fbpx

Department Press Briefing – October 4, 2021

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

2:03 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. I don’t have anything at the top, other than to note what I imagine to be another first for this administration, and that is a press briefing conducted from COVID-19-induced quarantine. But in all honestly, it’s very good to begin to re-emerge and to engage with all of you. I look forward to rejoining you in person later this week.

So with that, why don’t we turn to questions. We can start with the line of Shaun Tandon, please.

QUESTION: Hey, Ned, I hope you’re doing well. Thanks for doing this. Could I ask you for a reaction on two things that are unrelated? In Korea, North and South Korea have restored their communication hotline. I wanted to see if you had any reaction to that. How significant do you see this in light of the recent tensions and the recent launches?

Also on Nord Stream, the operating company has said that they’re beginning to fill up the pipeline. Do you have any reaction to that? Do you foresee any additional efforts by the United States to try to stop it, or is it really too late at this point? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Shaun. So on your first question on diplomacy between the two Koreas: Look, our policy calls for a calibrated, practical approach that seeks serious and sustained diplomacy with the DPRK to make tangible progress that increases the security of the United States, that of our allies, and that of our deployed forces.

Our goal, as you’ve heard – and this was the goal that emanated from the policy review we undertook – remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And we remain prepared, as we’ve said, to meet with DPRK officials without preconditions. In our messages, we have made specific proposals for discussions with the DPRK, and we hope the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach. We continue to consult closely with our allies at the same time – and of course, that includes the Republic of Korea; that includes Japan, other allies and partners – regarding how best to engage with the DPRK on that overarching goal.

When it comes to the re-establishment of inter-Korean communications, we have said this before, but we support inter-Korean dialogue and engagement as well as cooperation, and we’ll continue to work with our ROK partners to that end.

When it comes to Nord Stream, we don’t have a specific response to the announcement you referenced today. Our policy, as we’ve made very clear, including in the context of the announcement of the joint statement with Germany some months ago, we continue to oppose this pipeline. We continue to believe it is a geopolitical project of the Russian Federation. And we will continue, consistent with the law, to – we will continue to apply the law consistent with our periodic reviews, which, of course, remain ongoing.

We will go to the line of Daphne Psaledakis.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thanks for doing this. Hope you’re feeling better. A couple questions for you. First on Ethiopia, the seven UN staff declared persona non grata by the Ethiopian Government have left the country to ensure their safety. What action is the U.S. planning to take given the UN Security Council won’t take any? Do you have any update on if and when the new EO might be used in response to this?

And then on China’s air incursions near Taiwan, it’s a pretty unprecedented level. Does the State Department think that China is responding to the stepped-up U.S. military presence in the region?

MR PRICE: Thanks for those. I’ll start with Ethiopia, and you heard from us, from Secretary Blinken in fact, on this. But we strongly condemn the Government of Ethiopia’s expulsion of seven UN officials, and we call for an immediate reversal of this decision. The officials expelled from the country include a senior official from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as well as the head of both the United Nations Children’s Fund and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, whose work is so critical to the ongoing humanitarian relief efforts. And this announcement came just days after OCHA Chief Martin Griffiths warned that a man-made famine is taking hold in Ethiopia. That’s why these expulsions are counter-productive to international efforts to keep civilians safe and to deliver lifesaving humanitarian assistance to the millions in dire need.

The UN is also conducting important human rights investigations, which is why these expulsions are so troublesome. It is critical that these individuals be allowed to return to Ethiopia in order to carry out their important lifesaving work and duties.

Daphne, you referenced the EO. This was the executive order that on September 17th President Biden issued to establish a new sanctions regime that authorizes the imposition of targeted economic sanctions in connection with the crisis in northern Ethiopia. We have been very clear: We will not hesitate to use this authority or other tools to respond to those who obstruct humanitarian assistance to the people of Ethiopia or a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and we call on the international community, similarly, to employ all appropriate tools to apply pressure on the Government of Ethiopia and any other actors impeding humanitarian access. We urge the Government of Ethiopia to collaboratively work with the UN and international partners to allow – to allow and facilitate safe and unhindered humanitarian access to all in need. That has been a longstanding call of ours.

