2:49 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Very good to see everyone. It has been too long. Looking forward to spending more time in this briefing room this month, in the coming weeks.
Today, obviously, is a very important day here at the Department of State. As you have seen and as you heard from Secretary Blinken, we rolled out the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report. I am very pleased that we have joining us at the top of the briefing today Dr. Kari Johnstone. She is the acting director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. She will have some remarks, and then she’ll be happy to take your questions before we move on to our regularly scheduled program.
So without ado, Dr. Johnstone.
MS JOHNSTONE: Thank you very much, Ned, and good afternoon to all of you. I am pleased to be here with you. Earlier today, Secretary Blinken released the State Department’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report, or the TIP Report, which examines governments’ efforts to combat human trafficking using a 3P framework of prosecuting traffickers, protecting victims, and preventing the crime. This report reflects the U.S. Government’s commitment to global leadership on this key human rights, law enforcement, and national security issue. It remains our principal diplomatic and diagnostic tool to guide our relations with foreign governments on human trafficking.
Let me first acknowledge that this was a challenging year for the department to produce the TIP Report due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We are thankful to our colleagues at embassies around the world and throughout the department who worked diligently to gather data and analyze trafficking trends and efforts. I must also heartily thank our team in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons for your dedication to the mission and to objectively assess governments’ efforts to meet the minimum standards as called for in the Trafficking Victim Protection Act. We were careful to assess consistently and fairly the pandemic’s impact on governments’ anti-trafficking efforts.
This year’s report covers 188 countries and territories, including the United States, and the introduction focuses on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The introduction outlines how the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated trafficking situations and increased significantly the number of people worldwide at risk to exploitation and how traffickers adapted their methods to take advantage of these circumstances.
The introduction also illustrates the innovative ways that many adapted their anti-trafficking efforts. It emphasizes lessons learned from practitioners, offers ways to rebuild strong anti-trafficking strategies, and focuses on ways governments can prevent the compounding effects of crises on trafficking victims and vulnerable individuals.
The introduction also sought to elevate other important themes such as the struggle to realize racial equity, the importance of survivor leadership, the harmful effects of conspiracy theories related to trafficking, and the reality of familial trafficking. We also included a box on state-sponsored trafficking in persons and, due to the scale of problem, one specifically on forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region and beyond.
I would also like to share some noteworthy results and tier movement within our report. Overall, there are approximately the same number of downgrades and upgrades this year as other years. On a positive note, there were several upgrades due to tangible progress governments made to combat trafficking around the world. We saw progress even in countries where the trafficking challenges had been intractable over many years, despite the pandemic. Several governments received upgrades to Tier 2 for increasing efforts to address trafficking with tangible achievements.
Unfortunately, not all countries made such progress. Six countries received downgrades from Tier 1 to Tier 2, as the department assessed that the governments did not meet all four of the minimum standards and were not making appreciable progress compared to the previous year. Twelve countries were downgraded from Tier 2 to the Tier 2 Watchlist, and two others were downgraded to Tier 3.
The department also made the determination that 11 countries continue to have a government policy or pattern of trafficking and inadequate enforcement mechanisms. Some government officials in these countries were themselves part of the problem, directly compelling citizens or foreign nationals into sex trafficking, forced labor, or use as child soldiers. We found that officials used their power to exploit their citizens or foreign nationals ranging from forced labor in local or national public works projects, military operations, economically important sectors, or as part of government-funded projects or missions abroad, as well as sexual slavery on government compounds.
This year 15 countries were also included on the 2021 Child Soldier Prevention Act list for having governmental armed groups or supporting nongovernmental armed groups that recruit or use children in armed conflict.
Finally, I would like to end with an inspirational note. This year the department is recognizing eight Heroes who have devoted their lives to the fight against human trafficking. The 2021 Heroes come from Albania, the Central African Republic, Gabon, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Qatar, and Spain. We hope that you saw the video earlier today during the ceremony with the award presentations and heard their voices as each individually shared what they hoped to achieve with the award and their vision for the future. These individuals inspire each of us to do more to advance the global fight against human trafficking and protect the victims and survivors of this crime. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Wonderful. Said.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you for taking my question. Yesterday the former president claimed that there has been an increase in women’s trafficking across the Mexican border. Can you update us on this? Are his claims true? Do you have any data to either refute or to – or perhaps to acknowledge what he said?
MS JOHNSTONE: So I will say that in general measuring the scope of the problem of human trafficking remains a challenge for the entire anti-trafficking field. It is a hidden crime that often victims do not come forward and self-identify like they do for a lot of other crimes like pickpocketing or other violent crimes. So it is very difficult to measure the scope of the problem, and the Trafficking in Persons Report specifically is focused on assessing governments’ efforts across a specific list of criteria that are spelled out. I mentioned earlier the TVPA minimum standards. We do not assess the scope or the size of the problem in any given country given the challenges with measuring it, but we focus on governments’ efforts to meet commitments across the 3Ps of prosecution, protection, and prevention.
