Department Press Briefing – November 1, 2022
2:06 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: A couple items, and then we will turn to your questions.
With temperatures dropping, these Russian attacks aimed at exacerbating human suffering are particularly heinous. As Ukraine works to restore water and power to its citizens, the United States remains committed to the victory of a sovereign and independent Ukraine, and we are working to deliver air defense systems so Ukraine can continue to repel these attacks.
Since February 24th, the Department of State and USAID have contributed more than $1.5 billion in humanitarian assistance, including shelter and other critical assistance for vulnerable families. USAID recently announced $55 million, in new assistance, to help Ukraine repair and maintain heating infrastructure in 19 regions of Ukraine, benefiting up to seven million Ukrainians. They are also providing more than 1,600 generators, water purification systems, and other measures to help keep Ukraine warm. The United States also continues to provide blankets and other winter-specific household items; and is providing hundreds of millions of dollars toward shelter, food, water, sanitation, and hygiene assistance.
For all who also wish to show that they stand strong with Ukraine by helping meet the humanitarian needs of its brave people, you can go to GoFundMe’s Ukraine Humanitarian Fund page, established in partnership with the State Department to help the people of Ukraine.
And finally, today we announce that the Department of State has awarded $47.6 million to Tetra Tech, Incorporated of Pasadena, California to provide urgent humanitarian demining assistance to Ukraine in the face of Russia’s brutal war of aggression. This project forms part of the $91.5 million in demining assistance we announced in August.
Under the terms of the project, Tetra Tech will strengthen the Government of Ukraine’s capacity to locate and remove landmines, unexploded, abandoned ordnance, improvised explosive devices, and other explosive hazards from civilian areas.
Tetra Tech will train the Government of Ukraine’s demining and EOD teams to international standards and provide them with the tools necessary to do their jobs. The project also supports deploying additional clearance teams and explosive ordnance risk education teams through the local non-governmental organization Ukrainian Deminers Association.
With that, I will turn to your questions. Matt.
QUESTION: Great. I have a question about Iran, but it can wait until we get to – I’m sure people have things that they want to ask that are non-Iran questions.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: This is not hugely urgent.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: So, you want to start in Ukraine?
MR PRICE: Happy to start wherever you all would like to start.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, mine is Iran arming Russia. Is that Iran or Ukraine? (Laughter.) Matt?
QUESTION: That’s all three. (Laughter.) Mine is purely Iran.
MR PRICE: I will let you guys sort this out.
QUESTION: Okay. Shaun, you go first then.
QUESTION: Well, I’m sure we’ll to raise Iran as well. But can I just ask you about the latest on the grain initiative?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: According to the UN, there’s been a – there’s actually a situation where there won’t be further shipments in the coming days, as far as I understand it. How concerned are you about the situation now? What do you see with the Turkish diplomacy? Do you see any hope there? Has the United States tried anything diplomatically to resolve this?
MR PRICE: Well, unfortunately, that’s our understanding as well. We’ve seen reports that Ukraine, Turkey, and the UN have agreed not to plan for any movements of ship under the Black Sea Grain Initiative starting tomorrow. We, of course, regret deeply Russia’s decision to suspend its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, and we so deeply regret it because this is an initiative that has helped the world. It has been critical to get aid to the world’s neediest people. And Russia, and Russia alone, is now directly standing in the way of that.
Martin Griffiths, the top humanitarian official at the UN, yesterday gave a briefing to the Security Council, and he made the point that each fraction of a percentage of increase in the price of food pushes someone, somewhere around the world over the line into extreme poverty. To be clear, every ounce of food delivered through this grain initiative – and as of yesterday it had been nearly 10 million metric tons, so far – hopefully those shipments will resume – but every single ounce of food helps food get to people around the world.
And I say that because, beyond the mere fact of the deliveries themselves, the viability of this calms markets. It mitigates against price spikes. And unfortunately, since Russia’s announcement over the weekend and its bellicose rhetoric, we’ve seen the opposite. Its announcement, its threats has caused shippers and insurers to charge higher rates or to think twice about making these voyages. So, Russia’s choice, as we discussed yesterday, has had an immediate impact on global food prices. But, to put a finer point on it, it has an – had an immediate impact on the lives and livelihoods of people around the world; an impact that will only be compounded for as long as this initiative remains dormant.
When we talk about the vitality of this initiative, we made the point yesterday that the vast majority of the nearly 10 million metric tons that has been delivered under it has gone to the developing world, a large share of that – about a fifth of it – going to the world’s least developed countries. The World Food Program sources half of its wheat from Ukraine in a typical year, underscoring the importance of this initiative to providing for the world’s poor. And I made this point yesterday, but any act, any statement, any decision by the Kremlin to disrupt this initiative is essentially a statement that Moscow doesn’t care. Moscow doesn’t care, if the world goes hungry. Moscow doesn’t care, if people starve. Moscow doesn’t care, if the world’s food insecurity crisis is compounded.
We could talk quite a bit about what the initiative has already delivered, and I’ve already made a couple of those points today. There are ships – suffice to say, there are ships in Black Sea ports that are loaded, that are ready to go. There is one chartered by the World Food Program, loaded with 30,000 metric tons of wheat for the emergency response in the Horn of Africa. There are dozens of other ships that would be in a position to set sail in the coming days if only Russia would not stand in the way. So, this is an urgent challenge.
