Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
1:22 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Just a programming note before we begin: I don’t have interminable amounts of time today. I need to conclude by about 2:00 but look forward to taking your questions until then.
A couple elements at the top. First, the United States – the Department of State and people of the United States expresses our deepest condolences and sympathy to the people of Norway, especially the family members of victims of the acts of violence that occurred in Kongsberg on Wednesday evening.
The United States stands with Norway at this difficult time following the tragic killing of five people.
At the same time, we welcome the newly formed Government of Norway, seated earlier today. We look forward to continuing to work with our Norwegian partners and allies on our mutual peace, security, and prosperity.
Next, the recent death of Venezuelan political prisoner Raul Baduel reminds the world of the deplorable and dangerous conditions Venezuelan political prisoners face in the Maduro regime’s custody. We call for an independent examination to confirm the true cause of the death.
Our hearts go out to the families of the political prisoners who have died in Venezuela while unjustly detained in regime custody.
Since 2014, at least ten Venezuelan political prisoners have died in regime detention, and three have died in the last year alone. Those are Rodolfo Gonzalez Martinez, Carlos Andres Garcia, Rafael Arreaza Soto, Fernando Alban, Nelson Martinez, Rafael Acosta Arevalo, Pedro Pablo Santana Carballo, Salvador Franco, Gabriel Medina Diaz, and Raul Isaias Baduel.
We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners. Maduro and those holding these prisoners bear responsibility for their well-being. Their family members deserve a credible and transparent review of the circumstances surrounding these deaths, as well as accountability for the gross violations of human rights.
And finally, today I’m pleased to note the United States was successfully elected to the UN Human Rights Council. The President and Secretary Blinken have put democracy and human rights – essential cornerstones of peace and stability – at the center of our foreign policy. We have eagerly and earnestly pursued these values in our relationships around the world.
We thank the UN member states who supported our candidacy for a seat on the council. We will use our position to renew the council’s focus on the core human rights principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Charter, which undergird the council’s founding. Our goal is to hold the UN Human Rights Council accountable to the highest aspirations of its mandate and spur the actions necessary to carry them out.
With that, I’m happy to turn to your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks. Let’s just do a couple, and you can be extremely brief in your answers.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: (Laughter) – if you would, please. Just on the council – on the Human Rights Council, this has become kind of a ping-pong between administrations – Republican, Democrat. And I’m just wondering, the previous administration’s position was they would leave if there were no reforms, and then made a bunch of demands on reforms, none of which were undertaken, and so it left. Do you really have any confidence that you’re going to be able to push reforms, and are they the same reforms that the previous administration was looking for?
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, I don’t know if I’m quoting Woody Allen or quoting a former boss of mine, or quoting a former boss of mine quoting Woody Allen, but to paraphrase, when you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. And that’s – that has been our guiding principle. We want to be at the table. We need to be at the table in order to be engaged, whether it’s with the WHO, whether it’s with the Human Rights Council, whether it’s within the Paris context, whether it’s within other realms that we’ve talked about. If we are to help shape institutions, to help them deliver on their highest aspirations – which is what we intend to do with the Human Rights Council, to help them promote the values, the interests that the United States and our partners share – we need to be there.
So yes, we have concerns with the council. We will vigorously oppose the council’s disproportionate attention on Israel, which includes the council’s only standing agenda item targeting a single country. We also will press against the election of countries with egregious human rights records. It is, of course, grossly inappropriate for such countries to be represented on the Human Rights Council.
QUESTION: Well, fine, but your group of countries that you’re in doesn’t have any of these serial offenders that you’re talking about, and you have very limited – any administration has limited – anyway, I mean —
MR PRICE: But the point is we would have no influence were we not a member of the council, and we’re gratified today that we will become a member of the council.
QUESTION: And with apologies to Woody Allen – I’m surprised you quoted him, but whatever – with apologies to him, if you’re not at the table, you’re not necessarily on the menu. You could be standing on the outside and having as much influence as you and the Canadians and the Europeans have, and others who have – who have been on the council without pulling out have had – which is arguably very little, right?
MR PRICE: The point, Matt, is that we would have no influence were we standing on the outside.
QUESTION: I get it.
MR PRICE: Go ahead.
MR PRICE: That’s right.
