Department Press Briefing – March 5, 2021


Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

1:49 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Just two very quick things at the top. One, happy Friday to everyone. Number two, we’re sorry for getting started a couple minutes late here. But with that, we will take questions. Operator, do you want to repeat the instructions for questions?

OPERATOR: Sure. And once again, if you have a question, press 1 then 0 at this time.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to the line of Matt Lee.

QUESTION: Hi there. Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: We can.

QUESTION: Happy Friday.

MR PRICE: Happy Friday.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you – they’re very brief, and I have three separate topics. One, on Burma, are you expecting anything more today or over (inaudible).

MR PRICE: Matt, we may have now lost you. We seem to have lost the line of Matt Lee. I did hear him say – mention Burma, so let me just take the opportunity to say a few words on that topic before we move on.

I would want to reiterate just how appalled we are by the horrific violence that’s been perpetrated against the people of Burma, again in response to nothing other than their peaceful calls to respect their rights and to restore the democratically elected civilian government. We condemn Burmese security forces’ brutal killing of unarmed people, their attacks on journalists and activists, their ongoing unjust detention, including of those journalists.

We call on all countries again to speak with one voice to condemn the military’s brutal violence against its own people, to promote accountability for the military’s actions that have led to the loss of so many lives. In close coordination with our partners and our allies, we have made clear to the military that violence against the people of Burma is unacceptable. The people of Burma have spoken out against the military coup and they are peacefully protesting and expressing their aspirations for, again, nothing more than a return to democracy and the rule of law. The United States stands with them, and we continue to work with our allies and partners around the world to speak and to act with one voice and in one motion.

We will go to the line of Will Mauldin. Oh, our phone died. Operator, you there?

OPERATOR: Yes, I am.

MR PRICE: Oh, great. Okay. We’re still live. Do we have – do you have Will Mauldin on the phone?

OPERATOR: No. So once again, if you have a question, please re-press 1 then 0. And then, I’m sorry, who would you like to take now?

MR PRICE: Do we have the line of Will Mauldin from The Wall Street Journal?

OPERATOR: I do not see his line open.

MR PRICE: Okay. We’ll go to the line of Shaun Tandon.

QUESTION: I hope you can hear this one. I wanted to ask you about the situation in Hong Kong. The – in China, of course, you might have seen that there has – there’s been a move to look at lawmakers, to have approval over lawmakers there. I wanted to see if you have any comments on that, and are there any actions the United States will take in return? Thanks.

MR PRICE: We do have a comment there. The United States condemns the PRC’s continuing assault on democratic institutions in Hong Kong. At the March 5 National People’s Congress opening session, NPC Standing Committee Vice Chairman Wang Chen previewed a series of quote-unquote “reforms” to Hong Kong’s electoral system. These are a direct attack on Hong Kong’s autonomy, Hong Kong’s freedoms, and the democratic processes, limiting participation, reducing democratic representation, and stifling political debate in order to defy the clear will of the people of Hong Kong and to deny their voice in their own government and governance.

If implemented, these measures would drastically undermine Hong Kong’s democratic institutions, and they run directly counter to the Basic Law’s clear acknowledgment that Hong Kong elections should progress towards universal suffrage. We call on the PRC to uphold its international obligations and commitments, and to act consistently with Hong Kong’s Basic Law. We’ve said this from the start, that the United States stands together with the people of Hong Kong, the people of Hong Kong who are seeking nothing more than the universal rights to which they are owed and should be guaranteed.

We will go to the line of – well, it looks like we may have Will Mauldin again.

OPERATOR: And pardon me, at this time I do not see his line on my —

MR PRICE: All right. I’m sorry, Will. We’re having trouble. We’ll go to the line of Cindy Saine.

OPERATOR: And again, I’m sorry, I don’t have her name, either.

MR PRICE: Okay. How about the line of Laura Kelly?

QUESTION: Hello? I hope you can hear me.

MR PRICE: We can, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Great. Thank you. I’m going to ask a question on China, if that’s all right. Secretary of State Blinken has said that he believes what is taking place in Xinjiang against Uyghur Muslims amounts to genocide, and said that the State Department is focused on a number of things in response. Are these measures that have already been taken enough, or is the State Department looking to take more action?