It is a challenge that we know that the UN secretary‑general is engaged on intensively, has been engaged on intensively ever since Moscow’s announcement over the weekend. Working very – he’s working very closely with Turkey, with Ukraine, ultimately doing everything that the UN can, as the institution that originally brokered this initiative, to see this deeply regrettable decision by Moscow reversed. Individuals here in this building have been in close touch with their counterparts in these countries and these institutions to do what we can to support that diplomacy. We stand ready to do whatever it is that the UN and the Secretary‑General Guterres deems useful for us to do. But right now we are supporting his efforts, supporting his diplomacy, and lamenting – as is the rest of the world – the dire implications and costs of Moscow’s decision.
QUESTION: Just fleshing that out a little bit – I mean you mentioned the Turkish and UN efforts. I mean you discussed this yesterday – Russia’s demands and that – but is the United States open to the possibility – and I know you’re not directly negotiating this, but are you direct – open to the possibility of changing this around? Could there be changes made in the grain sea initiative to make it more palatable to the Russians or is this basically just a matter of renewing it as is?
MR PRICE: Well, the initiative is working. The initiative was working at the time of Russia’s decision to suspend its cooperation. And we know it was working because of the metrics. I’ve already spoken to the more than 9.5 million metric tons that were delivered, some 400 – some 400 separate voyages that had left Ukraine’s Black Sea ports since this initiative went into effect. Food prices around the world declined while this was in effect.
So, this was not broken to begin with but, unfortunately, Moscow appears to be trying to break it. It is our goal to see this initiative – that is to say the ability of ships to leave Ukrainian ports, to enter Ukrainian ports – to see that resume. We are not going to be, of course, prescriptive for – to the secretary-general. It was his good offices and his efforts that ultimately negotiated this initiative in the first place. We have confidence in his efforts. We are supporting his efforts. And we’ll support them in whatever way we can.
QUESTION: On – let me ask you about some reporting that we have – three officials, U.S. and Western government officials saying that Iran is preparing to send short-range ballistic missiles to Russia, part of a tranche of weapons, including weaponized drones, that are supposed to be sent by the end of the year. So, this is not sent already but preparing to deliver, if you have anything on that. And to us, Iran has not commented when we went to the U.S. – the UN mission.
I also want to ask, but I don’t know – I want to defer to Matt if he wants to ask about the Saudi alerts and whether we have confirmation about that.
MR PRICE: So – sure.
QUESTION: If you want to (inaudible) at the same time.
MR PRICE: So, on your first question, we’ve spoken for quite some time now about some of the dire supply shortages that Russia is facing. These owe, at least in part, to the export controls that the United States and a number of other countries have placed on Moscow’s industrial base but also its military industrial base, starving Russia of the inputs that it needs to indigenously produce components for efforts in its war against Ukraine.
We are concerned that Russia may also seek to acquire advanced conventional weapons from Iran, such as surface-to-surface missiles that will almost certainly be used to support Russia’s war against Ukraine. We’ve spoken before about our efforts using all appropriate means to expose, to deter, to confront Iran’s provision of these munitions against the Ukrainian people. We will continue to vigorously enforce all U.S. sanctions on both the Russian and Iranian arms trade to make it harder for Iran to sell these weapons to Russia, to help the Ukrainians have what they need to defend against these threats. And we’ll stand with our partners throughout the Middle East and against the Iranian threat that many of them also face.
To put a finer point on it, anyone doing business with Iran that could have any links to its UAV or ballistic missile development or the flow of arms from Iran to Russia should be very careful. They should do their due diligence. We will not hesitate to use our sanctions. We will not hesitate to use any appropriate and effective tool.
This goes back to what we had been saying since July. It was over the summer that the National Security Advisor first went out to the White House podium to make the point that Iran at the – at that time was planning to sell UAVs to Russia for use against Ukraine. We have since confirmed the delivery of dozens of these UAVs from Iran to Russia that have been employed by Russians against the innocent people of Ukraine.
So, whether the source is Iran, whether the source is indigenously produced Russian weapons and munitions, whether Russia continues its engagement with the DPRK for example, that I think showcases the necessity of going well beyond what would otherwise be its comfort zone to support – to source, excuse me, weapons and materiel for this war effort. We will use every appropriate tool to confront, to expose that.
QUESTION: Can we move on to the issue of the Saudi threat? They have received, as you just acknowledged, the UAVs. So why should we – to be careful, what have we done to stop this weapons supply?
MR PRICE: So, we’ve done a couple things. First, we have taken aim at Iran’s UAV proliferation networks over the course of months now. It was last year that we first issued a round of sanctions against those who have supported the proliferation of Iranian UAV technology. It was in September, after we began warning of Iran’s intent to provide UAV technology to Russia, that we sanctioned a separate group of entities for their involvement in this proliferation of Iranian UAV technology to Russia specifically.
We are always looking at targets that may be appropriate for this sort of response – sanctions, other financial measures. We are working closely with the UN. Of course, we’ve already made the point that the provision of these particular UAVs are a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231. The United States has provided information to the 2231 committee. The Security Council received an expert briefing on Iran’s UAV technology, its proliferation of this UAV technology. We will continue to provide the UN with relevant information to support their own efforts to hold Iran to account.
But suffice to say we are going to use every relevant and appropriate tool in our tool kit to expose, to confront, to counter this type of activity.
QUESTION: On the UN —
QUESTION: On the Saudi threat?
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that really quick —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: You talk about confronting and exposing these shipments or these planned shipments. Can you prevent them from actually going from Iran to Russia with the actions that you laid out are in your tool kit?
MR PRICE: We can certainly counter them. We can certainly counter them, and that’s our intention. Again, we are going to use every tool. And leaving aside the – this particular issue of UAV technology, I think you’ve seen us use a variety of tools when it comes to countering Iran’s malign influence in the region. We’ve used sanctions. We’ve used a number of authorities against Iranian threat networks. We have – the U.S. military has engaged in interdictions, including weapons flowing to its proxies, in Yemen for example. We’ve used a number of tools and authorities – some of which we’re in a position to speak to, sometimes we’re not in a position to speak to it. But we have every intention, and we will use every relevant tool to counter this.
