2:10 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Today Secretary Blinken delivered remarks at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Yom HaShoah commemoration. If you haven’t already seen it, the video is posted on the Secretary’s twitter account and on our website, state.gov.
The Secretary’s words on this solemn occasion were powerful and they underlined why remembrance is so vital. He said in that message:
We remember to honor the lives of the six million Jews, as well as the Roma, the Sinti, the Slavs, disabled persons, LGBTQ+ individuals, and many others, who were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.
We remember to recognize, to recognize the innate dignity of those killed and those who survived – something their killers sought to strip away with each dehumanizing act.
We remember that before these people were victims, they were girls and boys, they were women and men, with distinct lives, distinct hopes.
And we remember not only what happened, but also how, how it was allowed to happen.
We remember to look at the institutions and societies we are part of and to understand better, understand better what they do and what they did not do.
We remember to learn. And we learn so that we do not repeat. Never again.
Next, today the United States Government, through USAID, announced more than 152 million in additional humanitarian assistance to help the people affected by the crisis in Tigray’s Ethiopia region – I’m sorry, Ethiopia’s Tigray region. This announcement of additional funding brings the total U.S. humanitarian assistance for the Tigray response to $305 million since the crisis began in Fiscal Year 2020.
This new assistance will provide lifesaving food, water, medical and health support, shelter, and protection for the most vulnerable – and that includes support for women and girls, case management for survivors of gender-based violence, training for social workers and community case workers, and programs to reunite children separated from their families.
With this funding, USAID will provide more than 148,000 metric tons of urgently needed food assistance, including wheat, yellow split peas, vegetable oil, and specialized nutritious foods. In total, USAID has now provided more than 206,000 metric tons of food – enough to feed 4 million people for nearly three months.
We also must take this opportunity to raise that as more information comes to light regarding the scope of human rights violations, abuses, and atrocities, assistance in protection of the most vulnerable is more important than ever.
Finally, in keeping with the Department of State’s commitment to facilitate legitimate travel to the United States, Secretary Blinken determined today that it is in the national interest to exempt all immigrant and fiance(e) visa applicants from the regional travel restrictions currently in effect due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beginning today, immigrant and fiance(e) visa applicants in a country affected by a geographic COVID-19 visa restriction who believe they may fall under these exceptions should check the website of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to determine their next steps.
As the global situation evolves, the department continues to seek ways to process visa applications around the world, in keeping with guidance from health authorities and with the U.S. travel restrictions currently in place.
So with that, Matt.
QUESTION: Thanks. Just on the last one, these people still, if they’re going to come, still need to be negative, right?
MR PRICE: That’s right. This does not change any of the restrictions and guidelines that are in place when it comes to COVID.
QUESTION: Secondly, on your remarks about the Holocaust Remembrance Day and Secretary Blinken’s speech or his comments to the Holocaust Museum, it was quite a mea culpa, right? Singling out one specific former State Department employee by name for not doing or, in fact, apparently contributing to the Holocaust, and also mentioning that the rest of the department, or a lot of the rest of the department with some exceptions, did the same thing, or didn’t do enough, I mean.
When you look at that and the whole idea of “never again” and China and Xinjiang, are you confident that a future secretary of state is not going to have to make the same kind of confession, I’ll say, but it’s not really a confession? Does this – make the same kind of comments 70 years from now?
MR PRICE: Matt, I think what Secretary Blinken said in that note is a sentiment he has reflected any number of times in any number of public fora both in his time in this role, in his limited time in this role, but of course, long before it. It is something – that sentiment “never again,” it is something that is not only meaningful for him; it is personal for him. As you know, his family story, the values, the spirit of this country that is imbued within him as a result of that story, that heritage, I think is something he feels very personally every day across every realm. It is precisely why he has spoken so passionately about human rights violations, abuses, atrocities that are taking place around the world. He, as you alluded to, has spoken to it in the context of Xinjiang. He has spoken to it of repression in other parts of the world. He spoke to it in the context of Tigray during his recent appearance on the Hill as well.