MR PRICE: Well, you are precisely right. The Secretary of State has made the determination that the People’s Republic of China has committed crimes against humanity and genocide in Xinjiang. The then Secretary-Designate Blinken spoke to his determination vis-a-vis genocide during his confirmation hearing. The department has previously spoken to the determination regarding crimes against humanity in the same region.

Look, our charge at the moment is to rally our likeminded partners and allies around the world – that includes in the Indo-Pacific, that includes in Europe, it includes in all regions of the globe – to stand, to speak with one voice, and to condemn the human rights abuses that are taking place in Xinjiang, the repression that has taken place there, the repression – going back to the last question – that is taking place in Hong Kong and elsewhere. That’s precisely what we’re doing.

There will be – we will have more to say on this. I don’t think anyone is satisfied yet with the international response to what has taken place in Xinjiang, and that’s precisely why we are in many ways galvanizing the world, galvanizing collective action to make clear that these sort of abuses against human rights in Xinjiang and elsewhere will not be tolerated.

We’ll go to the line of Jiha Ham with VOA.

QUESTION: Hello? Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, hi. Is – there are a media reports that Secretary Blinken is visiting Japan and South Korea this month. What will he be discussing during this visit? What would be the main agenda, I mean? So – and also, why has the Secretary chosen to visit this area first?

MR PRICE: Well, we don’t have any travel to confirm or speak to at this time. But what I would say more broadly is that we have signaled our deep commitment to the Indo-Pacific region. You have seen Secretary Blinken, you have seen President Biden, you have seen others in this administration speak to their counterparts in the region. For his part, Secretary Blinken has met with the Quad as an entity virtually, of course. We have spoken to the fact that this region is an extraordinarily important one for the United States, for our own interests, for our values as well. We see it as pivotal. And so we will continue to engage with institutions, with partners in the region. And if we have more to say on how precisely we’ll do that going forward, we’ll let you know.

We’ll go to Muhammed Elahmad.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Hi, everyone. Happy Friday. I hope you can hear me well.

MR PRICE: We can, yes. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. I have two questions about Iran and Yemen. According to Iranian news reports citing one Iranian official, the U.S. Government agreed to release frozen Iranian assets in the Commercial Bank of Iraq. So do you have anything to say about this? Do you confirm or deny those reports? And also, I’m – on Yemen, I’m wondering if the special envoy to Yemen, Mr. Timothy Lenderking, is still in the region. I believe he was supposed to return two days ago to Washington. If yes, can you give us an update about his latest meetings there, and how long that he plans to stay in the region? Thank you.

I have other questions that I would save for later when you change subjects. Thanks.

MR PRICE: Okay. Thank you very much. So on your first question, I believe you are referring to reports about Iraq’s electricity waiver. When it comes to that, we don’t have any updates to offer. As I understand it, Iraq’s 90-day electricity waiver remains valid. We are not aware of any interruptions when it comes to that. When it comes to Timothy Lenderking, Special Envoy Lenderking, he does remain in the region. As of today, he is in Riyadh. I believe he returned to Riyadh earlier this week. As we said earlier this week, on his now second trip to the region, Special Envoy Lenderking has engaged with counterparts in all of the GCC countries. He has visited every GCC country except for Bahrain. On the way over to the Gulf, he made a call, spoke to Bahrain’s foreign minister.

All part of the effort that this administration has prioritized, to bring a diplomatic, durable solution to this grueling conflict in Yemen. Special Envoy Lenderking is working closely with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths. Everything Special Envoy Lenderking is doing is intended to support the work of UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths. I don’t have any firm details for you as to how much longer the special envoy will remain in the region, but whether he is in the region or whether he is back here, he will remain engaged in this important work.

We’ll go to Will Mauldin.

QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?

MR PRICE: Yes, now we can.

QUESTION: Okay, great. Yeah, I just wanted to ask about State Department employee Freddy Klein, Federico Klein, who was arrested in connection with the Capitol riot, and whether – what – whether you have a comment on that. Does it mean anything for political versus career appointees or whether there are any other similar actions pending? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Can you hear me?

OPERATOR: Yes, we can hear you.