QUESTION: Would you consider interdictions here?
MR PRICE: I’m not going – that’s not something I’m going to go into from here. We will look at all of our options. We will do what we deem in close coordination with our partners to be most effective to countering this threat.
QUESTION: Ned, on the unmanned vehicles, isn’t it – isn’t there a bit of exaggeration in Iran’s ability to produce these things, en masse, and send it to a country like Russia? Iran that has been under the strictest of sanctions and so on, its ability to produce these things in enough numbers to give Russia that has been – that has been a pioneer in rocketry and missiles and so on, a much bigger country – definitely under lists and sanctions and so on. Isn’t there some sort of exaggeration in this equation?
MR PRICE: Said, you should ask the people of Ukraine whether the threat is exaggerated. I think we’ve all seen and we’ve heard from our Ukrainian partners of the brutal assault that they are undergoing. And they have provided evidence, including in some cases for the world to see, that some of the wreckage, some of the damage, some of the destruction, some of the lives lost, have come as a consequence of this Iranian UAV technology.
That’s not to say these need to be or necessarily are sophisticated pieces of technology. These can be and by most accounts are not terribly sophisticated, but yet we’ve seen the havoc that they’re in a position to inflict on the people of Ukraine.
So, you’re right that Russia, prior to February 24th, was in a position to develop sophisticated weaponry and technology for use on the battlefield. I think that position has been significantly degraded. And it’s been significantly degraded because of the actions that the United States and our partners and allies have taken – yes, in terms of the sanctions and other economic measures, but also because of the export controls, because of the systematic way that we’ve been able to deprive and to starve Russia of the inputs that it would otherwise need for some of the technology, the chips, the sensors, the core components for UAV technology, for ballistic missile technology; for other key pieces of equipment that in the early days of the war they had in much larger supply. The Russians, by many accounts, are really wearing thin when it comes to some of those inputs that it needs to prosecute its war on Ukraine.
QUESTION: And on the grain, on the percentages that you cited yesterday, you said that 66 percent go to the – to poor countries, 20 percent – you cited all the percentages. Today the Russian president disputed that and said that 43 percent of the grain goes to Turkey, 35 goes to Western – the European Union; only 5 percent goes to poor countries. Is there a – who can, with credibility – and I’m not saying that what you’re saying is not credible, but is there like a watchdog or a committee that can see exactly where these – what percentages of this grain goes where?
MR PRICE: So, I want to be very clear, those were not our figures. Those were not figures from the United States. Those were figures from the UN. And I don’t know that there is going to be a more credible source of information on this – the UN that brought together this initiative, that helped to set it in motion in the first place, that’s been helping to administer it. The UN numbers were that 66 percent, or two thirds of this wheat, going to developing countries. The UN reports that 19 percent going to the world’s least developed countries.
QUESTION: Ned, (inaudible). Is it your view that the shipments that you fear Iran is going to be making – not of the UAVs, because I already know what you think about those, but of the other advanced conventional weapons, are a violation of 2231 or any other Security Council resolution?
MR PRICE: So, 2231 very clearly lays out the parameters that are – would be forbidden under it. And again, without being able to go into specifics at this point, because we are warning of the potential for this to happen, it’s not something I could speculate on. But we will – if this does come to pass, we of course will take a close look at the type of equipment, at the range of that equipment, of other relevant details, to see if these are violations under 2231. 2231 or not, Iran’s provision of lethal supplies, technology, equipment to Russia is something we are going to, with the support of partners and allies around the world, to counter using every relevant tool.
QUESTION: Okay, that’s fine. But their provision of this stuff is not necessarily illegal or a violation of international law, is it? Especially if they’re short-range, right?
MR PRICE: So again, Matt, without —
QUESTION: So, if these are short-range missiles that are – have less than 300-kilometer range, they are not prohibited (inaudible).
MR PRICE: Without knowing what may in fact be provided –
QUESTION: Well, let’s say they go 290 kilometers, all right. Is that a violation (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: But Matt, I’m not going to engage you as you just make up hypothetical facts. Let’s engage – let’s —
QUESTION: You’re the one who’s coming up here, and saying that you fear that they’re going to send advanced conventional weapons, right, including short-range ballistic missiles, which are presumably ballistic missiles that are less than 300-kilometer range.
MR PRICE: And to —
QUESTION: And I want to know if you think that those —
MR PRICE: And to remind you of the historical record, we warned in July of at what at the time was information we had that Iran planned to supply UAVs to Russia. There was some skepticism of that at the time. Unfortunately, our information was not inaccurate. Unfortunately, that came to pass.
QUESTION: I am not – I’m not skeptical of your claim that they intend – that they intend to ship those. I want to know that if they do, do you think that that would be a violation of 2231 or another UNSCR. And —
MR PRICE: That’s not just – that’s just not an answer I can provide right now, because we don’t know precisely what these would be.
QUESTION: Well —
MR PRICE: And this is something that we’d have to take a close look at with the —
QUESTION: So, there is a —
MR PRICE: — with the parameters of 2231 in mind.
QUESTION: So, in fact – so in fact, not all lethal equipment that Iran might provide to Russia is a violation of 2231 or anything else. Is that correct?
MR PRICE: It doesn’t need to be a violation of 2231 for Iran to face consequences –
QUESTION: Right, but you guys were the ones who reversed —
MR PRICE: — from the United States and our partners and allies to take concerted action to deter and ultimately to counter this activity.