But it’s not just words. This Secretary is committed that – committed to the fact that in both word and in deed, this department and this administration and this government will stand up to human rights abuses. We will do what we can, cognizant of this idea of acting confidently but also with humility – the two flip-sides of the coin that Secretary Blinken often refers to – to do what we can and as much as we can, oftentimes in concert with our allies and partners, to stand up to these atrocities that have no place in the 21st century, have no place in 2021, but yet horrendously continue to be perpetrated today.
QUESTION: So you’re confident that in 75, 100 years from now, a future secretary of state is not going to have to – or not feel compelled to make the same kind of statements that he did?
MR PRICE: I am confident, Matt, that —
QUESTION: About the (inaudible) during the ‘30s.
MR PRICE: I am confident, Matt, that this Secretary of State, this department, this administration will continue to be clear-eyed and speak with a clear voice when it comes to human rights violations.
QUESTION: Last one, just on the – very, extremely briefly on Afghanistan. This conference in Turkey is supposed to be happening. Is it correct that it’s happening on the 16th, and is someone other than Zal going to be there? What’s the – and what’s the – what do you expect from it?
MR PRICE: Well, I’m going to allow the hosts of this conference to speak to the details of it. What I can say is that planning is underway for a conference in Istanbul to accelerate the peace process. The gathering, as in all facets of this process, will be Afghan-owned and supported by high-level attendants from the international community, building on recent international meetings in support of the peace process.
This upcoming conference, it’s meant to help Afghan negotiators to make progress, to make progress in their negotiations, and will complement the peace talks that are currently ongoing in Doha. Of course, Ambassador Khalilzad remains in Doha. He continues to engage with the parties on this very task, helping the parties, supporting the parties in this Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process to reach a political settlement and comprehensive ceasefire. We are working with our Turkish counterparts and the Afghan parties to prepare for constructive participation in this conference.
QUESTION: Who are the attendants?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: You don’t have anything to say about who’s going to be —
MR PRICE: I will let the host speak to the details of it. Yes.
QUESTION: No, no, no. On your side.
MR PRICE: Oh, I don’t have any details to share just yet. Yes.
QUESTION: On Iran. Could you address the comments by the Iranian chief negotiator in Vienna, where he essentially said that they’re working on an approach that would not be step-by-step but would remove sanctions in one go? And then also one of his comments was, “In our view, America has to take its actions in one step, then we’ll verify, and then Iran will follow with its own actions.” What’s your response to the Iranian view on how this is going to go?
MR PRICE: Well, our response to specific proposals is best delivered in engagement with our European allies and with the Russian and Chinese partners on the ground in Vienna. As you know, Special Envoy Rob Malley remains in Vienna, where he has had occasion to meet with our allies and partners in this effort, the remaining elements of the P5 – original P5+1. He’s had an opportunity to meet with the IAEA director general as well. He issued or noted in a tweet today that he had met also on a bilateral basis with the Austrian foreign minister, who is helping to host these.
I think broadly speaking, what I will say is actually to repeat probably what you’ve heard me say before, and that is that the primary issues to be discussed in Vienna are twofold: on the one hand, the nuclear steps that Iran would need to take in order to effect its return to compliance with the JCPOA; and on the other hand, the sanctions relief steps that we would need to take in order to return to compliance as well. You mentioned one comment from the Iranians. I think we’ve all seen some of the commentary, including on social media, that these talks have been described as constructive, as businesslike, as accomplishing what they set out to do. And that is true; we would characterize it that way as well.
We would also, however, hasten to not allow expectations to outpace where we are. After all, we have said this will be hard. And yesterday, I explained many of the reasons why it will be difficult, while it will be hard. Just to quickly recap, it will be hard because these are indirect engagements, and obviously the mechanics of this are not un-cumbersome. It’ll be hard because the subject at hand is very technical; it’s very complex, and it is technical and complex precisely because we have arrived at a strategic formulation, something that candidate Biden and now President Biden has called compliance for compliance. We know that is the desired strategic endpoint, so we need not have broad, strategic talks at this stage; we are engaged in technical talks about how we might get to that endpoint. And it will be hard, of course, because there is no insignificant degree of distrust between the United States and Iran, between the United States and the broader international community.
