HomeUnited StatesDepartment Press Briefing – September 15, 2022

Department Press Briefing – September 15, 2022

Let me add that today the Department designated 22 of Russia’s proxy officials, including five who have overseen the seizure or the theft of hundreds of thousands of tons of Ukrainian grain. Their actions also exacerbate global food insecurity.
QUESTION:  I want to ask something else. But is there a reason why Phil Reeker didn’t go to Armenia? He was in Azerbaijan, then he went to Vienna.
MR PRICE:  So on your second question, we do take seriously our obligation, and it is an obligation, as the host country of the UN under the UN Headquarters Agreement. As the host country, we have provided guidance to all member states when it comes to timelines for visa applications. We are generally obligated to grant visas to diplomats who are traveling —
QUESTION:  I just want a clarification on this one. Is this issue precondition for potential interaction between the Secretary and the minister?
We strongly support calls for demilitarization of the area surrounding the ZNPP, including the removal of Russia’s forces from the plants and the immediate withdrawal – and their immediate withdrawal from Russia’s* territory. This – a version of this has been put forward by the IAEA as well. They have concerns about the potential for continued combat and dangerous operations around this nuclear facility, and their nuclear safety and security protection zone intends to achieve a similar objective to the concept of a demilitarized area around the ZNPP. And that’s something we continue to discuss very closely with the IAEA, but of course with Ukraine in the first instance.
On systems for Ukraine, I don’t have a response to what we heard from the Russian Federation today. What I would underscore is that everything we have provided for our Ukrainian partners has had one purpose and only one purpose, and that is to enable to defend their country, to defend their territory, to defend their freedom, to defend their democracy against invading Russian aggressors. This is about equipping our Ukrainian partners with what they need to preserve their sovereignty, their independence, and their territorial integrity as well.
QUESTION:  Generally. But —
QUESTION: But why isn’t it —
QUESTION: Ned, can you give us an update on the state of negotiations with Russia to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan since now we know that the President is going to meet with their families at the White House tomorrow?
MR PRICE: But Matt, I think we —
And the third question, there is two conference. One is in Bukhara, Samarkand, Shanghai conference about Afghanistan, and the next one is Vienna regarding Afghanistan. Does the State Department has any comment? It’s going to be useful for Afghanistan, especially for women situation?
QUESTION: And if I may, yesterday also the board of governors of the IAEA said – they issued a statement which U.S. was party, and they again said that they are – they have a profound concern. Is there a time limit that the U.S. will refer Iran’s case of not answering IAEA’s questions to the United Nations Security Council, or they keep on going? Thanks.
MR PRICE: I believe we can. There we go. Yes.
MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to agriculture —
QUESTION:  At the UN General Assembly next week, do you think the North Korean foreign minister will be attending this meeting?
QUESTION:  Anything specific at the UNGA, though?
QUESTION:  Separately, Ethiopia. Could you say if Mike Hammer is still in the region, what he’s doing diplomatically, and how do you see things right now? The Ethiopian Government had a statement about the TPLF accepting African Union mediation. Do you think that’s a positive step? How do you see things on the ground right now?
MR PRICE: Well, there’s not much I can tell you that I think most of you in this room already know. We have —
Ambassador Reeker, our senior advisor has been in the region. He’s now in Vienna meeting with likeminded partners in the OSCE. Assistant Secretary Donfried has been in contact with her foreign minister counterparts in the region. Ambassador Reeker has spoken with President Aliyev. The Secretary, of course, has had an opportunity a couple days ago now to speak to both leaders. I would expect that he will have an opportunity to speak to the leaders again. He has been personally focused on this and will remain engaged going forward.
QUESTION: I’m sure that – yeah.
QUESTION: I’m just trying to get an idea of how many of these people or entities are going to wake up in the morning or go to sleep at night with new – with penalties on them that didn’t exist before. That’s the question there.
