WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. State Department held a press briefing on December 8, 2021, touching on subjects ranging from NATO relationship with Russia, China Forced Labor Act, war relief for Africa, and more.
Office of the Spokesperson
2:11 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Good to see everyone. I have a few things at the top.
First, today, I join Secretary Blinken, Under Secretary Fernandez, and Senior Bureau Official Matt Murray in congratulating the winners of the 2021 Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence, or ACE. Earlier today, the Secretary announced this year’s six ACE winners and two alternates – U.S. companies that exemplify American values and international best practices in their operations overseas.
In the category of Economic Inclusion, this year’s ACE winners were Purnaa, for empowering survivors of trafficking and discrimination in Nepal, as well as Mastercard India, for supporting and revamping India’s first-ever Rural Women’s Chamber of Commerce. The Secretary also recognized alternate winner Whirlpool Slovakia for materially improving the lives of the Roma community.
In the category of Health Security, the ACE winners were Zipline for its work deploying delivery drones that have distributed a quarter million COVID-19 vaccine doses to remote areas of Ghana, as well as 3M Singapore for drastically ramping up production of N95 respirators to combat COVID-19.
Finally, the Secretary honored three U.S. companies in the ACE Climate Innovation category. Australis Aquaculture has pioneered climate-smart ocean farming in Vietnam’s marine tropics, Patagonia has advanced initiatives in Argentina to promote nature-based climate solutions, and alternate winner Aerosol has undertaken important research in Slovenia on measuring and combating black carbon.
Congratulations from the department to all the 2021 ACE winners which demonstrate a strong commitment to advancing key global priorities and improving the communities in which they operate.
Also today, Secretary Blinken announced the second cohort of the State Department’s international Anticorruption Champions. These 12 individuals have demonstrated leadership, courage, and impact in preventing, exposing, and combating corruption around the world.
As we have witnessed too many times, corruption erodes public trust in government and democratic institutions, it deepens poverty and inequity, and it stifles opportunity and economic growth. That is why President Biden designated the fight against corruption as a core U.S. national security priority, and why addressing and combating corruption is a central theme of the Summit for Democracy.
We recognize that in our interconnected global system, no country can effectively fight corruption alone. We are honored to work alongside anti-corruption champions, like those recognized today, to defeat corruption.
And finally today, the State Department is pleased to announce the winners of the Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund small grants competition. The CDAF is an annual grant opportunity for the U.S. Government – for U.S. Government-sponsored or funded exchange program alumni teams from across the United States to apply the skills, knowledge and networks they have gained through their exchange program experiences. The State Department is funding 47 U.S. alumni-led public service projects from over 23 states and territories addressing challenges faced by communities in the United States and around the world. Winning projects include programs seeking to increase international exchanges at HBCUs, building community among under-represented Hawaiian youth through art, and combating misinformation through a global virtual media literacy campaign.
We look forward to sharing the progress of these alumni as they implement their innovative projects in cities and towns across the United States, with international partners abroad, and on digital platforms. You can follow our updates at #CDAF on Twitter for updates.
And with that, I would be happy to take your questions. Francesco.
QUESTION: Thank you. I would like to start with Iran. The EU has announced that the seventh round, which started last week in Vienna, will resume tomorrow. Does that mean that Rob Malley is going back to Vienna and will be there from tomorrow? Is he waiting for a eighth round? What are your expectation for the days ahead?
MR PRICE: Well, as you noted, Francesco, the European External Action Service has announced that the seventh round of talks will resume tomorrow in Vienna. We understand there will be a day of meetings before the heads of delegations need to attend other events, and so Special Envoy Malley and his interagency delegation will plan to join the talks over the weekend.
Our priority, as we said and what we’ve been focused on, is less the temporal aspect – when the talks will resume – and more the substance, more the question of how the talks will resume. And it is still our contention that the talks need to resume with Iran returning to Vienna prepared to negotiate in good faith, prepared to pick up from where the sixth round of talks left off, prepared to build on the progress, the significant progress in some areas that the P5+1 was able to achieve with Iran over the course of those six rounds.
