Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
1:58 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Good to see everyone; it’s been a very long time. Welcome to our 1:45 p.m. briefing. I know it may feel like a 2:00 briefing, but this is in fact a 1:45 briefing. We have a couple things at the top, and we are starting a little bit earlier today because Secretary Blinken does have a press availability with our Australian allies, along with Secretary Austin.
The law is another serious blow to freedom of expression in Russia, and a continuation of the Kremlin’s broader, long-running crackdown against marginalized persons, dissenting voices, civil society and independent media that it has intensified, as it has failed to achieve its objectives in its unconscionable war against Ukraine.
The law pushes LGBTQI+ persons further to the margins of Russian society, fueling and amplifying the prejudice, discrimination, violence and stigma they face. The legislation is a clear attempt by the Kremlin to distract from its own failures by scapegoating vulnerable communities and creating phantom enemies.
We stand in solidarity with LGBTQI+ persons in Russia and around the world who seek to exercise the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes that all human beings are free and equal in dignity and rights.
And next and finally, yesterday, we announced the appointment of Kelly M. Fay Rodriguez as the department’s Special Representative for International Labor Affairs. This administration reflects the administration’s commitment to empowering workers and to promoting the essential role labor plays in building economies, sustaining democracy, and protecting human rights around the world. Ms. Fay Rodriguez will lead the Department’s global engagement to advance internationally recognized labor rights to leverage foreign policy tools for the benefit of American workers.
Prior to joining the department, Ms. Fay Rodriguez served as Trade and Labor Oversight Counsel for the U.S. House of Representative’s Ways and Means Committee, and also held positions at the AFL-CIO and the Solidarity Center. Secretary Blinken and the entire department welcome Ms. Fay Rodriguez to her new role.
With that, happy to take questions.
QUESTION: Thanks. I apologize for being a little late, so I’ll – because of that, I’ll defer —
MR PRICE: How courteous.
QUESTION: — to my colleagues.
MR PRICE: Humeyra.
QUESTION: Hi, Ned, so I want to ask you about some of the strikes in recent days targeting Russian air fields, basically penetrating hundreds of kilometers deep into Russian air space. What is the U.S. view on these strikes? I’m asking because the U.S. obviously provides a lot of weapon systems to Ukraine, and these were apparently drones, Soviet-made drones – but would Washington be comfortable with Ukraine using any of the weapons that it provided to hit targets well inside Russian territory?
MR PRICE: Humeyra, a couple of things. First, I am not aware that anyone has officially claimed responsibility for the explosions that have taken place inside of Russia apparently over recent days. So, I can’t speak to what you’re pointing to specifically, but I’ll make a couple broader points. Since and even before the start of Russia’s illegal, brazen invasion of Ukraine on February 24th of this year, the United States has provided our Ukrainian partners with precisely what they need to defend themselves, to defend their sovereignty, to defend their independence, to defend their territorial integrity. And the nature of that defensive security assistance has evolved over time.
In the earliest days, it was to help Ukraine fortify itself for the forthcoming and then the – what was at the time – the present battle of Kyiv, as Russia’s brutal invasion went on and the nature and the location of the battle changed, we provided and we are providing Ukraine with precisely what it needs to take on that battle, to defend against Russian aggression in the east, in the north, in the Donbas – precisely where the battle has been more recently. Using this security assistance, the Ukrainians have demonstrated their effectiveness, they have demonstrated their grit, their determination to wrest back the territory that Russia has illegally seized from Ukrainian authorities. We are providing Ukraine with precisely what it needs to achieve those goals.
QUESTION: But what about inside Russian territory?
MR PRICE: We have not provided Ukraine with weapons that it is to use inside of Russia. We have been very clear that these are defensive supplies. We are – the President said very clearly sometime ago, we are not enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders. We are not encouraging Ukraine to strike beyond its borders. Everything we are doing, everything the world is doing to support Ukraine is in support of Ukraine’s independence, its sovereignty, its territorial integrity.
QUESTION: Can I just – so you said not encouraging Ukraine to strike beyond its borders. Do you oppose Ukraine striking beyond its borders?
MR PRICE: We are providing Ukraine with what it needs to use on its sovereign territory, on Ukrainian soil, to take on Russian aggressors – Russian aggressors that have crossed over the border, that have attempted to, in some cases, illegally annex territory, that in some cases – where in some cases Russian forces are illegally occupying Ukrainian territory. We are providing our Ukrainian partners with what they need to take on that very threat.
QUESTION: Ned, I’m sure you have seen the media reports that U.S. modified HIMARS before providing them to Ukraine to prevent them from using long-range attacks. Is that the case?
MR PRICE: I’m just not in a position to speak to that. I would refer you to the Department of Defense, if they can offer any more details. But, again, the broader point is that we are providing our Ukrainian partners with precisely what they need to take on the threat that they are facing on their sovereign territory, on their sovereign, independent, Ukrainian soil. And the Ukrainians time and again from February 24th until even recent hours have demonstrated their effectiveness, have demonstrated their determination to use this security assistance to good effect. And we’re seeing the results of that every single day.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. And to follow up on the Secretary’s statement early this morning on “phony off-ramp,” while we appreciate the point, but timing of it is also very interesting because the latest off-ramp – off-ramper comes to our mind is President Macron. I don’t know – how do you view President Macron’s point on that, which, according to Ukrainians sort of justifies Russian attack in the first place. They were talking about sort of security guarantee. And also, is that how you view a quote/unquote, “frozen conflict” moving forward? Thank you.
MR PRICE: So, the Secretary had an opportunity to discuss an aspect of this last night. And the point the Secretary made last night is one that you’ve heard from him, you’ve heard from other leaders, foreign leaders as well, in recent days. Essentially, we want peace. The Ukrainians want peace. The transatlantic community wants peace. What we don’t want is a pause. Because if we have a pause instead of peace, we know that President Putin will use that pause to retool, to refit, to regroup, and to – in all likelihood, go back into Ukraine with renewed vengeance. And that is not in the interests of a just peace. It is certainly not in the interests of a durable peace.