QUESTION: You guys were the ones who reversed the snapback, which allowed the conventional arms embargo to expire. Right? I mean, you can argue whether – when the Trump administration had invoked snapback whether it actually meant anything, but you guys actually went out and reversed it. So, the conventional arms embargo doesn’t exist anymore, correct, under 2231?
MR PRICE: There are certain provisions of 2231 that are no longer in effect. That does not mean that we don’t have —
QUESTION: No, I’m not saying it does —
MR PRICE: — that we don’t have tools at our disposal —
QUESTION: I’m not saying that.
MR PRICE: — including our own national authorities, that we will not hesitate to use.
QUESTION: But the question is, why not go back – why not revisit snapback now?
MR PRICE: Because the United States is no longer a participant in the deal. This was —
QUESTION: You don’t have to be a —
MR PRICE: This was the – one of the great ironies, one of the many great ironies of the last administration’s approach to the JCPOA.
QUESTION: Okay. So, you think that they were legally – they were – it was legally flawed for them to even try and evoke it since they had already withdrawn from the deal, right?
MR PRICE: We saw how that story ended. And it ended, unfortunately, in not only the previous administration failing at what they were attempting to do, but in some cases, even worse yet, with the United States on one side of the table and our closest allies in the world on the other side of the table.
QUESTION: Okay, but the fact of the matter is – is that the arms embargo expired, the conventional one expired. And you guys haven’t done anything to try and bring it back. And while it may be awful and horrible that Iran is providing Russia with these weapons that maybe are not – that – short-range conventional weapons, it’s not something that’s sanctionable under the UN, right?
MR PRICE: So, Matt, we are going to be focused on what would be effective in countering this activity. You know as well as anyone that any effort to put together, to stitch together a coalition in the UN Security Council, where you have the belligerent Russia as a permanent member with a veto – that any effort to stitch back together what has expired probably would not fare too well in the UN Security Council.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just the last thing on Iran: There was a meeting that you guys and the Albanians co-chaired today, or maybe it’s not happened yet. You know what I’m talking about, right, about the situation in Iran itself?
QUESTION: Oh, it’s tomorrow. Sorry.
MR PRICE: The – this is an Arria-style meeting, a November 2nd Arria format meeting of the UN Security Council. It’s cohosted by the United States and Albania. It will highlight the ongoing repression of women and girls, members of ethnic and religious minorities in Iran. It will identify opportunities from a credible, international, independent investigations into the Iranian Government’s human rights violations, and it will underscore the ongoing unlawful use of force against protesters and the Iranian regime’s transnational repression of human rights defenders and dissidents abroad, including its efforts to abduct or assassinate them.
QUESTION: Okay. So, I – it’s tomorrow, not today?
MR PRICE: It’s tomorrow. It’s tomorrow.
QUESTION: Okay. Then, but just in light of that meeting, and in light of the comments that Special Envoy or Representative Malley made yesterday about what the administration is doing in terms of the concurrent situation in Iran with the protests, are you in a position to say whether this administration supports a regime change or change in government in Iran?
MR PRICE: Matt, this answer applies all over the world. It is not up to the United States to determine any government, which government is in power in any particular country. That applies to Iran. This is a decision for the people of Iran.
QUESTION: Okay. But you do support the protesters.
MR PRICE: We support the ability of these protesters to exercise universal rights. That’s precisely why we support what they are doing, because they are exercising peacefully the rights that are as universal to them as they are to anyone around the world.
QUESTION: Can you – two – other questions about Iran, though?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Saudi threat of imminent Iranian attacks on targets in the kingdom and in Iraq, in Erbil?
MR PRICE: So, what I can say about this is that we are concerned about the threat picture. We are in constant contact through military, diplomatic, intelligence channels with the Saudis, and we won’t hesitate to act in defense of our interests and our partners in the region.
QUESTION: Hi there, thank you so much. Back to Iran question —
QUESTION: Hold on, just one more thing on that.
QUESTION: If there is an actual threat and it is imminent, as this report cited, wouldn’t the department have to warn U.S. citizens in the region of that threat? Has it not gotten to that level? Can you just describe to us where you guys are on that?
MR PRICE: Right. So, I can’t speak to what we haven’t done, but you are correct that if we do have information that is precise, that is credible, that could potentially pose a threat to the American citizen community, of course we will follow all obligations under that policy.
QUESTION: Well, can you speak to what you have done? Have you issued – I mean, I looked before I came out here. I didn’t see anything, but —
MR PRICE: I’m not aware that we’ve issued any consular warnings, but I am aware that we are in constant touch with the Saudis through diplomatic, military, intelligence channels as well.
QUESTION: Right. But are you aware or is there consideration being given to putting out notices like —
MR PRICE: I’m just not going to speak to the internal process. Whenever – on —
QUESTION: I’m not asking on the internal process.
MR PRICE: We are always evaluating information that comes in, information that may be available to us, and if it meets that bar, of course we will take that step.
QUESTION: Okay. But as of when you walked out here, you weren’t aware that any had been issued?
MR PRICE: I’m not aware of any public consular warning.
MR PRICE: Alex.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Back to question on how to prevent Iran from sending those shipments. Ukrainian military intelligence says that 200 combat drones will be sent this month through Caspian Sea to port of Astrakhan. I was wondering if you have reached out to Caspian Sea countries and if they have clear – been clear about potential consequences. And you mentioned that you will take – you will respond.
And, also, when it comes to status of Caspian Sea, what does it tell you? Are you in a position to actually prevent this shipment in the sea?