Now, we’re not going to let any of that be insurmountable, to potentially stand in the way. And in fact, these discussions have been constructive. This forum has been constructive; it has been businesslike; this has been a step forward. I think you probably saw the announcement that the Joint Commission will meet tomorrow. We expect the talks may resume in the coming days, potentially next week.
QUESTION: But just to follow up on that, I mean, it seems like when you boil everything down you still have this fundamental problem which is – at the heart of this, which is Iran essentially is insisting that you go first and you’re insisting that Iran go first. So where does that leave us?
MR PRICE: Well, it leaves us where we started, really, with the knowledge that maximalist demands probably are not going to get us very far. But problems are addressed in most cases, in almost all cases – we would hope in all cases – with diplomacy. This is precisely why Rob Malley is in Vienna, because this is a challenge, this is a problem. We started from very different places. And his job on the ground with the support of a team there and a team here is to determine if we can move slightly closer, if – consistent with our principled diplomacy, consistent with what’s in our interest, and that is principally an Iran that is permanently and verifiably prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon, if we can move – if the two parties can move closer together and we can arrive at an arrangement that would allow for the United States to resume compliance with the deal and Iran to do so, Iran to again be subject to the strictest verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated.
QUESTION: And just – sorry – last thing. So is it – I know you had an extensive back-and-forth with Matt and others about this the last couple of days, but is it your expectation that if there is a deal that you would see not only the nuclear sanctions relived but then also the terrorism sanctions, designations on the Central Bank, and things like that?
MR PRICE: Well, it comes to the two tasks, the Iranians have a task and that is to determine if and how they might return to compliance with the nuclear deal, to return to compliance with the strictest verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated. Our task, if it gets there, is to determine how we might resume compliance with our commitments under the JCPOA. And if we get there – which of course remains an if – we have said that we are prepared to take the necessary steps to return to compliance with the JCPOA and that would include lifting sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA. The dynamics of that, the mechanics of that, is precisely what Rob and others are discussing right now with our European allies and our Russian and Chinese partners in this endeavor and that we may have occasion down the road to discuss with the Iranians, but obviously we’re not there yet.
QUESTION: But that still leaves open the question of whether you guys think the terrorism sanctions, ballistic missile sanctions, human rights sanctions are inconsistent with the JCPOA. Do you think that they are?
MR PRICE: We believe that Iran’s ballistic missile program, that Iran’s violation of the – Iran’s human rights abuses, that Iran’s support for malign proxies, Iran’s support for terrorism – we believe all of those things pose a profound challenge to us as well as to our regional partners. That is why we will continue, including through sanctions, to push back on those issues.
QUESTION: Well, why couldn’t you have said this like yesterday or the day before?
MR PRICE: I did. I did. I absolutely did.
QUESTION: No, no, you didn’t. You left it open, and so, like, it’s been – it’s crazy. I mean, you said “I’m not going to characterize whether we think the FTO designation on the IRGC” —
MR PRICE: Well, I didn’t. I’m not characterizing specific sanctions. Again, this is why we have a negotiator in Vienna and a team in Vienna, to speak to specific – the specifics of this. The point I’m making is precisely the same point I made yesterday, perhaps inartfully, but the same point I tried to make yesterday: namely, that when it comes to Iran’s nefarious activities – support for terrorism, its human rights abuses, its ballistic missile program, its support for proxies – we will continue to push back on that. Sanctions will continue to be important tools for doing that.
QUESTION: Just one more on that. Is Rob Malley staying in Vienna next week?
MR PRICE: I expect Rob will be returning to the United States as these talks break for the weekend. I don’t have any details to provide just yet on his – any return travel.
QUESTION: And who’d he meet with while he was —
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: And who’d he meet with while he was there?
MR PRICE: He had an opportunity to meet with the IAEA director general; he had an opportunity to meet with his Austrian – not his Austrian counterpart, but the Austrian foreign minister. He had an opportunity to meet with representatives of the P5+1.
QUESTION: Different topic, Northern Ireland.