QUESTION: — and ASEAN focused. Was that call occasioned by the fact that the ASEAN envoy, who happens to be a Bruneian diplomat, had to cancel – or canceled his visit? Or was it something else?
MR PRICE: I understand this call was previously scheduled. Obviously, the Bruneian second foreign minister is the – we just saw the reports of his of his canceled trip.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the last one for me. The – yesterday the Secretary was asked specifically about – in discussions with the Israeli foreign minister whether you – whether the idea of a – reopening the consulate in Jerusalem was going – was on the table. The Secretary’s response – I just want to make sure that I’m not making too much out of this – was that, “As I said in May, we will be moving forward with the process of opening a consulate as part of deepening ties with the Palestinians.” But notably, at least to me, he did not say Jerusalem. So I’m just wondering: Are you guys exploring or looking at the possibility of opening a consulate that would be a liaison with the Palestinians in someplace other than Jerusalem?
MR PRICE: Matt, we have been very clear – the Secretary made this clear in May when he spoke to it in Jerusalem; he made it very clear when he spoke to it and Ramallah – we will be moving forward with the process to reopen our consulate in Jerusalem.
QUESTION: Okay, that’s it. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thanks. Shaun.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: The violence that broke out there – first of all, do you have any reaction to it? How concerned are you about stability in Lebanon? And also this involves Hizballah. Obviously the U.S. has – considers Hizballah to be a terrorist movement. What’s your sense about who bears responsibility for this?
MR PRICE: Sure. Well, let me start with the violence that you raised, and to make the point that we offer our sincerest condolences to the Lebanese people and those impacted by the tragic loss of life outside the Palace of Justice in Beirut earlier this morning. We join Lebanese authorities in their call for calm, their calls for de-escalation of tensions. The health and the future of Lebanon’s democracy depends on the ability of its citizens to address the difficult issues with confidence and with confidence in the rule of law, confidence in the rule of law in their country, and through peaceful dialogue with the new government.
I would like to reiterate that we oppose intimidation and the threat of violence against any country’s judiciary, and we support Lebanon’s judicial independence. Judges must be free from violence, they must be free from threats, they must be free from intimidation, including that of Hizballah. As I said before – you asked about Hizballah broadly – we have consistently been clear that Hizballah’s terrorist and illicit activities undermine Lebanon’s security, they undermine Lebanon’s stability, and they undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty. There’s no question about that.
QUESTION: Just a couple. Is Toria – is Under Secretary Nuland there right now?
MR PRICE: She departed earlier today.
QUESTION: Did she have – so was she there – she had departed before this —
MR PRICE: Her program was not interrupted by today’s violence.
QUESTION: And did she have any message along these lines in terms of how to go forward in Lebanon to Lebanese political leaders?
MR PRICE: She obviously had engagements with Lebanese officials, Lebanese authorities. She spoke publicly as well. She made some of these very same points offering our support to the long-suffering people of Lebanon, offering our condolences today in the aftermath of this violence, and making clear that the Lebanese people deserve a government that is able to meet their aspirations, is able to meet their increasingly dire humanitarian needs as well.
QUESTION: One final one.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: The – Hizballah has blamed the Lebanese forces, the Christian-oriented paramilitary group for this. Is the United States in a position to judge who was responsible for the violence?
MR PRICE: We don’t have a judgment to offer publicly at this time, but we’ll let you know if that changes. Thanks.
QUESTION: Afghanistan. There’s been some reporting around flights, potentially restarting U.S. flights back to – from Kabul. So I just wondered if you wanted to clear that up. And sort of separately, there’s a announcement from Pakistan International Airlines about them suspending flights, calling out the Taliban for heavy-handedness. And I’m wondering if the U.S. is leaning on the Taliban to have a different approach to international airlines. Is there – aside from the potential for U.S. flights, what are you doing to make sure that the airport stays open for other commercial international flights?
MR PRICE: Sure. I appreciate the opportunity to clarify. There’s been some misreporting on this. So to be very clear, the charter flights have been routine. Our goal is to make them even more routine, to lend a degree of automaticity to these operations, so that we can facilitate the departure of Americans, of lawful permanent residents, and others to whom we have a special commitment from Afghanistan, if they choose to do so.