MR PRICE: So, Alex, we have been clear in public and in private with countries in the region and well beyond about our concerns of this partnership that has emerged between Iran and Russia. This was a partnership that has existed, but clearly the Iranian regime is taking steps to deepen that partnership; clearly Russia is in pretty dire straits now, certainly more desperate for partners that it otherwise may not have pursued. Iran would fall in that category; the DPRK would fall in that category. Non-traditional, let’s say, security partners whose assistance it is requesting or needing because of the steps that the international community has taken. We have made very clear the costs and consequences that we’re prepared to impose on any country that provides security assistance to Russia’s brutal assault of Ukraine. We’ve made very clear that we’re prepared to provide and to impose costs and consequences on any entity that systematically assists Russia evade U.S. or international sanctions. That applies – that applies everywhere.
I think it is fair to say that countries you’ve referenced have been partners in standing up against and countering and speaking out against Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. We’ve been gratified to see the approach that countries around the world, including in the Caspian region, have taken.
QUESTION: And on the – Iran’s objectives. This morning the White House made the case that Iran is killing Ukrainian citizens, which is actually an interesting angle to approach this topic, because there have been questions about Saudi Arabia, other countries – traditionally Iran has – conflicts with them. Of Ukraine, I mean, they have been cooperating until recently. My question is: what is your assessment on why Iran is doing it? What are we facing? Is it a coalition of terrorist countries? I mean, I don’t want to remind you of the fact that, except for Cuba, all of the countries in SST list had been lined up to help Russia. So, what are we facing right now in this case?
MR PRICE: So, I wouldn’t want to offer that sort of analysis from here. I think the one relevant and interesting data point, of course, is that Iran continues to lie about this. Iran continues to deny reports that are increasingly unmistakable that Iran has providing – has provided, is providing this type of assistance to Russia. And that fact suggests that this is not something that Iran is necessarily proud of, but that Iran is undertaking this activity for reasons that they would have to explain, whether the motive is strategic, whether the motive is financial, whether the motive is geopolitical, whether it’s a mix of all of those things. That would have to be something Iran could – would need to explain. But, of course, Iran has continued to obfuscate and to lie.
QUESTION: Thank you. On China, John Kirby just confirmed that the U.S., China are still trying to arrange the two leaders’ summit on a staff level. How is this building involved in this cooperation, and has Secretary Blinken and Wang Yi talked about it in their phone call yesterday?
MR PRICE: In their phone call on Sunday evening, they did speak about the imperative of maintaining open lines of communication. And more broadly, they spoke about the imperative of responsibly managing this relationship that is, perhaps without question, the world’s most consequential bilateral relationship. We’ve made clear that we want to do that at all levels up to and including the leader level. Coming out of their last engagement, President Biden and President Xi did commit to have their teams continue speaking about the possibility of an encounter between the two presidents in the in the coming weeks.
It is fair to say that this is something that has been discussed through State Department, through diplomatic channels as well. I wouldn’t want to go further than that, as it pertains to the Secretary’s call with Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday.
QUESTION: After the phone call, Chinese side said in their readout – and, also, Chinese Ambassador Qin Gang yesterday tweeted that the U.S. should read carefully the report to the 20th CPC National Congress. How have you started the report? And what is your take on it in terms of China’s foreign policy?
MR PRICE: So, I did see that tweet from the ambassador. The point we’ve made – and of course there are individuals in this building who are focused on the bilateral relationship, people in Beijing, of course, who are who are posted there to help manage this bilateral relationship, who are familiar with the proceedings and the results of the Communist Party congress. But our point is that the party congress doesn’t change our approach to the PRC. We said before the Communist Party congress that, in our view, the PRC represents the greatest geopolitical challenge we face precisely because it’s the only competitor with the intent and, increasingly, the capability to remake the international order. And as we’ve seen over the course of months and years now, the PRC increasingly has the intent to do so.
So, our strategy, as Secretary Blinken outlined in May when he offered about 40 minutes of substantive remarks on our approach to the PRC, focuses on, at its core, competing with the PRC where our interests and values differ and cooperating with Beijing where they align. That was true before the CPC; that is true now after the CPC.
QUESTION: On North Korea, following the joint military exercise of United States and Japan. North Korea said it was very provocative and that it might take more powerful follow-up measures if it keep on going. So how do you respond to this allegation? And, also, have you seen any indication from North Korea to conduct next nuclear test, nuclear weapon test?
MR PRICE: So, on the first part of your question, unfortunately this seems to be the DPRK reaching for another pretext for provocations it has already undertaken, potentially for provocations that it might be planning to take in the coming days or coming weeks.
The DPRK knows full well that the military exercises that we conduct are purely, purely defensive in nature, and they do nothing more than support the security of our allies in the region – in this case the ROK. We have made very clear in our messages – private messages to the DPRK, but also in our public messaging – that we harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK.
We, at the same time, are committed to the security of the ROK and our Japanese allies as well and to our combined defense posture in accordance with our ironclad system of alliances. I would need to refer you to DOD for any additional detail on these defensive military exercises, but unfortunately this appears to be nothing more than another pretext on the part of the DPRK.
When it comes to the potential for a nuclear test, this is something that we, our Japanese allies, our South Korean allies have been concerned about for some time. We’ve spoken in some detail about a number of steps that the DPRK appears to have taken and finalizing in important ways the steps that would need to be in place were it to conduct another seventh nuclear test. Our message has been a very simple one: there would be profound costs and profound consequences if the DPRK were to take this dangerous, destabilizing step in contravention of not only UN Security Council resolutions but what it is hearing very clearly from countries around the world.
