2:01 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Good to see everyone. I think as everyone knows and everyone can see, we have a very special guest with us today. He’s someone who needs no introduction, especially to this room. Many of you know him; all of you know of him. Secretary Kerry, our Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, is going to offer some opening remarks as we look forward to COP in the coming days, and then he will take some of your questions.
So without further ado, Secretary Kerry.
SECRETARY KERRY: Ned, thank you very, very much. Great to be back with almost everybody. No Matt Lee, and a few others.
So let me share a few thoughts with all of you about the COP upcoming. I am about to depart this evening on winding my way there with a few other stops. But at this year’s COP, we’re working very closely with all of our allies, with many, many countries, and around the world in order to principally raise climate ambition. That’s the fundamental goal. And we left Glasgow keeping alive the possibility of holding the Earth’s temperature increase to 1.5 degrees. That’s the goal, the scientifically established goal. And we secured very significant commitments from about 65 percent of global GDP to do exactly that, to keep the temperature increased to the 1.5 degrees. And we also are trying to solicit important commitments from countries around the world on enhancing resilience to climate impacts as well as being able to build out adaptation for the longer term to some of those impacts, and we are doing major lifting with respect to providing new climate finance.
I have found as I’ve had the privilege of traveling the world on behalf of President Biden and our country that the single biggest restraint on our ability to be able to move rapidly is our inability to summon the significant amounts of money that have to come to the table to implement this transition.
But we are making progress, and I thank President Biden for his patience as well as his leadership that produced the Inflation Reduction Act, a very, very significant piece of legislation that is already having an impact on a global basis. Because people see what the United States is doing, and it has spurred other countries on – some competitively, and some because they see it as a responsibility.
So in addition to that, the United States Senate happily ratified the Kigali agreement, which in and of itself, when applied, will save about .2 degrees Celsius in the rise of temperature. It’s very significant, the President has signed it, and the papers have been sent to New York for appropriate filing.
So at COP27, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, we have defined four very specific priorities. Number one: We seek a collective message out of the COP that the world is going to remain strong on climate ambition and will build on, not go backwards, from the pledges that were made in Glasgow. As we know, according to the International Energy Agency, if all the promises of Glasgow are indeed fulfilled, we would by 2050 be at about 1.8 degrees of warming. The fact that the pledges to date with only 65 percent of GDP can achieve that is really quite remarkable, and it says to all of us, if we do what we pledge to do, and if we now do more, we can actually win this battle. And it gives hope.
We recognize that there have been significant upheavals in the global marketplace. And there’s a lot happening, obviously, playing out with respect to energy because of Ukraine and President Putin’s illegal and grotesque invasion of Ukraine. So to be clear, we’re not tone-deaf as a nation or as an administration to the pull and tug that has taken place with respect to the marketplace – from COVID, from the impacts of inflation, and the impacts of inflation which came significantly through the war and the cut-off of major energy supplies and realignment thereof.
So the second thing we’re working to do is to get closer to that 1.5. Sixty-five percent is not enough; we need more people, more countries participating. So we have spent a great deal of time over the course of this last year working with countries all around the world to get them to raise their NDCs, and many are. And they will be announced over the next few days.
I was just in Mexico a few days ago, and we will have a major announcement with President López Obrador has agreed to with respect to what Mexico is now going to undertake. And that will be significant because that is not where we were in the time of Glasgow.
In addition, we’ve been working with Indonesia, with South Africa, with India, with other countries to try to work on these Just Energy Transition Partnerships. And we’ll have more to say about that in Sharm el-Sheikh. We’ve also been trying to accelerate the transition, particularly in partnership with the EU, with Germany and the European Bank for Redevelopment. And we have now reached an agreement with Egypt for a reduction in use of gas. That gas will be able to be transferred to Europe to help them during a difficult winter, and in addition we will have an ability to build out about 10 gigawatts – a significant amount of renewable. And there’ll be more that we will say about that when we get to Egypt.
Third, we are pursuing various multilateral initiatives that will contribute to accelerating the reduction of emissions, and also facilitating the long term transition. We are speeding ahead with the implementation of the Global Methane Pledge that you know we debuted in Glasgow. 122 nations have now signed up. It’s a 30 percent reduction in methane emissions over the course of – by 2030, the next seven years. If that happens, folks, it is the equivalent of every car, every truck in the world, every ship, every airplane in the world all going to zero by 2030. It’s an enormous gain, and we have massive participation in this effort by countries around the world. We welcome these efforts, and we’re calling on countries to include those kinds of efforts in their NDCs.
With Norway, we are spearheading something called the Green Shipping Initiative. If shipping were in and of itself a country, it would be the eighth largest emitter in the world. So we have now got a special relationship that’s working with both Panama, which will host the next Our Ocean Conference, and Greece, which will host the Our Ocean Conference after that – two very important shipping nations – and they are committed to helping to create these green shipping corridors. We also are working on the propulsion of those ships and the construction of them. We’re adding significant participant numbers to the First Movers Coalition, which is a willing effort by major corporations around the world to send a demand signal to the marketplace by setting goals for the green products that they will buy so Maersk Shipping is going to – has committed that the next eight ships that they build or buy will be carbon free. Volvo, General Motors, Ford have committed that 10 percent of the steel that they buy to make their cars will be green steel. So this market messaging is critical to helping people to make a transition with confidence, and we think that’s going to have a profound impact.
Fourth and last, we are showcasing a host of U.S. Government deliverables related to mitigation and adaptation. We’re working very hard to promote adaptation and resilience to climate impacts that are already being felt globally. And given that this COP takes place in Africa, and 17 of the 20 most impacted climate countries in the world are in Africa and yet they contribute barely nothing to the emissions, it is critical that all of us together – developing and developed worlds – step up together in order to facilitate the building of resilience and adaptation itself. We are going to highlight President Biden’s plan for emergency adaptation and resilience known as PREPARE, and we’re going to be cohosting in Egypt with Egypt an adaptation event in the early days of the COP. We’re also supporting the UN secretary-general’s plea, his call to provide early warning systems for all nations – all vulnerable nations within the world within five years, and we are committed to achieving that. And following our announcement in Glasgow of our first ever contribution to the adaptation fund of 50 million, we plan to move 25 million this year now with the other 25 million coming next year to help with the adaptation fund to be able to administer these efforts.
We are also committed to engaging constructively on real steps to avert, minimize, and address loss and damage in the multilateral climate discussions of COP 27. And consistent with the Paris Agreement, the United States recognizes that we have to make increased efforts to avert and minimize the impacts, the loss and damage. We intend to do that, and we believe we can build on significant climate achievements, that with other countries we can transform our economy for the better, creating unbelievable numbers of good jobs, and we can commit to furthering climate action during this decisive decade. So there’s much on the line as we go to Sharm el-Sheikh and lay the groundwork for the next COP after that which will take place in the UAE. With that, let me open it up to any questions.
