ukrainian president in Glasgow the other week. We have during the course of these meetings – including in Brussels, including in other European capitals – described our concerns, we have shared information, and we have held discussions too with Russian officials about Ukraine and U.S.-Russia relations generally.
We have made very clear through all of this that escalatory or actions by Russia would be of great concern to the United States. They are of great concern to our allies and partners. Several of our European allies have had their own high-level discussions with the Russian Federation and they’ve voiced very similar messages. So we will continue to coordinate closely with our partners and allies throughout Europe and more broadly in the face of these actions.
And again, we hope for a relationship with Russia that is more stable and more predictable, but hope is not a strategy. And we are going to watch very closely as the Russian Federation chooses its actions in the coming days and weeks.
QUESTION: And on the rest of that – the exercises, that he’s – that President Putin is protesting against?
MR PRICE: Look, I’ll leave it to the Department of Defense to speak to any military exercises, but our intentions vis-à-vis the Russian Federation are very clear. The partnership we have with countries like Ukraine, our enduring commitment to them, is also very clear.
Yes, Pearl. Sure.
QUESTION: You mentioned at the top that you will be traveling with Secretary Blinken, so Africa, I’m sure, will welcome you, Ned. Three countries – I have about four or so questions for you mainly on democracy, on Eswatini and Sudan which are inextricably linked to Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal.
So I’m going to start at the top here with a democracy question for you. Eswatini’s PUDEMO president – I spoke to him just two days ago – he says this, and I quote: “British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan visited many countries, but it was his winds of change speech made in South Africa that influenced and sparked change across the continent. My audiences, which are all young audiences, are hoping that the pronouncements Secretary Blinken will make are going to have a similar effect.”
Ned, part of what Secretary Blinken is going to be doing in Nigeria is going to be meeting with entrepreneurs in the digital sector and make his largest democracy speech in Nigeria. So my question to you is: As I tweet, likely after this briefing, currently Twitter is banned in Nigeria. So this limits freedom of speech. Secretary Blinken will be in Abuja one year after excessive force was used on protesters on the streets of Nigeria. We’re currently – in Eswatini are still protesting, seemingly following the John Lewis mantra of “Make good trouble,” but shot and face excessive force by security forces. Could you respond since Secretary Blinken will be making a U.S.-Africa democracy speech here?
I want to move on and link to Sudan. A friend of mine who was one of Prime Minister Hamdok’s ministers – I met him here when he came to D.C. – I believe I learned unfortunately last night that he may have lost his eye. I thought he was killed, but I believe he is still alive but is one of the detainees. So I’d like to find out from you that as Secretary Blinken is having his meeting with President Kenyatta, will he have any positive effect on the political prisoners, and is there any plans that maybe you are having regarding the – visiting any of those prisoners inside Sudan?
And on my additional question regarding, for example, the issue of freedom of assembly, nonviolent freedom of assembly, I wish you could address that. You talk about common values and the three themes that he is going to be going there for, but since former President George Bush, all the way through to now, Condoleezza Rice went to Kenya and Nigeria; Hillary Clinton, Kenya, Nigeria; Tillerson, Nigeria, Senegal; even Pompeo, Kenya, Senegal; Blinken, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal. Africa’s got 54 countries; sub-Saharan Africa is about 38 countries.
So I’m speaking here because all of my audiences, Ned, have this sense that from one administration to another administration, nothing’s going to change in Africa. So what is different now? How can Blinken set himself apart, perhaps, in this democracy speech? Perhaps if you could address those questions, I may have a follow-up question.
MR PRICE: Sure, let me start with those. So you are correct that we are departing late tonight for Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal and we’ll be – have the pleasure of being in Africa for the better part of this week. But I would hasten to add that the issues we are going to be discussing, the areas on which we are going to be focusing, and I would name a few – climate, global health and COVID-19 in particular, democracy and human rights that you alluded to as well, and certainly people-to-people ties, which are incredibly important in a country where an overwhelming majority of the people on the continent are under the age of 18. It’s an incredibly young continent with tremendous promise, tremendous opportunity.
And it’s the charge of this administration to determine how we can partner together most effectively to harness, to unlock that potential, working together as partners. And that is how we see our relationship not only with Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal but with all of those countries on the continent of Africa with whom we share interests and values, and there are many.
