Biden Era: Full Press Briefings – February 3, 2021
02/03/2021 07:04 PM EST
Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
2:33 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. I know yesterday was Groundhog Day, but let me start today’s briefing by saying the exact same thing I said yesterday when I walked in. I’m sorry. Of course, we were waiting for our White House colleagues to finish their briefing, which they just did. So with that, let’s get started.
We have a couple things at the top. First, today the United States and the Russian Federation completed the necessary legal procedures to extend the New START Treaty for five years. Extending the New START Treaty for five years ensures we have verifiable limits on Russian ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers through February 4th of 2026, avoiding a potentially unconstrained nuclear arms race.
New START limits every Russian nuclear warhead that is loaded onto an ICBM missile that can reach the United States in approximately 30 minutes. The United States will use the time provided by a five-year extension of the New START Treaty to pursue with the Russian Federation, in consultation with Congress and U.S. allies and partners, arms control that addresses all Russian nuclear weapons. I would direct your attention to Secretary Blinken’s statement released earlier today for additional details.
Second, we are closely monitoring peaceful demonstrations against the appointment of a new rector at Bogazici University in Turkey. We are concerned by detentions of students and other demonstrators and strongly condemn the anti-LGBTQI rhetoric surrounding the demonstrations. Freedom of expression, even speech that some may find uncomfortable, is a critical component of a vibrant, functioning democracy that must be protected. Peaceful, prosperous, and inclusive societies depend on the free flow of information and ideas.
The United States prioritizes the protection of human rights and stands shoulder to shoulder with all those fighting for their fundamental democratic freedoms.
So with that, why don’t we get started. Matt.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Just on New START, this is one of these days where I – an unusual day where I didn’t really have anything that was significantly important, I don’t think, to open with but – so I’ll start with New START. So you’ve completed this, yes. Do you not see that there’s any kind of dissidence in going ahead and extending an arms control treaty with the Russians at the same time as you’re criticizing them very heavily for the situation with Mr. Navalny? And then secondly, and I know you were asked this yesterday about Open Skies, but also on the INF, I mean, is there any – as you look at arms control with Russia going forward, is there any thought in this administration to trying to return to those?
MR PRICE: Well, to your first question, Matt, there isn’t any dissonance, and the common denominator, the denominator that we are adhering to in this case, are our interests. It is manifestly in our interest to have a full, five-year extension of the New START agreement. You’ve heard us say this before, but as we engage Russia in ways that advance American interests, as I just said, we can also remain clear-eyed about the challenges that Russia poses. Even as we work with Russia to advance U.S. interests, so too will we hold Russia to account for its reckless and its adversarial behavior.
You heard me speak at some length yesterday about the ongoing review that the President, as one of his first foreign policy actions, tasked his director of national intelligence to conduct. But I think the other point, Matt, remains that especially when a relationship is adversarial, having something in place like New START, something that puts those limits on Russia’s – on important elements of Russia’s nuclear program becomes even more important, frankly.
When it comes to broader arms control treaties with Russia, you heard me say yesterday that when it comes to the Open Skies Treaty, we’re studying the issue. We’ll take a decision in due course. But to the best of our knowledge still, Russia is not in full compliance with the treaty. Obviously there have been compliance issues with the INF as well. I think the other issue here is that what the New START extension does, it gives us time and space to talk about the broader strategic stability elements, the arms control elements that we would like to pursue.
As you just heard me say in that topper, we will use the years that a New START extension has provided to us to focus on those very important issues.
QUESTION: Okay. And do those – so then – and just to expand it a little bit further into Nord Stream 2 and those sanctions, when you say you’re going to hold Russia to account for Navalny or for other issues, are we talking about more Magnitsky sanctions? I’m not asking you for specifics, but —
MR PRICE: Well, again —
QUESTION: — what are we talking about, and can you address Nord Stream 2? And I’m done.
MR PRICE: Sure. So let me start with Nord Stream 2. Section 232 of CAATSA, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, as well as the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act, are powerful tools that help us advance U.S. Government policy. Nord Stream 2 and the second line of Turk Stream are designed to increase Russia’s leverage over allies and partners, and they undermine transatlantic security. The United States will continue to work with our allies and our partners to ensure Europe has a reliable, diversified energy supply that does not undermine collective security.