But the idea that charter flights wouldn’t resume until later this year doesn’t, of course, comport with reality. We just had a charter flight that had Americans on board on Monday. There have been a number of charter flights in recent weeks, as you know, as we’ve had any number of occasions to discuss in this room. And in total, those charter flights have been key to our ability, to date, to facilitate the departure of 129 U.S. citizens, 115 lawful permanent residents who have departed Afghanistan since August 31st.
But our goal is to see to it that, working with our partners, that these flights become even more of a regular occurrence, to see to it that the flow of these flights increases. And ultimately, our goal is to see to it that Afghanistan has a functioning commercial airport. We have been able to make good use of charter flights, including working with our Qatari partners in recent weeks. But our broader goal, of course, is to see Kabul International Airport reopen to commercial traffic so that those who wish to depart Afghanistan have additional options to do so.
Now, that is the operational component of it. That is the logistical component to it. But there is a political component as well, and the political component is the other element that you referenced: holding the Taliban accountable to their pledge of safe passage, to their pledge that those who wish to leave Afghanistan are able to do so. The departures of the Qatar Airways charter flights and others, we see that as a positive step in upholding the Taliban’s commitment to free movement and to free passage.
But we are not satisfied, and we are continuing to press the Taliban to see to it that U.S. citizens, that see to it that lawful permanent residents, and those Afghans to whom we have a special commitment are able to depart the country if they so choose. As you know, a senior delegation met with senior Taliban officials, who traveled in from Kabul, in Doha on Saturday and Sunday. Free passage, freedom of movement, was key to that agenda. It has been key to every single one of our engagements with the Taliban in recent weeks, because it is of paramount importance to us.
But it is not only of paramount importance to us, it was also high on the agenda when the U.S., together with our European allies, met with the Taliban on Tuesday, earlier this week, following the U.S.-Taliban meeting in Doha. Safe passage, freedom of movement, was also a feature of that meeting, just as it has been a feature of every multilateral engagement we have had, whether that’s with the P5 of the UN Security Council, whether that’s with the G20, whether that is with the statements that the United States has put together, including one with more than half the world’s countries, 114 countries, I believe, at last count, who made clear the expectation that the Taliban allow those to depart who wish to depart.
QUESTION: So what – sorry. So you’re saying charter flights, those exist with U.S. – with support from you guys, sort of logistical support. Is there financial support for those flights? And can you just draw a distinction between that and U.S. Government flights? There’s no plan for military flights, for example?
MR PRICE: There is no plan for military flights. The idea that we are restarting evacuation flights, á la what we had prior to August 31st, is not accurate. We have worked very closely with several regional partners, including the Qataris, on those charter operations. Pakistan International Airways has also operated charter operations as well.
But yes, we have also been in constant touch with Americans in Afghanistan who have expressed an interest in departing. It is that process by which we reach out to them, we determine their status, we determine their intent, we determine what travel documents they may or may not have on them, and we in turn then work with our partners on these charter operations to facilitate their departure, if they so choose.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I want to ask you about a letter from members of the Foreign Relations Committee, a bipartisan letter that was sent to the Secretary which says, among other things: “While there has been progress” – this is on Havana syndrome, as know – “we continue to have concerns that the department is not sufficiently communicating with or responding to diplomats who’ve been injured from these attacks. We’re also concerned that the department is insufficiently engaged in interagency efforts to find the cause of the attacks, identify those responsible, and develop a plan to hold them accountable. And we urge you to immediately announce a successor to Ambassador Spratlen to lead the department’s Health Incident Response Task Force. Critically, this must be a senior-level official that reports directly to you.”
I am well aware of the long list of improvements, the progress that you have reiterated and that has been made available by a number of officials. But this is subsequent to those improvements; this letter is still an expression of concern from, as you know, a bipartisan list. You’ve got Menendez, Shaheen, Cardin, Chris Coons, Tim Kaine, Cory Booker, Risch, Rubio, Romney, Hagerty, Schatz. So —
MR PRICE: Certainly understand the expression of concern. We also have expressed our concern over these anomalous health incidents. That is precisely why we have made it such a priority to get to the bottom of them, and importantly to provide care for our employees who have been subject to them. The Secretary, late last week – on Friday I believe it was – added his voice to the support for the recently passed Havana Act. The Secretary appreciates the interest that Congress has demonstrated in this issue. It is very consistent with the priority he himself has attached to this, as you know, Andrea, as we’ve had an opportunity to discuss.
