2:04 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Monday. Hope everyone had a nice weekend.
Today the White House announced a series of coordinated actions to respond to Nicaragua’s descent under President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo into a single-party authoritarian state that silences dissent, imprisons political opponents, shutters independent media and nongovernmental organizations, attacks religious leaders, and uses proceeds from the production and sale of gold to enrich regime insiders and pay off those to keep them in power. Among those actions, the Department of State is taking steps to impose visa restrictions on over 500 Nicaraguans and their family members pursuant to Presidential Proclamation 10309.
This measure suspends entry into the United States for members of the Government of Nicaragua and other persons who formulate, implement, or benefit from policies or actions that undermine democratic institutions or impede the return to democracy in Nicaragua. No member of the Nicaraguan Government nor anyone who facilitates the Ortega-Murillo regime’s abuses should believe they can travel freely to the United States.
Today the White House also announced an amendment to Executive Order 13851 which expands sanctions authorities, including certain trade-related measures, for Nicaragua. These new authorities support our efforts to promote accountability for the regime’s accelerating actions to close all space for civil society, to increase its security cooperation with Russia, and to silence independent voices despite broad international calls for dialogue and moderation.
Governments that deny their people’s basic rights or threaten the security interests of their neighbors should not expect that their political, economic, and trade relationships with the United States will remain unaffected. Pursuant to Executive Order 13851, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions on Nicaraguan mining authority, General Directorate of Mines or DGM – an office within the Ministry of Energy and Mines – and on Reinaldo Gregorio Lenin Cerna Juarez, a close confidante of the Nicaraguan president.
The United States, together with our allies and partners, believes that a return to democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Nicaragua is essential, and we will use the diplomatic and economic tools available to promote accountability for the Ortega-Murillo regime, to reiterate our call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, and to urge the restoration of civic space for the people of Nicaragua.
One more item before we take your questions. Last week, Russian authorities initiated a new criminal case against opposition leader and anticorruption campaigner Aleksey Navalny for allegedly, quote, “propagating extremism, calling for terrorism, financing extremist activity, and rehabilitating Nazism.” Those, of course, were their charges. These charges could result in a cumulative 30 years’ imprisonment. Only two days before the outrageous new charges were issued, an appeals court in Moscow rejected Mr. Navalny’s latest appeal, and today marks 644 days since Mr. Navalny was unjustly imprisoned.
The United States is deeply concerned by the Kremlin’s escalation of its harassment of Mr. Navalny and continued disregard for human rights. The Russian Government’s ludicrous, cynical references to Nazism fool no one outside of the echo chamber of lies it has imposed on the population of Russia through its censorship and disinformation. The United States condemns Russia’s continued contempt for democratic principles as demonstrated by the unjust harassment, prosecution, and imprisonment of Russian citizens who seek to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms. We once again join Mr. Navalny’s family, his colleagues, and his supporters around the world in calling for his immediate and unconditional release.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Echo chamber is an interesting expression to use as it relates to Russia.
I’ll be really brief because I was late and I apologize. Just in terms of the comments that we’ve been hearing from Russian officials and the response to those comments from you guys, from the French, from the Brits – and I notice that there was a call today, another one, between the – Gerasimov and the British chief of staff, I guess is what you would call it, basically outlining the same things, that they think that the Ukrainians are going to – or they accuse the Ukrainians of plotting to use a dirty bomb and that they will respond in kind. So without getting into what happened over the weekend and what has already been said, is there anything new that you guys have to say on this topic today?
MR PRICE: Well, you asked that we not get into the weekend, but I think the weekend is important context for what we’re speaking to, because over the weekend you did hear and you saw a number of calls take place not only from senior officials here in Washington but from capitals in Europe. And you saw a remarkably consistent message in those readouts of those calls as well as in the joint statement that we put out last night with the forbearance of our French and British partners, who were working late – early into this morning, I should say – to finalize it, that made clear that we’re concerned when we hear this type of patently false disinformation emanating from the Kremlin. We know the Kremlin’s track record when it comes to these types of claims. That’s what – of course what is the predicate, what ultimately undergirds our concern. We reject the transparently false allegation that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory. That was a message you saw in the readouts, in the joint statement that we issued yesterday.
And then just today, you saw from Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba – he put out a statement about his call with Director General Grossi of the IAEA, and Foreign Minister Kuleba said in that statement that he invited the IAEA to, quote, “urgently send experts to peaceful facilities in Ukraine which Russia deceitfully claims to be developing a dirty bomb.” And the IAEA has agreed. Secretary Blinken will be meeting later today with Director General Grossi of the IAEA. I imagine this will be a topic of discussion.
The broader point – and again, you heard this not only from us but from our European allies as well – is that the world would see through any Russian attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation. We wanted to be very clear in our calls, in our joint statements, in the readouts of those calls today, and some of which have – started yesterday and that have continued today – we wanted to send a very clear message that any such effort would be transparent, any such effort would not fool the world.
QUESTION: Well, it wouldn’t be transparent. You would see through it.
MR PRICE: Correct.
QUESTION: That’s the transparency.
MR PRICE: Correct, correct.
QUESTION: But you’re not accusing the Russians of being transparent, or are you?
MR PRICE: We are —
QUESTION: Are you saying that they are – that they are telling you exactly —
MR PRICE: Any such deceitful attempt would be transparent – transparent in its deceitfulness, I suppose. Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. And so how exactly would you respond?
MR PRICE: Again, I’m not going to weigh in on a hypothetical. We wanted to make very clear that any Russian attempt to establish a pretext for escalation would be nothing more than a deceitful pretext. We wanted to lay that predicate very clearly at the earliest concerning statements that we heard from senior Russian officials.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on all of that, what evidence do you have at this moment that they might indeed be preparing for this pretext? Are you picking up any signs, any intel that they are preparing to use this as a pretext and escalate themselves?
