Government

Department Press Briefing – April 20, 2021 – United States Department of State

2:21 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Good to see you all again. Some of you I’ve seen quite a bit of over the last few weeks, but – last few days, I should say, but not all of you. But it’s good to be back. We have a few items at the top.

First, on behalf of the United States, we offer the people of Chad our sincere condolences as they mourn the passing of President Deby.

We condemn recent violence and loss of life in Chad.

The United States stands with the people of Chad during this difficult time. We support a peaceful transition of power in accordance with the Chadian constitution.

Next, we welcome the agreement reached in Georgia yesterday, April 19th, to bring an end to the country’s political crisis.

This agreement, reached under the auspices of EU President Michel’s mediation, required difficult compromises by all sides. Above all, it required political courage and a commitment to the people of Georgia to continue the hard work of building democratic institutions and strengthening the rule of law. It’s a sign of the important progress for Georgia’s democratic development. Implementation, of course, will be equally important.

And we invite individual members of parliament and remaining parties to sign the agreement so that all of Georgia’s elected representatives can begin working together on the pressing issues facing Georgia.

The United States is committed to assisting the Georgian parliament to ensure this agreement achieves its aspirations. And, as always, we stand ready to support Georgia on its path towards full integration into the Euro-Atlantic family of nations.

Next, Secretary Blinken will meet tomorrow with 15 foreign ministers of the Caribbean Community, known also as CARICOM.

They will discuss a number of issues affecting our region, including climate change and disaster resilience, and reinforce the deep bond we share with our Caribbean neighbors.

The United States is continuing to support the people of Saint Vincent as they deal with the eruption of La Soufriere volcano.

Yesterday, the Sudan Sovereign Council and Council of Ministers voted to repeal its more than six-decade-long boycott of Israel. The United States welcomes the announcement. It’s an important step that will create new, promising opportunities for the people of Sudan, Israel, and across the region.

The announcement brings Sudan and Israel closer to normalizing relations and will have tangible, immediate impacts on the lives of the Sudanese and Israelis, allowing trade and investment that was previously blocked.

This announcement was the result of hard work by our diplomats and their counterparts in Sudan and Israel. We are pleased to welcome this new era in Sudanese-Israeli relations, and we look forward to seeing the fruits, the fruits this boycott’s end will bear.

And finally, I wanted to make note that as of Sunday, we can confirm that the department has completed deployment of vaccines to all of our posts abroad.  This announcement represents over 190,000 doses distributed to 220 postings around the world, allowing us to offer the vaccine to all direct-hire employees, locally engaged staff, and eligible family members.

Thanks to the work of countless people – our diplomatic couriers, post representatives, logisticians, and clinicians both here in the United States and around the world – not a single dose was lost in transit since we began our vaccine rollout in December of last year.

This collective effort is reflective of the Secretary’s commitment to support the health, safety, and the security of the department’s workforce so that we can continue to carry out our mission on behalf of the American people.

With that —

QUESTION: Really? Not a single dose was lost – like, not even one fell off the cart?

MR PRICE: Not – from Belize to Belgium, not a single dose was lost.

QUESTION: This is like when you went out to play golf for the first time and you got 17 holes-in-one, right? Not a single dose was lost. Right.

MR PRICE: Not – our – this is a true testament to the experts in this building and everyone who had a hand in this. And of course, we know this has been on the minds of our employees around the world, and so we wanted to make note of this important news.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can I – I do want to ask about Chad, but first just two really brief ones, and I’ll let someone else go after I’m done with this.

But on Sudan, when you talk about the lifting of the Israeli boycott, how much of this work was done to get them to lift it post-January 20th, and how much of it was done by the previous administration?

MR PRICE: Right. Well, Matt, the way we look at this, this was an accomplishment for America, for the Israeli people, for the Sudanese people, and of course, for the American people. Now, it is true that it was the result of work that spanned two administrations. We have said repeatedly – and I’m not saying this for the first time today – that the normalization agreements that were started by the previous administration – certainly something we want to build upon. It is one of those areas of agreement, one of those areas we share with the previous administration. We look to build on them. We herald the progress that this news today signifies.

QUESTION: And then on Chad, so you said you’re offering sincere condolence – unless anyone else wants to ask on Sudan. No?

MR PRICE: Please.

QUESTION: No. Just on Chad. Do you think that the appointment of now the late President Deby’s son is in keeping with this Chadian constitution?

MR PRICE: Well, Matt, what I would say is, again, we are – our thoughts are with the Chadian people at this time. We stand with them. We continue to condemn recent violence and loss of life in Chad, and importantly, we support a peaceful transition of power in accordance with the Chadian constitution. That’s what is important here in terms of what this means going forward.

QUESTION: Okay. But that didn’t answer my question at all.

MR PRICE: What we are saying and what is important to us —

QUESTION: You get that it doesn’t answer my question, right?

MR PRICE: But Matt, our —

QUESTION: Not but. You get that it doesn’t answer my question?

MR PRICE: Matt, our focus now is that what happens next is a peaceful transition of power in accordance with the Chadian constitution.

Yes.

QUESTION: But you’re not going to weigh in on whether —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) what happened is – happened based on the constitution?

MR PRICE: We are standing, of course, with the people of Chad. We will be watching very closely. We will be supporting the people of Chad and seeking to ensure – to help them ensure that everything going forward is in accordance with their constitution.