That’s exactly why you’ve heard President Biden – even before the time he was President Biden, when he was a candidate – say that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal. It divides Europe. It exposes Ukraine and Central Europe to Russian manipulation and it goes against Europe’s stated energy security goal. So again, this is one of those challenges on which we’ll cooperate closely with our allies and partners.
When it comes to potential punitive measures, including sanctions against Russian authorities, you heard me say yesterday that it doesn’t do us any favors to forecast potential targets or even really authorities under which we might enact additional sanctions. I’m going to save that for when that review is completed, and when we have additional sanctions or any other punitive measures to announce, we’ll do so.
We’ll go with the Matt Lee rule and we’ll stick with New START for —
QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait, that’s not my rule. (Laughter.) That’s just – that’s not a rule. I don’t make the rules.
MR PRICE: The Matt Lee suggestion. I thought it was a good one, so we’ll stick with it. Yeah.
QUESTION: This is a Nord Stream —
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: — question, so it’s on topic, but there – obviously, as you said, Secretary Blinken said that this is a bad idea. Is it the administration’s policy that this should not – the pipeline should not be completed and they will work towards that? I just ask because there was reports in German media that they might be looking to lift sanctions.
MR PRICE: Yeah. Well, I don’t think we can be any clearer: It’s a bad deal. The – President Biden has said that. I think what we can say is that we will monitor activity to complete or certify the pipeline, and if such activity takes place, we will make a determination on the applicability of sanctions. All that said, sanctions are only one of among many important tools here, and we will work closely with our allies and partners to reinforce European energy security and safeguard against predatory behavior, including that of Russia in this case.
Sticking with New START, yes – or Russia.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for this opportunity. Recently the digital media news channel VPItv was subject to a raid. Maduro ordered the station to cease operation in the country immediately, threatening our team with criminal charges. As a result, we were forced to stop transmission and producing content in Venezuela. What message can the State Department send to the Maduro’s regime to stop these campaigns of harassment and repression against the media?
And another question: Some nation groups and organization have said that the only way out of the crisis is to properly resume political negotiation to start a transitional process in Venezuela. We receive information that some people visited Washington D.C. to try to convince the U.S. of a dialogue process with the regime. Had someone with the State Department participate in a meeting related to this? Is the U.S. considering negotiations with the Venezuelan regime? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you. Well, let me take the prerogative to welcome you to the briefing room. If I’m not mistaken, you are Gaby Perozo of VPItv, a Venezuelan journalist who – as you said, your independent TV station has been shut down by the Maduro regime, so we’re very honored to have you here.
To your first question, the United States condemns media censorship anywhere in the world. Media freedom is essential to the pursuit of a vibrant democracy and responsive governance. Nicolas Maduro is a dictator, there is no doubt about that, and media censorship is a hallmark of dictatorships. He and those who support him have tried to silence journalists like yourself who report the truth through regime-directed harassment, intimidation, and violence as well. We condemn censorship. We condemn blocking, harassment, and other tactics to stifle independent media voices, including the recent shuttering of VPItv and harassment of six other Venezuelan independent outlets. We support journalists and other democratic actors who are advancing the struggle for democracy in Venezuela.
Maduro’s continuing media crackdowns severely limit Venezuelans’ access to accurate information. As a result, more than 5 million Venezuelans live in a so-called “news desert” with insufficient access to independent media. I think the broader point here is that only a regime afraid of its own people would engage in such practices.
You mentioned our general approach to Nicolas Maduro and his regime. We haven’t had a chance to speak to it in the context, so I think it’s worthwhile. The overriding goal – the overriding goal of the Biden-Harris administration is to support a peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela through free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections, and to help the Venezuelan people rebuild their lives and countries – and country. Venezuelans have a right to democracy and a government that promotes and defends it, just like everyone else in this hemisphere. President Biden, you have heard him say this even before he was elected President Biden. He understands the pain that the current crisis in Venezuela has inflicted on the people of Venezuela and their families. Again, Maduro is a dictator. His repression, corruption, and mismanagement have created one of the most dire humanitarian crises this hemisphere has seen.
