QUESTION: Could I just ask one thing to follow up on that?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Yeah, a question on North Korea, if I may. State Department usually likes to react and comment on whatever happens in the world, but unless I’m mistaken – and I may be – I haven’t seen a public reaction on the new North Korean law that declares the state – nuclear state – irreversible nuclear state. So I was wondering if that – if that’s on purpose that you’re keeping things quiet? What comment do you have with that new law? And especially since I think there’s a revival of the U.S.-South Korean deterrence strategy forum, or I’m not sure of the exact name, and that’s supposed to take place I think tomorrow or Friday, something like that. So could you give some comment?
MR PRICE: Yes, you are correct that the situation continues to be very concerning. We are deeply concerned about continued attacks along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. We’ve seen continued attacks now for a second straight day. We are particularly disturbed by continued reports of civilians being harmed inside Armenia. As you know, Secretary Blinken, shortly after hostilities broke out earlier this week, had an opportunity overnight to speak to the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan. He conveyed our deep concern over military actions along their shared border, including reports of shelling inside Armenia. He urged President Aliyev to cease hostilities immediately, to disengage military forces, to pull forces back from the border, and to cease hostilities that could endanger civilians, and to work to resolve all outstanding issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan through peaceful negotiations.
MR PRICE: I don’t have any specific information to offer, and that’s quite intentional. We undertook the exposure step we did yesterday in an effort to make the point of the universal threat – nearly universal threat – that countries around the world face from the potential and, in some cases, the very real possibility of Russian interference in their sovereign political affairs. We’ve talked about Russia’s very explicit and blatant attack on Ukrainian sovereignty in the context of Russia’s war against Ukraine. But around the world, including in this country, Russia and Russian actors have attempted to chip away at the sovereignty of peoples around the world by attempting to deprive from them their ability to make what should be a sovereign decision about who governs them, who leads them, who wins in their elections.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a question on Cuba?
QUESTION: It never – they don’t ever need to touch it.
Our concern is that private citizens attempting to broker a deal do not and cannot speak for the U.S. Government. And we have urged, warned private citizens not to travel to Russia owing to the dangers that they would face. And of course, those dangers are pronounced given that we’re talking about the case of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.
We have long said that doing everything we can to help resolve this border dispute is a priority. We believe a deal has the potential to promote lasting stability and economic prosperity for both countries. As part of that, I am certain Special Advisor Hochstein will continue to travel to the region, but I am also certain he’ll remain engaged from back here.
MR PRICE: Well, there is no question that Russia has committed – Russia’s forces have committed war crimes. Russia’s forces have committed atrocities. Russia’s forces have committed what appear to be crimes against humanity. Genocide, like other terms, carries its own definition. There are offices and individuals in this building, including our ambassador at large for Global Criminal Justice, whose primary task is to work with international partners culling through the evidence that has been collected in an effort to analyze, to preserve it, and to disseminate it so that we can support the global accountability mechanisms that are already in play.
QUESTION: Yes, and about the SST, what of the – what of the SST designation? What are the signs that you —
QUESTION: And how many flights are going out a week?
QUESTION: Hold on a second. Do you think that – granted the SST and the FTO are different – yeah, that’s right – are different animals. But are – is it your assessment that the humanitarian situation in Yemen improved after you lifted the FTO designation on the Houthis?
QUESTION: Thank you. My question is about the situation in the Caucasus. And I know that Secretary Blinken had been involved already in talks with Armenian and Azerbaijani officials. But the situation remains very intense, and the report suggests that the forces of Azerbaijan advanced and captured sovereign territories of the Republic of Armenia, and the humanitarian situation is very desperate. Do you have any updates on that?
MR PRICE: As I said, we have been in – we have been in contact with the Richardson Center. Not in a position to comment specifically on his travel, but what I could – what I can say is that this travel was not coordinated in advance with the embassy.
MR PRICE: It is absolutely our assessment that the humanitarian situation improved after lifting the FTO designation and working – importantly – with our Yemeni partners, with our Saudi partners, with other partners in the region to achieve a humanitarian ceasefire and a humanitarian truce that has allowed humanitarian aid to enter parts of Yemen that had not seen humanitarian assistance in more than seven years.
MR PRICE: I’m —
MR PRICE: We have had a number of conversations with senior officials in both countries. I wouldn’t want to detail the contents of those, but we have made clear to officials in both countries, to officials in the region, we have also made clear publicly that we are prepared to engage bilaterally as well as multilaterally, in any way that would be constructive to bring about an immediate end to this violence and more broadly a de-escalation of tensions going forward.