MR PRICE: Well —
QUESTION: With a dirty bomb or with a nuclear —
MR PRICE: We unfortunately are all too familiar – the world is all too familiar with the Kremlin’s track record. This is a point that we made prior to February 24th. It’s a point we’ve made consistently since then. And there is a track record to back that up. Obviously, in this case, we are concerned that this false allegation could be used as a pretext for further Russian escalation. And we’ve made that concern very clear. We’ve made very clear that we reject any potential – and we would reject any potential Russian effort to use a pretext to escalate this conflict. At this time, though, we haven’t seen any – we have seen – not seen any reason to adjust our own nuclear posture, nor do we have indications that Russia is preparing to use nuclear weapons. But we’ve heard these very concerning statements, and we wanted to send a very clear signal.
QUESTION: And I just wanted to ask Matt’s question again, because I think – I don’t think that it’s a hypothetical because you’re just saying that there is elevated concern. So Jake Sullivan a few weeks ago have talked about – without going into detail – the kind of response that Russia would get if they – if it were to deploy nuclear weapons. Would you be treating a dirty bomb attack in the same way? Would it be different? Have you communicated to allies what response you would be giving if that were the case?
MR PRICE: We’ve been very clear with the Russians. We’ve been very clear with the world – publicly with the world, privately with the Russians about the severe consequences that would result from nuclear use. Again, to Matt’s question, I’m not going to weigh in on every conceivable hypothetical. It would certainly be another example of President Putin’s brutality if he were to use a so-called dirty bomb. There would be consequences for Russia whether it uses a dirty bomb or a nuclear bomb. We’ve been very clear about that.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you one other thing? Do you read anything into it that it has been Russian defense officials reaching out to defense counterparts, rather than the —
MR PRICE: We —
QUESTION: — foreign minister, rather than diplomats? Does that mean anything to you at all?
MR PRICE: Look, it’s not helpful, I think, for us to try to read the tea leaves.
QUESTION: I’m not asking you read the tea leaves.
MR PRICE: Certainly not – certainly not publicly. Whenever we see a leaf that is suggestive of a potential Russian pretext for further escalation, that’s something of concern with – concern to us, and we sought to be very clear and on the record about that concern.
QUESTION: Do you have a – what is a dirty bomb? Do you have a definition to a dirty bomb? Something that uses uranium, for instance? Is that it? Like depleted uranium or —
MR PRICE: Whether – I couldn’t say whether there’s a technical definition.
MR PRICE: I think the definition that most people use is a crude radiological device.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, just so I understand correctly, you’re saying that the only evidence is the fact that the Russian chief of staff, I believe, spoke with his counterpart and warned against the possible use of such a bomb by Ukraine, right? There is no other evidence?
MR PRICE: Our concern is predicated on the very worrisome statements that we’ve heard from the Russians. And Said, it is based on those statements. But unfortunately, we have seen a pattern in this conflict, in this war, in the lead-up to this war, where the Russians have engaged in mirror-imaging. The Russians have accused the Ukrainians, the Russians have accused other countries, of what it itself was planning. That is our concern.
Now, we also want to be clear about what we haven’t seen. We haven’t seen any reason for us to change our nuclear posture. We haven’t seen any indications that the Russians are preparing to deploy a nuclear weapon. Of course, we’ve heard worrisome rhetoric, troubling rhetoric from President Putin, from other senior Russian officials that pre-date these most recent statements. It’s why we’re watching very closely and why we will adjust our posture if and when we need to.
QUESTION: Yeah, Ned, thanks so much. Back to Matt’s question on the defense line, the communication line. It’s important – I don’t want to let this slide because today marks eight months of – into this war. When the Secretary decided to call his colleague a couple of months ago, he came down here to make sure first we are aware in advance, and secondly, there is nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. What happened in the administration’s policy? Why is it okay now to pick up a phone call from Shoigu, who is personally responsible for hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians’ lives? And secondly, what happened to the administration’s “nothing without Ukraine about Ukraine” policy?
MR PRICE: That is still very much our mantra. That is still very much our policy. I think it’s important, Alex, to note that the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense have different responsibilities; they have different mandates. When the Secretary picked up the phone to speak with Foreign Minister Lavrov several months ago now, he did so because there were several important bilateral concerns that he thought it important to relay through his channel, which is foreign policy, which is a policy channel. In the first instance, it was our efforts to see the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner. He also was very clear about the consequences that would befall Moscow that we’ve now seen implemented against Moscow were it to move forward with, at the time, was the threat of annexation by force.
Of course, Secretary Austin has a different set of responsibilities. I will let the Pentagon speak to his calls. They have issued a public readout. But when Secretary Austin picks up the phone to speak to secretary – to Minister of Defense Shoigu, as he has done on a couple of occasions now, there are a different set of topics than Secretary Blinken would discuss with Foreign Minister Lavrov.
I can assure you – again, without speaking – purporting to speak for Secretary Austin or the Pentagon – that Secretary Austin would not engage in anything about Ukraine without Ukraine. That is a mantra that is at the heart of our approach both in this building, at the Pentagon, from the White House, and throughout this administration.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Two questions on sanctions in Georgia. Is the U.S. State Department aware of the new list of sanctions that was assigned by Zelenskyy last week targeting the inner circle, business circle, and family members of the Georgian oligarch who, I remind you, has been controlling, orchestrating Georgian politics for the last 10 years? Have you had any consultation with Ukrainians like broadly on sanctions and lists or on concrete names on those lists?
MR PRICE: We have a close working relationship with our Ukrainian partners. I would need to defer to them to speak to any sanctions that they may have issued. When it comes to Georgia – you’ve heard us say this on a number of occasions; I think I have made this point to you previously – that we remain committed to working with Georgia’s Government as it undertakes the reforms that have been called for by the European Union, by the European Commission in this case. We want to work with Georgia on its path and on its broader European aspirations.