When it comes to Taiwan and the recent activity we’ve seen, we are, as we’ve said in a statement over the weekend, very concerned by the PRC’s provocative military activity near Taiwan. This activity is destabilizing, it risks miscalculations, and it undermines regional peace and stability. We strongly urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan. Our commitment to Taiwan is rock solid. It contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region, and we’ll continue to stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values. We will do that as we continue to deepen our ties with Taiwan.

Look, when it comes to what we’re seeing, we’re not going to speculate on motivations. We will just reiterate that our commitment to Taiwan is rock solid, and over the years it has certainly contributed to the maintenance of peace and stability across the strait and within the broader region.

We’ll go to Michele Kelemen, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have a question about Iran – sorry – and the Namazi family. They say that Baquer Namazi needs surgery within the next week to prevent a major stroke. I’m wondering if you are raising that case with Iranians directly, whether you hold Iran responsible for his health, and whether there’s any sign of any negotiations on the hostage issue. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Michele. So on that, as you know, even with the talks in Vienna focused squarely on the nuclear program, we have taken advantage of every single opportunity to raise the cases of Americans and other foreign nationals who are unjustly held against their will by Iran. We have made very clear to Tehran that this practice is unacceptable, it does not give Tehran any leverage, and the world is united against this abhorrent practice of holding human beings, holding individuals, for political leverage.

We have continued to work these cases and to raise our concerns together with our international partners and allies. As you know, Michele, with these cases the work is often more effective when it is done out of the public spotlight, so we’re not in a position to go into great detail in terms of how we do this. But let me leave no doubt that the safe return of these Americans who have been unjustly held in Iran for far too long is a top priority of this administration, it has been a top priority of this administration, and it will continue to be a top priority of this administration as long as these individuals are held against their will.

We’ll go to Ellen Nickmeyer.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. I’m glad you seem to be doing okay.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Ellen. Appreciate that.

QUESTION: Sure. Let’s see, on Pandora, King Abdullah of Jordan is – his country is one of the biggest recipients of U.S. aid. They get hundreds of millions of dollars annually. And the Pandora investigation says since 1995 he has used shell companies to buy 14 houses, including a $23 million California mansion. Is that – does that use of money and that emphasis on kind of luxury purchases, is that going to have any impact on U.S. aid to Jordan? Is it going to cause any evaluation or is it causing any reconsideration of any funding?

MR PRICE: Thanks, Ellen. So let me start with the Pandora, so-called Pandora papers broadly, and then I’ll speak for a moment to these allegations in the context of Jordan. I know there’s a lot of interest in this. We’ve, of course, seen the reporting on the Pandora papers, and we’re not in a position to comment specifically on the findings, which are we are reviewing.

However, it is important to note more generally that the U.S. Government actively focuses on strengthening financial transparency and investigating possible illicit and sanctions evasion activity using all sources of information, both public and non-public. Through our leadership in the G20 and the Financial Action Task Force, or FATF, among other international efforts, we consistently push for full implementation of existing standards and, where necessary, stronger measures precisely to make possible the disclosure of the ultimate beneficiary behind shell companies and the use of other means to hide illicitly acquired wealth. Of course, the Treasury Department is deeply engaged in this, and I would refer you there for further information.

When it comes to our assistance to Jordan, we have been helping to improve the lives of the Jordanian people for over six decades. We carefully conduct monitoring and evaluation of all of our assistance programs to ensure they’re implemented according to their intended purpose. And our assistance to Jordan, we know it is in the direct national security interests of the United States. It helps Jordan confront regional challenges. It secures its borders. It helps Jordan participate in coalition activities against ISIS. And it helps the country to build the core capacity of its armed forces and promote economic prosperity and stability through investments in the Jordanian people and economic reforms.