QUESTION: Thank you. A very quick question on the Palestinian issue. Twenty congressmen – House Democrats – sent a letter to Secretary Antony Blinken last Thursday, asking that Israel be excluded from the Visa Waiver Program. First, can you acknowledge receiving that letter by the Secretary; and the second, what is the status of this waiver – visa waiver issue?
MR PRICE: Said, I am familiar with the letter. We of course don’t comment specifically on congressional correspondence; but as a broader matter I can tell you that all countries seeking to join the U.S. Visa Waiver Program must meet each and every program requirement. We will continue to work with Israel to ensure that all U.S. citizens and nationals seeking to enter or to transit through Israel are treated equally. This, of course, includes Palestinian Americans. What we seek is equal treatment and freedom to travel for all U.S. citizens regardless of national origin or ethnicity.
QUESTION: On Brazil, has there been any contact between the administration and the incumbent Brazilian president or people around him in last couple days?
MR PRICE: I’m not aware of any discussions. I’m certainly not in a position to read out any conversations. I also understand that President Bolsonaro may be making a public statement soon or simultaneously with this briefing.
But what we said yesterday is that the Brazilian people have spoken. The Brazilian election authority officially declared Lula the winner in an election that was free, it was fair, it was transparent. Numerous political figures from across Brazil’s political spectrum, including the heads of the Brazilian congress, have acknowledged President‑elect Lula’s victory, and it’s a hallmark of every democracy that the voice of the people as expressed through its elections be heard and be respected.
The President, as you saw from the readout yesterday, had a good conversation with President-elect Lula. I imagine there will be engagements on the part of this building in the coming days and the coming weeks, as well.
QUESTION: How concerned are you about these blockades, potential efforts to sort of – yeah, to create blockages around the country in response to the election?
MR PRICE: What I would say is that we urge all parties to peacefully exercise their rights, including the right to protest. To the extent protestors are breaking Brazilian law, that is a matter for Brazilian authorities.
QUESTION: I have a question on a different topic.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Earlier this fall, Under Secretary Victoria Nuland mentioned that the State Department is working with Russian Ministry on Foreign Affairs on adding additional personnel to U.S. Embassy Moscow and making it easier for Russian citizens to get visas. So, has there been any progress made? And are these negotiations happening now or will they be a part of G20 Summit?
MR PRICE: I don’t expect this bilateral question to be on the agenda for the United States at the G20, and that is mainly because I don’t expect that there will be discussions between the United States and Russia in the context of the G20. But it is fair to say that the viability of our embassy in Moscow is of the upmost importance to us. It is of the upmost importance to us because – principally because – we believe that even in times of tension, especially – especially in times of tension, especially in times of conflict, it’s vitally important that we be able to communicate, and we be able to communicate openly with one another.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow, the Russian embassy here in Washington, they both remain operational of course. It has not been without challenges. The Russians, we believe, had imposed onerous restrictions. But we are – we have engaged with Moscow to try to address some of those restrictions to maintain our ability to operate an embassy in Russia, so that we can continue that vital line of communication – that vital line of dialogue with the Government of Russia.
There are a number of bilateral issues that our embassy on a day-to-day basis is in a position to address with Russian counterparts, whether it’s consular issues, whether it’s the related issue of Americans who are unlawfully detained, whether it is any other bilateral issue in the relationship that is relevant and ripe for our embassies in our respective countries to address.
What our embassies don’t address are broader issues. That is not to say that our embassy in Moscow is seeking to engage in dialogue or diplomacy as it pertains to the war in Ukraine. We’ve made very clear that there is nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine, that ultimately questions about the conflict, the war, Russia’s war in Ukraine – those are up to the Ukrainians. But there are a number of important bilateral issues that make it important to have embassy platforms in Washington and in Moscow.
QUESTION: Can I ask you just about embassy footprints while we’re on the topic? Do you have an update for us as to just the number of diplomats, roughly, that are at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, what kind of protections they have, are there Marines there providing the traditional protections that they do at U.S. embassies around the world?
MR PRICE: So, whether it is in Kyiv, whether it is in any other foreign capital, we’re never in a position to provide specific staffing numbers. What I can tell you is that since we re-initiated operations out of our embassy in Kyiv, that number, of course, has increased. It’s now fair to say it’s in the dozens. And we, of course, always put the utmost priority on appropriate security resources. Those resources that are needed at posts around the world are determined by security professionals to complement the requirements of the host nation, as detailed in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
We can confirm there is a Marine Security Guard detachment in Kyiv, working with the Diplomatic Security Service to assist with embassy security duties consistent with those performed by Marines at embassies around the world.
QUESTION: And just when you say dozens, you mean dozens of diplomats. That doesn’t include the extended security footprint, right?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t go any further than that. I would say that there are dozens of American personnel there. Of course, it stands to reason that security, of course, is top of mind in a place like Kyiv, but I wouldn’t want to break it down.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on the talks in – the Ethiopia talks in South Africa?
MR PRICE: I’m really not in a position to provide much of an update today. What I can say is that Special Envoy Mike Hammer does remain in South Africa. We will allow the AU to speak to the current state of those discussions. They were ongoing today. We’ve stated this repeatedly, but we support the AU-led talks to try to advance peace in Ethiopia. The people of Ethiopia have suffered for far too long. It’s precisely why Mike Hammer continues to participate as an observer and will remain in Pretoria until the talks conclude. Beyond that, we’d refer you to the AU for any further updates.
QUESTION: Completely different topic.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Tokyo has begun issuing recognition of same-sex partnerships. I know that the deputy secretary was there recently. Is there any general comment that the U.S. has on this?
MR PRICE: Well, this is something that we welcome. We support marriage equality globally. We believe deeply that all human beings should be treated with respect and dignity, should be able to live without fear no matter who they are, no matter whom they love.