QUESTION: And a second question. So generally speaking, considering millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars pouring into helping Georgia become this robust, strong democracy over the last 30-plus years of the diplomatic relations, how concerned are you about the apparent drift of Georgia to – towards the Russian orbit? When you look at the attacks of the U.S. ambassador in Georgia by the MPs – this is something you had a statement on, I believe, in August – and you had to defend your ambassador from the podium, which is unprecedented for the 30 years of diplomatic relations between two countries; and when you look at the MPs of the ruling parties who are talking about the plot by the U.S. targeting Georgia, and U.S. is trying Georgia to drag into a new war with Russia – so how concerned are you when you see those events and statements by different members of the ruling party over the time?
MR PRICE: We’ve voiced our concern about some of the troubling statements that we have heard emanate from some corners of Georgia’s political system and Georgian society. We’ve voiced our concern about some of the governments’ actions. The governments’ actions, including stalling or moving backward on important democratic reforms, have created setbacks. They have created setbacks to the clear, overwhelming aspirations of the people of Georgia for EU membership and for broader EU Euro-Atlantic aspiration. These actions – we’re concerned because they have also deepened polarization within Georgian society rather than unify the country around the core issues of Euro-Atlantic integration. There has been a degree of polarization which is not helpful for the country. It is not helpful for Georgia’s broader political aspiration.
Having said all that, we remain committed to working with Georgia to make the reforms needed to meet its Euro-Atlantic goals. We urge Georgia to demonstrate its commitment to EU integration by adopting reforms necessary to move forward on that path.
QUESTION: Do you think that the situation in Georgia undermines Georgia’s – American interest in Georgia, especially in light of this event and the war that broke out in February?
MR PRICE: I missed the first part of your question.
QUESTION: Do you think that the situation in Georgia and this concerns that, for instance, the former ambassadors of the U.S. to Georgia have – I speak with them on a regular basis – do you think the current situation in Georgia politically undermines the U.S. interest in the region? And I’m talking – I’m asking this question in light of the war in the region.
MR PRICE: Well, we think some of the actions, some of the rhetoric, has worked against the interests of the Georgian people. That’s what we care most about when it comes to Georgia and its chosen path, its chosen path of greater Euro-Atlantic integration and its EU aspirations. We want to see Georgia advance along that path. We stand ready to continue to be a partner to the Georgian people, to Georgian society, to the Georgian Government as they seek to do so.
QUESTION: Can I ask you something else on Ukraine?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: President Zelenskyy today spoke at a conference virtually of Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper. And he spoke about the – what he terms a Russian-Iranian alliance, and saying that Israel should do more, including supply of defensive weapons of the Iron Dome. Does the United States have anything to say about that? Does it want to weigh in on whether Israel could be doing more to help Ukraine right now?
MR PRICE: Shaun, as a general matter, we don’t weigh in specifically on what countries could be doing or are doing. We offer our gratitude and our appreciation for the dozens of countries around the world that are providing support to the Ukrainian people. Some of those countries are providing security assistance. Some of those countries are providing economic assistance. Some of those countries are providing humanitarian assistance. Some of those countries are providing all three, like the United States.
When we were last in Israel in March, the Israeli – our Israeli counterparts took the Secretary to the command center and they showed us a very impressive presentation of a functioning Israeli field hospital that, as I recall, had just been constructed. Israel has provided important humanitarian support to the people of Ukraine. Israel has consistently signaled that it stands on the side of the Ukrainian people and the side of the broader rules-based international order that Russia is seeking to undermine and to contravene.
So we would refer to our Israeli partners to speak specifically to the type of support they are providing, to the type of support they may consider providing.
QUESTION: Thank you. State Department official Gabriel Escobar had discussions in Belgrade and Pristina last week, but no results yet. Then Miroslav Lajčák over the weekend continued on behalf of the EU to work on the car license plates and energy issues. My question: What are Secretary Blinken’s expectations for this week? And is – and what is his message to Pristina and Belgrade, given that October 31st deadline is fast approaching for the license plates?
MR PRICE: Well, our message on this has been consistent. We fully support the EU-facilitated dialogue. That’s why DAS Escobar, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gabe Escobar, was in Pristina and Belgrade to support this process. As you know, the Secretary himself has also been deeply engaged on this. He spoke with both Serbian President Vučić and Kosovan Prime Minister Kurti earlier this month, on October 11th, I believe it was. He underscored our support for the EU-facilitated Kosovo-Serbia dialogue. He urged continued constructive engagement to secure peace and stability across the region.
We will continue to support that EU dialogue. We will continue to be a partner both to Kosovo and Serbia in the hope that they can resolve this dispute peacefully in the course of the coming days.
QUESTION: Can I switch topics?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Okay. On the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Ned, four days ago the Israelis began implementing a law that restricts entry into the West Bank, and I know you’ve been talking to the Israelis on this issue. And I want to ask you: How far along have you gotten with them? What kind of promises have the Israelis been able to give you on this issue?
MR PRICE: We continue to have discussions with our Israeli counterparts on this. When we’ve had concerns, we voice those concerns very clearly to our Israeli counterparts. You’ve heard us voice some of those concerns publicly as well. So it’s something we continue to discuss.
QUESTION: Yeah. But in the meantime, if, let’s say, someone like me wants to go, they would have to request a visa 45 days in advance and so on. Is that – is that okay with you?
MR PRICE: Again, Said, when we’ve had concerns, we’ve been transparent about those concerns.
QUESTION: But —
MR PRICE: This dialogue, this is a conversation that is continuing. Obviously, Israel has important security concerns. There are also important humanitarian considerations at play here. We want to make sure that the balance of all of those interests and all of those factors is appropriate.
QUESTION: But Israel does not do this to other Americans. It uses – imposes this law on Palestinian Americans. So there is quite a distinction. They do have security concerns, but are you just expressing your – that you are annoyed with this law, or are you – are you —
MR PRICE: This has been a – this has been —
QUESTION: – willing to take any measures to ensure that people who carry American passport and American citizenship are treated equally?
