WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. State Department held a press briefing on November 23, 2021, touching on subjects ranging from the Ukraine-Russia standoff, Russian arms sales to India, Beijing Olympics boycott, and more.
Department Press Briefing – November 23, 2021
11/23/2021 06:33 PM EST
Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
2:02 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Just one item at the top, and then would be happy to take your questions.
The U.S. Department of State and the people of the United States express our deepest condolences and sympathy to the people of North Macedonia and Bulgaria, especially to those who lost family members, many of whom were children, in today’s bus accidents – bus accident near Bosnek. We also want to extend our deep condolences to those who lost loved ones in the nursing home fire in Royak. Our hearts go out to all those in mourning and we wish a speedy recovery to the injured. The United States stands with Bulgaria and North Macedonia at this difficult time.
With that, Humeyra.
QUESTION: Ned, it was a – it’s been reported that U.S. is considering – U.S. has decided to delist FARC, Colombia. Can you confirm that? Then you can talk a little bit about the U.S. thinking behind that, please.
MR PRICE: Well, Humeyra, there are certain processes that require consultations and notifications. And so what I can say in this case is that today the Department of State has provided Congress with notifications of upcoming actions we are taking with regard to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC. As you know, the peace process and the signing of the peace accord five years ago is something that was a seminal turning point in some ways in the long-running Colombia conflict. It’s something we’ve commended, it is something that we have sought at every step of the way to preserve.
The peace accord ended five decades of conflict with the FARC, and it set Colombia on a path to a just and lasting peace. And so we remain fully committed to working with our Colombian partners on the implementation of the peace accord. As you know, we were just in Bogotá a couple weeks ago, where we met with President Duque, we met with the foreign minister as well, and others in the Colombian Government. And obviously, the implementation and preservation of the peace accord was a central topic in those discussions.
QUESTION: I mean, when are you going to finalize this process? I understand it’s a process, but it’s already been out there that you guys have decided to delist them. Can you be a little bit more specific?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know better than I, sometimes things are reported that we’re not in a position to comment on just yet. But I would imagine in the coming days we’ll have more to say on this.
QUESTION: And the upcoming actions in the (inaudible) case?
MR PRICE: Today unfortunately I’ll just have to say that we have started the process of consulting with Congress on actions that we are taking with regard to the FARC. But we will have more details on this in the coming days.
QUESTION: Can I ask two questions? One, can you comment on this lawsuit that was filed about Keystone yesterday? TC Energy is claiming $15 billion in damages over the Biden administration decision to cancel the permitting from Keystone.
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, we don’t comment specifically on litigation, but I can say a couple things. I can confirm that we’ve received a request for arbitration from TC Energy Corporation and TransCanada PipeLines Limited pursuant to annex 14-C of the agreement between the United States of America, United Mexican States, and Canada – USMCA, of course – and section B of chapter 11 of NAFTA on November 22nd, yesterday.
Canada is a key U.S. partner in energy as well as in efforts to address climate change and protect the environment. We look forward to working with Canada to meeting these challenges together. We will, and we know we must. We expect to publish the request for arbitration on our website in the coming weeks, and in the meantime, as I said, we’re just not in a position to comment on pending litigation.
QUESTION: Okay. And then on Nord Stream 2, just to follow up on yesterday’s announcement, the announcement cited three entities – two that have been sanctioned, Transadria and then its ship, the Marlin – and then another ship that was not mentioned but is in the report, called Blue Ship, which was cited but is not being sanctioned. Can you say why that second ship, Blue Ship, is not being sanctioned but is being cited?
MR PRICE: Well, let me start at the top and reiterate, as you heard from the Secretary in his statement again yesterday, that we continue to oppose Nord Stream 2, we continue to believe it is harmful, that it is a Russian geopolitical project, it’s a bad deal for Ukraine, it’s a bad deal for Europe. That is precisely why we have worked concertedly with our allies and our partners, including the Ukrainians, including our German allies as well, on a package that we announced several months ago now that will mitigate the effects, the pernicious effects of Nord Stream 2.
It’s also why we continue to act pursuant to PEESA, the Protecting Europe’s Energy and Security Act, as amended, even as we have worked with allies and partners to ensure that the pipeline is not allowed to circumvent the certification process and the EU’s third energy package, including the various requirements that are spelled out there – requirements for ownership unbundling, the requirements for third-party access to the pipeline to transit gas from sources other than Russia, other than Gazprom.
So these measures, again, with the 2021 joint statement that we released together with our German allies – it certainly reduced the risks of an operational NS2 pipeline. It reduced the risks that such a pipeline would pose to European energy security and the security of Ukraine and frontline NATO and EU countries.