So yes, the Secretary will physically be on the soil of those three countries, but we are going to be speaking to issues – he will be speaking to issues, I should say – that are universal, are continental, in their applicability. So these will be themes that are just as relevant to Kenya and Nigeria and Senegal as they are to the 51 other countries on the continent, including those of sub-Saharan Africa.
This, of course, will be the Secretary’s first trip to Africa in his current role as Secretary of State, but I am confident in saying it will not be his last. As you know, there have been other high-level administration – senior administration officials who have traveled to Africa. That includes our Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Toria Nuland. It includes the Deputy National Security Advisor – the Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer. It includes another deputy national security advisor who was just there last week or in recent days to discuss several concrete initiatives, including Build Back Better World, the affirmative development – infrastructure agenda, I should say, that the United States looks forward to partnering with in countries, including those in Africa.
QUESTION: Did you miss a couple there?
MR PRICE: Did I miss a couple?
QUESTION: Including the cabinet member that’s been there, like was just there. Does she not get a mention? Or the USAID administrator? Does she not get a mention either?
MR PRICE: Matt, as I said, there have been many senior administration officials who have been —
QUESTION: I’m sorry. All due respect to Jon Finer, but I think that Linda Thomas-Greenfield outranks him.
MR PRICE: That is correct.
QUESTION: So does Sam Power.
MR PRICE: Linda Thomas-Greenfield was just there. She was just there on a UN Security Council delegation. But thank you for underscoring the point that there have been plenty of senior administration officials who have been on the continent, including in recent days.
When it comes to President Kenyatta, obviously Nairobi is our first stop. We will have an opportunity to meet with President Kenyatta, with the foreign minister, with other senior officials on Wednesday. You will hear directly from Secretary Blinken and his counterpart when they look forward to speaking to you.
But as we’ve said, we very much appreciate the leadership role that President Kenyatta has demonstrated in the context of the conflict in Ethiopia. He has used the power of his voice, he has used the power of his office, to call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and to reinforce the very messages that we’re hearing from former President Obasanjo, the AU envoy; the very messages that you have heard emanate from here and emanate from our senior officials. So of course, Ethiopia will be high on the agenda when we meet with President Kenyatta, as will other regional security issues. And that, of course, includes another one that you raise, and that is Sudan.
You raise the question of the issue of those who have been detained since October 25th when the military instigated their takeover, so let me just speak to a moment where we are with Sudan to preview, I suspect, what you will be hearing more of when we’re in Kenya later this week.
We’ve said before that we are gravely concerned by the military’s unilateral purported appointment of a sovereign council in violation of the 2019 constitutional declaration. We’re concerned because we think it will increase tensions. We saw on November 13th as we have seen in previous instances since October 25 that the Sudanese people continue to speak out clearly in support of their country’s continued transition to democracy. We back their call very strongly for the restoration of Prime Minister Hamdok and the civilian-led transitional government established under the 2019 constitutional declaration.
We join the Sudanese people in calling for the lifting of the state of emergency. We call for respecting the right of peaceful assembly, which you alluded to; the right of people everywhere, including in Sudan, to assemble peacefully. And we call – to another point you referenced – for the immediate release of all civilian leaders and protest organizers detained since the takeover. We are alarmed by the crackdown that has occurred, including the violence that occurred over the weekend, and we stand in solidarity with the family and the friends of these and other defenders of Sudan’s democratic revolution.
As you may know, our Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Molly Phee, she is in Khartoum at this moment. She arrived last night. She is engaging in meetings today and tomorrow before she meets with us and the Secretary in Nairobi later this week. She’s there to express our concerns with the military overthrow of the transition government and to discuss the path to the immediate restoration of Prime Minister Hamdok and the civilian-led transitional government established under that 2019 constitutional declaration, the very entreaty, the very demand that has been put forward by the Sudanese people and that has been backed by a wide and broad swath of the international community. As I said before, she will then join Secretary Blinken and the traveling team in Nairobi and continue on the rest of the trip with us.
QUESTION: Ned, can I just press you on two things here? And I appreciate your responses. Thank you for those. Back on the democracy issue, in your view or perhaps in Secretary Blinken’s view, how is he going to reconcile, for example – your statement says that he’s making it – he’s going to be visiting the largest democracy on the continent – there are very few actual democracies, but the largest – with a speech, for example, in a region where there is also an absolute monarch in the Kingdom of Eswatini.