QUESTION: I know Jen spoke to this a little bit a moment ago. How concerned are you with the – what we’ve seen in recent days with the violence in Northern Ireland? And does the administration have any plans diplomatically on this, such as the appointment of a special envoy in Northern Ireland again?
MR PRICE: Well, we are deeply concerned by the violence in Northern Ireland, and we join the British, the Irish, and the Northern Irish leaders in their calls for calm. We remain, as you have heard us say before, steadfast supporters of a secure and prosperous Northern Ireland in which all communities have a voice and all communities enjoy the gains of a hard-won peace. This is something that the President has spoken to quite passionately in the past. We welcome the provisions in both the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol, which help to protect the gains of the Belfast and the Good Friday agreements.
As the United Kingdom and the EU implement Brexit-related provisions, this administration encourages them to prioritize political and economic stability in Northern Ireland. As I said before, President Biden has been unequivocal in his support for the Belfast and Good Friday agreement, which was an historic achievement. We believe that we must protect it and we believe that we must ensure it doesn’t become a casualty of Brexit.
When it comes to personnel moves on our side, I don’t have anything to preview or to forecast, but suffice it to say that we are – our partners in Northern Ireland, in the UK – I’m sorry, in the UK, in Ireland, Northern Ireland – of course, they are close friends. We, of course, are willing and ready to support them.
QUESTION: If I could press you on one part. You said it shouldn’t become the casualty of Brexit. Is it the view of this administration that these problems could have been avoided had Brexit not occurred?
MR PRICE: Well, this administration wants to see a strong UK and a strong EU. I’m not going to go back and litigate the past.
QUESTION: Can I follow on that and then ask another question about Afghanistan? Is there – what is the status of any bilateral trade talks with the UK, in light of what’s happening with Northern Ireland?
MR PRICE: Well, this President has been very clear about where he stands when it comes to trade agreements. He believes that we must first invest in ourselves. He believes that we must first take stock of where we are, what we can do here at home, because he knows, Secretary Blinken knows, that in many ways – and I believe Jake Sullivan often uses this phrase – that domestic policy is foreign policy and foreign policy is domestic policy. We know that our vitality here at home is our vitality on the world stage. It is a key source of strength, and we’ve spoken to that domestic vitality as a source of strength vis-a-vis any challenge we face, whether it is a nation-state, whether it is a non-state threat, but across the board.
And so that is why this administration is first and foremost focused on investing in ourselves before we then go back and take a look at free trade agreements, whether it’s in the context of Europe, whether it’s in the context of Asia, whether it’s in any other context.
QUESTION: Well, that raises the question as to whether you don’t – the administration does not believe that free trade agreements lead to vitality here, that they are a win-win.
MR PRICE: This administration believes in deep economic cooperation, economic cooperation that is guided by what’s in our economic interests and that’s consistent with our values. We believe in high labor standards. We believe in high – when it comes to climate, green technologies. We believe that American workers need to be protected. So we believe absolutely in deep economic ties, deep economic ties with our allies and partners around the world, but we also believe that we have to effect those agreements consist with what is in the best interest of the American people and what is in the collective interest, and whether that’s in terms of labor standards, whether that’s in terms of the environment, those are absolutely elements that this administration will be looking at.
QUESTION: Let me just ask you about Afghanistan. As we approach May 1st, there’s reporting that there is frustration with – among the military – not the cabinet level, but among the military that there is – let’s just say indecision or no clear timeline as we approach May 1st. And I’m just wondering how close we are to a decision on —
MR PRICE: Well —
QUESTION: — the Afghanistan withdrawal.
MR PRICE: So I think I will not break any new ground by saying that May 1st is three weeks away.
QUESTION: You’re going out on a limb there. Wow. (Laughter.)
MR PRICE: That is on the record. You can lead with that. But the broader point, of course, is that we have been engaged in this review of what has been agreed to as we look to this May 1st deadline. The President has spoken specifically to the deadline. I think you should expect that the President will – have an opportunity to speak to this issue again before we reach that deadline, which again is only a few weeks away. This is something that across the interagency, this department, the military, the intelligence community, all of the relevant components have been engaged in.
