2:46 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. A few things at the top.
Yesterday, the department submitted to Congress and publicly released the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, or INCSR. The INCSR is the Department of State’s annual country-by-country report that describes the efforts of governments to address all aspects of illicit global drug trade and associated money laundering.
The illicit drug trade remains one of the most pernicious threats to U.S. public health and security, as well as to international stability. The United States has a critical national interest in keeping dangerous illegal drugs from reaching our citizens, and the INCSR highlights the importance of working with the source and transit countries to reduce supplies of these drugs. Continuing global efforts to reduce drug demand remains the most effective and cost-efficient means to achieve this goal.
Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on drug control and drug treatment efforts around the world. The pandemic contributed to the lethal effects of drug use and also hampered counter-drug efforts as governments diverted resources to other public health needs. Law enforcement responders were among the hardest hit, with lives tragically lost due to the virus.
The United States recognizes that political will is the most important determinant of success in a global fight to achieve a reduction in drug production, and we will remain committed to working with likeminded governments to reduce illicit drug flows and drug use.
Moving over to Yemen now. Based on the recent complex Ansarallah attacks, including those on Saudi Arabia this past weekend and even again last night, the United States is imposing sanctions on two senior Ansarallah militant leaders, Mansur al-Sa’adi and Ahmad Ali Ahsan al-Hamzi.
These are in addition to the three Ansarallah leaders that remained sanctioned when the group’s designations were revoked last month.
As the Secretary has said, we will continue to closely monitor the activities of Ansarallah and its leaders, and we are actively identifying additional measures to promote accountability for the perpetuation of violence in Yemen.
And finally, on Russia. Today, the Department of State joined Treasury and Commerce in a coordinated, whole-of-government action against Russian Government entities and Russian officials for attempting to assassinate opposition figure Aleksey Navalny with a chemical weapon in Russia in August of 2020 and for his subsequent arrest and imprisonment.
The heinous poisoning of Mr. Navalny preceded his arrest and imprisonment on politically motivated grounds. It is clear that Russian officials targeted Mr. Navalny for his activism and his efforts to reveal uncomfortable truths about Russian officials’ corruption and to give voice to Russian citizens’ legitimate grievances with their government and its policies.
We are exercising our authorities to send a clear signal that Russia’s use of chemical weapons and human rights abuses have severe consequences. Any use of chemical weapons, anywhere, at any time, by anyone, under any circumstance is unacceptable and it contravenes international norms.
We also welcome the action taken by the EU earlier today to impose costs on Russia under its own new global human rights authorities.
These actions today demonstrate that there will be accountability for the use of chemical weapons and actions that violate international norms and abuse human rights.
The United States calls upon Russia to comply with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and to declare and destroy its chemical weapons program under international verification.
We reiterate our call for the Russian Government to immediately and to unconditionally release Mr. Navalny.
With that, Matt, happy to turn over to you.
QUESTION: Great. Thanks. Before I get to questions, I just wanted to make a very brief kind of opening little thing. And it’s just to say that it has not gone unnoticed by the people who cover this building and the people in this room, people in Washington, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, people out around the world that you have gotten up here every day, four days a week at least, one day on the phone, to try to explain, or defend if needed, administration policy. And I just want to make the point that it’s appreciated. Whether you’re successful in what your goal is or not, it is – it’s a welcome change. And I just want to make that clear —
MR PRICE: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, everyone. We’ll see you tomorrow. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: — for the record. Right. Now, on to the questions. So why is this administration’s foreign policy so far an abject and epic colossal failure? No, that’s not my question. (Laughter.)
My – I know that people want to talk about Russia, but I want to just start with Yemen. Isn’t – so I’ve been after you on this very subject of Yemen and the leaders of the – the Houthi leadership for more than two weeks now. And you continue to say that you left the three Ansarallah leaders on the sanctions list, but yet you removed them from the terrorism sanctions list. So now that you – and you said that you tried to make that same point again today by saying that you left them – you had left them on the other list.
But doesn’t the designation of these two additional people today suggest that you’re at least having second thoughts, or you think that it may have been a mistake to remove the three other ones from the terrorism list in the first place? Because the situation has gotten worse, not better, and so if it was intended as an overture to try to get them to moderate their behavior, it hasn’t worked.