We have a good base from which to operate, and it is certainly our hope that Iran will return willing and able to operate from that base to see to it, to test the proposition as to whether we can in fact achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.
QUESTION: Is that the last chance for Iran to prove they’re willing to do that or —
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve addressed this on a number of occasions. Yesterday, the Secretary spoke to this again. I believe the phraseology he used yesterday is the runway is getting very, very short for negotiations.
Now there is a difference between a short runway and a nonexistent runway. We continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is possible. That is why we are returning for the next iteration of talks, the continuation of the seventh round in Vienna. We are returning, and we continue to believe that the possibility for diplomacy towards a mutual return to compliance is a viable option because we also know that it is the most durable and the best option to permanently and verifiably do what we seek to do, what our European allies seek to do, what our partners in the P5+1 – namely Russia and China – seek to do, and that is to verifiably and permanently prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.
So we are going to go back ready to negotiate indirectly, as it were, with Iran, to seek to build on that progress, to see to it if we can in fact achieve a mutual return to compliance, knowing that diplomacy towards that end is the best option for us, it’s the best option for our P5+1 partners, and we certainly hope that Iran returns to Vienna recognizing the – recognizing what a mutual return to compliance would bring, would convey for the Iranian people as well.
QUESTION: Have you gotten any indication or has this department gotten any indication in the last week that Iran is prepared to return in a position that’s closer to what the previous negotiations had yielded? Or is this more of a we’re going back to see what everybody decided at their capitals and we’re – don’t really have any indication of which way the wind is going to blow at this point?
MR PRICE: Well, as I think you know, Lara, the Iranians have made quite clear their reluctance to engage directly with the United States. We’ve said on multiple occasions that there are a number of complications and challenges in the context of these talks in Vienna. One of them is the indirect nature of these talks. We do think they would be much more efficient and that we could achieve additional progress perhaps on a – at a quicker pace if we were able to engage in direct negotiations with the Iranians, but right now that’s not in the cards.
So in Vienna and in other contexts, we are reliant on our partners in the P5+1 context who do have direct conversations with their Iranian counterparts. Our European partners and others have in recent days read out their conversations with senior Iranian counterparts. Those discussions are ongoing. I wouldn’t want to characterize what we’ve heard, what they’ve conveyed to us, what they may be hearing from the Iranians or not.
But again, we continue to believe that the door to a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA remains open. We will continue to negotiate as long as we think that’s the case and as long as we think that a return to the JCPOA conveys advantages over the alternatives. And right now, we think it does. The way Rob Malley puts this, it is not so much a temporal clock. It’s not a clock as you might think of it. It’s also a technological clock. It’s based on the advancements that Iran is very clearly making in its nuclear program. And Iran has made no secret of what – of some of what it is doing or what it seeks to do. And so we are watching that very closely. We know our European partners are watching that very closely. We know Russia and China are watching that very closely. And we know the IAEA is watching that very closely.
So as we take into account all of these inputs, what we’re hearing from our allies and partners, what we are hearing from the IAEA, what we are seeing ourselves, what the Iranians are saying, what the Iranians are doing, these are all factoring into our calculus when it comes to the posture we take vis-à-vis Vienna, and ultimately the posture we take vis-à-vis the Iranian nuclear program.
QUESTION: No, I wasn’t trying to imply that there was a direct negotiation between the United States and Iran.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: I was just more interested in whether – as Rob and his team heads back to Vienna, whether there is any indication maybe from allies, maybe from other P5 members as to whether the ball might actually move forward or if this is just – they’re going in blind?
MR PRICE: Look, we said this in advance of the seventh round, and I think it’s true in advance of —
QUESTION: The seven —
MR PRICE: — the 7.5 —
QUESTION: Yes. (Laughter.)