MR PRICE: Please.
QUESTION: On the section on misinformation, have you tied any of that misinformation on trafficking to any foreign governments, and what is the U.S. Government doing to try to combat this threat and scope of that misinformation?
MS JOHNSTONE: And thank you very much for that important question. In recent years, participants in online forums have spread a number of false and misleading claims about child sex trafficking in particular, sometimes deliberately deceiving the public through disinformation efforts connected to conspiracy theories unrelated to human trafficking. The spread of misinformation has detrimental effects on the ability of the anti-trafficking community to protect those who have or are currently experiencing human trafficking and to bring traffickers to justice.
It is imperative that the public fully understand the negative effects that spreading and acting on these rumors or misinformation can have on victims and survivors, service providers, and the broader anti-trafficking field. For example, a barrage of calls and tips related to misinformation about human trafficking online can overwhelm systems of intervention and care that have been established to respond to potential and confirmed cases of human trafficking.
So we focus in the report on the effects of this misinformation on the anti-trafficking field, not on who is stoking that misinformation.
MR PRICE: Andrea.
QUESTION: Do you ever refer to DOJ for prosecution? One particular group is well known for having participated in these false conspiracy theories.
MS JOHNSTONE: So generally, within the State Department’s writ on human trafficking, we are really focused on analyzing and reporting on human trafficking issues both within the United States and abroad. Our colleagues at DOJ are the ones that are doing the investigating and looking at who is actually perpetrating that.
QUESTION: Do you liaison – do you liaise with them, I should say, in making sure that they are aware of your reporting?
MS JOHNSTONE: Absolutely. We have a robust and very formal interagency – formal in a good sense – routinized, formalized interagency collaboration, and DOJ is one of our closest partners in that process. So we do indeed share information and work closely with them.
QUESTION: If I could quickly follow up, do you work at all with the Global Engagement Center here within the building to try to determine if these are malicious government actors who are playing into these (inaudible)?
MS JOHNSTONE: That hasn’t been an area so far of our focus. That’s a good question, though. That’s something that we will pursue with them. Thank you for raising it.
MR PRICE: Daphne.
QUESTION: On Ethiopia, it’s downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List. How much did the conflict in Tigray contribute to that downgrading?
MS JOHNSTONE: Yeah, thank you for that question. In general, I mentioned the minimum standards that are spelled out in the Trafficking Victim Protection Act that list the criteria that we focus on when we are assessing government efforts and determining tier rankings for all 188 countries and territories in the report. We do not look at things outside of those when we’re making our tier rankings.
So in the case of Ethiopia, we did determine that the government was not fully meeting the minimum standards and was not making significant efforts to do so, which is what defines a Tier 2 Watch List ranking. The government investigated and prosecuted significantly fewer trafficking cases and did not convict any traffickers at the federal level during the reporting period. Overall law enforcement efforts across regional-level actors also decreased. And finally, the government did not report officially identifying any trafficking victims or referring any victims to care during the reporting period. So those were the criteria consistent with the TVPA criteria that we assessed when we recommended and the Secretary approved a downgrade for Ethiopia.
MR PRICE: Mouhamed.
QUESTION: Sure. Other than aid restrictions, what can the U.S. do to press the countries who are listed in the Tier 3 list?
MS JOHNSTONE: Yeah, thank you for that question. One of the most important tools that we have is calling attention to the areas that all governments can improve their efforts in the Trafficking in Persons Report, talking with folks like you, raising awareness about the issue, and specific recommendations that we include in the country narrative for each of those countries in the report. We also do engage directly with governments, including most Tier 3 governments, as well as advocates and others who can help raise awareness and may also help influence those governments, including partner governments, likeminded governments, international organizations, civil society, and also the private sector. In some countries, that can be a particularly important and impactful voice.
The U.S. Government also does have a range of tools in addition to the TIP Report and the restrictions that come with countries placed on Tier 3 that we have used when appropriate for countries that are on Tier 3.
MR PRICE: Rich.
QUESTION: Just a question about how COVID-19 affected trafficking in persons here in the United States, and how does this report – or do you find that this report effectively informs U.S. Government agencies and those who would be involved in how the U.S. Government approaches this?
MS JOHNSTONE: Yeah, thank you for that question. That is one that we spent a lot of time this year looking at, as we assessed government efforts around the world, how the pandemic affected government capacity specifically on those anti-trafficking commitments, including in the United States. And like there were in other parts of the world, the pandemic did, in fact, affect U.S. capacity. Some of the major ways in particular on the law enforcement side that the pandemic affected the U.S. Government ability to prosecute traffickers: federal courts were closed or operating at limited capacity for part of the reporting period, many criminal proceedings were delayed, and human-trafficking-related trials were postponed.