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, did you hear that last answer about Mr. Klein?

OPERATOR: No, we did not.

MR PRICE: Very sorry about that. Okay, so to the question, we do not have a specific comment on Mr. Klein. This is a matter that’s being investigated by the FBI, and they are the appropriate agency to answer questions specific to the charges. I believe the Department of Justice will be in a position to provide more details on those charges today.

Generally speaking, Mr. Klein served as a Schedule C presidential employee at the Department of State from 2017 until his resignation in January. He worked as a staff assistant with the transition team and as a special assistant in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, but we of course wouldn’t comment on any pending criminal charges.

I’m very sorry for the technical issues we’re having today. We’ll try to go to the line of Cindy Saine.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) statement on the former Ukrainian official Kolomoyskyy – is it unusual to designate a former public official as an oligarch? And could you please elaborate a bit about what specific corrupt acts he committed during his time as governor? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Well, thanks for the question, and I imagine you saw the statement from the Secretary on this matter. Today the Secretary did announce the public designation of Ihor Kolomoyskyy due to his involvement in significant corruption. Today’s action sends a strong signal that the United States stands with all Ukrainians whose work drives reforms forward. We are committed to helping Ukraine achieve a future that so many Ukrainians demanded six years ago on the Maidan. This designation is based on acts during his time in office, but the department is also drawing attention to Kolomoyskyy’s current and ongoing efforts to undermine democratic processes and institutions, which pose a serious threat to Ukraine’s future.

We are committed to promoting accountability and combating impunity for those involved in significant corruption and will – and we will continue to use all tools available to combat corruption globally. These public designations under authorities such as this allow the United States to promote accountability for government officials who engage in corruption or perpetrate human rights violations and abuses and to support efforts to disrupt and to deter future abuses.

When it comes to the basis for today’s actions, as we have said previously, the Secretary of State has credible information that Kolomoyskyy was involved in significant corruption while serving as the governor. This corruption undermined rule of law and the Ukrainian public faith in their government’s democratic institutions and in public processes. This credible information is gathered from a variety of sources; of note, numerous media outlets have widely reported on Kolomoyskyy’s corrupt activities, and it’s been the subject of investigations by Ukrainian Government as well.

All right. Why don’t we go back to the line of Matt Lee, since he was cut off?

QUESTION: Hey, thanks. Sorry. I just wanted to ask you about two things. AUMF – you guys have any thoughts on that?

And then secondly, yesterday, your – can you hear me?

MR PRICE: I can, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. And then yesterday at the Pentagon, your colleague, John Kirby – and one-time predecessor John Kirby spoke about the attacks in Iraq and who was responsible for them, and said that they were – that they believe they came from Shia-backed militia. And when he was pressed and asked what does Shia-backed mean, he didn’t really have much of a response. Do you guys still believe that Shia militia in Iraq are backed, are supported by Iran, and do you think that Iranian-backed Shia militia are responsible? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks for those questions. On the second, my Pentagon counterpart was referring to the activities and the attacks of Iran-backed militias. I imagine he will – I refer you to him for any additional questions. But the activity we’re talking about is that of Iran-backed militias.

On the question of the AUMF, I know the White House has spoken to this in recent hours even. I believe my colleague at the White House recently took a question on it pointing to the framework for a narrow and specific authorization. And this, of course, is based on this President’s longstanding belief that we need to work constructively with Congress. We believe deeply in Congress’ prerogative in this area, and it’s time to reset the balance between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch when it comes to the authorization for the use of military force.

It also gets to this President’s view that for two decades now this country has engaged in forever wars, so-called forever wars, that have broadened in scope. And we believe that it is very much in line with our democratic republic, very much in line with our constitution that we engage in a constructive dialogue and that Congress assert its prerogative in this area. And so that’s precisely why you have heard the White House now speak to their desire to see this narrow and specific framework for the use of force overseas.

Okay. Let’s go to the line of Joseph Aboush.

QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?

MR PRICE: We can.

