Department Press Briefing – August 4, 2021

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Department Press Briefing – August 4, 2021

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

2:03 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. I’ve actually come emptyhanded today, don’t have anything at the top, and I see we’re also empty in front, so I don’t know what to do. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: All right. Well —

MR PRICE: Please.

QUESTION: Well, okay. Well, here we are. (Laughter.) It is a struggle to be allowed here, so let’s start with yesterday news, actually. So there is a tweet from the British foreign minister talking about Iran yesterday and what happened with the tanker. He said that he was in consultation with Secretary Blinken and they’re looking for a joint action. So can you just give us some – like, a background or – exactly of what the joint action could be? Are we talking about sanctions? Are we talking about some kind of other alternatives? What does it mean when they said that they’re going to take some steps towards securing the maritime shipment in the Gulf of Oman?

MR PRICE: Sure. You mentioned a statement from UK Foreign Secretary Raab. Let me also add that Secretary Blinken had an opportunity today to speak to his British counterpart, Foreign Secretary Raab. And they spoke about ongoing efforts to forge a coordinated response to Iran’s attack on the Mercer Street, which we have said was a commercial vessel peacefully transiting international waters. The Secretary reiterated his condolences. Of course, the UK lost one of its nationals in this Iranian attack along with the death of the Romanian captain who was also killed in this despicable attack.

When it comes to the response – and Secretary Blinken spoke to this from this podium on Monday – we are coordinating very closely with, as I just said, our British allies, with our Romanian partners as well, and the broader international community. We are in close consultations with them about the diplomatic next steps. We welcome coordination as well with our international partners to protect maritime security and freedom of navigation against those threats posed by Iran. I can say that we also do support the UK’s call for a UN Security Council action against Iran in condemning the Mercer Street attack that, again, resulted in the death of a British citizen and a Romanian citizen.

QUESTION: Right, so you want to give us any idea of exactly what is this coordinated action?

MR PRICE: Those consultations are ongoing. I wouldn’t want to get ahead of where we are. The nature of coordination is that we want to ensure that we’re coordinated and that we are acting in concert with our closest allies and partners on this.

QUESTION: One more question on the Middle East before Matt starts.

QUESTION: No, no.

QUESTION: Thank you. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I was late. I —

MR PRICE: He has forfeited his prerogative.

QUESTION: I will wait my turn.

QUESTION: Okay, good. So today is the first anniversary of the bombing of the port in Beirut. We saw the video that President Biden released this morning. As you know, till now, there’s no accountability for anybody who was responsible for this. Is the U.S. pushing it? Because my understanding, there was some team of the FBI who were investigating as well what happened. Does – the U.S. pushing for accountability? What exactly are you calling for in addition to what the President said this morning in terms of donation to the Lebanese people?

MR PRICE: Well, let me make a couple points. Of course, it is the one-year anniversary of this tragic explosion in the Port of Beirut that killed hundreds of innocent Lebanese citizens. As you know, the International Support Group for Lebanon met earlier this week on the eve of the anniversary. Those members expressed their solidarity, as do we, with the families of the victims and with those whose lives and livelihoods have been affected by it. In addition to those killed, thousands more were injured and thousands more from there, their livelihoods were impacted by this.

The International Support Group did indeed urge authorities to swiftly complete the investigation into the port explosion so that the truth may be known and justice may be rendered. The ISG observed with deep concern the broader context in which this anniversary takes place. Of course, that includes the worsening economic crisis that has affected nearly all elements of Lebanese society, its people, its institutions, its services. And the ISG did call upon Lebanese authorities as a matter of national responsibility, as has the United States in this context and previously, to urgently take every possible step to improve lives for the Lebanese people. And in this case, that means putting aside their political, their personal, their partisan differences for the good and for the benefit of the Lebanese people.

A year has now passed without a government in Lebanon. Of course, there is now a designation of a new prime minister, but Lebanon’s leaders do need to, without delay, support the formation of an empowered new government, a new government that is empowered to take on the reforms that are long overdue.

Now this was August 3rd. That was earlier this week. Of course, today is in fact the one-year anniversary, and I imagine you saw – had an opportunity to see the words from President Biden, who took part in today’s —

QUESTION: Conference.

MR PRICE: — humanitarian assistance conference. And specifically, the President announced that we are providing nearly $100 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Lebanon. That is on top of an already significant sum of more than 550 million – I think the exact sum is 560 million in humanitarian aid that the United States has provided to the Lebanese people over the past two years. This humanitarian assistance will benefit vulnerable populations in Lebanon. That includes those who have been so devastated by the political impasse and the resulting economic crisis as well as Syrian refugees and the Lebanese communities who are so graciously hosting them.

We remain the largest donor of humanitarian support for Lebanon anywhere and we have a – we appreciate and – all of those other countries that have stepped up. We continue to reiterate our calls for the international community to do the same.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Yeah, Said.

QUESTION: What —

QUESTION: Yeah, staying on Lebanon.

QUESTION: Wait, I want to go back to Iran, but on Lebanon very quickly. Are you making that $100 million contingent upon anything? And do they have – let’s say, to push forward the investigation, have you – let’s say, a year later – have you, on your own, sort of determined who may be – who is complicit in this explosion?

MR PRICE: So this is humanitarian assistance.

QUESTION: Right.

MR PRICE: And humanitarian assistance is for the good —

QUESTION: Right.

MR PRICE: — and for the benefit of the people of Lebanon. The people of Lebanon have nothing to do with this political impasse. In fact, the people of Lebanon are the ones who have been devastated by this political impasse. Just to give you a bit more granularity, the funding includes 56 million from our Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, and more than $41 million from USAID and its Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. And it will provide access to education and health services, food assistance, support for protection services and rehabilitation of water and sanitation services as well, among other forms of assistance.

QUESTION: You mentioned, Ned, a little bit earlier the broader context in which this anniversary is taking place and the meeting that happened today and the U.S. pledge. Does that broader context include the rockets being fired into Israel from Lebanon, like the three that happened this morning? And whether it does or not, do you have anything to say about that?

MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to the rocket attacks, we absolutely condemn the rocket attacks from armed groups based in Lebanon that were fired into Israel. As the President has said, as Secretary Blinken has said, that Israel has the right to defend itself against such attacks. We will remain engaged with Israeli partners, with Lebanese officials, and other partners in the region in an effort to de-escalate the situation.

QUESTION: Do you not see at all a pattern here, meaning in Lebanon, in the Gulf, in Afghanistan, where you guys are offering money, negotiations, the prospect of sanctions relief, and the response to that is more aggression? Do you see any pattern at all in this?

MR PRICE: I do see a pattern. I see a pattern of the United States maintaining its humanitarian leadership. We are not going to apologize for providing another $100 million to the people of Lebanon – the people of Lebanon who have been so devastated by the intransigence of their political leaders.

We’ve talked about this broader context. We talked about it yesterday. But if you’re suggesting a connection between our humanitarian leadership and these attacks, that is not one that we see.

QUESTION: In this logjam of government formation, do you – is anyone more complicit than other – is there any particular group or any particular party?

MR PRICE: Well, we have been – Secretary Blinken, you may recall, issued a pretty stark statement and he was very direct. And rather than take aim at specific leaders, this is a collective failure on the part of those who call themselves leaders in Lebanese society. A leader at this point, a true leader, should be in a position and should see the need to show that flexibility, to show that leadership, putting the interests of his or her people first. We have not seen Lebanese officials do that. For over a year it has been without a government in Lebanon. It is time for that to change. It is time for Lebanese officials to do the right thing.

QUESTION: On the —

QUESTION: Ned, who is responsible for providing or distributing the humanitarian aids to the Lebanese people and the refugees?

MR PRICE: As we do around the world, the State Department and USAID, we work with humanitarian partners who are on the ground, who are vetted, who are effective when it comes to distributing this kind of – this aid.

QUESTION: You’re not providing them to government or to the official institutions?

MR PRICE: It’s our humanitarian partners who are implementing partners in most of these cases.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Lebanon. Credible reports say that between October 2019 and now, $20 billion were withdrawn from the Lebanese banks and deposited in European banks. Why not exposing the people who did that? You are offering now humanitarian aid. Why not exposing the people if you are not going to sanction them? And you supported also the European legal framework for a sanctions regime. Do you have a list of names of people that could be sanctioned?

MR PRICE: Well, we are looking at a number of tools at our disposal to help the people of Lebanon. We’ve spoken of a couple of them already today – humanitarian assistance, using the power of our voice to call for Lebanon’s leaders to do the right thing, but of course there are other means to hold those accountable who are responsible for this. Some of our closest allies have enacted sanctions. Sanctions are a tool that are also available to us. In all cases, however, we don’t preview sanctions actions before they are implemented, typically for the very simple reason that previewing them would make them less effective.

So I’m not in a position to do that today, but we are continuing to look at everything that we might be able to do to provide that much-needed humanitarian relief, stability, security, and, over the longer run, prosperity for the people of Lebanon, something they have been denied for far too long.