Federal law enforcement also found ways to adapt, just like we saw in other countries. The Secretary highlighted some of those this morning at the event. The U.S. Government was able to shift to conduct forensic interviews remotely, for example. On victim protection efforts, we also saw adaptations. DOJ and HHS published comprehensive resource guides for grantees that are assisting trafficking victims, that included how to operate, provide services, and manage grants during the pandemic. HHS also provided flexibilities in grant program performance reporting deadlines and technical assistance to support grantees transition to remote operations, so that they were able to continue to find and care for trafficking victims.
QUESTION: But still nothing can replace in-person and normal operations.
MS JOHNSTONE: Indeed, we are all hoping that we will see diminishing effects of the pandemic and people will be able to do more of their work in person.
MR PRICE: Missy.
QUESTION: I just want to follow up on my earlier question about Afghanistan. And thanks for briefing us. So I was just wondering if there’s anything you can say about how the U.S. Government is going to – what is the strategy you’re continuing to monitor and advocate for combatting human trafficking and some of the specific problems referenced in the report regarding Afghanistan, given the changing nature of the relationship and the reduced mobility that the U.S. Government will have in Afghanistan after the withdrawal? And anything you can say about the expectations of the Afghan Government itself, the capacity of the Afghan Government itself, to take the steps that are recommended.
MS JOHNSTONE: Yeah, thank you very much for that. Sorry, didn’t mean to cut you off. Thank you very much for that question. As the United States withdraws forces from Afghanistan we will continue to support the peaceful, stable, future the Afghan people want and deserve, and to use our full diplomatic, economic, and assistance toolkit, including to continue to support the Afghan Government to combat trafficking in persons and care for trafficking victims in Afghanistan.
As part of our enduring U.S. support for the people of Afghanistan, Secretary Blinken announced on June 4th that the United States is providing more than $266 million in new humanitarian assistance, bringing the total U.S. humanitarian aid for Afghanistan to nearly $3.9 billion since 2002. In addition, on April 20th, Secretary Blinken announced plans to work with Congress to obligate nearly $300 million in additional civilian assistance to sustain and build upon the gains of the past 20 years. We are not abandoning the people of Afghanistan on the whole array of issues that we collaborate with them, including on human trafficking, and we will continue to work both through our embassy and implementing partners that are implementing this kind of assistance to ensure that the government is able to both sustain and build on the progress that it has made.
QUESTION: And anything you would be able to say about the expectation of the Afghan Government’s ability to deal with this, as they face these new – additional challenges?
MS JOHNSTONE: I think that remains to be seen. We will certainly do everything that we can, both through assistance and our diplomatic support to support the Afghan Government in its continued ability to both fight trafficking and support the victims.
QUESTION: Just to follow on Missy’s question, with all due respect, I don’t know how we can say that we are going to continue to support the Afghan Government when we’re not going to be there. And the future of the embassy itself is in question if we don’t have the agreement that was discussed in Brussels for Turkey to ensure – to secure the airport. Bagram is being abandoned as we speak. I don’t know how we’re going to carry that out, other than rhetorically.
MR PRICE: I’m happy to speak to that.
MS JOHNSTONE: Go ahead. Please.
MR PRICE: Andrea, so the point we’ve consistently made – and you heard it from Dr. Johnstone as well – is that yes, we are withdrawing our military forces, as the President announced, but we intend to maintain a diplomatic presence in Kabul. That is something that is important to us, given our enduring desire to have a continued partnership with the Afghan Government, and crucially with the Afghan people.
So it is absolutely not the case that we intend to abandon Afghanistan, that we intend to relent in our support for the Government of Afghanistan, that we intend to diminish our support and our partnership for the people of Afghanistan. Obviously, that relationship will look different with the military withdrawal underway, and once it is completed in the coming weeks and months. But that does not in any way diminish the commitment we have to the Afghan Government and to the Afghan people. That is the point that is tremendously important to the Department of State, to Secretary Blinken, and to President Biden and the full administration. It’s something that he made clear with President Ghani, with Chairman Abdullah as well in their visit to the White House in recent days.
QUESTION: Would you say that that’s predicated on our ability to maintain a diplomatic presence?
MR PRICE: And which we intend to do.
QUESTION: Which depends on the airport and a lot of other things.
MR PRICE: And the security at the airport, security at our embassy – as you know, President Biden, when he made this announcement, he made clear that the only troops, U.S. servicemembers, that would remain in-country were those necessary to safeguard our diplomatic compound in Kabul. So that is very important to us, and it’s very important to us for one principal reason: because it facilitates that partnership with the Afghan Government and with the Afghan people, and that is something we intend to see continue.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on —
MR PRICE: Any – let’s – before we move onto Afghanistan, anything else on the TIP Report, anything for Dr. Johnstone? Okay.
MS JOHNSTONE: Let me give (inaudible).
MR PRICE: Well, I want to thank you for joining us today, and more importantly, thanks to you and to your team for all of your work in this important product, and very much appreciate it.
MS JOHNSTONE: Thank you so much. Thank you, all.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Before we move into questions, let me just speak to a couple of elements at the top.