And just if you – maybe you can address the issue – on a separate issue of while he’s there, there are countries in Africa – Uganda, Rwanda, and so on – who did take in some Afghan refugees. Might he find out what is the status of those? Have they already left Uganda and Rwanda or are there any plans for them? Are they going to continue – what are your plans there?
MR PRICE: When it comes to what you will hear from the Secretary regarding democracy and human rights – and as you’ve alluded to, he will deliver a speech on the administration’s policy towards Africa and our partnership with the countries of Africa during the course of this trip – I would reiterate that the messages he will deliver, they won’t be unique to Kenya, they won’t be unique to Senegal, they won’t be unique to Nigeria. They will speak to the opportunity, and they will speak to the challenges that the countries of the continent face.
There have been tremendous success stories on the continent of Africa in recent decades. There have also been setbacks, of course, and we have just been speaking about a couple of them. He will speak to the fact that democracy has progressed, and in some cases it has come in fits and starts to other countries as well. So he can certainly deliver a message that is relevant to countries like Eswatini from, in this case, West Africa, and that is what I think you will hear – messages that are universal or continental in their applicability.
You asked a second —
QUESTION: Afghans. Afghans that are —
MR PRICE: Oh, yes. So there have been – during the course of the U.S. Government-led evacuation effort that concluded on August 31st, we, through a concerted diplomatic effort, were able to enlist and had offers from a number of countries spanning four continents, including Africa. We received grateful and generous offers to take in vulnerable Afghans, and we are tremendously grateful to all of our partners who have played a role in that effort.
When it comes to Afghans who may still be in those countries, I would need to refer you to those countries. A number of them are still – are in processing. This is a process that can take a number of months before they are fully processed, but I would need to refer you to those countries for comment.
QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on Danny Fenster that you talked about at the top. Obviously great news that he’s been released, and I wondered, the administration has been under criticism from some family members of Americans detained overseas. There’s a criticism that bringing Americans home has not been prioritized enough in some of the foreign policy of this administration, and obviously this is a case where an American has come home. But just to kind of follow up on the way – your statement describing it and the Secretary’s statement describing it, I’m kind of interested to know: What specifically was Special Envoy Carstens’ role in this and the embassy and other officials you mentioned? And if these officials were playing a significant role in bringing Danny home, when did you – when did the State Department know that this mission by Governor Richardson yesterday – today – sorry – Monday was happening? And isn’t that sort of contrary to what – your administration’s approach to this trip, the previous trip by Governor Richardson had been, where our understanding is that he was advised not to raise Danny’s case and there was a kind of warning that this might make things worse, and the State Department basically didn’t approve of this trip. So now you’re taking kind of credit for the release. How do you square that?
MR PRICE: So let me start with the first part of your question, then I’ll come back to it. So Danny was in custody for nearly six months. From the moment the embassy learned of his detention – at first the embassy, and later the fuller department – has been actively engaged at all levels to see his unjust detention come to an end, and the fact that it has is something we welcome and we commend everyone who has been a part of that effort – the embassy team, our Consular Affairs Bureau, consular officers in Burma who have been in contact – in regular contact with Danny’s family, our Consular Affairs Bureau here at the department, and, of course, our Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens and his team. And as I said before, Ambassador Carstens will have the great pleasure of being able to see Danny when he arrives in the United States tomorrow morning. A consular official was able to briefly see Danny before he boarded the flight in Burma, before he was wheels up.
This has been a constant, nonstop effort, something we have prioritized, as you would expect us to prioritize, because as we consistently say, we have no higher imperative than the safety and security of Americans who – Americans around the world and, of course, Americans who are held unjustly against their will overseas.
In this case, we are grateful to the many partners who contributed to the success that was announced today, and that includes Governor Richardson. Governor Richardson has a long track record of humanitarian leadership. And as we said, when he traveled to Burma several days ago, he was acting on his own. He was not acting at the direction of the U.S. Government, but we have been in regular and in more recent hours almost constant contact with the governor and with his team, and we’re appreciative of the role that the governor played in this case.
I just want to be very clear: We are commending those who were involved in this, but this is not about taking credit. What we are noting and celebrating today is the fact that after nearly six months, Danny Fenster, an American journalist who was imprisoned for nothing more than it seems attempting to take part in his professional pursuits, the pursuit of journalism, who was deprived of his freedom for that time, separated from his family for all those months, is now on his way home.