QUESTION: And do you have any comments on the (inaudible) security forces attacking the demonstrators today?

MR PRICE: Peaceful – we support the right of peaceful demonstration around the world. That includes in Lebanon. It includes elsewhere in the Middle East, as we have noted recently in the case of Iran. You’ve heard us make that point the world over.

The Lebanese people have a right to have their voices be heard, to take part in peaceful demonstrations in an effort to do what we are all, frankly, trying to do, and that is to hold to account the Lebanese leadership to the commitment to the responsibility that they have as purported leaders. That is what the Lebanese people are doing. Violence should never be used against peaceful demonstrators.

The point you were making before about corruption is also relevant here. It is mismanagement, it’s intransigence, it is also corruption that has taken such a toll on the people of Lebanon. It’s understandable that the Lebanese people would have frustrations. They, just like people everywhere, should be allowed to show that frustration peacefully.

QUESTION: Can I go to Afghanistan?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: It seems that the Taliban are now targeting government officials and the acting defense minister yesterday. I wonder, has the U.S. had any direct diplomatic contacts with the Taliban since then? What’s your messaging? And also how concerned are you about China’s recent meeting with the Taliban?

MR PRICE: Well, let me spend a moment on the attack yesterday. We unequivocally condemn the targeted attack on Afghan Defense Minister Bismillah Mohammadi. Although the minister wasn’t present, reports do indicate that eight people were killed in the attack and many more were injured. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for this shameful act. The Taliban must stop this ongoing violence. They must stop it.

Taliban leaders continue to say one thing – namely, that they support a negotiated solution to the conflict – but as I’ve said in recent days, as others have said, those words ring hollow when they continue these types of actions, these types of attacks, including against provincial centers, when they use car bombs, VBIEDs in urban centers, putting civilian populations at risk. These acts inevitably kill civilians, as we saw in this very case, and they must stop. They must stop targeted killings and they must prevent Taliban fighters from engaging in the types of horrific acts, including these attacks, that result in the loss of innocent Afghan lives and the displacement of the civilian population.

We’ve made this point before, but if you look back at the history of Afghanistan over the past 40 years, over the past 50 years, we know that a continuation down this path will lead to only more bloodshed. The people of Afghanistan have suffered enough. In fact, I was just looking at a report emerging from Kabul of the Afghan people, very loudly, condemning what they are seeing take place in their provincial capitals, in their urban centers, in their country. It’s past time to end this decades-long cycle of violence. This is not a cycle of violence that started in March. It’s not a cycle of violence that started in 2021. It’s not even a cycle of violence that, in some ways, started in 2001. This is a cycle of violence that has gone on for far too long, and we are doing all that we can, galvanizing the international community, to collectively do all that we can to put an end to it.

And the point we’ve made on that front, it bears repeating, and that’s that the international community won’t recognize a group, a future Afghan government, that seizes power through violence and shows little or no regard for human life. It would be a grave mistake for the Taliban to expect even a de minimis level of international support if they were to seek to do just that. They can only expect condemnation.

I saw Ambassador Khalilzad was making a very similar point, and he made the point – obviously someone who has worked on this issue for decades now – made the point that the Taliban admit that in the 1990s, they didn’t understand the – what international legitimacy or international support would mean. That is something that we’re seeking to make very clear now. If the goal is a just and durable solution, I think everyone can agree that they want a durable solution, including the Taliban. A solution cannot be durable if it is not just, because a just solution is not one that would accrue that international legitimacy; it is not one that would accrue the type of international support that has been necessary for this government in Afghanistan for the past 20 years.

QUESTION: But they have had meetings with the Chinese recently. I mean, they do have —

MR PRICE: Well, they – and of course we are supporting the intra-Afghan dialogue. We’ve made the case that only through diplomacy can we – can the parties achieve this just and durable solution. When it comes to the PRC, again, this is one of those areas where we do have an alignment of interests. It is in no one’s interest to see an Afghanistan that lacks security, that lacks stability, that lacks prosperity, that is ravaged by violence. It’s not in the interests of the people of Afghanistan. It’s not in the interests of the United States. It’s not in the interests of the government in Beijing. And so the fact that the PRC recognizes that, the fact that they have issued statements that are very much in line with what we have been saying – in fact, if you look at the extended troika earlier this year – and the extended troika, of course, includes Russia, China, Pakistan – issued a statement: “We reiterate that there is no military solution in Afghanistan and a negotiated political settlement through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process is the only way forward for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan.” That emanated with Beijing’s signature on it. That is precisely what we believe. We are united in this.

So we have been consistently making the point that the international community – this is not a task for the United States alone. This is not a task for any one country alone. This is a task for the international community, and we welcome efforts to support diplomacy that culminates in a just and durable political solution.

Missy.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on Michele’s question, and we talked about this a little bit the other day with Andrea. So as the Taliban continues to conduct these attacks, the U.S. embassy this morning warned of potential war crimes related to reports of execution or disappearance of ANDSF who surrendered. At what point would the United States withhold support for the peace process? Can you just acknowledge whether it is unconditioned by the behavior of the Taliban? I know you guys want to give it more time because there are meetings and everyone hopes that this works. But if you could just speak to whether and how this is conditioned on some modicum of respect for the spirit of the agreement that was struck in 2020 with the Trump administration, that would be helpful.

MR PRICE: Well, I’d start by saying a couple of things. Number one, this is a process – the intra-Afghan dialogue is a process that has been ongoing for less than a year. It started on September 12th. Now, of course, a day of this type of violence – a week, a month of this type of violence – is far too long, so we are not content with the pace, but it is also a process that has only been underway for less than a year and we are continuing to support that.

I would hesitate to establish conditions under which we would change our approach. The last thing – what we want to do is support diplomacy. What we don’t want to do is to provide any actor a roadmap for impunity, the extent to which they could go that would require a drastic change in course. I think what is true – and this is not just our opinion, this is the considered judgment of the international community – is that only a diplomatic solution can bring about the opposite of what we’re seeing now. If what we’re seeing now is violence and bloodshed, only that diplomatic solution can bring about an outcome that is just and durable and that affords all Afghans the level of safety, the level of security, the level of stability that has been denied to them for decades and decades now.

QUESTION: But arguably they might think that they – they might hear the message as that they actually do have impunity now because they’re able to carry out these attacks and the international community is still engaging with them.

MR PRICE: They absolutely don’t, for a couple reasons. Number one, it is a simple fact that the Afghan Security Forces are numerically far superior to the Taliban. It’s a simple fact. They have over 300,000 troops. They have an air force. They have special forces. They have heavy equipment. They – the Taliban, in contrast, have less than 100,000 forces.

What’s also important is that the United States continues to support Afghan Security Forces, and we are committed to supporting them well into the future. In fact, President Biden in his most recent budget request has put forward an ask of $3.3 billion to support Afghan Security Forces.

So what we’re seeing is – I think it is a question of leadership, both political and military, for Afghanistan’s leaders – uniting them and motivating the forces they have, the forces that are fighting for the outcome that I think collectively we want to see: a stable and secure Afghanistan, pushing back on what the Taliban is doing.

All the while, the diplomacy is ongoing. We are supporting that diplomacy. That’s the focus of this building, just as our colleagues across the river have been focused on the security assistance side. So – go ahead.

QUESTION: And – sorry —

QUESTION: Ned, I hate to say this, but this is getting to the point of intellectual dishonesty. You say if the goal is a just and durable solution. There is no evidence whatsoever that the Taliban’s goal is a just and durable solution, none. In fact, as Missy just pointed out, the embassy tweeted this morning that the Taliban are putting landmines in civilian homes and hiding behind families while attacking the ANDSF, which, if confirmed, would constitute – could constitute a war crime. You just acknowledged that the Taliban claimed responsibility for trying to blow up the defense minister. With all due respect to your wishful thinking, a bunch of guys sitting around in a suite in a luxury hotel in Doha talking about peace doesn’t – that doesn’t mean anything on the ground. So when are you just going – why don’t you just stop this facade? Because it’s insane. It’s ridiculous.

MR PRICE: Matt, the Taliban have every interest in a durable – in a —

QUESTION: No, they don’t. They have shown – give me one example of any interest – other than what’s taking place in Doha – of the Taliban’s interest in a just and durable peace.

MR PRICE: I think it is in no – it is in – it is in —

QUESTION: You yourself called what they were doing yesterday atrocities.

MR PRICE: It is in no one’s interest – not the people of Afghanistan, not the Government of Afghanistan, not the Taliban, not Afghanistan’s neighbors – for there to be 40 years of continuing conflict and civil war.

QUESTION: Well, it’s apparently in someone’s interest, because that’s what’s been going on. And I’ll stop, and I bring this up virtually every day, but it’s just – it’s getting to the point of just, like, I don’t understand how you can get up there and say every day that we think that they want a just and durable solution, a peaceful solution —

MR PRICE: Our point – our point is that – our point is that —

QUESTION: — and that they want international recognition when they have done absolutely nothing to suggest that they do.