MR PRICE: Matt, I would take the two additional designations today as a sign that we will continue to hold Houthi leaders, Ansarallah leaders, to account for their reprehensible conduct, including their continued attacks against Saudi Arabia. I’ve said this previously. You referenced this. But the three Houthi leaders you referenced have been and they still are subject to U.S. and UN sanctions. Any property they have subject to U.S. jurisdiction is blocked. That was the case before; it remains the case now. U.S. persons cannot do business with them. That was the case before; that remains the case now.
The practical implications for the three Houthi leaders you mentioned, the three – not including the two we added today, but today with the two, now five – they – the implications for them are similar whether they’re designated under our authorities related to Yemen, which we used in the case today of these additional two, or our authorities related to terrorism.
I think the point is that we are not focused on a label. We are focused on taking steps to end the conflict in Yemen through a political track, and importantly, this gets back to the revocation of the broad designation to alleviate the suffering of the people of Yemen, to alleviate the humanitarian suffering that has afflicted this country for so many years now. I’ve cited this stat before, but it’s so important: eighty percent of Yemen’s civilian population lives under Houthi control. When Ansarallah was subject to a broad designation, it was the 80 percent of Yemenis – of Yemen’s people that suffered as a result.
We want and we will continue to hold Ansarallah’s leadership to account. We did that today with two additional leaders – Ansarallah leaders who are now subject to sanctions under our Yemen authorities. We, at the same time, do not and will not do anything that adds to the humanitarian suffering of the Yemeni people. We can do two things at once. We can hold Ansarallah’s leaders to account while not adding to the humanitarian suffering of the people of Yemen.
QUESTION: So is there a metric by which you can demonstrate that the removal of the Houthis broadly from the FTO list and for the three leaders from the terrorism list – not from the other list – but is there a metric by which you can show to us that – demonstrate to us that the humanitarian situation in Yemen has improved since the administration’s decision?
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, we are —
QUESTION: Or has it, in fact, gotten worse, which is a lot – what a lot of people think, including the UN?
MR PRICE: I’m not confident, and in fact, I’m quite certain we can’t measure humanitarian impact over the course of hours or days. It’s been just —
QUESTION: Well, it’s for a couple weeks now.
MR PRICE: It’s been just a couple weeks now since that broad designation was lifted. I think we’re going to be looking —
QUESTION: Well, can you point to anything, then, to suggest that it’s not worse?
MR PRICE: We’re going to be looking at trends – we’re going to be looking at trends over time. Obviously, there was an important funding conference yesterday. The United States pledged nearly $200 million. We’ve encouraged the rest of the world, including our partners in the region, to raise their ambition when it comes to the humanitarian suffering of the Yemeni people.
I think the other metric, if you will, that we’re looking at is measured in our efforts to promote a political solution to this horrific conflict in Yemen. And we look at that in terms of what Tim Lenderking, the special envoy, is doing in the region. He is now on his second trip there in just a few short weeks of having held that position, working closely with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, working closely with governments in the region, to try and bring a sustainable, durable end to this conflict in Yemen. Again, that’s not something we can measure in hours. It’s probably not something we can measure in days. But it is something we are prioritizing at every level to achieve progress on going forward.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you measure it in any aspect at all, whether it’s gotten better or worse in the two weeks that you guys are – two and a half weeks? Because I get it, yeah, you appointed someone. He’s a good guy; he’s an accomplished diplomat; he’s been there – he’s now been there twice. But that’s just a lot of talk. And a donor conference – well, that’s great. But you know what, a bunch of people speaking virtually from air-conditioned rooms in Washington and Berlin and London – I mean, it goes back to, like, the Syria political talks. A bunch of people hanging out in Swiss hotels, yakking away, doesn’t affect the situation on the ground necessarily.
MR PRICE: Matt, I —
QUESTION: So what can you – just what, if anything, can you point to to suggest that since you’ve lifted the FTO designation and the other designations, it has gotten better for the people in Yemen who are suffering so horribly?