We’ll go to Said Arikat, please.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I hope you are doing well and looking forward to seeing you behind the podium. And I have two —

MR PRICE: Likewise. Thanks, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. Two quick questions. I know that you guys condemned settler attacks last Thursday in Hebron and so on, but these attacks are increasing. I don’t think that the settlers are deterred or the Israelis are doing anything about it.

And my second question, pertaining to UNRWA, the – Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner of UNRWA, said that if they don’t get infused funds pretty soon they will – they cannot do their services come November and December. I know the U.S. committed to – back in April to $235 million. My question to you: Has the money been turned – all of it turned to UNRWA? And is the U.S. prepared to put in more aid to sustain the agency?

Thank you, Ned.

MR PRICE: Thank you, Said. So on UNRWA, we have contributed 318 million to UNRWA this fiscal year, and we’re closely tracking and coordinating with other donors on the agency’s financial situation. At the same time we’re also coordinating and encouraging other donors who have not yet contributed or who have reduced their funding this year to provide funding for UNRWA’s core programs to prevent UNRWA from suspending critical services in November and December, later this year.

You are right that we did issue a statement on some of the violence that you have – that you referenced. We have been very clear in calling on all sides to avoid unilateral steps that escalate or exacerbate tensions.

We’ll go to the line of Eunjong Cho.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Do you have reaction to North Korea’s pushback against UN Security Council’s meeting on North Korea’s recent missile launches? On Sunday North Korea accused the UN Security Council of applying double standards over military activities among UN member nations.

MR PRICE: Yes, we are aware of the reports of a DPRK statement directed towards the UN Security Council. We remain concerned by the DPRK’s repeated violations of multiple Security Council resolutions, and we underscore the need for both full compliance with Security Council resolutions and full implementation of all existing UN sanctions.

Let’s go to Devna Devdariani.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you, Ned, for organizing this. In the last 72 hours in Georgia, many things happened politically, and I will now ask a few questions about that. First off is the arrest of former President Mikhail Saakashvili in Georgia. He is at this moment on a hunger strike. What would be your reaction on that? Many believe in Georgia that he’s a political prisoner, so I’m just wondering what would be your reaction. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks very much for that. We are aware of the reports of the detention of Mr. Saakashvili and we’re following developments very closely. We urge Georgian authorities to ensure that Mr. Saakashvili is afforded fair treatment in accordance with Georgian law and Georgia’s international human rights commitments and obligations.

We’ll go to James Martell.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. You’ve over the weekend – I think it was Friday the State Department confirmed that your U.S. energy envoy Amos Hochstein would be going – traveling at the end of the month to Lebanon and Israel, but no details. Do you know exactly when he’ll be traveling, who he’ll be meeting with in Lebanon and Israel and working towards resolving this dispute over natural gas?

MR PRICE: Well, we can confirm that Amos Hochstein will resume his role as the U.S. mediator for the Israel-Lebanon maritime border talks, which he held during the Obama administration. He looks forward to building upon the strong work done by Ambassador John Desrocher over the last year. When it comes to his travel, we will release details there as we’re able, so please do stay tuned.

We will go to Conor Finnegan.

QUESTION: Hey, can you hear me okay?

MR PRICE: I can, yeah.

QUESTION: Hey. So —

MR PRICE: We may have lost you now, Conor. I think we’ve lost you, Conor. Are you still there?

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m here. Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: Yes, I can hear you now. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry about that. The Qataris said yesterday that another charter flight had taken off with American citizens on board. Can you confirm whether or not that’s the case? If so, how many were on board and how many in total have now gotten out? And how many U.S. remain behind? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Conor. So we continue to fulfill our pledge to U.S. citizens, to lawful permanent residents, and to Afghans to whom we have a special commitment. As you heard us say, we’ll be relentless in helping them depart Afghanistan if and when they choose to do so. Since late last month, we have assisted 105 U.S. citizens and 95 lawful permanent residents to depart.