During that time, during that time in the same two-year period, there has been like at least two major wars that Israel has waged on the Palestinians in Gaza. Anyway, so these accords that were touted as something that should bring peace and prosperity for all certainly have not been anywhere near that objective for the Palestinians. That’s one. And I don’t want to discuss that too much, but also, I mean, you talk about anniversaries —
We believe that this approach reflects our concerns about human rights and fundamental freedoms in Egypt, while at the same time also seeking to sustain and to advance engagement and dialogue in human rights – that same engagement and dialogue on human rights we have had with Egypt over the last 20 months.
MR PRICE: Well, I’ll come to that in just a moment. We have a few things at the top before we get to your questions, but as you can see, we have quite a room before us today.
MR PRICE: Matt, I think this goes back to some of our earliest interactions.
MR PRICE:  I couldn’t speak to anything on the sidelines of next week’s UN. We will have an opportunity to speak more to the Secretary’s schedule in the coming days.
MR PRICE: I don’t have a response to those comments other than to say that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA would not only be in the interests of the United States and our European partners, the E3 in this context. Ensuring permanently and verifiably that Iran would not be in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon would also be in the interests of two of the participants in this meeting you referenced, Russia and China as well.
To address your third question on this, that is why in every forum, we and our partners around the world take advantage of opportunities to be very explicit and candid with the Taliban about those concerns, about the implications of the Taliban’s continued unwillingness or inability to live up to the commitments that it has made to the Afghan people. We’ve been very clear with the Taliban in every single engagement of ours, and I know and I’m confident that our partners around the world have been clear in every single engagement they have had of the costs for the Taliban’s continued intransigence when it comes to the human rights of the Afghan people. And that means all of the people of Afghanistan, including its women, of course; its girls, of course; its minorities – religious, ethnic, and otherwise.
MR PRICE: Thank you. When it comes to —
Secondly, in reaction to your Russian counterparts today’s comment on your supplying longer level missiles will cross a redline, are you planning to supply longer range HIMARS or not? Just to clarify that.
MR PRICE: I can speak to that.
MR PRICE: I can speak to that.
More broadly, we are increasingly concerned by the growing military activity in Northern Ethiopia. We strongly condemn the resumption of hostilities. There is no military solution to this conflict. These actions are inconsistent with the Government of Ethiopia and Tigrayan regional authorities’ stated willingness to go to talks. And we call on both the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray regional authorities to halt immediately their military offensives and to pursue a negotiated settlement through peace talks under the auspices of the African Union.
And as background, when it comes to those funds, 0 million of the total .3 billion originally planned for Egypt in the FY21 FMF funds are subject, per Congress, to human rights related conditions. Within that 0 million, there are essentially two baskets of funds: there is 5 million that is subject to a broad range of human rights conditions, and the remaining 75 million is conditioned specifically on demonstrating clear and consistent progress on releasing political detainees and providing detainees with due process, as you referenced in your question.
Now, the remaining million will be provided to Egypt under a statutory exception for border security, nonproliferation, and counterterrorism programs. For the million in FMF funding that is subject to conditions related to what you raised – political prisoners and due process – the Secretary did determine that Egypt is making clear and consistent progress on this issue, and that’s why he directed the department to notify Congress of our intent to provide these funds to Egypt.
And so it’s important for us that we’re in a position to speak with them. It’s important for us that we’re in a position to meet with them. Secretary Blinken often is on the phone with families. He’s had an opportunity to speak on multiple occasions now to all of the families at once, but typically this is done on a family-by-family basis. The same is true of the National Security Advisor. The same is true of the President, who has spoken to a number of these families now and I know is closely, closely tracking the details of all of these cases.
And so it’s important for us that we’re in a position to speak with them. It’s important for us that we’re in a position to meet with them. Secretary Blinken often is on the phone with families. He’s had an opportunity to speak on multiple occasions now to all of the families at once, but typically this is done on a family-by-family basis. The same is true of the National Security Advisor. The same is true of the President, who has spoken to a number of these families now and I know is closely, closely tracking the details of all of these cases.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have three questions at present. But one is Taliban sharing the video (inaudible) hostages being held in Panjshir and then shooting them, and they share on the social media, which is – reaction is so negative for the Afghan people. Any comment about that? What is the international law said about it?