QUESTION: More on Chad?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: So given Deby was an ally in the fight against Islamist militant groups, how worried is the United States that his death is going to – the counterterrorism effort will be disrupted? And also, have you guys reached out to his son or the transition council, tried to make any contact?

MR PRICE: So, of course, we will continue work with our regional partners such as the G5 and the Multinational Joint Task Force to combat violent extremist organizations in the region. I suspect that and I am confident that work will continue. I don’t have any details of calls to read out at this time. But we wanted to make clear that our support for the Chadian people remains strong.

Obviously, we continue to condemn the violence, and the United States will continue to partner with them. In recent months, we’ve provided millions of dollars in humanitarian support to the Chadian people, and we will continue to do everything we can to support the peaceful transition of power, again, that’s in accordance with their constitution.

QUESTION: Have you reached out to the son?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any calls to read out.

QUESTION: Or the transitional council?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any calls to read out at this time.

QUESTION: Can I move on to Russia?

QUESTION: One on Chad? You have one on Chad?

QUESTION: Just briefly on Chad. Just one thing about it is that the parliament has been dissolved. Is that problematic in any way? Is this still something that you see as consistent with the transition that you mentioned?

MR PRICE: Well, again, what we want to see is a transition that is consistent with Chad’s constitution. Obviously, Chad’s institutions are enshrined in its constitution. We want to see the elements of that constitution protected going forward, whether that entails a transition of power or the sanctity and integrity of Chad’s institutions.

I heard Russia.

QUESTION: Can you talk about – a little bit about the circumstances of his death? Do you have any more details? And what about embassy staff, Americans there? What’s your advice to people?

MR PRICE: Well, we don’t have any details to share regarding the circumstances of his death. I know that Chadian authorities have spoken to this. I would need to refer you there.

In terms of what this means for the American embassy there, effective April 17th, the U.S. Embassy in Chad remains on ordered departure status. We continually adjust our posture at embassies, in consulates, missions around the world in line with local security concerns and the health situation on the ground. We are committed, even though we remain on ordered departure, to a strong, diplomatic partnership with Chad. That will not change. The charge remains in Chad and the embassy there continues to operate.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that?

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Before the border shut down, you were advising Americans to get on commercial flights to leave.

MR PRICE: That’s right.

QUESTION: Given that that’s no longer possible, what efforts are being undertaken to help Americans still on the ground?

MR PRICE: Well, the embassy does remain open. We are providing services, as we always do, consular services to American citizens. The embassy has been in contact with public messages to the American community in Chad. As you mentioned, we did pass on messages to them in the context of this violence and will continue to support them to the best of our ability, given the status, the operating status of the embassy in Chad.

QUESTION: Can I quickly follow up? Are you planning any evacuation flights now that commercial options are no longer available?

MR PRICE: I don’t have anything to preview at this time. Of course, the safety and security of our citizens around the world, including those citizens who remain in Chad, are – is a paramount concern. The embassy and the department will continue to support them.

Russia.

QUESTION: Yes. So as Ambassador Sullivan is returning to Washington, can you just like give a broad assessment of how would the State Department characterize the current state of relationship with Russia? Are you seeing signs from Moscow of potentially deepening crisis, or contrary, do they seem to be de-escalating? And I have a follow-up.

MR PRICE: Well, I would start by saying what we would like to see of our relationship with Moscow. And as I have said before, we would like to see a relationship with Moscow that is stable and that is predictable. Now, of course, there has been instability and unpredictability injected into this relationship, and that has been done by the actions of the Russian Federation and by President Putin. And we have spoken to those actions in the past.

And in fact, as we have said from the earliest days of this administration, we undertook a review of a discrete set of actions: the SolarWinds cyber activity, election interference, the attack on Mr. Navalny’s life, the assassination attempt using a banned chemical weapon against him, the crackdown we have since seen on his supporters, and, as we have mentioned, the reports on bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan.

All of those things, of course, injected instability, unpredictability, and frankly, danger into a relationship that we would like to see predictable and stable going forward. That is why President Biden has been resolute. Even before he became President, in July of last year, he made clear that if Moscow interfered in the 2020 election, there would be a price to pay once he became President. We have seen a response in March, last month, to what the Russian Federation has done vis-a-vis Mr. Navalny and his supporters. And then last week, of course, we saw a response to what has transpired in the broader context, and that includes SolarWinds, that includes the election interference. Of course, that announcement also spoke to what has become of Mr. Navalny, his supporters, and the reports of bounties on the heads of U.S. soldiers.

So we announced a series of actions that were proportionate and that were appropriate to respond to Russia’s harmful activities. Now, of course, we have heard various reports emanate from Russia about their potential response from Moscow. We have not yet received any official diplomatic correspondence providing details of the Russian Government’s actions against the diplomatic mission of the United States of America in Russia. We have seen those reports, but we haven’t seen any official communication from Moscow.

Of course, when we do receive any correspondence from Russian authorities, we will review that, and we reserve the right, of course, to respond as we see fit.

QUESTION: I didn’t hear an answer, but let me quickly go to Navalny, and I’m going to leave it to others to follow up. Jake Sullivan over the weekend said there is going to be consequences if Navalny dies. Why wait? Couldn’t the United States do something to avoid that outcome?