When it comes to this idea of a just peace, we have heard very clearly President Zelenskyy outline his vision for a just peace. He did so in some detail during the G20. He appeared by video conference, spoke to the other parties of the G20, and went into some detail. We believe in this idea of a just peace. President Macron, for his part, was of course in Washington just last week for the state visit; and we heard very clearly President Macron, standing right next to President Biden at the White House, also embrace the idea of a just peace.
We are, as are the Ukrainians, committed to doing everything we can to support Ukraine as it attempts to end this aggression. But if this aggression is going to be ended in a way that is durable, it has to be just. And in order for it to be just, it in some ways also has to be durable.
So, we’re looking at all of this, but as we do, we’re seeing very clearly that even as President Zelenskyy outlines his vision for a just peace, we’re seeing this split-screen phenomenon. We are seeing missiles, bombs, mortars, shells – continue to rain down on Ukraine. And in fact, what was especially jarring is what we saw during the G20. Almost simultaneously to President Zelenskyy’s address to the countries of the G20, we saw renewed and especially horrific Russian attacks once again targeting energy infrastructure, what are essentially civilian targets.
The Russian – the ongoing Russian effort, an effort that has been ongoing since October: to turn off the lights, to shut off the water, to weaponize winter, as we’ve heard from our European allies, to essentially starve Ukrainians into submission; that is why when president – excuse me, when Secretary Blinken was in Bucharest last week at NATO, we spoke of our emphasis now – our concurrent emphasis – not only on the security assistance we’ve already talked about, but on the contributions that we are making to Ukraine’s electricity grid. He announced more than $53 million in what is essentially immediate relief for Ukraine’s electricity grid – transformers, circuit breakers, vehicles, and other critical equipment – through both DOE and USAID stocks.
And putting all of this together, we have two primary criteria in mind. One is what the Ukrainians need, and we heard directly from Foreign Minister Kuleba in Bucharest, last week – the G7+ did – regarding what those needs are; and two, what we’re able to get to Ukraine not next year, not next month, although those two terms may be synonymous this month, but what we can get there within days. And that equipment is very much on the way. So that’s our focus now.
QUESTION: There was a video of President Putin driving a Mercedes across the bridge connecting to Crimea. That bridge is very important to him; Crimea is very dear to him. Does the U.S. think that that – a peace would be more elusive if the – if Ukraine starts to edge towards – or beyond, sorry, the February 24th boundaries and towards Crimea? Is there any kind of pause for thought there about whether that is something that’s pushing it too far in terms of Putin’s reaction?
MR PRICE: Well, in terms of President Putin’s field trips, not going to comment on those beyond making the point that it’s clear he is not able to achieve a victory on the battlefield. And in its place, he is looking for a victory in the messaging space when it comes to propaganda. That’s clearly what that was, nothing more.
Your question regarding the ultimate goals of Ukraine’s efforts to retake its territory – you’ve heard this from us before; you’ve heard this from us consistently. It is ultimately going to be up to the Ukrainians to decide what their objectives are. Now, right now the battle that is being waged is in the south, it’s in the east, it’s been in the Donbas. That is what Secretary Blinken referred to last night. We are providing Ukraine with what it needs to take on the battle, where it is right now. But ultimately, questions of Ukraine’s determination to retake territory that has been captured since February 24th – or even prior to February 24th, if you go back to 2014 – those are questions for the Ukrainian Government, as the democratically elected representative of the Ukrainian people.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, could you just clarify Secretary Blinken’s comments last night? I mean, he said, among other things, that the focus of the U.S. is to help Ukraine take back territory that’s been seized from it since February 24. Kind of just to follow up kind of on the —
MR PRICE: Precisely what I – precisely what I just outlined to Camilla. He was – he was making the point that we are at every step – we have provided Ukraine with precisely what it needs to take on the battle that it is facing in that very moment. In this moment, the battle right now is in the south, it’s in the east, and we are – and in territory that Russia that has attempted to illegally seize or control since February 24th. He was responding to a question about the contours of the battlefield right now. Ultimately, the contours of that battlefield going forward, that’s going to be a question for the Ukrainian Government.
QUESTION: So, it’s not that the U.S. is (inaudible) in terms of Crimea or other parts of the Donbas the ultimate goal? I mean, you guys – would you help Ukraine if that’s what they wanted, to recapture those lands? Is the U.S. willing to —
MR PRICE: We are going to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes – as long as it takes for Ukraine to regain its sovereignty, its independence, its territorial integrity. But the exact dynamics of that, that’s going to be up to the Ukrainian people.
QUESTION: Sorry, Ned, before we leave this subject – but I mean, you talked about his drive over this bridge as a field trip, right? But it’s not really – it wasn’t really a field trip. I mean, do you – do you really – is that really the view of the administration, that this was some kind of lark?
MR PRICE: I wasn’t promulgating official policy by calling it a field trip. I was —
QUESTION: Because presumably you think that he would still need a passport to get into Crimea, correct? Right?
MR PRICE: Matt, my point was – and maybe you are missing the forest for the trees, which —
QUESTION: Maybe. I just – you’re the one who, like, said it was a field trip, and it’s not for you to comment on President Putin’s field trip.
MR PRICE: I —
QUESTION: What other trips, travels —
MR PRICE: Matt, I have – I have been on high school trips where – field trips where passports have been required, so I’m not sure that this line of questioning is all that productive. But —
QUESTION: Well, no, I’m just wondering. I mean, do you really think that it’s something that is so beneath your notice? I mean, it seemed like a pretty significant thing. This is a bridge that was damaged not so long ago, and he’s gone over it to restate – re-stake the Russian claim on Crimea. So —
MR PRICE: My point was that there is not a whole lot of substance there. This clearly was a messaging tactic, a propaganda tactic, and one that —
MR PRICE: — probably didn’t convey much deeper substance.
