HomeUnited StatesDepartment Press Briefing – December 20, 2022

Department Press Briefing – December 20, 2022

Said.
QUESTION: If the Iranian would return —
Education is an internationally recognized human right and it is essential to Afghanistan’s economic growth and its stability. This unacceptable stance will have significant consequences for the Taliban and will further alienate the Taliban from the international community and deny them the legitimacy they desire.
MR PRICE: This is – it’s just a – it’s a complete hypothetical at this point. It’s not even academic because the Iranians have demonstrated time and again that they are not prepared for a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, and they have, most recently in September, killed the opportunity for a swift return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA.
QUESTION: Taraneh Alidoosti, arguably one of the best known or one of the most acclaimed actors, actresses in Iran was detained over the weekend over social media post. Do you have any reaction specifically to her arrest?
QUESTION: Are there any implications for the frozen funds and that – the international fund that you guys set up that I think is being run by the World Bank? And second of all, what makes you think after all this time that they want better relations with the West?
MR PRICE: We’ve – we – there is a track record. These statements do not come in a vacuum. And the track record that we have seen over the past year and a half or so speaks to the fact that the Iranians have not and may not ever be in a position to move forward with a swift return to compliance with the JCPOA. Time and again, on several occasions now, we thought we were close. The rest of the world thought we were close – the E3, the other members of the P5+1 – only to have the rug pulled out from under us by the Iranians.
And just if you could speak to if you think it’s strategic on the Taliban’s part to allow this release to happen at the same time as a suspension of women’s education for universities. Do you think that they are sort of trying to gain goodwill from the U.S. while they do something that you ardently oppose?
MR PRICE: Well, this is not an app that we are permitted to have on our government-issued phones here at the State Department, I think for reasons that are probably clear. I think the – it is less a conversation that we’ve had with the PRC and it’s more a conversation that we’re having with allies and partners around the world, and with the American people. Because what we want to do is to sensitize stakeholders around the world – partners, allies, and the American people – to the potential dangers that technology may pose, especially when it’s foreign-owned or when there’s a foreign stake and that foreign country is a competitor or an adversary, or has been known to use the data of private American citizens for nefarious purposes. We want to make those concerns known. We want to have a shared approach with countries around the world, and we want to make sure that the American people at the very least appreciate the risks when it comes to their personal privacy and personal data.
The level of our support and the nature of our relationship is wholly contingent on the actions that they take towards their own people and the actions that they take with regard to our primary interests. And we’ve talked about those interests – human rights, safe passage for those who wish to depart Afghanistan, the counterterrorism commitments that they’ve made to the United States and to the international community, the ability of the people of Afghanistan to have a government that is representative and inclusive of all of the people of Afghanistan, including its girls, its women, its minorities. That’s what’s important to us. That is what will define the future of our relationship with the Taliban.
QUESTION: Just to clarify, there’s a huge difference between the deal is not on the agenda and the deal is dead. The President of the United States is on the record saying that the deal is dead, and I think that part of the story is established already. Now the question is let’s talk about the killers. So what are you going to do to hold Iranian mullah regime accountable for murdering Iranians and murdering the deal?
QUESTION: And can I also ask you about Russia-Iran, please? British defense minister today said that Russia will give Iran advanced military components in return to – in return for new drones. So they’re talking about 300. The White House had a chance to address this this morning, but this is two-ways road so Iran will receive as well in this case advanced military components. I’m asking about that part of the coin. Why does Iran needs Russian advanced military components? To use against Iranian people? To use against neighbors? Should we be worried about Iran’s behavior backed by Russia?
Despite these statements from the Iranians, what we’re focused on now are what’s happening in the streets of Iran – the bravery, the determination, the courage of the Iranian people, especially its women and girls to take to the streets to express their universal rights. And we’re also at the same time focused on what Iran is enabling Russia to do, and that’s also a primary concern of ours.
We think it is incumbent upon all members of the UN Security Council, but especially the Permanent Five members of the Security Council, to uphold the very commitments that they have made. When the P5 – the so-called P5 choose not to do so for whatever reason, it erodes the capability, it erodes the legitimacy of the Security Council itself.
QUESTION: So you declare it dead?