There were any number of people in this building and around the world who played a role in that. There were any number of people outside of this building in this administration who played a role that, and any number of people who, acting as private citizens, had a role in that. And we’re grateful to all of them. And above all, we are extraordinarily happy for Danny and his family whom he’ll soon get to see.
QUESTION: Can you give us an update on Rob Malley’s trip to the Middle East, how he’s using that specifically to prepare for the resumption of talks? And is he going to come back here before then or go straight to Vienna?
MR PRICE: Sure. Well, Special Envoy Malley, as we announced last week, has been on a trip to consult with our partners in the region. He was in the UAE. He is now in Israel, where he has had excellent engagements. He’s met with Israel’s foreign minister, the defense minister, the national security advisor, the director of the Mossad, among other Israeli counterparts. We have made a point of saying when it comes to our Israeli partners, when it comes to our Gulf partners, that we have regularly – during the course of the previous six rounds of indirect negotiations in Vienna have regularly briefed them on the course of those discussions. And as we prepare for the resumption of those talks, the seventh round in Vienna, this is an opportunity to compare notes and to prepare for that seventh round. But that close consultation and coordination will continue as we get closer to November 29th and of course once those negotiations resume.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on that?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Given that Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield is also there, is she involved in those discussions with Malley regarding Iran and Israel?
MR PRICE: My understanding is that the ambassador, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, has a broader agenda while she’s there. Of course, Special Envoy Malley is squarely focused on the issue of Iran and the possibility of a mutual return to compliance, so those have been fairly a set of narrow discussions.
QUESTION: Can I have a change of subject to Belarus, unless someone else has Iran?
MR PRICE: Belarus, sure.
QUESTION: The EU said today that they are preparing further sanctions that will target those facilitating illegal border crossings into the EU. Does the U.S. support this strategy or these actions, and what further progress has been made regarding the U.S. actions for Belarus that (inaudible) —
MR PRICE: Well, you’ve heard – I’ll say this. You’ve heard our European allies say this, but we are deeply concerned by the Lukashenka regime’s inhumane actions, and we strongly condemn their callous exploitation and coercion of vulnerable people and inhumane facilitation of irregular migration flows across its borders. I understand that the EU today announced a new sanctions authority that could apply to the situation in Belarus. We too are preparing follow-up sanctions in close coordination with the EU and other partners and allies that will continue to hold the Lukashenka regime accountable for its ongoing attacks on democracy, on human rights, on international norms.
We again – to reiterate, we call on the regime to immediately halt its campaign of orchestrating and coercing irregular migrant flows across borders into Europe. As long as the regime refuses to respect its international obligations and commitments, as long as it undermines peace and security of its neighbors and of the broader continent, as long as it continues to repress its own – repress and abuse its own people and hold political prisoners, we’ll continue to put more pressure, not less pressure, on the Lukashenka regime as we call for accountability.
We have worked very closely with our European allies on this challenge. We know it is of the highest importance to them as it is to us, as we’ll continue to coordinate closely both in our rhetoric and our actions going forward.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Danny just for one second and then go to Ethiopia?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any conditions attached to Danny’s release, and are you concerned that Governor Richardson’s multiple trips gave any legitimacy to the junta?
MR PRICE: I’m not aware of any conditions. Today is a day that we are commending the efforts of all of those who are responsible for Danny’s release and above all elated for him and his family.
QUESTION: And then on Ethiopia, late last week the Ethiopian Government told the UN that it would allow trucks to drive for the first time in more than six weeks. Obviously, we’ve seen the Ethiopians allow Obasanjo to come in and out, Kenyatta and Feltman, and yet not a single truck has moved in since the promise that was given late Thursday night. Do you believe an apparent shift in the Ethiopian Government’s tone is legitimate or a ploy to buy time?
MR PRICE: Well, we have consistently said that we welcome words but what we’ll be looking for is action, and that includes in the context of humanitarian access and humanitarian deliveries into Tigray and to northern Ethiopia. We would welcome any action from the Government of Ethiopia that would allow lifesaving humanitarian assistance to reach all of those in need in Tigray and across Ethiopia regardless of ethnicity. We have not seen, as you alluded to, any action that would indicate that these trucks can safely transport lifesaving humanitarian supplies.