That is why this administration is committed to several principles. One, designating, as appropriate, Venezuelans – Venezuela for temporary protected status. Number two, addressing the humanitarian concerns of millions of Venezuelans with international partners. Number three, targeting regime officials and their cronies involved in corruption and human rights abuses. And number four, again, aiding and restoring a peaceful, stable, democratic future for Venezuelans and the regime, both through free and fair elections and a long-term economic recovery.
As to how we’re going to do that, look, I certainly don’t expect this administration to be engaging directly with Maduro. As we’ve said, we will work through a number of – we will work with a number of allies and partners to bring about progress towards democracy in Venezuela. We will do that with our partners in the region, we will do that with our European partners and allies, we’ll do that with the OAS, we will do that through the Lima Group, through a number of fora, likeminded fora that share the same goals of bringing about democracy and human rights and an end to this corrupt dictatorship in Venezuela.
QUESTION: A follow-up on that?
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Does the Biden administration still believe that Juan Guaido is the best person to lead the opposition in Venezuela?
MR PRICE: So the United States continues to recognize the 2015 National Assembly as the last remaining democratic institution in Venezuela, and consistent with that, the person chosen by the National Assembly to be its president as the interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaido. Yes.
QUESTION: Sorry, can I just put a fine point on this? You mentioned the Lima Group and the OAS. What other likeminded fora are you talking about here?
MR PRICE: Well, I was using —
QUESTION: Because the – as you know, a very small number of UN members have done this, have recognized Guaido or unrecognized Maduro, as the case may be. So is there – are there any other fora that you’re talking about here?
MR PRICE: Well, so to name a couple here, the OAS has indeed taken a strong leadership position pressing for a democratic transition in Venezuela. The Lima Group, we welcome its leadership to further strengthen a regional coalition to advocate for free and fair elections. I was using fora perhaps colloquially. Bilateral relationships, multilateral relationships.
QUESTION: Well, that’s two. But I mean, so are there more? I mean, yeah, that’s – two is plural. I accept that.
MR PRICE: Great. Okay. We’re —
QUESTION: But are there more that you can point to?
MR PRICE: — in agreement. That’s —
QUESTION: Or is that it?
MR PRICE: I said fora, which are two.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay, two.
MR PRICE: Working with our allies and partners. Okay.
QUESTION: Something else on Venezuela?
MR PRICE: Yes, Shaun.
QUESTION: Could you just – just (inaudible) a little bit. Maduro. The previous administration said that there basically should be no contact with Maduro other than perhaps on logistical things like the status of the U.S. embassy there. Is this administration willing to have any sort of dialogue with Maduro if it advances the goals that you mentioned?
MR PRICE: Again, I would expect that our dialogue will be with our likeminded allies and partners as well as with the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the leader chosen by that National Assembly. I would not expect any direct contact with Maduro, again, whom we consider to be a dictator.
QUESTION: At any time, or are you talking about – that’s the current policy?
MR PRICE: I’m always talking about current policy. I don’t want to – clearly, I’m talking about current policy.
QUESTION: But is the policy “we will not talk to him” or is the policy “we don’t expect to call him anytime this week”?
MR PRICE: I think it’s a little bit of both. We certainly don’t expect any contact with Maduro anytime soon. Again, our focus is on working with our allies and partners, working with partners in the region, working with – sorry – working with – through the fora and not through the regime directly.
QUESTION: Can I ask another follow-up?
QUESTION: Another on Venezuela? Where does that leave the CITGO 5? And can you also give us a bit of a backgrounder on the Secretary’s comments to families of people like the American veteran who’s been taken by a Taliban off-shoot in Afghanistan, et cetera?
MR PRICE: I would be happy to. So let me start with that second question, and actually I will offer a little detail that yesterday, as I think we read out, Secretary Blinken held a private video conference with the family of U.S. hostages and wrongful detainees. As we’ve said, bringing home U.S. citizens in captivity is a priority for this administration. It’s also vital that we continue to partner with the families of those wrongfully detained and held around the world. It was a meeting that – it was a virtual meeting, of course, but as I understand it, it included a number of families, went for about 90 minutes.