MR PRICE: This has been a longstanding conversation, and this has been going on for some time prior to the implementation of this as these rules have evolved in recent months, and even in recent days. So we’ll continue to have this conversation when it comes to the ability of American citizens to travel, but also as it pertains to the security, the humanitarian considerations that are also at play.
QUESTION: So is it likely that the Israelis might reverse this policy?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to speak for the Israelis.
QUESTION: These are both Iran-related questions, two questions. Iranian drones – actually, drone instructors – have been spotted in Belarus over the weekend. Do you have any comment on that?
And secondly, Iran also announced on Sunday that it can supply Russia with 40 turbines to help it with gas industry. As you know, the Russian gas industry is facing Western sanctions, so Iran is trying to help Russia out on that as well. Any comment on it?
MR PRICE: When it comes to your first question, we’re aware of reports but we are not in a position to comment on them, that there are these Iranian trainers in Belarus. We’ve noted more broadly our great concern about Iranian presence in Russian-occupied Ukraine – in Crimea in particular – and its actions with Russia in this regard, and we’re following these reports very closely.
As we’ve said, we’re continually working to ensure that the Russian Federation and the Lukashenka regime in Belarus pay a severe price, an economic toll, for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. With our allies and partners, we have taken actions that target the financial networks and the assets of the Kremlin’s, as well as those belonging to the Lukashenka regime for enabling this Russian posture.
The Lukashenka regime, well before Russia’s war against Ukraine started, made a decision to cede the sovereignty of Belarus – which should be, which is, a sovereign country – to cede its sovereign rights to Russia to allow Russian forces to stage in Belarus, to mount a multifront attack against Ukraine. In doing so, the Lukashenka regime again put its own interests ahead of those of the people of Belarus. This has been a consistent pattern of behavior on the part of the Lukashenka regime, and we have taken action, together with allies and partners, to see to it that the regime pays a price.
QUESTION: On turbine question, please?
MR PRICE: Sorry. What was the turbine question?
QUESTION: Turbines. Well, Iran is – on Sunday announced it’s going to help Russian gas sector with 40 turbines. As you know, it is subject to Western sanctions.
MR PRICE: Our sanctions remain fully in effect, fully in force. We will take action as appropriate if we see sanctionable activity, whether that’s on the part of Iran, whether that’s on the part of Russia.
QUESTION: One more Iranian, if I may. Iranian Revolutionary Guard held military exercises on border with Azerbaijan last week, which triggered some concerns in Azerbaijan. Any comment on that, please?
MR PRICE: I don’t have a particular comment on that. Of course we want to see and we’ve – we have made clear our interest in seeing a stable Caucasus region, a region that – where we work both with Armenia and Azerbaijan to de-escalate tensions between those two countries and to work to de-escalate any broader tensions that may arise.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Special Envoy Rob Malley’s tweet over the weekend has angered Iranian activists about the – it was about the demonstrations, where he said that the demonstrators want their government to respect their dignity and human rights.
When the State Department looks at these videos out of Iran as well as those demonstrations held across the world, what do you see these people asking for? Because, okay, it all started – yes, we want more freedom – but then it has evolved. It has changed into chants of “Death to dictator, death to the Islamic Republic.” They’re asking for regime change. What does the State Department see in these videos?
MR PRICE: It’s not for us to interpret what the people of Iran are asking for. It is up to them to be very clear with their voice, with their own government and with the world, to state what they are asking for.
It is up to us – and what we have done is – to provide the Iranian people with some of the tools that can help their voice be heard. The Iranian people by peacefully taking to the streets, by making these demands, we have sought to lend them and to certainly not stand in the way of services, the provision of hardware, of software that will allow their voices to be heard both within Iran, between Iranian citizens inside Iran, and to allow their voices to be heard outside of Iran. It is important that the world listen to the people of Iran.
We would never intend to characterize what it is that they seek. That is for the Iranian people to define and to express themselves.
QUESTION: Well, they are saying that they want regime change, they don’t want the Islamic Republic anymore. But just the fact that the tweet says, “their government.” They don’t consider the Islamic Republic their government.
MR PRICE: And Rob has spoken to this. He would never intend to speak for or on behalf of the people of Iran. It is up to the Iranian people to be clear about their aspirations, and we are hearing those aspirations every day. We want to continue, we will continue to do everything we can to see to it that their voices are heard both inside Iran and well beyond as well. After all, they are expressing and exercising rights that are as universal to them as they are to anyone else.
Rob Malley is a tremendous public servant. He is someone who has led our approach to this set of challenges. He is someone who has been at the forefront as we have developed new tools like General License D-2 that we announced last month. He has been at the forefront as we have developed accountability measures to impose on senior Iranian officials and entities, including the so-called “morality police;” including on those who are responsible for the bloodshed, for the repression; including on those who have sought to silence the voices of the Iranian people. We are going to continue to look for what – to examine what more we can do to support the Iranian people as they seek to have their voices heard and respected.
QUESTION: Ned, I think the point is, though, that you don’t have to interpret what they’re saying. What is it that you see that they’re calling for? Do you think that they’re calling for something that’s less than regime change?
MR PRICE: Again, I am not going to speak on behalf of the Iranian people. They are doing that – they are doing that —
QUESTION: Well, you have a senior official who did just that over the weekend.
MR PRICE: They are doing that very ably, and it’s our charge to provide them with the tools, to see to it that the tools that can help lift those voices; to see to it that the world can hear their voices, that those tools can reach them.
QUESTION: Well, what do you think that they’re protesting – what do you think they’re protesting about?
MR PRICE: Matt, there often are proximate causes when it comes to protests. I think it is clear that the proximate cause over the course of the past year has been any number of things: water shortages, mismanagement, the death of Mahsa Amini. And since then, of course, we’ve seen these protests take on a much larger scale and in some ways a much broader meaning and significance. But it’s not for me to either interpret or to speak on behalf of the people of Iran. It is our charge to see to it that they can speak on behalf of themselves, to see to it that the rest of the world can hear the important messages that they have to say.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, what is it – the message – what is the message that you hear from these protests, then?