I’ve made this point before, but one of the briefings that the Secretary proactively requested before he assumed this office was on so-called cases of Havana syndrome or anomalous health incidents, as we call them. He wanted to enter this job on day one with a firm understanding of where we were, what we had provided to our employees, subject to them, and what more we could do. And we have been quite clear that this department has not always done – had not always done a sufficient job in addressing these anomalous health incidents. That is why you have seen Secretary Blinken put such a premium on several areas.
One is communication, the issue – an issue that was raised in this letter. And the Secretary has had an opportunity to meet with members of our State Department team who have themselves reported these AHIs. Deputy Secretary McKeon and other senior officials have held town halls with overseas posts where a number of these incidents have been reported. We have sent out regular messages from the Secretary, from the Deputy Secretary, from our Health Incident Response Task Force to the work force as well. We have made clear the resources that our employees have available to them, in terms of training, in terms of to whom they should turn if and when they should feel that they are subject – they have been subject – to an anomalous health incident.
QUESTION: So with all due respect, with all that you say has been done, there has been criticism from a number of victims of what they don’t call anomalous health incidents, by the way, because they think that diminishes and disparages what they are suffering. They believe that the Secretary should have met with them sooner; he should have been more engaged. And clearly the bipartisan members of the Senate, of the Foreign Relations Committee believe that the communication is inadequate, and that the appointment of Ambassador Spratlen’s replacement should not report to the Deputy Secretary but should report directly to Secretary Blinken, and that there has not been enough attention at the top – that this is not – this is not perceived – what you say is being done is not perceived by many of the people who are viewing it from the outside and from the inside.
MR PRICE: What I can tell you, Andrea, is that the Secretary has no higher priority than the health and the safety and the security of our work force and their family members and dependents. And this is precisely what that issue is about. I want – also want to be very clear that we believe those who come forward. We take every single report of an anomalous health incident extraordinarily seriously. And we do that for a couple of reasons.
Number one, we want to make sure that those who have come forward are getting the care that they need. And I can give you quite a bit in terms of what our Bureau of Medical Services has done, including since January of this year, to ensure that those who come forward are getting that care.
On June 1st, for example, we launched a pilot program to collect from employees and eligible family members a pre-incident health baseline, as we call it, so that we can compare that information should one of these individuals later be subject to an anomalous health incident. Additionally, we’ve partnered with a number of Centers of Excellence where our department team members can seek care, can seek pre-incident baseline testing, can seek care in the aftermath of such an anomalous health incident.
But we also take these reports seriously so that we can ensure that we are doing everything we can to protect our workforce and our broader State Department community, their family members and dependents, going forward, and do what we can to prevent such anomalous health incidents. To that end, we have sent teams of security engineers and occupational safety experts to conduct surveys and inspections of locations where these incidents have been reported. We have supplied additional and enhanced inspection equipment to overseas engineering service centers so that in the event of report of an AHI we can quickly dispatch that – those resources.
So we have made improvements in terms of our communication. We have made improvements in terms of our inspections and our defensive measures. We have made improvements in terms of our training so that, again, our employees know how to respond should they become subject to one of these, that their family members also have the information they need. We have improved our protocols internally with the Health Incidents Response Task Force and then, of course, with our Medical and CARE. That is all a reflection of the fact that there is no higher priority to the Secretary, there is no higher priority for our Deputy Secretary Brian McKeon, when it comes to these health incidents, because we know this is precisely about the health, the safety, and security of our workforce.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Ned, can you just address the letter? I mean, it said they wanted the Secretary to immediately name a replacement for Ambassador Spratlen.
MR PRICE: I —
QUESTION: It doesn’t say soon or as soon as – as quickly as possible. It says immediately. Do you intend to do that?
MR PRICE: I expect we’ll be in a position to do that in the coming days.
QUESTION: And then – and then the other thing it said was that it wanted – it wanted to make sure that you guys have set up mechanisms to make sure that the benefits included in the Havana Act, the financial and the compensation and medical assistance, were available now to people who have – are suffering these injuries. Has that been done?
MR PRICE: The Secretary added his voice to support for —
QUESTION: Well, is there a mechanism now in place for people to get this additional money?
MR PRICE: This just passed through Congress, I believe it was on Friday, so it’s only been a few days. But absolutely, we support the goals of this legislation because this legislation is about the health, the safety, and security of our employees.