MR PRICE: Our point – our point is that we are supporting a just and durable solution. It is self-evident that the Taliban seek a durable solution. It is not in their interest to attempt to wrest power by force —

QUESTION: What?

MR PRICE: — and only to be displaced down the road after some —

QUESTION: So you’re going to – so you’re saying – so you’re going to invade again?

MR PRICE: Some period of conflict. It is not about invasion, Matt. This is a country that has been wracked by competing forces.

QUESTION: As we all know. But this is – this line that you guys keep saying is just – it’s just, it – nobody believes it except for – I’m – I doubt that you actually believe it, but whatever. It’s your job. You have to get up there and say it every day. But I – I just – you have to acknowledge at some point that the Taliban has shown no interest in a just and durable solution that – or international recognition, apart from the fact that a bunch of – a couple guys, a dozen or so, are negotiating – quote/unquote negotiating – in Doha, isn’t that correct?

MR PRICE: And —

QUESTION: There’s nothing on the ground to suggest that they – that they’re actually interested —

MR PRICE: Elements of that of that negotiation have translated to conditions on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: There have been ceasefires. There was the U.S.-Taliban agreement which, of course, stipulated that the Taliban could not attack and would not attack American forces. That has not transpired since the U.S.-Taliban agreement went into effect.

QUESTION: In February 2020.

MR PRICE: Correct.

QUESTION: Right.

MR PRICE: Correct.

QUESTION: And you just said that it was less than a year that – and so that’s longer than – anyway, I’ll stop.

QUESTION: Afghanistan. The tweets that are coming out of the embassy describing these horrific actions by the Taliban and against ANDSF units, they sort of – you’re saying if true, this could constitute war crimes, international law prohibits this. Do you think that – do you think the Taliban has any interest in whether it’s committing war crimes or it’s following international law? Does that —

MR PRICE: The —

QUESTION: Do you think that’s, like, real leverage?

MR PRICE: The broader point is that every party, certainly every party that wants to take part in a government or to have a leadership role, wants to secure longevity, wants to have durability. This is something that has eluded previous governments in Afghanistan over the course of the past 19, 20 years. It has been a feature of this iteration of Afghan’s government because of the international legitimacy, because of the international support from the United States, from our partners, from our allies that previous, much shorter-lived Afghan governments have not had.

So that is the point we’re making, that in a conflict like this, there’s not a party that would seek to secure power for a – only a short amount of time. What we are seeking to support – what we are seeking to support – is a just and durable political solution. There are elements of that that all the parties would seek. That’s what we’re after.

QUESTION: But that – so that solution could include a government – could end up with a government that includes war criminals. You’re just accusing these people of being war criminals, but they may end up in this government in a power-sharing agreement.

MR PRICE: It is not up to us to dictate what any future Afghan government looks like. It is our conviction that any future Afghan government has to be Afghan-led, has to be Afghan-owned. That’s what Doha is all about.

QUESTION: Can we also ask about the – on the refugee program you announced earlier in the week, there was a response from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs basically saying they don’t – they say they weren’t consulted on whether they might have to accept refugees. They call this an irresponsible decision, sort of the way that it was announced, and Turkey was mentioned in the announcement but other neighboring countries were mentioned. They’re saying you’re sort of asking them to accept refugees without really any consultation at all. Do you have any response to that?

MR PRICE: Well, I do want to stipulate that it is not the U.S. Government’s policy to encourage or to direct individuals seeking protection to specific safe havens, nor did we in this case. We did not direct anyone to a specific country, and that includes to Turkey. We do regret the concerns that statements have raised regarding the potential travel of Afghans to Turkey. And we reiterate our gratitude to Turkey for its substantial humanitarian efforts in hosting over 4 million refugees – more than any other country in the world – who have fled any number of countries. And that includes Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and elsewhere.

Christina.

QUESTION: If you do in fact have faith that the Taliban wants a durable political solution, and if you do have faith in these negotiations creating some sort of an actual, functional government in Afghanistan – a stable one that can protect its people – why are you taking such great lengths to airlift these translators out of Afghanistan before they are slaughtered by the same people you say want a durable political solution and care about international norms?

MR PRICE: So it is our belief that all Afghans deserve to live in safety, in security. That is our ultimate goal: to continue our partnership with the people of Afghanistan, to continue the support to them including the humanitarian assistance and the other forms of assistance that have allowed them to achieve these hard-won gains over the past 20 years.

Now, the point we are making when it comes to this new so-called P-2 designation, when it comes to the Special Immigrant Visa program, is that there is a, given the size of the country, very small subset of Afghans who have exposed themselves – willingly exposed themselves – to exceptional and extraordinary risk because of their service to the U.S. Government or, in the case of the P-2 program, to the American people more broadly. These are individuals who face an especially acute risk, and we feel a special responsibility to them because of the services they have provided to the U.S. Government or to the American people. So —

QUESTION: No, I understand that, but —

MR PRICE: So it is not our contention that safety and security need only be found in the United States or outside of Afghanistan. Our goal, as we’ve been talking about, is to do all that we can to facilitate an Afghanistan in which all Afghans can live in safety and security going forward.

QUESTION: But do you not see the contradictions in your argument? You’re saying that this is a group that will stop itself from doing these things at some point because they care about political norms, but also they are so dangerous and deadly we have to get these people out of the country before they kill them because they helped the United States over the past 20 years.

MR PRICE: We are clear-eyed about the threat that is posed to these Afghans, those who have willingly put themselves at, in some cases, extraordinary risk.

QUESTION: Right, but how is the reality of that – how does that square with what you keep telling us about them wanting political norms and —

MR PRICE: Yeah, I’ll tell you, because the current state that we’re seeing in Afghanistan is not the state that anyone wants to see going forward. It is certainly not the state that we want to see going forward. Right now, there are these individuals who constitute a discrete universe of people who over the course of the past 20 years have willingly put themselves and potentially their families at risk for us. We feel a special responsibility to them given the potential risks that they face right at this moment. Our goal over the longer term – hopefully sooner rather than later – but our goal is to support the diplomacy that can lead to a just and durable peace in which all Afghans can live and enjoy equal measures of safety and security. That’s our goal over the longer term.

Said.

QUESTION: Can I move to a new topic?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Same topic?

QUESTION: Please.

QUESTION: I just wanted to clarify on Simon’s question. So there was a briefing earlier this week where I believe officials said that they were speaking with Pakistan, Turkey, neighboring countries in order to ask them to keep their borders open for an outflow of refugees from Afghanistan. Are those discussions taking place?

MR PRICE: Well, look, it is important, we believe, for countries – and I’m not going to speak to specific countries, but we believe it is important for countries to keep their borders open to potential refugee flows. We did not intend to signal out – to single out any particular country as a destination for refugees.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more broader question on refugee resettlement program?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: When the ceiling was set for – the refugee cap was set earlier this year, one of the reasons why it was stated that it was set at the level that it was was a problem with the refugee resettlement programs and the infrastructure. Are you confident given the extent of this program that the administration is looking to – the thousands of refugees the administration is looking to bring in from Afghanistan that the infrastructure exists in the U.S. to properly resettle them here?

MR PRICE: Well, so let me take that in a couple pieces. We’re talking about a couple different programs here. One is the Special Immigrant Visa processing. That is not a form of refugee status. The P-2 program does go through the U.S. refugee assistance program, so that is part and parcel of our refugee program. You are right that when this administration came into office, we took a very close look at the infrastructure within the U.S. Government when it comes to our ability to bring in refugees, also taking into account other external factors like COVID which made elements of refugee resettlement especially difficult at this time.

But we also know that there is a very vibrant, very strong community of refugee resettlement agencies across this country and resettlements – organizations, refugee organizations that have been eager to work with the United States Government not only in this context but over recent years. And so we are confident that the SIV program, that the P-2 program, that the broader U.S. Refugee Assistance Program, that we are operating within the confines of what we can do, we are operating within the confines of public health, of safety and security, and that we can do all of that while offering refuge to those who are most vulnerable, to those who most need it, and that includes some of these Afghans we’ve talked about.

Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. Very quickly. My question to you, Ned, at what point would the United States call Israeli action excessive force? I mean a week ago today they shot at a family – a father and his kids as he came to his house. They killed an 11-year-old. That was exactly a year ago – I mean a week ago. The whole year has seen a spike in these incidents. At what point will you say this is excessive force? I mean, killing 11 years old, maybe you have an age cap or something like this? I mean at what point will you say do not use excessive force?

MR PRICE: Said, I take it you’re referring to the case of Muhammad Abu Sara.