Knowing that, the decisions ahead will have implications for this country, and the President has been very clear: He wants to see our military presence end in Afghanistan. This is not a position he has arrived at recently. It’s also not a position he has arrived at lightly. The administration is committed to bringing a responsible end to the conflict, committed to removing our troops from harm’s way, and committed to ensuring that Afghanistan can never again become a haven for terrorists who would threaten the United States or our allies. Those are the principles that are guiding these discussions. And those are the principles that will guide what we ultimately will hear from this administration. This is not a decision that any administration should take lightly. It’s certainly not one that this administration takes lightly.
QUESTION: Is there any anticipation that you will have – any assurance that Afghanistan will not become a haven for terrorists given the state of the talks right now?
MR PRICE: I – it’s – I will say a couple things. As you know, we have sought to galvanize the diplomacy between the parties knowing that there is no military solution to what we face in Afghanistan. It’s precisely why at all levels, the President, the Secretary of State, the – Ambassador Khalilzad and his team have been working tirelessly, including in the region, including in Doha, including in Turkey, including in Russia just the other week to see to it or to lay the groundwork as best we can for those two things we seek to accomplish: a comprehensive political settlement, and a comprehensive ceasefire.
We know that in the end diplomacy is what will allow for the people of Afghanistan to have the best shot at what they deserve, and that is peace, it is security, it is prosperity, it is dignity. And that is what – that is a task we’ve been engaged in at all levels since January 20th of this year.
QUESTION: China – I wanted to ask – Senators Menendez and Risch unveiled their comprehensive bipartisan China legislation, the Strategic Competition Act. I haven’t gone all the way through it, but it mentions sanctions a couple dozen times. Is the State Department or the administration involved in working with them on that? Does it approve of this legislation? Is it a good idea for Congress to be setting foreign policy and sanctions rules, or is that something that the administration would prefer to do in consultation with Congress and allies?
MR PRICE: Well, as a general rule, we don’t comment on pending legislation, so I won’t comment on this legislation specifically. What I will say, however, is that we know when it comes to the challenges we face in the world – and of course we have spoken of competition with China as a defining challenge for this administration – that we will enjoy the greatest amount of success when we work hand-in-hand with Congress, and when our proposals find support on both sides of the aisle in Congress, and that when we work closely with Congress on their proposals.
We have been heartened that there is a good deal of bipartisan agreement when it comes to how we should and could approach the government in Beijing, the PRC. This is precisely one of the reasons why, following their consultations, their discussions, I should say, with their Chinese – with their PRC counterparts, National Security Advisor Sullivan and Secretary Blinken met with Alaska’s two Republican senators. We know that any approach to the PRC has to be – has to have bipartisan support. It has to have the support of Congress. It’s precisely why this Secretary has committed to consultations with Congress, as he likes to say, not only on the landing but also at takeoff, also mid-air. And that’s precisely what we’ve been doing, and we look forward to continuing that engagement on China.
QUESTION: Has that engagement begun with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on China and other issues?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Has that engagement already begun with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as it —
MR PRICE: We have had a number of occasion to – I don’t want to read out specific briefings, but we have had a number of occasions to send briefers from this building to offer insight into our thinking on any number of challenges, to update lawmakers on what it is we’re doing, to seek their ideas on how we could work together to take on challenges. And, of course, as I said before, our approach to the PRC and the competition with China is a defining challenge for this administration.
QUESTION: Ned, just on your takeoff, mid-flight, and landing consultations with Congress, I want to go back to something yesterday, the resumption of aid to the Palestinians. You said, as you were announcing it, that we have been gratified by the bipartisan support or by the reaction that we have had from Congress on a bipartisan basis. What’s the basis for that? I’m – are you aware of a single Republican who has come out in support of this?
MR PRICE: The basis for that, Matt, are reactions we have heard, again, in our consultations with Congress, as you may know – as you may know better than most, given your reporting. We have consulted with Congress and we did consult with Congress on this funding decision.
Let me also make another point, though. The funding we were speaking about yesterday was funding that was set aside not during this Congress, but during the last Congress.
QUESTION: Oh, you’re talking about when it was actually – what – you’re talking about prior.