MR PRICE: Shaun.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Could I follow up on a couple of the things you said? The loss and damage issue – you said that you want that to be discussed at COP. Does the United States think that the existing structure in place is sufficient for that? Could there be a new mechanism warranted to actually commit for loss and damage? Or do you think what we have now is enough? Should there actually be a – how much of a commitment do you actually want on loss and damage?
And could I actually follow up – you mentioned Mexico will come forward a bit. Could – if you have any more details on that, but could I also ask you about Brazil – had an election a couple of days ago. Lula has taken a very different approach on deforestation. How much of an impact do you think that will have on the overall climate ambitions of the world? Thanks.
SECRETARY KERRY: Sure, well, let me begin on the loss and damage. I just had a very good conversation with the prime minister of Barbados, and we had a deep discussion. I think we found a lot of agreement on where we’re heading and what we have to do here. We need to come together, all of us, to recognize that not enough is happening – even though I’ve cited an enormous amount of things that are happening, it is not enough to be able to, on its own, achieve our goals, particularly without a number of other countries being at the table and raising their ambition similarly.
So we are anxious to see the loss and damage issue dealt with upfront and in a real way at the COP. We anticipate that it will be an agenda item, and we’re perfectly comfortable helping it to be that, which means at some point you’ve got to have an outcome. And we anticipate trying to work towards that outcome according to what we decided in Glasgow. That would be over the course of a two-year period, but maybe it could be done faster. We’re not sure. I think we have to get there and have the conversation. And we certainly support coming out with some kind of structure that provides for appropriate financial arrangements which we hope to arrive at. So we have to get there, and we’ll work in good faith to do that.
With respect to – and let me just say one other – I think we are anxious to do this in a very cooperative, nonconfrontational way. We don’t feel that this has to be an issue that’s pounded at people because we agree, as do almost all nations now, that much more has to happen faster and we have to find more money to put into the system in order to deploy the technologies and help the countries be able to do what they need to do to meet the challenge. So I think you’re going to see some impactful and important initiatives in order to try to help provide that finance.
One example would be the MDB reform. We can’t talk about it anymore; we have to do it. And we’re the largest shareholder, the United States. I know President Biden is seized by this issue. I know that Secretary Yellen has twice given three major speeches on it and most recently raised it at the fall meetings of the development banks. And I think we’re very, very committed to trying to get that reform in place because that will significantly increase the amount of available concessionary money and low-interest money that can leverage the kind of deployment of the technologies that we need.
On Brazil, we have set up with the environment minister a working group that includes the FBI, the DHS, the Department of Justice, the EPA – a whole large group of American agencies and departments that have some responsibility for some components of what happens to promote deforestation or to allow it to take place. Under the Bolsonaro government, regrettably, the level of deforestation increased in the Amazon, and it is at perilous high levels today.
President-elect Lula is committed. He’s already shown that commitment previously with a program that he had in place, but now I hope we’ll be able to refine that program and move forward even more rapidly with the reforms that are necessary in order to try to save the Amazon. There are about 25 million people who live there. They don’t have a lot of income other than, today, cattle or logging. And so we in the rest of the world are going to have to recognize that if we’re going to value this great forest, we have to help them to be able to preserve it. And I think there are many countries ready to step up to do that. So we’ll reach out to the incipient to the Lula government as soon as it’s appropriate.
MR PRICE: Yes, (inaudible).
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Secretary Kerry. Can you talk about if you are expecting to have any kind of interaction with your Chinese counterpart after China has suspended the climate talk? You – back then, you said China is punishing the world, but China replied by saying that it will stay committed to its climate goals and actively participate in international cooperation on climate change. With this commitment, are you confident that you can still reach your goal?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we have said from day one that we stand ready to sit down with China on the climate issue and work together to solve what is not a bilateral issue, but what is a universal, global, existential issue. And there is no solution to the problem of climate change without China, without Russia, without India, without large countries, large economies being at the table.
So we’re hopeful. We’re hopeful as we take off and go to Sharm el-Sheikh that we can renew the important and good conversation that we were having. I met with my counterpart in the Chinese delegation in Davos in May. I met subsequently in Berlin at a conference that took place there, and then I met again at yet another conference in Sweden, at Stockholm+50. And we had very good meetings – very constructive, very clear where we were going to go. So I remain hopeful that at some point in the near term we can resume that because, as I said, you cannot – no one – not China, not we, who are the two largest emitters – can solve this problem without cooperation and without global effort.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, news reports said that after COP27 you will be leaving your position. Is that correct?
SECRETARY KERRY: You trying to get rid of me?
QUESTION: And why?
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t have any plans whatsoever except trying to make COP a success. That is my focus exclusively and I have no other plans.
MR PRICE: Jen.
QUESTION: On COP, Greta Thunberg has said that she’s not going to attend. She’s accused COP and summits like it of being a chance for people in power to use greenwashing —
SECRETARY KERRY: Who? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Greta Thunberg.
SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, Greta.
QUESTION: Yes. So she said she’s not going attend. Other climate activists, of course, are following suit. I just want to give you a chance to respond to those allegations.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I have great respect for Greta Thunberg. I’ve met with her and I like her and hugely appreciate the passion she has brought to this cause and the many, many people she has motivated to be engaged and involved. Everybody has a right to make their own decision about what they want to attend or where they think something important may or may not be happening. I have always said for years now, from my first foray in this arena back in 1988 when we first learned what was happening from a scientist, Jim Hansen. Two – many of us in the Senate, or a group of us in the Senate, went to Rio in 1992 for the first summit, out of which came the UN process that we’re now still attending.
So while many of us are chagrined that it has taken so long for us to get to a place where more and more people are accepting what’s happening, we are there. And the only way to be able to organize ourselves and get the job done, when you have 200 or so nations that are involved in this, is to come together somewhere and work at it.
Now, she’s not a government official and therefore doesn’t have the same role to play in that regard. But I completely respect her choice and, most importantly, am grateful that somebody has cared as much as she has cared and has put herself on the line as forcefully as she has.
MR PRICE: Let’s take a final question or so. Yes, please.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. The – hoping to get your bird’s-eye view here. You signed the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 with your granddaughter on your knee. Since then, a lot has happened, not only that scientists have said the flood, droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, you name it, have got worse, but also we’ve lived through an administration here that has harbored climate skeptics and deniers. We’ve lived through populism. We’ve lived through alternate facts and post-truth. Would you say, from when you signed that agreement in 2015 to now, are we or are world leaders in a worse situation or better situation when it comes to the battle of trying to convince people to fight against climate change?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, this may sound incongruous to you, and I’m sorry for that, but we’re actually in both. We are in worse shape in that the melting is taking place faster, the fires are more frequent and bigger, the droughts have been longer and more pronounced, the extreme heat has been higher. And we are now losing maybe 10 million people a year, up from five, to extreme heat every year. Fifteen million people a year we lose to the quality of air, which is not quality at all – it’s air that is polluted by virtue of greenhouse gases.