MR PRICE: — that we should know in pretty short order if the Iranians are going and returning to negotiate in good faith. So I don’t think you will see a long lag between the resumption of this round and when the United States and our allies and partners are in a position to judge whether the Iranians have returned in a position and with a willingness to engage in substantive negotiations.
QUESTION: Do you have an estimate of how long these talks will last this round?
MR PRICE: I don’t, and I don’t for a couple reasons, but primarily it will be a function of what we see and what we hear from the Iranians. The last phase of round seven was quite quick, and it was quite quick because it was clear to us, it was clear to our European allies, it was clear to the EU, it was clear to Russia and China that Iran had not come with a seriousness of purpose. And what we will be looking for as soon as these talks resume – and again, there are going to be some preliminary elements and our team’s going to return over the weekend – what we will be looking for is that seriousness of purpose. And it’s not the sort of thing that will take weeks to judge. We will know in pretty short order whether the Iranians have returned with a different mindset, with a different approach.
QUESTION: Don’t you already know that?
QUESTION: Can you —
MR PRICE: No, because they haven’t returned.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but they – they did return. They came back —
MR PRICE: And —
QUESTION: — and you decided they weren’t serious, and now you’re giving them one more chance to be serious?
MR PRICE: We are giving diplomacy – diplomacy towards a mutual return to compliance – another chance because it’s in our interests. It remains in our interests, above all the other alternatives, to seek a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. But, Matt, I mean, to your point, it will not always be in our interest to seek a return to the JCPOA. Eventually we may conclude that either the Iranians aren’t serious and won’t be serious going forward, or the technological clock will have run out and the advancements that the Iranians are making no bones about making will outweigh the advantages that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA would convey.
QUESTION: You mentioned 7.5 round of talks. Is that an official term?
MR PRICE: I think I just made that up.
QUESTION: But we can quote you on that? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Also, can you preview anything ahead of Secretary Blinken’s meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz tomorrow? Is that all about Iran, mostly about Iran? And the timing of that I assume is not anything to do with the Iranian – the talks beginning again?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, Benny Gantz, Defense Minister Gantz, is not Secretary Blinken’s direct counterpart, and so the – Defense Minister Gantz will also be meeting with his direct counterparts at the Pentagon, and I think you’ll hear more from the Pentagon about those discussions. But clearly, every opportunity we have to meet with senior Israeli officials and important figures in the Israeli political system is one we’re seeking to take advantage of. There is a lot on the bilateral agenda. There is a lot on the regional agenda. And so I fully expect regional security issues, including what we’re seeing with Iran and, as we’ve said before, the alternatives that we might be forced to pursue if Iran shows to us, shows to our allies and partners that it’s not willing to return in a substantive, a genuine, a constructive way to Vienna – I imagine, too, those alternatives will be a topic of discussion with Defense Minister Gantz.
QUESTION: Can I switch to Russia?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: So President Biden said earlier today that he hoped to announce that there will be meetings between the U.S., quote, “at least four major NATO Allies and Russia” to discuss the future of Russia’s concerns relative to NATO writ large, and whether they can work out accommodations when it comes to bringing down the temperature on the eastern front. What is the State Department’s involvement in those meetings? Who are the four major NATO Allies? And is the U.S. prepared to make concessions to Russia on NATO, and what do you say to criticism that that legitimizes Russia’s position on NATO?
MR PRICE: Well, the President, as you heard earlier this morning, did say he’d have – we would have more to say, the administration would have more to say later this week. So I don’t want to get ahead of where we are, but let me make a few general points.
You heard from – you’ve heard from the President in his public statements, you’ve heard from the National Security Advisor, you heard from the Secretary of State when he spoke after the teleconference yesterday that we continue to believe that diplomacy and de-escalation is the only responsible way to end and to resolve what could be a serious crisis. We are concerned – we are profoundly concerned by what we have seen, but it is not yet a foregone conclusion that we will see actual conflict. And so we are doing, and determined to do, everything we can diplomatically to see to it that these tensions are de-escalated and that our concerns and those of our Ukrainian partners, of our NATO Allies as well, are mitigated and addressed.