MR PRICE: No, I —
QUESTION: Since the announcement.
MR PRICE: I am talking about what we have – and again, I wouldn’t —
QUESTION: Which was not – which was – maybe there were a couple of Republicans who voted for it when it was in the budget bill or whatever – the reconciliation bill or whatever it was —
MR PRICE: It was —
QUESTION: — but I —
MR PRICE: It was appropriated by the last Congress.
QUESTION: Have you heard support —
MR PRICE: — a Republican Congress during a Republican administration.
QUESTION: Can you identify some – any specific example —
MR PRICE: I am —
QUESTION: — of support for what you have announced over the last day or so from Republicans?
MR PRICE: I am not going to speak for members. I’m not going to speak for members. But I think there is broad consensus. There is consensus, certainly, that supporting a two-state solution is consistent with our values. It’s consistent with our interests, that’s supporting the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people. It’s consistent with our values. It’s consistent with our interest in supporting the security and providing the security assistance, which in turn redounds positively on the security of our ally, Israel.
QUESTION: But that’s – that’s far different than claiming to have bipartisan support for specific assistance that many – not just Republicans, but also Democrats – think may violate the law.
MR PRICE: And I think —
QUESTION: So I’m just curious, when you say that you have bipartisan support for this, you’re referring to the passage, which was contested, of the previous budget, and not the announcement yesterday, right?
MR PRICE: The funding that was approved during the last administration, a Republican administration, by a Republican Congress —
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah —
MR PRICE: But also – but also – but also, we —
QUESTION: I get that, but the last administration also cut all of that funding, right. So I just want to know, yesterday – since yesterday, since you announced this and made it public, for UNRWA, for the – and for the other stuff, have you have you heard from any Republicans saying yes, we’re on board?
MR PRICE: I would not want to speak to individual conversations, but as you know, Matt, we have had consultations with Congress on this, going back to my earlier point about consultations at takeoff and on the landing, and we have had many opportunities to hear from Congress about this.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask on the North Korea review, we’ve been hearing that it’s in the final stages for a couple of weeks now. Wondering if you could comment on what’s the holdup with that. Are you waiting for an assistant secretary to be confirmed or is there something else? And also, when that review is complete, how are we going to know? What sort of format is it going to take?
MR PRICE: Well, I would contest the idea there’s any sort of holdup. We were talking earlier in this briefing about the careful consideration of a major decision in a completely different context. And I think that would also apply to this case. North Korea’s nuclear program, North Korea’s ballistic missile program of course is a profound challenge, not only, again, for the United States, but also for our allies in the Indo-Pacific and our partners as well.
And so of course, we want to make sure we do a number of things: Number one, we want to make sure we know and have a good understanding of what has been tried in the past. And we’ve said before that we have consulted widely, including with former administration officials, about their approach, their strategy, their tactics. We want to make sure we understand fully the nature of North Korea’s programs, where they are, what their intentions and capabilities might be. We want to ensure that we have consulted broadly and widely and deeply with our partners and, of course, with our treaty allies.
And that is precisely why as his first physical trip Secretary Blinken went to Japan, went to the Republic of Korea. It’s precisely why Acting Assistant Secretary Kim hosted a trilateral meeting among his – with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts. It’s why National Security Advisor Sullivan hosted his South Korean and Japanese counterparts at the Naval Academy only a few days ago to make sure that we understand the concerns of our allies, to make sure we understand and to see to it that we are working in concert and in coordination with one another.
And so I would suspect, and the White House has said this, that the review is in its – entering its final stages. I wouldn’t want to get ahead of the White House or get ahead of that review and to offer a timeline on it, but we are undertaking this review with careful consideration given the nature of this challenge and the many stakeholders that are involved.
QUESTION: Separate question on the COVAX – sorry, vaccine diplomacy that you’ve been talking about this week. You – the Secretary sort of talked about giving money to COVAX separately, loans and giving vaccines themselves to allies. Is there a prioritization issue here? Why not give the excess vaccines to COVAX, who can give them to the middle and lower-income countries that seem – surely that’s the priority?