So the danger to us in not moving yet faster, which we know we must do and can do, is enormous. And every economic analysis will show you that it is far more expensive to not do things today than to do them. And we will pay down the road. We’ve had 15 $1 billion climate events during this past year. Before that, we had about 10 – $10 billion or so. I mean, it is getting bigger and worse in that regard because Mother Nature doesn’t measure whose emissions they are or where they come from. It’s the total emissions that have the impact, and the total emissions have gone up despite the fact that we have set ambitious targets to be able to bring them down.
Now, that’s the worse sort of side I’ve shown, that the looming possibility of greater catastrophe is greater today. But – and there is a significant “but,” and it’s important, it’s critical to us – more is happening. Many more countries are at the table. Much more effort is being made to transition than at any time in human history. And oil companies, gas companies are now investing in renewables and talking about not being an oil and gas company but being an energy company. Now you have new technologies with maybe a trillion dollars of venture capitalists chasing those technologies. And we’re seeing great advances in battery storage and direct air carbon capture and green hydrogen, blue hydrogen.
There’s so many – and fusion, even. I went out to California recently to learn what was happening, and I was struck by the scientists who for all my time in the United States Senate, almost 30 years, they would always say to you, “Well, fusion is 30 years away.” Every 10 years, “Thirty years away.” They don’t say that anymore. We’re going to have a fusion prototype reactor in about two years, three years, that’ll be working to see if we get proof of concept at a scale. And you’re seeing many other things happen that, to me, say to us: we can win this battle.
When the IEA tells us if you do everything you said you’re going to do in Glasgow, you could get the Earth’s temperature down – we started at the possibility we were going to hit 2.5 degrees or 3.7 degrees. That’s where we began. And if all of a sudden we have pledges on the table that could keep it at 1.8, and that’s with only 65 percent, you bring the other percentages on board, we can go down to 1.6, whatever. That is enormous, if we get there.
Now, obviously Ukraine has created a challenge with respect to the immediate ability of big economies like Germany and France, others, to be able to keep their economy moving. And because the gas is cut off, they’ve begrudgingly – not with great fervor, but they’ve said we’ve got to keep a few coal plants open in case; we have to keep a nuclear open in case. So some of their decisions are being adjusted, but they’re determined. Germany is now moving to 80 percent of all their power coming from renewables. That’s incredible. A powerful country like that with all of its industry.
Ford Motor Company and General Motors and other companies around the world have spent hundreds of billions of dollars retooling their plants. Why? Because they’re going electric. And by 2035 that’s all we’re going to have in America, electric cars being manufactured – not on the road, but being sold and new cars. That’s President Biden’s goal. By 2035, he wants the power sector of America to be carbon-free.
So if we accelerate these efforts, which is what technology and entrepreneurial activity help us to do, this is going to change even faster. And so that’s where I draw enormous hope and some optimism, because I believe we can still make this happen. But we have to make the right decisions and implement those decisions. President Biden’s passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which will have significant tax credits and production tax credits, will direct industrial behavior. And by virtue of the money that goes through the Department of Energy that will go to our national laboratories, we will be pushing the curve of R&D and deployment more than at any time in our history.
We’re looking at a transition that is as big, if not bigger – bigger, I would say bigger – than the Industrial Revolution. We’re going to change the way we provide energy. We’re going to change the way we move. We’re going to live cleaner, hopefully, and, believe me, safer because we don’t have to send young people off to defend our energy interests in some other part of the world when we make it right here at home.
So I am excited about those possibilities and I think the private sector is going to have a profound impact on our ability to solve this problem. Why? Because no country in the world has enough money to effect this transition. You have to get trillions of dollars in play. That’s what the UN finance report says. Somewhere like two and a half to four and a half trillion dollars every year for the next 30 years. Where’s that coming from? Well, if we bring the private sector to the table, provide the right incentives, and do the right things, we can deploy trillions of dollars of investment in those new energy production facilities and the new transportation facilities and the rest will be history.
So on the one hand, on the other – and we have to make the right choices. Thank you all very much.
MR PRICE: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. Hopefully we can have you back after COP. Appreciate it.
I feel like I can pack up for the day. There are a couple of things we would like to get to, so we’ll spend a few minutes answering your questions.
First, and importantly, the African Union’s announcement of the signing of a cessation of hostilities between the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front represents an important step towards peace. We applaud the parties for their commitment to peace and reaching this agreement.
We commend the African Union Panel – former President Obasanjo, former President Kenyatta, and former Deputy President Mlambo-Ngcuka – on their extraordinary leadership and determined efforts to facilitate this peace process. We commend as well the work of the African Union: its Commission Chairperson Faki, South African President Ramaphosa, and Foreign Minister Pandor as hosts and international partners, including the United Nations and IGAD.
The United States remains committed to supporting this African Union-led process and to partnering to advance peace in northern Ethiopia.
And next and finally before we turn to your questions, today is the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists – a day in which we reaffirm our condemnation of crimes against journalists and promote accountability for those who attack press freedom. As all of you in this room know well, journalists are the bedrock of an independent and free press. Journalists provide the public with the chance to know the truth about ourselves, about our countries, about our governments, and often they do so when facing danger and adversity.
Since 1992, over 1,500 journalists and media workers have been killed in pursuit of information, with most of these cases remaining judicially unresolved. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 294 journalists were languishing in jail for doing their work as of last December. Increasingly, journalists face threats and attacks online – where female journalists are disproportionately targeted. Per UNESCO survey, 73 percent of women journalists have been harassed online due to their work.
The UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists was established 10 years ago to protect journalists through legislation, mechanisms, and guides aimed at creating a secure and just environment for media. Despite these efforts, the international community must continue to take a stand against physical attacks, against intimidation lawsuits, against transnational repression, and regulatory pressures that silence media – both online and offline.
So please join us today in renewing that commitment to an open and free press around the world. We know that’s something you all in this room do each and every day.
With that, happy to take your questions. Shaun.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — just to follow up.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Just a couple aspects of that – the disarmament that these partners announced – the TPLF – how optimistic are you for that? Is there – in terms of the monitoring of that, how significant do you think that is? And also, looking at the deal, how optimistic are you for withdrawal of Eritrean forces? That’s always been something that’s been of concern to the United States.
MR PRICE: So a couple things, Shaun. First, news of this agreement between the parties has just emerged in the past couple hours. This news is coming from the African Union. The United States has been engaged directly with the parties. Mike Hammer, our Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, has been a participant and an observer in these talks over the past several days in South Africa, but we’re going to let the African Union as the convener of these discussions speak to the details of it. But we’ve invested in this process. We invested in this process precisely because we saw it as an opportune venue, as an opportune mechanism that we thought, we hoped, to some degree we expected, and to a large degree we were validated in investing in that process because of the news that’s emanating from South Africa today.
This, as in other diplomatic achievements the United States has supported, is not one where our role has been necessarily at the front, necessarily at the center. But our role has been consistent, our role has been constructive. We’ve made clear to the parties over the course of these talks in South Africa and before that, that we are there; we are there to support diplomacy. We are there because we know that diplomacy is the means by which this conflict has to be resolved. And today was an important step forward.