Earlier this year, President Biden committed that the United States will be the world’s arsenal of vaccines in the shared fight against COVID-19. Since then, the administration has taken historic actions and is delivering on that presidential commitment. Over the past several weeks, we have committed to sharing 580 million doses of vaccines to the world, including of course the 80 million doses of our own surplus U.S. supply. These 80 million doses have now all been shared with 46 countries, the African Union, and CARICOM through a combination of bilateral sharing and sharing through COVAX.
Each country has received the specific number and type of U.S. vaccines they will be shipped, and by the end of this week, we will have already shipped out about 40 million doses to the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Taiwan, Honduras, Colombia, Pakistan, Peru, Ecuador, Malaysia, and Bangladesh through a combination, again, of bilateral sharing and through COVAX as well. The remaining doses will be shipped in the coming weeks as countries complete their own domestic set of operational, regulatory, and legal processes. And we will continue to share even more doses in the summer months and beyond.
Next. Today the Secretary of State announced the transmittal to Congress of the Corrupt and Undemocratic Actors List, a report that’s required by Section 353 of the United States–Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act. This report lists individuals from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador who have undermined democratic processes or institutions, who have engaged in significant corruption, or who have obstructed investigations into such acts.
The United States fights for democracy and combats corruption and impunity in support of the people of the region. The citizens of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have consistently repudiated corruption, demanded accountability from their governments and private actors, and they’ve acted in defense of democratic institutions. We stand with all those endeavoring to build a better, more hopeful future in these countries and in the broader region.
As today’s actions demonstrate, there are consequences when individuals – whether government officials or private actors – violate the principles of democracy, rule of law, and transparency that the people of the region deserve and, in fact, expect. The United States will continue to use a range of diplomatic and economic tools, including actions like this one, to shine light on corruption and encourage the strengthening of democratic institutions so that our neighbors in Central America can build brighter futures for their communities.
And finally, as you heard from Secretary Blinken earlier today, today marks the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which resulted in the deaths of 20 people, including one U.S. citizen. We extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of the victims. We stand with Bangladesh in our condemnation of terrorism and determination to prevent future such attacks. We commend Bangladesh’s efforts to bring those responsible to justice and we recommit to our strong counterterrorism partnership to prevent future attacks.
So with that, I’m happy to go back to your questions.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. days away from completing the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan? And does the President plan any sort of event or speech or travel to mark the withdrawal from Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: Thank you for your question. So I will leave it to the Department of Defense to speak to the retrograde operation. I know they have been able to provide updates in recent weeks and even recent days. We’ve heard from the Pentagon, we’ve heard from senior DOD officials regarding their activities, their plans. And most importantly, we’ve heard from the President, and the President noted earlier this year that it – the United States would be withdrawing militarily from Afghanistan, that withdrawal would be completed by the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, September of this year, 2021. But beyond that, I’m going to defer to the Department of Defense to speak to those operations and any detail they might be able to share.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on the Afghan visas for translators and others and their families? Has another country agreed – can you give us a progress report on Guam or any other – and related but unrelated issue, the problem of the COVID outbreak among the local staff, I presume, and not FSOs, in Kabul?
MR PRICE: Sure, I – first, you have heard from my colleagues in recent days, you have heard from other senior administration officials that this administration has a special responsibility to those brave Afghans who, over the years, have assisted the United States Government in myriad ways, whether acting as interpreters, acting as translators, other officials who have assisted us, often at great risk to themselves, sometime – at times, even to their families.
As we have said, we have identified a group of SIV applicants who have served in these roles, as well as other individuals who have assisted us over the years and who may be at risk. They and their families will have the option to be relocated to a location outside of Afghanistan before we complete our military drawdown by September, as I alluded to before, so that they can complete their SIV process. Importantly, these are individuals who are already in the SIV pipeline, and we would
— sounds like we may have a storm warning. I will trust someone will let us know if we are in any imminent danger here. —
And, of course, we would undertake any relocation in full compliance with applicable laws and in full coordination with Congress. We are engaging regularly with our partners in the interagency. The State Department is not the only entity involved in this. There are regular discussions with the Department of Defense, with the White House, with other entities who are involved in this. I wouldn’t want to speak to those internal discussions, nor would I want to speak to any diplomatic discussions that may be ongoing with partner countries around the world.
I will also say that we will share information as we are able, consistent with concerns we have for the security of those involved. Again, our paramount concern is the safety and security of those who have worked with us over the years in Afghanistan. That is precisely why we have identified a group of applicants who will have the option of being relocated with their families. And, of course, we wouldn’t want to do anything or share any information that could add to the risk they already face.
QUESTION: Just – there have been reports of a census of perhaps 18,000 people in this category, plus families, making it an overall group of about 70,000. Would you argue with that?
MR PRICE: Well, what we have said is that there are about 18,000 Afghan principal applicants who are at some stage as of right now in the SIV application process. As of May 2021, about 50 percent of those applicants, or some 9,000 applicants, are at an initial stage of the process pending applicant action. In other words, approximately 9,000 of these 18,000 applicants need to take some sort of action before the U.S. Government can begin processing their case.
Now, we haven’t attached numbers to the group we have identified for potential relocation, but 18,000 is the aggregate number of principal Afghan applicants who are at some stage of the SIV application process.
And you reminded me that you did ask about the implications of the ongoing COVID outbreak at our embassy in Kabul. We have issued department guidance for embassy operations worldwide, and consistent with that, Embassy Kabul is operating on a reduced staffing posture. The embassy, as we’ve said, has suspended visa interviews, but visa processing does not require in-person – but visa processing that does not require in-person interactions with applicants continues. Of course, much of this also takes place at the chief-of-mission stage, and much of that takes place from Washington. And we will resume interviewing qualified SIV applicants in Kabul as soon as it’s safe to do so. The embassy does continue to issue visas to Afghans whose applications are fully approved.
QUESTION: I have a question: If the embassy in – closes in Kabul, will the U.S. still be able to provide aid from afar without the embassy?
MR PRICE: Would we still be able to provide a —
QUESTION: Would you still be able to provide aid to the Afghan Government if the embassy in Kabul, for whatever reason, is forced to close?
MR PRICE: So again, it is our intention to maintain a diplomatic presence in Kabul. As the President said, the only American servicemembers who will remain in Afghanistan are those required to protect the diplomatic presence there. And that’s because the diplomatic presence is something that enables us, in an effective way, to continue to partner with the Afghan Government and Afghan people. I wouldn’t want to entertain hypotheticals or contingencies. Of course, we are planning for any number of contingencies, and I can say that regardless of what happens, our partnership with the Afghan Government, with the Afghan people will not diminish, it will always endure.
QUESTION: Do you have any red lines for – if the shape of the Afghan Government changes, say Ghani falls, you have somebody else emerge – are there any red lines? Or say the Taliban become the foremost partner – do you have any red lines which could affect the amount of aid or whether or not you provide aid at all?
MR PRICE: Well, of course, it is up to the Afghan people to select their leaders. What we do know is that the international community and the Afghan people, of course, will not accept the imposition by force of a government in Afghanistan. Legitimacy and assistance for any Afghan government can only be possible if that government has the consent of the Afghan people, and critically, I would say, has fundamental respect for human rights. That is what we know. Any attempt to install a new Afghan government by force will not be accepted internationally. It will not be accepted by the Afghan people. And the United States and our partners around the world will be watching very carefully the human rights situation and the conditions for the Afghan people, who we know have suffered from years of war, years of violence – the gains that have been achieved we know are fragile, and we will be watching very carefully to do all we can to protect those gains, especially for Afghanistan’s girls, its women, its minorities as well.
QUESTION: One last clarification: To say that the Ghani government is no longer on top, will the U.S. still continue to fund money towards government-led or associated factions like, say, the army, maybe schools in government-controlled areas or – if the government falls, does that mean that all of Afghanistan suddenly is cut off?
MR PRICE: Well, again, I wouldn’t want to entertain any hypotheticals or contingencies like that. Again, what we know is that any government that is installed by force will not be accepted, it will not be considered legitimate, and it will not receive assistance from the international community. What I can say broadly is that, of course, it is our intention to continue to support the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces, the ANDSF. It right now is a standing force of more than 300,000 Afghan personnel. Our support, the contours of that support, of course, will change as we transition from a direct train, advise, and assist mission through NATO. And – but we will continue to provide assistance to the ANDSF going forward.
QUESTION: Very quickly? Another topic?
MR PRICE: Sure.
MR PRICE: Couple quick – couple more quick questions on Afghanistan.
MR PRICE: I know we also have an event at 3:45, so I’m mindful of the clock.
QUESTION: Oh —
MR PRICE: Please.
QUESTION: Ned, you said that the SIV applicants you’ve identified would be moved before the withdrawal, but our reporting indicates that the retrograde will be done within the next coming days. So how do you square those two? Is this evacuation imminent or the relocation imminent? Do you have more of a concrete timeline you can share with us?
MR PRICE: Well, again, I’m going to leave it to the Department of Defense to speak to the timeline of their retrograde operations. What the President has said is that it would be completed before September, and what we have said is that we have identified a group of applicants who are already in train who will have the option to be relocated outside of Afghanistan before we complete our military withdrawal in September.
QUESTION: Do you know where they will be relocated, like which countries will help the United States sheltering them?
MR PRICE: So as I said before, there are certain details we’ll be in a position to share – and I expect we’ll be a position to share additional details in the coming days and the coming weeks – and there are some details that we may not be able to share because of security concerns. Again, our paramount concern in all of this, the reason we are offering this option to a group of SIV applicants is out of concern for their safety, their wellbeing. And so we wouldn’t want to share any details that could potentially jeopardize that. But as we do have additional details to share, I can assure you we’ll do that.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions about Afghanistan and Turkey. Do you have any concerns that the new designation of Turkey as a country implicated in the use of children as soldiers would have an impact on the ongoing talks between the U.S. and Turkey to guard the international airport in Kabul?
And second question: With the meeting today between the Secretary Blinken and his Tajik counterpart, what role does the U.S. want Tajikistan and Uzbekistan maybe to play in Afghanistan? And was any security or military arrangement was discussed during those talks?
MR PRICE: Thank you for that. So the Trafficking in Persons Report, the TIP Report, it is not a political document. It is based on facts. It is based on analysis and our assessment of those – of that information that we are able to glean from a variety of resources. That includes reporting from the U.S. Government, classified and unclassified, open-source information, everything that would help to inform our assessment of various governments’ progress or lack thereof when it comes to trafficking in persons. So I would not want to link the report today with what – the discussions we are engaging in, the constructive discussions we’re engaging in with Turkey in the context of Afghanistan or any other area of shared interest.
As you know, President Biden had a opportunity to meet face to face with President Erdogan not all that long ago, just last month. And as they’ve said, the – Turkey’s role in Afghanistan was discussed in that context. Turkey has been a very constructive and very helpful partner when it comes to Afghanistan. Turkey has been supportive of the diplomacy. Turkey, of course, is an important NATO Ally, but I wouldn’t want to go beyond that in terms of details of —
QUESTION: So the U.S. is not – is not planning to impose any restrictions on – military restrictions on Turkey over this designation?
MR PRICE: So these designations, the implications of them, we will be able to speak to that later this year. As you know, there are – there is the potential for waivers that would come down from the President, but that will happen, if it does, in the coming months. I’m not in a position to speak to that at the moment.
QUESTION: Thank you. Moving on to another topic. There was a report that the Walla website, Israeli website, that the Israeli Government requested the Biden administration or asked the Biden administration to postpone the reopening of the consulate in East Jerusalem. Can you enlighten us on what’s happening with that regard, with this issue?
MR PRICE: Happy to. So as the Secretary said in Jerusalem – he said this publicly; he also said this privately in his meetings with our Israeli and Palestinian Authority counterparts – but he made very clear that we will be moving forward with the process to reopen our consulate in Jerusalem because it strengthens our ability to do what we have said we intend to do, and that is to rebuild our engagement with the Palestinian Authority and, crucially, with the Palestinian people.
So I don’t have any private diplomatic conversations to detail for you or to read out, but it remains our intention to move forward with that process.
QUESTION: Yeah, I have a couple more questions. But I wanted to ask you also about the PLO office in Washington. Any progress on that score?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any update for you there.
QUESTION: You don’t either. Okay. Are you in touch with the Palestinian Authority in any way? Is there any kind of communication ongoing? There was – there were reports that the PA has submitted like 30 points or something to that effect for negotiations or resuming negotiations. The PA President Abbas was in Amman yesterday talking to – with the King of Jordan, who is prepared to come to Washington and so on. Is there something ongoing? Are you in communication with them?
MR PRICE: There is regular engagement with the Palestinian Authority, just as there is regular engagement with our Israeli counterparts. It is something that happens from this building. It’s something that happens from within this administration and in regular course.
QUESTION: And finally, I know that you issued a statement last week on the killing of Nizar Banat in custody with the Palestinian Security Forces. But have you spoken to any Palestinian figures, Palestinian authority figures? I know that the head of intelligence in – the Palestinians’ intelligence Majed Faraj is very close to perhaps the Intelligence Community in the United States; he’s in regular contact, and so on. Have you spoken to them? Because this is apparently a common practice. It was done time and again.
MR PRICE: We have made very clear, Said, that we are deeply disturbed by reports that non-uniformed members of the Palestinian Authority Security Forces harassed and used forced – used force against protesters and journalists during the public demonstrations calling for accountability for the death that you mentioned, the death of Nizar Banat. We have strongly urged security services and security forces to conduct themselves in a professional manner and to respect freedom of expression, the work of journalists, and the right of Palestinians to protest peacefully. This is not something – these are not points that are unique to this context for us. These are statements that we make universally around the world as well.
In this particular context, we have noted that the Palestinian Authority has announced the establishment of a commission to investigate Mr. Banat’s death. As we stated previously, it’s important that the PA conducts a thorough and transparent investigation to ensure full accountability of this case. We have made those expectations very clear to the Palestinian Authority.
QUESTION: Ned, please, I have two quick questions.
MR PRICE: Michel, yeah.
QUESTION: One on Morocco. Brett McGurk, White House National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East, was quoted saying that the U.S. has no intention of reversing its recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. Is this the administration position now?
MR PRICE: It remains the administration position. I don’t have any update for you.
QUESTION: Are you changing in U.S. policy towards this recognition?
MR PRICE: There is no change.