MR PRICE: Matt, I am the spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State. I am not the spokesperson for protesters in Iran. So we will leave it to them to voice their aspirations.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, let’s say that if I walk down the street carrying a sign saying oranges are bad, okay – orange, the fruit – oranges are bad; they should be banned – what would you say that my message is?
MR PRICE: Matt, I would say I’m the —
QUESTION: Is that up for you to interpret?
MR PRICE: I’m the spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State. I am not the spokesperson for oranges.
Yes, go ahead. (Laughter.) Go ahead.
QUESTION: Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV, Pakistan. Senior Pakistani journalist, and my colleague, my friend, Arshad Sharif was killed in Nairobi. I think – can I just –.
QUESTION: Thank you. No, it’s all right. So a senior journalist, my colleague, my friend, Arshad Sharif was killed in Nairobi, and he was forced to live in exile due to his investigative reporting about the specific political system of Pakistan. Sir, we often talk about this. What is your message to the Pakistani leadership to fulfill their commitments regarding press freedom?
MR PRICE: Well, first, I express my condolences to you. I express my condolences to Arshad’s colleagues, to his loved ones, to family members, to all those who knew him, who knew his work. We’re deeply saddened by the death of Arshad Sharif. We encourage a full investigation by the Government of Kenya into his death. It’s not entirely clear that we know all the circumstances at this point regarding what led to his death, but we do urge a full investigation.
QUESTION: Sir, Arshad Sharif called me the day before yesterday. I was talking to him on the phone, and he told me that he applied to renew his U.S. visa from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, but it was rejected. So, sir, is there any kind of – special kind of thing that you – like have those kind of journalists or people who just, like, facing death threats and apply for the visa? I mean, just came into my mind, this question. I was talking to him the day before yesterday, and I was trying to help him.
MR PRICE: It’s difficult for me to speak with any specificity regarding what we could do with a particular individual, but we have programs around the world in the first instance to bolster protections for those who are exercising what is another universal right, the right to freedom of expression, the right to information. And it’s clear through his work that Arshad Sharif was dedicated to that fundamental right of freedom of expression – took him around the world. His work was known around the world.
USAID has a number of programs to work with governments around the world to bolster those rights, to bolster independent media. We have taken action. The department and others have taken action when we are aware of efforts on the part of governments around the world to intimidate, to harass, to otherwise seek to silence the voices of those who are so committed to that freedom of expression.
QUESTION: Sir, there are many Pakistani journalists who are living in exile due to this kind of threats. To be honest, I feel 100 percent safe here in Washington, D.C., but just wanted to hear from you – the journalists who are a little critical about Pakistani political system, should we – should they all feel safe here in United States of America?
MR PRICE: This is a country that cherishes the rights that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our Bill of Rights. I, of course, am not here to offer advice to everyone, but these are rights that are embedded in our country’s experience, that are embedded in America’s DNA. We also believe that these rights are universal. These are rights that should not be only protected here. These are rights that should be at the heart of societies around the world. And when countries fail to respect these rights, when they actively try to contravene these rights – in this case, when they attempt to suppress, repress, or otherwise harass journalists – they tend to hear about it from the United States. And that’s a good thing.
QUESTION: Just – may I ask one more on Pakistan, since we’re on the topic?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Does the United States have anything to say about the decision to bar Imran Khan from standing for election for five years?
MR PRICE: We are not going to inject ourselves into internal Pakistani politics or into a dispute between the court and the Pakistani political system.
Yes. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I ask something completely different?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: If you don’t – Haiti. Just wanted – I know you’ve addressed this in recent days and the Secretary addressed it on Friday, but – or the French foreign minister. With the – can you say where things stand now on having an international force for Haiti? Is there a partner country? Does the United States still find this to be an urgent priority?
MR PRICE: We do still find it to be an urgent priority. We, along with Haitian leaders, along with OAS leadership, along with many of our partners and allies around the world, do see the status quo as unsustainable given the security situation, the public health situation, the economic situation that Haitians are confronting. We believe the Haitian people must find a way to achieve an inclusive, broad-based, consistent – broad-based consensus on the way forward for their country’s government and development, and, of course, there have been discrete actors who have sought to stand in the way. We strongly condemn acts of violence that occurred in Haiti over the past weeks and those malign actors who continue to block the distribution of food and fuel to Haitian businesses and other essential Haitian institutions.
We are encouraging actions that will lead to the conditions for elections to take place as soon as possible. As you know, just last week, on October 21st, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted the sanctions resolution that we put forth together with our Mexican partners to hold some of these malign actors accountable, and by taking this step, we’ve taken – we have helped to stymie the activities of criminal actors in Haiti. And after robust and inclusive negotiations, this resolution is truly reflective of the council consensus.
As you know, we’re continuing to work with our partners to determine the next steps. We have in the meantime provided Haitian officials with vital security-related equipment. We did so earlier this month on October 15th, when the United States and Canada together provided security-related equipment to Port-au-Prince flown in by military aircraft. This equipment was purchased by the Haitian Government for their fight against criminal gangs.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned.
MR PRICE: I’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: Just on Brittney Griner, because she has her appeal hearing tomorrow. So I think it’s been about three months since U.S. has put forward the substantial proposal. There hasn’t been any developments. Can you give us an update where those talks are? Is there any reason to be hopeful?
MR PRICE: The only element I can offer in terms of an update is that these discussions have been ongoing. You are correct that we put forward a substantial proposal a number of months ago now. We have consistently urged our Russian counterparts to act on this proposal. The fact that Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan remain in detention, the fact that Brittney Griner last week celebrated her 32nd birthday in detention, the fact that Paul Whelan has spent years in detention is a sign that these discussions have not gotten the point – gotten to the point where we would like them to be, because we would like to see Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner home. We would like to see them reunited with their families.