QUESTION: So you declare it dead?
QUESTION: Back to Asia. COVID in China. You mentioned yesterday that there was – there are concerns for the global economy, in terms of what’s happening in China. There are reports from many of our news outlets, but crematoriums having huge caseloads of dead people. Is there anything you can further about how the U.S. assesses the COVID situation in China? Is there anything potentially that the United States could or is willing to do on that regard?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. Going back to your opening statement on improving humanitarian aid delivery across U.S. sanctions, are there particular sanctions that we are talking about?
MR PRICE: Let me move around. Abbie.
I think the point remains that we will always be consistent in advocating for our interests with the Taliban if there is to continue to be engagement with the Taliban, and our interests are consistent with the interests of the people of Afghanistan. We have an interest in seeing Americans released from detention. We obviously welcome the release of these two Americans today. That is a uniquely U.S. interest.
MR PRICE: So we continue to raise with the Taliban the need for the immediate release of any U.S. nationals detained in Afghanistan, but I’m just not in a position to offer specifics.
With that, Shaun.
We look forward to working with our allies and partners around the world and with humanitarian actors and financial institutions to ensure these licenses are properly understood, so that food, medicine, and other aid reach those most in need. The licenses announced today are one critical step to meeting the humanitarian challenges of unprecedented magnitude while maintaining the integrity of our sanctions to promote international peace, security, and stability as well.
QUESTION: You mentioned that the earlier ban by the Taliban on girls at secondary schools had a significant impact on U.S. engagement. I mean, from that one could say that what’s the impact in terms of what the U.S. is doing? I mean, do you find any way to persuade the Taliban? Is it – is there any means at the U.S.’s disposal to actually effect change?
QUESTION: Yeah.
The UN Security Council resolutions that govern this – the international aspect of this sanctions regime were put in place by the Security Council, of course, which means that all five Permanent Members of the Security Council voted in favor of each one of these UN Security Council resolutions. In many cases that was now years ago. And what we are seeing – and I think what we’ve seen accelerate in recent years – are two members of the Security Council choose not to uphold the commitments that they themselves had made, have chosen not to uphold the Security Council resolutions that they themselves helped craft and to put in place in the first instance. That has, unfortunately, given the DPRK additional breathing room.
MR PRICE: That – he said that the IAEA was prepared to dispatch inspectors?
MR PRICE: We have a relationship where we are in a position to discuss with one another the stark disagreements we have, the challenges that the PRC poses to us and to our allies and partners, including when it comes to technology. I think it’s fair to say that the PRC Government knows where we stand, how concerned we are. But I think perhaps the more important conversation is the conversation that we’re having with the American people, and that we’re having with allies and partners to harmonize that approach.
It’s not for us to speak to Iran’s intentions, what Iran might seek to do with the military and technical support that Russia is providing it. But you’ve heard from us consistently the track record of Iran that certainly gives us pause when Iran comes into possession of potentially greater know-how, more sophisticated technology, technical support expertise as well. Iran has a track record not only of using its instruments of the state to conduct violent, destabilizing actions through the region, but providing support to terrorist groups, to proxies, to others who themselves have a destabilizing and profoundly unhelpful influence across the region.
QUESTION: Ned, you just mentioned internet blackouts, and Sunday and Monday there was total blackout – excuse me – apparently. You also mentioned the general license and everything. Are you hearing from the private sector, the technology companies if there’s room still to help the people?
To the first part of your question, this we understand to have been a goodwill gesture on the part of the Taliban. This was not part of any swap of prisoners or detainees. There was no money that exchanged hands. We understand this, or at least the Taliban characterized this to us, as a goodwill gesture.
MR PRICE: I am certain that we’ll have a chance to get to the region before too long. We don’t have any – we, ourselves, don’t have any travel to the region to announce just yet, just as the White House does not, nor do we have any calls between the Secretary and his counterpart Foreign Minister Hayashi currently lined up. But as you know, they speak often. They see each other quite frequently. And we do have a practice of keeping one another updated on our shared approach to the PRC. The Japanese affirmed that shared approach to the regional security challenges in the documents they’ve – they released just a few days ago. In the aftermath of our engagements with senior PRC officials, including President Xi, including Wang Yi, Yang Jiechi, we have developed a habit of providing our treaty allies with context from those sessions in coordinating closely on our approach. And I assume that will continue going forward as well.