Let me move around. Yes. Sure.
QUESTION: No, no, that’s fine.
MR PRICE: I can speak to —
MR PRICE: I can speak to —
MR PRICE: I can speak to —
QUESTION: How do you think this will affect Russia’s sanctions, because China not cooperating with Russia sanctions?
QUESTION: How do you think this will affect Russia’s sanctions, because China not cooperating with Russia sanctions?
QUESTION: How do you think this will affect Russia’s sanctions, because China not cooperating with Russia sanctions?
MR PRICE:  Sorry? Oh. We – again, we are aware of this. We have urged all sides to avoid actions that could escalate tension. That certainly includes evictions.
MR PRICE:  I’m just not in a position to speak to that now. We are prepared to take any step that we think has the potential to move the ball forward.
QUESTION: Thank you. A follow-up on China issues. President Xi Jinping and President Putin met at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit yesterday. They created the (inaudible) for the (inaudible) trade and economic cooperation. And China is not cooperation in the Russia sanctions. How do you think this would affect Russia’s sanctions?
Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Yeah, but —
MR PRICE: Excuse – don’t already know. It would be much more interesting were the – were that formulation true. We have a couple of imperatives here. Number one is to do everything we can to see the release, as soon as we can, of Brittney Griner and of Paul Whelan. Consistent with that first imperative, we have a second imperative. That is to be judicious in the level and the number of details we share.
MR PRICE: Sorry, repeat the end of that? How does – I didn’t catch the end of the question.
QUESTION: No, quickly, because you have said that U.S. bipartisan “one China” policy is guided by Six Assurances, the Taiwan Relations Act, and Joint Communique. Among the Six Assurances is – I can quote – “The United States will not formally recognize Chinese soveriegnty over Taiwan” end of quote, and quote, “The United States will not set a date for termination of arms sale to Taiwan,” end of quote. Is there a reason – is there a need for Chinese Government to be concerned about Taiwan Policy Act?
QUESTION: Are you able to talk at all what the main sticking point is? I understand that these are private discussions, but are you able to say anything about why they’re taking as long as they’re taking? And is it fair to characterize at this point that they’re stalled? You said two months ago you guys have put forward the proposal and, as I understand, to this date, to this moment, that you haven’t received a positive response from the Russians.
The Secretary did make the determination that Egypt has made clear and consistent progress both through what you referenced, unprecedented numbers of releases, hundreds of prisoners this year; the establishment of the presidential pardon committee; and the efforts to set up a national political dialogue that is expected to address some of these very issues. That includes pre-trial detention reform, among other social, political, and economic issues.
MR PRICE: So this is a complicated issue, and so I want to make sure that we clearly state the background to this decision. First, it’s important to say that the Biden administration has taken an approach regarding Egypt that reflects the full range of our national interests, and of course that includes human rights. Egypt is a strategic partner of ours with whom we cooperate to promote a range of shared interests. In doing so, we also raise very serious concerns about human rights and fundamental freedoms in Egypt. Because our bilateral relationship with Egypt is an important one, we have made clear at every opportunity – and we have had a number – that our relationship is fundamentally strengthened when there is progress on human rights. In that context – and you alluded to this – the Secretary yesterday made several decisions related to Fiscal Year 2021 U.S. military assistance through what is called Foreign Military Financing, or FMF – these funds for Egypt.
QUESTION: Okay. And then lastly, as you pointed out, today is the Day of Democracy or the whatever it is. I’m wondering if you have anything to say about Hungary in that light since it is a member of the EU, it is a member of NATO, and yet today the EU Parliament adopted a resolution that says that Hungary is no longer a democracy. Do you agree with that sentiment and will Hungary be invited to the next Summit for Democracy?