Moving trucks with relief supplies is just one of many steps that are necessary to help the millions of people across the region who are in need. We know and we have heard from humanitarian aid organizations that they need to be able to move fuel, to move cash, to move food, to move other supplies in order to operate programs that distribute these lifesaving and essential supplies once they go into Tigray and Amhara.
We have repeatedly and increasingly urgently called for all parties to allow and facilitate unhindered humanitarian access, and we are alarmed, as we have said over the course of the last week or so, at the detention of UN and NGO staff and drivers, which is yet another obstruction of humanitarian aid. Humanitarian aid, humanitarian access must be allowed so that these aid workers can work free from harassment, free from intimidation, and of course, free from detention as well.
Let me make one other point because it is just incredibly important in the context of Ethiopia. This is a challenge that we are engaging on. It’s a challenge that will be high on the agenda when Secretary Blinken meets with President Kenyatta and is in the region, is in Kenya and the continent this week. But the security situation in Ethiopia continues to be tenuous. Earlier this month, we – our embassy went on ordered departure. Our embassy is still open, but we did go on ordered departure. And since earlier this month, we have gone from recommending to urging Americans to avail themselves of the commercial flight options that continue to be available out of Addis to leave the country immediately.
We are doing that not because we are pessimistic about the prospects for peace, but because we are practical, and these options are still available today. There are days this week where nearly two dozen commercial flights will be available. We understand from the embassy that there is excess capacity on these flights. The embassies’ American – section of American Citizens Services has been – has actually extended its hours. It’s open seven days a week. We are providing repatriation loans. In other words, we are actually up-fronting the costs of return tickets or tickets – airfare out of the country so that Americans can avail themselves of this option.
I think there may be a misperception that what we saw in Afghanistan is something that the U.S. Government can undertake anywhere and everywhere in the world. What we saw in Afghanistan was unique; it was extraordinary. It was something that this administration had not done before. It is something that no administration had done before. In the military-led airlift of nearly 125,000 individuals, the context of Afghanistan was unique. The context of Afghanistan is not something that the U.S. Government can replicate elsewhere.
And so that is why we are being explicit in urging Americans to avail themselves of these plentiful commercial options. The security situation in and around Addis continues to be stable. And there is no reason that Americans should wait until the last minute or that anyone should expect that we may be in a position to undertake something similar to what we saw in Afghanistan. The conditions, the context is just quite different.
QUESTION: Ned, I’m sorry. Does your raising that, Afghanistan in that context, only underline the point that the Secretary made on Friday, which is that you are worried about the state imploding?
MR PRICE: No. It is – it’s – again, it’s a very practical measure. And we are trying to be explicit to the American citizen community there that there are these options available. The security situation is tenuous. Of course, we are supporting the efforts of President Obasanjo and our partners to put the security situation back on a steadier and ultimately a better track. But we can’t be the guarantor, and certainly not in a position to ensure Americans that these options will continue to be available. So of course, while they are available, while there is plenty of excess capacity, we are being very explicit, again, not because we’re pessimistic but because we’re practical, and because we put the safety and security of Americans around the globe as our first and top priority.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, where was – where is this suggestion coming that there could be an Afghanistan type —
MR PRICE: Well, we just —
QUESTION: It wasn’t – unless I’m mistaken, it wasn’t in his question. You just brought it up.
MR PRICE: No, I – you are correct. I veered —
QUESTION: So where’s —
MR PRICE: I – we don’t want there to be a misperception that —
QUESTION: But there wasn’t one.
MR PRICE: Well, Matt —
QUESTION: Unless I’ve missed it, and I think that I – I pay pretty close attention to these kinds of things. And I don’t recall anyone at all —
MR PRICE: Matt, you’re sitting in the front row of – at the Department of State.
MR PRICE: There may be Americans around the world who may be under —
QUESTION: Who think that Ethiopia is like Afghanistan, that the U.S. was at war for 20 years in Ethiopia —
MR PRICE: Who may be under a —
QUESTION: — and is withdrawing hastily?
MR PRICE: Our point, Matt, is that these —
QUESTION: Nobody’s said this except for you.
MR PRICE: Matt —
QUESTION: (Laughter.) I don’t get it.
MR PRICE: I know you have a perspective sitting there from the front row, but we talk to American citizens all day every day.
QUESTION: And you think – and there are – so you’re saying that there are American citizens who are in Ethiopia right now who think that somehow —
MR PRICE: I’m saying —
QUESTION: — there’s going to be an U.S. military evacuation of Americans from Ethiopia? Is that what you’re saying?