We are – as you know, we submit a report to Congress every 90 days. As we closely monitor developments with regard to Nord Stream 2, we are closely monitoring sanctionable activity. As we collect that information, as we analyze the facts, we are applying those facts to the requirements laid out in this legislation. And so yesterday, you are correct that we did announce two vessels and one Russia-linked entity involved in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as now falling under our PEESA sanctions authority. And we will continue to follow the law to implement PEESA and, as appropriate, to sanction entities involved in the construction or involved in the pipeline.
QUESTION: But just to follow up on that, so why was the blue ship not – why was that cited but not sanctioned?
MR PRICE: As you know, PEESA lays out the requirements. It lays out what we are required to do in terms of implementing our sanctions authority. We have consistently followed the law, as we always do. We’ll continue to do that. As for the specifics of a particular vessel or entity, that’s just not something I’m prepared to go into today.
QUESTION: Okay, because – I mean, it was my understanding that it was not sanctioned because it is a German – it is owned by a German foundation and that – and so the administration essentially did not want to – like with the Nord Stream 2 AG waiver, did not want to sanction a ship belonging to a German Government entity.
MR PRICE: Well, we have worked very closely with our German allies. I spoke already to the joint statement that we released with the Germans, a joint statement that its heart is about a package of support for our Ukrainian partners and the support that we, together with our German allies, are providing to our Ukrainian partners. You know that that package of support entailed various assurances. It entailed a fund that our Ukrainian partners can tap into to offset some of the potential implications of an operational Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
So this has been a topic of intense diplomacy and had been a topic of intense diplomacy and still is a topic of conversation with our German allies. It’s something that we regularly discuss with our Ukrainian partners – Nord Stream 2 specifically, but also Ukraine’s energy security and the imperative of ensuring that Ukraine is not held hostage to the whims of any other country when it comes to energy flows.
QUESTION: All right. And just the last thing from me, then. So – I mean, are you at all worried – I mean, what appears to have happened in this case is you had a ship that was working on Nord Stream 2, on the construction of the pipeline, and then as a way of avoiding sanctions, the beneficial ownership of that ship was essentially transferred to a German Government entity under the knowledge that by doing so it would avoid sanctions. So, I mean, are you worried that there is a loophole here that companies working on Nord Stream 2 could essentially exploit given this administration’s unwillingness to sanction entities that are in any way affiliated with the German Government?
MR PRICE: Nick, we have sanctioned and consistently applied PEESA as it is written. We have now sanctioned 8 persons, identified 17 of their vessels as blocked property pursuant to PEESA in connection with Nord Stream 2. As I was saying before, we’ll continue to examine entities engaged in potentially sanctionable activity in line with our commitment – and it is a commitment – to implement PEESA. So, again, I’m not in a position from here to go into the details of ships, entities, but rest assured PEESA is something we are committed to, continuing to demonstrate our opposition to Nord Stream 2 and our commitment to Ukraine’s energy security is something we will continue to do.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about Russia-Ukraine if you – since your – all your warnings over the last week and days. I think there was a call today between the chief of staff. Has there been any diplomatic engagement? Has the Secretary spoken with his counterpart, Sergey Lavrov? And are you still worried about what’s going on at the border between Ukraine and Russia or are you less worried than you were one week ago?
MR PRICE: Well, nothing about our concern has changed. You heard the Secretary reiterate that concern over the weekend on his travels. I spoke to this yesterday as well. The unusual – the reports of the unusual Russian military activity near Ukraine’s borders, along Ukraine’s borders, is a cause for concern. It’s a cause for concern to the United States. It’s a cause for concern for our Ukrainian partners. It’s also a cause for concern for our European allies as well. That is why in recent weeks we have had extensive consultations and engaged in concerted diplomacy with not only Ukraine but also our European allies.
During many of these meetings, we’ve discussed our concerns about Russia’s military activities, its harsh rhetoric toward Ukraine, its actions in the past. And I think the allusion to the past is important here, because yes, we – there are reports of unusual military activity, but that unusual military activity doesn’t come in a vacuum. It comes in the context of the Russian Federation that in 2014, some seven years ago, undertook similar activities only to amass forces along the border and then to falsely, speciously claim protectoral provocation and to cross that border illegally, continuing its aggression against Ukraine.
So we’ve held discussions with Russian officials as well in the context of all of this. We’ve spoken publicly to some of those engagements. Many of those engagements have come out of this building. Some of those engagements have taken place out of other buildings, including the National Security Council has read out some of those engagements. As you know, the Intelligence Community and CIA Director Burns’s travel to Moscow took place in recent weeks.