QUESTION: All right. So – and then the other thing – well, yes, when you went on high school field trips – you’re from Texas, right? So going from Texas to Mexico is —
MR PRICE: Nearby options.
QUESTION: — not exactly the same as going from Moscow to Sevastopol or wherever.
But anyway, related, do you have any comment on the closure by Latvian authorities of TV Rain, a television outlet that the Secretary and other senior U.S. officials have done interviews with since the beginning of the year?
MR PRICE: So, when it comes to our NATO Ally Latvia, Latvia has demonstrated impressive leadership in supporting Ukraine and strengthening European security as a member of the NATO Alliance. Latvia, for its part, is also hosting a number of exiled Russian journalists who are working from Latvian soil to provide Russian audiences with what they would otherwise lack; and that is truthful, independent information about the toll, the scale, the scope of Russia’s brutality inside Ukraine.
We think it’s important that Russian audiences inside Russia have access to this type of information broadly. When it comes to the matter between the Latvian Government and Dozhd, I would refer you to the Government of Latvia to – for more information on their action.
QUESTION: Well, but you just said you thought that Russian audiences inside Russia deserve access to this – the kind of information that this channel has put out. But you have no opinion on whether or not – or on the Latvian authorities’ decision to close it?
MR PRICE: I would have to refer you to the Government of Latvia to explain the basis for the action that they have taken. We are in dialogue with the Government of Latvia. We’re in dialogue with Dozhd, with TV Rain, as well. As you note, several senior officials, including in this building, including myself, have gone on TV Rain. We believe as a general matter that the people – the Russian people inside of Russia do deserve, do need access to independent media, but when it comes to a matter – this matter between TV Rain, Dozhd, and the Government of Latvia, I would need to refer you to the Government of Latvia.
QUESTION: Well, when you say you’re in dialogue with the Government of Latvia, about this decision and potentially reversing it?
MR PRICE: Again, we are I think —
QUESTION: It’s not unheard of for the U.S. Government to take issue with media regulations that have been propagated by NATO Allies.
MR PRICE: Before – understood.
QUESTION: I remember very well, Poland —
MR PRICE: Understood. And before – typically, as a general matter, in terms of sequence, before we lobby a government to overturn a decision, it’s incumbent on us to understand fully the basis of that decision, the nature of that decision. So, of course, we have a close relationship with our ally Latvia, and we’re engaging with them directly.
QUESTION: So, you’re not at that point yet; is that what you’re saying?
MR PRICE: No. That’s right.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Anything else on Russia-Ukraine, before I move on? Yes.
QUESTION: Yeah. Just on that earlier exchange, one more follow-up. Do I understand clearly? Are you saying that the U.S. draws no distinction between post-February 24th territory and pre-February 24th territory? In other words, the only boundaries that matter are the ones from – I guess it would be February 2014?
MR PRICE: The distinction we draw with all of these questions is that it’s a question for the Ukrainian Government. It’s not a question for the U.S. Government. The point I was making before is that we are tailoring the security assistance that we are providing at any particular moment on the timeline to the battle that our Ukrainian partners are facing at that particular moment.
So right now, over the past several months, as Ukraine has won the battle of Kyiv, as Ukraine has wrested back territory that the Russians had illegally taken from them, the battle has been in the south, it’s been in the east, it’s been in the Donbas. We are providing our Ukrainian partners with what they need to seize back that territory.
QUESTION: And one more on Ukraine. You talked about essentially equipment and hardware to help restore the infrastructure and the electricity. But looking at the humanitarian problem a little more broadly, as we’re going into the cold winter, are you anticipating, as some aid groups are, a big spike in refugee flows? And do you think that there’s sufficient humanitarian aid and infrastructure to support that right now? If not, what are the plans?
MR PRICE: We’re, of course, concerned about that possibility. And we’re concerned about that possibility because the Russians seem to be taking concerted aim at the Ukrainian people – going after the type of infrastructure that is indispensable for their survival, especially during winter. So, we are doing everything we can to mitigate the potential impacts of this brutal, this barbaric assault on Ukrainian infrastructure, this effort to weaponize winter; this effort to freeze, to starve, to dehydrate the Ukrainian people into submission.
We’re confident that effort won’t work because of what we are doing, and we’ve spoken to the steps that we’ve announced in recent days, including the more than $53 million that Secretary Blinken announced in Bucharest. But, perhaps even more importantly, we are setting up a process with our allies and partners that is not dissimilar from the Ramstein process that our colleagues at the Department of Defense have been running in terms of security assistance.
Our goal – and we saw another meeting of this last week in Bucharest – is to regularly convene allies and partners both from Europe and more broadly from around the world to come together to provide Ukraine not only with security assistance, which is what the original Ramstein process is doing, but with the type of assistance Ukraine needs with its energy, with its energy infrastructure, with its electricity grid; what it needs to keep the lights on, what it needs to keep the water running, to keep its people warm, to keep its people alive over the cold winter months.
Foreign Minister Kuleba, as I mentioned before, gave a fairly detailed presentation to members of the G7+ to begin to outline those initial needs. We are going to continue with an iterative conversation with the Ukrainians, which will in turn inform the decisions that this grouping of countries will make in terms of what they’re able and what they have available to provide to the Ukrainians.
Anything else on Russia-Ukraine? All right.
MR PRICE: Said. NATO?
MR PRICE: I’ll take a NATO. Sure.
QUESTION: Today Finland, as you know, celebrates 105 years of its independence. And one of the things that they have on the agenda is to join NATO. The U.S. is making efforts, I think, along with other countries to support that application, along with Sweden as well. Is there any update on that?