And we continue to believe that we can do that most effectively by returning to dialogue through diplomatic avenues, namely the full implementation of the Minsk agreement and – the Minsk agreements, I should say. And so we are working in close consultation with our allies and partners in pursuit of ways we can de-escalate, ways we can see to it that the parties fully implement Minsk on the path to de-escalation. We’re also working with our interagency and other partners around the globe for a full set of contingencies, including preparing, as you’ve heard, specific and robust responses to Russian escalation should it continue and should these responses be required.
So we are consulting internally, we are consulting with our partners across Europe, with NATO members, with our key Indo-Pacific allies on the way forward to do a couple of things. Number one, to ensure that we have – that we’re operating from the same sheet of music, that we have a common understanding of Russia’s plans, but also to see to it that we have a common understanding of what would need to happen if Russia does not desist in its aggressive acts and if its military incursion does in fact go forward.
And in fact, as part of that, the Secretary earlier today had a conversation with the NATO secretary general. We’ll have a readout of that call, but this, of course, follows the President’s call yesterday after his discussion with President Putin, with our NATO Allies; it follows Secretary Blinken’s discussion the day before with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine, and, of course, President Biden will be speaking again with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine tomorrow.
And so what you’ve heard from the President is that if Russia chooses to pursue this path of confrontation, we and our allies are prepared – and we’ve heard this loud and clear, including in the NATO ministerial last week – to impose significant and severe economic harm on the Russian economy using these economic measures that we heretofore have intentionally chosen not to pursue. That includes those strong economic measures, but you also heard from Jake Sullivan yesterday. It also includes additional defensive material to Ukraine, of course above and beyond what we are already providing to our partners in Kyiv, as well as fortifying our NATO Allies on the eastern flank with additional capabilities in response to any military incursion.
As we’ve said, the Secretary has had a number of opportunities now to speak with key allies and key partners, including in a collective setting last week in NATO, and it was very clear to us that our allies and partners share our deep concern but also our stalwart resolve if Moscow chooses to go ahead with this military activity. And so it is our task, as you heard from the White House, as was noted in the readout, as the President alluded to this morning, to coordinate in lockstep with our allies and with Ukraine and other partners as the situation develops on the ground to ensure, on the one hand, that the deterrent measures we have put on the table send a very clear signal to Moscow regarding what would befall the Russian Federation were this to go forward, but also to do everything we can to help facilitate that diplomacy in any way we can.
And chiefly, that diplomacy in the form of full implementation of the Minsk agreements – that’s what we think right now remains the most effective, the best way to de-escalate tensions and to see to it that the measures we have spoken to, the measures that we have heard our European and NATO Allies are committed to, that they need not be implemented. That, ultimately, is our goal, to see to it that this contingency planning, which is very real and very robust, remains contingency planning and that it does not need to be implemented.
QUESTION: Your comment, though, on the —
QUESTION: Ned, if you keep – if you keep talking you might actually break a filibuster record for the Senate floor.
QUESTION: Nice. Your comment on the same sheet of music, though, suggests that there is divergence among the allies. Where is that – is there not lockstep on the sanctions measures to take? Is there not lockstep on the understanding of when these would be triggered?
MR PRICE: No, I was attempting to convey the opposite, in fact. We went to the NATO ministerial last week as part of the latest iteration of this department’s efforts to ensure that our NATO Allies, Ukraine, and others were on the same page in terms of the information and intelligence that we have on the military buildup, but also to preview and to ensure that there was broad consensus about the need for these high-impact economic measures that we are very clearly willing and able to implement, and what we heard from our NATO Allies last week is that there is a shared resolve. There is a shared and collective recognition that were Moscow not to change course, if Moscow did go ahead with a military invasion, that there would be collective action, that it would not only be the United States prepared and ready to take such measures, but we would also have support and see similar actions from our NATO Allies as well.