Now, you raised a couple questions. They are questions that the parties themselves and the AU will be speaking to, but I think at the core of your question was a notion that today we had an announcement. What we will have to see is follow-through. And the United States will be there. We will be there to continue to working with the African Union. They will continue to lead this process, but we will continue to engage directly with the African Union, to engage with those in the region who are facilitating this dialogue, and to continue engaging with the parties themselves.
QUESTION: Just one more —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — on the relationship with the Ethiopian Government. Obviously, there’s been some very strong criticism from this building toward Ethiopia, the suspension of the trade privileges as well. Could this be a reopening of a relationship with Ethiopia? Is that premature? How do you see that affecting the relationship with Addis Ababa?
MR PRICE: These discussions have provided an opportunity for a number of things. In the first instance, they provided an opportunity which we hope to see realized of a cessation of hostilities. We’ve invested so heavily in this process because we believe it’s the most opportune and effective mechanism through which to achieve a cessation of hostilities, to help enable the delivery of much needed humanitarian assistance to the people of northern Ethiopia, to the people of Tigray. We hope and expect that will follow from today’s announcement.
Attendant with the violence and the conflict that has raged in recent weeks, we’ve seen reports – continued reports of human rights abuses and atrocities. It’s our hope that what was announced today will see an end to those reports and ultimately the underlying abuses and atrocities that we’ve seen.
So the agreement that is set today does set the stage for opportunity when it comes to the humanitarian plight of the people of northern Ethiopia, of the people of Tigray. It does present an opportunity – a bilateral opportunity for the United States and Ethiopia. Of course, we’ve made no secret about the concerns that we have had emanating and stemming from this conflict. And if today’s agreement is in fact able to set the stage for a durable cessation of hostilities, set the stage for an end to the human rights abuses and atrocities that we’ve noted, to set the stage for an end to provocations by the TPLF and the Ethiopian Government, that would be a very good thing. It would be a very good thing first and foremost for the people of Ethiopia, specifically the people of northern Ethiopia, but also for our bilateral relationship.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. A couple of questions, but before that, one follow-up on the impunity day you started your statement with. There have been a couple of – a number of times calls on the administration to appoint a special representative on press freedom to address exactly the problems that you have been reading out. The numbers are really grim – 294 reporters. Is this something the administration has been entertaining? You have special representatives on corruption issues, on plenty of other issues, but not press freedom.
MR PRICE: It’s – we are considering the means through which we can most effectively support the cause of press freedom, of freedom of information, and to hold to account those who are responsible for some of the crimes against journalists, the repression of journalists, in some cases the violence against journalists that in some cases have led to the loss of life and physical injury.
There are offices in this building, including in our Bureau of Democracy, Rights, and Labor; our Under Secretary for Human Rights Uzra Zeya is – works very closely with USAID Administrator Power and her team on these issues as well. And ultimately, this is something that Secretary Blinken cares deeply about. He cares deeply about it because, first and foremost, he’s a secretary of the United States. It is the responsibility of the United States to speak out when the universal values that we cherish and we protect and we promote around the world come under threat, as they do with media freedom, when that itself comes under threat. But this is also something that Secretary Blinken has taken a personal interest in as someone who is a – as he likes to call it, a recovering journalist himself, someone who started his career in the profession and someone who maintains a deep affinity for reporters and journalists. It’s something that he feels very deeply and personally.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. On Russia-Ukraine, if I may, Russia is back to the grain deal, but Putin today said he can leave it again. How to secure the deal moving forward so that this doesn’t happen again?
And secondly, we can’t just pretend that last three days didn’t happen. It did already affect millions of people. The food prices have gone up. How to hold Russia accountable for the last three days as well so that it doesn’t repeat what it just did?
MR PRICE: Well, first and foremost, we welcome the fact that through dint of efforts by the UN secretary-general, by our Turkish allies as well, that the Black Sea Grain Initiative will resume, it will resume with ships, according to the UN, transiting the Black Sea again later this week.
This is something that we’ve spoken to the utility of it over the past couple days. It is our hope – and I guess the saying is true that you don’t fully recognize the value of something until it’s at risk or gone, and perhaps the world over the past couple of days has taken note even more so of the value, of the importance, of the indispensability – and I don’t think that is overstating it, the indispensability – of this particular mechanism. It is responsible for some 420 vessels setting sail from Ukrainian Black Sea ports since it went into effect on August 1st. It’s responsible for 9.8 million – nearly 10 million – metric tons of grain, the vast majority of which, two-thirds, has gone to the developing world; nearly one-fifth of that and nearly one-fifth of it has gone to the world’s least developed countries.
So if this has caused the world to recognize the value of this initiative, perhaps that is, although unintended, a welcome side effect of what is happening. But what is most important to us is that this deal gets back on track. Of course, the Russians are speaking to resuming the deal this week. We also know that the deal comes up for renewal later this month. Even before the statements that emanated from Russia this weekend, we were focused on efforts to renew this grain deal. This is not something that quite literally the world can live without. In the short period where this grain deal has been in doubt over the past couple days, we’ve seen grain prices rise; we’ve seen shippers and insurers question – call into question the viability of their operations in this region.
It’s our goal to see to it that there is predictability, that there is stability in this marketplace, and by setting this initiative back on track, by working and supporting the Turks and the UN and the other parties to see that this initiative is not only set back in motion but it’s renewed later this month, that will ultimately inject even more predictability and stability into this marketplace, and most importantly, apply downward pressure to food prices.
QUESTION: Ned, on Egypt, do you have any comment on the death of Alaa al-Salami in Egypt prison after starting a hunger strike to protest the conditions of his detention? And any reaction to the hunger strike that Alaa Abd el-Fattah has started today, I think?
MR PRICE: So we are closely following the case of Alaa Abd el-Fattah. We’ve followed it throughout his pretrial detention, his conviction, and his subsequent and current incarceration. We’ve raised repeated concerns about this case and his conditions in detention with the Government of Egypt. We have made very clear at the highest levels, including at the very highest levels, to the Egyptian Government that progress on protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, that will buoy – it will bolster, it will reinforce, ultimately will strengthen our bilateral relationship with Egypt. These are conversations that have been ongoing since the earliest days of this administration, and they will continue in the coming days.
QUESTION: Will the President and the Secretary raise this issue with Egyptian authorities when they visit Egypt?
MR PRICE: We’ll have more to say on the visit as it approaches. I will just say as a general matter that in virtually every senior engagement we have had with our Egyptian counterparts, we have raised human rights in a prominent way. The Secretary did so when he first met with President Sisi last May, as I recall. There was a long, productive discussion with the president and his team and certainly human rights was on our agenda with the president then.
QUESTION: Turning to the Israeli elections, with Netanyahu poised to win a majority, previously he campaigned to quote/ unquote “neutralize” the Lebanon-Israel maritime border deal, which the U.S. brokered and worked for over ten years to reach. Today Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister said the U.S. as a sponsor of the deal had given some guarantees that regardless of what happens in the Israeli elections, this deal would stay – stay put. What’s your comment, what’s your reaction? What guarantees did the – did the U.S. give any guarantees that regardless of what happens this deal would stay put? And just second on that, are you guys prepared to release a statement as soon after as the elections – the election results are announced as you are with the Brazilian elections? Because that was very rapid.