QUESTION: Muhammad Abu Sara. Yes. Absolutely. Thank you for —

MR PRICE: We have seen media reports of the death of Muhammad Abu Sara. We regret the loss of life, absolutely. We regret the loss of any life in this conflict – in this context. Given the questions surrounding this incident, we urge Israeli authorities to conduct a thorough investigation. As we’ve said many times before, we believe it is critical to refrain from steps that exacerbate tensions that undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two state solution.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I have to keep saying – but the same thing happens every day. Every day this happens. So why is it so difficult for the United States that called on similar situations elsewhere to say stop using excessive force – allow people to go about their lives and so on. Why can’t you call on Israel to stop using excessive force against unarmed Palestinians?

MR PRICE: Said, proportionality is a concept that extends the world over. As I’ve said in this case, we regret the loss of life. And given the questions surrounding this incident, we do urge an investigation.

QUESTION: And you have faith in Israel investigating itself? You have enough evidence to show that Israel would actually hold itself accountable, correct?

MR PRICE: We have enough evidence that – I’m sorry?

QUESTION: We have enough evidence or do we have enough evidence – or do you have enough evidence that Israel actually does do investigations and holds those responsible accountable? Have you – can you site one incident where they have done that?

MR PRICE: We have – we urge an investigation here. Israel of course has it’s – the ability to conduct such an investigation as a vibrant media, vibrant civil society. We urge investigation in order to determine the facts and circumstances of this case. Yes.

QUESTION: But do you have any idea of what that happened yesterday in the Gulf regarding hijacking ships?

MR PRICE: Well, we talked about this yesterday as it was unfolding, and what we can say now is that we can confirm that personnel have left the Panama-flagged Asphalt Princess, this commercial vessel that was seized yesterday. We believe that these personnel were Iranian, but we’re not in a position to confirm this at this time. NAVCENT and DoD may have more information for you, but that’s what we’re able to add at this time. Yes.

QUESTION: And what about the petition of these events or these operations by the Iranians? How do you view them?

MR PRICE: Well, we talked about this yesterday in the context of the Mercer Street attack. The Secretary and his statement over the weekend referred to a pattern of belligerence, I believe it was that Iran has undertaken – a pattern of belligerence in terms of proxy attacks in the region and of course these maritime attacks and attempted attacks that have taken place over the course of – really accelerated over the course of several years now. So without wading too far into the circumstances of this because details are still emerging, we certainly have seen a broader pattern. Yes.

QUESTION: Media reports now saying that the Iranian president is meeting with Houthi’s leader, Mohammed Abdulsalam. How do you comment on that? Special Envoy Lenderking said in his statement last Friday that he called for an end to the stalemate – to the fighting in Marib and across Yemen, and he was blaming Houthis for that.

MR PRICE: Well, the Houthis are responsible for much of the suffering that we’ve seen on the part of the Yemeni people. Yemen is home to the world’s – by many accounts, the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. Much of this is manmade, and the actor in this case is – are the Houthis. You are right that Special Envoy Lenderking did call for an end to the stalemated fighting in Marib and across Yemen, and it’s that fighting that across Yemen has only added to the suffering of the Yemeni people. He expressed concern in his engagements in the region last week that the Houthis have continued to refuse to engage meaningfully on a ceasefire and political talks, and he stressed that only through an agreement between the Yemeni parties can the dire humanitarian circumstances that have culminated in such suffering be addressed and be reversed.

So we’ve continued to support that diplomacy. He was just, as I said before, in the region last week, and we’ll continue to do all we can to increase that humanitarian access and to arrive at an agreement between the Yemeni parties that can ease the suffering of the Yemeni people.

QUESTION: Any comment on the meeting today between the Iranian president and the Houthis’ leader?

MR PRICE: Well, again, I don’t have a specific comment on that, but we have seen Iran’s support for proxies and other violent actors across the region. That is one of the many profound challenges and in some cases threats we face from the Iranian Government, and it is something that in seeking to establish an agreement between the Yemeni parties, that we hope to bring an end to this conflict and we hope to put an end to or at least, in the first instance, alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: General COVID question on – real quick?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Can I ask you on Yemen?

QUESTION: The —

MR PRICE: I’ll come right back. And we do have to conclude fairly shortly.

QUESTION: Okay. Yes, very quickly.

QUESTION: People way in the back here – (inaudible) haven’t had a chance.

QUESTION: The director of the WHO – the director of the World Health Organization has called on the West, I guess the United States and other countries and so on, not to administer a third booster shot until the rest of the world, the poorer countries, have been vaccinated. What is your position on that?

MR PRICE: Well, just yesterday you heard from the President that we hit a milestone in what he has termed the arsenal of vaccines that we’re providing to the world: 110 million vaccines donated around the world. And this, as we’ve said, is just the beginning. We have on top of that the half a billion doses of the Pfizer vaccine that are set to start rolling out later this month, and together with our partners around the world, including our G7 partners, we’re delivering more than 1 billion vaccines around the world. All of that builds on our commitment to COVAX, our partnership in the context of the Quad that’s on track to help produce at least a billion doses of COVID vaccines in India for that region by the end of next year. It builds on our support for vaccine manufacturing in Africa for African countries by providing financing to South African business to bolster manufacturing capacity for more than 500 million doses on top of that.

So this is tremendous leadership, and again, we are going to continue to do more. We also recognize that as long as the virus is spreading anywhere, including in this country, it is a threat to people everywhere. And as we’ve said, we’ll be prepared if boosters are recommended by our health and medical experts. At this point, the CDC has not recommended boosters. What we know is that we can protect the American people and lead the world’s vaccination efforts. So it’s really a false choice to say we have to choose between the two. We know there is more work to be done on all these fronts and we’ll continue to do just that.

Yes, I’ll go back there.

QUESTION: Secretary Blinken today tweeted about the situation in Syria. I’m wondering what steps the administration would be willing to take in response to the crisis there. I know you don’t preview sanctions, but will this be a focus of the U.S. engagement on the Security Council and with Russia?

MR PRICE: Well, it already has been a focus of U.S. engagement. You may remember in June the Italian foreign minister and Secretary Blinken co-hosted a ministerial on Syria in order to discuss the ongoing crisis there. It was at that meeting that they underscored the importance of meeting the humanitarian needs in Syria, including through the expansion of the UN cross‑border mechanism. It was days later in New York with the support of the State Department and the broader administration – including President Biden, who raised this directly with President Putin – that we were able on a one-year extension to the humanitarian corridor. We’ve made clear our support for a nationwide ceasefire to ensure the safe delivery of – and – of aid and to relieve the suffering of the humanitarian people.

Going forward, we’ll step up our multilateral diplomatic efforts, including at the Security Council, to renew and hopefully – excuse me, to expand – seek to expand that access. But ultimately, stability in Syria and the greater region can only be achieved through a political process, and that’s a process that represents the will of all Syrians. And so we’re committed to working with allies, we’re committed to working with partners in the UN to ensure that a durable political solution remains within reach.

QUESTION: Ned, can we go back to Iran? Israeli Defense Minister Gantz has said today that Iran is 10 weeks away from obtaining enough nuclear material to allow development of a nuclear bomb. Do you agree with this assessment?

MR PRICE: Well, what we believe is that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is the best means to ensure that Iran is never allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. What the JCPOA, when it was fully implemented, ensured was that Iran was permanently and verifiably prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

When it comes to the details of various intelligence assessments – whether it’s ours, whether it’s an Israeli intelligence assessment, or anyone else’s – we, of course, wouldn’t comment there. What is true and what we’ve said, and what concerns us in this process, part of the reason why it cannot drag on indefinitely, is because while Iran’s nuclear program does not have the shackles that the JCPOA guaranteed, Iran is in a position to do things and to advance its nuclear program and to shrink that breakout time in a way that it would not have been able to were the JCPOA fully enforced. And so that is why we continue to test whether we can effect that mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

Take a —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Will you be waiting for 10 weeks as they are getting closer to get the material?

MR PRICE: We’re not going to put a precise timeline on it. What we have said is that this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the advantages that the JCPOA would convey would be outweighed and outpaced by the advancements in Iran’s nuclear program.

Yes, I’ll take a final question.

QUESTION: So on Yemen, if you have no leverage on the Houthis force them to come back to the negotiation table, does – can we conclude that the war in Yemen, whether it’s your efforts or the international community efforts, is not going anywhere anytime soon?

MR PRICE: Well, certainly we have not seen the kind of progress that we would like to see, and I think that in our assessment, that is a consequence of the Houthis – their failure to put the welfare of the Yemeni people first, their ongoing assault on Marib, ongoing campaign – campaigns throughout the country. It has wrought, in many ways, a devastating toll on the people of Yemen. But we will continue working closely with the UN, working closely with the UN special envoy, working closely with our regional partners to see what we can do to do a couple things: one, provide humanitarian assistance, continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen, to expand humanitarian access for the people of Yemen, and to support those efforts, including efforts by the UN special envoy, those efforts in the region to bring the Yemeni parties together to see if a durable political solution to this conflict can be brokered. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:57 p.m.)