QUESTION: Do another Russia one?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: And then I have another question, too, after that. On Russia, the Russians are proposing lifting all restrictions on the embassies, and I wonder if that’s something you guys would consider. I assume that means they want their dachas back.
MR PRICE: Well, we have made progress, as you have heard, on these issues in recent days. There have been discussions in recent weeks. Those have achieved some degree of process – progress, excuse me – and I understand that those discussions are set to resume.
The point in the context of the regional dynamic in terms of what we’re seeing now vis-à-vis Russia and Ukraine is a similar point to the bilateral context, and that is that we want channels of communication. We want and need the ability to have open and frank and candid dialogue with the Russian Federation. It’s precisely why President Biden took part in a summit meeting with President Putin in Switzerland in June. It’s exactly why the President took part in a video teleconference with President Putin yesterday. But clearly not every issue, whether it is embassy staffing, whether it is about Russia’s aggression, whether it is an issue related to cyber, whether it is strategic stability, can be handled at the presidential level, and that’s why we have embassies.
That’s why we have the State Department, to continue the work of diplomacy on a day-to-day basis so that these issues can be handled when appropriate on a routine basis. And so we need that in the context of Russia just as we need that with most other countries around the world, because we do have serious issues that are on the table. We do have serious work that needs to be done. And so we want a fully functioning embassy in Moscow. We fully understand the Russian desire to have a fully functioning embassy here in Washington. And we prioritize that. We value these open lines of communication and dialogue, but there has to be reciprocity. And I think what the Russians have shown in recent months is that they have been unwilling – heretofore, at least – to allow us to have a fully functioning embassy in Moscow.
And so our – the steps that we have taken are based on the principle of reciprocity. We certainly hope that we can reinforce these diplomatic channels so that we can reinforce the dialogue, reinforce the communication that needs to take place between the United States and the Russian Federation on the basis of our national interests, because there are quite a few national interests at stake here.
QUESTION: Sorry, my other question is on China. This – the Uyghur Forced Labor Protection Act is about to pass in the House. Senator Rubio is accusing the Biden administration of lobbying against it. I’m wondering if that’s accurate. And if so, if you do oppose it, why?
MR PRICE: I am glad you asked, because there has been some misimpression out there. We do not oppose this. We are not lobbying against it. And in fact, I think if you look at our record, you will see the actions that we have taken over the course – not of days, not of weeks, but of months – on the issue of forced labor, on the broader set of human rights abuses that are taking place in Xinjiang.
This administration has, I would argue in our first 11 – 10, 11 months in office, perhaps done more than any administration, and has really galvanized the international community to put a spotlight on what is taking place in Xinjiang. And you can just, for the most recent example, look at the announcement we made on Monday regarding our posture towards the Beijing Olympics.
But going back to really the earliest weeks of this administration, and you look at the financial sanctions, including the multilateral sanctions, the visa restrictions, the export restrictions, the withhold release orders, the business advisory, the releases we have put out, being as transparent as we can about the goods that are being produced by child labor, or forced labor, including those emanating from Xinjiang, the UN side events, the joint statements, the other steps that we have taken really to make clear that these practices are abhorrent, these practices are nothing that the United States, any other country, or any private sector entity should be in any way supporting directly or indirectly.
And this goes back to a discussion we had on Monday. We continue to use the tools available to us as a government to send that signal very clearly, to hold to account those who are responsible for these abuses, but also to provide other elements of society – including the private sector – with the information that they need so that they do not even unwittingly support directly or indirectly in any way the practices that are ongoing in Xinjiang, including those with regard to forced labor.
These are – when we – in the context of American companies, these are good American companies. They have no intention and no desire, certainly, to in any way contribute to this. And so it is in large part our charge to put out as much information as we can, to shine a spotlight as bright as we can on what is taking place there.
And so no, we certainly don’t oppose this legislation, and we look forward to working with Congress on additional ways that we can shine a spotlight, hold to account those responsible, and put an end to these reprehensible practices.