MR PRICE: Well, I understand – in fact I know – that Ambassador Nides in Jerusalem has already released a statement. Election processes are different in every country. Of course, in Brazil, the process there allowed the results to be tallied and fully certified, and of course it’s not a parliamentary system, so it’s quite different. I would be reluctant to compare any two countries, but as you’ve heard from Ambassador Nides, as you’ve heard from us today, we were pleased to see such strong voter turnout for the Knesset election. It’s too early to speculate on the exact composition of the next governing coalition until all the votes are counted. I think that also applies to specific issues about which the next Government of Israel may be in a position to make decisions. But we look forward to working with the Israeli Government on our interests and values. There are many of them.
QUESTION: Did you —
QUESTION: Yes, could I just —
QUESTION: Sorry, just a follow-up. And did you guys provide any guarantees that regardless of what happens that this deal – the U.S.-sponsored maritime deal would stay in place?
MR PRICE: Ultimately, the United States was the facilitator of this deal. This goes back to the comment I made in the context of Ethiopia. Our role was to support the parties. The parties over the course of more than a decade had sought to come to an agreement on their maritime border not because it was in the interest of the United States or just in the interest of Israel or just in the interest of Lebanon, but because it was jointly in the interests of Lebanon – excuse me – jointly in the interests of Israel and Lebanon for them to do so. And because it was in the interests of both countries, it was in the profound interest of the United States. We seek to see a more stable, a more integrated region, and this maritime border – the agreement regarding it – helps to advance that.
The United States is going to stay closely engaged with the parties, not only as a facilitator of this original agreement, but because we are close partners to both Israel and Lebanon. We’ve heard from the current governments in both Israel and Lebanon that this is profoundly in their interests. It’s in their economic interests in the first instance, but beyond that it is in their security interests as well. Scarce resources, we know from history, have the potential to create tensions and potentially to escalate tensions into in some cases the brink of conflict. We want to see those tensions de-escalated. The implementation of this maritime border agreement helps to do that, and we will do everything that we can to see to it that Israel and Lebanon both gain from this deal, as they stand to do.
QUESTION: Just quickly, can you confirm – can you confirm or deny earlier reporting citing U.S. officials as messaging that they may or may not communicate or work with certain Israeli officials that may be appointed or nominated in —
MR PRICE: Look, it is – as I said before, it is far too early to speculate on the exact compensation of the next governing coalition. This is something that will play out in Israel, in Israel’s own political system over the coming days. What I would say is that what makes this relationship so strong and what has made it so strong since Israel’s independence to the present day is that this is a relationship that has always been based on our shared interests, but importantly our shared values. And we hope that all Israeli Government officials will continue to share the values of an open, democratic society, including tolerance and respect for all in civil society, particularly for minority groups. We have certain interests and values of ours. You’ve heard us speak to the commitment we have to a future two-state solution and to equal measures of security, freedom, justice, and prosperity for Israel – for Israelis and for Palestinians.
QUESTION: Could I just follow up on that? I know you said you obviously are not concerned about the makeup of the Israeli Government, but you’re not concerned that this may be the most right-wing government in Israel’s history? You’re not the least bit concerned about that?
MR PRICE: Said, what I said is it’s too early to speculate. We are just not going to speculate on a government that hasn’t emerged yet. This is a process that will play out within Israel. We will see as the government emerges over the coming days. But regardless, we have a close and enduring relationship with Israel. It’s a relationship, as I said before, that’s based on those shared interests and those shared values, and certainly that will continue.
QUESTION: Yeah, but it seems that Mr. Netanyahu depended on Itamar Ben-Gvir to push him over the edge and win this election as it appears to. You are not concerned that this person has called for the killing of Palestinians, killing the stone-throwers, saying all kinds of, I mean, outrageous things? Will you be dealing with him? I mean, he is slated probably to become the minister of police, for instance. Would you be dealing with him just like any other member of the Israeli Government? If that happens, if he becomes the minister, will you deal with him exactly as you would deal with other ministers?
MR PRICE: Said, you know across the board we just don’t engage in hypotheticals. You’ll also note that I haven’t spoken of any particular individuals. And I haven’t done that because it’s too early to speculate, as I’ve said before, on the future composition of the government that emerges from this process. This process is just underway. This is a process that will likely play out over the coming days. But we’re just not going to speculate on how it might end.
QUESTION: Yeah, let me just – a couple more if you’ll allow me. I know you began by talking about this is freedom press day or protection of the journalists and so on. Well, as we speak, there are more than a dozen Palestinians in Israeli prisons for doing their job. I mean, I’ve raised this issue many times, but nothing seems to happen. The Israelis are not in any way influenced by what you’re saying and others are saying about the treatment of Palestinian journalists. We have not seen sort of ironclad results on the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. Last month, five journalists were injured in covering Hebron and so on. So I want your comment on this.
MR PRICE: Said, you’ll notice that in the opening statement I gave we didn’t refer to any particular countries when we talked about media freedom, and that was intentional because media freedom is not the responsibility of any single country. There is no country – there is no single country that is creating offenses when it comes to media freedom. There’s no country with a perfect record. And it is not the responsibility of only one country to advocate for media freedom.
QUESTION: You have a lot of moral weight. You carry a lot of weight.
MR PRICE: This is a – this is a universal right. It is something that should be universally applied regardless of the region, regardless of the country.
QUESTION: But you claim the mantle. The United States of America claims the mantle of defending journalists and press freedom and so on. And you are also the premier supporter of the state of Israel.
MR PRICE: And that’s precisely why we started out today giving our support for media freedom around the world, by reaffirming that today. It’s something that we do on World Press Freedom Day in May of every year as well. Look, it’s difficult for me to speak to – to offer categorical assessments, but when we have concerns about press freedom in any particular country, I can guarantee you – and in fact you know from our own public statements – that we don’t hesitate to speak out. That is true in countries around the world.
QUESTION: More on the grain deal, Ned. Over the course of last three days, you have been very candid in talking about the suspension of the deal, and you called on Russia of course to resume it and then you called it that Russian suspension of this deal is actually a collective punishment to the world. And today the Turkish President Erdoğan called Putin and convinced him to resume the deal, and he succeeded. Don’t you think that he needs some credit here and possibly some thanks from the podium that he convinced President Putin in that to resume the deal?
MR PRICE: Absolutely, and I think I said in my comments just a moment ago that we’re deeply appreciative of the efforts of our Turkish allies. In fact I did say that. Deeply appreciative of the efforts of our Turkish allies and the UN secretary-general. This was an initiative that in the first instance Secretary-General Guterres helped put together, but it came together initially with the critical support of Turkey, of Ukraine, ultimately Russia agreed to it as well. We are grateful and appreciative, similarly, of the efforts on the part of the secretary‑general and Turkey to get this deal back on track.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on Shaun’s questions on Ethiopia. You mentioned in one of your answers this presents a bilateral opportunity for the U.S. and Ethiopia. I wondered specifically, one thing the Ethiopian Government would like is to get back into the AGOA duty‑free trade terms. Is that something that could be considered now that there’s a, as they’ve said, a permanent cessation of hostilities?