MR PRICE: I am saying we do not want there to be a misimpression that anything like what was undertaken in Afghanistan —
QUESTION: But the only – but you’re the one who raised —
MR PRICE: — which was – which was unique in history —
QUESTION: Oh, (inaudible).
MR PRICE: — which was unique in history, could be repeated anywhere.
QUESTION: May I ask a follow-up, one question on Nigeria here?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) and so part of the – what might be on the agenda with Secretary Blinken, as far as the security question, is security cooperation. And I know specifically that President Buhari has made it quite clear that he is looking for increased AFRICOM presence that – I’m wondering, might there be maybe through the civil-military bureau here or anything military sales related, particularly with Kenya and Nigeria?
MR PRICE: So we do have important security relationships with both Kenya and Nigeria because of the interests we share. Some of the threats to Kenya, some of the threats to Nigeria also have the potential to pose a threat to the United States and our interests, which really undergirds the partnership you’ve seen in the security sector as well. When it comes to the provision of support, when it comes to that relationship, we’ve also been equally clear that the United States and the international community has expectations when it comes to the conduct of security operations, when it comes to the conduct of security forces. And we know and we calibrate the assistance we provide to best see to it that human rights are respected even when the security situation is tenuous, even when there are threats, including terrorist threats. And so those are conversations that we’ll continue to have.
Let me move around to – yes, please, in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. If I can move to U.S. and China? Secretary Blinken will participate in tonight’s virtual summit, so I’d like to ask, what impact do you expect today’s virtual summit will have on the bilateral relationship? And do you think it could increase diplomatic contacts at various levels in the department?
And then a second question. I understand this week Deputy Secretary Sherman will host a trilateral meeting with Japan and South Korea. Could you just preview what they’ll discuss? I presume North Korea will be top of the agenda, but will they discuss other issues like global supply chain, China, things like that?
MR PRICE: Sure. I don’t want to get ahead of the White House, as you might expect, but yeah, Secretary Blinken will be taking part in this evening’s engagement with President Xi of the PRC. We’ve consistently made the point that stiff competition requires stiff diplomacy to ensure that competition doesn’t veer into conflict. And so that will be at the core of tonight’s engagement. It is at the core of every engagement we have with senior PRC officials.
We’ve made the point that when it is in our interests to engage, we won’t hesitate to do so, again, because we feel that having these diplomatic channels, having open channels of communications can help to set those guardrails, can help to set the guardrails of the relationship – one of the most, probably the most consequential bilateral relationship we have – with, again, the overarching goal of ensuring that that stiff competition doesn’t verge into a more dangerous direction.
When it comes to Deputy Secretary Sherman’s upcoming meetings, she will hold a trilateral meeting, as you alluded to, with her Japanese and ROK counterparts on November 17th. She’ll do that here at the Department of State. Deputy Secretary Sherman will have a bilateral meeting with her ROK counterpart on November 16th. She’ll have a bilateral meeting with her Japanese counterpart on November 18th. So we’ll have more on that engagement later this week.
QUESTION: Thank you. A few questions on China. It looks like both Secretary Blinken and you are going to have a long day today. So you’re going to departure after summit which is going to last for several hours. Does the Secretary feel it’s too important for him to skip this summit? Because later this week, there is going to be a trilateral summit which he probably will be – miss, right?
MR PRICE: That’s right. So the Secretary will depart shortly after the meeting with President Xi concludes this evening. Thank you for reminding me it’s going to be a very long day and a very long night for many of us. But of course, our engagement with Africa is also important, and so in this case, the schedule is just so that Secretary Blinken can take part in the bilateral meeting with President Xi and then depart late tonight or in the wee hours of tomorrow morning for a very important set of engagements on the African continent.
We’re very fortunate that – and I think Secretary Blinken is probably the one who would stand by this the most – that we have a full team here, including an exceptional group of senior State Department leaders who are able to undertake engagements even while the Secretary is on the road. And I know Deputy Secretary Sherman is looking forward to her trilateral and bilateral engagements.
QUESTION: You keep emphasizing —
QUESTION: Do you think Africa will be on the agenda?
MR PRICE: I – we’ll have more on her engagements later in the week.