MR PRICE:  Well, Special Envoy Hammer is still in the region. He’s wrapping up two weeks in the region. He’s remained actively engaged with the Government of Ethiopia, with the Tigray regional authorities, with the African Union, and with international partners to seek to advance an important effort to bring about peace. He met on September 12th with the AU’s high representative, Mr. Obasanjo. He met on the 13th with UN Special Representative to the Secretary-General Hanna Tetteh. And Assistant Secretary Phee, for her part, was this week attending the inauguration of President Ruto in Kenya, and she engaged in discussions regarding the ongoing violence in Ethiopia.
MR PRICE: — that same targets are sanctioned more than once.
On this International Day of Democracy, and every day, we stand in solidarity with people across the globe who are putting democratic principles into practice to realize a brighter future for all.
I would leave it to the PRC to speak to the approach that they are taking towards this conflict, towards this war. As I said just a moment ago, they have had to go to extraordinary lengths to even attempt to explain how this brutal war of territorial conquest and aggression would not be automatically at odds with the vision of the world that they have put forward over the course of decades and the emphasis that they have placed on the principle – the emphasis they have placed on the principle of sovereignty over the course of decades.
QUESTION: Ned, on this?
QUESTION: Ned on this, what is the next step regarding the JCPOA?
When it comes to the commitment President Biden made to seeing to it that Afghanistan could never again become a launchpad for attacks targeting the United States or our partners, that is a commitment that we are positioned to carry out. We don’t speak to specific tactics, but I think our actions speak for themselves. And the fact that we were able to take a precise, targeted operation against Ayman al-Zawahiri, the now deceased leader of al-Qaida, speaks to the commitment we have using the tools that are at our disposal to follow through with that pledge.
MR PRICE: We can determine if there’s any more we can share there.
QUESTION: Could I follow up on the Abraham Accords? Of course, I think it’s just a thorny term because nobody named Abraham sponsored these accords. I don’t know how they came up with the name, just trying to thrust some biblical thing into it. I don’t know. But during the same period —
MR PRICE: — take the opportunity to answer a question that may not have been there?
Very final quick question, yes.
QUESTION: So your understanding is they don’t grow anything, not even like beans?
When it comes to the Abraham Accords, we have and will continue to take advantage of every opportunity to seek to advance the Abraham Accords and broader normalization agreements. There is a process that is ongoing that started with the Negev Summit in March. Senior officials have been involved in that with their respective counterparts. We’ll have more updates on that process. But I would expect that we’ll continue to have conversations in the coming days and weeks – not only with Israel and the current signatories to the Abraham Accords and other normalization agreements, but other countries who may be prepared in the coming period to see their relations normalized with Israel and to —
We will hold this meeting tomorrow. As I said before, it will be led by Bonnie Jenkins. It will also include the Department of Defense, specifically Dr. Colin Kahl, who’s the under secretary of defense for policy. And it provides an opportunity for our government to discuss peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific more broadly.
QUESTION: The last time Secretary Blinken spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov was on this topic about the detainee issue. Given that Lavrov will be in New York next week for UNGA, will Blinken meet with him there to discuss this matter, or any matters?
Our words must be matched by actions to ensure that democracies deliver for their citizens. That is why the United States is working with partner governments, civil society, and the private sector in what we call a “Year of Action” to fulfill pledges made at the Summit for Democracy held last December. During the second Summit for Democracy next year, we’ll take stock of our progress in meeting commitments that strengthen democratic institutions.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. A couple things on Russia. One is on IAEA resolution just was passed. Actually, they call Russia to leave the power plant, which is something you were calling as well. But my question is the fact that only two countries voted against it, Russia and China. Can I get your reaction to that?
MR PRICE: When it comes to Panjshir, I’m not immediately familiar with the video that you’re referring to, but we have seen any number of atrocities committed in Afghanistan in recent months. And, of course, violence against civilians is an atrocity; in some cases it could constitute even worse. We are paying very close attention to the human rights situation in Afghanistan. We have made no secret about our concerns for the fact that the Taliban is not living up to the commitments they have made to the United States, to the international community, but most importantly, the commitments that they have made to the people of Afghanistan.