In all of this, our engagement with our European allies, with our Ukrainian partners we have underscored our rock-solid commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, to Ukraine’s security. And we’ve also made clear, both with our allies and with the Russian Federation, that any escalatory or aggressive moves by Russia would be of great concern to the United States. And we’ve called for an immediate restoration of the July 2020 ceasefire in Donbas.
QUESTION: And is there any discussion, decision, or imminent decision about sending more weapons to Ukraine, as they often request?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, we are in regular consultation and dialogue with our Ukrainian partners about their defensive needs. We don’t have anything to announce or preview at this time, but we announced that we’d be sending more than $60 million in security assistance during President Zelenskyy’s visit to the U.S. earlier this year, in late August I believe it was, as part of our strategic partnership with Ukraine. And we’ve sent more than $400 million overall this year to support Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Since the beginning of this administration, we’ve demonstrated that we are willing and able to use a number of tools to address Russia’s harmful activities, and we won’t hesitate from making use of those tools as appropriate in the future as well.
QUESTION: What do you draw from the fact that Russia so far is ignoring all of this pressure, all of your calls, all of the international diplomacy?
MR PRICE: Well, again, we don’t know Russia’s intentions. We don’t know precisely what Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin might be planning. But we do know a couple things. We do know what has been observed, including in public accounts, about this unusual Russian military activity along the border. We do know the history, and that history is not at all reassuring in terms of previous steps that the Russian Federation took in 2014, that in some ways looked similar to this and led to an outcome that was deeply disturbing in terms of the military aggression against Ukraine.
So we are taking all of that. We are comparing what is in – what we have in our holdings. We are sharing information. We are sharing intelligence with our European allies, with Ukraine as well. Of course, the foreign minister was here just the other week and had an opportunity to meet directly with Secretary Blinken and his team, just as Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to meet, as did President Biden, with President Zelenskyy in Scotland at COP26. We also saw the foreign minister at COP26, where this was a subject as well.
So it is not for us to say what the Russian Federation may be planning. It is for us to say what we’re doing in response. And we are engaged in concerted diplomacy. We are making sure through a number of ways that our European allies know, that Ukraine knows, and importantly that the Russian Federation knows that our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, to its independence, to its territorial integrity is rock solid.
QUESTION: Is there a red line? And do you have any proposals to bring to either the NATO ministerial or to the OSCE meeting?
MR PRICE: Look, we will take advantage of every opportunity we have, including multilateral opportunities that may be coming up in the coming days, including potentially with NATO, to make very clear our concerns, to share concerns, to compare notes with our NATO Allies as well. The bottom line for us is clear. Any escalatory or aggressive actions would be of great concern to the United States, but it would not just be of concern to us. It would be of great concern – we have heard, you have heard – to our European allies as well.
QUESTION: Just on Russia —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — I just want to push back a little bit on what you’re saying. So you’re consulting with your allies. So all of you guys are sitting in rooms having Zoom calls and telling each other like, “We don’t know what Russia is intending to do. We have no idea what they’re doing.” I mean, this is – sorry, this is respectfully – this is a little bit unthinkable. Like – so —
MR PRICE: Well, respectfully – respectfully, that’s what I’m telling you.
QUESTION: I mean – yeah —
MR PRICE: I’m not saying that we’re saying that —
QUESTION: But I mean, if – yeah, but it’s just like, we don’t know what Russia is intending to do. That’s just – certainly you have an assessment. And certainly you guys must be working on certain scenarios. Because otherwise, if you have no idea what they’re doing, then isn’t – doesn’t that mean that U.S. is not prepared for what’s coming, right?
MR PRICE: We are prepared and preparing for a number of contingencies.
MR PRICE: And you can understand why the level of detail that I offer here is, of course, going to be consistent with what we say in private, but it probably will not be as extensive. And it certainly won’t be as extensive as our private consultations with our European allies, with our Ukrainian partners. Those consultations are ongoing. I can assure you it is not as you characterized it. These are in-depth conversations. We have sent senior officials from the department to provide detailed briefings to our European allies. We’ve provided detailed information to Ukraine as well. And we will continue not only to share information, but to prepare for a range of contingencies. I can assure you that’s what we’re doing.
QUESTION: And those contingencies involve a repeat of 2014?
MR PRICE: Look, it’s not prudent for me to go into that from here. But it is prudent for us to engage in a broad range of contingency planning.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that quickly?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: So if you guys are gaming out contingency options, clearly you’ve made a calculation that it’s not in the U.S. and European interest to lay those out explicitly. So why are you making that calculation? What is the benefit of keeping those contingencies close-held and not publicly told as a deterrence to what Russia is doing?