MR PRICE: Well, there is a prioritization issue here. And this administration – this President – Secretary Blinken mentioned it on Monday as well – has been very clear that first and foremost our primary task is to ensure the distribution of a safe and effective vaccine to Americans here at home. That is what we are focused on at the moment.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we can’t play a leadership role when it comes to helping the world address this virus, knowing that Americans here at home can’t be fully safe if this virus is mutating in the wild. And that’s precisely why the administration has contributed $2 billion to COVAX with a pledge of 2 billion more. It’s precisely why have spoken to our efforts in the context of the Quad, our efforts in the context of the – our partnership with our Canadian and Mexican partners as well.
Now, as the virus comes under control in this country and distribution of a safe and effective vaccine continues, as we account for contingencies and scenarios that could come to pass here, could come to pass elsewhere, it’s certainly our hope that we’ll be in a position to do more. But again, right now, we’re focused on ensuring we do everything we can to beat this disease here at home just as we help the other countries with our profound assistance that has already gone out the door.
QUESTION: When you do get to that point of we’re ready to give away – to provide vaccines to other parts of the world, where is the priority in terms of – yeah, COVAX – giving money to COVAX is one thing, but COVAX needs vaccines rather than cash, right?
MR PRICE: Right, but I’m just not today in a position to entertain a hypothetical. That’s something that we may be able to speak more about in the coming days.
QUESTION: Or any day.
QUESTION: So there are growing concerns that elections in Chad and Benin this weekend may accelerate the erosion of democracy in Africa given criticism that governments in these two countries have suppressed opposition. How does the U.S. see the elections and how might the outcome of the – these two elections affect relations with the – with these two countries? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Well, I would start by saying we are watching these elections very closely. We call on all actors to remain peaceful. We share with the people of Benin and Chad their desire for democratic, peaceful elections that ensure voters have a choice, and that is a choice among candidates who share their perspectives. Of course, we don’t support any one candidate. What we do support is a credible democratic process itself. That is true in Chad and Benin. That is true around the world.
We further underscore the importance of protecting freedoms of assembly and expression, including opinions about any candidate or political party online and in the media. We urge all parties to express their perspectives peacefully and we urge the electoral institutions and courts overseeing these processes and verifying these results to ensure these elections are conducted freely, fairly, and transparently. And we’ll be watching in the days ahead.
QUESTION: Opposition and civil – sorry, if I may just follow up, quick question: Opposition and civil society groups in Chad have said that Western countries, including the United States, have overlooked the human rights abuse in Chad because of the President Deby’s role in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel region. Would you like to comment on such allegation?
MR PRICE: I would say – I would make two broad points. Number one is that security engagement with Chad, and across the African continent for that matter, keeps Americans safe and it keeps our African partners safe. I would also add that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is a pillar of our foreign policy, and we’ve had an opportunity to speak about that in this briefing room in recent days. So we will certainly take a holistic approach to security challenges, ensuring that our security assistance and approaches to governance are mutually reinforcing and sufficiently comprehensive as well.
We continuously work closely with our partners at DOD, the Intelligence Community, and other stakeholders to review all of our overseas deployments, including in Africa, to ensure they are the right size, to ensure that they are protecting and promoting human rights, and to assist our partners on a comprehensive basis in confronting the threats they pose from terrorists and other violent extremist organizations.
Rosiland, go ahead.
QUESTION: I wanted to go back to the Ethiopia announcement. $152 million is a sizable amount of money, and noting that the National Security Advisor had a conversation yesterday with the deputy prime minister, is this administration growing frustrated with Ethiopia’s treatment of people in the Tigray region? What pressure is the administration putting on the Ethiopian Government to stop committing human rights violations? And finally, is this administration worried that there may be actions verging on genocide happening in Tigray?
MR PRICE: Well, we have had an occasion to engage directly with the Ethiopian Government. You mentioned the call that National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had with the Ethiopian deputy prime minister. Secretary Blinken has spoken with the Ethiopian prime minister. Senator Coons, acting at President Biden’s behalf, has recently traveled to the region. And our messaging across all of those engagements has been consistent. We are deeply concerned about the – what we have – the reports that are emanating from Tigray about the humanitarian plight of the Tigrayan people. And I would say that while the recent announcement of the Ethiopian Government’s commitment to providing humanitarian access to Tigray are welcome, we are, of course, looking for deeds to match those words.