QUESTION: So just to put a fine point on it, there’s nothing in this legislation that you disagree with or that you would like changed?
MR PRICE: We don’t oppose it.
QUESTION: You have no issue with any part of it?
MR PRICE: We do not oppose this legislation.
QUESTION: No, I’m – yeah, I know, generally. But is there any specific element of it that you would like to see changed? Or are you okay with – if it passed as written right now, you’re fine with it?
MR PRICE: We do not and are not opposing it. I understand it hasn’t passed because of issues that are internal to the Congress.
QUESTION: Are we talking about —
QUESTION: Okay. But not – but the administration doesn’t have any issue with any part of the bill?
MR PRICE: We do not oppose this legislation.
QUESTION: That’s different, Ned, than what I’m asking you.
MR PRICE: Matt, I am telling you – I am telling you —
QUESTION: You can say – you can say we don’t oppose this legislation, but we would like a waiver authority in it that would allow us to exempt anything that we want from it.
MR PRICE: Matt, I am telling you there —
QUESTION: And you would still – it would still be accurate to say that you don’t oppose the legislation.
MR PRICE: There is nothing – there is nothing —
QUESTION: There is nothing in the legislation, as it is written now, that you would disagree with?
MR PRICE: There is nothing in this legislation that would cause us to oppose it.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you. I want to ask you about the —
MR PRICE: Sorry, was there a follow-up? Sorry.
QUESTION: On China?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Just real quickly, since the U.S. announced a diplomatic boycott, Australia, the UK, and Canada have also made announcements. Could I just get your reaction to that? And I know, just separately – I know previously you’ve said it’s the sovereign decision of each nation whether they do a diplomatic boycott or not. But on other issues, you’ve talked about how actions are more impactful or statements are more impactful when other countries join the U.S., so are you hopeful that you’ll see more countries also announce boycotts?
MR PRICE: Well, certainly we’ve noted other countries that have announced similar approaches to the Beijing Olympics. What we have said all along, and you just – you captured the sentiment, is that these are sovereign decisions. And we made our decision based on the human rights abuses, the atrocities, crimes against humanity, the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang. We have heard similar statements emanate from several close allies, but as we have said for months now, what we have been doing and what we did going into Monday when we made our announcement is work closely with allies and partners around the world to establish a shared set of concerns.
And so there has been and there was a good deal of activity on that front. And I think I will leave it to certain governments to speak to why they took the steps they’ve taken or, as additional governments announce their positions, why they are taking those. But separate and apart from any decisions that countries announce regarding their approach to the Beijing Olympics, we have seen a tremendous amount of convergence, global convergence, regarding what is going on in Xinjiang and the concerns that the global community has. You need only look at the communique that was issued from the G7 Leaders’ Summit in the UK earlier this year to note the really strong language – and I think it’s paragraph 54 that talks about the concerns that are the concerns that are shared by some of our closest allies in that context.
There have been other multilateral settings, where countries around the world have come together to condemn these abuses, crimes against humanity, these atrocities, the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang. And much of that is a result of the work that the United States has done, again, to shine a spotlight, to hold to account, to make sure that we’re all operating from the same set of information.
QUESTION: And just a quick follow-up. We’ve seen athletes, whether it’s through social media or through interviews, make political statements in the past. Do you have any concerns if a U.S. athlete at the Olympic Games makes some kind of gesture or makes some kind of statement, that their safety or security could be in jeopardy by – or some kind of retaliation by the Chinese Government while they’re in Beijing?
MR PRICE: Well, a couple things on that. Freedom of expression, the ability of individuals to voice their opinions, whether they are shared by the host government or not, that is something that is universal. That is a principle that should apply equally in the PRC as it does in the United States. And so we will be looking to PRC authorities to afford the same level of protection, to treat our athletes with the same level of dignity and respect that all other athletes are accorded in – at the Beijing Olympics. As we discussed the other day, we also will have a fully functioning embassy on the ground, and we will have personnel, as we always do in major events and as we always do around the world, to support our athletes, to provide the essential American citizen services that any American can expect wherever we do have a diplomatic relationship.