MR PRICE: So Simon, as we said last year, I believe it was, this was not a step that we took lightly. It certainly was not a step that we wanted to take. It was a step that we were obligated to take. As you know, the restrictions – and the requirements, I should say – of AGOA are spelled out in the law. They’re statutorily defined. We apply the facts on the ground to those statutory requirements for eligibility for AGOA. We detailed at the time exactly how Ethiopia had fallen short of those statutory requirements.
It is certainly our hope that the Ethiopian Government will be in a position to take steps that will allow it to once again be eligible for AGOA. It would be a good thing for the United States, but even more so it would be a good thing for the people and the Government of Ethiopia.
QUESTION: Is that something that you’ve communicated to Ethiopians – if you’re able to come to agreement in this way, that’s going to hold you in good stead on the – specifically tying that to the AGOA?
MR PRICE: This has always been a negotiation between the Ethiopian Government and the TPLF that’s been facilitated by the AU. The Ethiopian Government engaged in this, in these discussions based on their own interests to pursue peace, to pursue stability in northern Ethiopia. Last year we were very clear when we made the announcement of Ethiopia’s ultimate removal from the AGOA program, about why we were taking that step and the steps they would need to take. If that discussion featured into the Government of Ethiopia’s thinking, I would need to refer you to them. But ultimately, these are decisions, sovereign decisions that the Ethiopian Government has made in the context of what has transpired recently in South Africa.
QUESTION: Thank you. The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction – or SIGAR – has sent a letter to the lawmakers and said that the State Department and also USAID are not cooperating properly with them regarding Afghanistan, what happened in the one last year in Afghanistan, and particularly about $1.1 billion that the United States sent to Afghanistan. Would you like to comment on that?
MR PRICE: I would. This is something we’ve spoken to in recent weeks. And I apologize in advance, there’s some detail to it. But our position is that, except for certain specific funds, SIGAR’s statutory mandate is limited to funds available for, quote, “the reconstruction of Afghanistan.” Since the Taliban takeover in August of last year, we have stopped providing assistance for the purpose of reconstruction and we now focus on alleviating the immediate humanitarian situation in the country.
SIGAR itself has actually acknowledged that reconstruction programming is different from humanitarian aid, has acknowledged there is a distinction there, yet SIGAR’s current work does not appear to fall under its statutory mandate to oversee the funds for, quote, “the reconstruction of Afghanistan.”
As I said before, we stopped providing assistance for that specific purpose, namely the reconstruction of Afghanistan, following the Taliban takeover and 2021. Nevertheless, the department and USAID as well, we have provided SIGAR written responses to dozens of questions, as well as thousands of pages of responsive documents, analyses, and spreadsheets describing dozens of programs that were part of the U.S. Government’s reconstruction effort in Afghanistan. We are in regular – we are regularly and frequently working with SIGAR within the scope of that statutory mandate.
And as part of the 2022 budget process, SIGAR expressly sought an expansion of its statutory mandate from reconstruction to, quote, “reconstruction, humanitarian, and other development assistance for Afghanistan.” But that that expansion in mandate has not been enacted into law, and as such, activities involved – involving humanitarian and development assistance remain outside of SIGAR’s current mandate.
In addition, the State Department and USAID, we continue to cooperate with oversight bodies, including congressional committees and both agencies’ inspectors general, that have jurisdiction over aid. And we are, as you alluded to, currently providing Afghanistan, including the $1.1 billion in humanitarian aid that has been provided since August of 2021.
QUESTION: And the request —
QUESTION: Thank you. I have a question about the news that came today from the UK. Rishi Sunak made a U-turn and he announced that he’s going to attend COP27 after all. Does the United States welcome Sunak’s decision? And if you can tell us a little bit more about the U.S.-UK areas of cooperation when it comes to energy security and investment in renewables, as it seems that this is the priority for the new prime minister. As he said today, there is no energy security without investing in renewables ahead of the summit.
MR PRICE: Well, our British allies have always intended to be robustly engaged in the upcoming COP27. We certainly welcome the fact that the prime minister will be attending. I – without speaking for the President, I imagine that the President will look forward to seeing the prime minister there. Climate cooperation, climate ambition, climate adaptation is a priority in every single one of our bilateral relationships. And of course there is no closer bilateral relationship we have than with our British allies, so of course it stands to reason that we do cooperate very closely, both on climate with our British allies, but also on energy independence. And we have discussed at length the steps that we’re taking with the UK and with our European allies regarding efforts to see to it that all of our countries, the United States and the UK included, grow more resilient to potential energy shocks and ultimately grow more energy independent.
This is exactly the point that Secretary Kerry was making a moment ago. The instability owing to President Putin’s unjustified, illegal war against Ukraine has served as a powerful reminder the world over – in Europe, in North America, across the world – of the need to transition away from fossil fuels but certainly the need to transition away from dependence on foreign countries that don’t share our interests. We’ve been reminded of this even recently with some of the weaponization of energy that we’ve seen from Russia. Europe has borne much of the brunt of this. It’s why we focused many of our activities, both over the near term and over the longer term, on working with Europe to insulate against potential energy shocks over the nearer term.
We’ve worked with partners around the world, including in the Indo‑Pacific – Japan, for example – to surge supplies of LNG to Europe to help with capacity and with the needs over the coming months during the winter. We’ve taken steps here in our own country to increase exports of LNG to Europe. We’ve taken steps here to increase domestic energy production as well, and we’re exporting more than we have before. And that’s in addition to our – the President’s decision to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to release 180 million barrels of petroleum for those same purposes as well.
Over the longer term, we’re also looking at this not in terms of weeks and months, but also years. And in the case of Europe, President Biden and President von der Leyen in June of this past year established the U.S.‑EU Energy Task Force to focus on how we can align our policies, how we can align our respective approaches so that together we’re taking steps that will, in the coming years, leave us far less vulnerable to the potential weaponization of energy, and how ultimately we can become far more independent from foreign sources of energy.
QUESTION: Yeah, so staying on top of energy but looking at China, given that China has produced a record amount of coal this year and upped their production, President Xi only mentioned climate change one time in all 72 pages of his report to the CCCP – CCP Congress a couple weeks ago. Can you go into COP – you and Secretary Kerry and future discussions like it – with confidence that your strategy with China and energy and climate change is actually working, prioritizing climate issues and trying to treat them as a partner on the issue?
MR PRICE: Well, Secretary Kerry just addressed this a couple moments ago, but I would echo what he said. We have no choice but to find ways to cooperate with the PRC when it comes to China – excuse me – when it comes to climate. We’ve demonstrated our ability to do so in the past, and in fact it was about a year ago at the previous COP where Secretary Kerry and his PRC counterpart announced a joint agreement that helped us make tremendous headway towards our ultimate climate goals.