MR PRICE: We are, indeed, making efforts. In fact, we have made efforts – not only the Executive Branch but now our colleagues in the Legislative Branch some number of weeks ago have done what the United States is required to do to see Finland and Sweden join the NATO Alliance, the strongest defensive alliance in history. We are continuing to have conversations, but more importantly the Fins, the Swedes, Secretary General Stoltenberg – they are having conversations with their Turkish counterparts, as Turkey continues to be in conversation with Finland, with Sweden on elements of the tripartite memorandum that those countries signed in June – in Madrid this past year, regarding the accession of Finland and Sweden into NATO.
We remain confident that Finland and Sweden will before long be NATO members, be the 31st and the 32nd members of NATO. We’re, of course, supporting their candidacy and supporting their accession process in every which way we can. And I suspect you’ll hear more about this when Finland and Sweden will be here at the department on Thursday.
Let me go back to Said, and then I’ll move on.
QUESTION: Thank you. Moving on to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But first I want to congratulate (inaudible) and the Moroccan team for a well-deserved win, the first Arab country to ever make it this far.
MR PRICE: Absolutely.
QUESTION: So with that, I want to ask you about an editorial, actually, in Haaretz, and it said – under the title of “Minister of Occupation,” and it talks about Bezalel Smotrich becoming really responsible for the lives and the daily lives of Palestinians under occupation. Does that concern you in any way if he ever assumes that position, which he is likely to?
MR PRICE: Said, I imagine you saw the remarks, the address that Secretary Blinken delivered on Sunday before the J Street audience. He spoke about this in some level of detail. First, this government formation process is ongoing. The coalition government is not fully formed, nor is it in place, so it’s premature for us to weigh in on the specifics, but there are several broader points that the Secretary made in those remarks. We will gauge, as he said, the government by the policies it pursues rather than individual personalities. This is a point we have made around the world when it comes to democratic elections. We judge people not on how they campaign, but on how they govern. And, of course, this government is not yet fully formed. It’s not yet in place.
Our relationship with Israel is rock-solid; it is multifaceted; it is based, of course, on interest. But it has always – it has also always been predicated on values. This has been true since 1948. Look at the very identity of Israel and the reason for its creation in the aftermath of World War II. We’ll continue to pursue those deepest values, the values that have always, in some form or fashion, undergirded our partnership with Israel – democracy, freedom, human rights, rule of law, equality; the idea that all people, regardless of who they are, should have the opportunity to reach their full potential. That’s precisely what the Secretary said at J Street.
We’ve also heard the words from Benjamin Netanyahu, who, by just about all accounts, will before too long be the next prime minister in Israel. We took note of his commitment to form a government that will work for the benefit of all residents of Israel. We certainly welcome that, and we expect the new government to continue to work with us to advance the shared values that have always been at the heart of our relationship.
QUESTION: So, it wouldn’t bother you at all if, let’s say, Ben-Gvir and Smotrich actually do assume these positions, despite the fact that most of active American Jewish organizations and so on have really counseled against such a thing, that that would be okay with you? I mean, what we have seen in the past couple weeks is really an uptick of Israeli aggression against the Palestinians. We see war crimes being committed on – in front of everybody. So that would not bother the United States of America, despite the fact that these guys have such a long rap sheet?
MR PRICE: Said, whether it – whether the question is government formation or any other hypothetical, we just don’t entertain those types of questions. It doesn’t do us any good to comment on something that may or may not come to pass. When it comes to governments that haven’t been formed, I’ve been asked this question from this podium for any number of democratic countries around the world – how, whether, will we work with various individuals around the world – and our answer’s always the same. We are going to judge a government on how it governs, once it is in place – on the policies that it pursues.
QUESTION: And you believe that the Israeli Government has been governing fairly to fulfill the statement that you say, that the Secretary said the other day, that they want equal opportunities for Palestinians and Israelis? Do you feel that the Israeli Government has thus far done so?
MR PRICE: I would point you what the Secretary said. It is certainly the case that the Palestinian people don’t feel that they have equal measures of democracy, of security, of freedom, of dignity. That is undeniable. There are any number of challenges, and the Secretary gave a 22-minute set of remarks on Sunday. He barely – was able to barely scratch the surface of where we are in terms of a two-state solution, so I won’t even attempt to go into it here. But beyond saying that there are a number of challenges, these are challenges that we seek to address, in partnership with Israel, with whichever government sits in Jerusalem. These are challenges that we seek to address with the Palestinian people, with the Palestinian Authority.
QUESTION: And lastly, I just want your comment on two incidents. One, as the whole world saw, an Israeli policeman shoots at point blank an unarmed Palestinian, and the second, that the Israeli army barred a rights group from entering Hebron. I wonder if you would comment on that.
MR PRICE: Well, with both of these, we are deeply concerned by the intensifying violence that we’ve seen in recent weeks in the West Bank. We re-emphasize the need for all parties to do everything in their power to de-escalate the situation. We believe that it’s vital that the parties themselves take urgent action to prevent the even greater loss of life within the West Bank, within Israel more broadly.
The recent period has seen a sharp and alarming increase in Palestinian and Israeli deaths and injuries, including those of numerous children. We continue to emphasize to both parties, to Israelis and to Palestinians – and we continue to emphasize to both of them again the point that is at the crux of our policy that Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve to enjoy equal measures of safety, of security, of freedom, and of dignity as well.
QUESTION: Since we’re on this broader topic, do you have any comment on Al Jazeera taking the killing of Shireen Abu Alkeh or presenting it to the International Criminal Court?
MR PRICE: So, Matt, our position on this has been consistent in a couple respects. First, when it comes to the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, we have expressed both in person, we’ve expressed publicly, our deepest condolences to her family in the aftermath of her killing. She was a U.S. citizen. She was an intrepid reporter. Her journalism was known to audiences around the world. She was known to people in this building and to our officials in the region as well.
We’ve had a number of conversations with her family, with other stakeholders as well. We’ve also spoken at some length, regarding the circumstances of her killing. Of course, you know we’ve issued a statement on this in July.