MR PRICE: Well, in some ways, the fact that we are speaking about this openly; the fact that we are acknowledging our concerns; the fact that we have made no secret of our consultations with Ukraine, with our European partners; the fact that we have not been shy in voicing our concerns about what we’re seeing now, the public reports and information we have about Russia’s unusual military activities, and layering that on top of what we saw in 2014 – we are saying all of this to make clear not only to Ukraine our rock solid commitment, but also to the Russian Federation. And you’ve seen similar statements from some of our European allies. You’ve seen statements from Ukraine as well when it comes to this.
Look, it is not prudent for us to go into great detail about precisely the sort of information we have, precisely the planning and consultations that we’re engaging in with our allies and partners. But that is taking place, and it is part of a prudent preparatory process so that we would be able to address a range of scenarios. We do know that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, it was not a one-time event in 2014. Of course, Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea and its presence in eastern Ukraine continues. Of course, its aggression in terms of rhetoric, in terms of other potentially hybrid actions, have continued.
So all of that is a cause for great concern, and that is also why we have continued to stand by Ukraine, to stand by them not only rhetorically – rhetorically is important, including for reasons of potentially deterrence – but also the security assistance that we’ve provided, the $60 million that was announced in the context of President Zelenskyy’s visit, the $400 million that has been committed to our Ukrainian partners since the start of this administration alone.
QUESTION: So just – so if they don’t respond to what you guys are pointing out publicly, at some point will you explicitly say what your physical response is going to be – I mean, if it’s not there yet?
MR PRICE: Our public statements will be calibrated based on what we see. But more importantly, the actions we take, the steps we take, will be pursuant to what we see. Right now, we’re engaged in diplomacy. We are speaking openly to what we’re seeing. We’re acknowledging the process in which we’re engaged. And pursuant to what we see on the ground or what we don’t see on the ground, we’ll change our rhetoric, we’ll change potentially our actions as well.
QUESTION: And last question. The 60 million in security assistance that was announced over the summer, what portion of that has already gone to Ukraine, and when should we expect that to be fully delivered?
MR PRICE: Well, our embassy in Kyiv even in recent days has issued tweets about various deliveries, including of certain defensive weapons systems. So we have made those deliveries public, and I think from that you can get a sense of the pace and the scope of the provision of materiel that’s been supplied.
QUESTION: Continuing on Russia but a little bit different related to India. Last week Russia started supplying S-400 systems to India. I know previously U.S. had asked – requested India not to receive it from them because the CAATSA sanction would come into play. Can you give us a status now? Has CAATSA sanctions come into play in India, and what is the going to be the U.S. stand on that?
MR PRICE: Well, we would need to refer you to the Indian Government for any comment on potential deliveries of the S-400 system. But we have been clear when it comes to this system, not only in the endgame context but more broadly as well, that we’ve urged all of our allies, all of our partners, to forego transactions with Russia that may risk triggering sanctions under so-called CAATSA, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.
We have not made a determination on a potential waiver with respect to Indian arms transactions with Russia. CAATSA, however, does not have a blanket or country-specific waiver provision attached to it. We also know that our defense relationship with India has expanded and deepened significantly in recent years. It’s deepened commensurate with the broad and deep relationship that we have with India and its status as a major defense partner.
We expect this strong momentum in our defense relationship to continue. We certainly value our strategic partnership with India. As you know, we had an opportunity to travel to India not all that long ago, in August, I believe it was. We’ve met with Foreign Minister Jaishankar many times. We have discussed this concern directly, including with the highest levels of the Indian Government.
QUESTION: Yeah. But it’s the public knowledge now that India has started receiving since last week the S-400 missile system. So do you want Indian Government to tell you formally that they have started receiving it? I mean, so how does it work?
MR PRICE: Well, again, it’s not for us to speak to any systems that the Indian Government may or may not have received. It is for us to speak to the laws that are on the books and the requirements under those laws. Obviously, members of Congress are deeply interested in this as well. So it’s a conversation that has been ongoing with our Indian partners. It’s a conversation that takes place in the context of a defense relationship that is meaningful to us, that is important both to the United States and India, including in the context of a free and open Indo-Pacific. And so I suspect those conversations will continue.
QUESTION: And it is because of these defenses that the 2+2 has been now pushed to January or next year?