2:03 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. I’ve actually come emptyhanded today, don’t have anything at the top, and I see we’re also empty in front, so I don’t know what to do. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: All right. Well —

MR PRICE: Please.

QUESTION: Well, okay. Well, here we are. (Laughter.) It is a struggle to be allowed here, so let’s start with yesterday news, actually. So there is a tweet from the British foreign minister talking about Iran yesterday and what happened with the tanker. He said that he was in consultation with Secretary Blinken and they’re looking for a joint action. So can you just give us some – like, a background or – exactly of what the joint action could be? Are we talking about sanctions? Are we talking about some kind of other alternatives? What does it mean when they said that they’re going to take some steps towards securing the maritime shipment in the Gulf of Oman?

MR PRICE: Sure. You mentioned a statement from UK Foreign Secretary Raab. Let me also add that Secretary Blinken had an opportunity today to speak to his British counterpart, Foreign Secretary Raab. And they spoke about ongoing efforts to forge a coordinated response to Iran’s attack on the Mercer Street, which we have said was a commercial vessel peacefully transiting international waters. The Secretary reiterated his condolences. Of course, the UK lost one of its nationals in this Iranian attack along with the death of the Romanian captain who was also killed in this despicable attack.

When it comes to the response – and Secretary Blinken spoke to this from this podium on Monday – we are coordinating very closely with, as I just said, our British allies, with our Romanian partners as well, and the broader international community. We are in close consultations with them about the diplomatic next steps. We welcome coordination as well with our international partners to protect maritime security and freedom of navigation against those threats posed by Iran. I can say that we also do support the UK’s call for a UN Security Council action against Iran in condemning the Mercer Street attack that, again, resulted in the death of a British citizen and a Romanian citizen.

QUESTION: Right, so you want to give us any idea of exactly what is this coordinated action?

MR PRICE: Those consultations are ongoing. I wouldn’t want to get ahead of where we are. The nature of coordination is that we want to ensure that we’re coordinated and that we are acting in concert with our closest allies and partners on this.

QUESTION: One more question on the Middle East before Matt starts.

QUESTION: No, no.

QUESTION: Thank you. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I was late. I —

MR PRICE: He has forfeited his prerogative.

QUESTION: I will wait my turn.

QUESTION: Okay, good. So today is the first anniversary of the bombing of the port in Beirut. We saw the video that President Biden released this morning. As you know, till now, there’s no accountability for anybody who was responsible for this. Is the U.S. pushing it? Because my understanding, there was some team of the FBI who were investigating as well what happened. Does – the U.S. pushing for accountability? What exactly are you calling for in addition to what the President said this morning in terms of donation to the Lebanese people?

MR PRICE: Well, let me make a couple points. Of course, it is the one-year anniversary of this tragic explosion in the Port of Beirut that killed hundreds of innocent Lebanese citizens. As you know, the International Support Group for Lebanon met earlier this week on the eve of the anniversary. Those members expressed their solidarity, as do we, with the families of the victims and with those whose lives and livelihoods have been affected by it. In addition to those killed, thousands more were injured and thousands more from there, their livelihoods were impacted by this.

The International Support Group did indeed urge authorities to swiftly complete the investigation into the port explosion so that the truth may be known and justice may be rendered. The ISG observed with deep concern the broader context in which this anniversary takes place. Of course, that includes the worsening economic crisis that has affected nearly all elements of Lebanese society, its people, its institutions, its services. And the ISG did call upon Lebanese authorities as a matter of national responsibility, as has the United States in this context and previously, to urgently take every possible step to improve lives for the Lebanese people. And in this case, that means putting aside their political, their personal, their partisan differences for the good and for the benefit of the Lebanese people.

A year has now passed without a government in Lebanon. Of course, there is now a designation of a new prime minister, but Lebanon’s leaders do need to, without delay, support the formation of an empowered new government, a new government that is empowered to take on the reforms that are long overdue.

Now this was August 3rd. That was earlier this week. Of course, today is in fact the one-year anniversary, and I imagine you saw – had an opportunity to see the words from President Biden, who took part in today’s —

QUESTION: Conference.

MR PRICE: — humanitarian assistance conference. And specifically, the President announced that we are providing nearly $100 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Lebanon. That is on top of an already significant sum of more than 550 million – I think the exact sum is 560 million in humanitarian aid that the United States has provided to the Lebanese people over the past two years. This humanitarian assistance will benefit vulnerable populations in Lebanon. That includes those who have been so devastated by the political impasse and the resulting economic crisis as well as Syrian refugees and the Lebanese communities who are so graciously hosting them.

We remain the largest donor of humanitarian support for Lebanon anywhere and we have a – we appreciate and – all of those other countries that have stepped up. We continue to reiterate our calls for the international community to do the same.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Yeah, Said.

QUESTION: What —

QUESTION: Yeah, staying on Lebanon.

QUESTION: Wait, I want to go back to Iran, but on Lebanon very quickly. Are you making that $100 million contingent upon anything? And do they have – let’s say, to push forward the investigation, have you – let’s say, a year later – have you, on your own, sort of determined who may be – who is complicit in this explosion?

MR PRICE: So this is humanitarian assistance.

QUESTION: Right.

MR PRICE: And humanitarian assistance is for the good —

QUESTION: Right.

MR PRICE: — and for the benefit of the people of Lebanon. The people of Lebanon have nothing to do with this political impasse. In fact, the people of Lebanon are the ones who have been devastated by this political impasse. Just to give you a bit more granularity, the funding includes 56 million from our Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, and more than $41 million from USAID and its Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. And it will provide access to education and health services, food assistance, support for protection services and rehabilitation of water and sanitation services as well, among other forms of assistance.

QUESTION: You mentioned, Ned, a little bit earlier the broader context in which this anniversary is taking place and the meeting that happened today and the U.S. pledge. Does that broader context include the rockets being fired into Israel from Lebanon, like the three that happened this morning? And whether it does or not, do you have anything to say about that?

MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to the rocket attacks, we absolutely condemn the rocket attacks from armed groups based in Lebanon that were fired into Israel. As the President has said, as Secretary Blinken has said, that Israel has the right to defend itself against such attacks. We will remain engaged with Israeli partners, with Lebanese officials, and other partners in the region in an effort to de-escalate the situation.

QUESTION: Do you not see at all a pattern here, meaning in Lebanon, in the Gulf, in Afghanistan, where you guys are offering money, negotiations, the prospect of sanctions relief, and the response to that is more aggression? Do you see any pattern at all in this?

MR PRICE: I do see a pattern. I see a pattern of the United States maintaining its humanitarian leadership. We are not going to apologize for providing another $100 million to the people of Lebanon – the people of Lebanon who have been so devastated by the intransigence of their political leaders.

We’ve talked about this broader context. We talked about it yesterday. But if you’re suggesting a connection between our humanitarian leadership and these attacks, that is not one that we see.

QUESTION: In this logjam of government formation, do you – is anyone more complicit than other – is there any particular group or any particular party?

MR PRICE: Well, we have been – Secretary Blinken, you may recall, issued a pretty stark statement and he was very direct. And rather than take aim at specific leaders, this is a collective failure on the part of those who call themselves leaders in Lebanese society. A leader at this point, a true leader, should be in a position and should see the need to show that flexibility, to show that leadership, putting the interests of his or her people first. We have not seen Lebanese officials do that. For over a year it has been without a government in Lebanon. It is time for that to change. It is time for Lebanese officials to do the right thing.

QUESTION: On the —

QUESTION: Ned, who is responsible for providing or distributing the humanitarian aids to the Lebanese people and the refugees?

MR PRICE: As we do around the world, the State Department and USAID, we work with humanitarian partners who are on the ground, who are vetted, who are effective when it comes to distributing this kind of – this aid.

QUESTION: You’re not providing them to government or to the official institutions?

MR PRICE: It’s our humanitarian partners who are implementing partners in most of these cases.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Lebanon. Credible reports say that between October 2019 and now, $20 billion were withdrawn from the Lebanese banks and deposited in European banks. Why not exposing the people who did that? You are offering now humanitarian aid. Why not exposing the people if you are not going to sanction them? And you supported also the European legal framework for a sanctions regime. Do you have a list of names of people that could be sanctioned?

MR PRICE: Well, we are looking at a number of tools at our disposal to help the people of Lebanon. We’ve spoken of a couple of them already today – humanitarian assistance, using the power of our voice to call for Lebanon’s leaders to do the right thing, but of course there are other means to hold those accountable who are responsible for this. Some of our closest allies have enacted sanctions. Sanctions are a tool that are also available to us. In all cases, however, we don’t preview sanctions actions before they are implemented, typically for the very simple reason that previewing them would make them less effective.

So I’m not in a position to do that today, but we are continuing to look at everything that we might be able to do to provide that much-needed humanitarian relief, stability, security, and, over the longer run, prosperity for the people of Lebanon, something they have been denied for far too long.

