Biden Era: Full Press Briefings – February 9, 2021
Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
1:34 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. I just have one thing at the top, and then we’ll get started.
The United States is deeply concerned about the absence of an election implementation agreement in Somalia. While this is an issue for Somalis to resolve, the United States views immediate elections as critical to Somalia’s future. Consensus can be reached. We call on Somalia’s leaders to resume their dialogue urgently so that national elections can take place now. The impasse hinders pressing reform and counterterrorism efforts, and continued delays will only increase the risk of instability.
It is the responsibility and the duty of national and regional leaders to act in the interests of the people of Somalia, who, of course, deserve the best from their leaders. Partial, parallel, or alternative election processes, including prolonged interim governing arrangements, would increase prospects for instability and be a major setback for Somalia. The United States opposes the use of violence by any party. We remain committed to the development of democracy in Somalia, and we want Somalis to enjoy the long-term stability, prosperity, and peace they deserve.
With that, Matt, do you want to kick us off?
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I’ve got a question about COVID, actually two, but they’re kind of – well, they’re obviously related, but they’re on different things. So I’m going to just start with the first one, and then other people can go. And we’ll get back to the second one unless someone else asks it in the meantime.
You have seen, I imagine, the WHO statement out of Wuhan or out of China today saying that they do not believe that corona – that the coronavirus was the result of a lab leak. You will also know, having been alive for the last year, that the previous administration, including the previous secretary of state, had suggested on numerous occasions that the virus may have gotten out as a result of a leak from a lab. The WHO statement or finding, whatever you want to call it, today says that that does not appear to be the case, and so I am wondering what you guys make of this.
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, when it comes to the report you’re alluding to or the findings you’re alluding to, I think in the first instance we look forward to receiving the report and the data from the WHO investigation. Broadly speaking, we have expressed our concerns regarding the need for full transparency and access from China and the WHO – access from China and the WHO to all information regarding the #earliest days of the pandemic. It’s imperative that the world learns as much as possible about the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic so that we can understand its origins and so, importantly, we can prevent future biological catastrophes.
Now, you referenced statements from the previous administration. If I’m not mistaken, I believe this department on January 15th put out a fact sheet, and in that fact sheet it was not conclusive regarding the origins of the coronavirus. So where we are today is that we look forward to receiving this report and the full data and to digging into that ourselves, knowing that we do need that full transparency.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, so you’ve put a premium on full transparency thus far. And recognizing that it is not finished yet, are you satisfied? Are you pleased with the transparency that the Chinese have given to the WHO team?
MR PRICE: Well, I think the jury is still out. I think, clearly, the Chinese, at least heretofore, had not offered the requisite transparency that we need and that just as importantly, again, the international community needs so that we can prevent these sorts of pandemics from ever happening again. This goes back to one of the very first actions that President Biden took as president when he re-engaged with the WHO.
Look, we know that there needs to be international cooperation if we are going to be able to be in a position to staunch future outbreaks or epidemics before they become pandemics. The WHO is leading this investigation. We clearly support this investigation. We recognize there is an urgent need for an investigation. But I wouldn’t want to be conclusive yet about any sort of cooperation that the WHO may or may not have received from China.
QUESTION: But thus far, are you pleased with the cooperation that you have seen that they have gotten or are you —
MR PRICE: Again, I wouldn’t want to be conclusive before we’ve seen the report. I think it’s premature for us to go there.
QUESTION: Same topic. As Matt referenced, Secretary Blinken’s predecessor has said there was enormous evidence supporting the lab theory. Is it the Secretary’s view that that’s not the case, that there is not enormous evidence?
MR PRICE: The Secretary’s view is the view of the department, and that is that we need to see this report. We look forward to seeing this report. We’re supportive of the WHO investigation. And I think more broadly too, we can speak to our own efforts. We will work with our partners and also draw on information collected and analyzed by our own intelligence community to evaluate the report once we’ve received it as well as the data from the WHO evaluation.
So look, I think rather than rush to conclusions that may be motivated by anything other than the science, we want to see where that data leads us, where that science leads us, and our conclusions will be predicated on that.
QUESTION: But just following up on that —
MR PRICE: Let’s move it around a little bit now.
QUESTION: Yeah, just following up on that, the Chinese have suggested that maybe that you should expand the investigation because the cases only – the first cases were in December 2019 and there have been cases elsewhere in the world. Do you think that there should be investigations into the origins elsewhere, or do you think this focus should remain on Wuhan?
MR PRICE: Well, we are talking in this case about the origins of the coronavirus. I don’t think there is any reasonable person who would argue that the coronavirus originated elsewhere, so that is why our focus is on this WHO investigation. We look forward, again, to seeing the report, to seeing the underlying data, to using what we may have within our own reach based on our own intelligence and analysis to corroborate what the WHO has found and to reach our own conclusions.
QUESTION: Following up on what Matt and John said, the previous administration had a great deal of intelligence and other evidence about what it believed was the origin of the coronavirus, and you guys presumably have access to the same intelligence. The secretary – previous secretary came out and said, as John said, that he believed there was significant evidence of a possible lab origin. Are you guys – why can you not draw conclusions from the evidence that they were drawing conclusions from? And are you then not ruling out the possibility that there was a lab origin to the virus?
MR PRICE: Well, I would note a couple things. Number one, I’ve certainly seen the reports of what the WHO seems to have found. And those reports indicate they, at least in this initial stage, have reached a conclusion vis-a-vis the origins of the virus. But again, we want to see that for ourselves.
What I can speak to regarding what you have heard from this department prior to January 20th, I would point you to the January 15th fact sheet. The January 15th fact sheet was very clear that it was inconclusive. It didn’t give credence to one theory over another. That is why, again, we are looking forward to receiving this full WHO report, to reviewing it, to reviewing the underlying data, and to cross-referencing what may be in our own holdings with that.
QUESTION: Ned, so part of this was they said that the lab theory they don’t think should be in the hypothesis that we will suggest for future studies. So does the State Department agree that we should cease that vein of inquiry and stop investigating whether or not it did come from a lab?
MR PRICE: The State Department, again, wants to see the report. We want to see the underlying data. We intend to marry that underlying data with what is in our own broader holdings, to include within our Intelligence Community. We are going to base our conclusions on nothing other than the data, nothing other than the science. And based on that, we’ll come to a conclusion.
QUESTION: One more on the WHO. The previous administration as well made the argument that the WHO allegedly was influenced by China, and that was one of the reasons that the previous administration moved to exit it. Are you confident with how the WHO is handling this? Do you feel confident that whatever they reach will be independent and not unduly influenced by one country?
MR PRICE: Well, this goes back to what I was saying before. It also goes back to what I was saying yesterday in a very different context, that across the board the United States believes as a general matter that when we engage, when we are at the table, we can help shape world events, we can help shape institutions. When we are not within the WHO, when we’re not acting in that capacity, we don’t have any influence to see to it that the WHO functions as the way it was intended to function, the way we hope it would – it should function.
So clearly, by re-engaging with the WHO, the United States will be in a position to push any necessary needed reforms. And to be clear, there are necessary and needed reforms. Just as any institution or just about any institution, the WHO is far from perfect. That is precisely why we re-engaged it, why President Biden announced our intention to re-engage it on his first day in office on January 20th.
QUESTION: So you’ve made reference several times to the January 15th State Department report saying it’s inconclusive. You also said at one point that you don’t want to rush to a conclusion that might be motivated by something other than science. I think that’s a quote, unless I’ve gotten my notes wrong, which is possible, but I think that was pretty much what you said. Are you suggesting that the previous administration’s or the previous Secretary’s comments about this were motivated by something other than science?
MR PRICE: Matt, I – my orientation from this podium will be to look forward, not to look back. I am talking about our orientation. We are going to be guided by the science; we are going to be guided by the data. I wouldn’t want to characterize the actions of the previous administration. I’m here to characterize our own actions.
QUESTION: Well, but – yeah, but you did, because you said that —
MR PRICE: No, I didn’t, Matt. I said our actions will be guided by the data and guided by the science.
QUESTION: You said that you were not going to rush to conclusions that might be motivated by something other than science.
MR PRICE: Correct.
QUESTION: Suggesting to all but the most – I don’t know – a slug that the previous administration was motivated by something other than science. Are you —
MR PRICE: Matt —
QUESTION: Are you saying that you’re not trying to suggest that? Is the slug wrong?
MR PRICE: There was – I haven’t diagrammed the sentence, Matt, but I think there was one subject in that sentence, and it was us. I never raised the previous administration. I don’t intend to from this podium.
QUESTION: Can I ask some more on this? Do you think that the U.S.’s absence in this interim from the WHO has made it less objective in things like this? Do you think its objectivity was damaged by not having the U.S. in the room to be involved in these discussions and these decisions?
MR PRICE: Well, I think what is undeniable is that the U.S. had not been engaged with the WHO during a critical period. That is precisely why on the campaign trail then-candidate Biden pledged to reenter the WHO on his first full day – on his first day in office. That is precisely why on his first day in office he made good on that promise. Again, when we are at the table, when we are taking part, when the United States is present, when we’re engaged, whether that’s with the WHO, with UN bodies, with other elements, we can see to it that our interests and our values are there, that they are being represented. And I think when it comes to the WHO, that’s precisely what we’re going to do.
QUESTION: During his confirmation hearing, Secretary Blinken said that the administration intends to join COVAX. Do you have any update on that effort and whether or not you’ll provide a certain amount of funding for the vaccine distribution?
MR PRICE: So I don’t have an update for you on specific funding. I think what I can say generally is that the United States will support multilateral efforts in the international COVID-19 public health and humanitarian response, including Access to the COVID-19 Tools Accelerator and the COVAX facility. In addition, we’ll also be taking steps to provide congressional-appropriated funds to Gavi, which will support international vaccine procurement and distribution. We’ll also develop a framework for providing surplus U.S. Government vaccine doses to countries in need once there is sufficient supply in the United States, including through the COVAX facility as appropriate.
And just to anticipate a follow-on question, we believe and we know that we can do both, that we can support these humanitarian efforts and these global efforts while ensuring that we have a safe and equitable access to the vaccine here in the United States to our own citizens, which of course is our priority in the first instance.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. In your evaluation of the current refugee resettlement system, what kind of challenges do you have getting to 125,000 next year, and will that require an investment beyond what Congress has been providing over the past few years?
MR PRICE: Well, what I can say is that this is a priority of the President’s. It is a priority of the President’s because it is very much in our DNA to be a country that welcomes, that provides refuge, that provides safe haven to those in need. This of course was a priority that you heard from then-candidate Biden. It was, of course, something that the President has spoken to in recent days.
The White House has set an ambitious target. There is a target for this fiscal year; there’s a target for the next fiscal year. And of course, as with many elements of our policy, many processes that we look to, it will take some time for us to get to those targets, precisely because, in this case, the U.S. refugee admissions process has – had essentially come to a standstill in recent years. And so there will be an effort within this building, with our interagency partners, to see to it that we can revive that program, that program that has important humanitarian functions, that has important strategic functions, that is reflective of who we are as an American people. Of course, this won’t happen overnight, just because it will take some time to get those engines back up and running. But the President is committed to it.
QUESTION: What’s your assessment of what those engines are like right now? Is it —
MR PRICE: Well, I think I just said the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, of course, has been profoundly underutilized in recent years. And so we are starting from a very slow rolling speed. But again, it is the President’s commitment that we ensure this program is up and running in a way that provides refuge, provides relief, provides safe haven to those fleeing violence, conflict, persecution the world over. Again, it has humanitarian value, strategic value, and it’s reflective of who we are. And that’s why we’re making it a priority.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Ned. Three years into this – three weeks into this administration, top leadership of this government have spoken to their Indian counterparts. Last one was yesterday, when the President spoke with Prime Minister Modi. From this podium, can you articulate for us what would India-U.S. relationship would look like in the next four years?
MR PRICE: Sure. Let me give you just some broad top lines. And I think you probably saw that Secretary Blinken today spoke with his Indian counterpart, Foreign Minister Jaishankar. I think I would start by saying the U.S.-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership is both broad as well as multifaceted. We’ll continue to engage at the highest levels of our government to deepen cooperation on many fronts, and we are confident that the strong and upward trajectory of our partnership will, in fact, continue.
India is one of the most important partners in the Indo-Pacific region to us. We welcome India’s emergence as a leading global power and its role as a net security provider in the region. We cooperate on a wide range of diplomatic and security issues, including defense, nonproliferation, regional cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, counterterrorism, peacekeeping, the environment, health, education, technology, agriculture, space, and oceans. And of course, that list is not exhaustive. We also work closely —
QUESTION: It sounded pretty exhaustive.
MR PRICE: (Laughter.) I could go on. We also work closely in international organizations, and we welcome India joining the Security Council in last month of this year for a two-year term. We also remain India’s largest and most important trading partner, with total bilateral trade increasing to $146 billion in 2019. U.S. companies, of course, are a large source of India’s foreign direct investment.
And then finally, I would just highlight the people-to-people ties, the broad and important people-to-people ties. Across this country, nearly 4 million Indian Americans call the United States home, contributing in their communities and proudly serving their country in uniform.
QUESTION: One more question.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Several leaders of the Democratic Party, including Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, Vice President Harris in her previous role as a senator, have spoken and raised concerns about India’s human rights situation, including the farmers’ protest, and previously Kashmir CAA, and other issues. We saw it mentioned it Biden campaign, some of the policy documents. When Secretary Blinken spoke to his Indian counterpart, this issue was raised by him?
MR PRICE: Well, what I can say – and this applies not only to India but to every partner of ours across the board – we are committed to supporting democratic values, including a free and open civil society and the strong rule of law. We regularly engage with the Government of India – including, as you referenced and I alluded to, today – on our shared commitment to democratic values. We believe it’s the bedrock for the U.S.-India relationship. And it’s actually in keeping, as you know, with India’s own democratic values, its pluralistic values, and its history of tolerance. So we regularly engage with our Indian counterparts on —
QUESTION: One more – can I ask one more on China? In the last one year, China has aggressively tried to intrude upon, encroach upon Indian territories. What is the administration’s position on that?
MR PRICE: Well, we’re closely monitoring the situation. We note the ongoing talks between the governments of India and China, and we continue to support direct dialogue and a peaceful resolution of those border disputes. We are concerned by Beijing’s pattern of ongoing attempts to intimidate its neighbors. As always, we’ll stand with friends, we’ll stand with partners, we’ll stand with allies to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values in, in this case, the Indo-Pacific.
QUESTION: A very quick one: Is a Quad summit in the works?
MR PRICE: So we don’t have anything to announce at this time. What I would say generally is that the Quad is a key example of the United States and our closest partners, including, in this case, India, pulling together for the good of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. We view the Quad as having essential momentum and important potential, and that’s why we’re going to build on it by deepening cooperation on areas of traditional focus – and that includes maritime security – while also working closely with Quad partners to confront some of the defining issues of our time. That of course includes COVID-19; it includes climate. It includes – going back to our previous conversation – democratic resilience as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yeah. Sorry, Iran?
QUESTION: On Iran, yes.
MR PRICE: Iran, okay.
QUESTION: Hi. Mouhamed Elahmed with Al Jazeera Arabic. So Iran’s intelligence minister warned that Iran would seek nuclear arms if cornered by the West. So how do you respond to such threats, which is the first indication yet from Iran that it would seek obtaining nuclear arms if pressured more by the U.S. and its allies?
MR PRICE: Well, it’s not yet clear to us that Mahmoud Alavi was speaking for anyone but himself. I would say that we, of course, took note of those remarks. They are very concerning. Would also note – and I referenced this yesterday as well – that Iran has an obligation under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty – the NPT – never – never, never, never – permanent prohibition to acquire nuclear weapons, and it reaffirmed that commitment under the JCPOA. I think that’s where we’d leave our reaction.
QUESTION: Do you have a response to the UN report saying that there has been cooperation between Iran and North Korea on ballistic missile development? And what does that – what conclusion do you draw from that about the possibility of cooperation with Iran? Are you – do you mistrust their intentions even more, given this cooperation?
MR PRICE: Well, I don’t think it really changes our strategic orientation to Iran. If the old adage is trust and verify, in this case it may be mistrust and verify. When it comes to this report, we’ve seen the press reporting, of course. We won’t comment on a UN report that has not yet been published, but it is true that we continue to use a variety of nonproliferation tools to work to prevent the further advancement of Iran’s missile program and its ability to proliferate this technology to others, including North Korea. And this includes working with our partners to stop specific shipments of equipment and technology to these programs, using our engagement in multilateral fora to raise awareness of Iran’s missile activities, and to urge countries to take steps to address these activities, and finally imposing nonproliferation sanctions pursuant to our domestic authorities against entities supporting Iran’s missile program.
That’s why we’ve also said that our goal is not only to have Iran come back into full compliance with the JCPOA, but then to use the JCPOA, which we would seek to in the first instance lengthen and strengthen, as a platform for follow-on agreements to include other areas of Iran’s malign activities. And that includes, of course, its ballistic missile program.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: In terms of North Korea, could you give us an update on how much progress the administration has made towards working on – working out its new approach to North Korea and how it’s going to convince the government there to give up its nuclear weapons?
MR PRICE: Well, we are now, what, a little over two weeks into this administration, so I – that would be my first stipulation. But I will say when it comes to that approach, we will adopt a new approach that keeps the American people and our allies safe, and that will begin through a policy review of the state of play in North Korea. And we’re going to do that in close consultation and coordination with the Republic of Korea, with Japan, with other allies and partners on ongoing pressure options and potential for future diplomacy.
Our focus in formulating this new policy and approach and undertaking these consultations will be on reducing the threat to the United States and our allies, as well as improving the lives of the North the South Korean people. And as I think you have heard us say before, at the core, we do remain committed to the denuclearization of North Korea but don’t have any additional details to read out at this time.
Shaun. North Korea?
QUESTION: Just is the administration concerned at all that a delay of engaging with the North Koreans could result in them doing something to get the United States attention – testing a nuclear weapon or launching a delivery system?
MR PRICE: I think we would be more concerned with the prospect of not closely coordinating with our partners – in this instance, of course, the Republic of Korea and Japan. You’ve heard us say it, whether it’s North Korea, whether it’s Iran, whether it is any other global challenge: In the first instance, we want to make sure we are on precisely the same page to make sure our allies and partners know that we are there for them, that we have their back, that we are on this diplomatic endeavor together. So that’s our first —
QUESTION: The U.S. alliances when it comes to East Asia – the Japanese, the South Koreans – not always on the exact same page when it comes to the North Korean threat. Are you getting the sense as you’re doing that outreach that you are on the same page?
MR PRICE: Well, that’s exactly why we’re doing it. I think the risk in moving too soon, whether the issue is Iran, whether the issue is North Korea, is that we don’t bring along our allies and our partners with us. And it’s very important that we do the diplomatic legwork that – before we undertake any approach – that we – and just that we know what our strategic objectives are, but as importantly, our partners and our allies also know what our strategic objectives are. And of course the underlying goal there is to harmonize them, to make sure our approach is coordinated and, in turn, the most effective.
QUESTION: Sure. Could we go to Myanmar, to Burma?
QUESTION: No, could you stay on both North Korea and Iran?
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: Just for a second. You say a new policy and a new approach. Does that mean that we should not expect to see President Biden or Secretary Blinken flying to Asia, meeting with Kim Jong-un? Is that what you mean by that? And do you mean that you believe that the previous administration’s approach to North Korea was a failure?
MR PRICE: I am not going to speak to the previous administration’s approach. I am just stating facts about where we are and I’m speaking to the review that we are undertaking. When it comes to where Secretary Blinken or President Biden might fly, I wouldn’t expect them to fly anywhere anytime soon out of the country. I would expect when we are prepared to travel that you will see Secretary Blinken going first to our close allies and partners, and I would imagine that would include to our Asian allies early on.
QUESTION: And then you said in reference to Iran that they had said as part – you said that Iran had said as part of the JCPOA that they would never, never, never, never – maybe you only said it three times – acquire a nuclear weapon. Does this administration really believe that?
MR PRICE: The Nonproliferation Treaty imposes a permanent ban on a non-nuclear state obtaining a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Yeah, I know that.
MR PRICE: We absolutely believe that.
QUESTION: But —
MR PRICE: We believe strongly in the nonproliferation regime; we believe strongly in the Nonproliferation Treaty that undergirds that regime.
QUESTION: Yeah, but Ned, you – of course that’s what it said and I believe that’s what it says as well. Do you believe that Iran is actually committed to this?
MR PRICE: We believe that – well, we know that Iran is still a party to the treaty. We believe —
QUESTION: You know what, you also believed that Russia was a party to the Open Skies agreement, and you just said – you said just a couple days ago that they weren’t – and the INF Treaty – and you said that they weren’t adhering to it.
MR PRICE: Yeah. What we know —
QUESTION: So there’s a big difference between signing up to a treaty or an agreement and actually complying with it.
MR PRICE: Well —
QUESTION: So do you actually believe that Iran is serious and is full-on on never, never, never acquiring a nuclear weapon?
MR PRICE: We know that is Iran’s obligation under the Nonproliferation Treaty. We also know, as we have discussed here, that Iran is far out of compliance with its JCPOA obligations. That is why we have continued to reiterate the point that Iran needs to resume that full compliance with its JCPOA obligations, and from there, we’ll pursue the path of diplomacy.
QUESTION: Can we go to Myanmar? Could you provide an update with – of any diplomacy that’s gone on recently? You mentioned yesterday standing with the people of Burma. Can you explain what, if anything, the U.S. can do to that? And do you have any – specifically any comment on actions in the past day? Today the military authorities ransacked the offices of the NLD, Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, and there was the use of force on some protesters.
MR PRICE: Yeah. Well, what I would say broadly is that we strongly condemn violence against demonstrators. All individuals in Burma have rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, including for the purposes of peaceful protest. We repeat our calls for the military to relinquish power, restore democratically elected government, release those detained, and lift all telecommunication restrictions, and to refrain from violence. You saw in the readouts that have been issued in recent days – recent hours even – by this building, by the White House that Burma has been a constant refrain in our engagement with leaders around the world.
You saw the very strong statement emanate from the UN Security Council late last week on Friday, I believe it was. We are continuing to make this a priority. We are making no bones about where we stand when it comes to the military’s need to relinquish power. As you’ve also heard us say, we are undertaking a careful review of the assistance that we provide to Burma and with an eye towards ensuring that those responsible for this coup do face significant consequences.
QUESTION: Is it still the case that the U.S. hasn’t had any contact with the generals who made this coup? And I guess related to that, you’ve been talking about you’re talking to allies who might have closer relationships with Myanmar. Do you know if any of those allies or any other of the countries you’ve been talking to have been able to talk directly to the senior general —
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: — Senior General Min Aung Hlaing?
MR PRICE: So look, I will speak for this building. I think I said yesterday that we had made attempts both informal and formal to reach Aung San Suu Kyi in the hours and days after the coup. Those efforts were denied. There are countries in the region that do have an – closer relationships with some of those behind these actions. I wouldn’t want to speak for them, but I can tell you the international community is attempting every avenue to ensure that democracy and civilian leadership is restored in Burma. It’s precisely why it has continued to be a refrain in the readouts you’ve seen from this building, from the White House, and why I expect you will hear more about our policy course of action in the coming days.
QUESTION: Venezuela. A GAO report concluded yesterday that U.S. sanctions against Maduro’s regime maybe have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis there. Is that going to compel the Biden administration to find another way aside from sanctions to force Maduro from power even if they are targeted, as Secretary Blinken has suggested they might be?
MR PRICE: Well, what I would say in the first instance is that the – the U.S. is the largest donor of humanitarian aid for the Venezuelan regional crisis. We are committed to supporting Venezuelans who are suffering due to the crisis caused by the Maduro regime. The illegitimate regime’s repression, corruption, and mismanagement have left millions of people in Venezuela in need of humanitarian aid. And it’s created one of the worst migration crises ever seen in the Western Hemisphere. An estimated 5.4 million people have fled the country. We have been and we remain extensively engaged in the good faith efforts of the interim government of Venezuela to bring relief to the Venezuelan people who struggling with poverty and health needs. And we do remain the largest donor of humanitarian aid for the Venezuelan regional crisis, having provided more than $1.2 billion to help people affected by the crisis both in Venezuela and across the region. This amount includes more than $47 million in humanitarian assistance specifically to support water and sanitation, case management, and disease surveillance in response to COVID-19.
Sanctions, I – to your question, are designed to allow for the provision of humanitarian assistance and the commercial sale of export – and export of agricultural commodities, food, medicine, medical devices to Venezuela. We do remain the second-largest food exporter to Venezuela as well. President Biden, as I think you have heard him say in recent days even, understands the pain the current crisis in Venezuela is inflicting on Venezuelans and their families. We know that that pain is the result of one individual and one regime, and that is the corrupt Maduro regime and the dictatorship of Nicholas Maduro.
QUESTION: But given that the sanctions in this GAO report have actually been identified to exacerbate the humanitarian situation, has that changed your thinking on what exactly you might do that are aside from sanctions?
MR PRICE: We are always looking for ways to support the people of Venezuela. And we are looking for ways to support their democratic aspiration, their humanitarian need. And we’ll continue to do that. I think the point remains that the United States has stood with the people of Venezuela in providing them this aid and in doing all that we can to ensure that our pressure on the Maduro regime is not worsening the humanitarian implications and the humanitarian suffering of the Venezuelan people. Of course, as we review this, as we review our sanctions policy across the board, if there are ways that we can provide additional humanitarian assistance, if there are ways that we can further alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelan people, we will certainly do so.
I know we’ve gone on very long. We’ll go one in the back.
QUESTION: I’ve got a question about Belarus since you talked about the Day of Solidarity with the people of Belarus. Is the new ambassador planning to go to Minsk to present her credentials to Alexander Lukashenko, or do you see her more as kind of an envoy to the opposition at this point?
MR PRICE: Well, the ambassador-designate, as I think you know, was traveling to partner countries last week. Again, here, we are coordinating closely with our European partners on this challenge. I don’t have any update for you on her plans, any plans to travel to Belarus. I think there is a lot we can do to support the people of Belarus from this building and in tandem with our partners across the European continent as well.
QUESTION: On Russia, sir. It’s kind of late. The EU’s top diplomat has sort of signaled a hardening stance of the EU towards Russia over Navalny, and the treatment he received in Moscow got a bit of attention. So is the U.S. considering sort of – is this going to potentially accelerate your imposition of sanctions on Russia related to Navalny?
MR PRICE: We have been moving expeditiously and with alacrity since day one of this administration to ensure that our maneuvers to hold the Russian regime accountable for its malign activity across the board – to ensure that we did just that. Of course, in the early days of this administration, we saw a violent crackdown on Russian citizens who took to the streets to do nothing more than to exercise the rights that they are guaranteed under the Russian constitution. We are – the DNI is evaluating a whole series of malign activities. We, of course, are taking into account Russia’s egregious actions in this case and its human rights abuses more broadly. But we have always been moving as quickly as possible when it comes to policy maneuvers you may well hear about going forward.
I think with that, we’ll call it a day.
QUESTION: Wait, wait. Hold on one second. You said you’re moving – since taking office, you’ve been moving expeditiously and with alacrity. So what have you done?
MR PRICE: I think —
QUESTION: You’ve announced a review, but what have you actually —
MR PRICE: We have announced a review, I think, in day —
QUESTION: Well, I can announce a review of my Netflix. So what —
MR PRICE: Well, Matt – Matt, reviews – reviews do reach their culmination.
QUESTION: Well, okay. So are you suggesting —
MR PRICE: And so this is a not a review for the sake of a review.
QUESTION: Well, okay, fair enough. So are you suggesting that the – that with alacrity and expeditiously, these reviews will come to a conclusion very soon and —
MR PRICE: I am suggesting that we are moving expeditiously and with alacrity. I wouldn’t want to put a timeframe on it, but I think you have clearly seen us take a number of actions, coordinate with our allies and our partners, leave no doubt in our public statements where we stand.
QUESTION: Well, wait. No, I haven’t seen a number of actions. What are the actions that have been taken?
MR PRICE: You haven’t seen the G7 statement that was issued shortly into this administration? You haven’t seen the Secretary speak out? You haven’t seen the President speak out? You haven’t seen the President direct his DNI to undertake a review of a number of malign activities? We have been very consistent on this, Matt.
QUESTION: That’s a lot of talk. That’s not action. I mean, don’t you remember growing up, “Actions speak louder than words”?
MR PRICE: And Matt – Matt —
QUESTION: Announcing a review is not exactly taking action.
MR PRICE: Matt, we are not undertaking a review just for the sake of a review.
QUESTION: Gotcha. I hope.
MR PRICE: The review will come to a culmination and conclusion. Thank you very much, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: We’ll do this again tomorrow.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:17 p.m.)