QUESTION: You keep emphasizing on the U.S.-China – you keep saying that U.S., China has engaged stiff competition, and the U.S. has to outcompete China in the long term. But China has actually reject this idea to use competition to frame this relationship. So during this competition, do you only accept that the United States be the sole winner and China can’t win?
MR PRICE: Look, I will leave it to the PRC to determine how they want to frame the relationship. We frame the relationship – for us, the relationship at its core is about competition. I think the other important point to your question: It’s not a zero-sum game. It is not a game. It is not a scenario in which the United States wins and China loses. This is a relationship where, of course, there are going to be plenty of competitive areas. There are going to be some cooperative areas. And there are going to be areas that are adversarial in nature. But we can manage all of those things.
I think there’s an unfortunate perception that our relationship with the PRC only has the ability to be binary: either we’re engaging, or we’re competing, or we are engaging in adversarial behavior. The fact is that we can and that we must do all of those things simultaneously. And so that is why the President thinks it’s important that he takes – that he has an opportunity to engage, not quite face to face but at least screen to screen, with President Xi. It’s the very same reason that Secretary Blinken has had opportunities, including in recent days, to speak with his PRC counterpart as well. And you’ve seen a host of other engagements.
QUESTION: And actually, the White House has said there is no major deliverables out – coming out of this summit. Why do you try – why are you trying to set the bar so low? Is it because of domestic political pressure?
MR PRICE: This isn’t about expectation setting. It’s not about setting the bar low or setting the bar high. It’s about the most important element that there is in our bilateral relationship with the PRC, and that is, very clearly, managing that competition, establishing the guardrails. If we are able to do that, if we are able to do that effectively and successfully, there could be no greater deliverable for the United States, for the region, and the rest of the world. That is what tonight is all about. That is what has been at the center of all of our engagements with the PRC.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on Russia. Apparently, the astronauts on the International Space Station had to take refuge in a pair of space capsules because of a cloud of space debris. Do you know if that was because of the test, this debris?
MR PRICE: I’ve seen that report. I would refer you to NASA. The only amendment I would make would be, if that were true, it’d be astronauts and cosmonauts.
QUESTION: Can I just ask one —
MR PRICE: Kylie.
QUESTION: — question on Kosovo? I’m just wondering if you guys have an update on the plan for the Afghans who are in Kosovo: how many there are, how long they’re going to stay there, just kind of what the general thinking is.
MR PRICE: Well, as part of the ongoing vetting process for Afghan evacuees, some of those whose cases needed additional processing have been moved to Camp Liya, located at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, as you alluded to, where the interagency teams there are taking part in work to complete processing for their eventual admission into the United States or for resettlement in a third country. Many of those who are there have already departed and are in the process of – or are in the process of being cleared to depart.
We’re grateful, as I was saying to Pearl earlier, for all of our partners, and this includes the Government of Kosovo, as the Government of Kosovo has allowed these evacuees to be temporarily housed at Camp Liya. And we are taking all – undertaking all necessary efforts to ensure a safe and comfortable environment at Camp Bondsteel while that processing is underway.
QUESTION: And when – sorry, when you say many of them have departed, where have they gone?
MR PRICE: In some cases, they’ve come to the United States. In some cases, they may have gone to third countries.
QUESTION: And just one last question, sorry. You also referenced this is going to be temporary. How can you be confident that this will be temporary if some of these Afghans aren’t able to get through the security check process to get into the United States? How are you confident they’ll be able to go elsewhere?
MR PRICE: We are confident that these Afghan evacuees will be able to be resettled in the United States or in third countries as appropriate.
Final – yes.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on Belarus?
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: The Kremlin said today that they were ready to mediate between Belarus and the EU. Does the U.S. have any response to that? And have there already been discussions recently asking Russia to use their influence in Belarus between U.S. and Russian officials?
MR PRICE: So I don’t have a direct response to that. I would just make the point that mediation is not what is required in the case of Belarus. What is required in the case of Belarus is for the regime to put a cease to some of the practices that we have seen, including what could well amount to the weaponization of migrant flows into Europe, the repression, the detention of political dissidents, the other behaviors on the part of the Lukashenka regime.
What is true is that Moscow has influence, Moscow has sway over the Lukashenka regime in a way that few if any other countries do. And we would certainly welcome Moscow using its influence, using its sway in a way that is constructive and in a way that is productive when it comes to making clear to the regime that these practices must cease.
Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:20 p.m.)