QUESTION: And do you have any comments on the (inaudible) security forces attacking the demonstrators today?

MR PRICE: Peaceful – we support the right of peaceful demonstration around the world. That includes in Lebanon. It includes elsewhere in the Middle East, as we have noted recently in the case of Iran. You’ve heard us make that point the world over.

The Lebanese people have a right to have their voices be heard, to take part in peaceful demonstrations in an effort to do what we are all, frankly, trying to do, and that is to hold to account the Lebanese leadership to the commitment to the responsibility that they have as purported leaders. That is what the Lebanese people are doing. Violence should never be used against peaceful demonstrators.

The point you were making before about corruption is also relevant here. It is mismanagement, it’s intransigence, it is also corruption that has taken such a toll on the people of Lebanon. It’s understandable that the Lebanese people would have frustrations. They, just like people everywhere, should be allowed to show that frustration peacefully.

QUESTION: Can I go to Afghanistan?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: It seems that the Taliban are now targeting government officials and the acting defense minister yesterday. I wonder, has the U.S. had any direct diplomatic contacts with the Taliban since then? What’s your messaging? And also how concerned are you about China’s recent meeting with the Taliban?

MR PRICE: Well, let me spend a moment on the attack yesterday. We unequivocally condemn the targeted attack on Afghan Defense Minister Bismillah Mohammadi. Although the minister wasn’t present, reports do indicate that eight people were killed in the attack and many more were injured. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for this shameful act. The Taliban must stop this ongoing violence. They must stop it.

Taliban leaders continue to say one thing – namely, that they support a negotiated solution to the conflict – but as I’ve said in recent days, as others have said, those words ring hollow when they continue these types of actions, these types of attacks, including against provincial centers, when they use car bombs, VBIEDs in urban centers, putting civilian populations at risk. These acts inevitably kill civilians, as we saw in this very case, and they must stop. They must stop targeted killings and they must prevent Taliban fighters from engaging in the types of horrific acts, including these attacks, that result in the loss of innocent Afghan lives and the displacement of the civilian population.

We’ve made this point before, but if you look back at the history of Afghanistan over the past 40 years, over the past 50 years, we know that a continuation down this path will lead to only more bloodshed. The people of Afghanistan have suffered enough. In fact, I was just looking at a report emerging from Kabul of the Afghan people, very loudly, condemning what they are seeing take place in their provincial capitals, in their urban centers, in their country. It’s past time to end this decades-long cycle of violence. This is not a cycle of violence that started in March. It’s not a cycle of violence that started in 2021. It’s not even a cycle of violence that, in some ways, started in 2001. This is a cycle of violence that has gone on for far too long, and we are doing all that we can, galvanizing the international community, to collectively do all that we can to put an end to it.

And the point we’ve made on that front, it bears repeating, and that’s that the international community won’t recognize a group, a future Afghan government, that seizes power through violence and shows little or no regard for human life. It would be a grave mistake for the Taliban to expect even a de minimis level of international support if they were to seek to do just that. They can only expect condemnation.

I saw Ambassador Khalilzad was making a very similar point, and he made the point – obviously someone who has worked on this issue for decades now – made the point that the Taliban admit that in the 1990s, they didn’t understand the – what international legitimacy or international support would mean. That is something that we’re seeking to make very clear now. If the goal is a just and durable solution, I think everyone can agree that they want a durable solution, including the Taliban. A solution cannot be durable if it is not just, because a just solution is not one that would accrue that international legitimacy; it is not one that would accrue the type of international support that has been necessary for this government in Afghanistan for the past 20 years.

QUESTION: But they have had meetings with the Chinese recently. I mean, they do have —

MR PRICE: Well, they – and of course we are supporting the intra-Afghan dialogue. We’ve made the case that only through diplomacy can we – can the parties achieve this just and durable solution. When it comes to the PRC, again, this is one of those areas where we do have an alignment of interests. It is in no one’s interest to see an Afghanistan that lacks security, that lacks stability, that lacks prosperity, that is ravaged by violence. It’s not in the interests of the people of Afghanistan. It’s not in the interests of the United States. It’s not in the interests of the government in Beijing. And so the fact that the PRC recognizes that, the fact that they have issued statements that are very much in line with what we have been saying – in fact, if you look at the extended troika earlier this year – and the extended troika, of course, includes Russia, China, Pakistan – issued a statement: “We reiterate that there is no military solution in Afghanistan and a negotiated political settlement through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process is the only way forward for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan.” That emanated with Beijing’s signature on it. That is precisely what we believe. We are united in this.

So we have been consistently making the point that the international community – this is not a task for the United States alone. This is not a task for any one country alone. This is a task for the international community, and we welcome efforts to support diplomacy that culminates in a just and durable political solution.

Missy.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on Michele’s question, and we talked about this a little bit the other day with Andrea. So as the Taliban continues to conduct these attacks, the U.S. embassy this morning warned of potential war crimes related to reports of execution or disappearance of ANDSF who surrendered. At what point would the United States withhold support for the peace process? Can you just acknowledge whether it is unconditioned by the behavior of the Taliban? I know you guys want to give it more time because there are meetings and everyone hopes that this works. But if you could just speak to whether and how this is conditioned on some modicum of respect for the spirit of the agreement that was struck in 2020 with the Trump administration, that would be helpful.

MR PRICE: Well, I’d start by saying a couple of things. Number one, this is a process – the intra-Afghan dialogue is a process that has been ongoing for less than a year. It started on September 12th. Now, of course, a day of this type of violence – a week, a month of this type of violence – is far too long, so we are not content with the pace, but it is also a process that has only been underway for less than a year and we are continuing to support that.

I would hesitate to establish conditions under which we would change our approach. The last thing – what we want to do is support diplomacy. What we don’t want to do is to provide any actor a roadmap for impunity, the extent to which they could go that would require a drastic change in course. I think what is true – and this is not just our opinion, this is the considered judgment of the international community – is that only a diplomatic solution can bring about the opposite of what we’re seeing now. If what we’re seeing now is violence and bloodshed, only that diplomatic solution can bring about an outcome that is just and durable and that affords all Afghans the level of safety, the level of security, the level of stability that has been denied to them for decades and decades now.

QUESTION: But arguably they might think that they – they might hear the message as that they actually do have impunity now because they’re able to carry out these attacks and the international community is still engaging with them.

MR PRICE: They absolutely don’t, for a couple reasons. Number one, it is a simple fact that the Afghan Security Forces are numerically far superior to the Taliban. It’s a simple fact. They have over 300,000 troops. They have an air force. They have special forces. They have heavy equipment. They – the Taliban, in contrast, have less than 100,000 forces.

What’s also important is that the United States continues to support Afghan Security Forces, and we are committed to supporting them well into the future. In fact, President Biden in his most recent budget request has put forward an ask of $3.3 billion to support Afghan Security Forces.

So what we’re seeing is – I think it is a question of leadership, both political and military, for Afghanistan’s leaders – uniting them and motivating the forces they have, the forces that are fighting for the outcome that I think collectively we want to see: a stable and secure Afghanistan, pushing back on what the Taliban is doing.

All the while, the diplomacy is ongoing. We are supporting that diplomacy. That’s the focus of this building, just as our colleagues across the river have been focused on the security assistance side. So – go ahead.

QUESTION: And – sorry —

QUESTION: Ned, I hate to say this, but this is getting to the point of intellectual dishonesty. You say if the goal is a just and durable solution. There is no evidence whatsoever that the Taliban’s goal is a just and durable solution, none. In fact, as Missy just pointed out, the embassy tweeted this morning that the Taliban are putting landmines in civilian homes and hiding behind families while attacking the ANDSF, which, if confirmed, would constitute – could constitute a war crime. You just acknowledged that the Taliban claimed responsibility for trying to blow up the defense minister. With all due respect to your wishful thinking, a bunch of guys sitting around in a suite in a luxury hotel in Doha talking about peace doesn’t – that doesn’t mean anything on the ground. So when are you just going – why don’t you just stop this facade? Because it’s insane. It’s ridiculous.

MR PRICE: Matt, the Taliban have every interest in a durable – in a —

QUESTION: No, they don’t. They have shown – give me one example of any interest – other than what’s taking place in Doha – of the Taliban’s interest in a just and durable peace.

MR PRICE: I think it is in no – it is in – it is in —

QUESTION: You yourself called what they were doing yesterday atrocities.

MR PRICE: It is in no one’s interest – not the people of Afghanistan, not the Government of Afghanistan, not the Taliban, not Afghanistan’s neighbors – for there to be 40 years of continuing conflict and civil war.

QUESTION: Well, it’s apparently in someone’s interest, because that’s what’s been going on. And I’ll stop, and I bring this up virtually every day, but it’s just – it’s getting to the point of just, like, I don’t understand how you can get up there and say every day that we think that they want a just and durable solution, a peaceful solution —

MR PRICE: Our point – our point is that – our point is that —

QUESTION: — and that they want international recognition when they have done absolutely nothing to suggest that they do.