MR PRICE: We have never announced a date for the 2+2. Of course, we’ve committed to the 2+2 again because we have a significant relationship with India, including its status as a major defense partner. But I can assure you that there will be an opportunity for a 2+2 before long. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: It’s a different topic. It’s about Mexico. Since the beginning of this administration, the U.S. has said that climate change would be at the forefront of diplomacy, that it would be a priority. Yet the U.S. continues to be silent regarding a bill that is pushed by the Mexican Government openly that would kill the renewables market in Mexico. U.S. senators, U.S. governors, U.S. House members have asked through different letters to the administration – asked for a firm commitment on publicly acknowledge this concerning development. Is the U.S. willing to defend renewables companies from the U.S. that have invested billions in the market in Mexico to defend against these potential actions, or is climate change not a priority for you?
MR PRICE: Well, climate change certainly is a priority for us. It is a priority we have heard and you have heard for the Mexican Government as well. It has to be. Both the United States and Mexico are nations that historically have been large emitters. Of course, the United States is one of the world’s largest; Mexico too contributes and has contributed a fair amount of pollution into the atmosphere. And so this has to be a priority for both of our countries, and I think you’ve seen concrete steps that both Washington and Mexico City have taken to acknowledge the centrality of climate action in both of our agendas.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, but it was not discussed during the North American Leaders’ Summit, and even the U.S. Envoy for Climate Mr. Kerry, when he visited Mexico, he didn’t mention this concerning development about renewables. Is the specific issue of the bill concerning to the U.S., and will it be willing to defend U.S. companies that have billions?
MR PRICE: Well, the good news is that we have a very strong relationship with our Mexican counterparts. That strong relationship allows us to speak frankly and directly with our Mexican counterparts about potential areas of concern. We do when it comes to energy sector reform. We welcome Mexico’s recent commitment to tackle the climate crisis and to accelerate renewable energy development. And we continue to engage with the government to better understand its vision for realizing these commitments and to discuss a range of energy sector issues affecting private and public sector investment.
The fact is, of course, Mexico is a sovereign country, it’s going to make sovereign decisions over its energy sector, but we continue to advocate for open and transparent procurement processes. We trust that Mexico will fulfill its international commitments in that regard. We’ve been very clear, including in bilateral settings with our Mexican counterparts, about our concerns. Promoting the use of in some cases dirtier, of in some cases more expensive technologies over cheaper renewable technologies will make it more difficult to achieve the climate goals that have to be shared priorities between our two countries.
And we also have communicated to our Mexican partners that the private sector has an important role to play. It has an important role to play in helping the government achieve its goal of enhancing Mexico’s energy independence while moving forward with a green agenda, greening its energy sector and advancing economic prosperity at the same time, because we know that these two things often go hand in hand.
So with our Mexican partners, we’re able to work on areas of mutual interest. Together, we’re able to have frank conversations where there are areas of disagreement. We continue to discuss accelerating the adoption of clean energy, ensuring reliable energy supply, and promoting energy affordability as well.
QUESTION: And about U.S. security – sorry, about security of U.S. tourists in Mexico, the Mayan Riviera where the Cancun resort is located is suffering one of the worst crisis of violence of recent years. We’ve had these high-profile incidents like the shooting in the hotel in Cancun and the killing of two tourists in Tulum, including one U.S. resident. Is the U.S. concerned about security of U.S. citizens that travel to Cancun perhaps more than in – anywhere in the world? And are you considering raising the threat level in your advisories from 2 to 3?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, we have no higher priority than the safety and security of Americans around the world. That includes in Mexico. We have seen incidents of violence. Our embassy in Mexico, our posts throughout the country continue to monitor all sources of information, continue to work closely with the Mexican Government. If our assessment of the risks of the travel of American citizens to Mexico should change, we will not hesitate to update relevant advisories and to provide information and information for due diligence to Americans who may be in Mexico or who are contemplating travel to Mexico.
But when it comes to security challenges broadly, Mexico remains a close security partner. We are committed to working with the López Obrador administration to advance Mexico’s ability to fight corruption, to fight impunity, to implement more effective strategies to do what is in our mutual and shared interests, and that includes dismantling transnational organized crime operations, including through law enforcement operations and cooperation in Mexico, and that will continue.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Michael.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I tried a version of this on the Secretary in Dakar. It was admittedly a multi-part question, but he didn’t really address it, so I just want to try to get your response to President Putin – back on Russia, President Putin’s comments I think now last week – saying that the U.S. was not respecting Russia’s red lines, and there have been other Russian officials complaining that U.S. activity has been threatening and intimidating – strategic bomber runs near Russia’s airspace, exercises in the Black Sea. Do you want to just comment on this? I mean, does Russia have any legitimate grounds to be feeling aggrieved or intimidated by military exercises by the U.S. and NATO? And what’s your response to the claim that we are coming dangerously close to Russian red lines?