The Secretary, I know, asked to be briefed on these cases as one of his first acts in office, and as you can tell by the meeting just yesterday, he’s prioritized the collective work of this department, including the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Ambassador Carstens, the work we’re doing around the world to see to it that Americans who are unjustly detained are returned to their families and to their loved ones as expeditiously as possible.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? We’ve talked to a couple families who were on that call; the feedback was pretty positive. But one of the things that we’ve heard a couple times is they’re kind of asking what this administration is going to do differently when it comes to trying to get those families released. Are you going to communicate more with the families on the back end? Are you going to deal with intermediaries? Is there something that you can do that your predecessor didn’t do to try to bring those people home?
MR PRICE: Well, look, I think this may be one of those areas where there will be some degree of continuity, of course, when it comes to our efforts to release Americans who are unjustly held around the world. It is telling that Ambassador Carstens served in the previous administration; he’s continuing to serve in this one. We think it’s important that there be continuity there, and obviously in his role he’s achieved great success. I know the families have a tremendous relationship with his office.
So we’re always looking for ways to be better partners to the families. When it comes to various policies, of course the Department of Justice has a role in that, the National Security Council has a role in that. But when it comes to the office here, the Special Presidential – Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, Ambassador Carstens will continue to engage daily with the families. I know that he has – he’s always on the phone working those cases. I assume when it’s safe to do so he will again be back on the road working those cases around the world as well.
QUESTION: I’m sure you saw the reports that Paul Whelan in Russia is unable to reach out to the U.S. embassy, is unable to be in contact with the U.S. embassy, and he is sick in prison. Did this come up with the Secretary yesterday in his call with the families, and what does the State Department plan to do to re-establish that communication?
MR PRICE: Well, I don’t want to go into either the identity of the participants or the nature of the conversation. As you can imagine, it was a private conversation and it’s best left that way. When it comes to Paul Whelan, the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens, again, it’s our highest priority. Russian authorities convicted Paul Whelan in a closed and secret trial, depriving him of a key protection, and that is transparency. The trial was a mockery of justice. Russian authorities did not provide evidence and did not allow Mr. Whelan to produce witnesses in his own defense. Mr. Whelan is now serving a 16-year prison sentence in a Russian labor camp. We remain concerned, of course, for Mr. Whelan’s wellbeing and his safety, and will continue to speak out on Mr. Whelan’s behalf until the Russian Government finally does the right thing and sends Mr. Whelan home to his family.
U.S. officials both here at the State Department in Washington as well as in Moscow regularly speak with Mr. Whelan’s family. We are of course aware of his health concerns, as you raised. We have been in touch with his family and we’re appealing to appropriate government authorities in Russia to facilitate consular access.
QUESTION: Can I just make the point that if it was a private conversation, why did you guys put a statement out on that?
MR PRICE: Well, we – the statement, as you will note, didn’t speak to any names or identities or cases.
QUESTION: No, I get that, but —
MR PRICE: And I think, as your colleague just said, several of the families have been speaking to it as well.
QUESTION: On Myanmar. Do you have any reaction to the charges that have been brought against Aung San Suu Kyi, and do you have any update on whether or not U.S. officials have been able to get in touch with her?
MR PRICE: Well, again, to recap where we are, you heard us say yesterday that what transpired on February 1st in Burma constituted a military coup d’etat. When it comes to what we have seen take place in recent hours, we are aware of reports that State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint have been charged with crimes, and the National League for Democracy and members of parliament have been ordered to vacate Nay Pyi Taw. We are disturbed, of course, by these reports. We call on the military to immediate release them all and all detained civilian and political leaders, journalists, and detained human rights activists, and to restore the democratically elected government to power. As President Biden has said, the military’s seizure is a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the rule of the law.
QUESTION: So has anyone been able to reach her or other leadership in NLD?
MR PRICE: My understanding is that we have not had that contact.
QUESTION: And about the conversation that General Milley – or allegedly tried to have, according to the Pentagon – what was the purpose of trying to establish that call?
MR PRICE: I’d need to refer you to the Pentagon for any questions about what the chairman maybe attempted to do.
QUESTION: Before we move on, could – have you guys made any decisions – sorry, Nick – about specific aid suspension, cuts, or is that still under review?
MR PRICE: So we – the review is ongoing. Matt, as you well know, it just started yesterday. You are right that we have moved swiftly to assess the facts and do the legal analysis of this case. We came to that designation of a coup in very short order, but that result – that review is ongoing. We’ll be guided by our longstanding commitment to the people of Burma and their aspirations for democracy, peace, justice, development, and human rights. Continuing our support for the people of Burma is more important now than ever, even as we determine additional – what additional policy moves may be appropriate for those behind this coup.
QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?
QUESTION: Can I ask just one more on Burma?
MR PRICE: One more on Burma?
QUESTION: You just said the continuing support for the Burmese people is more important now than ever. Have you started a review of whether or not the crimes against the Rohingya is a genocide?
MR PRICE: So you heard at the time Secretary-designate Blinken speak to – note that he would undertake such a review. I don’t have any further details to reach out. We have – Secretary Blinken has now been on the job just a week today, so we’re very early. As we have additional details to read out, certainly, certainly will.
Anything else on Burma?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) confirmed a lot of other reviews, though. Why wouldn’t you confirm whether or not you’ve started this one?
MR PRICE: I just – I don’t have an update. When we do, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Yeah, could you comment on whether you think China is going to be part of an international response on Myanmar and any efforts that you’re doing at the moment to make that happen? And separately but related, there’s a delay in the confirmation of your nominee for the U.S. Ambassador to the UN. Is that affecting diplomatic efforts to respond to the crisis in Myanmar?
MR PRICE: Well on your first question, I was struck by what was in President Biden’s statement I guess it was early yesterday morning or yesterday morning. He said the United States is “taking note of those who stand with the people of Burma in this difficult hour.” We, of course, have been working assiduously around the clock, both here at the State Department as well as in our embassies around the world, again, as I was saying yesterday, with our likeminded allies and partners, to ensure that our response is coordinated and it’s appropriate.
I am sure – at least I hope many of you saw the G7 foreign ministers’ statement on the situation in Burma that came out at I believe it was 7:00 a.m. here in D.C. The UK issued it overnight. It was a very strong statement and that was no accident. It called the events in Burma a coup. It also said, “We call upon the military to immediately end the state of emergency, restore power to the democratically-elected government, to release all those unjustly detained and to respect human rights and the rule of law.” So very unequivocal there from our G7 allies and partners in this case.
To your second question, when it comes to Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, look, if we are going to hold China to account, we need a confirmed ambassador to the UN, a confirmed United States Permanent Representative to the UN. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield has been sounding the alarm on China for decades now. The Biden administration is prepared to out-compete the Chinese across the board, including at the UN, and it’s important that, to that end, she be swiftly confirmed.
QUESTION: Does the Biden administration support the one-China policy?
MR PRICE: So – I —
QUESTION: Uh-oh. All right, now we know what’s going to be in the (inaudible) tomorrow.
MR PRICE: It’s only because I —
QUESTION: Ned Price can’t answer whether the – (laughter) —
MR PRICE: No. It is only because I want to be very careful about my language here. But yes, the answer is that our policy has not changed. It has not changed.
QUESTION: Okay. And then on Iran, can you – sorry, I just – I was teeing off that, Matt —
QUESTION: I know, Nick, but wait a second. Can you just say that you support – the Biden administration supports the one-China policy? Otherwise —
MR PRICE: Yes, our policy has not changed.
QUESTION: That’s great. Can —
MR PRICE: We – of course, guided by the one-China policy, correct.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Okay, on Iran. The Secretary has been saying, and you from this podium has been saying, once Iran comes back into compliance the U.S. will abide by its commitments under the JCPOA.
The question I have is: The U.S. left the deal first, so why are you guys saying that it’s Iran’s responsibility to come back into compliance before you do? I mean, if the United States abandoned the deal, isn’t it the U.S.’s responsibility to come back into compliance first and then Iran would follow suit?
MR PRICE: Well, I think it is also true that Iran has distanced itself from the JCPOA in very profound ways as well, as we have discussed. So right now, what we’re doing, as I alluded to yesterday, we are doing exactly what you heard from Secretary-designate – at the time – Blinken. We are undertaking careful and close consultations with our partners, with our allies, with members of Congress. There has been a proposition that President Biden put on the table. I am not out here to negotiate in public with any country, and we’re not there yet, frankly. We are still undertaking those close consultations with partners, allies, members of Congress, and we’ll take it from there.
QUESTION: But would that include – I mean, are you thinking about the possibility of offering them some signal, some relief that would – outside of sanctions relief that would send a signal about the seriousness of your intent?