And so of course that will be the case, but freedom of expression and the expectation that governments around the world, including the PRC in the context of the upcoming Olympics, respect that – that is something that not only we subscribe to, but also our allies and partners do as well.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up. Are you seeking or do you expect a common stance on this at the G7 next weekend in Liverpool?
MR PRICE: A common stance on —
QUESTION: On this, on the diplomatic boycott.
MR PRICE: I don’t know that it’s on the agenda. Again, these are sovereign decisions that each country, each government will need to make.
Anything else on China? Yes.
QUESTION: Thanks. Yeah, back to the corporate sponsors for a second. I understand your point that you’ve given the companies all the information they need and your point I think you made a couple of days ago that it’s up to – it’s not the government’s job necessarily to tell the companies what to do. So I’m just wondering, if the U.S. is trying to send a message with this diplomatic boycott and at the same time you have sort of some of the biggest corporate power in the country not taking a stand on the same exact issue, are you concerned at all that that message that you’re trying to send is getting a little bit muddled?
MR PRICE: Just as each country will need to make a sovereign decision about its approach to the Olympics, each company will need to make a private decision about its approach to the Beijing Olympics. It is not our place to dictate precisely what American companies should do. It is our place to ensure that American companies and multinational companies and others have at their fingertips a full set of information, have the full facts, and a complete accounting as to what is transpiring in Xinjiang and the concerns that we have, and they will in turn make their decisions based on that.
Again, these are good American companies. I have – none of us have any – are under any illusion that an American company would knowingly or would even put them in a situation – put themselves in a situation of unknowingly or unwittingly aiding or abetting the practices that are ongoing in Xinjiang. And so we are – we have set out to provide that full set of information, that full set of facts so that American companies can make those decisions on the basis of that and can do so effectively.
QUESTION: Ned, you guys fine companies all the time for violating sanctions in which they knowingly or unknowingly contribute to conditions such as what’s going on there. That’s not – and it’s not true that it’s not your place to dictate what American companies can – you do it all the time.
MR PRICE: The question was put in —
QUESTION: If I’m company X, can I do business in North Korea right now? No.
MR PRICE: The —
QUESTION: Can I do business in Iran right now? No. You – it’s just simply not true that you don’t ever tell private companies what they can and can’t do.
MR PRICE: There are cases, of course, Matt, that are in extremis. Those are cases that are in extremis. The —
QUESTION: Well, some people would argue that what’s going on in Xinjiang is in extremis, right?
MR PRICE: And we have taken extraordinary steps since the earliest days of this administration to hold to account to —
QUESTION: I’m not criticizing what you’re doing. I’m just saying that I – that it doesn’t make any sense for you to say that you don’t – you can’t or never have or never will tell private companies where they can do business or not because you do it all the time.
MR PRICE: Matt, I was speaking specifically in this context —
QUESTION: All right.
MR PRICE: — and the question was put to me in that context.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the helicopter crash in Tamil Nadu in which the India chief of defense staff was killed. Do you have anything on that, and do you – are you offering any kind of assistance in the investigations to the Indian Government?
MR PRICE: I do, and I believe the Secretary has spoken to this. I believe you have or soon will hear from the deputy secretary as well. But we are deeply saddened to hear of the death of Indian Chief of Defense Staff General Bipin Rawat, his wife, and 11 others in a tragic helicopter crash in India today.
General Rawat was a valued partner. He was a strong proponent of the U.S.-India defense partnership. He helped to deepen the strategic partnership between our two countries. He was pivotal to that relationship, and that’s why our thoughts go out to the general’s family, to the families of all those on board this flight, and of course the people of India on the loss that they have suffered today.
QUESTION: So Secretary has spoken to his counterpart in India?
MR PRICE: As soon as we have a call to read out, we will. I know there have been a number of conversations at different levels, but if we have a call to read out, we will do that.