QUESTION: And then lastly, you mentioned these inspection teams. When did they start going out, and what have they found?
MR PRICE: So Matt, this is one where, unfortunately, we’re just not in a position to provide much additional detail because this gets to our investigative tactics, techniques, and procedures.
QUESTION: Well, have you found anything unusual?
MR PRICE: That’s just one we’ll not be able to get into. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Well, can you say when they started going out to these places?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry. Please.
QUESTION: On that, Secretary Blinken is going to Colombia next week. Yesterday President Duque, Colombian president, confirmed these investigations on these cases of Havana syndrome. Could this investigation affect the incoming trip by the Secretary? And also there are rumors that Secretary Blinken is going as well to Ecuador. Can you confirm that?
MR PRICE: So we have not yet announced any travel for next week, so I’m not in a position to announce or speak to potential travel. But it is certainly possible that the Secretary will have an opportunity to visit with some of his South American counterparts in the coming days.
Yes, Missy. Or Nick – or, please, go ahead, Missy.
QUESTION: Okay. I just want to ask about Guantanamo. And there was another detainee who was cleared for transfer by the PRB, an Afghan national. And I’m just wondering if you could talk about, in line with the administration’s goal of transferring prisoners and closing the prison, how the situation in Afghanistan might affect his potential transfer or repatriation.
And also if you could just speak to the – because the State Department, as I understand it, is leading the transfer negotiations, can you talk about this idea of whether or not the State Department will reopen the Guantanamo closure office or appoint another special envoy for closure, somebody to handle these negotiations? Is there a reason why that hasn’t happened yet, especially as the administration tries to get this small group out? Thanks.
MR PRICE: Sure. Well, as you know, as we’ve had an occasion to discuss before, this administration is committed to seeing this detention facility closed. And as part of that, we are dedicated to a deliberate and a thorough process focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population at the detention facility. And so we are very much in the process of working with partners around the world, seeking to identify suitable onward transfer countries and to negotiate these transfer agreements. And as part of that, it includes appropriate security and humane treatment assurances from a host country for detainees whom the Periodic Review Board has determined the law of war detention is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing threat to the United States.
So the PRB process determines that a detainee has been deemed eligible for transfer and can recommend countries in which the former detainee may be resettled, but the PRB doesn’t itself determine where former detainees will actually be settled. That is the sort of diplomacy and talks that we have been engaged in.
In terms of staffing here at the department, as you know, our CT Bureau has been playing the lead role in representing the department and our equities in the interagency process that is seeking to responsibly reduce the detainee population at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. And Acting Coordinator Godfrey has been very engaged with countries around the world in seeking to find suitable onward transfer destinations for former detainees. So that process continues.
QUESTION: And just to clarify, on this one particular detainee, the Afghan national, is it possible that he could be sent back to Afghanistan given the situation there now? And has that – has he been discussed with the – in any of the interactions that the administration has had with Taliban officials in the recent weeks?
MR PRICE: We typically do not preview where detainees will be transferred until and unless such a transfer takes place, so I wouldn’t want to get ahead of those discussions.
Nick, I’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you very much. A couple of random ones, but let me go back and ask a version of what Matt was asking: Have all of the steps that you detailed to Andrea delivered any more understanding of the source of the Havana incidents?
MR PRICE: So Nick, this is one of those questions that unfortunately we’re just not in a position to speak to publicly. We are doing everything we can as part of an NSC-led, interagency process to determine the cause of these incidents. We are doing that through any number of means and tactics, but we’re just not in a position to speak to that.
QUESTION: The U.S. has been calling for OPEC Plus – moving to oil – to increase production. Today in Moscow, there’s a big event with the oil ministers. They made it clear that they are not going to increase production. Does the U.S. believe Saudi Arabia is blocking the request to increase production?
MR PRICE: Well, we are concerned and we are monitoring the situation very closely. And as part of that, we are actively engaged with our European allies and partners during this critical time to ensure the security of energy supply. We also know that the high energy prices that we’re seeing right now really reinforce the need to advance the energy transition while continuing to safeguard against energy crises and price shocks going forward.
When it comes to OPEC, of course, we’re not a member of the organization, but we are routinely – and these days, constantly – engaged in diplomacy with OPEC member states, having these discussions in private, expressing our concern with current energy prices. It’s an absolute priority for us.