And as part of our work to combat violence and discrimination around the world, we advocate with partners around the world when it comes to marriage equality, civil unions, other forms of legal recognition of same-sex relationships in contexts where the local LGBTQI+ movement has identified this as a priority in their fight for their recognition of human rights. We always do this in partnership with civil society in any given country.
We take something of a Hippocratic oath. We certainly want to help promote and to advance human rights around the world. That includes the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals. At the same time, we seek to always uphold the principle that we should always do no harm.
QUESTION: Can I ask you on Syria a quick question?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Human Rights Watch has accused the Syrian Defense Forces – the Kurds, U.S. allies – of destroying homes of about 147 Syrians and so on back in January and February, and it is demanding that they pay for the repair. Do you have any comment on that? Are you aware of this?
MR PRICE: I am not aware of that report offhand. We’ll see if we can get you some additional context.
QUESTION: Shifting to the South Caucasus if possible. On Azerbaijan-Armenia there was no tangible progress yesterday in Sochi other than this glorified statement by presidents. Is it your impression, that both side are still interested in signing a peace contract by the end of the year? Is there any room for the United States to weigh in and to keep – help them keep this candle lighting, if may?
MR PRICE: So we, of course, were not a participant in this meeting. It is not for us to speak to. But to the latter part of your question, Secretary Blinken has emphasized this repeatedly, including when he brought the two foreign ministers together in New York. We are committed to Armenian-Azerbaijan peace and negotiations between the two countries. We believe direct dialogue is key to resolving issues and to reaching that lasting peace, and that lasting peace, by the way, that both countries have stated that they seek. So, we’ll continue to engage over the next months to facilitate discussions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, bilaterally, with partners, and through multilateral organizations as well.
QUESTION: Should we expect phone calls or meetings between the Secretary and the ministers, or —
MR PRICE: I think all of that is on the table. We will do what it is we deem most useful to bring about the cause of lasting peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on the grain deal – I’m sorry for going back to the very beginning of our conversation, but very basic question: There’ve been mixed signals coming from Russia during the past 24 hours in terms of whether they have stopped or frozen or paused their participation. Is there any coherent line of thought on that during your communication with your partners, whether it’s Turkey or others?
MR PRICE: Well, unfortunately, Alex, it doesn’t really matter. Russia has injected such uncertainty into this initiative, so much uncertainty to the point that today the UN had to announce that, as of tomorrow, there would be no ships moving through the Black Sea corridor. So, whether Moscow’s intention was to raise doubt, whether Moscow’s intention was to actually suspend its involvement in this grain deal, it’s an academic debate; it’s an academic question because the consequences are very real. And they are most real for the millions of people around the world who are living in dire need, who are in the midst of food insecurity – in some places a food emergency – and who now will be suffering because of the consequences that Moscow’s statements have wrought.
QUESTION: Yeah, just a few days ago, at the end of last week, the Senate health committee released a new report on the origins of COVID and the pandemic. They stated that they believe that it was most likely the pandemic came via an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. But notably, they said they couldn’t tell for sure; we may never know for sure because China is continually obstructing investigations into this question. We’ve now had this – in this case, a U.S. Government body, numerous NGOs, international bodies that have all said China’s preventing us from getting the answer to this question. So, are there going to be any consequences diplomatically at this point for China’s continued obstruction to this question, now that even U.S. senators are saying that they’re keeping us from getting to the bottom of this?
MR PRICE: Certainly. So, I think you’re referring to an article that cited – solely cited a report that was produced by the minority committee. The Intelligence Community in 2021, in August of 2021, released its own assessment. That assessment on COVID origins remains the U.S. Government’s most authoritative assessment to date. In short – and I don’t want to paraphrase too much Intelligence Community analysis, but they made the point that intelligence agencies assess two hypotheses as continuing to be plausible. That was a natural exposure or some sort of lab-associated incident. To the best of my knowledge, that is where the Intelligence Community remains on the question of COVID origins.
That report also noted that the IC and the global scientific community lacks clinical samples or a complete understanding of epidemiological data, from the earliest COVID-19 cases. It went on to say that if we were to obtain information on the earliest cases that identified a location of interest or occupational exposure, it may alter the evaluation of hypotheses. So, it is certainly true that cooperation from the PRC would help the world to understand the ultimate origins of COVID. This goes beyond the question of accountability. This goes to the very heart of how, as an international community, we can work together to prevent something like this from ever happening again. Only by fully understanding what happened in the case of the origins of COVID can we make sure that we are most effectively prepared to handle the next outbreak, epidemic, or – God forbid, pandemic.
So, certainly, we believe that global health is one of those areas where we do have intersecting interests with the PRC. Their cooperation in global health would be a boon not to the United States, but to the broader international community. It’s something we continue to seek.
QUESTION: Right, but it’s clear that they have no – at this point, not much intention of cooperating on that issue. So is there – I mean, we can all imagine, if there was suspicion that a global pandemic that killed millions of people originated in, let’s say, Cleveland, Ohio, that all of the U.S. adversaries and competitors – if the U.S. was obstructing investigation into what happened there, they would be pressuring and ratcheting up tensions to try to get the U.S. to cooperate. Is that not happening in this case?
MR PRICE: Well, the PRC, like countries around the world – but certainly the PRC given the restrictive measures, the so-called COVID zero approach that they’ve taken, they’re paying a steep cost. They are paying a steep price that has resulted from the COVID epidemic. It’s in everyone’s interest, it’s – including in the interest of the PRC, that they work with the international community, lend a degree of transparency to the international investigations into COVID origins so that neither they nor we nor any country around the world should have to pay this kind of steep cost again.