MR PRICE: Our point – our point is that we are supporting a just and durable solution. It is self-evident that the Taliban seek a durable solution. It is not in their interest to attempt to wrest power by force —

QUESTION: What?

MR PRICE: — and only to be displaced down the road after some —

QUESTION: So you’re going to – so you’re saying – so you’re going to invade again?

MR PRICE: Some period of conflict. It is not about invasion, Matt. This is a country that has been wracked by competing forces.

QUESTION: As we all know. But this is – this line that you guys keep saying is just – it’s just, it – nobody believes it except for – I’m – I doubt that you actually believe it, but whatever. It’s your job. You have to get up there and say it every day. But I – I just – you have to acknowledge at some point that the Taliban has shown no interest in a just and durable solution that – or international recognition, apart from the fact that a bunch of – a couple guys, a dozen or so, are negotiating – quote/unquote negotiating – in Doha, isn’t that correct?

MR PRICE: And —

QUESTION: There’s nothing on the ground to suggest that they – that they’re actually interested —

MR PRICE: Elements of that of that negotiation have translated to conditions on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: There have been ceasefires. There was the U.S.-Taliban agreement which, of course, stipulated that the Taliban could not attack and would not attack American forces. That has not transpired since the U.S.-Taliban agreement went into effect.

QUESTION: In February 2020.

MR PRICE: Correct.

QUESTION: Right.

MR PRICE: Correct.

QUESTION: And you just said that it was less than a year that – and so that’s longer than – anyway, I’ll stop.

QUESTION: Afghanistan. The tweets that are coming out of the embassy describing these horrific actions by the Taliban and against ANDSF units, they sort of – you’re saying if true, this could constitute war crimes, international law prohibits this. Do you think that – do you think the Taliban has any interest in whether it’s committing war crimes or it’s following international law? Does that —

MR PRICE: The —

QUESTION: Do you think that’s, like, real leverage?

MR PRICE: The broader point is that every party, certainly every party that wants to take part in a government or to have a leadership role, wants to secure longevity, wants to have durability. This is something that has eluded previous governments in Afghanistan over the course of the past 19, 20 years. It has been a feature of this iteration of Afghan’s government because of the international legitimacy, because of the international support from the United States, from our partners, from our allies that previous, much shorter-lived Afghan governments have not had.

So that is the point we’re making, that in a conflict like this, there’s not a party that would seek to secure power for a – only a short amount of time. What we are seeking to support – what we are seeking to support – is a just and durable political solution. There are elements of that that all the parties would seek. That’s what we’re after.

QUESTION: But that – so that solution could include a government – could end up with a government that includes war criminals. You’re just accusing these people of being war criminals, but they may end up in this government in a power-sharing agreement.

MR PRICE: It is not up to us to dictate what any future Afghan government looks like. It is our conviction that any future Afghan government has to be Afghan-led, has to be Afghan-owned. That’s what Doha is all about.

QUESTION: Can we also ask about the – on the refugee program you announced earlier in the week, there was a response from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs basically saying they don’t – they say they weren’t consulted on whether they might have to accept refugees. They call this an irresponsible decision, sort of the way that it was announced, and Turkey was mentioned in the announcement but other neighboring countries were mentioned. They’re saying you’re sort of asking them to accept refugees without really any consultation at all. Do you have any response to that?

MR PRICE: Well, I do want to stipulate that it is not the U.S. Government’s policy to encourage or to direct individuals seeking protection to specific safe havens, nor did we in this case. We did not direct anyone to a specific country, and that includes to Turkey. We do regret the concerns that statements have raised regarding the potential travel of Afghans to Turkey. And we reiterate our gratitude to Turkey for its substantial humanitarian efforts in hosting over 4 million refugees – more than any other country in the world – who have fled any number of countries. And that includes Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and elsewhere.

Christina.

QUESTION: If you do in fact have faith that the Taliban wants a durable political solution, and if you do have faith in these negotiations creating some sort of an actual, functional government in Afghanistan – a stable one that can protect its people – why are you taking such great lengths to airlift these translators out of Afghanistan before they are slaughtered by the same people you say want a durable political solution and care about international norms?

MR PRICE: So it is our belief that all Afghans deserve to live in safety, in security. That is our ultimate goal: to continue our partnership with the people of Afghanistan, to continue the support to them including the humanitarian assistance and the other forms of assistance that have allowed them to achieve these hard-won gains over the past 20 years.

Now, the point we are making when it comes to this new so-called P-2 designation, when it comes to the Special Immigrant Visa program, is that there is a, given the size of the country, very small subset of Afghans who have exposed themselves – willingly exposed themselves – to exceptional and extraordinary risk because of their service to the U.S. Government or, in the case of the P-2 program, to the American people more broadly. These are individuals who face an especially acute risk, and we feel a special responsibility to them because of the services they have provided to the U.S. Government or to the American people. So —

QUESTION: No, I understand that, but —

MR PRICE: So it is not our contention that safety and security need only be found in the United States or outside of Afghanistan. Our goal, as we’ve been talking about, is to do all that we can to facilitate an Afghanistan in which all Afghans can live in safety and security going forward.

QUESTION: But do you not see the contradictions in your argument? You’re saying that this is a group that will stop itself from doing these things at some point because they care about political norms, but also they are so dangerous and deadly we have to get these people out of the country before they kill them because they helped the United States over the past 20 years.

MR PRICE: We are clear-eyed about the threat that is posed to these Afghans, those who have willingly put themselves at, in some cases, extraordinary risk.

QUESTION: Right, but how is the reality of that – how does that square with what you keep telling us about them wanting political norms and —

MR PRICE: Yeah, I’ll tell you, because the current state that we’re seeing in Afghanistan is not the state that anyone wants to see going forward. It is certainly not the state that we want to see going forward. Right now, there are these individuals who constitute a discrete universe of people who over the course of the past 20 years have willingly put themselves and potentially their families at risk for us. We feel a special responsibility to them given the potential risks that they face right at this moment. Our goal over the longer term – hopefully sooner rather than later – but our goal is to support the diplomacy that can lead to a just and durable peace in which all Afghans can live and enjoy equal measures of safety and security. That’s our goal over the longer term.

Said.

QUESTION: Can I move to a new topic?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Same topic?

QUESTION: Please.

QUESTION: I just wanted to clarify on Simon’s question. So there was a briefing earlier this week where I believe officials said that they were speaking with Pakistan, Turkey, neighboring countries in order to ask them to keep their borders open for an outflow of refugees from Afghanistan. Are those discussions taking place?

MR PRICE: Well, look, it is important, we believe, for countries – and I’m not going to speak to specific countries, but we believe it is important for countries to keep their borders open to potential refugee flows. We did not intend to signal out – to single out any particular country as a destination for refugees.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more broader question on refugee resettlement program?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: When the ceiling was set for – the refugee cap was set earlier this year, one of the reasons why it was stated that it was set at the level that it was was a problem with the refugee resettlement programs and the infrastructure. Are you confident given the extent of this program that the administration is looking to – the thousands of refugees the administration is looking to bring in from Afghanistan that the infrastructure exists in the U.S. to properly resettle them here?

MR PRICE: Well, so let me take that in a couple pieces. We’re talking about a couple different programs here. One is the Special Immigrant Visa processing. That is not a form of refugee status. The P-2 program does go through the U.S. refugee assistance program, so that is part and parcel of our refugee program. You are right that when this administration came into office, we took a very close look at the infrastructure within the U.S. Government when it comes to our ability to bring in refugees, also taking into account other external factors like COVID which made elements of refugee resettlement especially difficult at this time.

But we also know that there is a very vibrant, very strong community of refugee resettlement agencies across this country and resettlements – organizations, refugee organizations that have been eager to work with the United States Government not only in this context but over recent years. And so we are confident that the SIV program, that the P-2 program, that the broader U.S. Refugee Assistance Program, that we are operating within the confines of what we can do, we are operating within the confines of public health, of safety and security, and that we can do all of that while offering refuge to those who are most vulnerable, to those who most need it, and that includes some of these Afghans we’ve talked about.

Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. Very quickly. My question to you, Ned, at what point would the United States call Israeli action excessive force? I mean a week ago today they shot at a family – a father and his kids as he came to his house. They killed an 11-year-old. That was exactly a year ago – I mean a week ago. The whole year has seen a spike in these incidents. At what point will you say this is excessive force? I mean, killing 11 years old, maybe you have an age cap or something like this? I mean at what point will you say do not use excessive force?

MR PRICE: Said, I take it you’re referring to the case of Muhammad Abu Sara.