When it comes to the ICC, we maintain our longstanding objections to the ICC’s investigation into the Palestinian situation and the – and the position the ICC should focus on its core mission, and that core mission of serving as a court of last resort in punishing and deterring atrocity crimes.
QUESTION: Okay. So. have you made any representations to the court? I notice that your war crimes envoy was there or at least made some comments talking about how you want to get back in or enhance the rather strained relationship that the U.S. has had with the ICC. Have you made – have you made this point to them, or have you made this point to Al Jazeera that you think that it’s inappropriate for them to take it to this forum?
MR PRICE: So, my understanding, Matt, is that this was a proposal that was floated with only – in recent hours, only today, by Al Jazeera. So, I don’t know that it has been a topic of discussion. I don’t know that it would be a topic of discussion unless we had representations from the ICC that they were going to take an opinion one way or another on this.
QUESTION: Well, she was an American citizen.
MR PRICE: Of course.
QUESTION: So, you have – there is – it’s not like you have no interest in it at all.
MR PRICE: Of course.
QUESTION: But you oppose it?
MR PRICE: We oppose it, in this case, for the reasons that we’ve consistently stated.
QUESTION: Ned, a follow-up?
QUESTION: And then two things that you mentioned. When you said that it’s undeniable that the Palestinians don’t feel that they have equal justice or opportunity, is it undeniable to you that that is the case, or is it only undeniable to you that they feel that way?
MR PRICE: It is undeniable that that is the case.
QUESTION: That that is the case, okay. And so, then when you said earlier, prior to that when you said that Prime Minister-designate Netanyahu ran on a campaign that said that his government would benefit – would work to the benefit of all residents of Israel, are you including Palestinian residents of the occupied West Bank as residents of Israel?
MR PRICE: This was a statement from Benjamin Netanyahu. It wasn’t a statement that I came up with, so we’d need – you’d need to direct that question to Benjamin Netanyahu as to what he meant by that. But all citizens of Israel should be treated with equality under the law. Their human rights should be protected. Their —
QUESTION: Well, that’s different than what you said. You said residents before. Now you’re saying citizens of Israel. So, do you – do you regard Palestinian residents of the West Bank to be Israeli citizens?
MR PRICE: So, this is a —
QUESTION: They don’t. So, do you?
MR PRICE: This is a question for Israel regarding how it recognizes or does not —
QUESTION: Well, yeah, except that you started the entire thing when – when you were asked about the appointment of right-wing figures, potential appointment of right-wing figures to the incoming government, you said, “We judge people not on how they campaign, but how they govern.” And then you went and said that Prime Minister-designate Netanyahu campaigned on the idea that his government would work for the benefit of all residents of Israel.
MR PRICE: That was a quote. That was a direct quote.
QUESTION: Well, okay, fine. But the problem with it is, is that you’re – by repeating it, you’re accepting that that is the idea. And which is fine, but it doesn’t —
MR PRICE: No, Matt. But Matt —
QUESTION: It’s fine, but I just want to know —
MR PRICE: But when you’re also – you’re also putting words in mouth. I said we welcome the statement from Benjamin Netanyahu —
QUESTION: But that’s not the campaign, not how he governed or how he is going to govern in the future, right?
MR PRICE: That’s correct.
QUESTION: Okay. So, then that brings me back to the question of when you refer to or when he refers to all residents of Israel, which is the quote that you used, do you believe that that includes Palestinians who are resident in the West Bank?
MR PRICE: We believe that all people in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza should have their rights respected, and should have available to them what we’ve said is at the core of our policy: equal measures of security, of prosperity, of democracy, and of dignity.
QUESTION: And you don’t have any reason to believe that Prime Minister-designate – incoming Prime Minister-designate Netanyahu’s government will do anything that will hurt the opportunity for everyone to have equal measures of justice? Is that —
MR PRICE: I would go back precisely to what I said to Said. We are not going to pre-judge. We will make those conclusions based on how the incoming government actually governs.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on one point there? You said that it’s the position of the U.S. that the ICC should be a court of last resort. Is it the view of the United States that all – the entire process has been exhausted in Israel, that Israel has done all it can to investigate this and to take corrective actions potentially?
MR PRICE: We have said consistently that this needs to be investigated and that, ultimately. it needs to culminate in accountability. We continue to have conversations with our Israeli counterparts about the importance of accountability in this case, and those are ongoing.
QUESTION: Right. But I’m just wondering one thing. So, the Israelis have ruled out doing further investigations on this. They’ve carried out one, and they’re sticking to this. You don’t seem to think ICC is the right place. So where does that leave your own comment about, like, there’s got to be accountability —
MR PRICE: When we’ve spoken – when we’ve spoken of accountability in this context for a variety of reasons, for a variety of reasons that we spoke to in July and more recently, we have talked about procedures, processes that the IDF, as a professional military outfit, would be able to institute on its own – whether it is in terms of rules of engagement, whether it’s in terms of broader protections for noncombatants and civilian life.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. On Bangladesh: as many times you are urging Bangladesh authority for freedom of press, freedom of association, and I am asking question on Bangladesh and very recently I faced the DSA on – the government filed cases against me under the Digital Security Acts act, as I asked that question in this briefing room.
But on Bangladesh, but I – I’ll not leave from the – my free journalism; I’ll keep continue. But – on Bangladesh, the current authority is very much attacking on freedom of assembly and freedom of association, as main opposition’s schedule for their grand rally on December 10. And just ahead of this, at least 3,850 opposition leaders, workers, and their family members have been arrested by the people – by the police, by the government. So, what is your comment on that, and how you are observing as very recently SES senior officials visited Bangladesh, so —
MR PRICE: Well, let me start where you started because I think it’s important. We’re of course aware that you and some of your colleagues – Pinaki Bhattacharya, Mofizur Rahman – have been charged under the so-called DSA, the Digital Security Act. We have made our concerns about the DSA very clear. We’ve done so in our Human Rights Report. We have had frank and candid conversations with our Bangladeshi partners as well. Freedom of expression should never be criminalized. It should never be a source or a subject of duress or intimidation. Likewise, to the second part of your question, we’re concerned about reports of intimidation and political violence in Bangladesh. We call on the government to respect and to protect the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.