Yes. Did I see a hand? Sure.
QUESTION: Is it possible for the world to get together and pressure, in a kind of coordinated manner, Russia to break that blockade? And if so, what is the urgency or the timeline of something like that that would come together? And what’s the scope of the effort? I mean, it seems like it would be just a tremendous effort.
MR PRICE: Well, the world did come together – or much of the world did come together – in the weeks leading up to the UN’s ability to broker this agreement. We heard from dozens of countries around the world lending their support for this sort of initiative, the mechanics of which were ultimately worked out by the UN secretary-general, Turkey, Ukraine, and agreed to by Russia as well.
There will be an opportunity in the coming weeks for part of the world, a chunk of the world’s largest economies to come together: the G20. The world’s 20 largest economies will be gathered later this month now in Indonesia, in Bali. It was at a ministerial level meeting of the G20 in Bali, in August, where Foreign Minister Lavrov himself heard directly from most of his counterparts who were gathered in that room, heard a good deal of heat, a good deal of condemnation, ultimately causing him not to return for the afternoon session.
It was not too long after that that Russia ultimately agreed to the Black Sea Grain Initiative. So, we have the utmost confidence that, if this initiative is not restored, Russia will be feeling, once again, global opprobrium. They will be feeling international condemnation, and ultimately, that pressure, we hope, will be effective in helping to reverse this very regrettable decision.
QUESTION: Do you think Secretary Blinken – does he plan to bring this up at the G7 ministers meeting?
MR PRICE: I have no doubt that food security will be high on the agenda at the G7 foreign ministers meeting. There is at least one session where food security will be a prominent topic of discussion. So yes, you will hear from not only him, but I would imagine several other of the ministers as well.
QUESTION: Just to follow-up on that, is there anything that – obviously one of the concerns Russia – Russia has said is the reasoning for doing this is their concerns over fertilizers and the impact of sanctions. Obviously, you would say these are unintended consequences or would challenge the existence of any sanctions that are impacting the fertilizers. But it seems to be the case that there is – there are some impacts on the fertilizers exports done by the international – well, U.S.-led sanctions regime against Russia. So, is there – as well as, as you were talking about, international pressure on the Russians to come back into the deal – is there anything that you could do – are you willing to take any action that might help the Russians to see their way back into the – to this deal?
MR PRICE: So, Simon, we’ve heard any number of pretexts that the Russians will point to when they call into question the viability of this initiative or, as they have done most recently, suspend the ability of this initiative to move forward. Over the weekend, it was the ridiculous pretext that an attack against a Russian vessel originated from a ship carrying wheat. That, of course, was entirely false. We’ve heard these arguments before about Russia’s stated inability to export food or fertilizer, be it ammonia or any other product.
We have sought to be very, very clear about this. Our commitment to getting food and fertilizer to world markets – there is no ambiguity there. We have always excluded Russian food and fertilizer from our sanctions. We’ve taken extra measures to clarify our rules for traders, and to help Global South countries navigate the rules if they choose to purchase food from Russia.
Over the summer, in July, Treasury issued a revised general license, General License 6B, along with a specific fact sheet that made clear the exemptions, the humanitarian exceptions, for food and fertilizer. We shared these documents with our posts worldwide. We asked posts to convey these messages to the host government and to the private sector as well. We have provided other public information detailing our approach to protecting food security in the context of Russia’s war. Much of that is available on the Treasury Department’s website.
There’s been a press release, a fact sheet, a frequently asked questions document. Here at the State Department, we’ve also set up something we call a help desk. It’s a help desk for inquiries related to sanctions and food security, and anyone, whether it’s private sector or any other relevant entity, can access it via email. We’ve also engaged banks, chambers of commerce, governments to clarify our sanctions as they relate to food security. We’ve sent delegations to countries like Egypt and Senegal to engage in detail on these issues.
And I think beyond what you hear from us, the latest data actually prove the point – Russia’s exports of wheat and fertilizer appear to be entirely in line with its pattern since 2012. So, despite Moscow’s statements, we’re not actually seeing any disruption in Russia’s ability to send food to market. Unfortunately, what Russia seems to be doing is to be disrupting – and now is disrupting – the ability of this food to go to market from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. Russia and Ukraine together are the world’s breadbasket. If you remove Ukraine from the equation, the simple fact is that prices will rise and, unfortunately, people will suffer and die.
Let me take one more question. Yes, you haven’t asked a question.
QUESTION: Thank you. Do you think different countries, including United States, haven’t spoken very early about the fair and clear elections in Brazil, in your opinion? How important this international support is in order to avoid a potential contestation of a fair election, given the fact that the president is taking such a long time to accept his defeat?
MR PRICE: Well, I understand that President Bolsonaro will speak today. So, of course, we’ll let the president speak for himself. But the fact is that it was very clear – owing in large part to Brazil’s voting system, where results are available almost immediately after polls close – that countries around the world, in the region, in this hemisphere, and halfway around the world were able to send notes of congratulations and statements of congratulations to President-elect Lula after the results were certified, after it was made very clear by Brazil’s election authorities that there were no irregularities, that it was conducted in accordance with Brazil’s constitution, without any disruptions or anomalies. That is the signal that the United States waits for, when it comes to issuing messages of congratulations in the aftermath of any election.
It was a message that emanated early from Brasilia – again, because of the technology and the systems that are in place in Brazil. Many countries apparently adopt a similar benchmark for issuing their own messages. I think countries around the world recognized this election as Brazil and the Brazilian people once again demonstrating the vitality, the viability of their democracy, that in many ways is a model for the hemisphere.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:09 p.m.)
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