MR PRICE: Well, my colleague at the Pentagon, I am sure, can give you more details on certain military exercises that are taking place. As you know, our exercises are routine and defensive in nature.
What I can tell you – and I can’t speak to any red lines that Mr. Putin or the Russian Federation may have. I can tell you that what we do, whether it is in Eastern Europe, whether it’s in the Indo-Pacific, whether it’s in our hemisphere, is that we stand up for the rules-based international order. That, to us, is what is important. And there are a number of precepts that fall within that, including a very fundamental point, and that is that big countries cannot bully the small ones; that borders are not to be crossed, not to be violated; that international waters are available for free navigation by all countries.
These are the basic fundamental properties of the rules-based international order. That’s what we’re standing up for. That’s what we’re defending. It is not that we have our sights on any particular country. It is that we are doing everything we can together with our allies, together with our partners, to reinforce the system, the rules-based system and international order that has worked to the mutual benefit, mutual prosperity, security, of the international community for the past 70 years or so. That is what – whether it’s Ukraine, whether it’s Russia, whether it’s the Indo-Pacific that we are undertaking.
QUESTION: Can I go to Iran?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: From the Biden perspective – administration perspective, what would be a positive outcome of the Vienna talks on Monday?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, we have been encouraging the resumption of talks for months now. There was a good amount of progress in the previous sixth round of talks. There has been a multi-month pause in those talks in Vienna since the new government in Iran was installed. So it is our hope that the new government in Iran shows up in Vienna and ready – shows up in Vienna ready to negotiate in good faith to build on the progress that had been achieved in the previous sixth round of negotiations.
It is – we continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it is the best, it’s the most effective means by which to reapply those permanent and verifiable restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program permanently, preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. A previous Iranian government had also calculated that the JCPOA and the formula that it brings to the table, a permanent and verifiable halt to certain nuclear activities in return for an easing of certain sanctions, was a recipe that was in their interest as well. So we hope that this Iranian Government at the very least shows up in Vienna ready to take part in those discussions with the other members of the P5+1 in good faith and seeking to build on the progress that we had made previously in those prior rounds.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on it?
QUESTION: And is – yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I’m just wondering if the Biden administration is considering any confidence-building measures to grease the wheels for these continued talks.
MR PRICE: We have been very clear that we are not prepared to take unilateral steps solely for the benefit of greasing the wheel, as you said. We are prepared to engage in a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. That is what we have made very clear since April, I believe, that we have sought to do. And we hope that we see the same seriousness of purpose from the Iranians when they return to Vienna next week.
QUESTION: Yeah, if I could just follow up. In August, President Biden said if diplomacy fails the U.S. had other options. I’m just wondering if you could share what those options are. And to just follow up on what Kylie was asking, if the new Iranian Government do not come this round to negotiate in good faith, after this round is it time to start implementing those other options? And then I have another question on China.
MR PRICE: Well, I wouldn’t want to engage in a hypothetical. Again, our hope continues to be – and we’ll soon have a verdict on this – that this new Iranian Government shows up in Vienna ready to negotiate in good faith and with clarity of purpose to see to it that we can effect a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.
Look, the President, the National Security Advisor, Secretary Blinken have all been very clear that diplomacy remains our preferred course, and diplomacy in the form of testing whether we can achieve a mutual return to compliance remains our preferred course. And it remains our preferred course specifically because we continue to believe that the JCPOA offers a framework that will permanently and verifiably prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon. That is what we want to see; that is what our allies and partners want to see as well. And we’ll see in the coming days what exactly this approach the new Iranian Government will seek to take.
But we’ve also been very clear that this is not a process that can go on indefinitely. And if the Iranians, through their actions or through their inactions, demonstrate or suggest that they lack that good faith, that they lack that clarity of purpose, we’ll have to turn to other means. We have a variety of other means. We’re discussing those with our allies and partners. In the category of things that aren’t prudent to discuss from here, that’s one of them.
QUESTION: And can I ask about the Beijing Olympics real quick? I know you answered a few questions yesterday.
MR PRICE: You are welcome to ask.
QUESTION: Okay. You mentioned yesterday that there were a range of issues when it comes to a U.S. decision on whether or not to do a diplomatic boycott. You mentioned Xinjiang and human rights. How much will the recent incident with the tennis player Peng Shuai be a factor in your considerations? And then also is the State Department talking to allies, partners, likeminded countries about doing a boycott as a group of countries or just the U.S. alone?