QUESTION: Great, thanks. I wanted to ask if you had any comment on Iran’s president saying the Trump-era sanctions cost the Iranian economy $200 billion in damages. And secondly, was the State Department’s denial today that the U.S. was considering sanctions against Lebanon’s central bank chief an endorsement of the bank’s governor himself, because it seems a bit unusual to come out with a denial of a report that didn’t cite any U.S. officials. And are there concerns now that he’s said that he’s going to file lawsuit against a Bloomberg reporter of press freedom? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Well, we had an opportunity yesterday to speak generally to the protests in Lebanon. What we said at the time is that we’re closely monitoring them. We and our other international partners, we’ve repeatedly underscored both public and privately the urgency for Lebanon’s political leaders to finally act upon the commitments they made to form a credible and effective government. We support, of course, the Lebanese people in their continued calls for accountability and the reforms needed to realize economic opportunity, better governance, and an end to endemic corruption.

When it comes to the reports about possible sanctions on Riad Salameh, those are not true.

When it comes to Iran, look, I, of course, don’t want to get into a tit-for-tat on this question. What we have said and the offer that we have put on the table together with our European partners still stands. It’s been a couple weeks now that we indicated our willingness to accept an invitation on the part of the EU to engage in direct diplomacy. On our part, it would be clear-eyed, principled, direct diplomacy with Iran in the context of the P5+1. That’s where we believe these issues need to be addressed and need to be discussed if we are to make progress in a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA commitments. I think I would leave it at that.

All right, we will take a final question or two here. We’ll go to Ben Samuels. Ben, are you there?

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: Oh, yes, we have you now.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks. All good?

MR PRICE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, great. So the other day, Matt Lee asked where Palestinians should go for redress if not to the ICC, and you directly related it to the need for achieving a two-state solution. But you’ve also said from the podium that a final status agreement is not the in the immediate offing. So where does the administration believe that Palestinians should appropriately air their grievances as you work on rebuilding the foundation for improved relations? And also, does the administration plan on conditioning the resumption of financial assistance in cooperation with Palestinian leadership on their continued support of the ICC probe?

MR PRICE: So, again, what we have said is that we will seek to advance the possibility of achieving a negotiated two-state solution, and we continue to believe that that two-state solution is the best course because it guarantees that Israel would live in peace and security alongside a viable Palestinian state. This approach remains the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state, while also, of course, enabling the Palestinian people to live with dignity and security in a viable state of their own.

We’ll work closely with Israel. We’ll renew our diplomatic ties with the Palestinians. We’ll consult with partners in the region and beyond. We’ll consult with all of those who have a common interest in supporting efforts to advance a lasting peace. What was your second question again?

QUESTION: If the administration plans on conditioning the resumption of financial assistance and cooperation with the Palestinian leadership based on their continued support of the ICC probe.

MR PRICE: Look, what we have said is that we will look for ways to support the Palestinian people. We have committed to that. We’ve also at the same time made our approach to the ICC very clear. You saw that in a statement from – when – I should say our approach to this particular matter, when it comes to the ICC, is very clear. You saw that in a statement from the Secretary earlier this week. You heard it from the podium as well. We’ll go – we’ll end with the line of Rosiland Jordan.

QUESTION: Regarding Afghanistan, we have some reporting out of Kabul that Ambassador Khalilzad was meeting and trying to be persuasive to all of the locally interested parties to support a type of peace conference – and I’m using that term loosely – the last week of March. Do you have a readout on the ambassador’s latest trip to the region? Is there going to be a global conference sponsored by the UN with U.S. participation the last week of March? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Rosiland. Well, as you know, Special Representative Khalilzad and his team, they’re in the region. They’re meeting with Afghan and regional leaders to discuss a path forward and a path forward that produces durable results. The outcomes of Afghan – Afghanistan peace negotiations are up to Afghans. We believe those outcomes should reflect the wishes and the aspirations of the Afghan people. We continue to consult closely with our allies, our partners, countries in the region regarding how we can collectively support this peace process, and we’re considering a number of different ideas that might accelerate the process forward. That’s precisely what the special representative and his team have been doing, first on the ground in Kabul and now on the ground in Doha, and what they will continue doing in an effort to achieve progress on this very important and necessary goal.

I think we will end it there. We will see – or we will see many of you in person on Monday. Thanks very much. And I’m sorry for the technological difficulties today.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:17 p.m.)



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