QUESTION: And when you see that the – when you say the discussions are still ongoing, do you mean there are active discussions when you guys are basically negotiating on what kind of a deal can be formulated, or just that the communication channel is open but it’s just basically not moving?
MR PRICE: I can say there have been active discussions, including in recent days, but our imperative is to see Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner returned home. We are not going to do anything, to say anything publicly that could impair that ability. These conversations we know from past experience, including in the case of Trevor Reed, are best conducted privately in the appropriate channels.
Yes. A follow-up? Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Brittney Griner’s lawyer said today that she’s hoping that they reduce her nine‑year prison sentence tomorrow as part of the appeal conclusion. Is that also what the U.S. Government is hoping for, or what are you hoping to see tomorrow?
MR PRICE: What we’re hoping to see and what we are working to see is the return of Brittney Griner to her loving wife, the return of Paul Whelan to his loving family. That is what we are working to achieve.
We have not weighed in on the various judicial proceedings and judicial steps because, as we’ve made clear, we believe that these proceedings have been largely shambolic. This has been an effort to detain wrongfully an American citizen – two American citizens in the case of Paul Whelan, of Brittney Griner. Wrongful detainees are by definition wrongfully held. They are used for – as political pawns, as leverage. It is our goal to see them home as soon as we can.
QUESTION: And can I just one question on Russia really quickly? There’s a group of I think 30 liberal Democrats who wrote a letter to Biden today, and they are citing the need for a proactive diplomatic push and redoubling efforts to create a framework for a ceasefire in Ukraine. Is the Biden administration doing that, or will you do that?
MR PRICE: Nobody wants to see this war ended more than our Ukrainian partners. Our Ukrainian partners have similarly said that this war will only end through diplomacy and dialogue. We know what that end game will entail; we don’t know when it will transpire. And we don’t know when it will transpire principally and solely because we have not seen any indication from the Russians that they are prepared to engage in that diplomacy and dialogue. If and when that happens – and just as our Ukrainian partners are convinced it will happen, we are convinced it will happen – we will be standing by the side of Ukraine; we will be supporting their diplomatic efforts.
But in the first instance, this is going to be diplomacy that our Ukrainian partners are going to have to lead. They are going to have to determine the contours of this diplomacy, what any negotiation will look like. In the interim, of course, we haven’t been sitting on our hands. We have been providing our Ukrainian partners with what they need on the battlefield so that when the negotiating table emerges, they will be in the strongest possible position. That is the most important thing we can do now: to provide them with support to strengthen their hand on the battlefield, ultimately to make their hand stronger at the negotiating table, as we continue to impose costs and consequences on the Russians.
QUESTION: So you would —
QUESTION: May I follow on Ukraine?
QUESTION: So you would say that the Biden administration is proactively pushing for diplomacy, or that you guys are holding off on that proactive push because you don’t think it’ll be effective?
MR PRICE: In order for diplomacy to take place, there have to be parties ready and willing to engage in diplomacy. Right now, we have heard from our Ukrainian partners repeatedly that this war will only end through diplomacy and dialogue. We have not heard any reciprocal statement or refrain from Moscow that they are ready in good faith to engage in that diplomacy and dialogue.
Yes, sir. I’ve – yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you, Ned, for giving me the chance. My name is Mesfin from TG Ethiopia, and my question is about Ethiopia. Here’s my first question, then. Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians gathered Saturday in Addis Ababa and other cities in Ethiopia to demand that the United States and other European countries stop their interference and pressure in Ethiopia’s internal affairs. Some demonstrators even displayed banners accusing the United States of disrespecting Ethiopia’s sovereignty. What is the State Department’s response to the demonstrators’ demands?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry, I missed the first part of your question in terms of the demonstrators’ demands.
QUESTION: Yes, they are accusing the United States disrespecting Ethiopia’s sovereignty. They are saying that the United States is interfering in Ethiopia’s internal affairs. So what is your response to that?
MR PRICE: Our response, of course, is that those claims are wholly inaccurate, they are wholly wrong. The interest of the United States is the interest of the Ethiopian people: to see the restoration of peace, to see an end to the violence, to see a sovereign, whole Ethiopia. And that’s why we’ve supported the African Union-led talks.
And tomorrow in fact, these African Union-led talks will kick off in South Africa to address the ongoing conflict in northern Ethiopia that has cost so many lives, has led to atrocities, has led to bloodshed, has led to starvation, has aggravated so many underlying factors. We commend South Africa for hosting the talks. We stand ready to support the African Union High Representative Obasanjo and the AU panel members, former South African Deputy Prime Minister Mlambo-Ngcuka, and former Kenyan President Kenyatta in facilitating an agreement.
And to that end, our Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer is in South Africa to observe and to participate in the AU-led talks along with United Nations and IGAD, and to support efforts to have an immediate cessation of hostilities, to deliver humanitarian assistance to all Ethiopians in need, to prevent further human rights abuses and atrocity – atrocities, and to secure Eritrea’s withdrawal from northern Ethiopia. Those are our interests, but importantly, those are also the interests of the Ethiopian people.
QUESTION: Ned, yesterday also Ethiopians and Eritreans demonstrated in front of the White House asking the same question. Did you get their messages?
MR PRICE: We have heard loud and clear messages from Ethiopians around the world, first – in the first instance, in Ethiopia. Our special envoy has spent significant time in Addis in recent weeks meeting with a range of stakeholders. Of course there are vibrant Ethiopian diaspora communities around the world, including here in the United States. We’re engaging with appropriate stakeholders to determine how best we can help the people of Ethiopia achieve their aspirations to end the violence, to provide humanitarian assistance, to restore Ethiopia’s sovereignty, and to put an end to the atrocities and human rights abuses.
QUESTION: And final question, Ned.
QUESTION: Ned, can we move to China?
QUESTION: Final question.