Now, these are numbers of people whose individual departures we directly facilitated. An additional number of U.S. citizens and LPRs have departed on private charters or have independently crossed via land border, and they are not included in those tallies. There have been private charters that have departed in recent days, but we’re just not in a position to detail those from here.

We’ll go to Janne Pak.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thank you very much. How you feel?

MR PRICE: I’m feeling much better. Thank you for asking.

QUESTION: Good, good, good. Hopefully you’re pretty soon well. Thank you.

I have two questions for you today.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: First one is South Korea, one is North Korea. First question is: Timing the South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s announcement of an end-of-war declaration will have a political impact on the South Korean presidential election next year. What is the U.S. position on the political end-of-the-war declaration?

And second question: The North Korea has recently pursued a dual strategy of launching missiles and sending dialogue approaches to South Korea, but North Korea said it refuses to talk to the United States because it is hostile to them. The hostile acts that North Korea insists on are withdrawal of the U.S. troops from South Korea and the elimination of the strengthen of the U.S.-ROK alliance. What is the U.S. position on the North Korea’s absurd claims? Thank you very much.

MR PRICE: Well, on the second question, the answer is very simple. We have said this and reiterated it a number of times: We harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK, and this gets both to your second question and to your first question on what we’ve heard from our allies in the ROK. But our policy calls for a calibrated, practical approach that seeks serious and sustained diplomacy with the DPRK to make what we hope to be tangible progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies – and, of course, the ROK is included in that group – and our deployed forces.

To do that, we are coordinating closely with our allies, including in the Indo-Pacific, the ROK, and Japan. But we are also, as we have said, prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions.

We will go to Joseph Haboush, please.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thanks for doing this. Just a quick question: Could you confirm or detail any of Under Secretary Nuland’s travels following Paris? There have been reports that she could head to Beirut or other destinations. Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks for the question. I’m not in a position to do that today. If and when she does undertake subsequent travel after Paris, I suspect we’ll be in a position to speak to that then, so we will keep you posted.

And we’ll conclude with the line of Austin Landis.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thank you. I just wanted to follow up on Afghanistan flights as well, but specifically on SIVs. Last week some SIV holders made it out on a chartered flight, and I’m wondering if – first of all, are you all relying on charter flights for SIVs at this moment? And then just looking ahead, what is the plan for SIVs since you guys have committed to help even after August 31st? Secretary Blinken talked about this in his testimony a bit, about a potential mechanism for people to get documents. I’m just wondering if you have any overall update on SIV relocation.

MR PRICE: Thank you very much. So it does remain a priority of ours, and we’ve spoken about the priority groups we’re assisting should they decide to leave Afghanistan. At the top is, of course, American citizens, lawful permanent residents, and then Afghans to whom we have a special commitment, and SIVs are certainly in that category.

We are continuing to process SIV applications at every stage of the SIV process, including by transferring cases to other U.S. embassies and consulates around the world where applicants are able to appear. We know, of course, that it is currently extremely difficult for Afghans to obtain a visa to a third country or to find a way to enter a third country, but we are developing processing alternatives so that we can continue to deliver these important consular services for the people of Afghanistan. This is something that is of the utmost importance to us.

And consistent with that, we are also continuing to press the Taliban to live up to their commitment of free passage for those who wish to leave the country. We are doing this ourselves in our direct and pragmatic engagement with the Taliban on something like this that is of the utmost national security concern and national priority to us, but we’re also doing it in tandem with our allies and partners around the world.

And you heard this only recently during the UN General Assembly and on the margins of it when much of the world came together – including in different contexts, whether it was the P5, whether it was the G20, whether it was other bilateral or multilateral fora – to make clear that the international community will continue to press the Taliban on this commitment that they have made. And we’re pressing them, of course, for our own citizens, but also to facilitate the departure of Afghans to whom we have a special commitment should they wish to leave the country.

It looks like we have exhausted our question queue, so I want to thank everyone for joining today. We will come back to you on Thursday – I expect we’ll be able to do an in-person briefing then – and we’ll, of course, be in touch in the meantime. Thank you all very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:28 p.m.)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: