Biden Era: Full Press Briefings – February 8, 2021
Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
2:39 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. I have a few elements at the top, so we’ll go ahead and get started.
First, as you all know, the department yesterday lost a giant. We all know that Secretary Shultz was a foreign policy visionary who helped herald the peaceful end of the Cold War and whose legacy left us safer from the specter of the world’s most dangerous weapons.
What may be less well known, however, are the profound ways in which he shaped this institution. He was a champion of the women and men of the department – and it’s no accident that our Foreign Service Institute bears his name. As the Secretary said yesterday, the work we do now – and will do well into the future – will be shaped by Secretary Shultz’s legacy. We send our deepest condolences to Secretary Shultz’s family and loved ones.
Turning to India, where a burst glacier yesterday resulted in landslides and floods. Our thoughts are with our Indian friends and partners during this challenging time. We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the deceased, and we hope for a successful rescue effort and a speedy and full recovery for the injured.
Moving on to the U.S. decision to re-engage with the Human Rights Council, which was formally announced this morning. This morning the Secretary announced the immediate U.S. re-engagement with the UN Human Rights Council. That process is already underway in Geneva, where the U.S. mission today participated in a regular organizational meeting of the council. For now, that engagement will be as an observer, which will allow us to speak in the council, participate in negotiations, and work with partners.
As the Secretary noted in his statement, we recognize the council’s flaws, but we do believe that the best way to improve it is to work from within. When it performs as designed, the council can be a powerful tool to promote fundamental freedoms, protect the rights of women, girls, LGBTQI+ individuals, and other marginalized communities – while promoting accountability for human rights violators around the world.
Next, the United States congratulates the people of Ecuador for exercising their democratic right to vote for their leaders. We also congratulate the many officials, public servants, and volunteers whose dedication made the vote possible under the challenging conditions presented by the global COVID-19 pandemic. While we await the final results of the first-round vote from the National Electoral Council that will determine the second-place finisher, we urge people to remain calm and TO exercise patience while Ecuador’s institutions finish tallying the votes and work to resolve conflicts in a peaceful and transparent manner in accordance with Ecuador’s constitution and established norms and processes.
Finally, Africa is a priority for the Biden Administration. In a video message, President Biden extended greetings to African leaders and the African people as they gathered for the 34th annual AU summit this past weekend. We are committed to engaging our African partners early and often in pursuing our shared interests and our shared values. We will reinvigorate and restore our relationships with the continent – building substantive, reciprocal partnerships with African governments, institutions, and people based on mutual interests and mutual respect.
So with that, Matt, I’ll turn it over to you.
QUESTION: Thank you, and Happy Monday.
MR PRICE: Happy Monday.
QUESTION: Last night, in the middle of the football game – although it wasn’t a very good game, so I read it intently when it came in – you put out a statement about warning the Houthis about attacks against civilians. And I’m wondering if the fact that you felt the need to put out that statement gives you any pause about the decision that was made just two days ago or three – well, two days ago then, three days ago now – Friday, to begin the process of delisting the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization. And if it doesn’t give you any pause about that, why not?
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, we have been very clear, and we’ve been very clear about two things. In the first instance, we’ve been very clear, and you heard the Secretary from this podium on his first official day as Secretary of State, when asked about his priorities for reviewing the policies of the previous administration, he raised – he actually offered this designation of Ansarallah as something he prioritized to move upon expeditiously, given the profound humanitarian implications of this designation. I think he cited at the time that 80 percent, some 80 percent of Yemen’s civilian population lives under Houthi control in Yemen, which is why of course we’re profoundly concerned for the humanitarian implications of that designation.
And so that’s why we in fact did move very quickly to review that policy. You may have heard from members of Congress who have been vocal about this, that we notified the Hill of the Secretary’s intent to revoke the foreign terrorist organization and specially designated global terrorist designations of Ansarallah. We did that late last week. We’ve also been very clear about a second element. This intent to revoke that designation has nothing to do with our view of the Houthis and their reprehensible conduct, including, as you mentioned, attacks against civilians and the kidnapping of American citizens, among other moves. We are committed, as we again said last night, to helping Saudi Arabia defend its territory against further such attacks. Our planned action, the Secretary’s intent to delist is due, as I said before, to the humanitarian consequences of this last-minute designation. We can do two things at once. We can ensure that we do not add to the suffering of Yemeni civilians – Yemen now home to what is believed to be the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe – while continuing to stand with Saudi Arabia in the face of these attacks from the Houthis.
QUESTION: Yeah, but aren’t you – I mean, you say you can two things at once, but by revoking this designation and the sanctions that it entails, aren’t you helping the Houthis and at the same time helping them attack and – what you said in your own statement last night – attack civilians, which makes the civilian crisis even worse? No?
MR PRICE: I would dispute that. I think we will certainly keep up the pressure on the leadership of the Ansarallah movement of the Houthis. We can do that without the sort of broad designation, the two designations that I spoke to that do have tremendous pernicious impacts on the humanitarian implications of the Yemeni people.
QUESTION: Right. And the last thing on this: On – when – you kept saying “intent to.” Is there a chance that you might not go through with it?
MR PRICE: No, I’ve referred to the intent because in this matter and across the board, we intend to return to regular order, including regular order when it comes to our interactions and consultations with Congress. The Secretary wanted to make sure that he had apprised Congress of this intent. As I mentioned before, we did that last week. And so it remains an intent as of now. Yes, Humeyra.
QUESTION: Quick follow-up, since we’re on Yemen. The UN Yemen envoy met with Zarif today in Iran to discuss ending the conflict in Yemen. Does the United States believe Iran is still providing support to Houthis? And if so, what kind of support? After this, I’m going to move on to another topic.
MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to our assessment of the specific support that Iran may be providing to the Houthis, I would refer you – some of that may be predicated in intelligence channels. I wouldn’t want to go too far into that. What we have said generally is that Iran has been a malign force in the region. We have spoken of its support for proxies, for terrorist groups, its support for the Houthis as well. I don’t think we want to go – or at least I don’t want to go further today in detailing that support, but if we do have more to share, we will.
QUESTION: Right. And on Myanmar, so over the past couple of days tens of thousands of people have been protesting, and – against the military coup, and there’s a fear that the army will move on them. How close are you in finalizing your action in response to the military takeover? And the fact that these demonstrations and this threat of the army moving towards them, does that add a sense of urgency?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve always operated with a tremendous sense of urgency here. That is why within hours of the military’s coup in Burma, we called it as such. I think more broadly, when it comes to what we’ve seen in recent days and recent hours, it is fair to say that we stand with the duly elected representatives of the people of Burma in their efforts to speak for the people of the country. We join them in demanding the immediate and full restoration of the democratically elected government. We stand with the people of Burma, support their right to assemble peacefully, including to protest peacefully in support of the democratically elected government, and the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, to receive, to impart information both online and offline. We’re of course very concerned about the military’s recent announcement restricting public gatherings. As I said before, we strongly support the right of all individuals – in Burma and around the world – to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, including for the purposes of peaceful protest.
When it comes to that review that you mentioned, we’re of course taking a very close look at the policy measures that we could potentially enact should the military not change its course. We are moving quickly in that measure, and we’re doing so I think consistent with the principle that I outlined with Matt in a very different context: making sure that whatever we do to hold the military to account for this coup, that we don’t add to the humanitarian concern of the people of Burma. So we’re doing that in this case as well.
QUESTION: Can we come back to Yemen, please? Hi.
MR PRICE: Well, let’s stick with Burma for just one moment, and then I’ll come right back to you.
QUESTION: Okay. Okay, thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. The junta chief in Burma said that this time the military rule will be different, promising free and fair elections at the end of the emergency period. Do you see that as – do you welcome this kind of statement? Are they – is it clearly a non-starter for you?
MR PRICE: It’s a non-starter. We have been very clear where we stand. We stand with the duly elected representatives of the people of Burma. We stand with the people of Burma, who are now peacefully taking to the streets to exercise their universal rights. We stand with them.
QUESTION: Yes, on Burma.
MR PRICE: Burma? Sure. Welcome.
QUESTION: Thanks. I just wanted to ask to what degree this came up in the call between Secretary Blinken and Yang Jiechi of China. Was there any kind of effort to resolve the situation in Burma, or was it the kind of thing where there’s just a disagreement about whether there’s a need to – for the military to step back?
MR PRICE: Well, we did issue a readout of that call. This has been a staple of the Secretary’s calls with his counterparts since February 1st, since the date of the coup. We have been encouraging China, both privately and in public, to condemn this action, to join the international community, to join the United States and those other countries, a large swath of the world that has spoken out in no uncertain terms, to condemn this anti-democratic action.
And to that end, I would point you to the statement that came out of the UN Security Council last week. It did have some strong language. Of course, China did not stand in the way of that, but we continue to believe that the Chinese need to further condemn what has taken place in Burma in recent days.
QUESTION: More on Burma. Have you or any U.S. officials been in touch with Aung San Suu Kyi or any of the detained NLD leaders or the military officials who are leading this junta? And then are you considering in the face of the curfews and the crackdowns on protesters ordering departure of nonemergency diplomats from the post there?
MR PRICE: So on your final question, the – we issued – shortly after the events of February 1st, the coup on February 1st, the U.S. embassy, the U.S. mission in Burma, issued a message to American citizens there. They did full accounting, full accountability for their personnel. I am not aware of any plans for a drawdown or an ordered departure at this time, but of course, those are matters that we continuously evaluate.
Remind me of your previous question.
QUESTION: Have you been in touch with any of the detained —
MR PRICE: So I’m going to speak for the Department of State. I will say that shortly after the events of February 1st we made an effort to reach out to Aung San Suu Kyi. We did that both informally and we did that formally as well. Those requests, of course, were denied.
QUESTION: I think – I wanted to ask about Iran. Ros, you had a Yemen follow-up?
MR PRICE: Oh, I’m sorry. Yes, Yemen.
QUESTION: Yeah, it’s okay. I had a couple of more questions on Yemen.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Number one. Yes, reversing the SDGT and the FTO designations, does that affect the Magnitsky Act sanctions on individual Houthi leaders?
And then the UK Government announced earlier today that it’s going to continue selling weapons systems to the Saudis. And of course, we all know the controversy around the Saudi involvement in the Yemeni civil war. What is the U.S.’s take on Downing Street’s decision? Is the U.S. going to talk to the British about perhaps holding back on more weapons sales in order to promote the peace process?
MR PRICE: So on your second question, I think we’ll let the British Government speak to their decisions when it comes to their relationships with the Saudi Government or any other government. Obviously, we have no closer partner, the special relationship in the bilateral relationship with London. We are consistently sharing notes, sharing views. I think they – and we have left no doubt more broadly where we stand on this issue. And you heard late last week following the President’s visit to the department that we outlined a new report – a new approach, took steps to end the war in Yemen, a war that has, again, created a humanitarian catastrophe and a strategic catastrophe as well.
I’ll run quickly through those steps that we took. First, we made very clear that we are going to be focused intensely on a diplomatic solution, working through the UN-led process and channels to restore the long-dormant peace talks. We’ll work closely with the UN Envoy Martin Griffiths, and you heard the President himself name Tim Lenderking as our special envoy to the conflict.
Second, as we’ve said last week as well, we’re ending all American support for offensive operations in Yemen, including those relevant arms sales. As we said at the time, this does not apply to our operations against AQAP, but it does include both materiel and restricting our intelligence-sharing relationships with Saudi Arabia in the Saudi-led coalition, in accordance with the President’s guidance.
And then third, we also made clear, as I was mentioning to Matt, that we do understand in the midst of all of this Saudi Arabia faces genuine security threats from Yemen, which we again saw over the weekend. And so as part of the interagency process and the interagency process that will, beyond this, review future potential weapons transfers, we will look for ways to improve support for Saudi Arabia’s ability to defend itself and its territory against threats.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Rich.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. As you mentioned earlier, the administration has no interest in playing FTO whiplash here and returning the Houthis to that designation, but is there something that the administration is considering doing short of an FTO designation, any type of sanctions that the administration would, to sort of go with the or/else of your statement from yesterday?
MR PRICE: Well, I think, Rich, we have been very clear that the Houthis are malign actors. Their conduct, as I said before, is reprehensible. The way in which they have afflicted – the manner in which they have inflicted suffering on the people of Yemen, the people they purport to govern, their neighbors, the threat they pose to our interest in Yemen several years back, that is why we can and will continue to keep up the pressure on the Ansarallah, on the Houthi leadership, just as we take these steps that have received bipartisan – strong bipartisan support to ensure that we are not worsening the humanitarian suffering of the people of Yemen. We can do both things at the same time.
QUESTION: Can I switch to Iran?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Related, but – well, first, thank you for your comments about Secretary Shultz. It means a lot to a lot of people here.
On Iran, the ayatollah’s statement – followed up, of course, by Fareed’s interview with Foreign Minister Zarif – seemed to shut down any possibility of any progress until the U.S. lifts sanctions. Help us understand what wiggle room there is in that. I know you’re not going to negotiate here, but —
MR PRICE: Well, you stole my line. I am not going to negotiate.
QUESTION: But you see that as a dead end?
MR PRICE: So we don’t see this broader – this broader opportunity as a dead end at all. The proposal – and you have heard it for months now from the then-candidate Biden and now President Biden has been very clear – if Iran is willing to resume full compliance with the JCPOA, we will re-enter that deal as well. We will seek to lengthen and strengthen its provisions, including vis-a-vis the nuclear provisions, using it as a platform to then negotiate follow-on agreements that would address Iran’s other malign activity, some of which we have already discussed in this briefing.
I think rather than negotiate here from the podium, what I will do is point to what we have been doing really since the early days of this administration – I suppose we still are in the early days of this administration – when it comes to the coordination with our allies, with our partners, with members of Congress. We spoke, I believe it was on Friday, about Secretary Blinken’s participation in a meeting with the E3. Iran, of course, did feature into that. We offered a readout of that interaction. The Secretary has, of course, been in touch with – bilaterally with our European allies, with other – with other counterparts who were either part of the original P5+1 or, of course, who do have an interest in this going forward.
So those consultations, that coordination is ongoing, as with Congress as well. I think rather than respond to comments that may be emanating from Tehran, we are going to do our own consultations, ensure that we are synchronized, that we’re harmonized, with our closest partners and go from a position of strength from there.
QUESTION: Are there other incentives that we can offer Iran such as not opposing IMF loans and other financial incentives that they could get which would not technically be a lifting of sanctions? And is there any effort to reach out bilaterally?
MR PRICE: So on your second question, again, our focus has been on engaging both in multilateral and bilateral fora with our partners and allies. When it comes to any engagement with the Iranians, we’re not there yet. We want to, again, make sure that we have our ducks in a row with our closest friends, our closest partners and allies, as well as with the institution of the United States Congress.
When it comes to humanitarian gestures, the elements that you mentioned, I think that would probably fall in the category of negotiating from the podium, so I wouldn’t want to – I wouldn’t want to go there. But again, we are going to make sure that we are in the same – on the same page as our partners, our allies that we have – that we have undertaken those consultations with Congress before we were – we would allude to any of those measures.
QUESTION: One more final question?
QUESTION: On Iran.
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you see the date of February 21st when Iran has said it will stop following the Additional Protocol and with the inspections requirements, do you see that as a deadline for your full compliance for full compliance or some kind of red line that they shouldn’t cross?
MR PRICE: No. On February 21st, if Iran has not resumed full compliance with the deal, Iran will still be out of compliance with the deal by definition. What we have put on the table is that we are looking for Iran to resume its full compliance. Of course, as you just alluded to with your question, Iran is quite a ways out of compliance in a number of specific areas, so we aren’t looking to any particular date. We are looking for Iran to indicate its willingness to go along with the proposition that, as a candidate, Vice President Biden put on the table, and the proposition that remains on the table today.
QUESTION: Also on Iran.
MR PRICE: On Iran? Well, let’s move around a little bit. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you. Also on Iran, how does this administration intend to deal with the hostage situation? Obviously the Iranians are still holding – including one American, Baquer – I mean Baba – sorry, Siamak Namazi, who was picked up during the Obama administration.
MR PRICE: That’s right. Look, the Secretary was asked about this I believe in one of his – or his first broadcast interview – and he made very clear that we have no higher priority than the safe return of Americans who are being held unjustly around the world. Of course that includes in Iran. We are – you know that we have a special envoy in this building. There is a hostage recovery fusion cell that is working elements of these cases as well. We can do these things in parallel.
QUESTION: But do you have any sort of – have you launched any negotiations on this specifically with Iran? Are you opening up channels to talk about that?
MR PRICE: So the —
QUESTION: And are you working with partners? Because the Iranians are holding many other foreign nationals as well.
MR PRICE: So as you know, the Swiss are our protecting power within Iran. We coordinate very closely with them. They represent those interests for us when it comes to American citizens who are being held in Iran. I wouldn’t want to detail what may be going on behind closed doors, but suffice to say we have no higher priority than the release of American citizens who are detained unjustly around the world, including in Iran.
Anything else on Iran before we move on?
QUESTION: Yeah, one more.
MR PRICE: We’ll go here and then to Rosiland, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. You just said you don’t see this broader opportunity as a dead end. Is it because, like, the comments from the supreme leader like “irreversible and final,” do you see them as just posturing? And then could the administration be considering something less for less, like you guys will give some economic relief but not – nothing too big – in return for, like, Iran halting some of the violations?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to speculate as to what may undergird comments from the supreme leader, comments from the Iranian president, comments from others in the Iranian context, nor would I, again, want to negotiate from the podium. So we’ll probably leave that there.
QUESTION: Piggybacking on your comments that Iran is already out of compliance, there are reports that IAEA inspectors may have found evidence of radioactive material at two sites that the Iranians had blocked them from searching last year. But after negotiation they apparently made it to these sites, found evidence of possible nuclear weapons-related activity. Is there any comment from this podium given that there hasn’t been formal notification to member-states of the IAEA?
MR PRICE: Well, on that, I would need to refer you to the IAEA. I do think it is a worthwhile reminder of the provisions of the 2015 Iran deal that we are attempting – that we would like to see Iran resume full compliance with. Iran, as I mentioned before, has distanced itself from that agreement in any number of ways. The 2015 deal limits enriched uranium stockpile, it puts a cap on enrichment levels at 3.67 percent, it limits the centrifuges that Iran is allowed to have, it limits its R&D, it limits its heavy water stockpile, and I think most importantly – and an element that is often overlooked – Iran under the nuclear deal and under the Nonproliferation Treaty, there is a permanent prohibition on Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.
And so that’s why we think it is so important that, as a starting point, that Iran resume that full compliance with the nuclear deal. That’s why it’s been the predicate of our diplomatic path that we have put forward. Iran resumes that full compliance, the United States will do the same. We’ll then undertake diplomacy to lengthen, strengthen the provisions and to use it, again, as not the ceiling but the floor for follow-on agreements to take on other elements of Iran’s malign activity.
QUESTION: I have two topics. The first on Sudan: Any comment on the formation of the new government there?
MR PRICE: We’ll – we can get back to you on that. We’ll take that question.
QUESTION: Okay. And the second, on Lebanon: Political and religious leaders in Lebanon are calling for an international conference under the UN auspices to protect the constitution and put an end to the multiplicity of arms. Does the U.S. support such calls? And to what extent U.S. supports the French initiative in Lebanon?
MR PRICE: Well, you saw last week it was that Secretary Blinken, together with his French counterpart, did put out a very strong statement of support for the people of Lebanon. It was pegged to the six-month anniversary of the deadly and horrific blast in Beirut. So I would refer you there. If we have any additional comment, we’ll be able to provide that.
QUESTION: And on that, the national conference, do you support —
MR PRICE: If we have any additional comment, we’ll be able to get back to you.
QUESTION: Just – Ned, can I just ask you to – I mean, do you accept – I mean, you just said in response to the last Iran question that Iran has distanced itself from the deal in many ways. Okay. But you do accept that the United States actually walked away from the deal, pulled out, withdrew? Maybe not this administration, but you do accept that the United States pulled out of the deal, right?
MR PRICE: I think that’s the reality. I wouldn’t dispute that. But —
QUESTION: Okay. So you’re – when you – so you’re starting from a position behind the starting line here. Do you accept that, or no?
MR PRICE: I think what I would accept is that we have outlined consistently and clearly a path forward for diplomacy for Iran, a path forward for diplomacy that we are intent to engage closely with our allies and partners, members of Congress on. I’m not going to stand here and I don’t want to speak for the previous administration; I’m speaking for this administration, I’m speaking for our path forward.
QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, on the UNHCR – HRC decision this morning, taking note of that, also taking note of the fact that you guys have said that, yes, it’s got problems and we want to reform it, we want to do it from within, one of those problems that the previous administration cited in pulling out of it, withdrawing from it, was an anti-Israel bias. And I want to ask about that, but also your – the Secretary’s comments last week about the International Criminal Court and its decision, which you – we talked about on the phone on Friday.
But if you are sitting in Israel right now, why should you not think that these two positions – one, Palestine does not have a – is not a state party, is not a state and it can – and it should not be allowed to bring a case before the ICC, and then the decision to rejoin or to return to the Human Rights Council as an observer after what you accept is an anti-Israel bias, I believe, how do you square this? If you’re sitting in Israel, how should you take these two things?
MR PRICE: Well, I think this – first of all, of course, we put out, I think, what was a very strong statement in the aftermath of the ICC ruling. That statement’s made clear, as we made clear when the Palestinians purported to join the Rome Statute in 2015, that we don’t believe the Palestinians qualify as a sovereign state, and therefore are not qualified to obtain membership as a state or to participate as a state in international organizations, entities, or conferences, including the ICC. We’ll continue to uphold President Biden’s strong commitment to Israel and its security, including opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly.
That takes me to the decision we announced earlier today, and I think our orienting principle here is that the United States can be a constructive force, that we can help shape the course of world events, we can help shape international institutions when we’re present, when we’re at the table. We believe that the United States plays a constructive role on the council, when we play a constructive role in the Council, in concert with our allies and partners. Positive change is possible; it is within reach. You outlined one of those reforms that is necessary, the council’s disproportionate focus on Israel; and second, I think, ensuring countries that – ensuring countries with strong human rights records serve on the council. We firmly believe that states with the worst human rights record don’t belong on the Human Rights Council.
On both of these elements, it is our view that the best way for us to reform them, to improve the council as an institution is to engage, to engage with it, to engage with its members in a principled fashion, and that’s what we intend to do in the first instance as an observer.
I know we’re running out of time, so yes, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. A couple of real quick questions on Latin America, shifting a bit. What kind of reaction have you been getting so far from the Northern Triangle Central American countries after pulling out of the asylum cooperation agreements on Saturday, I think it was?
And secondly, on Venezuela, all of the readouts I’m seeing, unless I missed something of the Secretary’s calls with various world leaders, I saw Venezuela only mentioned once. Is that – why is that? Does that reflect a lack of fresh ideas and strategy, or why is that – why aren’t we not seeing that come up more?
MR PRICE: No, look, readouts are obviously a snapshot. These oftentimes are lengthy conversations and readouts typically are not lengthy documents, so it is very fair to say that Venezuela has been a topic with many of the Secretary’s closest – many of our closest friends, allies, and partners across the region, but also in Europe and elsewhere. It’s– and it will continue to be the case. I think a defining hallmark of our strategy to help the people of Venezuela achieve their legitimate aspirations for democracy will be a coordinated approach, and we talked about, I recall very distinctly with Matt, the approach we will take with our partners bilaterally and then in multilateral fora as well to ensure that we are achieving that outcome for the people of Venezuela.
When it comes to the termination of the asylum cooperative agreements, this was something that President Biden committed to when he was a candidate on the campaign trail. It is a broader element of the President’s commitment to a regional migration plan and a regional migration strategy that takes into account the root causes of migration, that sees countries in the regions – in the region, including those in the Northern Triangle, as true partners. As the Secretary’s statement over the weekend regarding the end of the ACAs made clear, that we’ve notified those countries, we’ve been in touch at different levels. This was not something that came as a surprise to them, and we look forward to continuing to work with our partners in the Northern Triangle on a strategy to regional migration that addresses many of those drivers, many of those drivers that have over the course of years left those in the region with few perceived options rather than to migrate north. Our strategy is predicated on the idea that we can give opportunity to those in the region and remove some of the inducements that they might otherwise have to undertake the very dangerous journey to the United States, a journey that is currently made all the more dangerous by COVID and, of course, those who would seek to take advantage of those fleeing their home country.
So I know we’ve gone on for quite some time. Kim, I see you earnestly raising your hand in the back. Please.
QUESTION: Thank you. If Burma is the first test of the Biden administration’s goal to pull together allies and produce change, what are your levers to produce that change in behavior? Because the Peterson Institute looked at more than two decades of sanctions against Myanmar, Burma, and found it didn’t produce any change at the top. The Trump administration sanctioned the top coup leaders last fall; that didn’t produce any change. How are you going to get them to change how they’re treating the people on the ground?
MR PRICE: Well, the United States over the course of years has been the most ardent supporter of the people of Burma. We have talked about some of that financial aid in recent days. I think you heard me say the other day that the United States provides nearly $135 million in bilateral assistance to Burma. This was for FY 2020. But beyond that, in FY 2020 we provided more than $469 million in humanitarian assistance to the people of Burma, bringing the U.S. total contribution since August of 2017 to nearly $1.2 billion. And that figure is for all of those affected by the violence within Burma as well as those who have been forced to flee and to flee to Bangladesh and throughout the region.
So the United States has been the world’s foremost supporter. We do have quite a bit of leverage, but as with every challenge, we have all the more leverage when we work closely with our allies and partners, including in this case with our likeminded allies and partners. We’ve spoken to one source of leverage that we are studying very closely right now. After the designation of the events of February 1st as a coup, we’re very – we’re looking very closely at additional sanctions that we might be able to enact on the – on those responsible for this coup. National Security Advisor Sullivan last week also spoke of the potential for additional executive actions.
So the United States remains the most powerful country in the world. There is no doubt about that, but when we bring our allies and partners along with us, they act as force multipliers. We have the ability to galvanize collective action to confront challenges the world over in a way that no other country does. That’s what we’ve been doing on Burma since even before the coup to address the humanitarian challenges of the Burmese people, including the Rohingya, and since February 1st working very concertedly with our likeminded allies and partners to ensure that we’re working in lockstep, and so that when we do announce the additional measures, that they will provide all the more inducement to return Burma to its democratic civilian leadership.
Thank you, everyone. I think we’ll call that a day. We’ll do this again tomorrow, so appreciate this.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:19 p.m.)