MR PRICE: So when it comes to those signals, again, that’s something we want to make sure we’ve coordinated closely and calibrated closely with partners, allies, and that we have consulted closely with members of Congress as well. So again, this is – today is February 3rd. We’re less than two weeks into this administration. We were serious when we said that we want to take those – undertake those consultations with a range of parties, and that’s precisely what we’re doing.
QUESTION: On Iran, is it the administration’s view that Iran is about three weeks away from having enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon? And if so, where – what is the assessment based on?
MR PRICE: So any assessment like that would be necessarily classified. I know there have been press reports. I know there was one press report overnight that pointed to a six-month breakout time.
I think what you have heard us say – well, you’ve heard us say a couple things. Number one, when Iran was fully complying with the Iran deal, that time was 12 months. Now that Iran has been in a position to distance itself from those strict protocols, that strict verification and monitoring regime, Iran is closer. That breakout time is shorter. But I wouldn’t want to characterize that from here.
Our goal, consistent with our goal to keep Iran’s nuclear program in a box and to ensure that it can never obtain a nuclear weapon, is to make that breakout time as long as possible, and to have those verifiable measures in place to make sure that Iran can never obtain a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: So when Secretary Blinken raised this in his interview about “weeks away,” he was just referring to public media reports?
MR PRICE: He didn’t say that. I think you’re misquoting him. What he said is that Iran, if left on its current trajectory, could one day be within weeks. He was not speaking about the present. He was speaking about a continuation of the status quo if left unchecked. It’s precisely why we’re approaching this with such great urgency, again, starting those consultations right off the bat – partners, allies, members of Congress.
Still on Iran? Yes.
QUESTION: Yeah. I’m sure you saw the reports yesterday that Iran had brought on more centrifuges online. And given that this is a deepening of violations of the JCPOA, given that you see Israel come ahead, Israeli officials close to Netanyahu saying that with – if Iran gets closer to building a bomb that it will have no choice but to launch some military action, is there a redline in Iran’s production of nuclear capability that the United States would say no, we cannot rejoin this agreement?
MR PRICE: I’m not going to set a specific timeframe from the podium, certainly not today. I think what we can say is what I said before: We want that breakout time to be as long as possible. We want to make sure that we have verifiable restrictions in place on the type of activity that the Iranians can undertake. That’s precisely why, again, starting very early in this administration, we are setting out about this challenge to make sure that we can lengthen that breakout time and, again, verifiably prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: To clarify my question, I’m not asking about a timeline. I’m asking about actions. For example, Iran has also said that it may not let the IAEA inspect some of its sites. Would that be a redline?
MR PRICE: Again, I would point to the consultations that we’re undertaking. The sorts of decisions you’re pointing to is not something the United States would want to undertake alone or would want to consider or contemplate alone. We entered the Iran deal in 2015 with the P5+1. We are – those are a set of allies and, in a couple cases, tactical partners that we want to make sure we are coordinating with; again, members of Congress as well.
So I don’t want to set any redlines from here, certainly not today. Again, we’re not here to negotiate from the podium. We’re here to undertake those consultations, in the first instance, behind closed doors.
QUESTION: Sorry, can I —
QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to the ICJ’s ruling today allowing Iran’s lawsuit against the U.S. on sanctions to move ahead?
MR PRICE: I do. I think in the first instance, I would say that we have great respect for the International Court of Justice. At the same time, we are disappointed that the court did not accept our well-founded legal arguments that the case Iran brought is outside the court’s jurisdiction and the court should not hear it. While we do not agree with the court’s reasoning, today’s judgment is a preliminary ruling, not a decision on the merits. While Iran may seek to frame this decision as somehow supporting its view on the merits, the ICJ’s rule – the – excuse me – the ICJ’s rules and case law make plain that a decision on preliminary objections does not prejudge the merits.
In the next phase of this case, we’ll explain why Iran’s claim has no merits. We remain clear-eyed about the dangers posed by Iran’s malign activities, and that’s, again, why we are undertaking the important diplomacy that we are at the moment and undertaking those consultations that I’ve referred to.
Still on Iran?
QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran just for one second? It’ll take —
MR PRICE: I – well, Michel, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. News reports said that Secretary Blinken has asked Iran envoy Rob Malley to form a negotiating team made up of diplomats and experts with a range of views on the path forward with Iran. Do you have any names? And is the team set and ready to work on forward?
MR PRICE: So Special Envoy Malley just started late last week on Friday, so this is literally day four or so for him on the job. You are right that the Secretary across the board wants to ensure that our thinking, that our approach is never dominated by groupthink, that we are always incorporating an appropriate diversity of views, and of course that is no different when it comes to Iran. As soon as we have additional members of the team to announce, we’ll be happy to let you know.
Others on Iran?
QUESTION: Well, just – I just wanted to get one thing straight here. When you’re talking about what the Secretary said in his interview, that if left on its current trajectory, Iran could be weeks away from getting – does it not stand to follow then that also if left on its current trajectory, Iran could be hours away or minutes away from developing a weapon? I mean, the longer it goes without there any – there being any constraints or without Iran recognizing or respecting any constraints, doesn’t it flow, doesn’t it follow naturally that they will get closer and closer to that? And so this idea of weeks really could be days, could be hours, could be minutes, right? Is that not – does that not follow logically?
MR PRICE: I think the —
QUESTION: If it is – if it continues on its current trajectory.
MR PRICE: Sure, you can take any argument to the extreme, any argument to the absurd. I think what we are saying here —
QUESTION: Well, I don’t think it’s absurd at all, but —
MR PRICE: I think what we are saying here is that we are approaching this challenge with urgency because we understand that with Iran not currently complying with its obligations under the JCPOA, this challenge does grow more acute, and that’s exactly why we are undertaking these consultations.
I know we’ve gone on for a little while. Any last questions?
MR PRICE: We haven’t talked about Afghanistan yet, so why don’t we just do that briefly.
QUESTION: Okay. I’m wondering if the Secretary has now seen that full agreement, because he said several times he had to review what was actually in it. Is there anything in it that surprised him, that he disagrees with? And Zal is still on the job. What exactly are his marching orders? Is he trying to salvage what’s there or are we starting from scratch again? Where are you seeing this?
QUESTION: And could you also comment on the Taliban’s rejection of Kirby’s comments from the Pentagon last week?
MR PRICE: Mm-hmm. Well, so I think it’s worth starting with just a broad survey and a recap of where the President is. And as you have heard the President say, he is committed to bringing a responsible end to these so-called forever wars, these wars that have gone on for nearly two decades. And the Biden administration plans to support the ongoing peace process between the Islamic Republic and the Taliban, aimed at achieving a just and durable political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire. We are doing that because we believe it is the best way to achieve our objectives. We’re committed to supporting the democratic – excuse me, the diplomatic process that is underway.
When it comes to the U.S.-Taliban agreement, we are reviewing what has been negotiating – negotiated, including that agreement. The review will include an assessment of whether the Taliban are fulfilling their commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence, and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan Government and other stakeholders. At this time, no decisions about our force posture have been made. We are committed, as I said, to supporting the diplomatic process, and we’re committed to ensuring that Afghanistan never again provides a base for terrorist attacks against the United States, our partners, or our interests.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary been read in on the entire agreement, though, or is that process still going?
MR PRICE: As I said, the – we are reviewing the U.S.-Taliban agreement.
QUESTION: I had one more on Canada.
MR PRICE: Let’s not go to a new topic. Anything else on Iran, on Afghanistan before we call it a day?
QUESTION: Your reaction to —
QUESTION: Canada’s a good one.
MR PRICE: Let’s just close out on Afghanistan. We are doing this every day, I should say with the caveat that of course we have some VIPs coming our way tomorrow, so we may not be able to do this briefing tomorrow. But again, we are going to plan to do this on a routine basis.
QUESTION: So the Taliban rejected U.S. criticism that they weren’t holding up their end of the agreement. Do you need to see them publicly repudiate al-Qaida, which they have not done so far?
MR PRICE: Well, our review of what was negotiated with the Taliban includes assessing not just what the group has committed to, but what they have done and what more remains. We have had regular discussions with the Taliban regarding implementation of the counterterrorism commitments that you are referring to and we’ll continue to do so as that diplomatic process continues to unfold.
So with that, thank you very much, everyone, and we will see you Friday, if not sooner.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:13 p.m.)