QUESTION: Ethiopia. The WFP has suspended food distributions in Ethiopia’s Kombolcha and Dessie after looting of supplies, reportedly by elements of Tigrayan forces that staff was unable to stop due to intimidation, including being held at gunpoint. And three WFP trucks were also commandeered this week. Do you have a reaction to that? And these incidents have happened despite repeated calls from the U.S. for humanitarian aid to be allowed to flow. At what point do you take punitive action? And then just as an aside, do you have any travel for Special Envoy Feltman to preview?
MR PRICE: So to the last part of your question, Special Envoy Feltman will depart tomorrow for the UAE, for Turkey, as well as Egypt, and he’ll meet with counterparts there to discuss what it is that the international community seeks when it comes to Ethiopia. And that is chiefly a negotiated resolution to the conflict, because we know that that conflict threatens the peace and security in the Horn of Africa.
We’ve said before that there’s no military solution to the conflict in Ethiopia. Our goal in all of this – and this is the goal that Special Envoy Feltman is leaving to pursue – is to support diplomacy as the first, last, and the only option to achieve a cessation of hostilities, as the only option to end the human rights abuses that have been ongoing and to engage the party – engage the parties so that they in turn engage in negotiations without preconditions, and importantly, to permit the unhindered humanitarian access for Tigray, for other parts of northern Ethiopia and broadly, to start a national – inclusive national dialogue as well.
When it comes to humanitarian access, we understand that some food trucks have moved, but they have not done so at remotely the volume the United Nations has said is needed to address the humanitarian catastrophe in Tigray. We believe the Government of Ethiopia must allow unhindered access for life-saving humanitarian assistance to reach all those in need in Tigray and across Ethiopia, and that’s regardless of ethnicity. Moving trucks with relief supplies is just one step of many that’s necessary to help the millions of people who are in dire need of aid, and we have repeatedly and urgently called for all parties to allow and to facilitate that level of unhindered humanitarian access.
QUESTION: You’ve said that many times. Do you feel that the parties to the conflict are heeding those calls? Have you seen any progress on that, I mean, especially given the events this week – the intimidation of humanitarian staff and the looting?
MR PRICE: Well, as I said, we have seen the movement of some trucks, but we need to see more, and it is not so much what we need to see. It is what the people of Tigray, of northern Ethiopia themselves need, given the dire humanitarian situation that they’re in. So that is why Special Envoy Feltman and others in this building and across the interagency are remaining focused on this.
We know that the humanitarian catastrophe that is ongoing now in Tigray and northern Ethiopia, it is an absolute priority, and it is part and parcel of the conflict, of the situation that we are seeking to, in conjunction with our partners in the African Union, with other regional partners, to find a way out of. And we continue to believe that the way out of this conflict is through a negotiated resolution, and we continue to encourage the parties to engage in negotiations without preconditions to that end.
On the one hand, we are encouraging, but there also – on the other hand, we do have a set of sticks, and we have talked about those punitive measures that we have employed against some actors in this conflict. The executive order that we announced some weeks ago remains viable. It is an order that we can use to target those beyond the Eritreans, whom we’ve already targeted under this authority.
You’ve heard from senior administration officials that we are certainly willing if the parties are unwilling to make progress themselves. But right now, what we’re focused on is trying to support that diplomacy, calling, urging, doing everything we can to see to it that there’s additional humanitarian access in Tigray and northern Ethiopia.
QUESTION: Did President Biden raise the case of Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed in his call with Putin yesterday? And if so, was there any progress on that front?
MR PRICE: Well, I would need to refer you to the White House to speak to the specifics of the call, but we have continued to call on Russia to open consular access for Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed and to improve the poor prison conditions they are currently enduring in Russia. We further call on Russia to swiftly release these individuals, and we know that Russia must extend the same guarantees of safety and transparent protection under the rule of law to all American citizens living in Russia that America extends to Russians living in the United States.
Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:58 p.m.)