QUESTION: And one on Lebanon – I’ve been asking about this since the meeting that the Secretary held in Italy with the Saudi foreign minister and the French foreign minister: What was the goal of this meeting and why you didn’t have any answer on this request for two, three days?
MR PRICE: Well (inaudible) we did issue a tweet noting the meeting. The tweet also did discuss some of the substance of the meeting. These are two governments that have – with whom we share interests when it comes to Lebanon. I think broadly we have made very clear in our engagement with other interested parties, including the Saudis, including the French, including any number of other governments around the world, that our expectation is that Lebanon’s leaders show sufficient flexibility to form a government that is willing and capable of, importantly, true and fundamental reform so that the Lebanese people can realize their full potential.
The Lebanese people, we have long said, deserve a government that will urgently implement the necessary reforms to rescue the country’s deteriorating economy. The humanitarian conditions for the people of Lebanon are increasingly dire. The Lebanese economy is in crisis, and that is chiefly because of decades of corruption, of mismanagement by Lebanon’s political leaders. We continue to call upon them to put aside their partisan brinksmanship, to change course, and to work for the common good of their people, of the Lebanese people.
The international community has been clear that concrete actions remain absolutely crucial to unlocking longer-term structural support for Lebanon. All of this was discussed in the trilateral meeting with Secretary Blinken and his French and Saudi counterparts. There is shared international interest in seeing stability brought to Lebanon, in humanitarian relief provided to the Lebanese people, and affording and equipping the Lebanese people with a government that they deserve, chiefly a government that serves their interests.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yes, Rich. Yup.
QUESTION: Just wondering if the Secretary or the administration had paid note to President Xi Jinping’s address, using some fairly aggressive language towards the West and in general, like heads bashed against the bloody great wall of steel. Was the administration surprised? Was there a concern about the tenor of the address?
MR PRICE: Well, of course, we’re aware that the Chinese Communist Party commemorated its 100th anniversary today. We’re aware of President Xi’s remarks. We’ve taken note on them, but we’re not going to comment on the specifics. I think this administration, over the course of several months, has been very clear about our impressions of the CCP in general, but I don’t have a specific response for you on President Xi’s remarks today.
QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on the Joby Warrick report in the – in The Washington Post, excuse me – about 100 missile silos being detected, which would be an extraordinary number or total, according to the Monterey experts, 145 across China out of a fairly small nuclear arsenal. What do you think their intention is? What is your analysis on that? And whether you have any further comment on the crackdown in Hong Kong of Apple Daily.
MR PRICE: On the crackdown in Hong Kong?
QUESTION: Of Apple Daily.
MR PRICE: So let me start with your first question and the reported build-up, the article that was in The Washington Post, the independent analysis that has been done. I think what is fair to say is that these reports and other developments suggest that the PRC’s nuclear arsenal will grow more quickly, and to a higher level than perhaps previously anticipated. This buildup – it is concerning. It raises questions about the PRC’s intent. And for us, it reinforces the importance of pursuing practical measures to reduce nuclear risks. Despite what appears to be PRC obfuscation, this rapid buildup has become more difficult to hide, and it highlights how the PRC appears, again, to be deviating from decades of nuclear strategy based around minimum deterrents.
These advances, again, to our minds highlight why it’s in everyone’s interests that nuclear powers talk to one another directly about reducing nuclear dangers and avoiding miscalculations. We encourage Beijing to engage with us on practical measures to reduce the risks of destabilizing arms races, potential – potentially destabilizing tensions. This is precisely why President Biden prioritized strategic stability in his engagement with President Putin. The same basis, the same rationale would apply to engagement with another nuclear power, the PRC.
QUESTION: If I may, can we have a comment about Switzerland, which decided to buy the F-35 jets? It’s a 6.5 billion contract. And how will this contract impact the relationship between the United States and Switzerland, which is a neutral country?
MR PRICE: Well, we do welcome the Federal Council’s decision announced yesterday in its Air 2030 defense procurement competition. The United States is proud to have provided Switzerland with world-class air defense products over quite a bit of time, over the past five decades, respecting Swiss sovereignty in the process, supporting Swiss national security, and partnering with Switzerland on economic and technological advancements.
We look forward to building on that proven record of success and deepening that partnership to our mutual benefit – to the benefit of Switzerland, to the benefit of the United States following this week’s announcement. We do appreciate the opportunity we were given to participate in this competition, and we stand ready for our governments to work together not only in the course of this contract, but of course, for decades to come. We offer our congratulations to the aircraft makers and others who were involved in this competition, and we look forward to deepening that partnership.
I’m mindful of the clock because we do have a bilateral engagement coming up. I’ll take a couple more questions here. Yes.
QUESTION: On Lebanon?
MR PRICE: Lebanon?
MR PRICE: Lebanon, sure.
QUESTION: Three days ago, the Secretary met with Pope Francis, and Lebanon was on the agenda, we understood. And today, the Vatican is convening a summit to discuss Lebanon crisis. Did that summit topic come up during the Secretary and the pope conversation, knowing that the head of the Catholic Church in Lebanon who was attending this summit is pushing toward internationalizing this crisis? Do you have anything to comment on that?