We’re also concerned about reports of police harassment, arrests of opposition party members, and restrictions on the ability of the opposition parties to meet and to hold peaceful rallies. We call on all parties in Bangladesh to respect the rule of law and to refrain from violence, from harassment, from intimidation as well. We call on the Government of Bangladesh to ensure that no party or candidate threatens, incites, or conducts violence against another party or candidate. Genuine elections require the ability of all candidates to engage voters free from violence, harassment, intimidation; and we encourage the government authorities to investigate these reports of violence thoroughly, transparently, and impartially, and to hold the perpetrators to account.
Yeah, Janne. Sorry, I’ve been neglecting you.
QUESTION: Thank you. Yeah, two questions on North Korea and China. At the Reagan National Defense Forum, last weekend, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said that regarding North Korea’s recent, unprecedent number of missile launches, it is because North Korea believes that China will not hold North Korea accountable. What do you think China should do to hold the North Korea accountable for its illegal activities? And I have a follow-up, second question.
MR PRICE: Well, without being prescriptive about what might come next, we think it is important that all UN member states, especially important that all members of the UN Security Council, and especially important that all permanent members of the UN Security Council enforce the resolutions that the UN Security Council itself has passed. There is only one reason why a UN Security Council resolution could come into existence, and that is because it would pass unanimously on the part of the permanent five members of the Security Council. A unanimous resolution would have required the PRC and Russia, among the five permanent members, to vote in favor of that resolution.
We think it is incumbent – and in fact it is required under international law – for countries to fulfil their obligations that come into force with a UN Security Council resolution. So, you can go through the litany of resolutions that have been put forward in the aftermath of the DPRK’s provocations over the course of years and years now, and determine for yourself what it is that Russia and the PRC should be doing, and in many cases what it is that they are not doing.
The DPRK’s nuclear weapons program and its ballistic missile program, it is a threat to the entire region. It is not just a threat to the United States, to the United States and our treaty allies. It poses a destabilizing threat to the entire region. And that is why not only the region but countries around the world should come together, hold the DPRK to account, to push back on its provocations, but also to ensure that the global nonproliferation norm isn’t further eroded by countries like the DPRK that consistently flaunt UN Security Council resolutions that have been unanimously passed by the permanent five.
QUESTION: Second question now. China has police stations all over the world, known for over a hundred places. In fact, it was reported that this was a disguised location for espionage. How many are there in the United States and do you have any information on this?
MR PRICE: Well, we’re aware of these reports. Of course, for any questions regarding U.S. law enforcement actions we’d have to refer you to the Department of Justice and the FBI. But more broadly, because this isn’t just a phenomenon in the United States, it’s something that we’ve taken note of around the world, we continue to be concerned about PRC transnational repression. We take this issue very seriously.
It’s important to note that, even though you are referring to these so-called unofficial police stations, the underlying issues that these reports have surfaced are not at all new. The report describes part of the PRC’s transnational repression efforts where PRC officials reach out outside their borders to harass, to surveil, to threaten individuals around the world, including in the United States, to silence those critical of its government.
This is a phenomenon that unfortunately is not unique to the PRC. It’s something that we’ve called out on the part of other governments around the world, and we’ll work to counter it, regardless of where it’s coming from.
QUESTION: Thank you. This is about religious freedom in South Asia. This is the third year in a row that U.S. commission on religious freedom and other organizations asking, requesting, and demanding U.S. State Department include India into CPC countries. And it’s just not only about torturing or killing of Muslims, Christians, others. It’s also about BJP-led government and Citizenship Act which provides fast-track citizenship to only non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh.
Secretary Blinken spoke about it. Ambassador Rashad Hussain spoke about it, and expressed their concerns. So, what really is the reason to not include India into CPC countries?
MR PRICE: Well, we released the religious freedom designations on Friday. These designations are based on the totality of circumstances, on the totality of reporting that we have been able to gather over the past year, not only that we’ve been able to gather ourselves but information that’s been assimilated that’s been provided and drafted by others as well.
When it comes to India, India of course is the world’s largest democracy. It’s home to a great diversity of faiths. Our Annual Report on International Religions Freedom outlines some of the concerns we’ve taken note of when it comes to India, and we continue to carefully monitor the religious freedom situation in all countries and that includes in India. We have encouraged, we will continue to encourage, the Indian Government to uphold its commitments to protect religious freedom for all, and we engage officials regularly on steps they can take to advance religious freedom.
As the world’s two largest democracies, the United States and India, we’re also committed to an enduring project. This is the project that Secretary Blinken spoke to previously, the project that – as our founders put it – of striving to form a more perfect union. This is a project for both of our countries. We have worked together, and we can work together to show that our democracies can meet our people’s needs. We must continue to hold ourselves to our core values, including respect for human rights like freedom of religion and freedom of belief or expression. That, in turn, makes our respective democracies even stronger.
Secretary Blinken, given the totality of the facts and the circumstances, determined that religious freedom concerns in India do not warrant a Country of Particular Concern designation or placement on the Special Watch List. But of course, these are conversations that we continue to have with our Indian partners and with partners around the world.
QUESTION: So U.S. ambassador in Islamabad, Pakistan met with Imran Khan’s party’s leadership, and after that meeting the spokesperson from Imran Khan’s party says that they have no problem with the United States, but they have the problem with the Mr. Donald Lu. So I was just confused. Donald Lu or State Department U.S. – they’re different? (Laughter.)