The decision by the PRC over the summer to suspend cooperation on climate for that reason was deeply regrettable. It was not only – it was deeply regrettable not only because of what it represents to the bilateral relationship, one of those areas of shared mutual interest, but it was even more regrettable because of the collective toll that it would take on the international community, on the globe. It is our belief, and at one point we heard the same thing from the PRC as well, that the United States and China, as the world’s largest emitters, have to find ways to cooperate when it comes to climate, to cooperate when it comes to limiting emissions, if we are to stay within that goal of limiting temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
QUESTION: Yeah, quick follow-up. So you said you have no choice, so those in Congress or elsewhere that would wish for you to take a more hawkish approach, you think that’s just not a viable plan at all. There’s no other viable route other than the one that you’re currently taking? You have no other choice?
MR PRICE: I have a hard time conjuring what a hawkish approach to cooperation with the PRC on climate would look like. This is an area that is manifestly in our interest. It is manifestly in the interest of the PRC. We have demonstrated time and again, including in recent months, the ability of our countries – despite massive disagreements, and in some ways that may understate it – but despite massive disagreements, to work together when it comes to climate. And we’ve been able to work together on this particular issue precisely because not only is it in our interest, not only is it in the PRC’s interest, it’s in our shared interests and it’s in the interest of the global community.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: There was obviously an unprecedented barrage of missiles overnight. I’m just wondering what sort of leeway, what sort of leverage America has in terms of going forward with North Korea, whether there’s any possibility of a slight change in U.S. policy, whether there’s a chance this might come up at the G20 meetings in Asia this month. Just wondering what more the U.S. can do given, obviously, North Korea’s escalating what it’s doing in response to U.S. drills in the region.
MR PRICE: So let me start by saying that – and you’ve heard this from us before – but we condemn the DPRK’s ballistic missile launches and its reckless decision to fire a missile before the de facto maritime boundary with the Republic of Korea. These launches were in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions unanimously adopted by the council, and they threaten peace and stability in the region. We continue to seek serious and sustained dialogue with the DPRK. But as we’ve made no secret of, the DPRK has refused to engage.
Our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan, it remains absolutely ironclad. And we’ll continue to work closely with our – with our allies and partners to limit the North’s ability to advance its unlawful weapons program, to threaten regional stability. Shortly after news of these launches broke last night, Secretary Blinken spoke to his South Korean counterpart. The call took place very late last night Eastern time.
They – the two ministers jointly condemned and expressed deep concern about the DPRK’s escalatory launches, including one that, as I mentioned before, recklessly and dangerously landed near the ROK coastline. The Secretary took advantage of that conversation to reaffirm for his counterpart, Foreign Minister Park, the ironclad commitment to the ROK’s security and its safety. And he stressed the need for the international community to unite in holding the DPRK accountable for its continued provocations.
To that point, the Secretary, we expect, will have an opportunity to travel to the region later this month. As you know, the President is attending the summits later this month. The Secretary will accompany him and will have an opportunity to discuss the North’s – the threat that the DPRK poses, the instability and – the instability it’s engendering with the region. We’ll continue to be in close contact with our ROK allies, with our Japanese allies as well. We’ll do that bilaterally, but I think you’ll also be able to see that – see us continue doing that trilaterally as well.
QUESTION: So also on North Korea, the declassified intelligence today indicating that Pyongyang is supplying Russia with artillery covertly has prompted some criticism that the U.S. isn’t doing what it could be doing to enforce already existing sanctions. How do you respond to that? And in this instance, will the U.S. do anything to try to intercept or otherwise halt those shipments that ultimately are going to Russia and to Ukraine on the – to be used in Ukraine on the battlefield?
MR PRICE: So you did hear from us earlier today that we have information that, despite the public denials that we’ve heard from the DPRK, that the DPRK is covertly supplying Russia’s war in Ukraine with a significant number of artillery shells, of – while obfuscating the real destination of these arms shipments by trying to make it appear as though they’re being sent to countries in the Middle East or North Africa. We’ve talked about the necessity on the part of the Russian Federation to go beyond its indigenously produced materials it supplies for its brutal assault on Ukraine.
We’ve talked about this in the context of Iranian UAVs. We’ve talked about this in the context of the possibility of ballistic missiles that Russia may also seek from Iran. And now we’ve talked about this in more concrete terms when it comes to Russia’s pursuit of artillery from the DPRK and the DPRK’s efforts to obfuscate the flow of those weapons from the DPRK to the battlefield – what the Russians are treating as a battlefield – in Ukraine.
Just as we’re using every tool and will use every tool to counter what – the Iranian provision of weapons to Russia, we will do the same when it comes to the DPRK’s provisions of weapons to Russia. There are existing sanctions on the books. We will look at additional tools and authorities that we may be able to call upon to counter this activity. We believe it’s incumbent upon countries around the world, certainly those countries that have leverage with the regime in the DPRK that, in some cases, the United States does not. It’s incumbent upon all responsible countries, certainly on permanent members of the UN Security Council, to fully effect the sanctions that the Security Council itself has unanimously put forward.
We’ll continue to look at ways to hold the DPRK accountable, not only for its WMD and ballistic missile program but for any continued provision of weapons to Russia as well.
QUESTION: Follow-up – so since North Korea has rejected, in September – they’re – so they are now actually supplying Russia with ammunition. Will you be able to share more information? Like, what kind of evidence do you have to show countries like China, to convince China to do more?
MR PRICE: We, throughout the course of Russia’s war, have always sought to be as transparent as we can, consistent with the need to protect sources and methods. There have been instances where we have declassified information – in this case, to cite one example, the warning we gave in July that Iran intended to provide Russia with UAV technology. Despite Iranian denials at the time and more recently, the evidence is piling up that Iran has in fact provided Russia with these UAVs and that these UAVs are, in fact, inflicting great damage on the people of Ukraine.
Oftentimes there is more information that we can share in private, that we can share in public. I can tell you that we are engaging countries around the world on our concerns regarding the provision by third countries of weapons and supplies to Russia for use in Ukraine. Those are conversations that have been ongoing, and of course if we have additional information that we can share publicly, we won’t hesitate to do that, because we know the value that placing a spotlight on this activity tends to have.
MR PRICE: I’ve already called on you. Yes, in the back. Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. To follow up on North Korea, yesterday you talked about the potential North Korea’s provocations in the coming days and weeks, and then they fired ballistic missiles. And today do you still expect further potential provocations from North Korea in the coming days and weeks, including additional missile launches and nuclear test?
MR PRICE: Our concerns about the potential for additional provocations have not abated. We have been concerned for some time now, as we seem to be in a period of DPRK provocation. This is a period that has gone on for a number of months now. We’ve seen an unprecedented number of ballistic missile launches. The launches that we saw over the past 12 hours, unfortunately, were also – also seem to be record-setting in terms of the number associated with them.