MR PRICE: Well, I wouldn’t say we’ve waited. I would say a couple things. On March 2nd, I believe it was, we announced a series of sanctions together with our partners in the international community to hold accountable the Russian authorities for what they had done to Mr. Navalny: the attempted assassination attempt – again, using a banned chemical weapon – the repression of his supporters who had taken to the streets seeking to do nothing more than to exercise the rights that are guaranteed to them under their very own constitution, under the Russian constitution.

So last month, we enacted a series of measures together with some of our closest allies around the world to respond to that. I would say that it is – we are certainly looking and will not hesitate to use additional policy tools should that be in our interest and in the interest of human rights in Russia in the context of Mr. Navalny going forward.

Now, we are holding Russia and Moscow accountable for anything that does happen to Mr. Navalny because they are responsible for his deteriorating health state. We call on them to allow for access to necessary and independent medical care immediately in response to these disturbing reports that his health has worsened rapidly. We have communicated this in no uncertain terms. We’ve done so publicly, as I have done just now, and we have done so through other channels as well. There should be no question for the Russian Government that there will be consequences if something becomes of Mr. Navalny while he’s in their custody.

QUESTION: Sorry, Ned. Just two really brief ones. When you say you have not yet received any official communication from Moscow, that’s about the retaliatory – the reciprocal expulsion of 10 Americans?

MR PRICE: Well, we wouldn’t call it reciprocal —

QUESTION: Yeah, all right —

MR PRICE: — because, again, our actions were not escalatory.

QUESTION: They would – they would call it reciprocal.

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: You kicked out 10, they’re going to kick out 10. But anyway, is that what you’re talking about?

MR PRICE: That’s right.

QUESTION: So it doesn’t have any – that’s it on what you have not received communication?

MR PRICE: That is correct.

QUESTION: Okay. And then secondly, you talk a lot about Navalny, which is fair enough, but there are a couple of Americans —

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: — actual American citizens. Navalny, of course, is not an American citizen. So what do you make of the situation involving Trevor Reed and the others?

MR PRICE: Yes. Well, we continue to be seriously concerned, as we have said on a number of occasions, regarding the treatment of Americans who are unjustly detained in Moscow. That includes Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed. Both of them traveled to Russia as tourists. They were arrested. They have been convicted without credible evidence. We expect Russia to do the right thing, and that is to authorize their release and return them to their families in the United States. Both of these individuals have been deprived of their freedom for far too long. I can tell you that the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, Ambassador Carstens, is working these cases aggressively, doing all we can to provide support not only to these individuals, but also to their families.

QUESTION: So that means you regard them as hostages?

MR PRICE: It means that we believe they are being held unjustly in Russia.

QUESTION: Thank you. Just two on Russia. One, I mean, are you seeking clarification from Russia on what those reciprocal measures will be? How many diplomats have to leave? And what about Russian – local Russian staff who work for the U.S. embassy?

MR PRICE: Well, we’re going to leave it to the Russian Government to determine when and how they want to relay any communication to the United States Government, whether that’s through our embassy or otherwise.

When it comes to the local staff, we – and this goes back to what we have heard publicly – the Russian Government has made an unfortunate public announcement regarding locally employed staff. It goes without saying that steps to prohibit the employment of local staff members will impact our personnel in the American community in Russia. Our local staff are key members of our workforce around the world. That includes in the Russian Federation. Their contributions are important to our operations and to our bilateral mission, and they’re important to our overall goal of having a relationship – seeking, I should say, a relationship with Russia that is stable and predictable.

This is a key point. We seek to have continued diplomatic access to the Russian Federation, knowing that it is in our interest, knowing that only through diplomatic channels will we be able to move in the direction of a relationship that we would like to see with Russia over time. That is precisely one of the reasons why President Biden in his call with President Putin last week held out the opportunity for a meeting between the two presidents in the coming months.

Even as we have these tremendous disagreements – and that certainly understates what we face from the Russian Federation and their malign activities, their efforts to undermine democracy, territorial integrity, to violate the human rights of their own citizens – we seek to have a constructive dialogue, and a dialogue that can work to our national interest. We made this point in the earliest days of this administration when we extended the New START agreement by five years. We didn’t do that as a gift to Moscow. We didn’t do that because the Russians asked for it or because the Russians wanted it. We did that because it was, and it is, in our national interest.

Something else that is in our national interest is strategic stability. It is in no one’s interest to have and to see the proliferation of nuclear weapons, an untold number of nuclear weapons, that whether by accident or intentionally could unleash catastrophe on the world. And so of course that is why we would also be open to strategic stability talks in the context of any discussions with – high-level discussions with the Russian Federation.

The point remains that it is – there are certain elements that are absolutely in our national interest, and that is why we seek to have a fully functioning embassy on the ground, and why we continue to engage, as appropriate, the Russian Federation.

QUESTION: Two quick ones —

QUESTION: So – but just to follow up on that quickly, so they – you have – aside from that public announcement on local staff, you’ve gotten no direct notification on —

MR PRICE: That’s right.

QUESTION: — on them? Okay. And then also on the Ukraine military buildup, does the Secretary or the State Department or the administration have an official view, or do you have any thoughts on why they’re doing this?

MR PRICE: Well, I wouldn’t want to get into the motivations of the Russians. I – there may be assessments within the U.S. Government. Rather than speak to the motivations of the Russian Federation, I would speak to what we are concerned about, and what we are doing about it. And it goes without saying that we are deeply concerned by Russia’s ongoing aggressive actions and rhetoric against Ukraine. As we’ve talked about last week when the Secretary was in Brussels meeting with his NATO counterparts, as I mentioned the week before that from here, these actions include credible reports of Russian troop buildup in occupied Crimea and around Ukraine’s borders. And importantly, we are now seeing a presence of Russian troops at levels not seen since Russia’s invasion in 2014, as well as continued attacks and other provocative actions by Russian-led forces at the line of control.

So let me be clear: Russia is the aggressor here. We have seen no indication whatsoever that Ukraine is engaging in provocations or escalating intentions – tensions. What we have seen is a Russian disinformation campaign designed to falsely blame Ukraine for the Kremlin’s own actions. This was one of the primary discussions in Brussels last week at NATO Headquarters. It featured in every discussion the Secretary had. The NATO alliance is resolute. We are – we spoke with one voice as we continue to stand by our partner Ukraine, and of course, the Secretary last week had a meeting in Brussels to meet with Foreign Minister Kuleba, his Ukrainian counterpart. We – the Secretary relayed that message in private, made clear that the United States Government stands by Ukraine. We will continue to support the government and the people of Ukraine in the face of what appears to be intimidation.

QUESTION: On Iran?

MR PRICE: Anything else on Russia, or —

QUESTION: Two just quick – quick on Russia. So it sounds like – that the U.S. mission still employs Russian local staff and that hasn’t changed because there hasn’t been follow-up.

And then the second thing is just the strategic stability talks. Is there any way that you can talk a little bit about what the U.S. conception is of that in terms of what aspects of the Russian arsenal is the impetus behind the President wanting to talk to Putin about strategic stability?

MR PRICE: Well, I wouldn’t want to get ahead of any discussions, and, of course, these discussions are still hypothetical. The – as you saw from the readout from the White House yesterday, National Security Advisor Sullivan had an opportunity to speak to his counterpart. Discussions have begun about the possibility of a meeting between the two presidents in the coming weeks or months, and strategic stability, of course, is one of those areas of mutual interest. But I wouldn’t want to get ahead of that right now, and you are correct about locally employed staff and their current status.

I heard Iran. Go ahead.

QUESTION: How long will Ambassador Sullivan be back in D.C., and who specifically will he be meeting with while he’s here?

MR PRICE: So Ambassador Sullivan, of course, is an ambassador whom the incoming administration asked to remain in his post. He very graciously agreed to remain for an initial period. He subsequently even more graciously agreed to remain indefinitely. Ambassador Sullivan, as the ambassador to Moscow, has worked in that country under very difficult, trying, I’m sure highly pressurized conditions since he arrived in Moscow in January of 2021, I believe it was. He is —

QUESTION: 2020.

MR PRICE: January 2020. You are right. Thank you. That would have been just a couple months ago. Yes, 2020.

And as I understand it, he has not had an opportunity to return to the United States for some time, including to see his family or to meet with incoming members – members of the current administration.

This, of course, is also an opportune time for the ambassador to return. He has been an integral member of the team as the new administration has sought to plot out a new and – a new approach to Moscow as we engaged in the policy planning process for the actions that have been rolled out in recent weeks, including sanctions, including what you saw last week as well. And now, with those elements behind us, this is a good time for the ambassador to come back, to undertake those consultations, to see his family, of course, importantly, and I expect he will return to Moscow in the coming weeks.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Was that done at the request of the Russian Government, his return to the United States?

MR PRICE: The ambassador has not been expelled. The ambassador’s – has not been ordered out of the country. The ambassador is returning now at an opportune time to undertake consultations here, to see his family, and again, I expect he’ll return to Moscow in the coming weeks.

QUESTION: And just to follow up to – I mean, Russia had advised him to go home. So you’re saying there’s no link between his decision to come home and the Russian advice that he return home?

MR PRICE: Look, I will allow the Russian Government to speak to any advice they may have offered the ambassador. I think for his part, for our part, Ambassador Sullivan is still very much Ambassador Sullivan. He will be returning home to undertake consultations with the administration, to take a break, to see his family, and again, I fully expect he will be returning to Moscow in the coming weeks.

QUESTION: What about the timing?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: What about the timing? Why now?

MR PRICE: Well, the timing I just mentioned. I just mentioned the timing. Of course, Ambassador Sullivan has been deeply engaged in our new approach to Russia. He’s been deeply engaged in some of the policy measures – in all of the policy measures, I should say, that we have spoken to in recent days and recent weeks. Of course, with the announcement late last week and the prospect of a meeting between President Biden and President Putin now weeks away, this is an opportune time for the ambassador to return home to undertake those consultations and to do what’s important: to see family and perhaps even take a little bit of R&R.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on behalf of the Russian Government, but the fact of the matter is is that Foreign Minister Lavrov and other people in the Foreign Ministry made it very clear last week that they thought it would be – that he should come back for consultations. And just can we get a straight up answer: Did that – did those comments, regardless of what you – regardless of what their motivation was – did those comments have anything to do with his decision today, earlier today, to come back? That’s it.

MR PRICE: Ambassador Sullivan is still Ambassador Sullivan.

QUESTION: It’s a really easy question.

MR PRICE: He is – no, no, no, but – but no, just —

QUESTION: Did the Russian – did the comments from the Russians suggesting that he – it may be a good time for him to come back and – for consultations, did that have anything to do —

MR PRICE: We are at an opportune moment —

QUESTION: — with this?

MR PRICE: — for a number of reasons, as I said, in part because several actions are now in the rearview mirror. The potential meeting between President Biden and President Putin is now weeks away or longer, and so this is an opportune time for the ambassador to return home.

QUESTION: That is not a “no,” though.

MR PRICE: It’s an opportune time for the ambassador to return home.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) saying that it’s not a no. So I don’t know if it —

QUESTION: Iran?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Any update on the talks in Vienna, and any comments on Iranian President Rouhani’s comment? He said today that the talks in Vienna have progressed by about 60 to 70 percent. He added if Americans act within the framework of honestly – of honesty, we will achieve results in a short time.

MR PRICE: Well, before I get to that, I would just say generally that the talks have continued in Vienna, as we know. The United States and Iran, we have together a stated common objective of returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA. We have been engaged constructively in a diplomatic process to achieve that goal. I think it is – continues to be fair to say that the talks have been businesslike; they have been positive. Yes, there has been some progress, but there remains a long road ahead. And I think it’s fair to say that we have more road ahead of us than we do in the rearview mirror.

We welcome – and you may have seen the statement from the Joint Commission today – we welcome the Joint Commission’s establishment of a third working group. The chair of the Joint Commission put out a statement on this working group, so we would refer you there for additional details. Of course, Rob Malley has been leading the delegation and he’s been exploring concrete approaches concerning the steps both Iran and the United States would need to take to return to mutual compliance. Again, these discussions, they have been thorough, they have been thoughtful. Of course, they have not been without difficulty, in part because these talks are indirect, and so, of course, there are going to be logistical hurdles associated with that.

We have shared ideas among the delegations present. It’s fair to say that there have been no breakthroughs, but we’ve always said that this process, even if it were going quite well, would not be easy or quick, and, of course, that remains true. I think you may have also seen in the statement issued by the Joint Commission that delegations are returning to their respective capitals. That will be true of Rob Malley, who will be returning here in the coming day or so for consultations in the coming days back here in Washington.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Tomorrow, do you mean?

MR PRICE: So I believe the Joint Commission statement said that they would expect talks to resume in the coming week.

QUESTION: On Iran?

QUESTION: Sorry. He will be back tomorrow?

MR PRICE: I expect he’ll be back in the next day or two.

QUESTION: So Iranian officials yesterday were suggesting the possibility of Iran suspending 20 percent enrichment in return for the release of some of the frozen Iranian funds abroad. There are various estimates of it: 15 billion, 20 billion. So why would the U.S. do that, which would in effect be pay Iran to stop doing things that it should not be doing under the JCPOA? How could they be suggesting that or is – the U.S. has any intention to do anything like that?

MR PRICE: Well, I certainly wouldn’t want to comment on a proposal that hasn’t come from us. What I will say, and you heard National Security Advisor Sullivan this Sunday speak to what we have been very clear about from the outset, and what he said is this: He says, “What I will say is that the United States is not going to lift sanctions unless we have clarity and confidence that Iran will fully return to compliance with its obligations under the deal, that it will put a lid on its nuclear program, that will expand its breakout time, that it will reduce the level of enrichment and the scope of enrichment in its country. And until we have confidence in all those things, the United States is not going to make any concessions.” That remains true today.

QUESTION: If you have confidence, then, could this be a suggestion that you can entertain?

MR PRICE: I am certainly not going to entertain any suggestions from the podium.

QUESTION: Do you expect Malley to go back when the – next week if the talks reconvene?

MR PRICE: I certainly expect Rob to continue to lead the delegation, and I expect he’ll be going back at the appropriate time. The Joint Commission statement said that the talks would resume in the coming week.

QUESTION: Are you saying – Jake’s statement, you’re saying – the clarity and confidence of Iran – that Iran will go back – is this at all saying that – maybe this is reading tea leaves a bit, but is this at all (inaudible) with what was said before? Previously, the U.S. was saying that Iran should come back into compliance. Does this mean if just that there’s confidence in it, that if there’s a roadmap for it, that the U.S. could lift sanctions?

MR PRICE: That absolutely remains our position. Iran must come back into compliance. The name of the game since even before this administration, the proposal and proposition that President Biden put on the table, was compliance for compliance. That remains where we are today. What we have always said, though, is that we are not going to offer unilateral gestures or unilateral concessions. Our goal is to have Iran back into compliance, and what that means is to have Iran once again subject to the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated. Because again, our objective – the objective of our allies and partners in all of this, including in the case of the P5+1, a couple partners with whom we always don’t see eye to eye, to put it – to once again understate it – is to ensure that Iran can never develop a nuclear weapon. That’s precisely what the JCPOA does. That’s precisely why the proposition on the table for some months now has been compliance for compliance.

QUESTION: Ned, but —

QUESTION: But the —

QUESTION: Do you agree with President Rouhani that you made 60 to 70 percent —

MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to put a number on it. Again, the road ahead remains long. There will be, I am sure, difficult moments. We are – we certainly have a ways to go. I think what I said before is accurate, that we probably have more road ahead of us than we do behind us at this stage.

QUESTION: Does that mean that you guys have abandoned the 12 demands that Secretary Pompeo made back —

MR PRICE: The 12 demands, Matt, were part of the maximum pressure campaign. It is certainly true that we have seen a real-life experiment when it comes to the maximum —

QUESTION: You still want them to do those —

MR PRICE: When it comes to the maximum pressure campaign. And you look at the results of that experiment compared to what maximum pressure was supposed to deliver. It was supposed to deliver a better deal, a stronger deal, a longer deal with Iran. It was supposed to cow Iran and its proxies. It was supposed to bring us together with our allies and partners around the world.

In fact, all of those things, the opposite has come true. Under the previous administration, we got nowhere closer to a better deal. There was always the myth of the better deal. And in fact, Iran accelerated its nuclear program and enacted measures that would have been prohibited under the JCPOA. Of course, its proxies —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Do the 12 – do the 12 demands still stand?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Do you still want them to do those 12 things or not?

MR PRICE: Matt, maximum pressure has proved to be an inappropriate course given what we have seen from the real-life experiment over the past several years.

QUESTION: Okay, but you just said hanging out there all the time in the previous administration was the myth of a better deal. Isn’t that what you guys are looking for?

MR PRICE: The myth of a better deal that maximum pressure would bring. And we have —

QUESTION: Okay, you guys think you can get a better deal without any pressure?

MR PRICE: We – Matt —

QUESTION: What’s – okay, but just tell me. I mean, you still think you can get a better deal, right? That’s your idea.

MR PRICE: Our goal —

QUESTION: Or lengthen – lengthen and strengthen, right? That’s a better deal.

MR PRICE: Our goal – our goal first and foremost to focus on compliance for compliance. That is what the team in Vienna is focused on right now. They are focused on that right now because compliance on the part of Iran would mean that Iran would once again be subject to the strictest verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated.

Now, we have spoken to that as a necessary but not sufficient step. We do remain from there focused on lengthening and strengthening the provisions of that deal, and from there, working on addressing other areas of malign Iranian behavior, whether it is Iran’s ballistic missile program, whether it is its support for terrorism, whether it is its egregious violations of human rights. That – those latter areas are certainly areas that – where we think we have a good deal of partnership and seek to leverage cooperation with our allies and partners, including our partners in the region.

Yes. Let’s go where we haven’t gone yet. Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can I talk about the conversations with Brazil about the climate summit that will happen this week? In a letter to President Biden, the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, committed to ending illegal deforestation by 2030, but we also know that the U.S. Government is saying that it would like to see Brazil showing more than just words, and that it is necessary to engage in immediate actions that produce tangible results. So what would be those immediate actions that the U.S. is expecting from Brazil during the summit?

And a second question, if I may: The Brazilian Government is asking for resources to support the environmental protection. Should we expect from the U.S. any financial support or funds for the Amazon rainforest, for example?

MR PRICE: Well, to your first question, this is something that special envoy – Special Presidential Envoy Kerry spoke to. I believe he issued a tweet just a few days ago speaking to President Bolsonaro’s recommitment to eliminating illegal deforestation. He called it “important.” He said that “We look forward to immediate actions and engagement with indigenous populations and civil society so this announcement can deliver tangible results.” Of course, we note Brazil’s commitment to ending that deforestation by 2030. We want to see very clear and tangible steps to increase effective enforcement, and a political signal that illegal deforestation and encroachment won’t be tolerated. Tackling the climate crisis requires global partnerships with big impacts, and, of course, Brazil will be a key partner here in finding and implementing solutions to this crisis. Brazil is one of the world’s largest economies and a regional leader. It has a responsibility to lead, and we look forward to Brazil’s participation in the upcoming climate summit.

Now, in terms of the funding, to your second question, we have continued to focus our conversation around steps that need to be taken to halt that illegal deforestation – the subject of the recommitment from President Bolsonaro – rather than looking at specific funding streams, but that’s been the focus so far.

QUESTION: Is there a specific target for decreasing deforestation this year, for example, that the U.S. would like to see, to consider there is a concrete step from Brazil?

MR PRICE: Again, I’m going to let Secretary Kerry’s office speak to this. I think when it comes to what we would like to see, we would like to see very clear, tangible steps to increase effective enforcement, and a political signal that illegal deforestation encroachment won’t be tolerated going forward.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan?

MR PRICE: On Afghanistan? Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. Is – are the talks in Istanbul now off? Can you just give us an update on where things are diplomatically? And are you worried at all about that, Taliban not going there?

MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to the talks in Istanbul, this gets to the point that from the various early – very earliest days of the Biden administration, we have recognized, number one, that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, and only through a political settlement and a comprehensive ceasefire will we be able to support a resolution that brings security, stability, and prosperity to the people of Afghanistan. The conference in Istanbul is part of that broader effort, that broader diplomatic engagement. We are grateful to the hosts – Turkey, Qatar, and the UN – for convening it. I would need to refer to them when it comes to the current status of that timing of it or timing of it going forward.

But what I will say more broadly is that our diplomatic efforts have spanned months now. Special Ambassador Khalilzad has spent the better part of two months in the region, whether it’s Doha, whether it’s Kabul, whether it’s Islamabad – of course, he was in Moscow for the extended Troika – and throughout the region, seeking not only to achieve progress between the Afghan parties, but also, again, to bring in the international community in a way that several of these countries have not been brought in before.

We recognize – and I can tell you from discussions with President Ghani last week in Kabul that the Afghan Government recognizes – that there are countries in the region, and in some cases even slightly beyond, that have a role to play, a supporting role to play in the Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process. We want to see the international community and many of these countries serve as effective and constructive stakeholders in this, supporting and lending assistance to the process that we hope and we have invested in to bring about a political settlement and a comprehensive ceasefire going forward.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: He spent a lot longer than just two months. (Laughter.) In fact, I think the Qataris might be giving him honorary citizenship. He’s been over there for the last two years, so like – but speaking of people who have been in places for a long time, do you guys have anything to say about Raul Castro’s retirement, resignation? He’s been a fixture of the Cuban Government for longer than I’ve been alive, for longer than you’ve been alive —

MR PRICE: I —

QUESTION: — I think probably everybody in this room has been alive.