MR PRICE: I can confirm that Don Lu is in fact the assistant secretary for our Bureau of South and Central Asia here at the State Department and he is a senior official at the Department of State. But I am not in a position to confirm any meetings that our officials in Pakistan may have had with any particular individual and group. It is true that, whether in Pakistan or around the world, we meet with a range of political stakeholders in the course of our work.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Yeah, Ned, do you have any new message for the – for president of Turkey since he decided to invade Syria and attack your allies the Kurds?
MR PRICE: Our message on this has been consistent; it’s been consistent ever since our concern about this arose. We’ve continued to make clear – both publicly but as well as privately – that we strongly oppose military action, including a potential land incursion that would further destabilize the lives of communities in Syria and risk, importantly, the global coalition’s hard-earned progress against ISIS. All parties, we believe, should immediately de-escalate. That is a message we’ve consistently sent in recent days. Escalation in Syria and along the Turkish-Syrian border would be dangerous. It would be a threat to the safety of civilians and potentially even U.S. personnel, as we’ve seen with recent attacks.
We remain concerned by escalating action in northern Syria, including recent airstrikes, some of which directly threaten the safety of U.S. personnel who are working to defeat ISIS. We’ve consistently communicated to Turkey about – and to our local Syrian partners about our serious concerns regarding the potential impact on our D-ISIS goals and on civilians on both sides of the border. And so we’ve been conveying that very clearly in recent days.
QUESTION: Are you aware of a deadline that Turks reportedly have given to the SDF to withdraw from three towns, including Manbij?
MR PRICE: I’m not familiar with that offhand; I’d have to refer you to the Turks.
QUESTION: In order to save time, I hope you don’t mind I ask my questions back to back. So can you share anything on the U.S. draft resolution to oust Iran from the CSW? What is it asking for and why? And can you confirm that the date is December 14th?
Second, does the U.S. believe that the UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission can slow or stop Iranian authorities now from carrying out imminent execution and the reported ongoing torture?
And lastly, yesterday Secretary Blinken in an event at The Wall Street Journal – he said that the breakout time is a matter of weeks, while at the same time he says it’s a very unfortunate development. I mean, why is – can you elaborate on that?
MR PRICE: Sure. So, on your first question, this goes back to early last month when Vice President Harris outlined our intention to work with partners around the world to remove Iran as a member of the Commission on the Status of Women. We are committed to removing Iran from the commission because it is, simply put, the right thing to do. It’s the proper thing to do. It shows that we stand with women in Iran and around the world, including from a variety of civil society groups that have led this push who are asking for Iran to be removed from the Commission on the Status of Women because of Tehran’s very egregious actions against Iran’s women and girls.
The resolution will be taken up on December 14th, and we continue to work with our allies and partners to generate support with members of the UN Economic and Social Council for the proposed action. We are engaging at multiple levels from multiple places, and we’ll continue to do so leading up to the vote on December 14th.
When it comes to the broader abuses that we’ve seen on the part of the Iranian regime, we have denounced the draconian sentences that have been handed down. We denounced them in the strongest possible terms. Unfortunately, this is just really the latest tactic that we’ve seen from the Iranian regime with its ongoing, brutal crackdown on what can only be described as peaceful protesters – individuals who are exercising their universal rights. These sentences, we know, are meant to intimidate people, to suppress dissent. They are – they simply underscore Iran’s leadership’s fears of its own people and the fact that Iran’s government fears the truth.
As this violent crackdown on peaceful protesters continues, the Iranian regime should know that the world is watching. This goes back to the fact-finding mission that you referenced just a moment ago. We are committed to supporting the Iranian people and imposing costs on those responsible for the brutal crackdown. We’ve been able to do that now through multiple rounds of sanctions. We’re continuing to work with partners around the world to find ways to confront Iran’s human rights abuses, and we’re doing so both in public and in private.
MR PRICE: Sorry?
QUESTION: The nuclear part.
MR PRICE: The – oh, the nuclear part. Yes. When it comes to – and Secretary Blinken did have an opportunity to speak to this on Sunday, but we are aware of Iran’s claims that it’s enriching uranium to up to 60 percent purity at Fordow. We already know that Iran has a substantial amount of highly enriched uranium for which it has no credible civilian use, and which could be further enriched to weapons grade should Iran decide to do so.
We’ve been very clear that Iran’s apparent notion that it can somehow pressure the IAEA or its member-states on the issue of ongoing safeguards investigations – it is deluded in thinking that. Iran will not be in a position to garner any additional leverage by these provocative actions that it has taken. We’ve made clear many times that Iran’s continued nuclear escalations are not only unconstructive, to put it mildly, but they will not provide any additional leverage. They will only lead to additional costs.
QUESTION: Two completely separate things. On Haiti, the DHS, I believe it was last night, announced the extension of protected status. Obviously, it’s a DHS thing, but could you explain a little bit the thinking behind that, and also if there’s any update on a stabilization force for Haiti? Have you made any progress with allies on that?
MR PRICE: So as is always the case, this is a determination that is made by the Department of Homeland Security in coordination with the Department of State. The decision that was announced last night was to extend temporary protected status for Haitians in the United States for an additional 18 months, until August 3rd of 2024, and the redesignation of Haiti for TPS. We believe this is a welcome development that provides humanitarian relief to Haitian nationals already in the United States.
Of course, this means that Haitians residing in the United States as of November 6th can apply for TPS through August 3rd of 2024, if they meet those eligibility requirements. Of course, Haitians attempting to enter the United States after November 6th of this year are not eligible for TPS. They will be subject to removal like all other individuals without a legal basis to remain in the United States.
We are doing this, providing relief to Haitians in the United States, just as we are intently focused on working with Haitian leaders, working with Haitian counterparts, including the Haitian National Police, to address the insecurity and the resulting disease, malnutrition, dehydration that has resulted. This is something that we’ve spoken to at length with our Haitian partners.