It remains the case that we are concerned about the potential for further provocations, including and up to a seventh nuclear test. We have spoken publicly of this for some time now, primarily to make clear to the DPRK that should it go forward with a seventh nuclear test, there would be additional costs and consequences. It would earn the condemnation of the world. This is a conversation similar to what I said just a moment ago, that we have had not only in public but we’ve been discussing this in private as well: sharing information, and coordinating with our allies and partners regarding a potential response to what would be a dangerous, reckless, and destabilizing act if the DPRK were to go forward with a seventh nuclear test.
QUESTION: Do you have any updates on today’s Security Council, the Arria formulated meeting on Iran and the ongoing protests, the oppression? And also, how firm is the United States willing to stand to kick out the Islamic Republic out of the women’s rights commission?
MR PRICE: Sorry, what was the last part of the question?
QUESTION: How firm United States is going to stand to kick out Islamic Republic of Iran out of women’s rights commission, the UN women’s rights commission?
MR PRICE: You – and I hesitate to go too far into this, because I understand that Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield has delivered remarks or is delivering remarks in the course of this Arria formula meeting. But you also heard this from the Vice President earlier today. We have in recent weeks called it contemptible that Iran sits on this particular commission. It is, of course, a glaring irony that a country that systematically suppresses the rights of women and girls sits on a commission whose mandate is to protect and ultimately to expand the rights of women and girls. It is no wonder that women and girls have been at the forefront of this movement in Iran. They have been the ones in the streets leading these demonstrations, and far too often they have been the ones who have been caught in the crossfire, or who have fallen victim to the brutal repression that we’ve seen from the Iranian regime in recent weeks.
We are – we announced our intention today to work with partners to remove Iran from this commission for that very reason. This is a discussion that we’ll be having with our allies and partners going forward, to determine how best we can do that. But we are committed to doing everything we can to see to it that a country like Iran with a record like Iran’s when it comes to the rights of women and girls, that they are not in a position to sit on a committee that – with their own record.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on Iran?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to go beyond what we said yesterday. We said yesterday that we were concerned about the threat picture. We remain, as we were yesterday, in close contact with the Saudis through military, diplomatic, intelligence channels as well. The message we have sent both in this context and consistently over the course of this administration is that we will not hesitate to act in defense of our interests and our partners in the region.
I’ll take a final question or so. Yes.
QUESTION: The Colombian president held yesterday this meeting in Caracas with Nicolas Maduro. They discussed the re-entry of Venezuela to the inter-American human rights system. What’s your position? You have any comment on that?
MR PRICE: The Maduro regime’s policies – and this is evidenced around the world – but they have generated poor economic, political, human rights conditions in Venezuela. We of course respect the sovereign rights of governments to chart their own foreign policy. We also call on democratic governments to uphold the democratic norms that have been broken by authoritarian regimes like Maduro’s in Venezuela. It is our goal to support the democratic aspirations of the people of Venezuela who have been, again, systematically denied of those rights by the Maduro regime.
We believe that a return to Mexico City, a return to the negotiating table where the regime and the Unitary Platform would be in a position to make progress on what is ultimately the aspirations of the Venezuelan people to see those rights enshrined, to see those rights protected, and to see those rights restored. That’s what we continue – would continue to like to see happen. Until then, our sanctions policies will remain, and we have been very deliberate in promoting accountability for the rights abuses that are taking place and that have taken place in Venezuela. And our posture won’t change until and unless we see progress on the rights of the Venezuelan people.
QUESTION: But do you have any message to the president of Colombia that he had this meeting with Maduro?
MR PRICE: We’ve urged Colombia to continue working with its partners in multilateral fora, to advocate for a democratic and prosperous hemisphere as well, and to hold accountable governments that have violated the democratic rights and the democratic norms, including those norms that are enshrined in the Inter-American Charter. We had an opportunity to meet with President Petro and his team just a few short weeks ago now. Of course, Venezuela was top on the agenda. We thanked Colombia for the important role that they’re playing when it comes to hosting some 2 million Venezuelan refugees, and we discussed ways we can work together with Colombia to hold the Maduro regime to account.
Yes, take a final question. Yes.
QUESTION: One on Iran, two – a short question. North Korea, sorry. Tomorrow, United States and South Korea will hold a security consultative meeting in Pentagon to discuss bilateral defense cooperation. It is the issue of Defense Department, but I’m wondering if you are seeing any specific meaning to have such a dialogue under this tension from North Korea?
MR PRICE: Sorry, whether it – what was the question?
QUESTION: Any specific meaning to hold such a dialogue under this tension?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve regularly engaged with our South Korean counterparts, with our counterparts in the ROK. And in fact, Secretary Blinken just had an opportunity to do that last night; I expect we’ll have an opportunity to do that in the coming days and weeks as well. We’ll do that not only bilaterally, but we’ll continue to place an emphasis on trilateral cooperation with our South Korean and Japanese allies together, because we recognize the importance of a trilateral approach to the core challenge of the DPRK’s WMD and ballistic missile program.
So the meeting you’ve referred to and the series of engagements we’ve had in recent days and weeks really points to the emphasis we’ve placed on close coordination, close cooperation with our allies to make clear that our security commitment to them is sacrosanct, our defense commitments to them are sacrosanct, and to also send a very clear message to the DPRK as well.
One final question, yes.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. As we are celebrating international day on – to end impunity for press – crime against journalists, the Bangladesh Government circulated at least 20 – made at least 22 journalists, those who are exercising free journalism or free speech from outside the country, and to take action on the 22 journalists. What is your comment on that, as Bangladesh – nobody can criticize prime minister under the DSA, Digital Security Act, and that act gives arbitrary powers to law enforcers’ agency to conduct search and arrest without any warrant. So what is your comment?
MR PRICE: We’ve previously expressed our concern for the narrowing political space in Bangladesh, for the closing civic space in Bangladesh. The point I made to Said earlier applies around the world, including in Bangladesh, that media freedom, freedom of the press, freedom of information, freedom of expression – these are all universal rights. And they are universal in the sense that they’re not unique to any one country. They apply to people anywhere and everywhere. It is the policy of the United States to uphold and to defend these rights anywhere and everywhere. We do that through public statements, but when we have concerns, we also express those privately as well.
QUESTION: Very quick, on Bangladesh, one more. As thousands of people of Bangladesh gather in the various part of the world that they are demanding voting rights under a neutral caretaker government, but government is creating obstruction in many ways. But recently they declared an arrest warrant of one of the top leader of the opposition, Mr. Tarique Rahman, and his wife. She’s just a doctor, physical doctor. He’s – she’s not involved in politics. They’re exiled in the UK. So they are filing one after another case to control the people’s voice, so what is your comment for this freedom of expression and the demanding the voting rights in Bangladesh?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to comment on specific arrest warrants or specific steps, but the point I made before – the importance of ensuring that there is room for robust dialogue, for robust debate, for civic engagement and civic debate, that of course is important around the world, it’s important in Bangladesh, and when we see indications that that space, that opportunity is closing, we don’t hesitate to make our concerns known.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:26 p.m.)
# # #