QUESTION: Just to clarify —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: So it’s not something you’re speaking to with them directly, China, about it?
Afghanistan, over the course of the past 20 years, was a country that was heavily reliant on international assistance. Its budget was primarily funded by the international donor community. It is a country that is heavily reliant on humanitarian assistance. The prior Afghan government relied on various forms of assistance from the international community. The same will be true of the next government of Afghanistan. It will need assistance; it will need support; it will need resources from the international community. The resources that we provided the last Afghan government certainly is not on the table for the Taliban, not on the table for them if they emerge as the official government of Afghanistan.
MR PRICE: Of course, we have full faith and confidence in the IAEA. It performs an indispensable mission. But it is not any fault of the IAEA – it is the fault of the DPRK that they have chosen to flout international law, they have chosen to develop this nuclear weapons program in contravention of international law, of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and in a way that gravely undermines the global nuclear nonproliferation regime. It’s of concern to us; it’s of concern to the international community. It’s of concern to the IAEA as well.
Said.
And the irony of them granting us a goodwill gesture on a day where they undertake a gesture like this to the Afghan people, it’s not lost on us. But it is a question for the Taliban themselves regarding the timing of this.
MR PRICE: We are having a discussion with the private sector. It’s a discussion that’s been going on since the earliest days of these protests in Iran. We want their ideas. We do not have a monopoly on good ideas when it comes to steps we could take that would help the people of Iran fulfill their aspirations. You may recall that early on in these protests, Deputy Secretary Sherman met with a – representatives of various technology companies. We’ve continued to have discussions with technologists on additional steps we might be able to take.
MR PRICE: Sure. We’ve made the point before that this is a time when we need unity between and cohesion between our allies, certainly between and among our NATO Allies. We always regret the escalation of provocative statements. The tensions within an alliance, between two alliance members, certainly does not help anyone. To that end, we welcome the recent meeting in Brussels between Anna-Maria Boura, Prime Minister Mitsotakis’s diplomatic advisor, and Ibrahim Kalin, President Erdoğan’s spokesperson and chief advisor, and we continue to encourage these discussions at all levels.
MR PRICE: Look, I’m not going to go into private discussions, but we’ve made the point many times publicly that we are the largest donor of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. We’re prepared to continue to support countries around the world, including China, on this and other COVID-related health support. This is profoundly in the interests of the rest of the world. Our COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and we’ve provided them to countries around the world regardless or in spite of any political disagreements. For us, this is not about politics; it’s not about geopolitics. It is about saving lives, saving livelihoods.
QUESTION:  Can I just ask – I know there’s probably a limit to what you can say, but can you just tell us a little bit more about the two Americans, how long they were detained?  Are they Afghan Americans?  Is there anything more you can detail about their situation?
MR PRICE: Yes.
Now, of course, our concerns and profound disagreements with members of the Security Council go well beyond the DPRK, and we’ve spoken to them in the context of Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine. But the DPRK is an excellent example of a challenge to the region and beyond where we can and should be working with the other Permanent Five members of the Security Council, in this case China and Russia.
Now, of course, our concerns and profound disagreements with members of the Security Council go well beyond the DPRK, and we’ve spoken to them in the context of Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine. But the DPRK is an excellent example of a challenge to the region and beyond where we can and should be working with the other Permanent Five members of the Security Council, in this case China and Russia.
QUESTION: And just one more question. Are there any other Americans who are detained in Afghanistan at this time?
MR PRICE: So we have taken steps to make clear that we stand resolutely with the Iranian people, who are exercising their universal rights by taking to the streets, voicing their grievances, voicing their aspirations, as they have every single right to do. We have taken steps to enable them to do that more effectively through the general licenses that we issue that allow technology companies to provide hardware and software to the Iranian people to allow them to speak, to communicate with one another and with the outside world so that, importantly, the rest of the world can see – we can hear – precisely what is going on inside of Iran. That’s important for us. It’s important for the protesters that they be heard by the rest of the world, just as that they are demanding that they be heard by the Iranian regime.