MR PRICE: Final question.
QUESTION: The Ethiopian military is advancing in Tigray regions and today also announced that the Ethiopian military occupied some of the Tigrayans’ capital. What is your thought on this?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve been clear since the resumption of fighting: the fighting must stop. Peace must be given a chance through these talks, these talks that are set to begin tomorrow in South Africa. We call on the Government of Ethiopia and Tigrayan authorities to engage seriously in these talks to achieve an immediate cessation of hostilities, the delivery of humanitarian assistance to all Ethiopians in need, to prevent further human rights abuses and atrocities, and to effect Eritrea’s withdrawal from northern Ethiopia.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Yes, Ned. On China, do you have – does the U.S. have a – has an assessment on the outcome of China’s 20th Party Congress, and does the outcome in any way, shape, or form change the U.S. calculation in dealing with the People’s Republic of China (inaudible) and if you could share with us any U.S. intelligence on the former President Hu Jintao being escorted out, apparently non-voluntarily? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Of course the conclusion of the party conference doesn’t change our approach. You’ve heard our approach articulated most clearly and most at length by Secretary Blinken in May when he outlined our approach to the PRC. We do note the conclusion of the 20th Party Congress and we would welcome cooperation of the PRC where our interests align, and that includes cooperation on climate change, on global health, counternarcotics, nonproliferation as well.
At the same time, the administration has been clear that we’re focused on responsibly managing the competition with the PRC. This is perhaps the most consequential bilateral relationship we have. We’ll continue our efforts to keep lines of communication open, including at the leader level. We think it is incumbent on the United States to do that. It’s why Secretary Blinken has not hesitated to meet with Wang Yi, others have not hesitated to meet with, to speak with, their PRC counterparts, and we’ll continue to keep those lines of communication open.
QUESTION: Any take on the Hu Jintao being escorted out? Will you be able to —
MR PRICE: I don’t have any comment or assessment to offer.
QUESTION: And you mentioned that the Secretary in May – the speech in May. Do you have anything on the status of China House? Is it up and running or is there a timeline?
MR PRICE: This is something that we’re continuing to discuss with members of Congress. We know that our approach to the PRC will be most effective when we have buy-in from congressional overseers, congressional appropriators, congressional authorizers. These are conversations that are ongoing, but we look forward to launching China House at the first possible opportunity, knowing that if we are to compete effectively against or with the PRC we need to be able to pull on all of the resources that are within and under this roof. And that is the point of China House, to integrate the resources that we have here at the State Department and to ensure that in turn we can integrate them with what the White House is doing, what our partners in the interagency are doing as well.
QUESTION: You and colleagues have described this as a period of provocation with North Korea’s activity and tensions between the North and the South. Now that the PRC’s national congress is over and we’re a few days ahead of the U.S. midterms, is there any reason to be more concerned now about North Korea trying anything with a nuclear test than before this current period?
MR PRICE: Our concern regarding the potential for another North Korean nuclear test, which would be its seventh, has been consistent for some time now. We assess that the DPRK is preparing its Punggye-ri test site for what would be its seventh test. This is consistent with the DPRK’s own public statements. This is something we’ve said for a number of months now.
We are preparing for all contingencies in close coordination with our partners and allies around the world. As you know, Deputy Secretary Sherman is in Japan. Much of her visit in Japan will be dedicated to discussing the challenge that the DPRK poses to the region. She’ll do that bilaterally with her Japanese and South Korean counterparts. She’ll also do it trilaterally, recognizing the importance of trilateral cooperation on this challenge.
We’re prepared to make both short and longer-term adjustments to our military posture as appropriate in responding to DPRK provocation and, as necessary, to strengthen both defense and deterrence to protect our allies in the region.
We have made consistently clear that we harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK. We remain open to dialogue. We remain open to diplomacy. We recognize that diplomacy and dialogue remains the most effective path by which to achieve our overarching goal, and that’s the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. At the same time, our commitment to the security of our personnel in the region, of our treaty allies, is ironclad, it is sacrosanct, and we’ll discuss that in forthcoming engagements.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. You know that the North Korea invaded Northern Limit Line, NLL, early this morning. Also, regarding – former National Security Advisor Bolton recently said that United States cannot give up North Korea to nuclear weapons through diplomacy and sanctions; therefore, as another option, he said that the North Koreans regime should be changed. What is the Biden administration doing to change the North Korean Kim Jong-un’s regime? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Those are the words of private citizen; they should be treated as such. We have made very clear that the policy of this administration – that, by the way, has been similar to the policies of previous administrations – is that diplomacy and dialogue represents the most effective means by which to address the challenge that North Korea poses. That is why we remain, as I just said a moment ago, open to dialogue and diplomacy. We harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK. We seek to have practical conversations on fulfilling what is that core and overarching goal: the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
QUESTION: One more quick one. North Korea mocks South Korea for being rejected by the United States to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea. How you can analyze this?
MR PRICE: Our commitment to the security of our allies, including the ROK, including Japan is ironclad. That commitment is sacrosanct. As you know, we recently resumed the extended deterrence working group. We are committed to extended deterrence for our allies Japan and South Korea.
QUESTION: Ned —
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: So you took issue with Tahrir al-Sham being in control of Afrin in Syria. Now they’re supposedly withdrawn from the city, but some reports indicate – including some reports from conflict monetary organizations and – claim that they haven’t really withdrawn from the city. It’s just they’ve switched their flags from their flag to some other groups. What’s your current understanding of the – Tahrir al-Sham’s control of Afrin?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to offer a more updated assessment beyond what we’ve said (inaudible). It’s something we monitor very closely, but I just don’t have an updated assessment to offer today.
QUESTION: Apart from just calling for them to leave the city, did you have any other tools to get them out of the city?
MR PRICE: This is something that we’ve been focused on with partners in the region. Of course, instability in Syria, the ability of extremist groups, of terrorist groups to use Syrian territory to form a base, to plot, that is of concern to all of us. We have a range of tools and we’ll continue to calibrate those tools appropriately.