MR PRICE: Look, we have spoken to our concerns with Peng Shuai, and we continue to monitor this very closely. Obviously there has been footage, there has been statements that have emerged, including from the Women’s Tennis Association. But we continue to monitor this case very closely, precisely because of not only the circumstances here but also because of the broader principle at play, and that is one of support for the ability of any individual to report sexual assault and to seek accountability and to know that that report will be investigated and to have that confidence without fear of reprisal, without fear of intimidation, without fear of harassment. And it’s especially concerning in the PRC context to see this, because we know that the PRC has a track record of zero tolerance for criticism and a record of silencing those who would dare to speak out.
Look, when it comes to the separate issue of the Olympics, there are a range of factors, including issues of human rights abuses, including what we have seen take place and what we are seeing take place in the context of Xinjiang. We have been nothing but clear about what has and what is taking place in Xinjiang. We’ve taken a number of actions in response to the ongoing genocide and other human rights abuses in Xinjiang. So all of this will weigh on our decision making when it comes to the Olympics, but I just don’t have anything further for you today.
QUESTION: And is the U.S. looking to see if other countries would be willing to join them in a diplomatic boycott?
MR PRICE: Our concerns when it comes to the PRC’s track record on human rights is something that we have discussed at great length with virtually all of our allies and partners, and it’s a concern that we have heard shared by virtually all, if not all, of our allies and partners. But again, I just don’t have anything additional on our posture vis-à-vis the Olympics.
QUESTION: Verify what – or where she might be or whether the IOC call was legitimately a proof of life?
MR PRICE: I would need to refer you to the IOC; I would need to refer you to the Women’s Tennis Association for those details. But we are monitoring the close very closely.
QUESTION: But we haven’t – don’t we have our means of verifying things?
MR PRICE: As a general matter we do, but often we don’t speak to those means or to the information we may have.
QUESTION: Well, are you confident she is well?
MR PRICE: Again, I would refer those questions to the IOC and to the Women’s Tennis Association.
QUESTION: Question for a colleague who’s – who can’t be here on Honduras and the Honduran elections on Sunday. After Assistant Secretary Nichols’ visit and the recent spate of political violence, including against candidates, does the U.S. believe these elections can be free and fair?
MR PRICE: Well, we have been very clear about the need for free and fair elections in Honduras. We’ve been very clear about our concerns when it comes to what we’ve seen. I think we’ll have more to say on the Honduran elections as they approach, however.
QUESTION: Just one final thing on Iran, and then I’ll ask about Afghanistan. This has been out there for a while, but just because the talks are starting next week: Are you guys at all sympathetic to an interim deal?
MR PRICE: We are sympathetic to testing the proposition as to whether we can achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. That remains our preference precisely because it remains the best means by which to see to it that Iran is permanently and verifiably prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon. It is not prudent for us to entertain hypotheticals, to entertain contingencies, precisely because we have an opportunity in less than a week now to test the – whether this new Iranian Government will negotiate in good faith. And we’ll know more after that.
QUESTION: Do you have a specific timeframe in mind next week, like you’re going to keep at it for three days, five days, to see this good faith? How long is it going to take you to see this – a couple a of minutes? Hours?
MR PRICE: Well, one of the complications, unfortunately, is that these are indirect discussions with the Iranians. So this is a process that in some ways has to be iterative. It’s a process that will require deep consultations with our P5+1 partners in Vienna. They will in the first instance have a sense of what the new government, the approach the new government is taking, and we will continue to engage closely with them. And this, of course, is something that we’ve done since the sixth round concluded months and months ago.
As you know, President Biden convened – or President Biden, I should say, took part in a meeting of the E3+1 when we were in Europe the other week to discuss the status of nuclear talks and Iran’s nuclear program. Secretary Blinken has had an opportunity to discuss Iran’s concerning nuclear activity with our European allies, with other members of the P5+1, including the PRC not all that long ago during our last trip to Europe as well. And of course, Rob Malley was recently in the Middle East. He was recently meeting with the E3 political directors as well, along with our Israeli partners in the GCC.
So even while we’ve been on this unfortunate pause, we have had an opportunity to continue to compare notes, to continue to share our concerns, and these are shared concerns with our allies and partners who are in the P5+1 and who are not.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan. Just last week, UN envoy said ISIS-K is basically now present in nearly all 34 provinces. I’m just wondering if that’s the U.S. assessment also. And can you talk a little bit about if there is any progress with the neighboring countries for over-the-horizon CT operations? Tom West was – he had talks last week with – in Pakistan.