And we continue to monitor the implementation of what we have heard emanate from Addis Ababa. We have called for full and unhindered access consistently since the start of this crisis. It is absolutely critical for humanitarian community to – not only to scale up its response, but also to ensure that that humanitarian assistance is reaching the people in need. As I said, we are we are also encouraged by Prime Minister Abiy’s announcement that the Government of Eritrea has agreed to withdraw its forces from Ethiopia. But we also want to see follow-through on this commitment and to see the immediate and complete withdrawal of Eritrean forces.
We know that a cessation of hostilities and an end to the Ethiopian Government’s deployment of Amhara regional forces in Tigray – both of these things are essential to ensuring full and unhindered humanitarian access. And we continue to urge the government to implement even further, even additional methods to ensure this unhindered humanitarian access, knowing how important it is.
QUESTION: Well, it would appear that President Abiy and his government are resisting if the U.S. is having to repeat its calls for access, for relief, for not harming its citizens in Tigray. What is this administration prepared to do to make President Abiy know that you’re serious about this? Are there repercussions coming?
MR PRICE: Well, I think the Ethiopian leadership knows just how serious we are. It is a message the leadership has heard directly. It is a message we have relayed via different channels, different messengers. But again, the message has been consistent. Our concern for the reports that are emanating, that have emanated from Tigray, we have made no secret of that. We have gone to tremendous lengths to provide, to make available, I should say, humanitarian assistance. Of course, the U.S. Agency for National Development has deployed a DART, a Disaster Assistance Response Team, as well.
And now the task ahead of us is to make sure that these welcome, these constructive statements emanating from Addis, that again, they are met with concrete action, and that there is follow-through. We have left no doubt with our – with the Ethiopian leadership that there needs to be follow through given the humanitarian crisis that has unfolded in Tigray.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) guys’s statement on being disturbed about Aleksey Navalny, but I’m just wondering if there’s any action that is being considered right now in terms of further advocating for his release.
MR PRICE: Well, you’ve heard this from the department, you’ve heard this from the White House, but it bears repeating that Mr. Navalny exposure of the regime’s corruption in the first instance prompted his politically motivated detention and arrest. And we are of course disturbed by these reports that Mr. Navalny’s health is worsening and that he is on a hunger strike to demand access to outside medical care. We urge authorities to take all necessary action to ensure his safety and to ensure his good health. And we reiterate our call for his immediate release as well as an end to the persecution of his supporters.
It was only last month – it was on March 2nd that we took action to impose costs on Russia for the events surrounding Mr. Navalny – of course, his attempted murder, his attempted assassination using chemical weapons, his subsequent arrests and imprisonment. And in doing so, we mirrored actions taken both by the EU and the UK, again understanding that when we act in concert we have – our actions carry much more heft. We know that Russia’s use of chemical weapons has consequences, and it did have consequence – consequences for Moscow.
I wouldn’t want to preview what may lie ahead if Moscow continues down this road, but we’ve made abundantly clear that we will continue to hold Moscow to account. And we’ve spoken of many areas of that malign activity. We’ve spoken about SolarWinds. We have referred to Moscow’s interference in our elections. We have spoken to Mr. Navalny – his attempted assassination, his arrest, his continued detention, the repression of his supporters, and of course the reports of bounties on the heads of American soldiers in Afghanistan. Moscow is – or at least should be – under no illusion that we do intend to hold Russia to account for these actions. We can, and we will, just as we seek more broadly a relationship that is stable and a relationship that is predictable. Up until now it has been the Russian Government, the Kremlin that has injected that instability into the relationship, including through these malign activities.
That may be an indication that we have gone on for too long. And unfortunately, I do have to run to a meeting. Very quick question.
QUESTION: How soon will you hold Russia accountable? We’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop.
MR PRICE: President Biden has made very clear that Russia will be held to account. President Biden is a man of his word, and I think you will have another reminder of that. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:58 p.m.)
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