MR PRICE: I appreciate the transition there. What I would say is, of course, it is for the Cuban people to speak to the results of the Cuban party congress. We have spoken about our review of our Cuba policy, which remains ongoing, but we know, of course, that will be governed by two principles. First, support for democracy and human rights will be at the core of those efforts, and we will seek to empower the Cuban people to determine their own future. And second, Americans, as we’ve said, are – tend to be the best ambassadors for freedom in Cuba. Don’t have anything to add about the change that has been announced. Again, it’s for the Cuban people to speak to the results of their party congress.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Yep.

QUESTION: Ned, we’ve known a little bit about where some of the senior officials came down on the decision to withdraw. It’s become reported, about General Milley’s position and Secretary Austin’s position. Where did Secretary Blinken come down on the decision to withdraw by September 11th?

MR PRICE: Look, I think as we have said, as the White House has said, as the Pentagon has said, this was a rigorous process; it was an inclusive process; it was a process that certainly wasn’t whitewashed. President Biden was determined that he wanted all of the inputs, he wanted the unvarnished truth. He wanted the unvarnished assessments, knowing that any effort to put spin on the ball ultimately would not redound well, either on the people of Afghanistan, the Government of Afghanistan, or the American people and our interests there, and of course, the significant investment that the American people have made in Afghanistan over the past 20 years in terms of blood, in terms of treasure.

What Secretary Blinken has been focused on since his earliest days in this office has been seeking to support the Afghan parties as we seek to advance a diplomatic solution and a comprehensive ceasefire, and again, to bring in the international community. Secretary Blinken has had a number of opportunities to speak to NATO Allies, other regional players, including about Afghanistan. And we have consulted closely and he has consulted closely with his counterparts around the world.

Of course, we went to Brussels in March. We went – we returned just a few weeks later on the eve of the President’s announcement. That has all been part and parcel of our efforts not only to – in the case of NATO – speak and to act with one alliance voice, but also in the broader sense to ensure that this is an effort that enjoys the support of stakeholders throughout the region. Because again, recognizing that there are countries in the region, slightly beyond, that do and should have a constructive role to play to support the Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process, that’s been our focus at the State Department. That will be our focus going forward.

QUESTION: Follow-up, Afghanistan?

QUESTION: But if Blinken had opposed this, would you tell us?

MR PRICE: (Laughter.) I would probably not read out any internal deliberations. That’s just now what we do.

QUESTION: On the U.S. assistance to the Palestinians, there are criticism —

QUESTION: Wait. Can I go on Afghanistan? Before we move?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: You can.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Thank you. We just put out reporting that Afghan peace conference in Turkey now postponed over non-participation by Taliban. It just hit out, hit the wire. What’s your response?

MR PRICE: Well, you’re telling me something that apparently just hit the wire, so what I would do is refer you to the host. Again, this is part and parcel of a broader diplomatic process. This is a process that has been ongoing in Doha for quite some time now. Ambassador Khalilzad, during this course of this administration, has spent the brunt of his time traveling, attempting to bring the parties together —

QUESTION: How is that diplomatic process going to continue if this conference is postponed?

MR PRICE: Again, I would fully expect that broader diplomatic efforts will continue. I would, again, refer you to the hosts for any details on when a conference in Istanbul may take place going forward. But again, we’ve always been very clear. Istanbul was not a replacement for Doha. It was not intended to subsume the broader diplomatic effort. That is an effort that continues to be ongoing and it’s an effort where we will continue to invest our resources, our political heft, knowing again that only through diplomacy, only through a political settlement, an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led process, will we be able to help support bringing peace, stability, and security to the people of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Can I do one more follow-up on Afghanistan? Has there been a decision on the diplomatic presence for future U.S. footprint in Afghanistan? Is that something Secretary Blinken will be able to tell members of Congress today?

MR PRICE: Well, Secretary Blinken is up on the Hill today. He is briefing all members of the House and the Senate, together with several of his counterparts, on our approach to Afghanistan going forward. What we have said and what President Biden announced last week is that by later this year, by September, all American service members will be out of Afghanistan except for those required for the continued operation of our embassy in Kabul. We believe it is important to continue the partnership between the United States and the Afghan Government as well as the Afghan people.

That’s precisely why within hours of President Biden’s announcement, Secretary Blinken and President Biden, of course, thought it important for Secretary Blinken and his team to get on a plane, to go directly to Kabul, to meet with President Ghani, to meet with Chairman Abdullah, and to meet with representatives of civil society. And of course, while there, we had a very interesting and I think time well spent, a roundtable with members of Afghan civil society, all but one of whom were women – an attorney, a mayor, a member of parliament, a reporter, a human rights advocate – to ensure that we sent a very strong signal to this small but important cross-section of the Afghan people that the United States will continue that partnership. And of course, a diplomatic relationship, a continuing diplomatic relationship with Afghanistan, is part and parcel of that, and it’s something we will expect to see going forward.

QUESTION: So as it regards the status of the Istanbul conference, your short answer is that’s nobody’s business but the Turks?

MR PRICE: No, I don’t believe I said anything of the sort.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) it’s a joke.