MR PRICE: Same topic?
MR PRICE: Ultimately – ultimately, we’re doing what is in the best interests of the people of Afghanistan, putting in place the safeguards to see to it and the auditing structures to see to it that these funds are used as they were intended.
QUESTION: Okay, that’s fine, but how long is it going to take for the money, the 3.5 billion, which you guys have right now, to get to the BIS? And then how long is it going to take for it to get from the BIS to any group, whoever it is, that would actually help Afghanistan?
For example, demonstrating its independence from political influence and interference, demonstrating it has instituted adequate anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism controls, complete a third-party needs assessment, and onboard a reputable third-party monitor. Those steps have not taken place yet. We’ve made very clear to the Taliban those are the kinds of steps that would need to occur before we could consider recapitalization.
QUESTION: Sorry, Ned. You mentioned that – what this – you gave two examples of what this money might go to. One was electricity – paying – and the other one was paying arrears to international financial institutions.
QUESTION: And I’m sorry to interrupt you, but look, the whole idea – you started off by saying you’re going to address the question of fungibility. The point is that they don’t need access to these funds directly. If you’re going to pay their debts to the IMF and the World Bank and whoever else, then they don’t —
They want sanctions relief. It’s very clear that the Taliban want to engage in broader economic activity with the international community. They want to be able to travel freely. The international community has made clear that while the Taliban systemically deprives half or more – in some cases much more – of its population of fundamental rights, that there will be no such sanctions relief.
QUESTION: No, I get it, but what’s —
QUESTION: What’s the evidence that they want to go anywhere other than New York for UNGA?
MR PRICE: I’m just not going to speak to any specific country or region in this context. It is a universal concern.
QUESTION: Huh? Deputy, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: — that means an applicant, but it doesn’t include their family members who may be applying with them? Is that right?
Of course, families are perfectly free to engage and to consult with outside voices, with outside entities. But again, we want to make sure that any outside effort is fully and transparently coordinated with us, and in this case we believe that any efforts that fall outside of that officially designated channel have the potential to complicate what is already an extraordinarily complicated challenge that we face – Russia’s practice of detaining Americans wrongfully, including in this case Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.
QUESTION: Can you just say more about that trip and —
QUESTION: Very briefly on Turkey’s role. Erdoğan said they support Azerbaijan and there might be consequences, as he said, for Armenia, kind of blaming the victim. And Putin, president of Russia, and Erdoğan might discuss the situation in Armenia later this week. Have you had any talks with your Turkish counterparts considering Turkey’s growing role and kind of support to Azerbaijan, to one side of the conflict?
MR PRICE: I – I think I was clear. I’ll leave it to you.
MR PRICE: Yes.
MR PRICE: Secretary Blinken, Ambassador Reeker, Assistant Secretary Donfried, others in her bureau have had a number of conversations, including with Armenia and Azerbaijan, but with other concerned stakeholders and partners. Not in a position to detail all of those engagements, but as I said yesterday, we are going to remain deeply engaged in the diplomacy. We are prepared to do all we can on a bilateral basis, on a multilateral basis, to see to it that these hostilities come to an end and that tensions are de-escalated.
QUESTION: It’s been reported that ex-Governor Richardson is in Moscow this week, presumably to try and help or release the U.S. prisoners there. Do you have any details of that trip? Would – do you support it? Do you condemn it? Do you think it would be helpful? What can you say to that? And have you, the State Department itself, been in contact with the ex-governor?
MR PRICE: Well, it will be up to the board to make those decisions. These are trustees from the United States, from the Government of Switzerland – there are two independent Afghan trustees as well. They in turn will make those decisions. There is a vetted list of sources for disbursement. But just to give you a flavor for what these sorts of macroeconomic infusions could look like, for example, to make payments for critical imports like electricity, that is something that could – we could envision the fund doing. To pay arrears at international financial institutions, the types of activities that are separate and apart from the day-to-day welfare that our humanitarian assistance and the humanitarian assistance of the international community is designed for. This has a very specific purpose that is separate from that.
MR PRICE: Go ahead, yeah.
MR PRICE: Go ahead, yeah.
MR PRICE: Go ahead, yeah.
QUESTION: And the 17 doesn’t include the 15 that were already granted, right?
Anything else on Afghanistan? Sure.
QUESTION: Could I just ask one thing to follow up on that?