MR PRICE: Well, we issued a readout of the Secretary’s meeting with his holiness the pope. It was a meeting that, as I believe we said, lasted for some 40 minutes. It was wide-ranging. They discussed the plight of the world’s most vulnerable, of the world’s most disadvantaged, and Lebanon was a topic during that conversation. As I noted before in response to a different question, the people of Lebanon have suffered tremendously because of corruption, because of mismanagement, because of political infighting in their country, and the humanitarian toll has been especially devastating.
So it’s no surprise that the humanitarian conditions there and the need to provide much-needed relief to the people of Lebanon did feature in that one-on-one discussion between the Secretary and Pope Francis.
QUESTION: Is the State Department involved in the response to the condo collapse in Florida given the number of foreign nationals who are believed to be impacted?
MR PRICE: Well, of course, Miami is truly an international city, and we’ve seen that reflected in some of the tragic stories emanating from the Surfside condo collapse. It’s a city that represents this hemisphere and well beyond. And so it also stands to reason that the department has been engaged in supporting foreign missions in their efforts to locate and to assist their citizens who may have been in some way involved or implicated in the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers in Surfside last week.
The department is on the ground. We are working closely with local, with state, with federal and foreign mission personnel in conjunction with other interagency partners to assist in response to this tragedy.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions. A follow-up on the Western Sahara: You said the U.S. is not planning to reverse the recognition of the Western Sahara’s Morocco land. So the question is: How does the U.S. view the Moroccan proposal for autonomy for that disputed area? And is the U.S. planning to launch a new diplomatic effort to find maybe an – a solution to this issue?
And second, on Yemen, in light of the strong condemnation yesterday from the State Department over the ongoing military offensive by the Houthis in Marib, is the U.S. fed up with the Houthi stance not to engage in the diplomatic effort? And is the U.S. planning to maybe adopt a drastic approach against the Houthis if they decided not to engage in the U.S. or in the international diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the crisis in Yemen?
MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to Morocco and the Western Sahara, as I said before, we don’t have any updates in terms of the United States recognition of Moroccan sovereignty.
When it comes to the broader issue, what I’ll say is that we do support a credible UN-led political process to stabilize the situation and to secure a cessation of any hostilities. We are consulting with the parties, we are consulting with other governments in the region and beyond, about how best to bring a halt to the violence and ultimately to achieve a lasting settlement to this long-running conflict. We strongly support UN efforts to appoint a personal envoy of the secretary-general for the Western Sahara and to do that as quickly as possible, and we’re prepared to continue to be actively engaged with all sides in support of that individual.
When it comes to Yemen, you asked if we are fed up with the Houthi attacks. The answer to that is yes. We are beyond fed up. We are horrified by the repeated attacks on Marib. We strongly condemn the Houthi missile attack on a residential neighborhood in Marib on June 29th. It took civilian lives, including the life of a child. We believe it is long past time to end the conflict in Yemen and to provide immediate relief to the Yemeni people.
What we know is that the Houthis’ offensive in Marib is exacerbating the humanitarian crisis faced by the people of Yemen. It is by many accounts home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. For the Houthis to continue this brutal offensive while there is a serious proposal before them, a proposal that would meet their long-held and stated demands for a plan with practical steps to facilitate the flow of goods into and within Yemen, implement a nationwide ceasefire, and initiate inclusive political talks – that is what separates the Houthis from other Yemenis who are actively working towards peace, who strike us as being serious about peace.
What concerns us is the loss of life. What concerns us is the fact that this offensive continues to set back the process for a durable political solution to this long-running conflict.
QUESTION: North Korea. Briefly, do you have any comment on the Kim Jong-un diet?
MR PRICE: I —
QUESTION: And the serious implications, obviously.
MR PRICE: I don’t have any particular comment on that. As you know, Andrea, we have completed a review of our policy towards the DPRK. It’s a policy that is predicated first and foremost on diminishing the threat to our interests in the region, to our partners who are in the region, and it’s a policy that’s predicated on the utility of diplomacy. We believe that through practical, clear-eyed engagement with our allies and partners and with the DPRK we can achieve progress on what remains our goal, and that is ultimately the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That’s what we’re focused on. It —
QUESTION: Any response to that policy review and to the initiatives, to the overtures?
MR PRICE: Look, we have made very clear our willingness to sit down anytime, anywhere with representatives of the DPRK. Ambassador Kim, our special envoy for the DPRK, has recently been in the Republic of Korea, where he met with South Korean officials, where he met trilaterally with South Korean and Japanese officials. He reiterated there that we are prepared anytime, anywhere to engage in diplomacy with the DPRK, and we are awaiting a constructive response from the DPRK.
Thank you very much, everyone. Sorry we need to cut this short.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:45 p.m.)