QUESTION: And therefore, are you concerned by OPEC Plus’s rejection of your request to increase production?
MR PRICE: We are engaged in diplomacy with member states of OPEC.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: I know you’ve been asked about this, but I want to talk about the billions frozen in the U.S. Jan Egeland, Norwegian Refugee Council, who has been working on these issues for a long time, put it to me this way last night: “Why is the U.S. sitting on the fence when it comes to unfreezing billions of dollars?”
So I will ask you: Do you believe the U.S. is sitting on the fence when it comes to unfreezing billions of dollars that humanitarians say are for the Afghan people and can be delivered in a way that wouldn’t benefit the Taliban?
MR PRICE: Let me answer this question this way: We are absolutely not sitting on the fence when it comes to our humanitarian commitment to the Afghan people. We have demonstrated that time and again, including with significant humanitarian pledges – nearly $64 million just a few weeks ago for the Afghan people, $330 million in this fiscal year alone for the Afghan people that has benefited Afghanistan’s women and girls. It has provided health opportunities for the Afghan people. It has provided food, nutrition, the basic lifesaving services that far too many of Afghan – of the Afghan people need today. And we will continue to be a humanitarian leader when it comes to supporting the people of Afghanistan.
Now, it is true that the Taliban does not have access to the reserves that are held in the United States, and we have been very clear on that as well. Where we are – you might say sitting on the fence – is because we want to see and to judge any future Afghan government by its conduct. And we have been very clear about the conduct that matters immensely to us. It is holding the Taliban accountable to their commitments to safe passage and freedom of movement, to their counterterrorism commitments, to respecting the fundamental human rights of all of Afghan – of all of the people of Afghanistan, including women and girls, and it’s allowing humanitarian access to go back to where we started.
So we will judge any future Afghan government primarily on those criteria. And again, it is not just us, and it is – by the way, it is not just United States where Afghanistan’s foreign currency reserves are stored. This is something the international community has made very clear. So we are, of course, not in a position to provide financial support to the Taliban or any future Afghan government until and unless we see to it that these core requirements are being met and the rights of the people of Afghanistan are being fully respected, enforced.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. I’d like to ask your question about Syria. As you know, there have been several attacks by YPG against Turkish forces inside Syria which resulted in casualties, and the Turkish president came out and said that was the final straw and with or without support, Turkey’s going to eliminate those elements. And you guys also came out and said that the State Department condemned those attacks against Turkish forces. So I’d like to ask you – but it means actually that the United States is supporting Turkey in its cause in the face of these attacks in Syria.
MR PRICE: If we are supporting – repeat the last part of that question?
QUESTION: I’d like to ask you whether the United States is now supporting – obviously considering the statement that you guys condemned those attacks against Turkish forces – does that mean that the United States is supporting Turkish cause in the face of these attacks?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve been very clear that we condemn the cross-border attacks against our NATO ally, Turkey. We have expressed our condolences to the families of the loved ones who were killed in these attacks, and we’ve underscored the importance of maintaining the ceasefire – lines of ceasefire and halting these cross-border attacks. We’ve been eminently clear about all of that. We’ve also been clear that it is crucial that all sides maintain and respect ceasefire zones to enhance stability in Syria and work towards a political solution to the conflict.
When it comes to Turkey, Turkey, of course, is an important NATO ally. We have shared interests in any number of areas. That includes countering terrorism, ending the conflict in Syria, and deterring malign influence in the region. And so we do share an interest when it comes to Syria, and namely, to ending the conflict in Syria, and we’ll continue to consult with our ally Ankara on Syria policy, together with Syria’s other neighbors, as we seek areas for cooperation, as we seek to bring about an end and a diminution to that violence.
QUESTION: I have a quick follow-up with that, please. So with where we’re standing right now with the Turkish president saying that an operation, a cross-border military operation might be imminent, what’s the U.S. position on that?
MR PRICE: Again, we have condemned the attacks. We have emphasized the importance of all sides respecting and maintaining ceasefire zones in order to enhance stability in Syria.