QUESTION: Muhammad Abu Sara. Yes. Absolutely. Thank you for —

MR PRICE: We have seen media reports of the death of Muhammad Abu Sara. We regret the loss of life, absolutely. We regret the loss of any life in this conflict – in this context. Given the questions surrounding this incident, we urge Israeli authorities to conduct a thorough investigation. As we’ve said many times before, we believe it is critical to refrain from steps that exacerbate tensions that undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two state solution.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I have to keep saying – but the same thing happens every day. Every day this happens. So why is it so difficult for the United States that called on similar situations elsewhere to say stop using excessive force – allow people to go about their lives and so on. Why can’t you call on Israel to stop using excessive force against unarmed Palestinians?

MR PRICE: Said, proportionality is a concept that extends the world over. As I’ve said in this case, we regret the loss of life. And given the questions surrounding this incident, we do urge an investigation.

QUESTION: And you have faith in Israel investigating itself? You have enough evidence to show that Israel would actually hold itself accountable, correct?

MR PRICE: We have enough evidence that – I’m sorry?

QUESTION: We have enough evidence or do we have enough evidence – or do you have enough evidence that Israel actually does do investigations and holds those responsible accountable? Have you – can you site one incident where they have done that?

MR PRICE: We have – we urge an investigation here. Israel of course has it’s – the ability to conduct such an investigation as a vibrant media, vibrant civil society. We urge investigation in order to determine the facts and circumstances of this case. Yes.

QUESTION: But do you have any idea of what that happened yesterday in the Gulf regarding hijacking ships?

MR PRICE: Well, we talked about this yesterday as it was unfolding, and what we can say now is that we can confirm that personnel have left the Panama-flagged Asphalt Princess, this commercial vessel that was seized yesterday. We believe that these personnel were Iranian, but we’re not in a position to confirm this at this time. NAVCENT and DoD may have more information for you, but that’s what we’re able to add at this time. Yes.

QUESTION: And what about the petition of these events or these operations by the Iranians? How do you view them?

MR PRICE: Well, we talked about this yesterday in the context of the Mercer Street attack. The Secretary and his statement over the weekend referred to a pattern of belligerence, I believe it was that Iran has undertaken – a pattern of belligerence in terms of proxy attacks in the region and of course these maritime attacks and attempted attacks that have taken place over the course of – really accelerated over the course of several years now. So without wading too far into the circumstances of this because details are still emerging, we certainly have seen a broader pattern. Yes.

QUESTION: Media reports now saying that the Iranian president is meeting with Houthi’s leader, Mohammed Abdulsalam. How do you comment on that? Special Envoy Lenderking said in his statement last Friday that he called for an end to the stalemate – to the fighting in Marib and across Yemen, and he was blaming Houthis for that.

MR PRICE: Well, the Houthis are responsible for much of the suffering that we’ve seen on the part of the Yemeni people. Yemen is home to the world’s – by many accounts, the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. Much of this is manmade, and the actor in this case is – are the Houthis. You are right that Special Envoy Lenderking did call for an end to the stalemated fighting in Marib and across Yemen, and it’s that fighting that across Yemen has only added to the suffering of the Yemeni people. He expressed concern in his engagements in the region last week that the Houthis have continued to refuse to engage meaningfully on a ceasefire and political talks, and he stressed that only through an agreement between the Yemeni parties can the dire humanitarian circumstances that have culminated in such suffering be addressed and be reversed.

So we’ve continued to support that diplomacy. He was just, as I said before, in the region last week, and we’ll continue to do all we can to increase that humanitarian access and to arrive at an agreement between the Yemeni parties that can ease the suffering of the Yemeni people.

QUESTION: Any comment on the meeting today between the Iranian president and the Houthis’ leader?

MR PRICE: Well, again, I don’t have a specific comment on that, but we have seen Iran’s support for proxies and other violent actors across the region. That is one of the many profound challenges and in some cases threats we face from the Iranian Government, and it is something that in seeking to establish an agreement between the Yemeni parties, that we hope to bring an end to this conflict and we hope to put an end to or at least, in the first instance, alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: General COVID question on – real quick?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Can I ask you on Yemen?

QUESTION: The —

MR PRICE: I’ll come right back. And we do have to conclude fairly shortly.

QUESTION: Okay. Yes, very quickly.

QUESTION: People way in the back here – (inaudible) haven’t had a chance.

QUESTION: The director of the WHO – the director of the World Health Organization has called on the West, I guess the United States and other countries and so on, not to administer a third booster shot until the rest of the world, the poorer countries, have been vaccinated. What is your position on that?

MR PRICE: Well, just yesterday you heard from the President that we hit a milestone in what he has termed the arsenal of vaccines that we’re providing to the world: 110 million vaccines donated around the world. And this, as we’ve said, is just the beginning. We have on top of that the half a billion doses of the Pfizer vaccine that are set to start rolling out later this month, and together with our partners around the world, including our G7 partners, we’re delivering more than 1 billion vaccines around the world. All of that builds on our commitment to COVAX, our partnership in the context of the Quad that’s on track to help produce at least a billion doses of COVID vaccines in India for that region by the end of next year. It builds on our support for vaccine manufacturing in Africa for African countries by providing financing to South African business to bolster manufacturing capacity for more than 500 million doses on top of that.

So this is tremendous leadership, and again, we are going to continue to do more. We also recognize that as long as the virus is spreading anywhere, including in this country, it is a threat to people everywhere. And as we’ve said, we’ll be prepared if boosters are recommended by our health and medical experts. At this point, the CDC has not recommended boosters. What we know is that we can protect the American people and lead the world’s vaccination efforts. So it’s really a false choice to say we have to choose between the two. We know there is more work to be done on all these fronts and we’ll continue to do just that.

Yes, I’ll go back there.

QUESTION: Secretary Blinken today tweeted about the situation in Syria. I’m wondering what steps the administration would be willing to take in response to the crisis there. I know you don’t preview sanctions, but will this be a focus of the U.S. engagement on the Security Council and with Russia?

MR PRICE: Well, it already has been a focus of U.S. engagement. You may remember in June the Italian foreign minister and Secretary Blinken co-hosted a ministerial on Syria in order to discuss the ongoing crisis there. It was at that meeting that they underscored the importance of meeting the humanitarian needs in Syria, including through the expansion of the UN cross‑border mechanism. It was days later in New York with the support of the State Department and the broader administration – including President Biden, who raised this directly with President Putin – that we were able on a one-year extension to the humanitarian corridor. We’ve made clear our support for a nationwide ceasefire to ensure the safe delivery of – and – of aid and to relieve the suffering of the humanitarian people.

Going forward, we’ll step up our multilateral diplomatic efforts, including at the Security Council, to renew and hopefully – excuse me, to expand – seek to expand that access. But ultimately, stability in Syria and the greater region can only be achieved through a political process, and that’s a process that represents the will of all Syrians. And so we’re committed to working with allies, we’re committed to working with partners in the UN to ensure that a durable political solution remains within reach.

QUESTION: Ned, can we go back to Iran? Israeli Defense Minister Gantz has said today that Iran is 10 weeks away from obtaining enough nuclear material to allow development of a nuclear bomb. Do you agree with this assessment?

MR PRICE: Well, what we believe is that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is the best means to ensure that Iran is never allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. What the JCPOA, when it was fully implemented, ensured was that Iran was permanently and verifiably prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

When it comes to the details of various intelligence assessments – whether it’s ours, whether it’s an Israeli intelligence assessment, or anyone else’s – we, of course, wouldn’t comment there. What is true and what we’ve said, and what concerns us in this process, part of the reason why it cannot drag on indefinitely, is because while Iran’s nuclear program does not have the shackles that the JCPOA guaranteed, Iran is in a position to do things and to advance its nuclear program and to shrink that breakout time in a way that it would not have been able to were the JCPOA fully enforced. And so that is why we continue to test whether we can effect that mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

Take a —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Will you be waiting for 10 weeks as they are getting closer to get the material?

MR PRICE: We’re not going to put a precise timeline on it. What we have said is that this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the advantages that the JCPOA would convey would be outweighed and outpaced by the advancements in Iran’s nuclear program.

Yes, I’ll take a final question.

QUESTION: So on Yemen, if you have no leverage on the Houthis force them to come back to the negotiation table, does – can we conclude that the war in Yemen, whether it’s your efforts or the international community efforts, is not going anywhere anytime soon?

MR PRICE: Well, certainly we have not seen the kind of progress that we would like to see, and I think that in our assessment, that is a consequence of the Houthis – their failure to put the welfare of the Yemeni people first, their ongoing assault on Marib, ongoing campaign – campaigns throughout the country. It has wrought, in many ways, a devastating toll on the people of Yemen. But we will continue working closely with the UN, working closely with the UN special envoy, working closely with our regional partners to see what we can do to do a couple things: one, provide humanitarian assistance, continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen, to expand humanitarian access for the people of Yemen, and to support those efforts, including efforts by the UN special envoy, those efforts in the region to bring the Yemeni parties together to see if a durable political solution to this conflict can be brokered. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:57 p.m.)