QUESTION: I have two questions, one on Sudan and other one on Qatar-Egypt. The U.S. embassy in Sudan welcomed the draft transitional constitution prepared by the Sudanese Bar Association. To what extent do you consider this draft as a base for a political solution in Sudan? And how will the U.S. support it?
(The briefing was concluded at 3:16 p.m.)
(The briefing was concluded at 3:16 p.m.)
QUESTION: Can I follow up on the (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: We have information, we had information that we made public a number of months ago now, that Russia was seeking security assistance from the PRC. As I said a moment ago to Nike, we made that public. We also made very public the fact that we would be watching very closely and that the PRC would incur significant costs if it provided military assistance to Russia in its war or if it aided Russia in a systematic way evade the sanctions that the international community had imposed on it. We have not seen the PRC do either of those things.
I say it’s not surprising because what – we’ve seen the PRC resort to verbal and in many ways geopolitical gymnastics over recent months, trying to avoid criticizing Russia’s war against Ukraine, at least trying to avoid criticizing it openly. After all, it’s – this is a war that is not – is a blatant assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty, but it is also at odds with everything the PRC has purported to believe in over the course of decades now. It is a constant refrain that we’ve heard from the PRC bilaterally, that we’ve heard from the PRC in multilateral settings, that we’ve heard from the PRC in the UN system, this principle, this – what should be an inviolable principle of state sovereignty, has been under assault by Russia since February 24th, and in many ways for the eight years before that.
MR PRICE: On Iran?
When it comes to Russia’s interference in elections around the world, we didn’t release information this week in order to put a spotlight on any particular country. In fact, we have not spoken to Russia’s efforts in particular context. That was not the point of these efforts. The point was to put a spotlight on what is very much a global threat and a universal challenge that countries around the world – continents around the world – face from the threat of Russia’s meddling and interference in democratic exercises around the world.
QUESTION: And what is your impression, your take on this Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit which Mr. President Putin attended?
MR PRICE: Said, whether the context is Israel, whether the context is Gaza, whether the context is the West Bank, whether the context is any other entity or country around the world, we have spoken of the indispensable role of civil society and human rights organizations. That is absolutely true.
MR PRICE:  I would defer to the speaker to speak to any travel she may have.
MR PRICE: — agriculture in Crimea. I can speak to our —
QUESTION: All right. So do they – there are no crops grown in Crimea, or are you conceding that Crimea is no longer part of Ukraine?
QUESTION: Ned, can I —
QUESTION: Final question on the U.S. and South Korea will hold the Extended Deterrence Strategy Consultation Group meeting tomorrow. What will be specifically discussed at the 2+2 meeting tomorrow?
QUESTION: But I mean, you keep saying both sides. The Israelis are not expelling anyone – I mean the Palestinians. It’s the Israelis who are expelling Palestinians. Why can’t you say directly to the Israelis that you will not look very kindly on their effort to expel Palestinians?
MR PRICE:  Anyone who hasn’t asked? Yes.
MR PRICE:  — who are traveling to the United States for the UN. Visa records are confidential. We can’t comment on individual cases. But we are obligated to take the commitments we have as the UN host country extraordinarily seriously.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. Two questions. So yesterday EU’s Borrell said that the negotiation had reached a stalemate, and today Benny Gantz of Israel says that the JCPOA is in ER room. I wanted your assessment on what is characterization that the Department of State has on the status of this negotiation. And now since those are painting a gloomy picture, what will happen to the fate of the U.S. Iranians held in Iran?
When it comes to the wrongful detainees in Iran, this has been a priority of this administration since day one. And we have always been extraordinarily careful as long as there has been a process underway in Vienna or anywhere else regarding a potential mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA not to link these two things. And we have not linked them precisely because we always imagined we could be in this position where the JCPOA is a very uncertain proposition. We don’t want to tie the fates of detained Americans, Americans who in some cases have spent hundreds of days – years – behind bars away from their families – we don’t want to tie their fates to what could well remain an uncertain or even impossible proposition. So we have always treated these on a separate track. That is why even in the absence of a JCPOA, at least at this moment, we are continuing to do everything we can to see the release of these American detainees at the first possible opportunity.