MR PRICE: I see. Okay. Explain it to me afterwards.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Michel. There are criticisms for the U.S. renewal of funding to UNRWA and calls for its reform. Do you take these calls or those concerns seriously, and are you planning to do anything with the UNRWA?

MR PRICE: Well, we spoke to this when we announced our resumption of funding to UNRWA a couple weeks ago now, and I made the broader point at the time that our disposition is that when we engage, when we are back at the table, the United States can have influence that we otherwise wouldn’t have. And you’ve seen that in any number of other contexts. We rejoined the World Health – we re-engaged with the World Health Organization on day one of this administration. We have announced our observer status with the Human Rights Council and announced our intention to seek a seat on the council going forward. Of course, the Paris Agreement, any number of other international bodies and institutions.

And that’s true of UNRWA, too. In our communication with UNRWA prior to the announcement, UNRWA made firm commitments to the United States on the issues of transparency, of accountability, and neutrality in all of its operations. The commitment to neutrality, importantly, includes zero tolerance for racism, discrimination, and anti-Semitism. UNRWA’s head commissioner, in fact, General Philippe Lazzarini, who was newly appointed just last year, conveyed his utmost commitment to these very same principles.

In the months ahead, looking forward, we plan to negotiate a new framework with UNRWA in which the principles of transparency, accountability, and neutrality will again be affirmed. I made the point when we were speaking to our re-engagement with UNRWA just a couple weeks ago that even when the United States was not supporting UNRWA, the relationship with UNRWA remained. We were in the room under the previous administration and in the first couple months of this administration, but we weren’t at the table. By re-engaging, by re-supporting and reaffirming our support for UNRWA, we are now back at the table; we are in a position to secure those commitments from UNRWA’s leadership, and we are in a position to see to it that those commitments are upheld. We can hold the commissioner general and now UNRWA accountable to these commitments since we are now back at the table. And with our seat at the table restored, along with some of our key allies and partners, many of whom are major donors – that includes the Japanese, Germany, Norway, the UK, the EU, among others – we’ll once again have a position to advocate so that our assistance is used in ways that not only meet our interests but are consistent with our values.

So I think it’s fair to say that if anyone tells you that the United States has not secured any sort of commitments from UNRWA on these core issues – again, that includes accountability, it includes transparency, it includes neutrality – they are simply wrong. We have very solid commitments, and we will make them even more solid in the months ahead.

We’ll take a final question. Lalit.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions on India and COVID. Adar Poonawalla, who is the CEO of Serum Institute, has urged the U.S. and President Biden in particular to lift the ban on export of certain raw materials which are used in manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines in India. But Serum Institute – Serum Institute, as you know, is the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines, and any delay in that might cause – impact the vaccination process not only in India but globally as well. What do you have to say on that part?

MR PRICE: Well, we wouldn’t want to weigh in on that from here. I would refer you to USTR as well as the White House, and I believe the White House press secretary has spoken to this as recently as yesterday.

What I would say more broadly is that President Biden, Secretary Blinken, they’re deeply focused on the issue of expanding global vaccination, manufacturing, and delivery – all of which will be critical to ending the pandemic. Secretary Blinken consistently makes the point that as long as the virus is out of control, is uncontained anywhere around the world, whether that is here in the United States, whether that is elsewhere, it continues to present a risk to the American people.

So of course, first and foremost, our priority is ensuring the distribution of a safe and effective vaccine to millions of Americans, to all Americans who are able to take advantage of it. But we also know that we need to continue to demonstrate that leadership when it comes to countries beyond our borders, and that’s precisely what we’ve done. As I mentioned before, we’ve re-engaged the WHO; we’ve committed $2 billion to COVAX, another $2 billion over time; we’ve spoken to our partnership with Canada and Mexico when it comes to vaccines, and we’ve spoken to the arrangement we have with the Quad and the increased production capacity that that will bring about.

It is not only in our interest to ensure that the American people are vaccinated, the other point I would make is that the rest of the world also has an interest in seeing to it that the American people are vaccinated and that the virus is brought under control here. I don’t have to tell you that this country has suffered tremendously. We have more deaths than any other country around the world, more than 550,000 at this point, tens of millions of cases. So again, as long as the virus is uncontrolled anywhere, it is a threat to people everywhere. That is true in the United States; that is true in countries around the world, and it’s precisely why we’re taking this approach.

QUESTION: Did this issue came up when Secretary Blinken spoke to India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar yesterday?

MR PRICE: So we issued a readout of that call. They did discuss COVID, but I wouldn’t want to go beyond that readout.

QUESTION: One more question. India is experiencing a second wave of COVID spread. It’s very serious right now. CDC yesterday issued some kind of travel advisory asking all Americans not to travel to India. Is the U.S. considering any kind of restrictions on travel from India to the U.S.?

MR PRICE: Restrictions on travel from India to the U.S.? Of course, there are protocols in place requiring testing for international travel. What is true is that we are tracking the course of the COVID outbreak in India very closely. As I mentioned before, Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Jaishankar did discuss it yesterday. It is also the case that whether it’s India, whether it is any other country, we are committed to doing what we can both at the present and going forward to see to it that this virus is brought under control. And I’ve spoke, again, of our engagement with the WHO, our funding to COVAX, the Quad arrangement that, of course, implicates what we’re seeing in India and what we’ve done in our own hemisphere as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:20 p.m.)

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