We believe in doing so it’s important that all countries – and this includes the PRC – it’s important that all countries focus on getting people vaccinated and making testing and treatment easily available. We’ve said this many times publicly, but the U.S. is the largest donor of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. We are prepared to continue to support people around the world, including in China, with this and other COVID-related health support. This is in the interests of the international community that we all collectively do everything we can to help China get this under control.
The United States condemns, in the strongest terms, the Taliban’s indefensible decision to ban women from universities, to keep secondary schools closed to girls, and to continue to impose other restrictions on the ability of women and girls in Afghanistan to exercise their human rights and their fundamental freedoms.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:12 p.m.)
Now, we hear the opposite: An order from the so-called Higher Education Ministry yesterday states that women cannot attend universities either. With the implementation of this decree, half of the Afghan population will soon be unable to access education beyond primary school.
So on top of that, I do fully expect that we will continue to pull from the tools that we have at our disposal to hold the Taliban to account. Some senior members of the Taliban are already subject to certain measures. The Taliban as an organization is subject to certain measures. And we will look to see what more we can do to hold the Taliban to account for today’s announcement, even as, importantly, we continue to support the people of Afghanistan with our humanitarian assistance that very deliberately bypasses the Taliban and goes directly to the needs of the Afghan people.
But as we’ve spoken about, as we’ve – as you’ve heard us say before, we’re working with Congress on a potential alternative that would allow us to continue to increase the costs on the Kremlin and those who are responsible for Russia’s war against Ukraine without some of the unintended consequences that the state sponsor of terrorism, the state sponsor designation might bring.
You are right to point out that this indefensible decree did come on the same day that we are in a position to welcome the release of two Americans, two U.S. nationals, from detention in Afghanistan. We are providing these two U.S. nationals with all appropriate assistance. They will soon be reunited with their loved ones, and we are absolutely gratified to see that.
But beyond that, the categories that I spoke to earlier – human rights, safe passage, representative government, counterterrorism, go down the list – all of these are priority issues for the Afghan people. In our engagement with the Taliban we will continue to be – take a principled and pragmatic approach. We will continue to advocate for these interests. We will continue to advocate for everything we’ve been seeking since this period of our engagement began.
Next and finally, today, the United States Department of the Treasury announced one of the most important updates to our sanctions policy in years. In September, Secretary Blinken announced the United States’ intent to ensure that food, medicine, and humanitarian assistance are exempted from UN and U.S. sanctions programs. The first step in achieving that goal was the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2664 on December 9, which exempts humanitarian assistance from UN Security Council-imposed asset freeze measures. We are grateful to Ireland for co‑drafting this resolution with us.
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t connect these two elements. I think certainly this step today does not take any actions off the table. We have spoken about our thinking when it comes to the state sponsor of terrorism designation as it relates to Russia and the challenges that are posed there, the challenges you raise when it comes to humanitarian organizations. That’s certainly one of them, and we’ve heard from humanitarian organizations that such a designation would hamper their ability to provide humanitarian assistance, including inside Ukraine. Obviously, we are attuned to that. But we’re also – as we’re required to do, we are very attuned to the law and what the law stipulates, the criteria it sets forth to designate a country as a state sponsor of terrorism. It’s our task to marry what’s in the books, what’s in the law, with the facts on the ground.
Let me go – yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: The Japanese foreign minister is scheduled to visit China next week. Will the Secretary be having any phone calls with his counterpart before or after his trip? And does the Secretary plan on visiting Japan and South Korea while he’s in the region next year?
MR PRICE: So this is a point that we, too, have made. And I think it was on December 9th that I think we might have used that exact term: it’s a two-way street. It’s a partnership between Iran and Russia. We’ve spoken since July of Russia’s provision – excuse me, of Iran’s provision of armed UAVs to Russia for lethal use inside of Ukraine. But more recently, we spoke about the two-way nature of this relationship and the fact that in exchange for these armed UAVs, Russia is offering Iran an unprecedented level of military and technical support. It’s transforming their relationship into a full-fledged defense partnership. We’ve spoken about the challenges that this partnership presents not only to Ukraine, but to Iran’s neighbors in the region as well.
MR PRICE: The illegal transshipment of oil?

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