MR PRICE: So on ZNPP, this is something that we’ve discussed with our Ukrainian partners, with our European partners. It was a topic of discussion between President Zelenskyy, Foreign Minister Kuleba, and Secretary Blinken in Kyiv last Thursday. We continue to be concerned for a number of reasons. The electricity that the plant produces when it is fully operational belongs to Ukraine. This is Ukrainian territory; it is a Ukrainian plant. Any attempt to – and any combat operations, Russia’s combat operations around this plant, pose a profound danger to a nuclear installation. Combat should not be performed around nuclear installations and nuclear facilities. That is a message we have made resoundingly clear to the Russians. It is a message that the IAEA has also issued as well.
When it comes to the issue of due process and political detention, there is no question that politically motivated arrests in Egypt are a major challenge, and that’s highlighted in our annual Human Rights Report, including our most recent Human Rights Report.
QUESTION: All right. And secondly on this and on the sanctions, there are a couple, including the big one in there, the GRU and the sanctions, as you well know is already under sanctions. Do you know or can you find out how many of the people and other entities that were targeted today are already under sanctions, or is the GRU the only one of this group? Because there were a lot of, like, high-tech companies that possibly – and I didn’t have time to go cross-reference this, but I think some of them may have been sanctioned before. Is there a way to find that out?
QUESTION:  Yeah. Ned, what is the U.S. take on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting with the Russian President Putin? Is there more reason to cause concern? And it still the U.S. assessment that China is not providing military and material assistance to Russia? Thank you.
MR PRICE: This was a report that was put together by the Yale Conflict Observatory. It was ‑-
To the Secretary’s decisions, the Secretary did not certify to Congress that Egypt met the human rights related conditions for that bigger pot of money, the 225 million portion of this 0 million total. The Secretary did not use his national interest waiver for these funds, and he directed the department to redirect 0 million from these FMF funds originally planned for Egypt – and that’s the maximum amount that could be reprogrammed – to other U.S. national security priorities and countries in consultation with Congress. We did have an opportunity to communicate this decision directly to Congress and to our Egyptian partners yesterday.
QUESTION: And yet for the first four months of the administration you refused to use the name? (Laughter.)
And second, how do you view the visit that President Sisi made to Qatar?
MR PRICE: Well, it is far too early for me to speak about potential invitees to the next Summit for Democracy. I’d also defer to the EU regarding their characterization of Hungary and its political system. We characterize Hungary as a partner. We characterize Hungary as an ally. We characterize Hungary as a NATO ally. We have also made clear our firm belief that what unites us as partners, what unites us as allies, transcend interests. They also include values, and it is our shared values that for decades now have formed as a base for the relationship we have with our allies and partners across Europe. That is what we look back to, that is what we look to, when we note the strength of our relationship. We always want to see those values presented front and center.
MR PRICE: I think it’s a reference to Abraham as the father of all three monotheistic religions.
MR PRICE: So Said, the Abraham Accords and the broader set of normalization agreements for us are such a priority because there is no question that they have the potential to bring additional security, additional prosperity, additional opportunity to Israelis and to its neighbors. But just as I said at the end of that statement, there is also no question that these agreements cannot be substitutes for Israeli-Palestinian peace. When Secretary Blinken traveled to the Negev in March, where we met with the other signatories of the Abraham Accords and normalization agreements, including in this case Egypt, there was a recognition on the part of those ministers present that we needed to continue to work on issues between Israelis and Palestinians. This is something that then foreign minister and alternate prime minster, now Prime Minister Lapid, recognized at the time as well.
Next, today, we commemorate the International Day of Democracy and underscore our commitment to democracy at home and abroad as we strive for a more inclusive, prosperous, and peaceful world.
MR PRICE:  One more UN, yeah.
So this is a conversation we will continue to have with our Egyptian partners. We will continue to take advantage of every opportunity from the senior-most levels to the working levels to underscore both the value we place on this relationship, and the notion that seeing continued improvement in the human rights situation will only strengthen the foundation of that bilateral relationship.


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