QUESTION: Oh, thank you, Ned. One short clarification on Ukraine. Could you clarify the administration position about the possibility of the American troops being — physically being present at or settled on the Ukrainian territory? Why I got this question? This Saturday CBS News made a reportage from Romania, and they spoke with the leadership of the U.S. Army 101 Airborne, and American military told them that – I’m quoting – they are fully prepared to cross the border into Ukraine. And I got my audience in Ukraine and people are curious: is it any shift in a new U.S. administration position, or may one consider this as a signal to Moscow?
MR PRICE: There has been no shift in the administration’s position. Our position has been clear. We’re going to do everything we can to stand with Ukraine, to stand for the rules-based international order that Russia is attempting to undermine and to contravene. We are doing that through the provision of security assistance. We are doing that by holding the Kremlin and its key decision leaders to account with sanctions, other economic and financial measures. But the President has been clear we are not going to get into – certainly not going to seek to get into a war with Russia. What we are doing is providing Ukraine with what it needs to defend itself against what is clearly Russian aggression.
QUESTION: Thank you. The Mexican Government has confirmed it has purchased several units of scanning equipment from a company with strong links to the Chinese government. We learned from Washington Post reporting this weekend that the Biden administration considered this purchase a national security threat, and that even Ambassador Salazar sent a letter to the Mexican Foreign Ministry suggesting not to purchase this equipment. Mexico didn’t stop and continues to buy this scanning equipment that will be placed in places like Tijuana for goods going into the U.S. What does it say when your Mexican partners disregard the U.S. concerns on this issue?
MR PRICE: I don’t think it’s fair to say that shared concerns have been disregarded. I – we can let you know if we have any specific comments on these procurement decisions, but we typically don’t comment on specific procurement decisions, but we do have a robust dialogue with our Mexican counterparts, including when it comes to border security issues. During the High-Level Security Dialogue that Secretary Blinken, Secretary Mayorkas, and Attorney General Garland took part in last month, there was a discussion of irregular migration, there was a discussion of the need to manage these challenges both in the region and closer to the border. Those are discussions that we’re continuing to have with our Mexican counterparts, and if we have anything to offer on a procurement decision, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: But specifically on that, are you challenging the Washington Post reporting about Mexico purchasing these Chinese-linked technologies?
MR PRICE: I’m just not weighing in on a particular procurement decision.
QUESTION: Well, wait, wait a second. But you weigh in procurement decisions all the time. I mean, ask Turkey. Let’s ask Europe when —
MR PRICE: I said —
QUESTION: When European countries are going around talking about Huawei and 5G and you guys are saying “No, no, no.” You weigh in on —
MR PRICE: And I said I’m not weighing in on this particular procurement decision.
QUESTION: Oh, this particular one? So it’s only when you feel like it.
MR PRICE: We’ll let you know if we have anything to say on this one.
QUESTION: Yeah, back on China. The Department of Justice announced about an hour ago, give or take, that they’re charging several members of the Chinese Communist Party, the security apparatus there, with interfering in various affairs here in the U.S. Obviously, the DOJ is going to handle the criminal prosecutions, but when it comes to the Department of State, how are you guys going to respond to this threat and deal with it going forward? Some of the things they mentioned are things that have been going on for a while. Some of these people allegedly set up a fake think tank to try to influence American institutions. They tried to recruit former law enforcement, professors. These things have been happening for quite some time; there’s been a lot of reporting about it. The DOJ, like I said, will do the criminal prosecution, but what are you guys doing to try to rein in this problem that seems to be still very pervasive?
MR PRICE: I only saw these reports as I was walking out, and in any case we wouldn’t comment on charges that have been unsealed by the Department of Justice. But more broadly, leaving aside what the Department of Justice alleged in a charging document today, what I can say is that this is a relationship that is multifaceted. We seek to cooperate with the PRC when it is in America’s national interests to do so. But this is a relationship that is primarily predicated on competition. And we are doing everything we can to compete and ultimately to out-compete with the PRC across the board. There are also elements of this relationship that are adversarial. And again, without speaking to any details that DOJ may have made public today, this certainly would seem to be in the category of adversarial elements of this relationship. We’re clear-eyed about the multifaceted nature of this relationship. We are prepared for the competition, we are prepared to defend our interests when they are challenged by the PRC.
Let me go to – yes, I don’t think you’ve had a question.
QUESTION: Yeah. So on Russia, Ned, you have been talking about severe consequences for a long time. You have already conveyed them to Russians. Why don’t you convey to the world as well what’s going to be the result? Is there going to be consequences? Is it going to be military, or economic and political?
MR PRICE: We think it’s important that the Russians know the profound nature of the consequences that would befall their country should they engage in nuclear use. At the same time, this is – these are conversations that – these are the types of conversations where we can be more pointed in private. We can convey very frank and sharp messages when we need to. And we’ve been also clear publicly that there will be profound consequences, but it’s not something that we’ve chosen to detail publicly.
QUESTION: Another question. Just on al-Hol camp, there is a report that the administration has enacted a plan to reduce the population at al-Hol camp in Syria, and six European countries and Australia has agreed to transfer some of their nationals back to their countries. Do you have anything on that —
MR PRICE: We welcome the efforts of our partners around the world, including our European partners, to repatriate their nationals. We think that it is the right and important thing to do, and it’s something we continue to discuss with them.
QUESTION: Iran’s foreign minister said over the weekend that they had received a message indicating the U.S. was in a hurry to reach a nuclear agreement. Do you have any response to that, and has there been any indirect communication recently?
MR PRICE: Of course there has been no such message to Iran. Those reports are not at all accurate. Our only message would be a simple one: stop killing your people. Stop sending weapons to Russia to kill Ukrainians. These are the same messages that we have conveyed publicly that we would convey privately.
Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:09 p.m.)