MR PRICE: Well, I would refer – I would need to refer to my Intelligence Community or my DOD colleagues to offer an assessment as to ISIS’s presence throughout the country. But what I can say – and you saw another concrete demonstration of this with the designations we announced a couple days ago – that we are committed to countering ISIS-K and ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorism.
We’re working with our international partners, including under the auspices of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, to deny the group, as you saw the other day, access to financing; to disrupt, to deter foreign terrorist fighters from reaching Afghanistan and the region, as – just as we are continuing using multiple tools to counter ISIS-K’s pernicious ideology. We are committed to disrupting illicit financing, limiting their abilities to conduct further attacks against civilians, and supporting our partners in counterterrorism and disrupting terrorism finance.
It is absolutely a priority of ours to see to it that Afghanistan can never again emerge as a launching pad for these operations that may pose a threat to the United States, that could pose a threat to our allies and partners around the world. Just as we have discussed this counterterrorism agenda, this counter-ISIS agenda with our allies and partners under the auspices of the global coalition and through other means, we’ve also discussed this directly with the Taliban.
We have consistently said we are prepared to engage the Taliban on a practical, pragmatic basis on areas of core national interest to us. And of course, counterterrorism and seeing to it that Afghanistan can never again be used a launchpad for international attacks is a core national interest. And so we have remained in contact with the Taliban on these issues. I can confirm that next week Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West – he’ll return to Doha for two weeks of meetings with Taliban leaders there. They’ll discuss, as I said before, our vital national interest when it comes to Afghanistan. That includes counterterrorism, that includes safe passage for U.S. citizens and for Afghans to whom we have a special commitment, and that includes humanitarian assistance and the economic situation of the country. That too will be a priority area of conversation with them.
Tom West has been on the job now for I think some six weeks, and in that time he has already been busy. Just before he was named to this role, as you recall, he traveled to Doha to meet directly with the Taliban as part of an interagency delegation. He not all that long ago traveled to Europe and Russia and India to discuss the way forward on Afghanistan with our allies and partners. In many of those conversations, we discussed those issues that are of core national interest to us – counterterrorism, safe passage. But again, a key theme was humanitarian assistance and what the United States, together with the international community, might do to alleviate the humanitarian plight that now confronts the people of Afghanistan.
For our part, we’ve spoken of the humanitarian assistance that the United States has pledged to Afghanistan – $474 million in this year alone – what we are doing to facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid and assistance to the people of Afghanistan, not only through our direct provision of assistance to our third partners on the ground, but also the steps we are taking, including the issuance of specific and general licenses, to make clear that humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan is something that we strongly support.
Final question in the back? Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions on Indo-Pacific. One is on Quad, next meeting of Quad in Tokyo. Do you have any update on when in next year will be held, on what level, in what forum, virtual or in-person, such details? And one on the trilateral meeting held last week between U.S., Japan, and ROK and the bilateral meeting between Japan and U.S. In the readout of those meetings, you have mentioned about the discussion on Indo-Pacific but didn’t use adjectives of “free” and “open.” What was that? I’m just curious why the readout refrained from using those terms.
MR PRICE: There’s been no policy shift. Certainly, a primary goal not only of the United States but of our allies and partners – and that includes the three allies and partners we have in the Quad context – is the preservation, is the promotion of a free and open Indo-Pacific. A free and open Indo-Pacific rules-based international order, as I was – mentioned to Michael – mentioning to Michael before, is something that we seek to promote and to protect the world over.
So every time we meet with our treaty allies in the Indo-Pacific, every time we meet in a multilateral setting, whether it’s with the Quad, whether it’s with our ASEAN partners, whether it is in any other context, the free and open Indo-Pacific is really at the heart of everything that we are seeking to do when it comes to that region. I can assure you that it was really the core context of our meetings – of our meeting, and Secretary Sherman – Deputy Secretary Sherman’s meeting the other day with her Japanese counterpart, but also with her Korean counterpart as well, including in the trilateral meeting.
QUESTION: And on Quad?
MR PRICE: We don’t have the next iteration of that to announce. But as you know, the Quad is indispensable to our efforts to uphold that very concept: a free and open Indo-Pacific. Secretary Blinken has had an opportunity to hold a ministerial Quad meeting. President Biden has now had an opportunity, both on a virtual basis and in-person, to meet with his Quad counterparts. So I can assure you that we’ll find additional opportunities to meet as a Quad, but we will also find additional opportunities to meet on a bilateral basis with our treaty allies, with our partners in the Indo-Pacific, and in other multilateral fora, just knowing how pivotal and important this region is to our interests, to our values, and to the interests and values that we share with our allies and partners in the region.
Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:56 p.m.)