It – we have worked very closely with the UN secretary-general. Of course, he put out a call for international cooperation when it comes to addressing the insecurity and the resulting challenges that have plagued Haiti of late. We’re working very closely with the OAS, and we’re working very closely with a number of countries in this hemisphere and around the world to determine how we can best respond to the request that we’ve heard directly from Haiti’s leaders, and those discussions are ongoing.
QUESTION: Can I just ask something completely different? Extramarital sex in Indonesia – a different topic.
MR PRICE: Yes, very.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on Indonesia moving ahead with outlawing it, particularly – I mean, in all seriousness, there’s, I believe, a restriction on cohabitation among – between unmarried partners. So, does the U.S. have any comment on that, and would that affect travel advice perhaps for Americans?
MR PRICE: So, this is something that we are closely monitoring. We’re closely monitoring the revised criminal code that was passed by Indonesia’s parliament. We understand it will now go to Jokowi for his signature. We’re still assessing the content of the law, and the implementing regulations have not yet been drafted, but we are concerned regarding how these changes could impact the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Indonesia. We’re also concerned about how the law could impact – to your question, U.S. citizens visiting and living in Indonesia, as well as the investment climate for U.S. companies.
Indonesia is a valued democratic partner of the United States. We seek to work together with Indonesia to counter hatred, intolerance and build more prosperous and inclusive societies. We’ll continue to do that by supporting democracy and promoting respect for human rights. We know that can help to create a more stable, secure, prosperous region and beyond.
QUESTION: On Iran, you were talking about the nuclear program. My question is that at the moment there is no prospect of finding a diplomatic solution for – excuse me – diplomatic solution for Iranian nuclear crisis. So why you don’t have a clear strategy? How are you going to deter the Iranian nuclear ambitions? Are you waiting for an alarm to go on? Some are saying that Iran has started their military nuclear program. And then what after that?
MR PRICE: So, a couple points. President Biden has made a very solemn commitment to the fact that Iran will never obtain a nuclear weapon. We are determined to see that that is the case. We have worked very closely with partners in the region, partners beyond, regarding the challenge that’s presented by Iran’s nuclear program.
We continue to believe that diplomacy offers the most effective way to ensure that we can fulfill this solemn commitment that Iran will be permanently and verifiably barred once again from obtaining a nuclear weapon. I say “once again” because, prior to the last administration’s abandonment of the JCPOA, Iran was in fact permanently and verifiably barred from doing the types of things that are of concern once again.
In the midst of what we’re seeing in Iran, on the part of the brave Iranian people – especially its women and girls, we’ve made very clear of late that the JCPOA talks are not on the agenda right now. What we’re focused on now is ways we can support the protesters across Iran, support their ability to exercise their universal human rights, and hold to account those Iranian officials who are responsible for the brutal repression, who are responsible for efforts to cut off the Iranian people from the rest of the world, including their ability to communicate with the rest of the world and with Iranians themselves.
We know that Iran is killing its young people. It’s sending UAVs to Russia so that Russia can in turn kill Ukrainians. Our focus, for that reason, is on practical ways to confront Iran in these areas right now. But we can do all of those things while upholding the commitment that President Biden has made – namely, that Iran will never obtain a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Yeah, but Ned, IAEA has no eyes in Iran, so you really cannot make sure of that. And we don’t see any concrete development. If you want to support Iranian people, we don’t see any concrete support other than sanctions or technology support, and when it comes to nuclear issues up in the air, we don’t see any concrete development again.
And other question is about supporting Iranian people. Let’s assume that the boldest demand of Iranian people is regime change. Do you support that?
MR PRICE: We support the ability of the Iranian people to exercise their rights, to demand what it is that they seek. These are questions that are up to the Iranian people. This is not for us or anyone else to decide, of course, because in the first instance this is not about us. It is not about the United States. The Iranian regime would like nothing more than for this to be about the United States. What the Iranian regime fears is its own people. It fears the ability of its own people to exercise their universal rights, to assemble in the streets, to speak clearly with their own voices. That is why the regime itself has responded with such repression and aggression against its own people. So, yes, we will continue to stand up for, to stand with the people of Iran who are exercising those universal rights, just as we do to peaceful protesters around the world.
QUESTION: Even if they ask for regime change?
MR PRICE: I need – I need to move on. Yes, final question —
QUESTION: And update on the —
MR PRICE: Let me go to – let me – I have not taken a question from you.
QUESTION: I would like to ask regarding Taiwan. During the APEC in Bangkok last month, Secretary Blinken was reported to meet with TSMC founder Morris Chang, who acted as envoy of Taiwan for APEC. Can you confirm on that report? And what was the topic of those discussion?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any meetings to confirm, but, of course, Morris Chang was there at APEC. The Secretary had an opportunity to speak to a number of participants on the sidelines, but just no particular conversations to read out.
Said, a quick final question?
QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on Iran, if you have any update on the alleged disbanding of the moral police.
MR PRICE: Yes. Sorry, what was it, one more time?
QUESTION: It’s – on the alleged (inaudible) —
MR PRICE: Oh, the disbanding of the morality police.
QUESTION: — moral police.
MR PRICE: Look, we have seen comments by various Iranian officials over the past 48 hours. These comments have been ambiguous; in some cases, these comments have been entirely vague or contradictory. Sadly, nothing we have seen suggests that Iran’s leadership is improving the treatment of its women, girls, or ceasing the violence it inflicts on peaceful protesters.
Our position, the position of the international community, is unequivocal: Women in Iran should be free from restricted dress codes, violence, and harassment. The people of Iran should be able to peacefully express themselves however they wish – free from intimidation, free from violence at the hands of the state.
When it comes to the morality police, it continues to be somewhat unclear, somewhat contradictory, but what we can say is that we’re aware of reports of patrols by this so-called morality police, this very entity, and aware that these patrols have actually increased in recent days, so we’ll continue to watch this closely.
Thank you, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:05 p.m.)
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