MR PRICE: Matt, we lifted that broad designation in the first instance so as not to add to the humanitarian suffering of the people of Yemen. I don’t disagree with you in one respect. No one is satisfied with where we are in Yemen. No one is satisfied with the status quo. That is precisely why as one of his first acts in the foreign policy realm President Biden appointed Tim Lenderking to a position that had not existed before, to a position as special envoy for the conflict in Yemen. That is precisely why Tim Lenderking, in his few weeks on the job, has already been in the region twice. It is precisely why he has met on multiple occasions with the UN special envoy.
QUESTION: Okay, but (inaudible) greatest —
MR PRICE: And why he has continued to meet with regional partners. This progress, we are doing everything we can. And there is a lot we can do, number one, to reverse some of the measures, including the revocation that we’ve talked about that added to the suffering of the Yemeni people, just as then – we then go about the business of prioritizing a political solution to this conflict. That is what Mr. Lenderking is doing, that is what the President has prioritized, that is what Secretary Blinken has prioritized, and that’s something where we will measure progress not in minutes, not in days, but going forward it’s something where we expect we will be able to find progress because we’re investing in it quite heavily.
QUESTION: I’m sure Tim appreciates all the confidence that you have in him, but his appointment is not like some grand, big – I mean, it’s one guy, and I get that he’s doing a good job, he’s a good diplomat, he’s – knows what he’s doing. But the appointment of one guy is not – it’s not a game-changer. And you seem to be saying that it is. So anyway, I’ll stop.
MR PRICE: Please.
QUESTION: And on this, on Tim Lenderking. Has he met with or spoken with any Houthi representative while in the region? Does he plan to? Is that something —
MR PRICE: So —
QUESTION: — we should expect to happen soon?
MR PRICE: Sorry, is it something —
QUESTION: Is that something we should expect to happen soon?
MR PRICE: Well, we certainly have ways to get messages to the Houthis if we need to. There is no doubt in their minds about where the United States stands when it comes to their conduct, when it comes to our expectations of Houthi leadership. They saw that again today with the two designations we announced. Tim Lenderking, he is traveling throughout the region again. This is his second trip. He’s met with the UN special envoy, he’s met with regional partners there, and he will continue to do so in the conduct of that diplomacy that we think is necessary to help bring about a political solution to this conflict in Yemen.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Voice of America, Russian service. And I will join colleague in gratitude. Your work is outstanding.
MR PRICE: Thank you, I appreciate that.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) I didn’t say (inaudible).
MR PRICE: (Laughter.) Let the record show that Matt Lee also said we were outstanding.
QUESTION: No, I did not say that.
MR PRICE: But before – are you going to ask about Yemen, or any – something else?
QUESTION: No, no, no. I —
MR PRICE: Or was that your only statement? Which I’m fine with, too.
QUESTION: No, no, no, no, no. My questions, of course, were about Russia.
MR PRICE: Russia. Is anyone want to ask about Yemen, or related topics? Yes.
QUESTION: Just quickly, what message do you think that the sanctions today sent to Iran? Because I believe Iran was mentioned in some of the documents, and that – the ties to the Yemen figures. And how does that conflict with Yemen and Saudi Arabia affect what you’re trying to do with Iran?
MR PRICE: Well, look, what we said today in that statement is that it is undeniable that Iran has fanned the flames of conflict in Yemen. Iran has exacerbated tensions. Iran has added to the already combustible situation that has been ongoing in Yemen for some time, threatening even greater escalation, miscalculation, regional stability. Ansarallah, of course, relies on Iran for weapons, for other forms of support. And so when we have talked about our approach to Iran, we have talked about the proposition that is on the table and has been on the table for quite some time when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program.
We’ve also talked about that as a necessary, but not sufficient element. Because what the – first candidate Biden – now President Biden – has propositioned is this so-called “compliance for compliance” prospect, the idea that Iran returns to compliance with the JCPOA, the United States will – would do the same. We would then lengthen and strengthen the – that nuclear agreement, but then use it, importantly here, as a platform to negotiate follow-on agreements that cover other areas of malign activity.
And we’ve talked about Iran’s ballistic missile program, but clearly when it comes to Iran’s malign activity, we have to talk about Iran’s dangerous adventurism in the region. That is certainly an area that we would seek to address. It’s certainly something that we will address going forward, because it does add to the combustible situation that we find ourselves with in Yemen.
We’ll move to Navalny unless —
QUESTION: May I?
MR PRICE: Yes, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. So we see that Washington joined Europe in sanctioning Russia, but in difference with Europe, European Union sanctioned only people in uniform like special services, interior ministers, so on. You sanctioned – I mean, U.S. leadership sanctioned two guys directly from the Kremlin, from political leadership, Sergei Kiriyenko and Andrei Yarin. Does it mean that Washington believes that political leadership, Kremlin, was in control of Navalny’s fate – that it was not, like, excessive behavior of some, again, people in uniform? It’s – yeah.
And short second question: It was, like, pronounced that you did – that sanctions were adopted in coordination with Europe. What do you expect in return, like, to be on the same page on Nord Stream 2? Do you have any progress with Europe on Nord Stream 2 at all? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Sure. So let me take your first question first. Of course, we have worked closely with our European partners on the challenge of Russia since day one of this administration. Secretary Blinken, President Biden have had the opportunity to speak on a bilateral basis with a number of their counterparts in Europe. Secretary Blinken, for his part, has attended – virtually, of course – three meetings of the E3+1 that included him. He attended a meeting with the Foreign Affairs Council, the EU FAC, last Monday, I believe it was. In just about every one of these engagements, the issue of Russia has come up. The issue of Mr. Navalny has been a constant topic of discussion bilaterally and in multilateral fora between the United States and our European partners.
That – having said all that, the United States and the EU and the UK, we have different authorities. And so the sanctions that we announced today, the designations that we rolled out today, they certainly complement, even if they may not be entirely identical to what you have seen from the EU and from the UK in recent months. But together they send an unambiguous signal: that the United States is working closely with our closest allies and partners in Europe to make clear that this kind of behavior is not acceptable. We will not countenance it, we will not tolerate it, and there will be penalties going forward.
Now, in terms of our sanctions today, we released a five-page fact sheet from here that go through the various entities that were sanctioned. The Russian Federal Security Service, the FSB, was among those entities, including for the attempted assassination of Mr. Navalny. So I think that speaks to the other element of your question.
Remind me of your second question now.
QUESTION: No, my – actually – question was: Do you believe the political leadership is directly involved? Because we know and European Union decided as well the secret service is involved. Do you think the Kremlin is involved?
MR PRICE: Well, today we – among those entities we sanctioned was the Russian Federal Security Service, the FSB, and so I think that speaks to where we believe culpability lies. But I would need to refer you to the Intelligence Community for a broader assessment of that specific culpability.
MR PRICE: So I’ve spoken to our coordination and our correspondence and communication with Europe in a different context. Of course, we have had an opportunity to speak to our European allies and our European partners about the Nord Stream 2 project, specifically our profound concerns with Nord Stream 2. President Biden even before he assumed this high office made very clear his position that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal. It is an example of Russia’s aggressive actions in the region, provides a means for Russia to potentially use a critical natural resource for political pressure and malign influence in the region. We will continue to work with our allies and partners, including Germany, Ukraine, other European countries to counter Russian efforts to undermine our collective security. So we have made very clear to our European partners across the continent where we stand when it comes to Nord Stream 2 and that hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: Staying on Russia, the seven officials that you sanctioned today, do you have any reason to believe that they have assets under U.S. jurisdiction? And whether that’s the case or not, what makes you believe that Russia is going to change its behavior because of these latest sanctions? The EU had already delivered sanctions in October, and that’s even before he was arrested, so why do you think that this is going to trigger a behavior change that hasn’t happened already?
MR PRICE: Well, we announce these actions today to make clear that with the poisoning, the attempted assassination of Mr. Navalny with his continued imprisonment that is politically motivated with the, in some cases, brutal treatment of his supporters who took to the streets to exercise the very rights that are granted to them under Russia’s own constitution, that is not something that the United States will abide, it is not something that our European partners and allies will abide.
As you mentioned, there were sanctions both on – from both sides of the Atlantic today. Our sanctions were significant. Europe’s actions were significant. Taken together, this is a sizable penalty for Russia. It is a sizable penalty to which Russia was not subject prior to today. With these actions, the United States in many ways caught up to where Europe had been, because, as you said, Europe announced measures last October. With our measures today, we are bringing our actions very closely in line with what our European partners had already spoken to.
So when the United States and Europe act in conjunction with one another, when we both take steps to impose these costs, those costs will be noticed in Moscow. And it will also be noticed that the international community is standing up to underscore a norm that chemical weapons cannot ever be used anytime, anyplace, and by anyone. That is a clear signal that we sought to send today with our closest allies and partners.
QUESTION: So what about on the issue of assets, though? Did you have a —
MR PRICE: I would need to refer you to Treasury if there are specific assets.
More on Russia?
QUESTION: Yeah, just following up on —
MR PRICE: I’ll come right to you.
QUESTION: — on Nord Stream. You’ve mentioned several times from the podium that you want to work with allies and partners to stop Russia from building the pipeline. Of course, Germany is a partner of Russia’s in building that pipeline and disagrees with your efforts to stop that pipeline from being built.
So the first question is: How do you square your desire to work with allies and partners when the key ally – in this case, Germany – fundamentally disagrees with you on whether that pipeline should go ahead?
And second, would the U.S. be prepared to sanction German entities such as Nord Stream 2, the company which is undeniably actually building the pipeline? Thanks.
MR PRICE: What we have said, and we have made very clear to partners all across Europe, whether those are – whether that’s Ukraine, whether it’s Poland, whether it’s others, whether it’s Germany, that the United States has profound concerns with this pipeline. It is a bad deal. It is not only in the interest of the United States; it also runs contrary to Europe’s own stated energy goals.
Now, we have engaged in good faith with our German partners. We continue to discuss this with them to make clear where the United States stands. We announced we submitted a report to Congress just a few days ago with additional action against KVT-RUS, an entity which we had identified as taking part in sanctionable activity.
We are continuing to evaluate the entities involved in this Nord Stream 2 project. I believe it is that we owe a report to Congress every 90 days. The next report will be due to Congress in May, I believe it is. And so in between now and May, if we have additional information that meets the threshold for enacting sanctions, I expect we will be informing Congress of that.
QUESTION: But just a quick follow-up: Would the U.S. be prepared to sanction German entities like Nord Stream 2? I mean, its involvement in this pipeline is, on its face, pretty obvious.
MR PRICE: We are prepared to uphold our legal and policy commitments. I wouldn’t want to get ahead of that.
QUESTION: Yes –.
MR PRICE: Sorry, I promised I’d come back to you. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: This is a question for a co-worker who are not able to be here on Russia. So there were – there are eight names that were not sanctioned today by the U.S. but who were requested by Navalny’s team in January. Is there a reason why?
MR PRICE: Well, U.S. sanctions – we have a certain threshold. We have certain requirements that we must meet in order to sanction a particular individual or entity. So, in the first instance, we have to satisfy our own criteria when it comes to enacting sanctions.
We took a close look at the available information, the available evidence drawing on public sources, drawing on sources that are unique to the United States Government. And the target set that we sanctioned today, those are the targets that are consistent with our obligations under the various laws and executive orders to enact sanctions.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can I ask —
QUESTION: Would you say – would you say that that information that you used to do that is equivalent or roughly the same as the same intelligence information that linked Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to characterize an intelligence assessment from here.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Just following on those two questions and the question about the deterrence effect of today’s sanctions, is it then – the fact that those – the names of oligarchs that Navalny’s foundation had identified as saying would really have the only true way to effectuate change from the regime in Russia – does this mean that going forward then that those names would be – that the U.S. has made a determination that those names aren’t necessarily subject to American sanctions?
MR PRICE: What we announced today was a discrete set of actions. I certainly don’t expect that what we announced today was the totality of our efforts to hold Russia to account going forward for its human rights abuses. As I was mentioning before, we have certain thresholds and criteria we have to satisfy under executive orders, under law, in order to enact sanctions. If we determine that it is in our interest to pursue designations against additional targets for human rights violations, whether it’s in the case of Mr. Navalny, whether it’s in the case of Russia’s broader conduct, we’ll have to meet those thresholds. And if we do and if it’s our interest – in our interest, I expect you’ll be hearing more about potential policy responses to that.
MR PRICE: Well, I think as I said yesterday, when it comes to Iran, we remain willing to re-engage in meaningful diplomacy to help bring about a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA commitments. We plan to be in close contact with our P5+1 counterparts, certainly our European partners that entail the P5+1. We have made our position quite clear now for some time. We are prepared to meet with Iran to address the way forward on a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. We also know that a mutual return to compliance can’t happen without all sides engaging in constructive diplomacy.
For our part, that constructive diplomacy will be carefully coordinated with our European partners and allies. It’ll be principled; it will be clear-eyed. And it will be in pursuit of one aim, and that is to ensure and to see to it that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon and to apply verifiable limits to Iran’s nuclear program.
QUESTION: Will there be any meeting with the Europeans or other partners to discuss this or —
MR PRICE: Well, we’re going to coordinate closely with the P3 – and with the P5+1 more broadly on the way forward. As we’ve said – and we spent the first several weeks of the administration doing just this, consulting closely with allies, with partners, with members of Congress. All three of those are very important to us. We’re not going to do anything without that close coordination with all three of those elements. If it’s in our determination that there is a better way forward to engage in that dialogue with Iran together with our partners and allies, as I said yesterday, we’re not dogmatic about the format. What we are dogmatic about is our ultimate objective, and that is to ensure that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Ned, do you agree with the Iranian position that Iran was in compliance with the agreement when the Trump administration – when President Trump left the agreement? And if so, then what is your response to the Iranian position that the U.S. should undo that Trump action and then move forward from there.
MR PRICE: My response is precisely what I just said. The United States has put a path forward really in two meaningful ways: one strategic and one tactical. The strategic way is what we have referred to, is compliance for compliance. If Iran resumes full compliance with the JCPOA, we will be prepared to do the same. We will meet our commitments under the JCPOA. The tactical proposition we put forward is precisely what we said – what, a couple weeks ago now – that if the EU were to broker a meeting, we would be willing to attend together with our European partners and allies. Again, we think that resumption of compliance – compliance for compliance – can’t happen without all sides discussing those details. That’s what we put on the table. That’s what we remain ready to engage in.
QUESTION: And any movement on the South Korean Iranian assets? Any further conversations or anything to report on whether they might be unfrozen?
MR PRICE: I would put that in the context of things we would want to discuss in the context of perspective talks with the Iranians. Again, we’re not dogmatic about the format. We are dogmatic about other elements, including our overriding objective in this.
QUESTION: One more on Iran.
MR PRICE: Sure.
MR PRICE: I’m sorry, with its —
QUESTION: The ship.
MR PRICE: Oh, the ship in the Gulf. So yes, certainly we’re calling for an investigation into that. I would need to refer you to Israeli authorities though for their assessment. I just don’t have anything to add from here.
QUESTION: Can we move on to Haiti?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Given the current political instability in Haiti, would the State Department recommend the Biden administration to continue giving TPS, temporary protected status, to Haitians who have been seeking refuge in the U.S. since the 2010 earthquake? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Well, by law, TPS designations are made by the Department of Homeland Security after consultation with the appropriate agencies. So we wouldn’t want to comment on any sort of internal deliberations when it comes to TPS.
QUESTION: Can you comment on the political instability there currently? Do you think there will be more asylum seekers?
MR PRICE: Well, on – with the situation broadly, what I would say is that it is the responsibility of Haiti’s government to organize elections in 2021 that are free, that are fair, that are credible. We join the international community in calling Haitian stakeholders to come together to find a way forward. What we have said is that the Haitian people deserve the opportunity to elect their leaders and to restore Haiti’s democratic institutions. If we have more on TPS, we’ll be certain to let you know. Anything else?
MR PRICE: Ethiopia.
QUESTION: Yeah. So we saw the readout of the Secretary’s call with the prime minister. Can you confirm that the U.S. Government has reached its own assessment that there is a campaign of ethnic cleansing ongoing in Tigray, and did the Secretary raise this with the prime minister? And also, did he raise the detention of several – at least four journalists and translators working for several medias, including BBC or Financial Times?
QUESTION: Well, we issued a rather lengthy readout of the Secretary’s call this morning. What I would say is that we are gravely concerned by reported atrocities and the overall deteriorating situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. We strongly condemn the killings, the forced removals and displacement, the sexual assaults, and other human rights violations and abuses by several parties and multiple – that multiple organizations now have reported in Tigray. When it comes to the detention of the journalists that you mentioned, we’re following those reports closely. We’ve been in touch with the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority and other Ethiopian Government officials to express our concern and to seek an explanation. These actions appear inconsistent with the Ethiopian Government’s commitment to permit international media access to Tigray.
QUESTION: But you wouldn’t characterize it as a ethnic cleansing campaign?
MR PRICE: Look, if we – I have said we’re gravely concerned by it. If we have more to add, I will let you know. I heard Burma. Let’s be sure to cover that before we close.
QUESTION: Sure. The situation with the ambassador to the United Nations – granted he presents his credentials to the secretary-general, not to the U.S. Government per se – but it’s been reported that he is insisting that he is the representative of Burma or Myanmar at the United Nations, not the deputy at the mission, and that apparently he has sent a letter to the Secretary of State indicating that he’s standing firm, that he is not going along with the junta in Naypyitaw. What is the building’s understanding of the situation in Burma? What is the understanding about the situation with its diplomats in this country? Is the U.S. prepared to provide refuge to any of these people if they may be running afoul of the junta?
MR PRICE: Well, Secretary Blinken, UN Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, others in the United States Government last week – last Friday I believe it was – commended the courageous statement made by Permanent Representative Kyaw Moe Tun. We collectively have commended the bravery shown by the permanent representative during her own remarks at the General Assembly moments later.
When it comes to Kyaw Moe Tun, we understand the permanent representative remains in his position. Again, I think generally we continue to stand with the people of Burma. We continue to work with the international community, especially our likeminded allies and partners around the world, to signal very clearly, both in word and in deed – and we’ve talked about deeds in recent days – that we will stand by the people of Burma. We will continue to oppose the military coup and we will continue to support the restoration of Burma’s democratically elected civilian government going forward.
QUESTION: Has this building had any direct contact with Burmese or Myanmar officials, with their ambassador, for example, to express your deep concern about the political situation in that country?
MR PRICE: So as diplomats, individuals in this building speak with a wide range of people and their representatives wherever they are in the world. In Burma in particular, it’s important that we speak with all of those who seek to restore democracy in the country, including those whom the people of Burma democratically elected to serve as their representative – representatives. I’ll take one final question here.
QUESTION: Syria? Thank you. A couple of days ago, a New York Times article highlighted that the only country in Idlib protecting civilians from being slaughtered by Assad regime and Russian – its Russian and Iranian backers – is Turkey. So – and by the way, I remember your statement yesterday about Turkish soldiers martyred in Idlib last year, so thank you. So considering the civilians over there, is there a chance that the Biden administration might be working with Turkey when it comes to Idlib? Thank you.
MR PRICE: When it comes to Idlib?
QUESTION: Idlib, yes.
QUESTION: Look, what we have said is that we certainly have common interests with our Turkish partners. You mentioned the statement that we put out last night about the anniversary of the horrific loss of Turkish personnel. We have shared interest with Turkey, specifically on – when it comes to Syria. We will continue to work with Turkey and to work constructively with Turkey to achieve our common interests when it comes to Syria going forward. Thank you very much, everyone, and we’ll see you tomorrow.
QUESTION: Wait, Ned, just really quickly, can you take this if you don’t – and I don’t know if you’ll have an answer. Are you aware of this letter, reported letter that was written, a joint letter from Fatah and Hamas to NEA, to Hady Amr about – are you aware of this, one? Have you seen it, two? And do you have any response to it?
MR PRICE: We – I’m aware of the reports. I don’t have anything for you today, though. Thank you very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:27 p.m.)