QUESTION: On Nicaragua, does the U.S. have anything on Nicaragua’s presidential election on November 7, and would the U.S. recognize the result? And separately, if I may stay on the same hemisphere, on Venezuela, does the U.S. agree with the EU’s decision to send electoral observers to Venezuela’s November 21st regional elections? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you, Nike. So when it comes to the elections in November of this year in Nicaragua, look, the simple fact of the matter is that President Ortega and Vice President Murillo, their decision on August 6th to ban the last genuine opposition party from participating in the elections, it underscores their fear of free and fair elections and their desire to remain in power at all costs. This autocratic maneuver followed the detention of seven presidential candidates and dozens of other opposition figures, human rights activists, business leaders, students, journalists, and NGO workers over the last several months.
We view the regime’s latest undemocratic and authoritarian actions, which has, again, been driven by a fear of an electoral loss, as the final blow against Nicaragua’s prospects for free and fair elections now next month. That electoral process has lost all credibility. It is now a foregone conclusion that Daniel Ortega will ensure that the elections in November are a sham and that he will proclaim himself victorious in the aftermath of those elections.
QUESTION: Ned, just a quick little follow-up. I’m sorry.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you know if during Secretary Blinken’s meeting with the EU’s Josep Borrell these elections came up?
MR PRICE: I don’t know if the – if Nicaragua came up in the meeting today. We’ll find out and get back to you on that.
QUESTION: Wait. So does that mean you weren’t in the meeting?
MR PRICE: I was not in the meeting today.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. Well, then I have a question that maybe you could take on – about the meeting.
MR PRICE: Okay. Yes, please.
QUESTION: I want to be asking about the DPRK. You have mentioned you remain prepared to meet the DPRK without any precondition, anywhere, anytime. However, we haven’t seen any meetings so far. So what went wrong? So how do you propose the lifting sanction on the table?
MR PRICE: Well, to take a step back, we have been very clear that we believe diplomacy, including direct diplomacy with the DPRK, is the most effective means to meet the policy objective that has emerged from a review of our DPRK policy that we completed some months ago. And that objective remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. It is a policy that calls for a calibrated, practical approach that seeks serious and sustained diplomacy with the DPRK to make tangible progress towards that goal.
So we do stand prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions. We have made, in fact, specific proposals to the DPRK, and we will await a response. We will await outreach from the DPRK.
As we do that, I don’t want to give the impression that we are at a standstill. We are engaged in vigorous diplomacy with our allies in the Indo-Pacific, including with the Republic of Korea, including with Japan, including with our other allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific. But the threat of the DPRK’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, these are threats to collective security that we discuss with partners and allies the world over, and we’ll continue to do that.
I can take a final question or so. Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Yeah, a question about the elections in Iraq. This – now more and more factions are refusing to accept the results. Do you feel that this political uncertainty will lead to more destabilizing the country, and will it affect the plans of the withdrawal of U.S. troops, combat U.S. troops, from the country?
MR PRICE: So I would refer you to the Department of Defense when it comes to our troop presence, our troop posture, in Iraq. It is something that we did have an opportunity to discuss in the Strategic Dialogue that we held with our Iraqi partners a couple of months ago. Now we made an announcement in terms of our troop disposition in Iraq. I don’t have any indication, I have no reason to believe, that that posture would change as a result of what we have seen to date.
When it comes to the election results, I want to be very clear that we condemn the threats of violence reportedly made against the Independent High Electoral Commission and UN personnel. We believe firmly, as do our partners, that any electoral disputes should be resolved through established legal channels. Of course, we haven’t seen final results. I think we expect to see final results in the coming days. So we are – aren’t going to prejudge the outcome of the election, but we are confident that we will be able to have a productive and constructive relationship with the future government in Iraq.
Thank you all very much.
MR PRICE: Sure, sure.
QUESTION: And it doesn’t have to do with the consulate, but it does have to do with settlements. And that is, I just want to know that – if in yesterday’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lapid if the Secretary brought up the settlements issue. They seem to be plowing ahead, moving ahead with additional construction but not making as – not – without a lot of fanfare. And I’m just wondering if this is a concern for you, beyond what you have said in the past when you’re asked this by Said every time.
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, we did issue a readout of both the trilateral meeting and the Secretary’s bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Lapid. We have been clear publicly and in private about where we stand on settlement — on settlement activity, on annexation. We oppose any unilateral steps that put a two-state solution further out of reach.
QUESTION: I know, but you haven’t got – your concern about what they’re doing hasn’t increased in – over the course of the last month or so?
MR PRICE: Our position on this has remained constant. Thank you very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:06 p.m.)
# # #